"A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to old dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
We came, we climbed, we conquered. It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves! Mont Blanc, what an experience, what a mountain. The mountain that just keeps going, incline after incline from rock climbing to pick-axing your way through ice and snow one step at a time. Pushing all your limits mentally and physically for 3 days in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. It takes pure grit and determination to reach the summit of Europe's highest peak, standing at 4834m, surrounded by the best team. But wow, what a view.
Before I delve deep into my experience, let's look at some facts. Mont Blanc is located in the French Alps on the boarder of Italy. It is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence. Although 20,000 adventurists climb Mont Blanc annually, statically 1 person a week can die trying to summit and only 1 in 15 actually reach the top per trip.
There are several routes up Mont Blanc; we took the Gouter Hut Route which is the classic and most popular route to climb Mont Blanc. Although sometimes referred to as the “normal route”, the Gouter route still commands respect, and requires fitness and acclimatisation as well as skills in scrambling and using crampons.
We took the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches and then the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle at 2372m to get to the start of our trek.
This part of the trek is around 3 hours long. The path gets gradually steeper and more exposed as it zig-zags up to the ridge to our first stop Tete Rousse hut, where we stayed for the night. We had to cross the Tete Rousse Glacier to reach the refuge and the first snow we crossed - we knew I would be warm in shorts! Starting here on day two allows you to cross the Grand Couloir in the cooler temperatures of the night rather than in the heat of the day which is much safer.
Summit Day, Friday 13 July 2018
Our day started at 4am with coffee and breakfast before grabbing our equipment and setting off before sunrise. We were harnessed together in groups of 3 - they chose who paired by assessing our fitness levels and of course me being me wanted to be up front! This is when we started on a steady incline to the Grand Coulior.
This is the most dangerous part of the ascent to the Gouter hut which was our next stop, and serious rockfall accidents occur here regularly so you have to be very aware of your surroundings and listen to your guides.
Some of the path before the Couloir is exposed to rockfall too, with only the very last few metres before the crossing being sheltered. It is glaciated terrain and crampons are required to help grip the snow. We also had our walking poles and pickaxes with harnesses and ropes for safety.
It is essential to move quickly up to the Couloir, pause to check for rocks, and then move quickly across it. Although it is only 30 metres, it requires the most focus. After this you have a 700m vertical climb to the Gouter hut with risks of stonefall so its important to keep moving and aware of your surroundings. The view after this hard climb is incredible, standing at 3800m with the sun still low in the sky. A true sense of achievement!
If you were lucky and quick enough up the vertical climb you could have a second breakfast before the final part of the ascent.
The final ridge before summit, the Bosses Ridge, is an exposed ridge which requires concentration and good crampon technique. This route takes about 4 and a half hours to reach the summit and it really is the mountain that keeps going - you don’t really realise the immensity until the descent!
I had to dig deep and use all the mental strength I had to get me up one very small step at a time but it was 3 steps forward 2 steps back for some parts, with gradients steeper than black ski runs. This is why I train my mind harder than anything because what your mind believes your body will perceive, your body can achieve anything, it is usually your mind you have to convince. For me, my fitness wasn’t the problem it was the perseverance on a challenge that only gets harder as you progress.
This challenge was possibly my toughest one yet, but that only excites me because I’ve pushed limits and understand what I am capable of. The mountain has made a new woman out of me, and a more fierce one at that.
Aside from the immensity of this experience, it was life-changing and unforgettable, my lungs did not complain once. They did not struggle in altitude at all - trekking with Cystic Fibrosis is always a little more challenging with having to take all your medications with you on the mountain but I must say, all the times I have found myself at high altitude I have never felt fitter or stronger and my lungs felt clear and healthy. I believe for me it is these extreme challenges that keep me motivated and alive, thriving for more. After all, this is what I am most passionate about.
It is true to say that a mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to old dimensions. If you have the courage to find a challenge that pushes your limits then do it because your life will be changed for the better, not only for the experience itself but for what you gain! You will know what you are capable of, who you are, what you want out of life and most of all no feeling can beat achieving something that tests everything you’ve got. Trust me when I say, do it once, you will be hooked on finding more.
I am a true believer that we are here for a sole purpose and mine is to leave a legacy behind by being happy, defying odds and living outrageously. I love adventuring despite what others think or what I am told by doctors because of my Cystic Fibrosis and doing extreme challenges such as climbing Mont Blanc which push my mind and body to grow.
I feel so happy, grateful, and lucky to not only have had this experience and stood on the summit that only 5% of the world will see, but to have been able to connect with my inner soul in the mountains with some amazing friends and laugh a lot and it’s only added fuel to the fire and my burning desire to keep adventuring and seeing what I can achieve.
