I had quite a restrictive mindset presented to me at times growing up. There were barriers and limitations at points, some of which were for my own safety in case I fell, but oftentimes it would leave me with a sense of being less than. I had to push (and my friends & family fought for me too!) to make things possible, to trial and test out ways through the obstacles and see what could be done.
This past week I, along with my fellow disability competitors and a number of other athletes across many classes, were invited to a bodybuilding world championship. On an equal platform, with an opportunity to represent Team GB in my own category. I felt FAR from being isolated in the amazing environment.
THIS is what I love about the bodybuilding and fitness community. It is such a positive, welcoming atmosphere in many ways. Everyone is on their own Journey but there is such a collective energy of trying to develop a challenge. Everyone will have their own hurdles and not the same ones, but the journey to get there is a positive drive by everyone who, by their own commitment, becomes an athlete – in every class!
Thank you to everyone that helped push for that opportunity to become an athlete,
This weekend, the collective atmosphere, energy and general vibe at FITX were all reminders to me as to why I compete in Bodybuilding.
I love the community feel within bodybuilding – being able to meet with as many friends as I could, meet new ones and having the opportunity to take to the stage once again provided a real boost that I’ve missed.
I had the chance to take a bit of rest after the long drive to Manchester but had plenty of time to get myself ready. Most of my planning involved in show weekends brings with it some nerves and excitement, so it was lovely to see everyone in the audience, throughout the expo & backstage over the course of the 2 days at a slower pace having got there early.
As I get older I’m more of aware of my fatigue with CP, so I’ve had to my best careful with my energy (I’ve certainly felt it in the days since!), but to take to the stage again after a while away was filled with gratitude and pride of having an opportunity in the disability category with many federations providing that platform now.
The energy levels are starting to return / ready for the PCA Universe weekend in a couple of weekends time!
I’ve become more aware of my energy levels upon discovering research that cerebral palsy can lead to more fatigue, particularly toward the end of the day.
This has explained a lot in my youth – I’ve gained more knowledge in this area as I aged and now have a lot of lived experience with how my body reacts to certain activities.
This could help clarify why I prefer training in the morning to the evenings. The bursts of power needed (aided by coffee and my favourite pre-workouts!) sustain the challenges of my programmes. That said, I am very careful with my equipment selection & nutrition timing to support this.
I’ve also put sleep at a higher position of priorities as I’ve got older – long gone are the days of lots of very late evenings as this interferes with how much I can put into my training.
I understand further still that my disability uses more energy to generate movement, so my selection throughout the day is key. If more is needed later in the day, I can plan for this earlier in the week. Becoming more aware of the energy expenditure during the competition prep too helps me plan how many weeks I’ll need to get to where I want to be physique wise.
It’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided on a longer prep this year, to allow smaller changes, more often, that can aid my strength and shape into the show.
As I write this, I’m a few days away from my opening event of the season and as such the timing of my training & nutrition can really help determine my stamina. I want to ensure I can perform, but to a level where I can push, accounting for my structure with my CP and give my best as a Dad, colleague & athlete – it’s a great balance and challenge but the goal is worth it! 😀💚👍
As readers of this blog will already know, I love experimenting in the gym. Tweaking & testing new techniques that may open up a new angle to a muscle, particularly with my left side (my CP side).
That being said, I also try and double down on what movements I know work. This is where the development of my training begins to solidify my growing knowledge of what works for me. Having established movements that click into place with my dexterity moves things on from just pushing for the biggest weight.
Variability in my training has helped me progress over the years whilst keeping a progressive challenge of training right at the forefront of my programme. That being said, the difference in my muscle structure from left to right is something I cannot ignore. I have to place structure in my programme to accommodate these differences. I feel fortunate I can train at all, but having different techniques to develop both my left and right side has helped maintain my quest for new challenges through the years.
Take my shoulder movements. A side raise using the machine cable produces a different angle for my right side to my left (with a limited mobility on my CP side.) The way I’ve developed a working delt set for my left is based around a ‘seated crossover’ which involves me sat on a bench at an incline, facing a cable machine with both wrists strapped (for stability) and pulling away from the machine. This can be used in variety of different ways and I’ve discovered can work for both delts and pectorals by altering the angle.
Using cables and their attachments have been a game changer in my growth to be able to use a number of ranges without the use of my hands to facilitate the movement.
I went to the Naidex conference this past month, designed around accessibility, disability & inclusion, meeting so many people in the process, doing amazing work.
I tried new adaptions via the exhibitor space that have could have potential enhance elements of my gym training. It was so good to see a variety of adaptive pieces of equipment for different environments – in the home, gym and other places.
More recently, it got me thinking further about adaptions when training. I’ve often found I’ve had to be very creative and make things work around my programme as opposed to having anything tailored toward challenges with dexterity. Does anyone have any other experiences with trailered adaptive technology at the gym?
I certainly do think there is more research going into this in recently. I don’t know the right answer for every adaption by all means, that being said, but it’s certainly looking likely there’s more items becoming available in the sector as an increasing number of people enjoy training and more products bring more inclusion and accessibility!
It has taken me a while over the years to test and tweak a number of wrist straps and attachments to make my programme fit into my disability and I’m determined to help further – by at least signposting these.
I’ve found a couple of products that work well for my own dexterity with cerebral palsy – my latest was a smaller but stronger stitched strap from 1MR. One piece I also sampled at Naidex was from Adaptive Hands with taping over the hand that secures a dumbbell in place – which I think would work very well for many.
