Friday, July 31, 2015

A personal trainer and her Mojo

personal trainer melbourne Shelley Lask MuayThai MMA

Have you ever wondered where a personal trainer gets her Mojo?

Australian Shelley Lask is a former couch potato, a former MuayThai fighter in Thailand and now battling negativity in the fitness industry.

In school I just hated it. I got teased about my knees turning in when I ran and I now know I had undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma. At the time I figured everyone's chest felt tight when they ran.

As soon as it was no longer compulsory, I stopped. As far as I was concerned my body was just a thing that carried my head around. But when I was 21 I saw a video of a Pride FC (MMA) promotion and I was transfixed!

I decided to go to an MMA gym by myself (after asking friends to no avail!), and try to learn MuayThai and Brasilian Jiu Jitsu so I could fight.

I started out doing two sessions a week, then three, then four, and then next thing I knew I was at the gym almost every day, loving the training more than anything else in my life. Mind you, it never occurred to me that it was a sport, I was just going to learnt to fight.

When they told me I had to run before training if I wanted to fight, I started running. Looking back, I had zero background conditioning and some pretty glaring postural issues but I just kind of willed my way through everything. I was blissfully unaware of my own limitations.

personal trainer melbourne Shelley Lask MuayThai MMA


Training taught me I was capable of even more than I thought. Every time I thought I'd exhausted myself my trainer would ask me to do ten more kicks and they were always there. I became amazed at how powerful my body really was.

It was nice to be doing something where my natural aggression was a virtue, being sturdy was a virtue, not being afraid of being hit was a virtue and being stubborn was a virtue. As someone who'd always struggled with depression and anxiety I also noticed my mind was clearer and my mood was better.

(Shelley fell so in love with MuayThai that she quit her job in Melbourne and moved to Thailand to train. That’s where we met. She spent 18 months there; training, fighting and eventually working with the World MuayThai Council (WMC). She then retrained at home with the Australian Fitness Academy.) 

It was kind of funny being "the fit one" after having been known as the person who hated walking to the train station. But by then being physically active was such a huge positive part of my life that I knew I'd changed forever. 

Exercise is now just a fun thing I do to keep my mind positive and my body energetic and strong.

Combat sports gaining popularity even with women who don't want to fight is really exciting to me, because often women aren't encouraged to display aggression or physical dominance.

Getting a feel for how much power and force your body can generate using proper technique can be very empowering. Of course you can build strength and fitness but I think what's really magic is that feeling of being "in the moment" with those more primal feelings and movements. You feel really alive!

personal trainer melbourne Shelley Lask MuayThai MMA


When I was doing MuayThai and boxing, I didn't really have an understanding of how physical conditioning works. I’d always just trained as much as I possibly could, as often as I possibly could. I thought if I was physically capable of keeping going, then I wasn't done yet. If I saw someone else doing something, then the only reason I couldn't do it was because I wasn't trying hard enough, or being tough minded enough.

I got all the classic overuse injuries, like shin-splints and Achilles tendonitis, and they plagued me every six months or so. I saw that as a failing of my body not keeping up with my will. I've got a much greater respect for and appreciation of my body since taking the time to learn about how it really works.

I've seen and experienced first-hand the body-shaming culture the fitness industry is dominated by and the harm it can cause and I think we can do better. I want to see all kinds of people experience how awesome exercising can make them feel. It shouldn’t be a punishment for not assimilating to the dominant aesthetic ideal.

When the only images we see in these "fitspo" pictures are thin, conventionally attractive women and muscular (but still lean) conventionally-attractive men, it can seem like maybe that's the only way that fit and healthy should look. But it just isn't.

personal trainer melbourne Shelley Lask MuayThai MMA
For more Body Positive inspiration, find Lask online at: 


Facebook: Bodypositivehealthandfitness

If you have any questions for Lask, leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Kayaking

Wordless Wednesday - photos via PaddleSurf Ireland Facebook: at the World Championships 2015.
                                    Ireland came 4th in the team comp.

 More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.     And here on Image-in-ing

(Disclaimer - family member involved #proudsister) 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Technology and women's boxing in Australia

womens boxing Olympics Australia Sarah McFarlane

This week's video is a great insight into the difference science is making to women’s sport, and specifically how the lure of an Olympic medal is changing women’s boxing.

Set in the Australian Institute of Sport, the clip follows boxer Sarah McFarlane as scientists examine her punches. Women’s boxing officially became an Olympic sport at London2012 and this focus is one of the results.

One sports scientist spells it out in this clip, saying: ‘All of the top ten countries win medal in Combat Sports (at the Olympics) except one, and that is Australia.’ And if you know anything about Australian’s obsession with sport, you’ll know that’s a red rag to a bull.

I visited the AIS in Canberra in 2008 and pretty much swooned with envy at the facilities. I was training in an inner-city Sydney boxing-gym at the time, very different atmosphere to say the least. 

The training we see McFarlane doing is clinical and precise. Boffins measure the power of each punch,
looking to see which stance is best. They measure her heart-beat, her breathing to see as McFarlane says if she is relaxed and how that is impacting on her power.

