What not to say to a bodybuilder: 10 days out

June 23, 2011

So, I’m now 10 days away from my first bodybuilding comp. I’m tired. I’ve been training hard for a long time, and dieting for quite a while. I’m not sleeping well due to nerves and general insomniac tendencies. And I’ve still got a business to run, so there’s all that to stay on top of (and do a good job of!) too. These past few weeks, my diet has got even stricter, and I’m cutting carbs. Ever had “low-carb brain”? If you have, you’ll know how I’m feeling. If you haven’t, get a load of this true story from yesterday:

Scene: the local Co-op.
I am picking up a few bits because we’ve got this voucher for Β£16 and, even if you spend just 1p of it, you get the rest back in cash. I haven’t spent the full Β£16, and I know this.

The woman on the till puts my stuff through and I bag it up. “That will be Β£12.40,” she says. I root through my bag for my wallet, pushing the Β£16 voucher aside. “I’m so sorry!” I blurt, “I left my wallet at home, it’s only a 10 minute walk, I’ll be back.”

I walk home – having walked to the Co-op already – pick up my wallet, and walk back to the shop again, where I… pay using the voucher which I was well-aware I had all along. WTF?

Oh well, call the walking extra cardio. πŸ˜‰

Do you have a bodybuilder in your life?
Tread a little carefully if they’re going through the latter stages of contest prep. Low carbs, lack of sleep, fatigue, soreness and nerves are not a great combination. Please accept my apologies on behalf of us all.

Here’s a handy, print-out-and-keep list of “things not to say to a bodybuilder in the last couple of weeks of contest prep”. I shan’t say which are from experience and which are from my imagination…

1) “You look thin!” (Why you shouldn’t say this: we don’t want to look thin. A better choice of word would be “lean” or, if you want to go all-out “ripped”.)

2) “Why are you doing this to yourself?” (Why you shouldn’t say this: because… just because. It sounds disapproving. We don’t see it as doing anything negative to ourselves. Even the idea of “doing” something “to” ourselves insinuates damage, punishment, enduring something bad. If we saw it that way, we probably wouldn’t be doing it. We are, after all, in possession of common sense.)

3) “You’re a bodybuilder? OMG, I won’t get on the wrong side of you,then!” (Why you shouldn’t say this: because it’s dumb and offensive. We’re strong, not aggressive. And, quite frankly, we probably wouldn’t have enough energy to punch/slap/whatever you think we’ll do to you anyway. Since when does bodybuilding mean fighting?)

4) “Oh yummy my pizza is here” (Why you shouldn’t say this: because I love pizza and I’d like to eat one. You could however follow this with “It’s a super supreme with extra cheese, stuffed crust and salami.” That would be fine.)

5) “You don’t look like a bodybuilder!” (Why you shouldn’t say this: because I do, actually. You just have a misconception of what bodybuilders look like. And I’m wearing neither my gym kit nor my bikini, so how do you expect to tell anyway?)

6) “I ate that chopped up, portioned out chicken from those tupperwares in the fridge.” (Why you shouldn’t say this: we have meticulously cooked and portioned-up that chicken to make meal planning easier over the next couple of days, particularly if we have to travel or spend a lot of time out of the house. There is no need for you to eat it. You could have eaten whatever you wanted.)

7) “Please do this very complicated mental arithmetic right now.” (Why you shouldn’t say this: just…no. There are no words to convey how exhausting this even sounds.)

8 ) “What is that you’re eating?” (Why you shouldn’t say this: because it’s annoying. It’s chicken/tuna/an egg white omelette/raw veg – OK? I know you probably only mean it out of genuine curiosity but this is the only food we get to eat (til next time) and we just want to eat it in peace. You may not mean to criticise it, but some people do, and we just can’t be doing with explaining why we’re eating this. Sorry.)