Fill your life with adventures to have stories to tell, it will fill your soul with so much depth, connection to the earth, happiness and love and strengthen your mind knowing you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
About the author: Sophie Grace Holmes was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a child, a condition that affects the lungs and leaves most sufferers with a life expectancy of only 37 years. She is an inspirational speaker, trainer, and blogger and continues to show the world that through hard work and determination, you can defy the odds and prove that anything is possible.
From runners to cyclists, triathletes to yogis. Whatever your sport, a strong set of abdominal muscles is crucial in every exercise. To increase power, strength, speed, balance, agility and coordination, a strong core is the centre of all training.
The TRX trainer is renowned for its challenging abdominal exercises and good beginner strength is needed for even the simplest of its exercises as suspension training causes your abdominals to fire, braced under constant tension.
Our TRX workout comprises of 10 exercises, each getting progressively harder as you dig deeper into the challenge.
01. TRX Plyometric Lunges
Hold both TRX handles at a medium length and sink into a lunge. As you hit the bottom of the lunge (knee just off the floor), explode off both feet and switch legs (whilst airborne) to lunge on the alternative leg. Perform a minimum of 10 to pass this move.
02. TRX Pistol Squat (Single-leg Squat)
The pistol squat is perhaps one of the toughest body weight exercises there is, requiring leg strength, balance, flexibility, supple joints and advanced coordination. Holding onto the TRX will help you with balance, but the leg strength is all down to you. Grabbing both TRX handles, extend one leg in front of you and sink down into a squat, driving off the single supporting leg to return to standing. Let’s see 6 per side before you check off number two!
03. TRX Wall Row
Grab your TRX handles facing the anchor as though you were about to perform a row, except now we’re taking it off the ground. Place one foot a time onto the wall so you are fully suspended and now perform your row, keeping your back flat and drawing yourself up until your hands meet the sides of your rib cage. This is a tough exercise as you are now fully suspended and controlling your full body weight whilst also maintaining a tight core in order to balance against the wall. If you can’t reach a wall from your attachment, try placing your feet on a high step. Do 12 rows before you move on.
04. TRX Single-Leg Burpees
For exercise 4, loop your handles so that just one is taut and hook in your foot over the bottom stirrup. The handle should hang around knee length. Now, facing away from the anchor, you’re going to burpee or ‘squat thrust’ as they are more formally known. Take you hands down to the ground as you jump the free leg back into extended plank. Explode off this leg and jump back to standing. This is an intense full-body plyometric exercise. A total of 10 is required, that’s 10 per leg.
05. TRX Triple Threat Abdominals
Our next move is a triple threat; you’re going to need abs of steel for this one. Facing away from the anchor, come onto all fours and attach your feet into the stirrups, lift your knees off the floor so you are in a floating plank position, this is your start point. From here, complete the following sequence: push, pike, crunch. For the push-up, sink your chest down to the floor engaging your abdominals to prevent your feet from swinging in the stirrups. Next, the pike, lock your knees and keep your legs and arms extended whilst bringing your feet forward towards your hands. Your bum should lift into the air and it should feel like you're trying to fold in half. The third part to this move is a suspended crunch, return to your plank and then tuck your knees in towards your elbows, bum down this time. Hint: You need to shorten your straps so that as you pike your feet remain elevated.Completing all three moves counts as one rep. Hit 10.
06. TRX Row to Extended Plank
Grab both handles and lean back for a body weight row. Palms face each other as you pull your body up, elbows shaving the rib cage. This is the turning point where, maintaining a neutral spine, you now bring your hands up past your head and into a fallout position, shifting your body weight forward simultaneously until your hands are straight above your head. Your body weight should shift backwards and forwards between these two moves. Another 10 will see you through to TRX exercise three. A row plus a plank counts as one.
07. TRX Single-Handed Push Up
To complete the seventh move, loop your TRX handles through one another so that one handle is taut. Hold one handle and come to the ground to set up for a single hand push-up. One hand is going to remain suspended in the TRX, whilst you push up using the other. Sink down until your nose is scraping the floor for your push up and then explosively drive off and extend both arms, the TRX arm should now be fully extended supporting your weight, whilst your other arm hovers above the ground. Give me 8….. per side!
08. TRX Chin Up
For the TRX chin up, shorten your straps and loop both handles through so that they stay together, then grab them with palms facing towards you (chin ups palms face you, pull ups palms face away). Suspend completely so that you are hanging, cross your legs or tuck them behind, just make sure they don't touch the ground. Pull up until your chin faces your hands and then relax back down. Let’s go for 5, 10 if you're showing off.
