The reason why I moved from an in-depth weekly journal to a more concise monthly account of what I’ve been up to, was to spend less time writing about myself and focus more on creating more of the high-quality, written content I hope Fitkno will be known for. My plan paid off, I wrote so much during the past month and Fitkno is on the verge of being launched!
I had a fantastic time in April and experienced more of a journey than I have in recent months. There was my first ever photoshoot, a gruelling personal training session during which I felt utterly humiliated, a seven-hour traffic jam, an Easter diet lapse, a few kilos of weight gain and the birth of my intermittent fasting routine. All of this ran in parallel with my unbreakable passion to create amazing content for Fitkno, as I stepped ever closer to the threshold of being able to introduce my website to the world.
When I started building FitKno back in December, I was adamant that I wanted to launch it as a nicely rounded package—I figured if I’m going to ask people to visit my page, I want there to be plenty for people to read and lots of pages for them to click through. On the eve of promoting the hell out of FitKno there’s already over 30 posts, with numerous others lined up for publication over the next few weeks and months. I thought there was little point in launching a blog that has only three or four pages, readers would have a quick look around and then be off. A lot of what I’ve written is about me, the diarised ramblings of my fitness journey, my passion for creating FitKno and how I balance both of these with my work and family life. I make no apology for this because hopefully you will be interested to learn about me, the writer—I certainly love to read about the lives and backstories of some of my favourite writers, whether fictionists or journalists. But, the core content of FitKno is the probing interviews with inspiring people from within the fitness and well-being industry, the thought-provoking articles on a wide range of subjects aimed to help us lead happier, healthier lives and the brutally honest product reviews. As my finger hovers over the ‘go’ button, I sincerely hope you love or at least like what I do!
April started in the same vein as previous months with my focus being on maintaining a caloric deficit and putting myself through brutal gym sessions as I prepared for my photoshoot on the 7th. I’m quite an easy-going guy, but God I was nervous. I’ve been the other side of the camera for most of my adult life, rarely stepping the other side of the lens and I was petrified at looking like an idiot. I couldn’t be quite as ripped as I once hoped I could be by now, but I made sure I put in all the effort I could to look my best.
Having done numerous fitness shoots as a photographer, I know the style of imagery I like and keep a close eye on social media for such images. One photographer who kept popping up in my feed was Matt Thomas—who takes exceptional pictures of both professional and amateur athletes. I quickly identified him as the guy to take my picture for FitKno, as well as being a really interesting person to interview. We caught up for a coffee about a week before the shoot and I quizzed him on all aspects of his life and career. Matt has a detailed understanding of fitness photography because he is a weightlifter himself and has a thorough background in photography—having done it professionally or semi-professionally for most of his life. We talked for over an hour and a half, discussing everything from his days working on cruise ships and training techniques to how he gets the best out of his subjects and how Nikon cameras are superior to other makes (we’re both Nikon users). When I’m interviewing someone, I make an audio recording, so I don’t get distracted hurriedly writing notes. I’m really excited to transcribe the interview and write it up because Matt has some great stories and really relevant advice for anybody looking to break into fitness photography.
Getting stuck in traffic is one thing that annoys me the most—but sometimes, it’s so bad I almost laugh it off. Such was my experience on the 3rd April, when my one-hour commute took over seven hours due to a motorway closure. Everything was going well until 08:15, there was a bit of congestion from the normal school run traffic, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then we just stopped, on a feeder road that joins the M5, the radio said that the road ahead was closed due to a serious accident on the motorway. I inched forwards at a rate of about one mile every two and a half hours, the range of emotions and psychological states one passes through is remarkable. At first, I was annoyed, I’d be late to work—but then I cared a little less, I was already late and there was little I could do about it. Unfortunately, my laptop battery only had around 20%, so I couldn’t get on with any work, so I made use of the time transcribing my interview with Markus Torenstra—listening back to the audio recording and making notes which would form the backbone of my final written piece. This took around two hours, after which I got bored of writing and called work to let them know its doubtful I’d be there any time within the next couple of hours. Thankfully, I had my lunch in the boot, so I did have something to eat—although the only drink in the car was a half-full bottle of water Isobel had left in from the weekend. Boredom and frustration kicked in around 13:00, I wondered when this was finally going to end—it did at just after 14:00 and by 14:45 I arrived at work, after leaving the house a few minutes before 08:00. Even though I have always driven a lot, this is by far my worst traffic jam experience and one I don’t care to repeat any time soon.
