Category Archives: General Benefits

Inspirational fit moms: tips from women who manage it all !

Moms into fitness, those able to balance being a busy mom with their workout schedule, are real role models to me. Although I live on my own, I still find it difficult at times to organise meal preps, complete my training, carry a full time job and factor in other activities. These fitness moms lead a healthy lifestyle while looking after their families and their careers.
Gillian Leetch-Armstrong is a 49-year-old bikini competitor from Belfast and mother of three boys aged 16, 13 and 8. She works part-time as a social worker and combines this with running her own business as a private counselor.

Jennifer Mackenzie from Rush, 36, Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the leadership team in Accenture. Jennifer is a mother of two and a part-time Personal Trainer.

I am always so impressed when I see fit moms like these ladies in the gym. Whenever I get the chance to chat to them, my first question is to find out how they manage to coordinate everything. More importantly, I ask them to provide fitness tips and advice for other working, busy moms out there who struggle to find the time to look after their health and fitness. I have put together a digest of some of their advice for you.

1 – Find another fitness mom

Gillian with running friends

Jennifer’s story is a great example of how training with a friend can really help you achieve results. Jennifer had her first baby in 2009 and didn’t put much weight. She found it easy to lose weight after pregnancy by doing lots of walking. However, in 2013 she had her second baby and had gained around three stone. Her body weight had reached 11 stone (69.8 kg) and she found it harder to shed the extra baby weight this time around. She attributes this difficulty to life just being busier at home and at work.

Jennifer was not really into fitness but decided the time was right to do something to help her post pregnancy weight loss and get fitter. She tried a boot camp class while she was still breastfeeding, but it didn’t allow enough time for her body to recover. As a result, the experience of boot camp classes was not pleasant. Trying out other well-known weight loss programmes such as Slimming World and Weight Watchers didn’t help either. She didn’t get the long-term results she was expecting: 

“I learned from this experience that I needed a different approach and it took me a year to come to terms with it. Slimming World worked short-term, but the weight was always put back on. There are no quick fixes and it takes time to get results.”

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Jennifer finally discovered her passion when she decided to take a four-week TRX challenge. This program consisted of a TRX workout schedule along with a nutrition plan. Her daily calorie intake was restricted to 1,200. The hard work really paid off, as Jennifer says:

“I lost a stone and inches! It was the first time that I was doing different types of fitness exercises which allowed me to lose both weight and inches. Although the first week was dreadful, I was sore from training, I kept at it. The great thing is that I also had to reprogram myself around nutrition. I honestly love cooking and thought I knew a lot about cooking. This program was my kick start into my new health and fitness journey.”

She realized how much she loved TRX exercises and kept on doing the classes two to three times a week with a fellow busy mom during the summer. Having a friend coming along made a big difference, as they could encourage each other and push one another.

“My friend also has kids and we became gym buddies. When I wouldn’t be motivated and wanted to cancel the class, she would push me to attend it. Likewise, when she would be too tired and not motivated to work out one day, I would encourage her to go to the class. After the summer, we kept on doing the classes the rest of the year. “
Recruiting a gym buddy is a fantastic way to stay on track with your fitness goals. Here is a great article on the top 10 health benefits of working out with a friend that I recommend reading. As Jennifer highlighted, having a training partner is a great fitness tip that has allowed her to push herself and be more consistent with her workouts. Having someone else with you makes you more accountable and motivated to even just attend the training sessions.

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2 – Go from busy mom to organised mom

Getting organised is another great fitness tip from Jennifer to keep you on track.

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“Your health should be a priority and you should look after yourself. You will be better to your family when you lead a healthy lifestyle. For example, if work is a priority for a short period of time and as a result you can’t do any sport, then make sure to go for healthy food options.

I know in advance what meals we will be eating each day the coming week. I usually cook the day before for the all family for the following day”

In terms of nutrition, Jennifer has a very good system and has found a balance that works for her and her family. Her healthy eating plan has her staying with clean and healthy choices Monday to Friday, but she then allows herself treats at the weekend.  I was then wondering if her kids and husband eat the same healthy food, which would make Jennifer’s life easier in the kitchen. She has found a system which allows her to remain healthy while making sure her family enjoy nutritious food too:

“Since I am in charge of the cooking, I tailor each meal to fit my needs and keep the rest of the family happy. For example, if I cook spaghetti Bolognese, I keep the meat and will have it with salad instead of pasta. Same with burgers, I will have it with salad instead of fries and will not eat the bun either. I just make sure to keep the source of protein and combine it with vegetables or salad.”

