Can women train like men? A short (ish) rant about gender specific workouts


This post from The Food Medic on Instagram got me thinking. Why are workouts so gender specific? For women its all about getting rid of those bingo wings and working on your butt (insert peach emoji) while for men its all about pumping those muscles and lifting the heaviest weights. Ever seen a guy working on his butt at the gym? Nope!

Workouts for women are so focused on aesthetics and improving certain aspects of our body while men don’t get this kind of pressure. I’m not saying that men aren’t pressured either but so many workouts for women these days are focused on the looks rather than empowering women to be strong and confident. 

We are starting to see more and more women in the weights section of the gym which is fantastic. Two years ago I would never have dreamed of going anywhere near weights and would have stuck to the cardio machines. Now I can confidently walk over to the free weights and not feel intimidated by the men. As a woman we have just as much right as men to be in that area of the gym and there’s nothing more empowering than seeing a women confidently walk up to a platform and smash out some olympic lifting. It’s a rare sight but one I love to see.  

I think social media, especially Instagram, is also fuelling this aesthetic focus for women. My feed is full of women posing in their leggings in the gym mirror, angling the shot just perfectly to emphasis their bum or show off their abs. I’m not saying that these women haven’t worked hard to achieve this but I find it sad that for women a result of their hand work is that selfie. I spent years focusing on aesthetics and it didn’t make me feel any better about myself. One weekend of bad food can undo a lot of work. That’s why I started weight training. Knowing that you can lift more than double your body weight is far more empowering to me than that perfect gym selfie.

Around two months ago I started Crossfit to give myself a new challenge and see what I was capable of doing. At Crossfit there are no gender specific workouts. There are no WODs to work your butt and blitz those bingo wings. Women and men train together. There are no mirrors. There are no machines. There are just barbells, lifting platforms and rigs. No one cares how you look after a session when you’ve sweated through all your clothes, with bruises across your arms, chalk down your legs and hands that look more suited to a brick layer (see below!)


When you hit a PB and everyone is cheering you on, that’s when you realise that there is more to working out then how you look. It’s about achieving something you didn’t think you could do.

Oh and you know what? All those hours in the gym smashing those PB’s will make you more confident in yourself than any ‘butt buster’ workout or hours spent trying to get the perfect selfie. 

*Mic drop* 💁🏽‍♀️

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Crossfit – is it as hard as it looks?

Simple answer, yes. BUT don’t let that scare you away. It was also the most exhilarating, exhausting and exciting hour I’ve had in a gym for a while. If you want a group activity and want to step it up a level from classes such as boxercise then this is for me. I know I’m hooked!


If you’re new to Crossfit then you might be wondering what it is. If you google it then it tells you this;

“Crossfit is a high-intensity fitness programme incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise.”

Directly below it also has a quote saying “I thought I was strong until I tried to do Crossfit” which is pretty much exactly what I said to my best friend afterwards. I’m not going to sugar coat it here; it was the hardest thing I’ve done and I thought I was fit and strong!

Crossfit includes high intensity interval training, endurance training, strength training, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, mobility, plyometrics, powerlifting, kettlebells, calisthenics, running, jumping, throwing, rowing, strongman and other sports. It’s a real mixed bag of things which is what I loved and I learnt so much in just an hour; my strengths and weaknesses and to never give up.

Sessions vary but my first session involved two rotations of 15 minute AMRAPs (as many rounds as possible). This involved a cardio exercise for a certain distance (such as the assault bike which if you ever get the pleasure of going near, run…run away very very fast) then reps with some weights such as kettle bell swings then reps of another exercise such as a variations of burpees or toe to bars (FYI these are harder then they look). You then do this as many times as possible in 15 minutes. Then it’s a ten minute break then another one. Exhausting but great fun and it still amazes me what my body can do.

What I also loved about my experience was how friendly everyone was. Straight away I was welcomed in and felt part of a group. Everyone encourages everyone else and helps you out with your form and technique. No one is there to put you down or make you feel unfit; they all had to start somewhere as well. 
Crossfit might not be for everyone and I can see why people would shy away. It is scary and intense but equally so rewarding. I can’t wait for the next session. Although no assault bikes please. 

Finally just a little shoutout to Crossfit Pi down here in lovely Devon for being so welcoming. Also to Head Coach Martin Uttley for making my first session so rewarding and I’m sorry I told you to F**k off, it’s a sign I enjoyed it!

Learning to love the gym – yes I know, the gym!

