Fitness has become a massive thing over the past few years, even creeping into the lives of people like me who never thought it would be something they could commit to, let alone actually enjoy. I’m a busy person, a tired person, would even describe myself as a fairly naturally feeble person (Anaemia/B12 deficiency/asthmatic just for starters…well, that’s an Olympic athlete in the making if I do say so myself!) but my fitness journey has spanned over two years now with very few mentionable dips so I’d say I’m doing pretty good. I’ve moved house three times and still attend the same gym with the same best pal, Rachel, as well as a few others that come and go. There was, however, one very noticeable blip in my routine.
Last year I managed to get a hernia. This weird little bump in my lower abdomen. I ignored it for so long – some days it wasn’t even there at all, others it would start to become more and more noticeable but as someone who seems to collect ailments like Pokemon cards I decided it was probably nothing and I was worrying for no reason. I began to think about it more and more over time with this very familiar simultaneous thought process of how ‘that terrible thing‘ (whatever it may be at the time) could definitely never, ever happen to me…whilst secretly knowing that it definitely is happening and I’m definitely dying. The curse of over-thinking.
I’d been really unwell for ages with a cough/cold that just wouldn’t budge and the glands in my throat had been up a few times so I figured maybe it was related, just another swollen gland. In the back of my mind, though, a little part of me just seemed to know it was definitely going to end up being some kind of cancer. Of course it is! There’s an unexplained lump in my body, it must be cancer…that’s silly, of course it’s not…but what if it is? Repeat this conversation over and over in your head for months, whilst not mentioning it to anyone because who wants to randomly bring up a lump you can’t show anyone because it’s hidden in your underwear? Definitely too much to just whip out over a coffee and a catch up. Eventually, it became noticeable enough that I did book an appointment with my GP. I had been massively put off after a couple visits with this horrendous, barking cough I was enjoying at the time and them turning me away, telling me it was just my asthma but I forced myself to go mostly because of the fear of the big C. Obviously within the twenty minutes between looking in the mirror at home and scrambling out of my leggings at the doctors, it was gone. (Why does that always happen!?) I insisted to my GP that it had been there for some time, was getting worse, probably only the size of a small grape but still…cut it off me, it’s not mine, I don’t want it. After a bit of prodding she determined that it was an inguinal hernia and I’d be needing surgery. I never in a million years even considered a hernia, which is funny because I actually had an unrelated hernia repair elsewhere when I was about six years old so clearly my muscles are made of some kind of tissue paper. The doctor told me the hernia was likely caused by my cough, which pissed me off. Coughing my guts up – literally – for months to the point I now have to have surgery. Terrifying surgery, a scar, time off work, a massive scar, pain and mostly a massive, ugly scar in my pants. I was told by everyone I saw throughout the hernia journey how unusual this was, usually they’d expect this kind of hernia specifically from older, over-weight men. I’m neither of those things and after lots and lots of googling I found it really difficult to come up with anything other than those stories. Stupidly I thought the operation would go ahead pretty quickly – it didn’t. I waited months and months, struggling to organise work because I needed six weeks off for recovery and I’m fully self-employed. Coupled with the fact the hospital can’t give advance notice of more than a few weeks, this was a huge inconvenience but we got there in the end after lots of phonecalls, assessments, blood tests, waiting, complaints, crying and cancelled appointments before having to be reassessed and start again. I was still working out a few times a week but I was too scared to lift anything heavy incase I burst at the seams. I wasn’t in any pain or discomfort other than the worry but I was completely freaking out about the six weeks off work and the twelve weeks off the gym – at this point it just so happened that I was looking the best I ever had and I knew I was going to lose it all, sat at home, on my own, all day every day. The closer it got to the operation, the more and more upset I was becoming at the thought of losing all my hard-earned progress. It was SO demotivating. Why even bother working out up until that point, moreover, why bother working out afterwards or ever again?! I’d be starting so far back now that I might as well give up on it all together and just accept that. I didn’t give up, though, and I’m really glad that I didn’t.