Just to clarify, she quotes: I do swap out carbs for salad and veg but not completely out of my diet. If I have trained hard then I eat carbs, choosing mainly wholegrain pastas and brown rice when I can. I do not believe in cutting any food out completely, in my experience this just leads to yo-yo dieting.

I totally agree with this approach, and it definitely works long-term.

Although Gillian has a different background to Jennifer since she competes in a very demanding sport, she also believes that organisation is key to her success:

“My key is to plan. I usually prep a few meals at the weekend. For example, I would make stews, soups, curry, chilli. When I get back from work it’s just warm them up with white rice or couscous or quinoa. For breakfast, I make overnight oats so the kids grab a tub from the fridge whatever time they get up and I can have mine either at home or after my gym workout. Lunches – again, it is all about prep. I will wash lots of salad veg and chop peppers etc. then it is just a matter of throwing a handful in a plastic container and popping a cooked chicken breast or some prawns or a tin of tuna or salmon fillet on top. I often roast a chicken or cook some chicken breast. I can use the roast chicken in my salads and throw some in a sandwich or tortilla wrap for the kids.”

24826109_733070420229735_1219101876_oGillian- healthy family meal

“What I usually want is that whatever I have made suits my diet and the kids, by either taking one thing away or adding one thing in. So, for example, if I have already consumed my carbs portion for the day, I would eat chilli without the rice. Also, I double up on dinner quantity when cooking so I have leftovers for lunch.”

Gillian on stage-2

 

3- Get up early!

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Jennifer’s kids wake up around 7.30am but she is up earlier. By doing so, she can be in the gym around 6.30am three times a week to do her own exercise.

“I am lucky that the gym is down the road from where I live. Once I finish in the gym, I go back home and prepare breakfast for my kids and husband so that the kids are ready to leave for school. Then my husband takes them to school”

Jennifer makes it look easy, but I was interested to find out what issues she has to deal with that occasionally get in the way of her workout schedule. She said when one of her kids is sick or she is held at work, she has to cancel her gym session but just changes her plans and postpones the workout for another day. To quote her on this, “Life happens outside the gym and we can only solve one problem at a time.

4- Be gentle to yourself

Among the chaos of raising children, holding down a job (or two) and managing a work out schedule, it can be easy to forget to take it easy on yourself if things don’t go to plan or you are just too tired.

Gillian at the beach

Jennifer “We tend to be too hard on ourselves, sometimes work or life gets in the way, if you miss a session in the gym it’s OK. You can do it the day after. Avoid beating yourself up otherwise you carry this guilt over a day, then before you know it will be the entire week. It’s better to let it go that day and make peace with it and do it the next day or another day.”

5- Stop making excuses

Gillian’s kids are into exercise too. Her boys practice kickboxing and follow a programme run for kids in her local gym. This is handy, because it means she can do her workout while her children do their own! Sometimes she still has to haul herself to the gym at an un-Godly hour for her early morning workout while the boys are still in bed, she is committed to her training and getting it done. At times, she can’t get to a gym so is happy to exercise at home instead.

Gillian's kids at kickboxing

“I think you have to want it enough, otherwise you find excuses. Most moms probably get an hour in the day where they watch the soaps or go on social media. I use that hour to workout. If I can’t get to the gym because of [the kids’] schedule I will exercise at home. Bodyweight stuff. The trick for me is to put in on your schedule like you would for a dental appointment. You wouldn’t miss that!”

Another of Jennifer’s fitness tips is to try not to make excuses for missing a gym session.

“When you have a tough day, it’s easy to talk to yourself out of it. You have to fight through and do it. You will feel a lot better afterwards. The hardest thing is to get there. Once you’re there and you have completed your training session, you will feel great about yourself and have a sense of accomplishment.”

6- You are never too old

Gillian took up running at age 45 and competed in various distance races – 5km, 10km and half marathons, as well as a season of track racing. Her biggest achievement in running was an “All Ireland” medal for a team relay race. Sadly, she ruptured her calf muscle in 2015 that meant she went from running up to 30 miles a week to sitting on the sofa.