On Sunday 7th I had my photoshoot with Matt Thomas. As well as being quite local to me, one of the most convenient aspects of a shoot with Matt is that he has the free run of The Gym in Gloucester after hours, which means he offers two slots per weekend day, both in the evening. Timing it like this was perfect because I didn’t have to sacrifice any family time or rearrange any of my daddy duties. Having the whole gym to ourselves was incredible, it meant there was no waiting around, no sacrifices of having other people in the background of pictures and no chance of feeling uncomfortable with people watching on. I was pretty apprehensive about the whole thing anyway, the last thing I needed was to feel more self-conscious by having other gymgoers gawking at my shoot.
Matt’s a great guy and his skill at being a photographer goes well beyond knowing the technicalities of how to get a good picture, he has a knack for making people feel comfortable and how to get the best out of them. Being a fitness enthusiast himself he was always thinking of the best exercises for me to do and poses to put me in to make me look good. He did a great job, for which I am thoroughly grateful. The pictures turned out great, but of equal importance was that the shoot was great fun and something I look forward to doing again soon.
It’s easy to think that now I had my shoot out of the way, I could relax my fitness goals a little, but the truth is it drove me on to work even harder. The best pictures were the ones where I could see potential at how I could look if I continue to work hard. My muscles are really starting to show, but they need to grow more, and I need to lose another one or two percent of body fat to achieve the look I’m after. Keen to push myself to the limits I experienced a personal training session for the first time in a while, from which I concluded that I’m not nearly as fit as I thought.
Taking advantage of a few spare hours in London, I met with my friend and Personal Trainer, Eva for her to put me through my paces. I told her not to go easy on me, make it hard work and I don’t want to finish until I physically can’t take any more. I soon regretted this and quickly learnt that training with somebody behind you pushing you further is so much harder work than doing it alone. We started by doing some ab exercises as a warm up: crunches, leg raises, bicycles and Russian twists with a 10kg weight—30 seconds of each with no rest between sets, four times. So—eight minutes of thrashing my abdominal muscles until I was close to feeling physically sick. I slowed a little towards the end, I had too much pride to quit, but my God that was hard work and the thing which scared me the most was she said it was only the warm up!
Next was a complex exercise involving one push-up, one tricep extension and one shoulder press (both with a 15kg barbell), then two of each and three of each all the way up to ten repetitions of each exercise. I’m painfully ashamed to say that I did badly, really badly. Before we started Eva told me that a good time to aim for would be to complete the workout, all 55 reps of each action within six minutes. I thought ‘no problem’ and started with bags of enthusiasm. In all honesty until the fifth or sixth rep I was having quite a good time, then my muscles objected to the brutal punishment I was putting them through. The shoulder press was okay because I do that quite a lot as part of my barbell complex—but my triceps practically gave up on me. I was having to bounce into the tricep extension and I cannot begin to express the utter shame I felt at doing pussy press ups for the last few reps. I normally pride myself at being able to bang out 30 or 40 press ups on demand, but the sustained pressure I was put under for those twelve minutes literally broke me. In which case Eva was as good as her word, I asked her to break me and she did. It took double the amount of time to complete the workout, but the one positive is that I did complete it, no matter how much I felt like giving in, I kept at it. If I was on my own I probably wouldn’t have finished, but having those words of encouragement and constant instruction made sure I saw it through. The crazy thing is, that wasn’t the end out our session. There was more, that would actually push me to the point of not being able to do any more.
Next up was deadlifts and walking lunges. I hate walking lunges and I regret ever having told Eva that I hate walking lunges, because I guess that’s why she gave me them to do. We set up the deadlift, she asked if I’m okay with 60kg and I said ‘sure, I normally lift 80-100kg so 60 should be fine’. What I hadn’t bargained for though was doing so many of them. We did a similar routine to before but backwards—ten deadlifts followed by 20 walking lunges, then nine and eight and so on. I didn’t make it past seven, I was ruined, completely and utterly destroyed. At the time I was grateful to finally throw in the towel, I felt ashamed though that I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was. In the end I was inspired to work on my weaknesses and do this exact challenge again a month later and display huge signs of improvement.
When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t move my left elbow very well. I thought ‘that’s strange, I don’t normally feel like this after a workout’—but maybe it will get better throughout the day. It didn’t, it got worse. It turns out it wasn’t my elbow that was hurting, but my tricep. Later in the day my right one felt stiff and began to ache too. By the afternoon I’d taken Ibuprofen and used ice packs to relieve the inflammation on the muscle. I couldn’t believe it! How could that workout have damaged me so much? I became resolute in my determination to improve. Clearly, I hadn’t been working my triceps enough before. I would change that in my future workouts.