A few snaps before my operation:
The idea of being put under anaesthetic is something that worries a lot of people, the thought that you might just never wake up again – people asked me about that all the time but, to be completely honest, by the time my surgery came round I was so exhausted trying to get work out the way in advance that I was like, please, PLEASE, put me the fuck to sleep. I need to sleep. I would love to sleep, maybe you could just knock me out for the whole six weeks!? They explain all the horrendous things that could potentially go wrong during your ‘elective’ surgery, dying, infections post-op, something about cutting something that suspends the uterus that I don’t remember and the surgeon stuttering and looking away before staring me dead in the eyes whilst saying the word ‘labia’ at least three times. Please stop saying labia now, Mr Surgeon man. Apparently in some cases you can lose a lot of feeling down there, aside from just where the actual scar is, and some people get really bad bruising but for someone that usually bruises like a peach I actually survived pretty unscathed! Finally, I was put to sleep. I think whilst they were asking about my job which for most people is probably a simple conversation to have but mine went on for a little while whilst I tried to explain what Suicide Girls is, why it has ‘Suicide’ in the title and all about my day job photographing nudie ladies.
I woke up, totally fine at first, but soon after the anaesthetic began to wear off I realised I was actually desperate for the toilet. Having spent the time since waking up being told to drink and drink and drink until I felt the need to go without realising I was kind of numb to that feeling I’d been waiting for. Rookie mistake, but I made it – they collect your pee in one of those cardboard bowler hats you used to be given to be sick in at school. I got the all clear – I could sort of walk and my dad was there to take me and my entourage of codeine home. I live with my sister so they let me go home straight away. Another rookie mistake of mine was thinking that I’d be able to work in those six weeks off when actually I was off my tits on codeine most days and couldn’t even sit up straight, let alone work at a computer. You don’t realise how much you use your core for simple things like sitting or getting out of bed, or stabilising yourself when you slip. I was blissfully sleeping for the first time in living memory and it was amazing, I can totally see where addictions to painkillers come from after experiencing those beautiful weeks…goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend.
Fastforward to the end of 2016. Three months post-op and I still wasn’t back to my fitness routine, the six weeks I was recommended off of work didn’t translate the same when it came to exercise and after watching a lot of Youtube videos, most people had said they were off the gym completely for at least twelve weeks and had to build it up very slowly once they did return. I went back a few times to do light work outs, low intensity cardio mostly, but once I had committed to going back fully, the first workout back had me almost completely out of commission for a week. I could barely walk! I almost cried at least twice during that workout, I was really, really struggling and I wasn’t even using any weights. I was feeling SO sorry for myself but I refused to give up. After the months of fear of losing my progress, experiencing that in reality was a real knock – as I said, part of me always has this little positive reminder of ‘never, not me! I’ll be fine! I’m the outlier!‘ but you’re not an outlier. I thought everything was just going to be a little bit more difficult but it was actually almost impossible. I tried again a few times with lighter work-outs and even nearly moved gyms to something nearer my house to force me into going for shorter workouts more regularly. However, my best friend got engaged at the end of the year so we started all over again together. Shredding for the wedding! For the past few weeks, we have gone to the gym four times a week which is actually more than I was going before my operation and I am coping just fine! That initial flop of a workout could have really put me off but luckily loads of people (mostly my Instagram chums!) told me that it was just because I had been away for so long, that my body will get used to it again and that I will get back to where I want to be. They were right and I’m so glad I didn’t throw the towel in.
