Tag: training (page 1 of 2)

4 Free Apps That Will Rock Your Cross Training World

Isn’t technology great? There’s an app for everything, and some of them are even useful! There are four apps in particular that I use on a regular basis to help with cross training.


I know that I wouldn’t get as much out of my time in the gym if I didn’t record my workouts. For me, using an app like FitNotes has a bunch of benefits:

  • I don’t have to try to remember what weight I was using for a particular lift – I can just look back at my last workout
  • I can see how I’m improving over time, in a number of different ways (weight, reps, workout volume, estimated one rep max)
  • I can look back over the month and monitor how regularly I’m working out and which areas of the body I’ve been working most
  • If I’m lacking inspiration for the day’s session, I can decide to just replicate the last one I did (and the app will even allow me to simply ‘copy’ that workout in full)
  • I know when I’ve hit a new Personal Record (PR) because the app tells me (and rewards me with a little trophy symbol!)



I’m sure there are lots of different free interval timers around; I happen to use the HIIT Interval Training Timer. This particular app is basic but does what I need it to do – allow me to programme interval workouts, which I use on a spinning bike. I simply type in the ‘work’ and ‘rest’ periods I’d like to do, how many times (‘rounds’) I’d like to do them, and a warm up and cool down. I can save these workouts to do again later. When it’s time to switch between work and rest, the app lets me know (I have it programmed to give me three warning beeps before the ‘rest!’ or ‘go!’ orders which is particularly helpful so I know when I need to get my shit together). The app isn’t perfect, and it does have ads, but for something that’s free I’m not complaining.

HIIT Interval Timer


Okay so I’m likely not telling you anything new with this one, but MyFitnessPal is probably so ubiquitous because it does its thing so well. I personally don’t have the kind of commitment (or battery power) to track my food all the time, but I like to take it up for a week intermittently for a reality check. I’m interested in protein at the moment, so like to keep track of how much I’m getting from different foods. If weight loss is something you’re aiming for, a few studies have shown that keeping a ‘food diary’ helps – such as this large study  which found keeping a daily food record was a significant predictor of weight loss. Here’s a graph (it’s an American study – ‘AA’ stands for African-American). Of course, correlation is not causation – maybe people who are more driven to lose weight and just more likely to keep up a food diary – but it can’t hurt.



There’s this pretty neat website with videos on just about anything, I think the kid’s call it the “Youtube” – have you heard of it? Well it turns out that this website has a super handy app which makes it easier to access the (probably) thousands of workout videos anywhere with Wifi. I find this particularly useful for making the most of time on the spinning bike. I used to go to classes but my current super-off-peak-cheapskate-membership doesn’t cover them now. Short and sharp interval training sessions are easy enough to programme and stick to on your own with a HIIT app (see above), but I find that I can lose focus in undirected longer sessions. Enter Youtube, with its oodles of guided spin class videos that mean I actually stay focused and keep up the intensity for the duration, rather than follow my natural urge which is to slooowly trail off… Simply pick a video, pop in your head phones, balance phone on the handle bars and away you go!

youtube collage

Do you use any apps for cross training? What’s your favourite? 

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Cross-Training Diary: September



Up until near the end of August, my cross-training for roller derby mainly involved at-home workouts (using Youtube videos like this one), semi-regular jogs and spin classes. This changed at the end of August when I bit the bullet and finally joined the gym. Yup, you heard right; I’m a regular gym goer for the first time in – quick maths alert – 10 years (!!). Also how dare it be a decade since I was 18.

Although I’d been doing some limited free weight stuff at home using dumbbells, joining the gym has been my first proper taste of weight lifting including using a barbell. Barbells can be big scary things when you’ve never used one – I was certainly intimidated by them, worried that I’d hurt myself or even just look like a clueless gym noob. But I fear the barbell no longer! In fact – I kind of love it.