09. TRX Handstand
This one is advanced. You're going to start by hooking both feet into the stirrups, your hands facing the anchor. Taking both hands to the floor, lift one leg off the ground and begin simultaneously walking your hands back whilst you lift the second leg off the floor, driving both feet back into the stirrups. Continue walking your hands back until you reach a vertical handstand. The ultimate balance challenge this needs advanced core and shoulder strength and is a tricky one to master.
10. TRX Handstand Push Ups
Set up the same as move 9 and walk into a TRX handstand, but this time, once you’re in the handstand position, lower your chest towards the floor to complete a handstand push-up. Perhaps the toughest TRX move there is, master this and you have exceptional calisthenic skills, a show stopping party trick and of course, most importantly scored a 10/10 in our TRX challenge.
Functional fitness is designed to focus your training on improving daily function. What’s functional will differ from person to person, as what we do in our daily lives is different. So, is functional fitness right for you?
What’s not functional fitness?
Functional training was originally focused on developing better movement quality and exercises like two-legged jumps and wood chops reflect this. However, not every crazy exercise you see people doing in the gym is worth copying. You may see people balancing on a Bosu ball throwing dumbbells around or balancing on one leg. This is not functional fitness as it does not prepare you for everyday movements or sports.
It's important to remember that the point of functional training is to condition your body for a particular task or exercise, such as a golfer doing cable twists to improve their drive or a footballer doing fast-feet movements to improve their footwork.
Functional Fitness vs Bodybuilding
Can you incorporate functional fitness into a bodybuilding routine? The answer is yes. Functional fitness is not the sworn enemy of bodybuilding and in fact many bodybuilding compound lifts, such as the squat and deadlift, are adapted into functional training regimes. Where the two differ is with their focus on isolation and aesthetics. Bodybuilding focuses on the way muscles look whereas functional fitness is about how the muscles move. Therefore, bodybuilding workout routines will feature many more isolating exercises like bicep curls and lat pull downs, while functional fitness incorporates more compound movements like squat jumps and burpees.
What are the benefits of functional fitness?
Functional training gets you moving
Typically, most people spend a shocking 9-12 hours sitting down. If you work in an office, chances are you sit down for most of the day, so when you get to the gym you want to be up and moving, not sitting on machines doing isolated exercises. Functional fitness requires you to get up and to move in multiple planes of motion. Simply standing rather than sitting increases calorie expenditure and encourages better sugar metabolism. Plus, you will feel so much better after a day spent fully sedentary if you can really get your heart rate up and feel the burn during a high intensity workout.
It improves posture
Unfortunately for most of us, the stress of modern life and the pressures of our jobs aren't great for our posture. Ever feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders? A hunched over back and slumped over shoulders are more common than not and it’s not good for our health. Functional fitness can improve your posture by working on muscles slings and how muscles work together. Releasing tension from the chest, for example, can help to draw back the shoulders and correct posture.
Better fat burn
Functional training burns much more fat than steady-state cardio or bodybuilding because your whole body is moving. Incorporating multi-plane, multi-joint and multi-muscle movements means high fat-burning as well as better all-round fitness. Functional training movement patterns crank up your heart rate and keep your body burning lots of calories well after your workout is over.
Can you touch your toes? No? Time to get functional. Functional training can help to develop your flexibility by developing a better range of motion in movement patterns we use in everyday life.The whole point of functional training is to replicate the body’s natural planes of motion. Contracting muscles is one aspect, but it’s equally important to stretch muscles effectively to help increase flexibility.
It is a meaningful workout
Whilst training to look good can be important on a personal level, functional training can give you a better quality of life. Functional fitness is about training to improve your life on a daily basis and this is especially important as we get older. Functional training is designed to improve the things we do every day such as keeping up with our children or bending down to load a washing machine.
It won't get boring
Training functionally keeps workouts varied and will stop you from getting fed up with going to the gym. Instead of being restricted to training one muscle group in particular and always doing the same exercises, functional training focuses on whole body integration and there are endless possibilities to fun and interesting exercises you can do.
You’ll build more muscle
Functional training incorporates a variety of different pieces of kit as well as body weight, stimulating different muscle fibres and promoting further muscle growth. Lean muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, as well as pulling against the bone to increase bone density.
Functional Training Round - Up
- Functional training incorporates weaker muscle groups which are often neglected.
- Functional training ensures you are fit enough to perform daily activities.
- Functional training can correct posture and improve flexibility.
