I started the year on crutches so it feels somewhat of a success to reach the end of the year standing firmly on my own two feet.
Apple Health confirms that my walking steadiness has indeed climbed throughout the year and I am now just OK.
I thought I’d do a 2022 retrospective post in the hopes that I could glean something more successful from the year than that mediocre accolade. There have after all been numerous fitness experiments and another year of consistent dabbling - if those two words can actually sit happily alongside one another.
The Fifty Year Old Rebuild
Last year I entered my fifties in a bit of a state. As a self identified fat person - I was overjoyed to have run half marathons, walked ultra marathons, ‘won‘ powerlifting competitions, completed triathlons, joined CrossFit boxes, dabbled in BJJ and swum across lakes but I really considered that it was all over and downhill from here on in.
I had begun to realise what ageing could mean for a severely overweight, menopausal woman.
- I was a passionate runner but plantar fasciitis had hobbled me
- powerlifting had given me admiration for the power of my body but it left my body rigid and I suspect it didn’t help my arthritic knees
- dog walking improved my cardiovascular fitness but exposed me to other dogs and multiple wayward dogs result in impacts and broken bones
- broken bones are a right arse to recover from and immobility when you are ‘older’ just applies a stiffening factor to every muscle left in tact.
I had started to wake in the morning, feeling unbelievably stiff. My broken bones had healed but I wondered if I still needed my crutches to get to the loo. If I wanted to walk the dog without hobbling down the street I needed to mobilise for about 30 mins before descending the stairs. I began to understand why Stanner stair lifts managed to corner a market.
Unconventional Strength Inspiration
Luckily, just before I broke my ankle, I started working with Kirsten Tulloch with the plan of rebuilding my ailing, misaligned body. She stopped me abandoning the potential of a healthy future and slowly through 2022, gave me back some hope.
Kirsten has inspired me for some time, as she is total badass and I was delighted to work with her. Despite being an amazing strength athlete she has been so tolerant of my restrictions and has helped me to build an invaluable, consistent, movement practice. Kirsten shares my passion for unconventional strength practices so my training sessions throughout the year tended to revolve around mace swings, kettlebells and sandbagging, alongside daily mobility resets (see Original Strength).
It’s been slow progress but by the end of summer I was beginning to feel that my body had potential again and I signed up for an endurance swim event - just like the reckless warriorwoman of old.
At the close of the year I managed my first turkish getup in many years, they were ungainly but it marked a huge improvement in my ability to drag myself off the floor.
I also continue to be inspired by Steph and Bill Sorenson and under their tutelage I’ve extended my collection of DIY gadas and even bulava. I’ve got a teeny tiny mace in the mix as I’m thinking that mace flow should be one of my experiments for 2023.
Having rashly signed up to swim a 5.5 km or half marathon river swim in August, I’ve had to get myself back in the pool. The timing isn’t the best as my lido has closed for a 9 month renovation and my local pool has just sprung a leak but it all adds to the challenge.
From my early sessions, exhausting myself after 1 km, it’s become clear that I am a mighty slow swimmer and I will be struggling to stay inside the cut off for the Thames swim. I therefore decided I needed to spend some time working on my technique before I worried too much about the unfolding distance challenge.
For the second time in 5 years I went back to see Adam (Ocean) Walker for a 3 hour introduction to his technique.
I would love to be able to swim with the grace and efficiency of Adam but unfortunately the short session didn’t seem to be long enough for me to grasp the feel of the technique. There are something like 5 stages of his stroke to work through and I was only getting to put the whole stroke together in the final 10 minutes or so. It wasn’t quite enough for me to feel any sort of confidence that I could recognise when I was getting the action right.
I would recommend investing in the full day course if you wanted to learn his technique, it’s a lot of money but you need to give yourself the greatest chance of making it count.
Having attempted the drills for a month, I’m sliding back to my old ways and think maybe I should look for some more incremental tips from a local trainer, rather looking to totally overhaul my style for a revolutionary technique.