Lifting heavy* weights has been kind of a revelation to me. I grew up with a lot of bullshit messages about how women and girls should ‘get fit’ that mainly centred on lots of cardio and prancing about with little dumbbells as heavy as tins of beans. While the tide does seem to be turning on this (see: Girls Gone Strong), women are often still advised to work out differently to men. The more I read, the more I find myself siding with the growing movement that says women should lift heavy shit just like men have been advised to for years.

So since the end of August, I’ve been going to the gym twice a week and doing just that. I’m a bit of a cheapskate so I opted for my gym’s ‘super off-peak’ membership, which only allows access from 7am-10am. This means all my gym sessions are pre-work, which I actually really like. Luckily my gym is where I work, so it’s super convenient for me.  Upsides: a feel more awake all day and don’t have to battle the hordes for equipment. Downsides: I have to get up at arse o’clock and am hungry as a freakin’ HORSE all morning. Swings and roundabouts.

I’m still refining my ‘routine’ and haven’t settled on an exact sequence of exercises yet, but there are some things that I tend to do every session:

And these are some things that I mix in:

So, in September a typical workout for me looked like this:

  • 10 minutes on a spinning bike working up a sweat doing intervals (I like to do this to get my blood pumping since my muscles feel so cold first thing in the morning, but I’m not basing this on any particular science!)
  • Deadlifts 3 sets x 8 reps (60 second rest in between sets)
  • Goblet squats 3 sets x 8 reps (60 second rest between sets)
  • Romanian deadlifts 3 sets x 8 reps (60 second rests between sets)
  • Dumbbell shoulder press 3 sets x 8 reps (60 second rest between sets)
  • Glute bridges 3 sets x 15
  • Bicycle crunches 3 sets x 15
  • Push ups x 10 (just!)
  • 60 second plank
  • Stretches (including the stretches demonstrated here)

This is about the amount I can get done in the hour I have to workout. I try to space out gym sessions and derby practices throughout the week; at the start of September training in rookies this meant gym Monday + Wednesday, derby Friday, and towards the end when I moved up to training with the  B team this became Tuesday+ Friday gym, derby Wednesday + Sunday. I’m enjoying the weights so much I’d like to spend a little more time in the gym, buuut I’m also aware that rest days are important for recovery so I’m restraining myself for now.

* When I say ‘heavy’ here, I’m meaning weights that I can do around 8 reps of in a set. The actual amounts I’m lifting at this stage will be peanuts to some people (and maybe even too heavy for a few), but since I’m not in competition with anyone the only personal best I need to beat is my own. In 6 weeks I've managed to add 10kg to my barbell weight which I'm pretty bloody happy about!

Image source: Carlos Varela, Flickr CC

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Roller Derby: 6 Months In


Six months. Six months! This might be the longest I’ve ever stuck something out, not including jobs and academic stuff (and relationships!). I’ve never learned an instrument, never gotten fluent in a language, never learned a craft to a proficient level – basically I’ve never stuck at learning something that takes time and work. Roller derby is kind of a crazy thing to try to learn when you don’t even know how to skate, if you think about it. Like trying to learn how to run track when you don’t even know how to walk yet. You spend months learning how to function on skates, and just when you think I’m kind of getting the hang of this BAM you’re introduced to scrimmaging and back to learning square one.

Learning something new is exciting and infuriating and fun and HARD. You have to be the noob. You have to show up and SUCK, in front of other people – including some people who are AWESOME at the thing you’re trying to do. You have to keep showing up and sucking and falling on your butt and getting up, week after week. You have to put yourself out there and let people see you be terrible at something. You certainly have to get over your own ego, which will be bruised (along with your butt). You have to deal with the fact that you will never be ‘done’ learning this thing – there’ll always be more, always be better.