After a few weeks doing nothing, she hobbled into the gym nearest her home on crutches and asked the owner what she could do for her upper body. They then worked together. He helped her rehabilitate and gave her lots of fitness tips, and as a result she was able to go back running.

“I carried on personal training to build strength for my running, but found myself looking forward to my weight sessions more than my runs.”

I was curious to find out how Gillian got involved in bodybuilding, since her path seemed to be running in the early stages. It all started in in March 2017, when her son entered a fitness model competition in Belfast and Gillian went along to watch a support him. He did very well, winning in the category under 16 Mr Physique and Mr Athletic NIFMA Ireland (Northern Ireland Fitness Model Association).

Gillian on stage with son

 

“I loved the experience and got speaking to one of the judges who encouraged me to think about competing. I spoke to my trainer who also encouraged me to go for it. I was so wracked with self-doubt that I didn’t register for the completion until two days before I was due to compete. I trained from March to October, six days a week. I competed in NIFMA Europe in June 2017. I won first place in Miss Yummy Mummy, second in Miss Toned Over 40 and third in Miss Bikini Over 40. I went on to compete in IBFA in October 2017 and I won second in physique category and third in bikini category. I juggle training into a very busy schedule. I hit the gym six times a week – two sessions of PT and four sessions using a programme written by my trainer.”

According to Jennifer, anyone can factor in a quick workout each day, no matter what:

“Anyone at any age can look after their health and be more active. There is always 30 minutes in the day that you can fit in for a training session. It doesn’t have to be 60 minutes or more. There are lots of choices of exercises which are 20 to 30 mins long.”

If you still think you are too old or too busy to look after yourself, please check out this video of Ernestine Sheperd, an 80-year-old bodybuilder who started working out when she was 56.

If you are a complete beginner and not a gym lover, check out this blog with more fitness tips and  some easy and simple exercises any mother can do.

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World Class athletes have office jobs

Meet the amazing 30 year old Lithuanian World Champion in Kyokushin Karate, Aneta Meskauskiene, mother of two and wife with a full time job at Accenture.

”At present, I am 30 years old, a mother of 2 amazing boys, a full time employee with Accenture (which are also actively sponsoring me) – working on Google projects, a wife, and a student. Keeping up with my busy lifestyle is not easy…but it is very rewarding! I set clear priorities and there is simply no time for feeling blue or for indeed for any wistful sense of nostalgia.”

I had the privilege of doing a training session with Aneta to get an insight into her sport and see the champion herself in action. I was so impressed with her skills, her focus and determination. She definitely has the traits of a champion.

She has been involved in Kyokushin Karate for several years now and has represented Ireland in many international competitions. Her best results to date are: 2nd place in the World Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria and 3rd place in the recent World Championship in Khabarovsk, Russia.

She started Kyokushin Karate in 1993 when she was only 7 years old. With an historical background Aneta discovered karate after her parents moved from Russia to Lithuania which at the time had only gained its independence from Russia. It was a tough time and the country was offering very few opportunities. Her parents decided to enroll her in the local karate club to boost her self-confidence, and also to help her learn Lithuanian. They thought it would be a great way to make new friends.

Soon after, she started to compete in Lithuanian national competitions. Her former coach Gintaras Cemnalianskis told her she had rare potential and a promising future.

When turning 14-15 there were issues in her personal life to deal with including arguments with parents and coaches. She then took the decision to walk away from her beloved sport.

“During adolescence…lots of things (including my sport) had to go by the wayside. Numerous arguments and heated debates later (with my parents, my coach, and indeed myself!) I finally decided that the sport was no longer a priority for me…so I stopped.”

She made the best of those 10 years away from Karate and didn’t waste anytime.

“I finished school, started college, moved to Ireland, met my future husband, finished my Bachelor Degree in Law, started my Masters in Financial Markets, and had 2 wonderful children. Yet, despite all my achievements I still felt deep down that something was missing throughout all that time. So straight after giving birth to my second child while being on maternity leave, I decided that I needed to get back into shape, karate being the obvious choice. I couldn’t actually imagine getting involved in any other sport other than karate. So I set out to find another local club in my husband’s hometown of Anyksciai (as I spent my maternity leave in Lithuania) and here my story resumed.”

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As you can you can imagine it was tough both mentally and physically to get back in the game. I personally suffer after 2 weeks break from weight training so I can only relate to what Aneta has gone through.