Early in the year I was prioritising mobility practice pretty much in isolation, doing follow-alongs with Kirsten while also scouring the internet for the morning routine to beat all other routines. I’m the sort of person who can’t resist the promise of a quick fix so I’ve also purchased a fuck tonne of rehab programmes that promise to revitalise the ageing body.
Here’s a selection of them with my associated ratings:
QiGong - Lee Holden 30 Day Challenge (one-off purchase £9.99) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’d seen Steve Maxwell incorporating Qigong into his cool morning routine and as I felt my broken ankle could benefit from a freely flowing life force, I signed up for this course on Udemy. It cost me about £9.99 on one of their regular sales and is probably one of the best spent tenners of my life. Each session is about 8 mins long and you leave them feeling great.
ROMWOD or Pliability (monthly subscription $13.95) ⭐⭐⭐
I’m not sure whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I’ve been doing ROMWOD since my crossfit days (irregularly of course). I’ve always enjoyed the sessions and love the focus on breathing and long held poses which help you feel incredibly calm. It’s a great practice for the end of the day.
I encouraged my work to include a twice weekly mobility session into our working week and we opted for ROMWOD (now pliability) to help us on our journey to getting limber. I think most people enjoy the sessions but no-one has noticed a dramatic improvement in mobility. I myself have noticed just a slight improvement in my knee bend so I can reduce the number of bolsters required to get into a saddle position.
I had hoped for something more revolutionary.
YogaBody - Science of Stretching (one off $49) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This year it appeared as though Lucas Rockwood popped up on my instagram feed at least once a day, clutching his back and telling me his program was my missing link. It felt faintly spammy so I avoided until Kirsten recommended his program as the real deal.
Like ROMWOD the focus here is on long held poses but there is less variety here and therefore more focus. There are 5 daily sessions that you should work through during the week. Each last no more than 15 mins but they can be intense as you work towards holding the pose for upto 5 minutes each.
I’m only a month into this practice so will need to update later but I think this will improve my mobility and will switch out ROMWOD in favour of the 5 fixed sessions.
Foundation Training (monthly subscription $15) ⭐⭐⭐
There are only a handful of principles to learn so it’s very accessible, even to those in current pain. I wasn’t totally sold on my trial subscription as the follow along workouts were all really long 40 mins + and I basically found them too boring.
I’ve since discovered that the programs have been updated and there are many more workouts available in the 10 minute region. They also have specific protocols available for things like back pain, knee pain, scoliosis and many more.
If you are actually in pain I think this is where you should spend your money and I expect to dip back in at some point.
Functional Patterns (one off $147 - $223) ⭐
I was seduced by Naudi Aguilar’s youtube videos on Functional Patterns or FP. He’s a master of rotational strength at speed. You can’t fail to be impressed by him, at least at first sight. After a bit more investigating you might find that he rubs you up the wrong way as he’s a tad on the arrogant side. If you’ve immersed yourself in the fitness world for a while you begin to recognise that patterns and systems and movements have major overlaps with one another. If a trainer claims that his method is the only truth, you’d be well advised to shut your wallet and steer clear.
I was unhappy with the FP program I purchased but I can’t fault their customer service, I was dealt with professionally and got to try out both the the 10 week program and the Functional Training System (FTS). I could only recommend the former to absolute novices and people with the patience to spend the first 3 weeks foam rollering different parts of the body. When you make it through that torture you’ll be pleased to hear Naudi announce that it won’t have done you much good.
The FTS system is a more complete program and I think it has great potential but the method of delivery is painful. Lectures, by Naudi are eeked out to you week by week and you cannot skip ahead. The lectures support a different body focus each week but predominantly consist of Naudi looping through the phrase “Anterior pelvic tilt, posterior pelvic tilt” ad infinitum. It is beyond tiresome.
As a system it’s also annoying in that no exercises are actually prescribed. As in how many reps, sets or even sessions per week to aim for. You just get a description of movements. It is really a shame because I’d like some of his agility to rub off on me.