9) “…can I have a bit?” (Why you shouldn’t say this: whilst it would show that you’re not repulsed by our choice of food, which is nice, this is still not a great idea. Why? See above – this is the only food we get for this meal, we’ve probably thought about it for ages, and we’ve certainly prepared and portioned it out carefully. You can not have any of it. Don’t you know what that would do to our macros? πŸ˜‰ )

Please know that (most of) this is completely tongue-in-cheek and (most of) these are from my imagination. I don’t want anyone thinking my husband thoughtlessly eats my meals, or my friends annoy me by asking what I’m eating in disapproving tones. There… that helps you work out which ones people have actually said to me over the past few weeks… πŸ˜‰

What annoying things have people said to you whilst you’re preparing for a sporting event? How did you react? Can you believe that I walked 3×10 minutes to the Co-op only to use a voucher I had on me the whole time?

What not to say to a bodybuilder: 10 days out is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

My best friend’s hen do: contest-prep style

June 18, 2011

My best friend is getting married!

Contest prep: meal planning, low carb, strict diet, no alcohol.
Hen do: (bachelorette- hi, American readers!) treats, indulgences, cakes, celebrations and plenty to drink.

Sounds like a match made in hell, right? Wrong.

Pouring booze for other people was the closest I got to it all day!

And posing with a Love Heart sweetie was the nearest I got to any sugar.

So how on earth did I go to my best friend’s hen do last weekend (which was an all-day, all-night, stay-overnight affair) and
a) stay 100% compliant to my bodybuilding contest prep plan
b) not impact on anyone else’s celebrations
c) have a great time myself?

I shall tell you. And then I shall pat myself on the back because quite frankly I am immensely proud of myself for achieving “a” and very pleased I managed to do “b” and “c” as well!

I knew that, with 20 days to go til my first physique comp, I couldn’t afford to eat outside of my plan. Sorry if that sounds terribly dreary. But it’s a fact. And I am fun, I promise! I was dancing with the rest of them and stayed up til 3:30am.

Anyway, so I looked ahead at the weekend and what we were doing (as bridesmaid, I’d helped plan the whole do, so knew exactly what we were up to). I then planned my meals.

Just like when I went to that conference a few weeks ago, I spent an hour or so the evening before the hen do preparing food. Nothing fancy, just oat/whey pancakes for two mornings’ breakfasts, lots of portable veg and some cooked chicken. And I made one of my super-easy big egg bakes (bit like a massive omelette or crustless quiche) and cut it into portions. I then selected a handbag partly by style (it was a vintage-themed hen do) and partly by capacity πŸ˜‰

I rang the restaurant beforehand to explain my needs (such as they are – it really isn’t very difficult to eat out contest-prep style). I told all the other hens, if they asked. And, of course, I cleared it all with my best friend the bride-to-be. There’s really no reason that someone not drinking alcohol and not eating cupcakes should be a problem, but I talked it all through with her anyway, just to check that it wouldn’t have any sort of negative impact on her special day.

Clear it with the bride-to-be first
Number one rule! My best friend is wonderful (obviously, she wouldn’t be my best friend if she wasn’t) and I knew she wouldn’t see it as a problem. I’m not sure what I would have done if she’d suddenly gone all Bridezilla on my ass, insisting “you simply must drinks shots and eat cupcakes or the entire day will be ruined!” But she didn’t.

Offer to help
As one of the bridesmaids, I was part of the hen-do organising party. So I offered to do all the food-related bits. I knew I was going to be the one who would need to make and request modifications, so I offered to be the one in charge of contacting the restaurant and ordering/booking/prepping the day time food. That way, I didn’t have to bother anyone else with my requests – just straight from me to the restaurant.

Adopt a “don’t give a damn” attitude
I honestly don’t see why a no-fuss, polite and unbeat attitude to eating and drinking differently to others should have any impact – let alone a negative one – on anybody’s else’s enjoyment. So I said please, and thank you, and explained myself when asked. Aside from that I adopted a “don’t give a damn” approach. I was totally fine with eating my way and not drinking booze. So was my friend. And that’s all that matters!

