During lockdown 2020, Karen decided she couldn’t take it anymore and she walked out of an abusive relationship she had been trapped in for years.
With all the responsibilities she carried as a mother to a 3 year old boy, she knew she had to make a change. She refused to stick around. She refused to be mistreated both for her own sake and for her son.
The trauma she endured rocked her to the core. Every night she was affected by nightmares and night terrors, where she dreamed she was either stuck in a room with someone or that she was dying a horrible death.
She would wake up in panic; terror coursing through her body.
She would then lie awake in bed for hours after, unable to fall asleep again. If she did, she would only be woken up again by yet another horrific nightmare.
“I would be asleep, but I was moving, running around the room and screaming. Sometimes I would even injure myself. I would go to the bathroom, or my wardrobe or sometimes I would be climbing into my airing cupboard. I would wake up suddenly and be so terrified, my heart would be racing. While I was asleep I was literally having hallucinations like there was someone in the room, and it would take me so long to calm down from that. I would eventually fall back to sleep but then have another nightmare, usually that I have died in a car crash or something. I joke about this but I have said that I must have died a 100 different ways in my nightmares.”
Karen was getting less than 4 hours of broken sleep every night.
She was feeling absolutely exhausted, which affected her physically and mentally.
She knew she needed professional help to deal with the pain and suffering she had endured, so she sought out counselling. Her psychiatrist prescribed some medication to help with the sleep and she was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Karen needed a new positive focus. She’d always been physically active, was never one to sit still, and she’d developed a love for weight training a few years ago.
But she needed something to throw herself into, and push her to the next level. And that’s where RNT came in, in May 2021.
Self Medicating With Exercise & Training To Failure
During lockdown, Karen had joined a free local online facebook group that had HIIT sessions twice a week. With a few weights she had at home, it worked perfectly.
Whilst she gained a ton of benefit, she wanted more structure, knowledge and guidance to maximise her time, and get the results to warrant the effort she was putting in. She’d been following RNT on social media for a while, had always listened to the podcasts, and had been so inspired by the transformations of all the RNTers, that when the time arrived, she decided to jump right in.
“When I am struggling mentally, the way I medicate myself is through exercise. But I needed it to be more constructive, I needed a goal to work towards. I felt like I was weight lifting without any accountability or guidance. I wanted to be healthy for my 3 year old son. I wanted to do my exercise and spend quality time with him. Having a training program helped take some of the mental stress away from my life.”
Having done the same thing for so long during lockdown, she was excited for the fresh start. And one thing she did exceptionally well, right from the get go, was pushing her training hard, and to failure!
“Doing 4 different workouts per week was so exciting! I was absolutely delighted! I always listen to a lot of podcasts and when I started with RNT I listened to a lot of things about pushing to failure. While working out at home it’s hard to push to failure as there is no one watching! So I had to learn how to fail by myself.”
She starts to experience the power of the Void - the moment where you’re entirely present with the weight, and the muscle contraction, and nothing exists. Training then becomes like therapy.
“Lifting heavy weights for me is like therapy. It is one of the times I can’t think. When I am at the bottom of my squat and I have my hands in the air with my heaviest dumbbells I can’t think about anything else other than to make sure my muscles are working properly to lift or lower the weight. I am a very placid person, really quite laid back. But when I feel my muscles shake during a lift, my anger really comes out and I roar or shout just to get it done.”
“Do You Want To Write Down The Same Number?”
To add, she also embraced the power of progressive overload, and the ability to constantly push for more. And her mantra for this is as follows:
“The first thing I tell myself is, ‘Do you want to write down the same number?’ If it’s like a graph, do you want the line to be flat or do you want it to go up? It doesn’t have to be loads, it could be 2 and a half kilos, it could be one extra rep, it could be anything.
If it was a graph, which way do you want the graph to go? Do you want it to be flat? Because if you do, then you can just do the same thing or if you want to progress, how quickly do you want to progress? How great will you feel if you beat that number today? You know today is going to be good but today will be great if you beat that number, somehow.
It doesn’t have to be a number, it might be that you can go extra deep on a squat. I have dodgy knees so I find it really hard to go deep on a squat, but if I can go a bit deeper without knee pain or my knees going funny and I stand back up again, I’ll take that as a win.”
(Training to failure is integral to making real gains and hitting those PBs. If you want to learn more about how it can help you in your training our article Training To Failure will answer all your questions.)
Juggling Fitness and Life As A Single Mum
Being a single mum who worked full-time in a really demanding job, Karen didn’t have a flexible schedule. She couldn’t go to the gym as she couldn’t leave her 3 year old alone at home. Undeterred, she decided to use a corner of her conservatory into a little home gym. She invested in a bench, some adjustable dumbbells, and some free weights. She also got hold of a walking machine in her living room so she could meet her daily step target.
“I get my training in before my son wakes up. I have a walking machine and I do all my workouts at home. The weekends we make sure we are moving and go for walks, I try not to think of it as exercise but thinking of it as moving. I don’t do very well at sitting still, I even watch TV while walking on the treadmill.”
With her demanding schedule and responsibilities, and the mental stressors of her past, it would have been so easy for Karen to throw in the towel and give up. Instead, Karen did exactly the opposite, she doubled down even further! She planned her week carefully and even had some fall back options just in case things didn’t quite pan out the way she hoped.
When asked about her advice for other single mums out there, she noted the following:
The Power Of Self Care
Prioritising self-care became a cornerstone in Karen’s daily routine. It helped her cope with everything she had on her plate.
