Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

Sometimes it just doesn’t work

I recently experienced failure at work for the first time ever. I had coordinated with a couple of my colleagues to run a Smashing Stereotypes event for the students at my school. Smashing Stereotypes events are what we run for our female members at VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane. They are designed to educate and inspire our members by giving them access to women that have been in strength sports for a few years and have dealt with their fair share of stereotypes and prejudices. When I was approached by a colleague to speak to their Certificate in Fitness students about owning a gym, I offered a version of Smashing Stereotypes and my colleague was very excited by it. (If you haven’t worked it out by now, I can never do things without them getting bigger than Ben-Hur.) And so…

I lined up a couple of the ladies from my gym to come and do a panel alongside one of the students from school that also competes in strength sports. I organised for a female Personal Trainer (PT) to come and run a circuit session beforehand, in order to turn the evening into “more than just talking.” I made posters and was going to hand out certificates for industry experience to the Certificate in Fitness students. Unfortunately, it did not go to plan.

The first sign that something was amiss should have been when I sent out an email to those that had signed up and I received a number of email replies saying that “they never signed up in the first place and they were very sorry to miss out.” This meant that I had no way of knowing who was coming.

The second sign should have been when less than 24 hours prior to the event, my PT had to cancel. Thankfully my family and husband were able to swap things around so that my husband could come and run the circuit for me while my family opened the gym. I realise now that that should have been the point at which to pull the pin and postpone the event to another day, but I had faith that someone would want to learn from these amazing women so I stuck it out.

The third sign should have been the fact that my husband woke up on the morning of the big day not feeling well. However, stubborn me kept thinking it’d be ok.

**side note: how great is hindsight?!**

Well, it flopped. I had 2 students turn up, neither of whom were in the Certificate in Fitness class. Those students, unfortunately, were not able to reschedule work or training commitments. When I had to make the call to postpone the event and contact my panelists and colleagues that were coming to support the event, I was in shock. I was disappointed. I was embarrassed. I was angry.

Since then, I have calmed down and looking back I’ve learned some valuable lessons, which I thought I’d share:

  1. If you’re anything like me, when you set a date months in advance you need to ensure that the target audience (in this case, the students of the Certificate in Fitness class) are given a “save the date” as soon as you set it, so that even though you may not have all the details finalised you can at least lock in the date and they can make arrangements.
  2. Always have a Plan B, so that when life happens and people are unable to make it you have a back-up option and you’re not left scrambling.
  3. Check that the IT truly does work before using it and when in doubt, always resort to tried and trusted methods.

Overall, I’m still feeling a little deflated that it wasn’t the success that I had hoped, but that won’t stop me from trying again. I’ve learnt somethings and I know what to do for next time. The 2 girls that did turn up had a lot of fun trying out new ways of moving. They got a free PT session with my husband and learnt a bit about what their bodies are capable of along the way. One of the girls made a comment along the lines of: “Look! I’m stronger now just from doing one session!” I even joined in the circuit – there was something immensely enjoyable about training with my students.

I needed to remind myself that not all things work the first time around. This was my first true taste of failure at something like this, and although it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I’m thankful for the opportunity to reflect, learn, and to make it better. I took a risk, it didn’t work, but that won’t stop me from taking a risk again. After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the girls, and I want to give them every opportunity I can, no matter how many times it takes.

Smashing Stereotypes Event Banner

Bookish Things, Gym Life

Book Club Fun

The ladies at my gym, to whom we refer to as Valkyries, had been bugging me for weeks to start up a book club. I finally pulled my finger out and organised it. I chose three books for them to vote on, recorded myself talking about them (I’d only read one of the three so I used reviews to help inform me for the other two), posted a poll, we voted, we read the book, and met on the last Sunday of July. The book the ladies chose was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and we met at the beautiful Riverbend Books and Cafe in Bulimba. I had some notes to help prompt and direct conversation, which included things like themes, characterisation, and plot devices, but I rarely needed them. The conversation flowed beautifully and everyone become more and more confident to share their opinions as the hour flew by. At the end I had organised for Vicky, Event Manager at Riverbend, to do a book chat for us and we used that to vote on our next month’s book: Circe by Madeline Miller.

I don’t want to spend the rest of this blog post reflecting on what we talked about, but rather the impact the actual book club had on me, the Valkyries that attended, and those that were unable to make it..