My league had its recruitment evening last night, the first since my intake in March. It got me thinking about what advice I’d give to someone just starting out. The first thing that came to mind was that, although it’s true that there are all kinds of body types in roller derby and that you don’t need to be an athlete to begin with, a base level of fitness will make things easier. I did some things to improve my fitness before I tried out, but not in a serious or structured way – some hot yoga, a spin class here and there, sporadic jogging. If I could do it all over again, I’d start the kind of regime I’m doing now (weight lifting and HIIT cardio) well before I started learning roller derby. And no – skating alone won’t be enough to get fit.

What else? Oh yeah, go to ALL THE THINGS. Go support your teams when they play. Cheer your lungs out. Offer to help out with the merch stall. Volunteer to NSO. It really will help you to understand the game better. Also, it shows that you care about helping to make bouts happen. If you’re freaked out about doing it wrong, ask if you can shadow someone else in a role before trying it yourself. Go to the social events, even if you’re shy. Oh and (of course) GO TO PRACTICE. Go to every session that you can make. Show your coaches the respect of being reliable, punctual and attentive.

My final piece of advice would probably be: get used to saying goodbye to people. Roller derby isn’t for everyone. Lots of people decide to stop coming to practice, for lots of different reasons. We’ve had people leave because they were worried about getting injured – or because they had got injured (although this didn’t account for many). We had some people just… not turn up any more. There’s a great camaraderie to being ‘fresh meat’, of being equally clueless and showing up to learn together. So it does feel a bit sad when people you’ve got used to seeing every week disappear, sometimes without saying goodbye. But it happens!

I’m excited to see where I’ll be six months from now, one year in. Although I have a bad habit of focusing on the things I can’t do well yet, I have to make myself remember the long list of things I can do now that six-months-ago-Jess would be super impressed by. I’ve loved a lot of the my first six months of roller derby but – to be completely honest – not every minute. Right now the road to playing competitively feels like a very long one for me, but that’s okay. My main focus for the rest of year will be on bringing energy to practice, not giving in to negative mind-talk, and spending as much time on my skates as possible. Bring it on!

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This Derby-Specific Workout Programme is Fab (and Free!)

Have you head of Roller Derby Athletics?  It’s a cool site with off-skate training programmes designed by Booty Quake #8, who’s been playing with the Terminal City Rollergirls since 2007. The main thing the site offers that makes it different to other roller derby blogs I’ve come across is, in it’s own words, “focused, multi-week training programs for skaters”. There are currently four such programmes: RDA Basics Builder; RDA Stride Builder; RDA Core Builder and Pump Up Your Jam. The premium programmes will cost you $59 to access, but the Basics Builder is free – you just have to sign up. At that price, of course I had to give it a go.

So what’s involved in the Basics Builder? Well, once you’ve signed up, you receive five different workouts by email – one a day from Sunday night to Thursday night, so you can do the workouts Monday to Friday. The workouts are based on movements that require no weights or other equipment, and are designed to be doable in limited space (like your living room). Each email contains a link to a video which demonstrates the correct way (and incorrect ways) of doing each movement, often with modifications for different levels of ability. The exercises are all things you’d expect to be great for building roller derby fitness – squats, lunges, sit-ups – but with a bunch of variations, which keeps things interesting. I found each workout took me about 10 minutes to complete; they’re challenging but totally doable. Booty Quake recommends doing them in the morning ( I find that my muscles can feel a bit too stiff first thing, so mix up mornings and evenings), five days per week for a month to see results.

Would I recommend signing up for the Basics Builder? Absolutely! I think it’s a brilliant free fitness tool for a freshmeat skater like me – and I’d guess that skaters of all levels would get something out of it. The videos are really well produced and easy to follow. It’s not complicated or time-consuming, and just requires that you put in a little effort and complete the workouts consistently. For me, it’s a good way of remembering to do these kinds of exercises between practices, and means that I don’t have to think about keeping track of what/how many reps I’ve done (the emails act as a handy record). I’d definitely consider paying for one of the premium programmes in the future.