Step back 3 years and the idea of me loving (yes a strong word here!) the gym would have seemed alien. They were scary places full of people far more fit than me and equipment I had zero idea on how to use. I use to step on the treadmill or the bike, ‘workout’ for 30 minutes, maybe swim a bit and that was it. Now I train 6 times a week and haven’t gone near this equipment since. I spend most of my time lifting weights and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s fantastic to see so many ways people can learn how to lift weights these days and it’s becoming more and more mainstream for women. 

In the last 18 months of training, here is what I’ve learnt;

• Trainers are worth the money. Even if you just get one for a short while, they help you to achieve your goals and show you how to do the exercises properly.

• Got a niggle or an injury? See a physio. If you train on it, it’ll only get worse. Trust me….

• I know how to deadlift correctly and I’m going to hit that 100kg. 

• Olympic lifting is bloody hard BUT I will conquer it.

• Scales mean nothing. I’ve dropped two dress sizes but still weigh the same….

• I can confidently walk over to the free weights section and not feel intimidated by the grunty, sweaty men.

• I know when it says ‘woodchop’ in my training book, what that means (it has nothing to do with a hairy lumberjack man)

• I can memorise training plans and know what to do without my book – although I never go without it because sometimes at 6am my brain just doesn’t function!

• I know what weights I can lift, where’s my limit and when I should push myself.

• I can wear skimpy gym wear and feel confident as hell – ok I’m not walking around in a sports bra but I do have leggings with flames on them which is a big step forward from all black, figure engulfing clothing.

• I can actually box. We’re not talking boxercise here. I mean properly box. I know sequences, I have a seriously strong cross and I’m starting to get the foot work. If you want to feel empowered then do this with your trainer!

All these things make me feel confident in myself, especially when for years on end now I’ve been knocked down and let down. No point feeling sorry for myself. Who ever gets through life by doing that? Having a strong body helps me to stay strong mentally as well. The gym and weightlifting takes me to my happy place where I can let go of everything and concentrate on me. In the end, all you have is yourself and if you’re not happy with it then no one else will be 😊

Why it’s important to always get an injury checked 

Over the last few months I’ve mentioned before about an injury to my left hip. It started about 6 months ago and only seemed to really hurt when doing squats but sometimes for jump squats and box jumps. My PT and I worked round it and even stopped training legs for a while. It would come and go and at one point I’d lost all my strength and so we had to build it all back again (so frustrating!). I stopped cycling for a while and then started again which aggravated it more than before. I was hitting my PBs for squats about a month ago and finally got 65kg which I was really proud of; I weigh 58kg so more than my own body weight! Then the bad hip came back again 😦
We just couldn’t figure it out. It hurt really badly when I got to the lowest part of the squat. By working out what was trigging the most pain, we could work round it. Box squats were fine so I could build my strength back. My left leg is still much weaker than my right because I’ve been compensating for the injury; even my deadlifts are slightly wonky now! 
Last week I decided enough was enough. Nothing was working and I was trying different stretches but really I didn’t know if they were helping or not! I booked into see a private physic (pricey but worth it!). Going in with a tonne of details about when my leg hurt meant he could give me a diagnosis straight away. I have Femoral Acetabular Impingement syndrome (try saying that after a few drinks!) which is very common for women, especially those who are very active. Pain is caused because two areas are contacting or impinging on each other resulting in pain. The femoral head rotates in the socket (acetabulum). During impingement, the neck of the femur contacts the lip of the hip socket. The diagrams below show the different types you can get; 

Without having an x-ray, I won’t know which kind but it doesn’t matter as they all require the same treatment. It had always felt like something being pinched so now it makes perfect sense! Luckily I don’t need surgery and I can continue with my current fitness regime; I just shouldn’t do any exercises that cause me pain, such as deep squats. I also have a series of exercises to do which will help. I had hoped I could get out of leg day, but it seems I can’t 😉
I’m so relieved to have found a solution and if I hadn’t then I could have caused myself a serious long term injury here and even the possibility of surgery. My advice is always get checked; if something hurts when training and you can’t move correctly then there could be something wrong. Always see a professional and get it diagnosed, it was the best money I’ve spent! 