For those that came:

It was interesting to see their confidence grow. Many had said before coming that they’d never been a part of a book club before and weren’t sure what was expected of them. Throughout the month they shared their reading progress and thoughts (without spoilers and wasn’t that a tough skill for them to learn!). When we caught up they made remarks such as:  “I actually finished the book, and I can’t remember the last time I actually finished a book!” During the meeting I could tell that they were taking it very seriously, but were also having fun. Opinions were respectfully shared and discussed, and I know that I learnt a lot about the women that came. It gave a real sense of community to women that tend to only hang out at the gym.

For those that couldn’t come:

There were a couple that didn’t come because they hadn’t read the book and possibly felt embarrassed. Upon learning this I made it very clear (to everyone) that not finishing the book because life gets busy is no reason to miss out if you’re able to come on the day. Book club can still be stimulating if you haven’t had the chance to read the book. Just hanging out with the women in your community is enough to spark new ideas. Others were unaware of book club and soon became interested in attending the next one! I think I’ll probably need a bigger table next time…

For myself:

It hit me, how lucky I am to be able to talk about books, read widely, and explore new ideas through fiction as part of my job. I’ve been a fully qualified Teacher Librarian for three years now and I have never really stopped to think how lucky I am as a human being. I often remark on how lucky I am to work with the beautiful students at Mount Alvernia College, and how I get to read for my job and discuss books with the students all the time. What I didn’t realise is that I was missing that element of adult connection beyond my work. Getting to share my passion for books outside of my TL job and in my gym owner role is really special. The women that participated said that they really valued being able to have intellectual conversations outside of their own workplaces, and that they loved being challenged to think deeply not only about the book itself, but why they reacted the way they did. I hadn’t realised that I had been missing this interaction and connection with adults too. I love my students, and I love their passion for books, but it’s so lovely to be able to discuss (and for me, actually read) Adult Fiction in depth and without fear of saying the wrong thing. The Valkyries do not shy away from discussing any topic, nothing is off limits, and its so freeing to be able to talk about everything with women that challenge me to be better.

So, I cannot wait for our next meeting. We’re going to try and get in at Avid Reader in West End. I’m looking forward to reading Circe and hearing what the Valkyries have to say!

krystalgagen:

I had so much fun at our @valhalla_strength_sth_bne #valkyriesbookclub at @riverbendbooks this morning! I often forget how privileged I am to be able to read widely and talk about books daily. So grateful to be able to share that experience with my beautiful Valkyries. We voted for Circe next month and I’m super excited.

I asked the Valkyries for some selfies with their books and here are my examples that I gave them for inspiration 😂 Grumpy face was a tester because I was struggling with the steadiness of my hand 😂

#gagensreads#adventuresoftheliftinglibrarian

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Gym Life

The strength community will not tolerate this…

Women lifting weights – it’s something that I am very passionate about and something that the general population seem to struggle with accepting. Just yesterday my husband had the pleasure of refereeing The Static Monsters World Championships on the Gold Coast and he witnessed some amazing feats of strength by both men and women. Unfortunately the newspaper that was invited to attend and report on the championships failed to celebrate these feats and chose to focus on a female athlete that experienced Stress Induced Incontinence (SIU) when lifting 4x her body weight. That’s right… a professional journalist and widely published newspaper chose to shame a woman instead of celebrating her success.

I refuse to acknowledge the athlete by name as that doesn’t matter and she’s been through enough by now but I will say that this woman flew halfway around the world to compete in a World Championship and won the 62.5kg weight class – which was one of the most competitive classes on the day – and yet this was overlooked by the reporter.

At first I had hoped that the reporter simply didn’t understand what they had done, but when we contacted them this morning to request that the article be retracted they refused and have since moved it into prime position on their website. I will not name and shame as that is not the purpose of this blog post. I want to discuss why the strength community will not tolerate this…

Women that lift weights have already decided that they don’t care about what society thinks of them. We’ve already made the decision to ignore all the garbage out there and do it anyway. The men of the strength community are also very supportive and celebrate the achievements of the women just as much as their own. We are a tight-knit community because we have to be, and we are only growing. The outcry from the community over this issue has been incredible and it’s only just occurred this morning – we will move mountains to be heard about this issue, after all, we have the strength (both physical and mental) to do this.