Skill Acquisition and Rope Flow
It appears that many of the unconventional strength athletes that I follow on Instagram, like to swing ropes alongside maces and kettlebells. Some time towards the end of summer, I started to hear the name David Weck (of Weck Method) bandied around and the power of rope flow was revealed to me by this crazy maverick genius.
David Weck is quite a joy to watch and I recommend spending some time watching him illustrate the locomotive benefits of head over foot, rope flow balance.
I started my rope flow journey then and there, convinced that I would be useless but equally convinced that it could be the obvious salve to my postural imbalances and recent difficulties with walking.
The Weck Method have loads of freely available videos to help you master the fundamental moves but I’ve also tried two paid for courses both of which complement each other and that I’d recommend.
The Way of The Rope - 8 weeks to fluidity (one off £40) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
8 weeks to fluidity is a prescribed training course for Rope Flow. Timothy Shieff breaks down the movement patterns and then using an online platform steadily progresses through flow patterns. You spend 15-20 mins 4 times a week and the improvement and progress is rapid and obvious. I got a bit stuck around week 6 as I struggled (and still do) with the sneak but I like Timothy’s course very much and have benefitted from the enforced consistency.
Flow with AJ - White Belt (one off $50) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I love watching AJ on instagram. He is a rope flow master.
I bought his white belt course after finishing the 8 weeks to fluidity by Way of the Rope. It’s really geared at total beginners but I’m still struggling with some basic patterns (SNEAK) so wanted to get an alternative angle.
I didn’t find the sneak tutorial that useful actually, it was too short and as with many of the tutorials just deferred to David Weck for further study.
I do enjoy the weaponise sections though so I think this is going to be a great follow on from my first course. It’s beautifully filmed as well.
At the tail end of lockdown I managed to squeeze a sauna into the bottom of the garden and in 2022 I experimented with ways of getting seriously cold.
I started with a 3/4 whiskey barrel which is a mistake on many levels - not big enough, it smells, tricky to get in and out of and it goes manky very quickly.
I really wanted to swap the barrel for a tub from theicebath.co but there was just no way to get one through our house and into the garden. Instead I opted to have them round to install a chiller and filtration unit to a 5ft stock tank. This is a spectacular addition to my health regime.
During the summer months I would end the evening with a few minutes a 2 °C which ensured I could get to sleep before I felt the inevitable mugginess of the night. Now in the winter I am using it for contrast therapy - jumping in the icy water after a 30 min session in the sauna.
I’ve tried fasts of upto 48 hrs before but this year I thought I would try an extended 5 day water (and black coffee) fast. I can’t deny that part of the motivation is weightloss but primarily I think fasts are a fantastic regeneration tool for the body. While fasting I binge on biohacking podcasts to provide the necessary motivation to continue. Try Rhonda Patrick at Found My Fitness if you are interested. I cut my fast short after 4 days because I was struggling to focus on my work, the hunger wasn’t particularly bad but I lost my ability to concentrate after about 72 hrs.
I had planned to follow up with another extended fast in quick succession but in the end I decided to abandon that plan as I felt the experience had knocked my hormones out of kilter. I became extremely lethargic, wanting to nap during the day and blood tests suggested my thyroid was struggling. I took thyroxine and iodine for a while and gradually I felt better again but it took months to feel properly recovered.
I’m still convinced by the health benefits of fasting but I’m happy to stick to time-restricted eating patterns where instead I aim to have a daily fasting window of upto 16 hours.
Focus for 2023
I’ve gained sufficient resiliency over the year to be able to start experimenting again. I’m feeling excited about where my training might take me, whereas last year I was worried, scared and frail.
My training is necessarily going to involve quite a lot of swim endurance but I’m also going to be spending time on skill acquisition, training that mind-body connection in practices such as rope flow, mace swinging and sandflail play. I can’t exaggerate how powerful my brief foray into rope flow has been, it’s softened my spinal motion and awoken a hint of rhythm or flow in my body.
This is a movement practice that I expect to stick to for life now.