Coming from an Australian Rules Football background, McFarlane was drafted into the AIS as part of a clear strategy for Australia to beef up their medals. Read more about her here in the SMH.

Have a look at the clip – I’m interested to know what people think of this type of training? Have you experienced this? Is it something you’d like to try?

Thanks to Diagnonal View for alerting me to this.

Monday, July 20, 2015

From the horse's mouth: Dublin Horse Show

Dublin Horse Show dressage volunteer

Katie Condren works in London now but her colleagues at Dubarry shoes know better then to schedule meetings during the week of Dublin horse show. But having once flown back from a year in New Zealand, she says the trip from London is nothing.

The show takes place from August 5th to 9th but is known to those who love it simply as Horse Show Week. 

Katie (27) first came to Dublin as an 11-year old riding in side-saddle competitions.

‘For me the Horse Show is the one week in the year when all my family is in one place. My mother is on the Committee and she’s a steward, my two brothers are involved. My Dad is not horsey but even he comes up for a day or two from our farm in Laois,’ she said.

‘That’s the beauty of the Horse Show, everyone can share in it. It’s such a stunning location – it’s a celebration of Irish horses really.’

This is Katie’s seventh year as a volunteer steward. This means she helps organise riders and horses in the rings outside the Main Arena – bringing them in, making sure no-one is late or misses their class.

She said: ‘There’s a lot of work. There are over 125 competitions and maybe 1,300 horses and ponies. You keep an eye on the Big Clock – you’d look up at that and think ‘crap! time to go’ and move them along.’

Unlike women taking part in Ladies Day, Katie’s clothing is all about comfort. She said: ‘The ground is so hard, your legs get jarred walking around. Comfortable footwear is a must, no heels. And you have to be careful not to party too much, we start at 8am.’

Her mum is known for supplying rain-gear to stewards who optimistically start the day in shirt-sleeves. Katie jokes she often sees family hats racing past in the busy crowds without knowing the person underneath.

Dublin Horse Show dressage volunteer

And there was the year she lost one of mother's coats only to find it hanging up at the following year's show - neatly placed in the steward's room by whoever found it.

In spite of it all, she makes time to watch her favourite class every year.

‘What I really enjoy is the Connemara performance classes. They’re a traditional breed, and there’s huge interest in them. I’ve ridden a side-saddle display on a Connemara. It’s such a huge honour to compete in Dublin, whether you get a ribbon or not,’ she said.

A version of this interview ran in yesterday's Irish Mail on Sunday as part of a longer story I wrote on behind the scenes at the Dublin Horse Show.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Women and sport in Cambodia

Waiting for the ferry to Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap River

Cambodia’s history overshadows its present so much it is almost a surprise to discover sport and games but they’re there.

Walking through the capital city Phnom Penh at twilight all you have to do is follow the shouts and you will find everything from volleyball or table tennis to football. And cycling of course – everyone cycles at least until they can afford a moto (motorbike).

Blogger Moire O’ Sullivan posted on mountain-bike racing in Cambodia when she lived there.

DragonFruit and other healthy eating
The first signs of activity start even earlier at sunrise when older ladies gather with some very loud boom-boom music down by the Tonle Sap River for aerobics. Another group comes together in the evenings at Independence Square – I posted some pictures on Wednesday.

An all-male volley-ball session I watched in a large shed-like building in the city centre was fast and loud. So was a table-tennis session around the corner with about 10 men having at it.

The National Olympic Stadium was near-empty when I visited, just a few boys bouncing basketballs and no-one on the giant football pitch.

Down by the river again in the evening a group of small boys ran barefoot with a football along the walkway, and later a more well-off group came armed with rollerblades.

National Olympic Stadium

According to VOA Cambodia the lack of girls is not unusual:

“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport estimates that of 259 competitive Cambodian athletes across 20 sports, only 54 are women. (In petanque, 11 of 22 athletes are women.) There are none in boxing, volley ball, football, badminton, cycling or archery.

‘That may be because many women think sports are mostly for men’, said Vath Chamroeun, general secretary of the National Olympic Committee.

‘They think that playing sports provides no benefit,’ he said. ‘Muscles appear in the long term, making them shy and stop playing more.’”

But one man told me with quiet pride about his 12-year old daughter who has represented her school in Tae Kwon Do at national level. He said she hopes to compete at the SEA Games (SouthEast Asian Games). He didn’t see anything wrong with it, and just hoped she wouldn’t be too disappointed if she can’t compete with athletes from richer nations like Vietnam.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any Muay Khmer – the national sport of kickboxing. From what I hear women are slowly making their way over the ropes in this most macho of sports. A great photo-essay on one gym with female fighters at RoadsandKingdoms here.

What sports have you noticed on your travels? 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Aerobics Phnom Penh

Wordless Wednesday - outdoor aerobics at sunset in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia **

More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.     And here on Image-in-ing

(**Been travelling for work - more posts from here to follow)