Now, the issue of the incontinence – I do want to quickly address this… Although SIU is considered common, it should not be normal; however, that does not mean that it’s ok for anyone to make a joke about it. There are many women that experience SIU while lifting heavy weights! When you consider the sheer pressure placed upon the muscles in the pelvic region when lifting any amount of weights, it is no surprise that there are problems. We recently held a workshop on the Pelvic Floor and Powerlifting with Marnie from Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy Centres and I learned so much. I had no idea about the muscles, the pressure created by lifting, and why there can be problems. In fact I think this needs to be something that all women that take up ANY SPORT should learn about to ensure they are well prepared. It is nothing to be ashamed of and it should be something that we can openly talk about.

I will finish up here as there is not much more I feel I need to say about this issue. As I said on my Facebook post regarding the article:

Ladies, DO NOT allow people like this reporter to cause you to feel shame over your achievements. DO NOT back down. KEEP LIFTING and continue to SMASH STEREOTYPES.

We are strong because we DO NOT let the opinions of others define who we are and what we do.

If you would like to talk to a health professional that takes strength training for women seriously, please contact VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane so we can point you in the right direction!

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

The truth about our “why”

Have you ever told yourself that your goal was simply to “have fun?” Well, over the weekend we hosted a Smashing Stereotypes event at the gym and the presenter said something that really struck me. The presenter was Raeanne Pemberton, and she is a Strongwoman Competitor in the USA. She has a lot to say about the mindset of women for strength training, and in general, and I always find her inspiring. This time around, the thing she said that struck me was: “If you’re telling yourself that you’re there to have fun, you’re lying to yourself.” That hit hard.

Some context:

We were talking about competing in strength sports and how a lot of women seem to tell themselves before a competition that they “don’t really care how well I do, I just want to have fun.” I myself have said this. Raeanne says that this is a lie, and I now agree. We absolutely, 100% do care how well we do! You may not realise it, but every time you sign up to compete you have certain numbers in the back of your mind that you want to hit, and you’ll either be disappointed when you miss them, or elated when you smash them. I realised that we don’t publicly acknowledge these numbers as our official competition goals because we likely don’t want to risk failing. We don’t want to put ourselves out there, and then not achieve. We want to protect ourselves from feeling failure by setting our goals low. It’s easy to turn around and say, “I may not have gotten any PRs today, but I had fun and that was my goal.”

Maybe I’m being a little too doom-and-gloom about it all, but let me try explaining it like this. We are predisposed towards being hard on ourselves, we are conditioned to have low expectations of our abilities, and we are raised to fear failing. To protect ourselves from all of this, we set the bar low in terms of our achievements. There is a difference between “I just want to have fun today” and “I want to hit certain numbers or reps today, but I also want to have fun.” Every time we sign up to compete, we have certain expectations and hopes for what we will achieve. After hearing Raeanne speak, I have made a conscious decision to really acknowledge what I want to achieve from the competition, and to not settle for “I just want to have fun.” Remember, it’s ok to have fun while competing, but you will achieve and progress so much more if you truly acknowledge why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’ll probably have more fun along the way as well.

Educating Young Women:

Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to discuss this phenomenon of “just having fun” with the students in my home room. We were asked to watch the following video and then discuss:

We talked about goal setting and some examples:

  • Running – why do you run? Do you always want to run faster or further?
  • Music – why do you play? Do you want to share your music, play harder pieces, or sound better each time?
  • Writing – why do you write? Do you want to get better, share your work, or learn new styles?

As you can see, we talked a lot about our “calling” or our “why,” and I raised the question of whether a goal of “just having fun” is enough? It was interesting to hear these young women echo the same concerns about setting low goals that Raeanne raised. It gave me hope. Does this mean that this generation of young women are being empowered to think they can do more, be more, and therefore set themselves more challenging goals? I really hope so.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

Role Models: Part Two

In Role Models: Part One I wrote about the importance of Fictional Role Models. In Role Models: Part Two, I will discuss the importance of Real-Life Role Models and how everyone is a role model to someone in some way.

You may not realise it, but someone in your life might be looking to you for inspiration, advice, and direction. You might think that you are simply going through the motions to achieve your goals, but others might be marvelling at your ability to get the job done. I have recently become aware of how much power my actions have when it comes to interacting with people, and I wanted to share my experiences.

Education example:

As a teacher, I have always known that what I do directly impacts how my students see me, how they interact with me, and how they might expect other adults in their lives to treat them, both now and into the future. Therefore, I try to always be a positive role model, and it’s not always easy, but I also know that by sharing some of my frustrations and difficulties (within reason of course) can also be a powerful learning tool for them. By seeing how I cope with stress, hearing me talk about my struggles, and celebrating the wins that I have, my students can constantly adjust their perception of what being an adult and or a well rounded person is like. I don’t get it right all the time, after all, I am human, but we all know that students learn certain skills from watching and observing the adults in their lives.

