Sunday, September 26, 2010

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Confucius.

My journey to “the unknown” has begun. I say unknown because while a fairytale comeback - to the Olympic rowing team after a two-year hiatus - would be nice, the real reason for me undertaking this journey is for the pure enjoyment of, well, the journey.

Fitness is a relative concept and while I consider myself to be a fit and healthy individual compared to the norm, I am unfit by world-class rowing standards. Consequently, Olympic selection is a long way from my thoughts at the moment (and thankfully I have a bit of time on my side in case my journey does take me down that path; final trials for the 2012 Australian Rowing Team will be held in February 2012). 

I won’t bore you with the details of my short-term health and fitness goals; suffice to say step one on the comeback trail targets fat loss, strength gain and enhanced aerobic capacity. And there are no secrets to achieving those goals; it all boils down to committing to plenty of cardio training, a well-structured strength and conditioning plan and a sensible diet and lifestyle. (Please speak to a health professional for individual advice if you are unsure).

I’m so glad I’ve finally taken the first steps on my journey. They are definitely the hardest ones to take! But I find it so much easier sticking to a regular healthy eating and exercise program when I have a goal in mind (yes, even Olympians and personal trainers can go off the rails without a plan).

So my words of wisdom are … stop procrastinating and start moving. Make some health and fitness goals for yourself, put a plan in place and hop to it! Because, invariably, any person who reaches a weight-loss target or improves their health and fitness through diet and exercise says – or at least thinks – “I wish I’d started sooner”.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm on the road to ...

Nowhere? Somewhere? Timbuktu?

Truthfully, I have no idea.

A good friend and mentor, Mr Bjorn Voon (ExquisiteFitness), has encouraged me to use my “Olympic” status and current role as a personal trainer to try and inspire the people of Perth to stay in good physical and mental health.

And somehow Bjorn’s good will and boundless passion and energy got me thinking about the possibility of making a comeback from retirement from my comeback from retirement.

For those who don’t know, I represented the Australian Rowing Team at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games before taking an extended break to focus on my non-rowing career (my first “retirement”).  

Thirteen months after the Beijing Games, I made my first comeback. That comeback lasted eight months and took me to within reach of making the Australian team for the 2009 World Championships (which will be held in New Zealand next month).

But a desire to put my recently-completed fitness qualifications to use in the real world forced me to pull out of the final selection trials (my second “retirement”).

But, as mentioned, Bjorn has helped me reach a point where I am now reconsidering a return to the elite rowing game. Though I would like to confirm that, at this stage, it is still just a consideration.

A fairytale ending is an attractive thought, but I’m realistic. I know my current fitness levels are miles from anywhere near what is needed to compete on the international stage. It would be completely arrogant of me to think otherwise.

But whether this journey ends with me standing in the middle of the Olympic podium in two or six year’s time or not, is relatively unimportant. My real purpose for undertaking this journey is to achieve a sense of closure.

If I come out the other end (of this journey) as a happy and healthy individual with an underlying sense of inner peace, then it will have all been worth it.

And if any part of my journey empowers or inspires, or even makes a few people reconsider their priorities, then that will be a bonus.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jacob's Ladder

Train Like an Olympian - interview with Exercise Perth


And I know I’m not the only one singing songs of praise at the re-opening of Jacobs Ladder – or Jake, as I affectionately know it/him.  Because every time I frequent Perth’s own stairway to heaven (or hell, depending on your viewpoint) I struggle to see the steps through the (sweaty) people.

Yes I know, Jake has been back in operation for some time (since June 21 actually). And some of you may have even completely forgotten about its three-month closure after the landslide caused by the significant March 22 storm. But I haven’t forgotten; it was a bleak time in my life!

You have surely worked out by now that I am one of those weirdos who actually relishes in the feeling of my heart pounding through my chest with each considerable stride up Jake’s steps. (Actually, you probably worked that out after reading just the first word of this blog)!

Yes, I’m a masochist.

And I’m also a sadist to some degree. But only because I know that physical exertion is very good for us. Humans were built to move!

But, as is the case with all respected Personal Trainers, I am of the belief that fitness is a combination of strength, stamina and suppleness. And fitness is just one cog in the “wellness” wheel.

And that is why I reckon the person who coined the slogan, “no pain, no gain” needs to be shot! Because while it might be a creed for some people to live by, it is a hapless phrase for much of the population (i.e. those who hate exercise, and those who are misinformed about human kinetics).

I do get very frustrated when I see people running, jumping, lifting, rowing, or doing any activity, with poor technique. Only because I know they are probably doing themselves more good than harm, despite their best intentions.

