My new 16-week fitness challenge

Pre-pandemic I was in the best shape of my life. And I don’t just mean appearance wise. I was physically the strongest I’d ever been and I rocked up to a 10km race without training and finished it in an hour.

I could deadlift over 100kg, I could bench almost as much as I weighed and I could squat the same (ok squats have never been my strong point (excuse the pun), I blame it on my long femurs). I could hold a crow pose and a headstand. I was working towards an unsupported handstand. I had this level of comfort in my body I’d never really experienced before. I didn’t have a washboard stomach and a butt you could rest a cup on, but my physical fitness allowed me to see my body in a whole different and much more appreciative way.

Then of course the whole pandemic thing hit in 2020 and gyms were closed. I didn’t really get along with home workouts, I tried, but I often found myself on my lunch hour joining a zoom workout with my camera off eating a sandwich on the floor. All these PTs who had had to move their offerings online so quickly to maintain their income and save their businesses. I felt like I was helping by paying to join these classes (in the same way I felt completely justified ordering from Deliveroo every week), but obviously not getting anything out of them because wearing workout gear and paying actual money to participate wasn’t enough to actually get me to do it.

When the gyms re-opened in 2021 I was living in a new town with a new routine. Me and my boyfriend joined a gym nearby, with a pool so I could swim. I was working out semi-regularly, but I was taking frequent breaks or missing sessions. Our (not so) new gym is a drive away and I’m a nervous driver so any weather conditions other than clear and bright meant I wouldn’t drive there; sorry, it’s raining, can’t go.

My new routine also meant I was just generally moving less. I was working from home permanently so no longer had my walking commute that I’d had previously. I tried to recreate it by walking every day after work, but it didn’t add up to the same level of movement I’d been doing in my previous life. You just can’t underestimate the value of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)!

All this to say my fitness levels plummeted. I started to feel less than happy in my body again and yes it has changed with my fitness levels. So coming into 2023 I decided it was time I changed all that. 2023 was going to be the year I achieved my ultimate fitness goals. They may have been quite lofty, but you know, aim high. You gotta challenge yourself, haven’t you? And if I aim high and don’t quite hit it then surely my fitness will still be massively improved from where I started.

So what were those goals?

  1. Run a half-marathon
  2. Lift heavy – again (match or surpass previous lifting PBs)
  3. Touch my toes. Or rather work on my flexibility!

In December 2022 I had a bit of knee pain so took myself off to the physio in early January 2023. If I was going to embark on this fitness challenge I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to injure myself further in the process. I had a back injury in late 2019 and let me tell you that was NOT FUN. Therefore I wasn’t keen to recreate that. However, the physio told me I had a possible tear in the meniscus of my left knee. The meniscus is the cartilage found between the bones in the joint that protects them when you move. Essentially preventing the bones rubbing together… anyone else feel funny just thinking about that? This injury wasn’t one that was going to heal quickly and it meant I wasn’t allowed to run or squat or do any movement that caused my knee to bend whilst bearing weight. I couldn’t train my quads on the leg extension machine, I couldn’t squat or do leg press. It’s a slow healing injury because there’s not a lot of blood flow to the area. Worst case scenario with this type of injury is surgical intervention to fix it. My 2023 fitness project was shelved.

It’s now May and my knee has been so much better and clearly doesn’t look like I’m going to need surgery! It has been slowly healing on it’s own and I’m no longer experiencing the tell-tale click when I straighten my leg. I have started running again and managed to work my way back up to 7km, but then stopped again for a month while simultaneously taking a month off the gym too.

The half marathon I want to do is 17 weeks away and I’ve also (reluctantly!) entered the ballot for the 2024 London marathon. As well as being totally inspired by all the TikTok videos of all the 2023 runners, the 2024 marathon is 3 days after my best friend’s 40th birthday and she entered in a moment of madness having never been a runner herself. So I thought what an awesome way to celebrate her birthday with her… so I signed up too.

Training for the half starts next week officially; 16-week training plan. For the first time I’m going to incorporate some tempo and pace runs too with the aim of completing the relatively flat course in a PB time of 2hrs. I may have done 3 half-marathons before, but I’ve never been good at running. This year we’re aiming to do better.

Ok, so that’s running. Let’s talk strength. I’m going back to the gym and re-starting some of my strength training. So we’re going for;

  • 110kg deadlift (1RM)
  • 80kg bench (1RM)
  • 3 chin-up reps
  • 100kg hip-thrust (1RM) – I have nothing to base this on yet. I haven’t tested where I’m at now with hip-thrusts so this could change!

And finally flexibility. My ROM is terrible in certain movements because I just don’t have the flexibility in my hips, calves and ankles (looking at you, squats). So I’m going to do a couple of flexibility tests now and then re-measure at the end of each month for the next 16 weeks (following the same plan as my running) to see if I’ve improved.

  • Hamstring flexibility test
  • Ankle flexibility test

I’ll go into more details about these in a future blog post where I’ll talk about my results, but stretching every day will be so beneficial to my strength training AND my running training so only good things can come out of it.

I won’t be sharing any changes in my physical appearance while doing this challenge because I’m so keen to move the conversation away from fitness for the sake of aesthetics. I’m going for fitness for the sake of my health as an insurance policy for my future self. We work out for good heart health, for functional fitness when I’m older, to prevent or hold-off osteoporosis and to ensure I live as long as I can.

So please do follow me along on this journey. I’ll be posting weekly updates on here and over on my TikTok (@focus_with_gem) and I plan to be as open and honest as I can about all aspects. I’m sure there will be significant highs and lows and I’ll share them both equally. By the end of this 16-week challenge I should also know how I got on with the whole London Marathon ballot entry…  Oh and I want to find a name for this challenge too so any suggestions please leave em’ in the comments. I’m excited to get started!

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