Gym example:

I was having a conversation with one of the women I know through the gym the other day, and I realised how much power a Personal Trainer or “coach” has over a client. I often wonder if these professionals realise just how much trust their clients put in them, and how much their actions and words impact their clients. I have learned from my own brief experience as a gym owner, that the women I interact with look to me and observe how I interact with our members, how I go about my training, and how I compose myself both in person and online. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it scared me at first, until I realised that my position as a role model in the gym was simply an extension of my position as a role model in the classroom.

And so, if what I’ve claimed is true and everyone is a role model to someone, I wonder if everyone realises this? I hope that by the end of reading my thoughts on Role Models, that you’ve had some time to think about who you might be a role model to, and who your role models are. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

 

Gym Life

Bouncing back from injury

Injuries – we’ve all been there one way or another. But how we bounce back is everything, and how we prepare to ensure we don’t end up with a reoccurence is even more important.

When I was first taught how to lift I was taught the basic movements and told to practice that until it became natural. That approach did work during my “beginner gains” period. After a while, things started to go poorly for me because even though my lifting looked and felt natural, it wasn’t technically proficient which lead to some interesting issues. I don’t want to talk about these issues though – I want to talk about what happened next.

I had to go back to basics – I’m talking breathing, goblet squats, hinge patterning, etc! The sort of stuff that we now drill into our new lifters, but for me it was an important step that I missed; hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we’re so lucky to have a coach that understands nailing the basics! So today, I want to talk about how it’s important to accept that going back to the basics is not a step backwards, but should be seen as a massive leap forward.

Let’s talk about breathing as an example. We all get told to take a deep breath in before lifting, and to “push against your belt” – but are you actually doing it correctly, or are you causing more issues for yourself? One of our members recently discovered that she was struggling to breathe correctly and so she sought help from a physiotherapist. Our Valkyrie ended up being rather frustrated at how “basic” the exercises were and how she just wanted to throw the heavy weights around instead! I’m pretty sure we have all felt that way at some point with our training.

My advice is this: you need to think of your training just as you would think of building a house – you must lay the proper foundations first. Yeah, you can build a house on shoddy foundations just as you can learn to squat in an inefficient manner, but one day your walls will come tumbling down when your foundations fail you. Take the time now to work on all the basic movement patterns, to set yourself up for being technically proficient before you start adding huge amounts of weight.

From someone that has had to relearn how to squat, bench, AND deadlift, I know that I am stronger and wiser from taking the time to work on my breathing, and basic movement patterns – squatting, pressing, pulling, hinging and carrying.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Gym Life

Finding your “people” in training

What many people don’t understand is who you train with can (and will) make or break your session.

I want to share with you something that I only just realised for myself this year. If you want to succeed at training, and if you want to give yourself a reason to turn up to the gym when you really don’t want to, I recommend “finding your people”. Some refer to this as “finding your tribe” but for me, that’s synonymous with the beautiful teenage girls I teach and so I use the term “my people” instead.

Having your people around when you’re training can be a game changer. I have had a bad session turned around just by checking in with one of mine. I’ve seen others experience something similar, over and over and over again. It’s a powerful thing. Why is this the case?

When we go to the gym, it’s easy to bring our work or personal baggage with us. It’s easy for our terrible days to drag us down. When you have your people expecting you at the gym it can be a motivator. When you rock up to the gym feeling like you’d rather be anywhere else, these people can remind you of your goals and push you to get your training done. And the best part? Your people don’t even have to be training for the same reason that you are.

When you find someone that understands your goals, that gets what you’re working towards and offers to share your journey, it forms a connection that is strong. I know that I personally have only been training consistently since the beginning of the year because I know that my people will be at the gym, ready to train with me and to get me through sessions when I’d rather not be there.

So for everybody out there who is lacking inspiration at the gym – go and find your people. It will be the best thing you ever do for your training.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Gym Life

Strength Sports: In it for the “long haul”

As I was going through my rehab for a torn ligament in my ankle the other day, I got to thinking about how long I had been powerlifting for and what my future in this sport might look like. I’ve been lifting for almost 6 years now, but it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. I have hypermobility, which means that my joints easily move beyond the normal range. While I don’t have it as bad as some people I know, it does still cause me issues.