There are other neat free resources on the site too, like this standardised roller derby fitness test, a bunch of useful Ask Booty Q+As and articles on nutrition for roller derby. Some other stuff, such as the huge number (80+!) of workouts, are behind a paywall (‘All-Star Access‘ will set you back $12 a month for 1 month’s commitment, or $8 a month if you commit to a year). The cost seems pretty reasonable to me, based on my experience of the Basics Builder – definitely worth trying for a month at least.

Check out Roller Derby Athletics if you haven’t already!

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Training Diary 6-12 July

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. Probably pretty boring for anyone who isn’t me! 

Monday and Tuesday: So on Monday afternoon I found myself in King’s Cross with time to spare, and decided it was about time I went into a Runners Need to get my gait analysed and to purchase some trainers that aren’t a piece of shit. Last time I went for a run, about a month ago, I ended up with shin pain that really sucked. I figured (slash hoped) that my crappy can’t-even-remember-when-I-bought-them-they’re-so-old trainers were the cause, and that if I fixed that I’d be able to run and not end up limping for days afterwards. Not so, it seems. Monday and Tuesday I went for some short 2 mile runs (and I mean ‘run’ in the loosest sense – I tend to alternate running and walking, so it takes me about 10 minutes per mile). I cooled down. I stretched. And stretched. Alas, it’s been shin pain city again (see: this post). Boo.

Friday: Roller derby practice! This was our 14th week of rookie training, and two weeks away from a ‘mock minimum skills’ assessment to give us an idea of how we’re progressing. I’m HIGHLY aware of how much I seem to crumble under the pressure of being watched (it seems my favourite trick is being able to do something only when my coaches/fellow rookies aren’t looking), so trying not to psyche myself out during these ‘mocks’ (and eventual real minimum skills test) is going to be a challenge.

Highlights: I managed to add 2 laps to my 27 in 5 personal best from May, taking me to 25 laps. On our slightly-smaller-than-regulation track we need to be hitting 28/29 in 5 minutes, so I’m getting closer but still not there. More than any other drill,  I think it’s in the 27 in 5 exercise that I can tell the difference in my fitness levels since starting roller derby. Back in March, I managed 20 laps and felt like I done the toughest bleep test of my life when the time was up. You know that lovely saliva-in-the-mouth sicky feeling you get when you push yourself way too far? Yup, that was me all over. I’m not saying it’s a walk in the park now, but I don’t finish feeling like I’m going vom and my heart rate recovers after a minute or two (I think it might have taken me 10 minutes to feel like normal back in March!).

Stuff that sucked: Still struggling with transitions, still struggling with plough stops, still can’t get my head around laterals, AKA same old same old. Not sure there’s much I can do about this other than to just keep plugging away at it. I’m going to try to squeeze in some extra skate practice over the next few weeks and really focus on the skills I’m consistently getting stuck on.

Image source: Tuncay Coşkun, Flickr CC

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Training Diary 29 June – 5 July

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 


Monday: Spin class. My favourite instructor with a great soundtrack; really enjoyed it. Still getting some mildly scary shortness of breath towards the end of the class but hoping if that’ll improve as a get fitter.

Tuesday: One of the hottest days of the year you say? Sounds like a SWELL time to do some indoor climbing. Jokes, I was a sweaty mess. Didn’t get as much done as I would have liked on account of keeling over in the heat, but damp fun was had.

Wednesday: On OFFICIALLY the hottest day in London in almost 50 years (!!), I was lucky enough to be able to take a day off after working an extra day at the weekend which meant a trip to the lovely Brockwell Lido. Cooling off in the unheated outdoor pool was dreamy, but finding out how lacking my swimming fitness is was a bit of a shock! Two lengths at a time was genuinely all I could manage (hopefully at least partially because my arms were achy from last night’s bouldering session). Time to incorporate some arm days?!