Invariably each time I visit Jake I see people busting their guts to get up and down those 242 steps as fast as they can and as many times as possible.

Many of those people start with an eager sprint from the bottom and a good majority are barely crawling the last few flights. Little wonder many of these “weekend warriors” never return to the steps and are turned away from exercise for life.

To all those people, I say, “respect the ladder!”

Jacobs Ladder is not for the faint-hearted. It is a grueling test of one’s physical and mental fitness. But if used correctly it is a wonderful training tool for everyone and anyone. Think about it – it’s free to use, it’s in a central location and it is definitely challenging.

I recently re-introduced a client to Jacobs Ladder. She knew of it, but associated it with pain and therefore was hesitant to go back to it. But after constantly complaining of sore joints from years of running (probably with poor technique), she reluctantly bit the bullet.

In the first session I had my client complete six HALF repetitions of Jake.
My rules for ascending the ladder were/are as follows;
  1. Climb only every second step
  2. Land your whole foot on each ascent
  3. Brace your abdominals
  4. Keep your back straight
  5. Stand all the way up to tall on each ascent (i.e. straight legs)
  6. No hands on the railing or on your own legs
And on the way down I encouraged my client to take as much time as was necessary to ensure she was in total control. I advised her to use the railing if necessary. (As you might expect the “weekend warriors” raced down the ladder. If they don’t yet have buggered knees and hips now, chances are they will soon!)

My friend’s heart rate was still close to maximum at the top (despite only climbing half the ladder), but she was in control and was using excellent technique.
After the first session, her legs were shaking a little and she had a bit of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) for the next couple of days. But not so much that it put her off.
In that session I presented to my client a training session that was challenging (for her), yet achievable. And after just one session, she took charge of her own Jacobs Ladder training.

A couple of weeks on from that first session, my client has now increased her Jacobs’ sessions to 3 x ½ reps (a good warm up), 3 x ¾ reps and 2 x full reps. It takes her just half an hour to complete, and in that time she gets a good huffy puffy workout but also a good strength workout for her legs.

Jacobs Ladder reaches from Mounts Bay Road to Cliff Street on the border of Kings Park. It is free to the public and open at all hours.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Brilliant New Career

To say my life has taken a major detour this year would be the understatement of the century. All my carefully thought-out plans have gone completely pear shaped!

But, in a good way.

Let me explain my journey so far ...

I am a 30-year-old Perth girl, raised by a Melburnian mother and an Irish father. And for all my adult life (and most of my teenage years) I have been known as "Amber, the rower". I first picked up an oar as a 14-year-old schoolgirl and basically didn't put it down for 14 straight years.

In that time, I represented Australia at two Olympic Games (bronze in 2004 and sixth place in 2008) and 10 World Championships. And as rowing is a summer sport, I have basically enjoyed an endless summer for my entire adult life.

After the Beijing Games of 2008, I was eager to get on with my life. Elite rowing had given me so many wonderful experiences and opportunities, and the very best of friends, but unfortunately it didn't pay the bills! And at the ripe old age of 28, I was keen to catch up to the rest of my peers who all had/have secure jobs, secure life partners and a secure roof over their heads).

Having recently completed a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Psychology and Journalism, I took up a cadetship position as a sports reporter at the Albany Advertiser. I remained at the paper for nine months and during the editor's farewell speech to me he wittingly suggested I had "given birth to a career".

Indeed I had. Though as it turns out, it wasn't a very long career. I continued in the media industry for six months whilst I completed a contract position as the Western Australian Cricket Association's (WACA) Communications Assistant.

Working at the WACA was a wonderful experience and I was fortunate to work with some great people. Soaking up the atmosphere during the two international Test matches was the highlight of my time there. The charismatic and fun-loving West Indies brought a taste of the Carribean to town, while Pakistan brought their well-known brand of controversy (recall captain Shahid Afridi treating the cricket ball like a Granny Smith?)

But, while working at a professional sporting club had its obvious perks, I really felt like I wanted to be the one running around and playing games.

So, I guess that's why an Australian Institute of Fitness adveritsment, published in The West Australian, caught my attention. Surely I would be well suited to a job where I got to keep fit and healthy myself and inspire others to do the same?

Roll on another nine months and I have given birth to another career, one which I expect to be much more long lasting.

I am now six weeks into a job as a personal trainer at Renouf Applecross, a boutique gym in the well-to-do Perth suburb of Applecross. So far it has been a richly rewarding experience (despite the 4.30am wake-ups) and I am so thrilled I have finally stumbled upon a career that I absolutely love!