One day while listening to a podcast, Karen heard an episode that challenged people to make a list of things that represented self-care to each individual, so she took action on it. The podcast talked about how using this checklist as a guide made his life feel so awesome.
Karen shared her list on the RNT Family Facebook group and inspired a lot of RNT members to curate their own self care list too!
“I thought it was a really good idea. I wrote up a list on how I could make my life awesome. I now have it stuck up in my kitchen. It’s really simple things, like drinking water, or watering the plants. None of it is about having an expensive day at the spa or an expensive massage. They are all tiny little things I can do relatively quickly in my day.”
She batch cooked all her meals, including the meals she planned for her son. She portioned them out and put them in the freezer all ready to go. However, she knew that sometimes (especially when you have a little one hanging off your legs), she might not be able to cook enough in advance. So she had a few boxes of food made out for her by a food prep company, just to give her a little wiggle room in case she ran out of her home cooked meals.
Sometimes, Karen felt guilty that her work limited the amount of time she spent with her son. But instead of feeling low about it she decided to make the time she spent with him so much fun. The weekends and the hours they did spend together weren’t disrupted by work or her phone, so she could focus all her attention on him. Now her little boy plays with his toys for an hour in the morning on the weekends while Karen does her training because he knows he has her all to himself after she is finished!
Knowing her schedule, Karen decided to get a cleaner to help with keeping her home tidy. Worrying about the laundry and making sure the bathrooms were clean was one less thing to stress about, freeing up even more time for her to engage with her child and make time for her own self-care.
As a single-mum Karen knew that she had to prioritise her own needs. It goes back to the airline instructions; you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else, because if you can’t breathe you aren’t going to be able to help anyone else.
“As a single-mum you deserve to spend some time doing what makes you happy. For me it was finding time for my training.”
Pushing Beyond Limits
Karen’s dedication to her journey helped her achieve an amazing standard not seen commonly.
“I had no idea I looked like that until I saw the photo Shyam Kotecha from Skot Visuals showed me the picture he took of my back. Previously, I would do really well and then hit a plateau. But everytime I came off an RNT group call I always pushed myself further. I pushed past the self-limiting mental blocks I placed on myself. I had to stop myself from sabotaging my progress and stick to the plan to get the results I wanted. I ended up having a limit in my head that I was subconsciously holding onto.”
Karen’s mind-blowing transformation is couched in multiple factors:
- The power of the deadline - the photoshoot
- The goal targets were clearly visible - she had a road map she stuck to
- Accountability - to herself, the RNT family and the coaches
Working simultaneously these three drivers made sure she couldn’t fail.
Despite Karen’s incredible transformation she is, in her own words, a perfectionist. She wants to continue her journey and work on her legs as she feels they aren’t quite where she wants them to be.
Her RNT journey now continues on into The Investment Phase, and we can’t wait to see how her physique improves even further!
Physical Is The Vehicle
Karen joined RNT to help her on her physical journey. She was getting help with therapists and she initially only wanted some help with a structured and detailed weights program. What happened instead completely surprised her. A lot of people join us for a physical transformation, but what they end up achieving is a completely new outlook on life.
“I was diagnosed with ADHD recently and so I still have some mental struggles to deal with. I tend to be all over the place, but exercise gives you a rush of dopamine and ADHD is caused by the lack of dopamine in the brain which definitely explains why without realising it I have self-medicated with exercise as it always makes me feel better. When I joined RNT I wanted a weights program as I wanted structure, but it hasn’t been just about the physical at all. Having the target and the focus really help as I know that it’s making me healthier. The deeper why will hold you to your true feelings; I’ve learnt it’s easy to self-sabotage and run away from your feelings. At the end of the day no one is going to remember me for my nice back picture but because of how I live my life with positivity and how much love I give out to everyone.”
“I came to RNT because I was doing the mental stuff and I wanted some help with the physical and it has just been the opposite. I was already moving my body, I was already lifting weights, I was already doing cardio, I was already doing my steps. You gave me a weights program that targeted my body in a different way, but really that’s a small part for me. Having that target and having that focus, knowing that it’s making me healthier and thinking about things in a different way… because when you are reaching for the sugar, everyone does it because it’s the chocolate or you want to binge because your calories are low and everyone else is eating pizza and you are sat there with your piece of steamed fish and broccoli… you have to think, why am I doing that? Am I self-sobotaging or am I trying to run away from my feelings? And it’s hard to sit there with your feelings, we distract ourselves all the time from our actual feelings with food or technology or alcohol or whatever it is… you have to find a different way to deal with it, which is quite tough. It’s meant that I have broken habits of a lifetime and I am much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. So really all the transformations that you post are amazing physically, but what you should show is all the transformations mentally, because that’s the biggest win for everyone.”
Karen’s advice to all RNTers just starting on their journey really does describe in a nutshell what it takes to transform.
“No one is expecting perfect action. You have to take action and you have to be honest. Put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you keep going. Don’t beat yourself up if you muck up, but you don’t have to muck up for the rest of the month because you mucked up for one meal. Just take some decent action and keep moving forwards.”
In Episode 235, Karen came as a guest on RNT Fitness Radio to talk about her journey and how she has used the physical as the vehicle to recover from her traumatic relationship. Whether she feels lonely, or stressed, or angry, she has learnt different ways to cope and deal with them so that she doesn’t self-sabotage, and continues to live positively.
“It’s really hard to look inwards and be honest with yourself…I’ve had many firm conversations with myself in the mirror when I feel like I am slipping.”