The Great Moose Bake Off Charity Run

So next Sunday I’ll embark on a little stroll around Southampton with a bucket in hand, dressed as a moose.

Sounds bizarre at first, but as you may have spotted on my social media, I’ll be running for a great charity, Hemi Help. I thought I would use this piece to explain the background & to raise awareness of the great work they do.

Hemiplegia, which my parents discovered I had at a young age, is a neurological condition that affects children and adults in a similar way to a stroke. It is caused by injury to the brain and it results in a varying degree of weakness and lack of control on one side of the body. Hemiplegia affects one child in 1000. (http://www.hemihelp.org.uk)

It started with a fun protein bake off competition Muscle Mousse ran in the autumn last year, so much so that I ended up in the final ‘showstopper’ challenge😃.

With that approaching, my brother Chris – based in Southampton – had suggested that if I win it, I should do a 10k, and as a bet, run dressed as a Moose! – so, having won with this cheesecake…

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…The bet was on! Now, a 10k was not in my training plan at all this year, but I thought It could provide a decent platform to raise some funds for a organisation that help so many.

Hemihelp, celebrating their 25th anniversary, was set up by a group of parents to bridge the communication and support gap they had regarding their children’s Hemiplegia.

Their mission is “To use our specialist knowledge and supportive networks of families and professionals to create awareness and understanding, in order to empower children and young people affected by hemiplegia across the UK to reach their full potential,”

So, I’ve upped my cardio recently to get me around the course, so, with a few days to go, the hoofs and antlers are packed, the bucket is getting ready and the Just Giving page is set up! It’s time to get my running shoes on!

https://www.justgiving.com/MattElson

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Limitation or Adapt?

How do you see challenges when they arise? When faced with a monster task, is the first thought ‘No Way’ or How?

It dawned on me reflecting back when I first got a gym membership – when I did the notorious intro tour (here’s the cardio area, machines, free weights etc) I took the view of focusing on the things I couldn’t do at the time – can’t do that, unable to this, I’ll stick with what I know…etc

Yes, after a couple of years curiosity gets the better of you and you try all the equipment, leading to questions why you didn’t do it in the first place. Yes, I have a disability and learnt adapt around things – however – EVERYBODY is in the same boat, some will find different challenges harder than overs, it’s completely natural.

My point is this – Everyone will have their own way of looking at what’s in front of them, how you set the limit or how you adapt and get around – that lies within you.

I can’t do push ups…well…enough…yet. I will do it in 5 weeks, by the end of my current training plan…in my style! 😀

All the best folks

The battle for muscular balance…

The battle for muscle balance is a key issue for me. I strive for symmetry between left and right like everyone else. However, a major challenge with hemiplegia is the muscle development (or difficulty of) one side of the body.

The danger of ignoring this problem is that my right side grows far quicker than my left (my affected side) so I have to pay careful attention in my training and to maintain correct posture.

That being said, it would be naive of me not to question how realistic it is to expect muscle to be equal on both sides, the thing is, one of the greatest things about my strength development is seeing and feeling my left side get stronger.

So, yes my right side in general is bigger than my left but it always has been and knowing the lifelong condition, it probably always will be, BUT both sides have got stronger and will continue to do so if I keep my focus.

Everyone wants to develop and grow in some ways, mine is just a particular path.

When I finally get on stage in a disability bodybuilding category (I have a target in mind) I may not be completely symmetrical at the first but I never have been. But the goal is for the gains on both sides to be seen.

What are you waiting for?

A bodybuilding show actually! 😄

I’m sat with a coffee in a tescos in Port Talbot. (The morning after Wales have beaten England in the World Cup!)

I’m not competing today, far from and off it, but it’s chance to see up close what it takes, to take inspiration from the guys and girls up on stage.

The Welsh Bodybuilding Federation also have disability category open today and whilst I’m yet to discover if anyone is competing in that, I want to support the commitment to the sport.