I like that I look drunk in this picture – probably drunker than the ladies who were drunk!

I’d like to say thank you to my fellow hens, bridesmaids and of course to my wonderful friend Wendy for understanding, being interested and not giving me a hard time. I really do appreciate it. See you all at the wedding – when I will be toasting the bride and groom with real, actual booze, and I will be eating all the yummy things they’ve chosen for us! πŸ™‚

Have you been on a stag, hen, bachelor, bachelorette party whilst eating to a specific diet and/or not drinking? How did that go?

My best friend’s hen do: contest-prep style is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

28 days later…

June 5, 2011

…not zombie apocalpyse (not as far as I know, anyway), but my first bodybuilding comp.

Yes, it’s just 28 days away. Or less, actually. This time in 28 days I’ll quite possibly actually be on stage.

The count-down is well and truly on and I, for one, am freaking out. I don’t know why today, I think it just hit me that it’s four short weeks away, and I’ve no idea if I’ll be ready, I’ve no idea if I’m where I need to be at four weeks out and… I’ve no idea about anything really!

Yes, I have become that person who takes random photos in the gym. I didn’t realise it was quite so blurry! Me just now at the end of my “push” session about to do some skull-crushers.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a sport that’s brand-new to me. It’s terrifying, exciting, challenging, disorientating and freeing all at the same time. It’s certainly given me an appreciation for how newbies to exercise and sport might feel, and I can now see why the people who come along to our “open-water swimming for newbies” sessions seem overwhelmed with gratitude at bits of information, guidance and encouragement which I think are obvious or standard!

Anyway, back to freaking out. So I texted coach Kat and she said:

“You will be ready, you’re right on track, please trust me. The last month is where all the magic happens but you’ll need to diet hard and stay clean clean clean*… Once you get your tan on you’ll look so different. No stressing!”

(*food. No drugs here!)

Then I posted on Facebook and, amongst the replies, came one from my Mum in all her NLP Master Practitioner wisdom:

“How about creating an alter-ego for yourself? The successful competitor, full of confidence, loads of experience, everytime she goes on stage everyone gasps in awe… Then that’s the character you can be “on the night” πŸ™‚ xx”

I like it! So what shall we call her? Suggestions, please!

In other news, my bikinis are ordered, my posing music is chosen (and hacked down to the required length by me using Garageband for the first time in my life) and I’ve started to make up my routine. Speaking of which, I must go and practise!

What do you think I should call my stage alter-ego? What would yours be called? Tee hee!

28 days later is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

“She wore an…itsy bitsy, teeny weeny…

April 17, 2011

…bling-encrusted pink bikini….”

Yesterday I met up with Kat and Annie again for some more posing practice. It all went well, Annie was pleased with my progress (which was a huge confidence boost for me, since I’m never too sure if I’m doing the right thing when I pose at home by myself). We discussed how I’ve come on since she last saw me, and came to the conclusion that I may compete in Physique rather than Figure, which is absolutely fine by me. And she very kindly lent me some of her contest bikinis to try on. No sense in buying one if I can hire or borrow!





I get to wear two if I want (not at the same time; that would be really weird). Plain one for the pre-judging and then sparkly bling for the night show.

I thought I’d be petrified about the idea of putting on a tiny posing suit (not only are they small but they do up in a totally different way to a normal beach bikini, and you feel a lot more exposed) but, you know what, I’m not nervous about it. I don’t know why not. That may well change when I…oh, you know…have to get up on stage in front of a load of strangers wearing the suit. Who knows! But for now, it’s all rather fun actually! I never thought I’d be a “velvet and rhinestones” kind of a gal. Seems I was wrong. πŸ˜‰


Sorry Richard and Jo, it looks like our “Ladies Wot Lunch” special trip to Soho to buy my shoes is off…I’m going shoeless as a Physique competitor, and that suits me just fine. πŸ™‚

“She wore an…itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Busy weekend (part 1: IFBB Grand Prix)

March 22, 2011

Last weekend was a busy one! I’m going to split this blog post into two, actually. Part one covers my Saturday: I headed into London to the Excel Centre (driving from Berkshire to the Excel Centre….both the DLR and Jubilee lines were down!) where the IFBB Grand Prix was being held for the first time.