Why trying to be lean made me miserable

I’ve been royally rubbish at updating this blog and I’m sorry! My new job means by the time I get home I’m exhausted and my weekends have been really busy. But don’t worry, I haven’t fallen off the gym wagon (check my Instagram feed for proof!). I’m still getting up at 545am to hit the gym and trying to eat as healthy as I can. But in the last two weeks something changed and it all happened when I reached a target. It wasn’t hitting a PB or smashing a circuit, it was actually hitting a macro goal which when you think about it is pretty lame. 
Earlier in the year I set myself a new target to get leaner. This meant moving to hybrid training with a mixture of heavy weights and cardio/strength based circuits. The training was exhausting and if you want to sweat then try it! The food was even harder. Cutting to 1,700 calories a day and a macro split of 20% carbs, 40% protein and 40% fat is near on impossible (that’s like zero carbs!). In the last few months, I’ve only ever hit that macro goal once and that was two weeks ago. I felt so happy at the time but you know what, I didn’t look or feel any different and it made me feel down. It was like I’d wasted my time. The fact that it made me feel like this made me reassess where I was on my journey. If I’m spending all day obsessing over what food I can or can’t eat just so I can have abs that are hidden under clothes then what is the point? Below are two pictures I posted showing the result of a bad weekend of food and one day of eating healthier but not restrictive. 

This is as far as I’d like to go. I’ve kind of reached my peak leanness and if I want to go any further then that involves some very strict diet and fasted cardio. I ain’t doing that! I like my weekends of wine, I like my carbs and I want to start hitting some PBs again. Being lean is great but you also can’t lift heavy. Maybe one day I’ll go back and this time with a different mindset, but for now I’m done.
Last week I made a decision to change my training because I realised that lifting heavy is something I love. There’s nothing more satisfying then smashing a PB and also shocking people at the same time; I’m quite small but I can lift heavy. If you’re not happy with your training or where you are then just stop and reassess. What makes you happy? What drives you? Find the answer to that and then you’ll love your training again and that’s the most important thing.

How I’m trying to not let Instagram ruin my self esteem 

I love Instagram. It’s a great platform for finding fitness inspiration, sharing your journey and drooling over beautiful pictures of food. But in a world of #cleaneating and gym freaks, it can feel a scary place for newbies and you can obsess over how people look and the fact you don’t have abs you can grate cheese on.
When I started my journey I wasn’t too obsessed with following these people on Instagram. I was on my own fitness journey world just doing what I was doing and struggling to find inspiration for meals and exercise plans. I started to follow a few people and then suddenly my feed was full of them. Now people like Joe Wicks and Clean Eating Alice dominate our feeds and are mainstream. And for good reason! These guys are inspiring, especially Alice who’s own journey from gym novice to fitness star is something I aspire to. But the market is becoming saturated with people who ‘eat clean’ and ‘never touch refined sugars’ or eat a pizza. Really? Get a life! If you obsess about it, it can make you feel miserable. I know I would spend hours scrolling through posts of all these amazing bodies and feel shit about myself. Not what it’s meant to be about, is it?
My advice? Ignore them. I’ve filtered out quite a few of these people on my feed now; the smug, over the top posts, trying to highlight how wonderful their lives are and how they ate so bloody healthy that day. Oh well done you, because you’re just like me. You supposedly work 9-5 and live a hectic life but really you make a living out of this and thats why you look the way you do. It’s not realistic and it’s not real life. Rather than making you feel good about yourself, they make you feel bad for missing a gym session or eating that one jelly bean earlier. 
Instead I follow those who inspire me, not those who jump around their living room in a bikini because they’re promoting ‘body confidence’. Oh shut up and go eat some almond butter and a boiled egg.
I follow those who have been through the same journey and understand where you’ve come from. They share useful training or recipe videos that you can actually use rather than videos of them eating some raw, vegan ‘no fun’ brownie. They are real and genuine and make you feel better about where you are because they have been there to.
What inspired this lengthy rant? I saw this post from fitness star Zanna Van Dijk earlier today. 


I love the honesty here and the focus on health over aesthetics (something I’m just starting to understand and motivate me). No one looks like this without working hard and eating the most boring food in the world. So many of these ab show offs on Instagram lie about how they look like that. It’s not real and the average person just won’t look like that. I saw this post and i thought to myself ‘it doesn’t matter what others are doing and sharing. As long as I’m happy and progressing how I want, that’s all that matters’. Besides, no one walks around with their abs out….
Rant over. Now for some tasty food 🙂

How I learnt to fit in training round a hectic new schedule

I’ve been a bit slow in updating this blog recently because I went away for the weekend to a very hot Glasgow (yes, really!) and I also started my new job! A hectic week of trying to get my head round a totally new environment to what I’m use to has meant I’ve not been able to catch up on my blog and other social channels. But everyone has busy lives so I’ve sat down in my new study (so pretty!) and dedicated some time to updating this. I’ve actually seen lots of new visitors to my blog which is nice to see even though I’ve not been pushing it much; thanks very much if you’re one of them 🙂