Over the past 6 years I’ve had minor surgery on my right hip and my left wrist. I may yet need surgery on my left ankle. These issues came about because I didn’t fully understand my condition, and I stupidly focused on getting certain numbers, not on having pretty lifts. I trained through pain and often told myself to “toughen up.” Since then I have become wiser and am now working towards pretty lifts. Although I am not there yet (I tend to end up doing silly things and hurting myself when I’m on a roll, like falling down stairs) I know that with my newfound dedication to technique my quality of life has improved drastically because my hypermobility is more manageable. Better technique = gains, which means more muscle, which leads to sturdier joints and less pain.

So why am I sharing some of my lifting story with you? Well, I had a conversation with one of our Valkyries last week about being in it for the “long haul.” This Valkyrie is relatively new to strength sports and she intends to stick around for a while. Because of her dedication to her training and her natural strength, we are expecting big things in her future. She had been suffering from some ongoing issues that were not necessarily preventing her from training, but they were making it difficult. We had a chat while she was training and after talking about her problem she came to her own conclusion that she intends to be “in it (strength sports) for the long haul” and that she’d seek help now before doing more damage. I was so proud of her for coming to this conclusion on her own – this was a lesson that I took years to learn!

And so, the point of my story is twofold. One: strength sports are great at helping you live your best life. It’s no secret that the health benefits of lifting weights for men and women, but especially women, are numerous. I know that my own hypermobility is far more manageable when I am training (despite encounters with stairs) and therefore my quality of life is significantly better. And two: when you’re hurting, and it’s not a good hurt, it’s a good idea to talk through what you’re feeling with someone that has been doing this for a while, because we understand what you’re going through and can be that little voice of reason that says “stop now, get it looked at, work towards pretty lifts”. I can guarantee that you’ll still get stronger, even if it takes a little bit more time.Valkyrie (Transparent Background

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Gym Life

Dreaming big, bigger than just me alone.

About a month after the opening of our gym, I had a real moment of self doubt. My life as I knew it was crumbling around me and I wasn’t sure I could do what was being asked of me. I sat down and wrote out my thoughts and it helped me process my emotions, everything became clearer. 6 months later and we’re doing better than ever, so I thought I’d share with you all my moment of doubt that lead to some serious self discovery.

To the partners,

To the partners that have found themselves doing jobs they’d never think they’d do to support their significant others, I admire you. For the…

  • hours you put in for a job you don’t get paid to do
  • time spent learning new skills on top of your existing ones
  • never ending thoughts about how this is going to impact on your own career and if you even care at this point
  • friendships you neglect without meaning to in order to survive
  • social events you decline because you’re either unavailable or too tired to attend
  • family events you never make it to, have to arrive late to or leave early from
  • help you ask for from your parents, whether that be borrowing things, physical labour, financial support, looking after your pets or kids, or generally accepting your reasons for doing what you’re doing, no matter how crazy it seems in the beginning
  • sleepless nights wondering how it’s all going to work out
  • late nights and early mornings you choose to take on so that your significant other can get some sleep
  • worrying over their health because you know that if they get sick, you’ll struggle even more
  • missed meals or take away that you end up relying on because who honestly has the time or energy to shop?
  • constant battle of knowing they need your help but meeting resistance every time you offer because they don’t want to make your life harder
  • fights and frustration
  • tears and the emotional storm that comes with having to juggle everything and not just survive, but somehow thrive

But on the other hand, there’s there…

  • pride you feel when you see how happy this new venture makes them
  • statements made about how well they’re doing
  • knowledge that they are doing everything to give you the empire they think you deserve
  • satisfaction of looking around at all that you have achieved and knowing that you helped build it
  • people you meet and the new friendships you form
  • promises of freedom and adventure when everything works out in the end
  • love and gratitude you feel towards and from your partner

This path I now walk was one I never even dreamt of doing. When I met my significant other it had never crossed my mind that one day we would be running a gym together. I am happy in my career, I have my dream job and I can never see myself leaving it for anything else, but I will do whatever it takes so that my husband-to-be can feel the same satisfaction from his chosen profession. If that means that for now I take on many more roles, so be it. We do what it takes to help those we love achieve their dreams. Valhalla Strength – South Brisbane has been his dream. It’s now mine too.

#takemetovalhalla

Image attribution: Ivan. Dreaming about the starts. (CC BY-SA 2.0)