I was there primarily to meet an Editor (hi John!) but thought it would be a great opportunity to nosy round the expo, grab some free samples πŸ˜‰ and immerse myself in the world of bodybuilding. I’m still so new to it, everything’s an eye-opener.

It was a fun day! Here are some photos which I thought might amuse, entertain and inform.

I met Jamie Eason, US fitness model and competitor who was on the bodybuilding.com stand. She was absolutely lovely, so sweet and seemed genuinely happy to talk to everyone who wanted a photo with her (and there were hundreds!) She asked me about my comp and gave me some sweet advice. Nice lady!

Here are a few huge chaps

This is Robby Anchant, top UK amateur bodybuilding competitor and all round nice guy. I asked him for a photo just cos he was a huge guy who happened to be walking past and I thought it would be funny for the blog. We ended up having a right giggle. I suggested we “get our guns out” and he told me he’d rather we didn’t as he was afraid I’d show him up. “My arms aren’t really my strong point,” he said. LOL! Here’s the photo we ended up with:

But I quite like this one too because of my face?!

The IFBB Grand Prix didn’t just concern bodybuilding: there was also strongman (which has always fascinated me!), MMA (no photos, but I saw Dane Bowers next to the cage – I assume he was commentating rather than fighting?!) and BMX/stunt riding.

I didn’t stay around for the actual show, which is a shame as I would have loved to watch. I must see a show before my own show dates roll around – I know I’d learn so much from watching pros and seasoned amateurs up on stage.

Oh, and here’s my stash of freebies – minus the four of five sachets and packets of stuff I’ve already consumed. Yum! Tee hee!

Stay tuned for part 2 – on the way home from the Excel, I picked up my friend and coach Kat Millar who came to stay for..er…just under 24 hours (we’re busy ladies!) and we packed two training sessions in during that time. Photos and training updates to come! πŸ˜€

Were you at the IFBB Grand Prix? Did I say hello to you?

Conditioning training at Locker27

March 14, 2011

I mentioned last week that I’d been invited to train at Locker 27, an athletic facility in Weybridge, Surrey. It’s about time I told you about the session (and the facility). It’s a fantastic place to train and I only wish I could get over there more often. Two sessions a week at Locker 27 athletic development and I’d be in tip-top condition for my comp, I can tell you!

Locker 27 is what I’d call a proper “old school” training facility, although there’s nothing dated about it. On the contrary, the equipment is fantastic and the knowledge of the three coaches is bang up to date. But the Locker 27 guys have built the facility, and the training they offer there, around the solid foundations of real athletic conditioning. Everything they do is functional and aimed at increasing sporting performance. They focus on the basics: of technique, of programming and of progressive training. The training they do looks simple, but is tough. The Locker 27 guys know that if it ain’t broke, there’s no point trying to fix it, and so they underpin all their training sessions with all the good stuff – Olympic lifts, bodyweight movements, intervals, conditioning circuits.

Here’s the blurb from the website as written by its founder Matt Church:

At Locker 27 we provide the basis and foundation for athletes/sportspeople/fitness fanatics to achieve their goals and increase their performance. The pathway from physical competency to performance training is tailored to prepare the individual for the complicated, comprehensive, robust skill set required to reach their potential.

β€œThe Locker” provides a very different training experience compared to a commercial gym. All components of sports conditioning are combined and can be applied to anyone who wishes to push the boundaries, whether for sport or for healthy living.

Locker 27 was born 31 years ago. It is a culmination of experience and lessons from the sporting world both positive and negative that have shaped the philosophy and services received at the β€œLocker”.