Being busy made me also think about how I’ve tried to fit my training around this new work schedule. My previous job was quite flexible about when you arrived and left, as long as you did the hours. With my new job I’ve needed to be in the office at a certain time in the morning and as soon as I saw the start time I had a mild panic. Not because I can’t get up early enough (I’m a morning person so sleeping past 9 is a real struggle) but because I was worried I wouldn’t fit my training in. I can easily do evening sessions on my own but I don’t push myself as much without my trainer Will there to shout at me and sometimes say something encouraging…sometimes 😉

My trainer is very busy so I knew I couldn’t get other times booked in which meant I wouldn’t have any! Panic set in and it’s then that I realised how much this fitness regime meant to be. Its exhausting, sometimes demotivating, exhilarating when you smash a PB and consumes my thoughts and actions every day. I even had a friend this week ask to be introduced to my trainer because she read my blog and wanted to take her fitness to the next level. Hearing from people that recognise what you’ve done and the hours spent in the gym is a massive boost!

So why the panic? The idea that I would have to give this up or do a paired down version by myself made me sick with worry a
nd almost reduce me to tears (yes I know how pathetic that is). I don’t know if others feel this way but I think I have joined a community who might not see me as a crazy person now!

So what did I do? I talked to my trainer and we shifted my sessions to an earlier time every week. It means I have to get up at 545am twice a week but I’m willing to sacrifice sleep to keep going on my journey. I’m an early riser but my trainer isn’t so the fact he’s making the effort really highlights how committed he is to his clients (a great sign of a PT!)

So, today was my first day trying the new time and factoring in getting ready and the drive to work and I arrived ten minutes early! I can’t describe the relief I felt to know that I could still continue with part of my old life in this brand new world I’ve walked in to.

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I’m sure there are others out there who are even busier than me and still fit in time to work out and I applaud you. Because, if you want to make it work, then you do and the rewards are worth it.

 

What the hell are macros and why do they make a difference?

If you’d asked me a year ago what a macro was I probably would have looked at you blankly and said “a store?!”

Now I think about them every day and they are an integral part of my training journey, especially in the last few months where I’ve been going through the “shredding” phase. You might have heard about “bulking and shredding” if you’re into your fitness (there was a really good programme on channel 4 a few months back that explained it perfectly!). Essentially for three months you eat lots of food (healthy food mind!) and lift heavy to build muscles. Then the next three months you eat less and shred fat to reveal the muscle. That’s a VERY basic explanation and there’s much more to it. It’s pretty advanced training and not for everyone. I’m also doing a very toned down version of this I’d like to point out!!

In the last three months my news goals were to just get leaner. I’d started to look toned and was happy with my progression with my PBs but I needed new goals and I was interested to see if I could visually change.

This involved cutting calories down to 1,700 and looking properly at my macros (percentage split between fat, carbs and protein). My new split was 40% fat, 40% protein and 20% carbs. To be honest, this is extremely hard and I massively struggle with hitting that percentage of protein. Therefore it’s more a 33/33/33 split (yes I know it doesn’t add to 100 but you know what I mean!)

At first this was really hard. When I started my training, I had cut back on refined carbs and introduced brown rice or bread instead. Now I had to get rid of it altogether! This meant some serious meal planning and thinking very carefully about my food. Omelettes for breakfast became a staple! 

I didn’t nail it straight away (it took about two months to get my head round it!) but you learn over time how to substitute the carbs for veg (cauliflower rice is brilliant!). Sometimes you just need the carbs and that’s fine, just make sure you eat them at the right time (e.g. Evening before morning training). 

I’d been pretty sloppy over the last three weeks; I’d finished at my current job and ate out a lot! But I need to get back on it because I have seen a HUGE difference just by changing my diet (training has also changed but that’s for another post!) and I don’t want things to slip again. Posting before and after pictures really helps with motivation and pushed me to sort myself out. The pictures below show me when I began a year and a bit ago on the far left, the middle is before I started shredding at and the left was last week! The pictures don’t fully show the definition in my arms but the abs and very, very slowly appearing lol!


Next stop is carb cycling…I need to research this properly because I don’t fully get it! Wish me luck! 

Why a foam roller can become your best friend

If you’ve never seen one of these before and immediately not associated it with pain then run. Run away very fast! 


Only kidding! Although this item causes much pain, it is so important with training and aiding recovery. It’s one of the many things I use to help me get over some serious DOMs and in the beginning of weights training (or if you’ve taken some time off from the gym) these are a life saver.

This got me thinking about how I’ve stepped up my training in the last year and started to really concentrate on tools for aiding recovery. So many of us just train and don’t think about some of the things we can do outside the gym to help us reach our goals. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of them that I use to help me recover after a hard gym session.