I learnt so much, felt very connected with a community working hard to make change, provide a voice and to create a spark that help provide ideas and importantly actions to take on this path.
Growing up I felt like I ‘should’ have been able to fit into a mould, Which through my cerebral palsy, I feel like I wasn’t able to, in many parts and I was left feeling quite isolated in many ways.
It wasn’t until years later that I realised that I am not made to fit into a pre-determined box.
You can create that mould as much as anyone else! I have the creativity and ability to carve what I would like and how I can serve and help others too!
Among many things I learned with CP, is that the way forward can take many shapes with twists and turns, but it is your own path. That path can be filled with success, love and happiness. I’m gutted in a sense it took my a while to figure this all out, and yet I’m still on a journey. But I am certainly at peace with where I am at, and that there is still some moulding to do on my path, at my pace! 💚
By all accounts the outlook wasn’t exactly all positive in my early days. Told that you wouldn’t run and have great challenges doesn’t leave you bouncing for joy.
Often thoughts of joining a gym & being able to ‘put on some muscle’ up to my early 20’s, were overshadowed by doubt from the ever present mindset of “I’m not built for that am I?”
THEN, the turn in that latter question into “or was I?” REALLY took hold when asking another – “WHAT IF”….
It’s a powerful question in itself. Full of curiosity and possibility. This creates a search for answers and helps to carve your individual path – on large and small avenues.
It does therefore, install a rather large dose of determination despite those earlier projections.
In the fitness world, there are many goals, objectives, reasons to keep pushing toward your target, underpinned by “what if”. what if it drives me, what if I could change that to make this work. What if I could use this that way?
An open mind has led to so many amazing opportunities in the world of mixed disability bodybuilding and it started with “What if?
Moreover, I love to renew a challenge, particularly in reference to my training. I always believe there’s new ground to made on programmes or phases within my exercise selection.
Finding a consistency has, I found, been hugely beneficial. Yet, making time to experiment has been the catalyst to discovering new ways I can train with/around my cerebral palsy.
The scale of equipment I thought I’d be able to manage at the start of my journey 9 years ago was fairly limited.
What I found was this, it was limited due to my experience at that stage, what I needed was time, lots of it! 😀
To test, fail over and over. I needed to find ways to develop and discover that unique routine that can be built day by day.
So, with more gym goers starting this month – I always remember where I started – I was shy, nervous & unsure. Now, with 9 years experience – you’ll get a friendly hello from me – as I feel I’ve only just begun the journey myself!
The year ahead is building toward a 12 month period full of opportunity across the UK & beyond for the mixed disability category in bodybuilding.
Fresh off a great number of shows in 2022 which included a calendar packed with regional qualifiers, new opportunities such as The PCA Universe, The FITXPo in Liverpool in the mixed category & also an Arnold’s Sports Wheelchair category event in the UK – 2023 will provide a host of established events as well new shows to add to the mix – including a PCA World Championship to aim for in Spain in November…
I’ve included some notes below with links to federation websites to check out individual criteria and further show information….
The PCA continue their support of the category with a number of shows available into this new season. Starting with a ‘First Timers’ show on 26th March in Birmingham – a further 27 events covering the whole of the UK, take place with mixed disability entry available with all other categories leading to the World Championship opportunity for qualified athletes in November.
This, together with a number of shows in other regions globally are available.
Fit X have announced a number of shows for their new 2023 season – 15 in total across the UK with mixed disability among their categories once again! – including the FitXpo in Manchester, finishing with their Finals in Wolverhampton in October.
NFMUK have recently announced their GBO Pro opportunities in a mixed disability class for 2023. Athletes can compete at 5 events this year with possible pro cards available for the GBO European finals – as with the other federations here’s a link to their website:
I’m beyond excited at the amount of opportunities for disabled athletes – thank you to all the federations for their support, the accessibility in the fitness industry continues to improve year on year. There are always elements that can be developed but I’ve witnessed a lot of positive changes over the last few years and a growing number of athletes on stage as the community grows and more access is provided – 2023 will be no exception with 50 shows from the 3 above combined! – bring it on! 😀💪🎉
I’ve long accepted the structure I have is different. The practice of testing my individual endurance and ability to mould into better shape for my health is a test that I also love to explore.
Questioning ‘can this be different/better?’ I discovered isn’t an unhealthy position I once thought it was. I’m not ashamed of my structure with CP – quite the opposite – I want to maximise my potential strength in both my right and left side. This means an incredible amount of testing on my left side to ensure lifting safely, but by exploring my potential working with my disability, could I hope, help in later life as I start to wonder about my own flexibility and mobility in years to come.
Cerebral Palsy is lifelong and as I look ahead, I can feel the need to prepare my training more to maintain my current mobility, hoping that I can sustain it for as long as possible. How long will it last? My body will tell me, but I want to battle through and also prepare it for the future.
The competitor in me wanted to prove to myself how far I could take my training through the obstacles on the way and its all part of that journey into bodybuilding. However, I am more aware than ever that as my body ages into my late 30’s / early 40’s, I can start work now that helps later in life. That hunger to develop potential grows into a mindset to protect and persevere my current structure, where I’ve worked out how to adapt but challenging myself to prepare how I might need to change if my mobility shifts further in later life.