I’m a long way off competing, it’s there as a long term dream. BUT the ever growing knowledge and confidence gained from listening and learning has helped me put a plan in place.

I want to be here, feel the atmosphere,
Speak to the people that have made it, ask questions, that it is part of moving this forward.

My Fitness Journey – One year on

When I took the decision towards the end of 2013 to ‘get fit before I’m 30’ it was with an idea in place to finally put a structure together to realise a long term dream throughout my 20’s to commit to seeing some muscle and stay healthy. With my 30th in Feb 2015 I wanted to test myself to see how fit I could get and set some goals.

Over the next few lines I hope to take through the challenges and celebrate what has been an incredible year.

Goals

I had set out 3 main goals last year, some evolved and others were a constant motivation to stay on track.

1) to have ‘defined’ muscle tone
2) to get somewhere between 10-12% body fat before my 30th
3) to run a distance race of some sort

What I didn’t expect was that with the muscle definition becoming such an exciting process my running goal concluded with a 10k in May with a time of 55 minutes 👍 – I then switched my focus to muscle strengthening for the rest of the year. I realised by the end of this year that the muscle definition goal was a bit vague but I knew that if I kept pushing with the right programme and diet, I would naturally achieve what I wanted. In terms of BF – I started at 26% and managed to get 12.6% during my latest programme , but I realised early on it was an obsession at the start and as training evolved and I was more body confident, the less I worried about the figures.

Hemiplegia Help!

My early concern was centred on any possible muscle ‘imbalance’ and being faced with lop sided abs due to my left hemiplegia. What a load of rubbish now! It was all in my head – in fact I’m proud of the muscle I’ve started to build on both sides.

A summer personal training session helped me break my own barriers when using gym equipment and I now use all of the tools available in the weights area, I’ve just adapted and found my way with the support of wrist straps. Getting body confident on my left side has, I feel, been my greatest achievement this year. I bench press, I lift, all things I thought I couldn’t do throughout my 20’s.

Seeing folks such as Josh Goodfellow of JG Fitness get on stage and highlight disABILITY bodybuilding has been inspiring. Who knows? If the first part of 2015 goes well I’d love to join them on stage one day!

My recent training programme created by Dr Jim Stoppani really highlighted the need to define your goals, training & diet and hone in exactly what you want. I’ve just completed a great shred programme to finish my first year off and intend to get straight onto a bulking course in a few days, designed to build more muscle and size.

What I initially thought was a year long dedication has developed into a great lifestyle where I have built confidence, a bit of muscle and focus with my future goals.

Il keep you all updated but thanks to everyone – family & friends for being part of this ongoing journey.

On to 2015, let’s make things happen!!

My first year of progress…

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Stepping up & eating everything on the plate!

It’s about time I posted an update, it’s been a few weeks!

Training has stepped up a level. I feel I’ve had the knowledge set by set and my macros were good, however, I wanted to see if I could focus on increasing my weight and muscle mass.

I’m at the stage where I can experiment a little, both in terms of exercises and food intake. So I created a personal 12 week programme which has targeted specific areas. The advantage of this process is that I’ve made more of an effort to record my activity & PB’s week by week, setting benchmarks and in essence competing against myself, pushing harder and testing out new techniques.

For example, I’m using kettle bells for ‘farmers walks’ (love the expression) in addition to my hard style swings, Deadlifts and a variation of weighted shoulder shrugs to help my left side balance and keep up with right.

I’m conscious that it’s likely my right side will build muscle quicker that my left so I try and compensate and occasionally isolate the left muscles.

I used one week to drop down a set of weights to get the correct form, which worked wonders. It’s been so uplifting to see small improvements over the 12 weeks and I feel stronger for it.