Not long after this it was Easter and four days off of work. We had guests stay with us over the Easter break, so it was a busy couple of days, during which Maggie went into overdrive with the quantity and quality of food on offer. Being the daughter of a recently retired head chef from one of the most highly respected restaurants in Split, Croatia—Maggie is an excellent cook with impeccably high standards. She baked an impressive range of cakes and delicacies for consumption over the holidays, the culmination of which was for the main day itself. On Easter Sunday we were treated to a divine salmon en croute with supporting vegetables, salad and a spinach and ricotta pie—inside which she’d cracked four whole eggs before baking, which cooked beautifully when in the oven. All in all, we were spoilt rotten for food over Easter, not only with Maggie’s sublime cooking but also with the gluttonous selection of chocolate eggs and treats that were bandied about. For the majority of the time I managed to avoid the temptation but being the recipient of a single chocolate egg, I devoured it in one sitting to get the damn thing out of the way. Oh boy, it was delicious but the sugar downer that followed a few hours later reminded me why I’ve drastically cut down on eating chocolate.
As well as having guests from Croatia, my mum came to stay over Easter. Since my dad passed away last summer, every time we’ve seen each other Maggie, Isobel and I have driven over to Lincolnshire to her house. With a lot of discussion and considerable planning, she made her way, via a National Express coach over to our place, staying at a hotel just down the road. It was lovely for her and Isobel to spend quality, unhurried time together even though it was quite emotional being her first time at our house alone. Every time she’d come before was with my dad and there are so many fond memories of them here together, from helping us move in and get the house sorted to celebrating birthdays and Christmases here.
The weather over Easter was unbelievably good, I don’t think we saw a cloud all week and there was never even the threat of rain. We ate outside and went for quite a few walks which was nice and offered a taste of what we can expect with summer just around the corner. Missing out on my customary visit to the gym on Easter Sunday (I had too many duties to do around the house), I made great use of Isobel sitting on my shoulders to do walking lunges and squats. I asked Maggie to film us and put a little clip up on Instagram, unaware at the time how much fun Isobel was having up there! I think I’ll use her for this more often as at around 20kg, she’s a great weight to do such exercises with.
I may have mentioned in previous blog posts the protein porridge I’ve recently become accustomed to over the past couple of weeks, well on Easter Monday a thought flashed through my mind on how I could give my current favourite mean an Easter twist. Ordinarily I would mix a scoop of PHD Diet Whey protein powder with oats and almond milk, cook it for the necessary amount of time in the microwave then top it with chopped strawberries, blueberries fat-free Greek yoghurt and dark chocolate chips. Already sounds pretty damn delicious right? Well, imagine dropping a Cadbury’s Crème Egg into the middle of the porridge as it stands for a few minutes to settle—then as I’m devouring my favourite breakfast my spoon slices through the melted egg and I’m treated to the decadent flavours of milk chocolate, porridge and the gooey fondant from inside the Crème Egg. It’s almost irresponsible writing about such food on a blog dedicated to fitness, right? Well I managed to stretch it out until the weekend after Easter, when I discovered my weight had risen to 94kg and I had to get back into my groove.
Luckily, I knew just what to do to get my body back into shape again. I’ve recently been researching intermittent fasting, the practice of eating only within a specific window of time during the day and fasting for the rest of it. The most common way of intermittent fasting is using the 16/8 schedule: fasting for 16 hours and eating within an eight-hour slot. There are other ways of doing it which either extend or shorten the eating window, but 16/8 seems the most relevant to me. I started my intermittent fasting routine a couple of days before the end of the month, so it’s too soon to have any real indication of whether it’s working or not. Although my first impressions were that it’s a damn sight easier than I expected. I chose to eat between 12:30 and 20:30, meaning I could fit in a post-workout meal after the gym in the evening—then fast through until the following lunchtime. I thought I might feel weak, with little energy and a chronically rumbling tummy in the morning, but it wasn’t the case—I felt energised, agile and even better than normal. How could this be possible on an empty stomach?
On the last day of April, I hurriedly ate a mozzarella salad with Maggie before the clock ticked past 20:30 and it was time to hang up my knife and fork for the day. She commented on the progress that I’ve made and asked what my goals are now, which was an interesting question because I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in. The simple answer is that I don’t know, I’ve achieved my immediate goal, which was to look better for summer and be generally healthier—but now, I’m interested to see how far I can go. Do I want to be ripped with a six pack? Hell yes, but if you’d have asked me that question this time last year I would probably have laughed at you. Now, I’m a few percent body fat and maybe a couple more months of hard work and dedication away from making it a reality. I think my overall goal is to look better, be fitter and healthier. But, at which point do we say: ‘I’m fit enough now’, ‘I look good enough’ or ‘I could not be healthier’? I’d argue that it’s impossible, no matter how fit, healthy or aesthetically pleasing we become, there’s always scope for improvement—it’s an ongoing process. That’s why I love this journey, both with FitKno and my own fitness journey—the destination itself is irrelevant, it’s about the route I take and the mere fact there’s a destination in the first place.