Friday: Skate practice! After two weeks off skates (my league takes a short summer break) I was excited to get back to it with the other rookies. On Friday we went over a bunch of minimum skills basics. Some things I feel like I have the hang of pretty well know – knee taps, t-stops, double knee falls, falling small. Others I felt like I made some progress on in the session, particularly pivot transitions to the left (still CANNOT nail turning to the right… WTF?) and jumps (though I chickened out of jumping over our coach… next time!). Some things I’m still stuck on – plough stops, laterals and transition stops. I’m also aware that I need to be able to everything at a much faster pace than I am now, so that’s the main thing I’ll be pushing myself to work on.


Image source: Amy Selleck, Flickr CC

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Training Diary 8-14 June 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 

Tuesday and Wednesday: In a bid to save money I decided to forgo my usually spin classes this week and go jogging in the sun instead. I’m lucky to live near a nice little park so I used the MapMyRun app to figure out a route just over 3 miles (just shy of 5k), taking in a few loops of the park. I’m sure everyone and their dog has heard of or used MapMyRun by now, but if you haven’t I’d recommend giving it a go. I mapped a route on my laptop then open it in the app and ‘recorded’ the route with GPS as I was jogging it (the wonders of modern technology!). I like that the app tells you your distance at each mile, but is otherwise unobtrusive, leaving you to listen to your desired running playlist. I’m definitely one of those people who needs the distraction of music to get through a run!

The weather was lovely and felt good to get outside (as opposed to the dark room I’m used to in spinning), but frustratingly I found that I had shin pain (AKA shin splints) after Wednesday. This is probably from a combination of things, primarily the fact that I don’t usually do high-impact exercise (spinning and skating just don’t ‘jar’ you the same way) and that my running shoes are a pile of crap.  I think I need to invest around £100 in a decent pair of running shoes, first going for a gait analysis to make sure I buy the right ones for how I run. In the meantime, jogging is on hold for a few weeks until my shin pain heals. Bummer.

Friday: Derby practice. Last Friday was HOT HOT HOT and crazy humid in London which made for a particularly… interesting session. Aside from hot yoga I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much! This was our 12th session (where does the time go?!), and the last before a two-week summer break . We went over stops –  plough stops (still evading me), t-stops (not so bad), transition stops (still getting ‘the fear’) – gliding on one foot, sticky skating, pace lines and pack work. We actually did some one-on-one sticky skate racing which was fun, as well as backwards racing which made me crazy dizzy (note to self: remember to look up advice on avoiding backwards-skating dizziness). Not nailing the stops bummed me out, but I feel like my pace line and pack work is improving at least!

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Training Diary 1-7 June 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 


Monday: My regular spin class, but with a kind-of-insane substitute teacher. I get the feeling that super-fit instructors that can casually chat through a high intensity interval workout sometimes forget that us regular human folk aren’t quite at the same level as them. Another absolutely killer workout!

Tuesday: Tried out this 15 minute workout video which involves 200 squats (10 sets of 20 reps) interspersed with various other standing and floor exercises – push ups, sit ups, plank pulls, bicycles – again, sets of 20 reps. It felt like a good use of 15 minutes  (plus a quick warm up before and stretches after), but I didn’t copy the squat technique in the video because I suspect it’s pretty terrible! Definitely not how we’re taught to squat in derby practice. Here’s a video showing proper squat form. 

Thursday: Went along to the open skate in Dalston for a bit of extra on-skates practice. Unfortunately it wasn’t in its usual space (a proper, if slightly slippy, wooden-floor sports hall) as it’s being used for GCSE exams, so we were on a smooth lino surface… with a few pillars thrown in for good measure! The floor actually wasn’t bad to skate on, but doing fast stuff wasn’t really an option in the limited space. Instead, I focused on practising transitions, transition stops and plough stops – some things I most need to work on.