Get a cylinder of pain (aka roller)

Although I now regularly train and don’t get DOMs as often, in the beginning this cylinder of pain would have really helped. The thought of rolling on horrendously sore legs did not appeal to me (or anyone!) but it aids recovery and means you can walk a lot sooner. 

In the last few months I started to skip any rolling and started to notice niggles in my legs and general tightness. Reintroducing yoga and the roller really helped and now I’ve seen much more improvement in my squats for example. Also I can walk down stairs better after leg day now!

Get a massage (not that kind…)

I don’t mean those nice ones at spas where they have soothing music and candles. This is not like this. Expect pain. Like serious pain. You think you’re fine until they find a spot and then you know it’s going to hurt. When they find a spot and push it till it releases it is undoubtedly the nastiest and nicest feeling ever. It sounds horrible but you feel so much better afterwards and if you have any niggles then this professional can sort it out. I saw mine today about some aches down my left leg. Turns out it was referred pain from my lower back. Now the ache has gone and I didn’t notice before that my back was tight. I try to get one booked in every month and if you can fit it in then I recommend you do. 

Learn to do the downward dog 

I’m talking about yoga here 😜 I always thought it would be easy. They just stand around on one leg, how’s that difficult?! I was so so so wrong! It’s only when you try to do a dancer pose and the old man next to you is nailing it while you’ve nearly caused a life size version of dominoes, that you realise just how hard it is. It’s especially the case if you lift weights. Although fitter in some ways, instead you are not as flexible. But like a sports massage, it helps you to stretch your muscles. I suffer from very tight hamstrings and knowing some yoga poses massively helps to stretch me out. 

So those are my top tips! I hope they’re useful and if you have any of your own the let me know. I’m still learning here 😊

How I’m learning to take rest days and not feel bad about it

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We all have those days when we just can’t be bothered to exercise and go to the gym. We pressures ourselves into going, step into that gym and sometimes it’s the best workout, and other days you can barely do ten press ups.

When I started taking my fitness more seriously last year, I had my regular twice weekly PT sessions and an outside bootcamp once a week and that was all I ever did. After the bootcamp closed down, I started to go with my friend to the gym more regularly, but still only going 3-4 times a week. I never went solo as I didn’t feel confident at all in going to the scary, male dominant weights area or in what exercises I was doing. I was worried that people would look at me and be saying in their heads “What is she doing?”; of course they aren’t but that feeling is still there and I just have to be confident in my knowledge. Around six months ago, after my gym buddy injured herself, I knew I had to go it alone. I walked into the gym, up to the platforms and smashed out the deadlifts. I texted my PT to let him know I’d finally taken the plunge and he sent motivational messages back telling me I knew what I was doing, to be confident and remember that they scary men are only looking at themselves (this is so so true!).

Once I felt that confidence, I then wanted to go all the time. Going from 3-4 times a week to 5-6 times. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, even going twice a day. I was exhausted all the time, everything hurt. But I felt that if I didn’t go then I wouldn’t tone up, I couldn’t justify that Friday night out and I would never progress with my goals. As I became more toned and defined, I became more obsessed with maintaining the aesthetic quality that comes with lifting weights and worried that a weeks holiday would make me into a wobbly mess and the last years worth of work would disappear. All this worry meant that as a result I got three bad colds in three months. Every illness knocked me back a week and my worries got worse and worse. I’d think I was better, go back to the gym and then be ill again a week later. I also injured my hip and it’s taken six months to finally fix it and get back on form; turns out it was cycling which aggravates it which is annoying.

Other elements of my life started to also affect me in the gym. The stress of a very busy job was affecting my training and being single meant in the evenings I didn’t want to be home alone. I wanted to be doing something and around people and so I went to the gym. The illness, the injuries and the stress all resulted in poor performance at the gym and a lack of motivation to continue when I wasn’t progressing.

It was only after my third cold that my best friend shouted at me and banned me from the gym until I was better; even my PT told me off! I started to listen to my body; was a tired that day and did I want to train? Would I enjoy it or should I see friends or go to the cinema instead? I stopped worrying about losing definition because you know what, missing a week doesn’t make any difference! I added in more rest days and took up yoga to help with the aches and pains (it really does help with stretching and stress and is so much harder than it looks!). I started to not worry if I ate carbs but time them around my workouts. I’m still trying to drink less but I like to be sociable! My workouts are still 5-6 times a week but if it’s less than I don’t punish myself; this week I left my current job and rather than obsessing about my free time and going to the gym, I’ve just gone when I wanted to. I now feel much better in myself and I actually look more toned than before (still no six pack but that’s not everything!). I’m also smashing those PBs, something I’ve not done in a long time.

I’ve learnt that if you just chill out, not put so much pressure on yourself then that’s when you really progress.