So, if you'd like to be able to run after your kids, do daily chores, and move with ease, functional training is for you. Especially if you are chained to a desk all day at work, functional fitness could really improve your quality of life and set you up to be more mobile as you grow older.
Functional training is all about movements not muscles. Instead of focusing on a muscle in isolation, functional training looks at how the muscles work together to improve the way we “function” in everyday movement.
What is Functional Movement?
Author, speaker, and pro trainer Nick Tuminello explains what is meant by functional movement. “Many personal trainers define “functional training” as exercises using three-dimensional movements or standing on unstable surfaces. Many strength coaches feel that “functional training” has to do with just getting stronger in the basic lifts. Many physical therapists and corrective exercise-oriented trainers think that “functional training” is about regaining your muscle balance and fundamental movement ability before you begin doing either 3D exercises or the basic lifts.”
In truth, functional training is a combination of all these skills. Functional training is training to improve for a purpose. What this means is that functional training will differ slightly for every individual, however there are principles of movement which mimic the way the body is built to move, and these tend to apply to almost everyone.
Functional Movement Patterns
Exercise, at its very simplest, is just movement. These movements are primal; our bodies are designed to move. There are 7 basic movement patterns, which most exercises will fall into. Practising exercises which develop and master these movement patterns will build functional strength which can be transferred into all other aspects of your life, from sport to daily function. If you watch a child, they will naturally learn these moves as they develop their range of movement.
The squat is one of our most primal movements, we are designed to be able to move in this position, which is why you will see many toddlers playing in a squat.
To complete a squat, your head should remain facing forward to keep your spine in a neutral position and you should sink your weight back into your heels and lower towards the floor. There are many arguments as to how low you should go. Your range of motion will depend on your flexibility, but it can (and should) be worked on.
The lunge is a single leg exercise, where one leg takes the lead and the second leg bends as it remains stationary. Originally we’d use this movement for functions such as stepping over obstacles or as we threw a spear to catch our dinner. Now the move is popular for building leg strength as well as to improve sports performance.
When lunging, you should keep your front knee tracking over your foot, but not in front of it. Hold your head high and make sure your back stays straight (try sticking your chest out if your shoulders arch).
The push range of movement requires you to move something away from your body, or move your body away from a force, ie the ground. We have two primary pushing movements, the vertical and horizontal push. A vertical push lifts something above your head and a horizontal press pushes it forward.
The top tip for correcting your push up is to keep your back straight and not let your chest drop; you can do this by squeezing your shoulder blades together. If you can’t keep straight, drop to your knees to make the exercise easier.
Pushups - Indoors or outdoors. Take them anywhere.
Pulling is the opposite movement to a push, bringing an object towards you. Much like with the push up we have two pulling motions, horizontal and vertical.
An example of the pull motion is a pull up. If you can’t do a full pull up you can start with negatives and work your way up.
This is where our third plane of motion gets involved and the movements become more functional. Here we involve the transverse plane.
If you think about lunging down and reaching across your body, or throwing a ball, running, or even walking, most human movement has some element of a rotation involved.
You bend your torso by hinging at the hips. This is one of the most commonly used movements; think of how many times you may bend throughout the day, to open a drawer, pick up your bag, tie your shoes.
Taking the weight through your hips, glutes, and legs is the key to lifting weight in a bent over position. This is done by keeping your low back in a neutral, to slightly arched position, as you bend over to lift an object off the ground.
Arch your back and you're prone to all sorts of injuries, in particular a herniated disk. Ouch.
Walking, jogging, running and sprinting all require a combination of movement patterns which we define as gait. This covers all our movement patterns required to keep the body in motion.
In order for our bodies to move in these particular ranges of motion, our muscles have to work together to create movement. Where bodybuilding isolates muscle groups, functional training brings them together in what we call muscle slings.
Anterior Oblique System:
External and internal oblique with the opposing leg’s adductors and intervening anterior abdominal fascia.
Posterior Oblique System:
The lat and opposing gluteus maximus.
Deep Longitudinal System:
Erectors, the innervating fascia and biceps femoris.
Glute medius and minimus and the opposing adductors of the thigh.
The systems tell us which muscles work together, and help us to analyses how to notice gaps in the sling to develop improved movement.
Anterior Oblique System
The obliques help provide stability and mobility in gait. They are both important in providing that initial stability during the stance phase of gait (running etc.) and then contribute to pulling the leg through during the swing phase. This system is important in helping the body create more stability as speed increases in activities such as sprinting, but also as important as the body tries to decelerate during change of direction.