The other recent test was to shake up the food intake up to 3,500 calories, with the exception of the occasional treat meal, it’s actually a challenge to remain at that level! It’s scary to recall what an effort it was to initially consume that much, making me question have I eaten enough this year? 😱

With a switch to a mass gain protein shake programme aiding the process, it’s a good start to the plan, with a shred due soon with additional HIIT cardio, it shall be an interesting period in the run up to the festive season!

I’ll keep ya posted…

All the best

Matt

What Hemiplegia means to me…

For @Hemihelp’s Hemiplegia Awareness Week, here is my Acrostic piece…

Hemiplegia…

Has been a challenge, but we all have different challenges in life, my hemiplegia is just one to meet, others have bigger obstacles

Even though it was tough growing up with a “different looking hand” I realised by adulthood that your personality defines you, not just your disability

My parents really helped and encouraged me to defy the doctors who said I wouldn’t play sports

I have lots of people to thank along the way for their time, love & support

Positive thinking always helps!

Left handed hemiplegia is something I now cherish, not regret having

Electric tin openers and automatic cars are fantastic for folks with hemi (why would you use a manual one given the choice?! LOL)

Gym work has enabled me to push the boundaries of what I thought my hemi side could do

I’m always open to people asking ‘what happened to your hand?’

And finally, my left hand is not ‘weaker’, it just has a different structure!

Press onwards and upwards…

I took the plunge a month ago, or rather the grip, on the bar in the smith machine and started something I had mentally always placed a barrier onto. Lifting.

At the start of this life changing journey, other than the willingness to get my ass down the gym consistently and eat right – I believed that the vast majority of the strength I needed was physical.

There are now at least 5 pieces of equipment or manoeuvres I now have as part of a routine that at the start of December last year I had already discounted.

It’s the f#@k it, I can do that, attitude that I was lacking. Confidence is wonderful in hindsight I know, but harnessing the right mindset is just as vital as the lifting power (small steps, but we’re on the ladder!). It’s a series of building blocks that are needed, not looking up at the huge wall in the distance.

I’m still learning all the time, taking in new techniques, not being afraid to ask for help nor worry about how my left hand looks during chest pulls which was another barrier to get past in my head.

I promised to push my right and my left side to its limits to understand my balance. I’m happy that I keep discovering the real power I have in my left and adapting when I have challenges.

Il keep you posted on the progress!

Persistence, the last ingredient…

When I started this fitness journey, there were many objectives to achieve that I’ve documented before and at nearly 7 months in, I’m firmly on my way.

I knew this path wouldn’t come without its challenges. Given the previous fitness lapses during my early 20’s and being a skinny guy with left sided hemiplegia, but hey, as my good wife says ‘nobody promised it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it’ and that message stays with me at the 5am get ups during the week, before that last rep and when I’m faced with resisting a cheesecake having already had a cheat meal! (update – I’ve since been given a protein cheesecake recipe from @protein_chef on Twitter 🙂 )

I’ve come to view my fitness strategy in general as a series of ingredients, getting the right blend and making it all click. The right programme, the right diet and right support network will see a huge difference week to week, making small steps towards your goal.

I’ve declared recently that the very last ingredient, the finishing touches that I lost a decade ago is summed up in one word: Persistence.

The programme, diet and maybe even your support network will evolve as time evolves and challenges are accomplished – however – if you plug away believing that you will get there, there is no reason that will stop.

It’s bloody hard work, but it’s worth it.

Get a grip, don’t lose one

There have been a few challenges along the way – the right plan, the right diet, the body fat percentage that one last rep & beating your PB at different weights.

The one barrier that had always frustrated me, no matter how positive my outlook was the ‘limitation’ of grip on my left hand, which is caused by hemiplegia, a decreased number of muscles which limit the movement and flexibility.

I’ve worked around it, placed it on cables safely and used my arm strength but it has held me back a little on chest strengthening – until now….

A few weeks back, a friend suggested I tried out a wrist strap, which may help in my workout sets, £12.50 later through amazon comes the simple piece of material which has changed everything! I have the ability to gain muscle on my left side!