Friday: Derby practice time! I was super excited all day, feeling like I’d really come along with transitions and transition stops at the open skate the evening before. So it was really frustrating when I struggled with these skills AGAIN in practice. Grrrrrrrr! There’s just something about being in front of the coaches and the other rookies that is making me freeze up on tricky moves. I’m sure my fitness and skills are getting better, but I really need to work on getting out of my head!

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Training Diary 18-24 May 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 


Thursday: A trip to Russia meant no training earlier on in the week, but I did manage to get to an after work spin class on Thursday. Turns out that the Thursday night instructor is INSANE! Really high intensity intervals with increments of resistance up and up and up for (what I consider) long tracks. Bloody heck. I certainly felt like I’d worked out after that!

Friday: Derby practice. This week I learned the hard way that skating barefoot is NOT a good idea. Forgot to bring any socks to practice and had to skate without. My feet got even more sweaty than usual and slipped about in my skates, rubbing in some areas and taking little bits of skin off – nice! On the plus side, it was a fun session. We tried hitting for the first time which I really enjoyed. I’ve never done contact sports, and to be honest I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t like the contact side of derby (how do you know?!), but it turns out I needn’t have worried. DEFINITELY looking forward to practising hits some more.

Sunday: Went bouldering (indoor climbing without ropes) for the first time in aaaages. Last year I was going with friends nearly every week, but since I started fresh meat roller derby has taken priority (both time-wise and money-wise). Really enjoyed it though, especially now that the weather’s warmer; I find climbing in the winter a bit of a bummer as your fingers and toes get so freakin’ cold! I tried to kind of… observe if my legs felt stronger from all the skating I’ve been doing. I felt fitter than last year overall, but I think my arms got fatigued just as fast as before (I guess squats don’t make your arms that beefy, huh?). It made me realise I miss bouldering though; I want to start squeezing in a few sessions a month from now on.

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Training Diary 11-17 May 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 

A late training diary this week, but with a good excuse! Jetting off to Russia at an ungodly hour last Saturday morning for a four-day, whirlwind trip left no time for blogging. BUT I did manage to fit in some exercise before all the vodka-drinking and dumpling-eating ensued…

Monday and Wednesday: Managed to squeeze in 2 spinning classes this week, both with my favourite instructor. Woo! These classes are at different times of day (straight after work at 5.30pm, and straight before work at 7.45am), which is only doable because the gym is right by my office. I do so much more exercise now I work somewhere with facilities that are easy to get to, and I feel really lucky to have them.

I can’t tell whether I prefer/perform better at the early morning or after work class; I definitely feel more alert all day at work when I’ve done a morning class, which is nice. Thinking about what (and when) to eat before a morning session is a bit harder though. To get as much sleep in as possible (top priority, obvs), I get up one hour before the class starts, throw on my gym clothes, snatch up my pre-packed bag and head out of the door toot sweet. Generally I have a snack on the train, such as a Trek bar or small fruit smoothie or just a travel mug of coffee. Reading around the interwebs, there seems to be some debate around whether ‘fasted cardio’ (i.e. exercising first thing on an empty stomach) is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m going to keep trying different things until I find what works best for me.

Friday: Back onto skates! This week we were back to basics, covering all the essential minimum skills techniques we’ve learned during our first few months: knee taps, double knee slides, falling small, t stops, plough stops, cross overs. We also had a few goes at accelerating from a standstill to complete one lap, and I managed to get my time down to 13 seconds which is about 1.5 seconds better than the last time I tried. All the rookies improved on their previous times which made for good moods all round (yey for small gains!). Our track is slightly smaller than regulation so I’m not quite there yet, but almost.

Plough stops were still my nemesis, but I did manage a couple of successful (if ungraceful) transition stops which had me falling on my ass A LOT the week before. Probably the most fun of the night was completing an obstacle course which included some toe stop footwork around cones, laterals, cross overs, and a two foot jump, all topped off with a transition stop. Good times!

Weekly posts about the training I get up to, on and off the track. 

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