Posterior Oblique System
This is most commonly used during gait movements where the glute max of one hip works with the lat of the opposing side to create tension in the thoracolumbar fascia. The action of these muscles along with the fascial system is thought to fight the rotation of the pelvis that would occur during gait as well as store energy to create more efficient movement.
Deep Longitudinal System
This system uses both the thoracolumbar fascia and paraspinal system to create kinetic energy above the pelvis, while the biceps femoris acts as a relay between the pelvis and leg. What is also important to note is the relationship between the biceps femoris and anterior tibialis, which creates stability and helps build as well as release kinetic energy to help more efficient movement.
The lateral system provides lateral stability. The lateral system is often used to create stability in the pelvis during walking, stepping, etc.
Squats - a pulse-raising exercise you can do anywhere
Functional Training is training for life
If you haven’t tried functional movements or training slings, try adding moves which challenge these areas into your routine to improve your training.
Having little ones at home can leave you feeling like you don't have a spare second in the day. Between rushing to and from school and picking the little ones up from activities and trying to squeeze in daily errands too, it's no wonder that the average mother only gets 17 minutes of 'me time' each day. So how can you fit in exercise when you have no time? We give you all the tips you need along with with a working mom workout routine for you to try.
How can I find time to workout with kids?
Finding time to exercise as a working parent can feel almost impossible, but it doesn't have to be! Try some of our ideas and see if you can fit exercise into your busy day.
1. Get a training buddy
One of the best ways to stay motivated is to partner up. Whether it's a work colleague, your husband/wife, a friend, or a family member, working out together can make things more fun and interesting. Not only this, but if you have someone to be accountable to and someone who you will let down if you skip your session, you'll be more motivated to get that training session done!
2. Utilise playtime
When it's your child's playtime, get involved and burn some calories! If you have an energetic toddler, run around with them by playing adrenaline-fuelled games that involve running or chasing. If your children are a little older, find games where you can both get active, especially in the garden if it's summer time as there are lots of benefits to training outdoors.
3. Try dancing
Dancing is something that burns a lot of calories, will get you up and active, and can be very fun! If your children are very energetic, put on some music and dance away. This will not only help them burn off that extra energy and get you moving, it can be a great bonding experience.
4. Swap your car for walking or cycling
By combining your errands with exercise, you can make the time to get active without compromising any of your daily activities. Try walking or cycling to the shops instead of driving, or walking your children to school. It may be easier than you think to get around without your car!
5. Exercise before you start your day
By getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual, you could fit in an entire workout and start your day right. There are lots of workouts you can do in under 30 minutes, like this 5-minute punchbag workout, 10-minute tabata workout, or this 20-minute home workout. Even a short workout is better than no workout at all, and it'll energise you for a productive day. If you don't want to get up earlier than you already do, try this lunchtime HIIT workout instead.
How can a stay at home mum lose weight?
There are lots of tips and tricks to losing weight if you are a stay-at-home parent. Follow these dos and don'ts to make sure you're staying healthy while at home with the little ones.
1. Don't eat anything you wouldn't feed to your kids
There are lots of things you wouldn't feed to your children because the salt or sugar content it too high, so why feed them to yourself? A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you wouldn't give it to your child because of the ingredients, you should avoid it yourself too. Stick to whole foods and try to avoid anything overly processed or pre-packaged.
2. Don't snack mindlessly
If you find yourself in a rare moment of calm when your child is playing happily alone or watching a television show, it can be tempting to mindlessly eat food that you don't really need. Avoid temptation by not having snacks in the house, and stick to eating at set times.
3. Do make mealtime an occasion
If mealtime is an occasion to look froward to when you eat together with your kids, you'll be less likely to have an unstructured day. Try to have at least one meal a day together as a family where you sit at a table and focus on what you're eating, rather than grabbing whatever is nearby because you're so rushed off your feet. This might mean deliberately making time for it in your day, but it will be worth it ultimately.
4. Don't eat through stress
Being at home on your own with the kids all day can get pretty stressful. If tempers raise and tantrums ensue, make sure you're not reaching for food as comfort. Comfort eating is something that many of us do without realising and can be an almost impossible habit to break. As above, not having any temptation in the house will help with this and always count slowly to 10 before you eat a snack so that you're not eating it out of a stressed panic.
5. Do make food fun and creative by getting the children involved
Getting your kids to help in the kitchen is a fantastic way to bond and to help them develop vital skills for later in life. Let them get creative by coming up with new recipes and help them with the cooking. If you really want sweet treats, bake cookies or cupcakes together so that you really feel you've earned them and can have fun in the process.
Working mom workout routine
If you have kids at home or are pregnant, try this working mom home workout routine by Sundried ambassador Carly Newson.