When I logged on to my computer this morning, Facebook pinged up its usual jolly flashback reminder of what I was doing on this day in years gone by. I usually quite like this feature, as a large proportion of my Facebook posts are about my kids and it is quite nice to have a randomly selected snapshot of the way they were (I always kid myself that they were better behaved in those days).
Today, however, it popped up a picture from just one year ago. June 1st 2016 was the day my heart went Boom and I found myself in hospital feeling woebegone. I will discuss the heart issues in another post, but the net result of the incident was that I was suddenly not allowed to train any more. No running. No burpees. No throwing barbells around.
It has been a couple of months since I took the decision to start doing something serious about getting back into shape and also documenting my progress, and creating content about over-40s fitness on social media.
It has been a slowish start and a very steep learning curve – primarily on the technology side: learning how to set up an Instagram account, YouTube channel, blog etc; how to edit and upload video; what the hell hashtags are and how to use them. I have learned how damn hard it is presenting to camera and just how awkward I look when I think I’m being cool. I can’t say the learning process has been a great deal of fun, but it has definitely been beneficial. I feel a little less of a Luddite than I did before.
In terms of my fitness progress it has been a slightly different story. I started out doing a bit of running, building up my pushups and pullups and squats again, lifting heavyish stuff off the ground (or off a rack) 2 or 3 times a week.
… and then I signed back up to Crossfit.
Crossfit tends to be a pretty divisive topic at the best of times. It is perhaps the Marmite of fitness. Many people I know, particularly bodybuilders, despise and deride it, whereas everyone I know who actually does it loves it to the exclusion of all else. Having done Crossfit for a time, had time away from it, and now come back, I can see pros and cons, particularly for the older age groups, which I shall again discuss in another post, but for my current purposes it has two major attractions: first, it is IMO unparalleled as a means of regaining conditioning in as short a time as possible (providing you can keep up), and second, it ruthlessly exposes your weaknesses.
… and therein lies the rub. Expose my weaknesses it did. Ruthlessly.
Turns out, pretty much all I have at the moment is weaknesses.
Y’know I really didn’t go back into this expecting to pick up exactly where I left off. I was aware I had lost a lot (A LOT) of my Gainz – a quick glance in the mirror is enough to establish that. I know enough to leave ego at the door when I train. When I started lifting again I literally halved the amount of weight I was using a year ago as my starting point. I realised my cardio capacity would have suffered; my strength, stamina, form etc, but somehow I guess I imagined it would just be a matter of easing back into it over a couple of weeks and then I’d be back in the game. Maybe another month or so to get back to where I was, shed that bit of body fat that has crept back and then I’d have the rest of the year to build up to where I wanted to get to.
Oh how wrong I was.
It transpires that the point I am starting from is way, way further South than I imagined.
My strength is probably roughly about where I thought. Stamina and endurance… zilch though.
Every workout that involves high reps of an exercise, I gas out and simply can’t recover. We did 50 pullups for time my first day back: I thought break it up into sets of ten. Maybe 3 sets of 10 and 4 sets of 5… nuh-uhh. I did the first set of 10 no problem. Then a set of… 3? and then ground out the remaining 37 pullups in ever more miserable ones and twos. On Tuesday the final workout was, for time: 30 wallballs, 30 burpees, 30 wallballs, 30 lateral burpees, 30 wallballs, 30 boxjump burpees, 30 wallballs. I was gasping for by the first set of burpees and, far from recording a time, failed to even finish by the 20 minute cut-off. I barely got halfway through the box-jump burpees. Didn’t even start the last set of wallballs.
Formwise as well, my technique has deteriorated to the point of non existent. Apart from the deadlift and squat I have more or less completely forgotten how to execute all of the Olympic lifts. Muscle memory gone altogether. Having filmed all of my workouts for the YouTube channel, I watch the footage back in horror as I see just how bad my form is, even doing basic warmup exercises. I don’t sink in to my heels doing airsquats, I go up on my toes, I don’t go below parallel. I’m not locking out my arms at the bottom of pullups. One day last week we were doing strict presses from the rack. How hard can it, be, right? Push the bar above your head, lower it again. I wasn’t attempting anything more than 40kg, just doing it for form. Watching it back, I am in the middle bay on the rack, and one of the coaches is doing the same exercise in the bay next to me. Obviously, he is using a much heavier weight, and his form is, as you would expect, textbook perfect. Suddenly I notice that even doing some as simple as pushing the bar over my head, my form is woeful. My elbows don’t lock out, my head doesn’t pop through, I’m not bringing my shoulders back.
Okay, so by now this just all sounds like one big pity party. O, how crap am I? and I’ll admit I did feel a bit depressed about it for a couple of days as it gradually sank in just how much further back I was than I realised. What the hell was I doing? How did I imagine I was ever going to get my fitness back after a whole year off? Who the hell am I trying to kid doing a fitness blog and vlog when I can’t even finish a workout?
And then… tadaaa! fanfare of celestial trumpets, clouds parting and the light dawning…
This is real life. This is reality. And my reality is that I am almost 50 years old and have had to take a year off doing any exercise and its going to be tough coming back. My real life is real life as a middle aged stressed out single parent, and it is not ging ot look like the highlghts reel of a 24 year old fitness model. It’s going to take me a while to get back to where I thought I was actually startng from, and that’s okay. In fact, in terms of blog and vlog and providing information to other people in my age group about health and firness and so on, it’s probably better. The struggle is real and that is something to embrace.