When she tried to reach out to her former sport buddies she found out that they had either become coaches, teachers or had stopped practicing years ago like herself. Thanks to the support from her new coach Eugenijus Silaika and by literally taking one step at a time she managed to achieve her brown belt and to strive for a higher rank black belt.

She even took part in her full contact knockdown tournament which took place in Holland that year. Although she lost the fight she felt accomplished and proud of herself. Coming after a 10 year break, competing in her first year back was an achievement in itself.

Ireland was back on the map! When her maternity leave came to an end she had to resume her full time job (Harvey Norman at the time). She was determined to keep practicing and competing. Finding the perfect Kyokushin club in Dublin and great coaches Shihan Kevin Callan (Head of Kyokushin Ireland) and Shane Mulhall (National Knockdown Squad coach) ultimately contributed to her sports career here in Ireland.

Aneta speaks highly of her coaches and mentor.

“They saw my strengths and my potential while at the same time highlighting areas which I needed to improve on. Most importantly they believed in me and gave me confidence.”

Here are some of her achievements:
02/02/2013 – Scottish Open – Glasgow 1st place
04/04/2013 – 4th IFK World Tournament 2013 , 5th- 8th place
29/06/2013 – BKK Regional, Dunmow, Essex, England 1st place
04/10/2013 – KWU World Championships – Sofia, Bulgaria, 2nd place
23/11/2013 – BKK Open, 6th Incorporating Cup of Europe, Crawley, England 3rd place
29/11/2014 IFK European Open Sofia, Bulgaria, 2nd place
09/05/2015 BKK English Open, London, England, 2nd place
03/ 10/ 2015 KWU World Championships – Khabarovsk, Russia, 3rd place
17/10/2015 – 39th British Open and 7th Incorporating Cup of Europe, Crawley, England – 1st place
11/06/2016 KWU European Tournament – Belgrade, Serbia – 3rd Place

She is currently 17th in the Kyokushin World Rankings table 2015 (23rd in 2014) and is holder of a 2nd Dan Black belt.

Can you believe that she has only been actively training again for 5 years now. Her training regime is insane, just to give you an insight into what she does to grab all those titles:
her training sessions varies from 3 times per week up to 11 times per week depending on upcoming competitions and essentially her goals.

“In the mornings I would train with Dave Hedges of the Wild Geese Martial Arts Centre. He helps me to improve my strength, power and endurance. One day per week I would have a sparring session in the Kokoro MMA Club with lads who are practicing various styles of Martial Arts such as MMA, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing etc. While there, I can try out different techniques and combinations I earned with my coaches during the evening sessions. So when people say that Karate is not just a sport, it is a way of life – I believe they are right. They know what they are talking about.”

Aneta believes that Kyokushin Karate has several benefits which would include: discipline, respect, art, fitness, empathy, and motivation.

She also feels that it’s beneficial for both men and women.

“Especially for all women out there, as it gives you confidence, raises fitness levels, and strengthens your physical and mental health without taking away your femininity, and in particular for children – not only because the sport improves fitness levels, full body strength and flexibility (thus setting them on a path to a brighter future without crippling injuries or ailments), but it also prepares children for life – making them more confident, resilient, respectful, and disciplined individuals and members of society. This, I believe, can contribute greatly in confronting and dealing effectively with bullying or being bullied highlighting yet another positive side of the sport.”

Aneta’s big dream is to take part in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as it would give karate a huge boost in popularity and the global recognition it deserves.

Here is a definition of Kyokushin Karate:

Sparring, also called kumite, is used to train the application of the various techniques within a fighting situation. Sparring is usually an important part of training in most Kyokushin organizations, especially at the upper levels with experienced students.

In most Kyokushin organizations, hand and elbow strikes to the head or neck are prohibited. However, kicks to the head, knee strikes, punches to the upper body, and kicks to the inner and outer leg are permitted. In some Kyokushin organizations, especially outside of a tournament environment, gloves and shin protectors are worn. Children often wear headgear to lessen the impact of any kicks to the head. Speed and control are instrumental in sparring and in a training environment it is not the intention of either practitioner to injure his opponent as much as it is to successfully execute the proper strike. Tournament fighting under knockdown karate rules is significantly different as the objective is to down an opponent. Full-contact sparring in Kyokushin is considered the ultimate test of strength, endurance, techniques and spirit.