My new workout structure: We have modelled our routine around the Kayla Itsines ‘Bikini Body Guide’ – not as silly as it might sound, this routine is about getting strong, lean bodies, complimentary to any shape. It’s not about losing weight or anything like that, I’m more than aware that that’s not something I need to worry about. Thankfully in my time off, I was pretty good with my diet and definitely appreciated my PT pointing out how well I had maintained my weight over the break when I did eventually make it back to the gym. I’m vegetarian but probably eat two vegan meals a day, mostly vegan snacks and having not been working out I didn’t feel the need to fuel myself with as much food. The BBG guide is a twelve week program, so my plan is to complete that and see where it gets me before reintroducing proper weights into my work out. I much prefer weights if I’m honest, it’s something I seem to naturally be better at and notice progress with. Like most people, I don’t really enjoy doing thinks I suck at! On Monday (legs and cardio), Wednesday (arms and abs) and Friday (full body) we hit the gym for a circuit-style work out. This is composed of two circuits, A and B. You do circuit A for 7mins, short break, B for 7mins, short break and repeat. Technically you are only exercising for 28minutes so it’s very doable but feels much worse at the time! It’s very intensive and repetitive; jump squats into squats into weighted lunges into knee-ups…about as fun as it sounds. Plus burpees, push ups, sit ups and other weighted exercises thrown into the mix. The guide changes every week and obviously the difficulty increases right up to week twelve. I’ll pop a routine for you to try at the end of this blog incase anyone is interested. On top of this, I do a session of HiiT sprintivals on Thursday followed by a really decent stretch session. I stretch before and after every single work out, I’m super fussy about it. I’ve also been attending yoga on Sundays and have been going for 2/3 runs throughout the week thanks to a beginners running club run by Sweatshop Southampton. A few weeks ago I honestly struggled to run for even three minutes and yesterday I ran for 30minutes with only two walking breaks of one minute each. My recovery after running has improved to levels I never would have expected, especially not within this short a time frame. It really goes to show how much is just in your head. With my asthma, I’ve always panicked about my breathing. As soon as I hear it, I hear myself struggling, I feel like I’m physically struggling, I’m losing my breath, I can’t regain it, I can’t breathe, I’m going to faint, I shouldn’t be running, I’m going to collapse…Well, I haven’t. I’ve been out running no matter what, when it’s frozen outside, raining, dark or cold and I’ve actually been really enjoying it. Seeing such speedy progress really spurs you on and makes you feel like you can do it. Anyone interested in running, I’d really suggest you join a group like this because the distraction of running with like-minded beginners a has really helped me more than I can even express. Most of the work-outs I do have a social element – something you lose being self-employed and working from home, it’s great to add structure to my day and definitely improved my eating habits. I have to think now about the timing of my meals but also about what they contain, making sure I’m getting enough protein in my diet etc.
Progress photos: Definitely take them. Take them in the same clothes, in the same place so the lights the same. Unfortunately my house has the most terrible lighting and my *actual* progress pictures are so revolting they will never see the light of day. I was really upset by them, actually, because I feel like I look so much better! I feel fitter and I can see in the mirror that I look better but my pictures don’t show the differences at all, the light doesn’t pick up and of the definition I’ve gained so because I’m not really losing weight it sort of looks like I’ve achieved nothing. Please, if you take progress pictures, don’t let them get you down. You don’t have to show them to anyone ever but regardless of a twelve week program, they are great to put as comparisons much further down the line – a year between them, for example. I’m hoping I’ll feel that way about mine but for now I’m just going to focus on the good parts. I know my body, I know I’m fitter and I know I look much closer to how I want to.
If anyone would like to give the first circuit a go then do as follows: For the weighted exercises, I recommend two 5kg weights. Set a timer for seven minutes and repeat this sequence until you are saved by the bell, don’t hesitate: 15 Jump Squats, 15 Squats, 24 Weighted Walking Lunges, 24 Knee-ups (stepping onto a bench before lifting the opposite knee) have a two minute rest before resetting the time back to seven minutes and this time do: 16 X-Jumps, 10 Burpees, 24 Weighted Step Ups, 15 Squat and Press with 5kg Medicine Ball, until the alarm rings. Two minutes rest, repeat the whole thing once more. You just did a full BBG circuit, enjoy navigating stairs tomorrow! You can download Sweat With Kayla which is a new routine by the same woman. A fitness app that is constantly changing, rather than a twelve week program it’s something you can keep going with! If you think you need that extra push. Alternatively, there are lots of great work outs online. Good luck on your own journey!