The name Locker 27 comes from my first ever locker at school. I have very fond memories of these early stages of my sporting development. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who ignited my passion for all aspects of sport and exercise. At Locker 27 we want to be part of that ignition process.

So, what about my session? I met with Steven Rudkin, a co-director of Locker 27 and asked him to put me through my paces. On my training programme for the day was interval training, and I was secretly hoping Steve would get me to do a variety of things I just can’t do in the limited space available to me at my local gym. I wasn’t disappointed!

Steve devises my session and writes it up so he can count my reps

After a fantastic warm-up which focused on mobility and glute activation (hurdle walks, band side-steps, crawls, lunges, medicine ball woodchops and ball slams, skipping, etc), Steve revealed my circuit...5 exercises, working for 45 seconds with 15 seconds rest, and a bonus 60 seconds rest between after the completion of the fifth exercise. I was to do the sequence 3 times. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s what I thought…until he told me what the 5 exercises were:

1) “wall ball”: essentially a push/press, squatting down and then launching a 5kg medicine ball up against a wall in front of me, over and over again

2) sledge hammer: whacking a massive tyre with a sledge hammer over and over again as hard as I can

3) burpees jumping straight up into wide-grip chin ups (then down again into the burpee…and so on)

4) rope slam: continually ‘slamming’ a 2inch rope up and down for the 45 seconds

5) flipping a 44kg tyre across the room, running back to the start line after each flip

If that still doesn’t sound too bad, here is some video footage of me doing some of the exercises. I’m a bit embarrassed about these as 1) I didn’t know Steve was videoing and 2) they’re from the end of the session when I was tired – hence the complete inability to do any real chin ups (I’m just jumping up and lowering myself down by this stage).

I asked Steven to explain why he chose the five exercises for my circuit. He said: “These kind of athletic movements mimic the way we need to move during sport and help us build power in those big movements. Two things are often neglected in traditional gym-type training: triple extension (at the ankle, knee and hip) and the posterior chain. They’re both really important for athletic performance, no matter what your sport is. After all, every sport demands ground reaction forces from those three leg joints so we need to learn how to transfer power from the ground up and drive it through the legs and hips.”

After I’d recovered from this short but killer “raw conditioning” session, I asked Steve to assist me with just one set of dumbbell chest presses, because I never have anyone to help me during my own sessions, and I wanted to see if I could actually press more than normal if I had someone there to help me get the dumbbells up in the air. Sure enough, I was able to go up to 2x20kgs (I can usually only manage 2x18kgs because I can’t lift anything heavier to the start position!) I think I could have gone heavier but 20kg is the biggest dumbbell they have at present. Steve then checked my squat and deadlift form and said it was all good, which was great to hear.

I absolutely loved my session at Locker 27 and would like to thank Steve for inviting me and taking me through the session. If you are able to get to Weybridge to train, I strongly recommend you try the facility out.

Triathlon readers – you could try Locker 27’s dedicated Computrainer sessions (you can take your own bike) – at the moment, only Locker 27 and the triathlon centre in Manchester offer the sessions.

Conditioning training at Locker27 is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Setting specific strength goals for the next four weeks

March 9, 2011

My coach is great at sending motivating emails. Without fail, she seems to always hit exactly the right note, the perfect balance between excited enthusiasm and the push I need.

This week, she said this (amongst a lot of other things!):

“Sooooo, about 112 days to go!

That’s roughly 8-10 sessions of each muscle group left in your ‘building’ phase. Every workout counts!

Really go after those painful reps, the last few that are almost tear-jerking. Think of the (other competitors) that want to kick your ass – especially when you’re doing things like heavy deep squats and just want to stop (or cry). Knowing you didn’t hold back and leave any reps undone can be the difference between 1st place, or not placing – literally!”

See what’s she’s done there? Numbers, specifics, dates…it’s all there now in black and white. 112 days. 8-10 heavy sessions per body part.

So, with that in mind, I’ve set myself some short term goals. I’ll soon start cutting my calories in order to get rid of bodyfat, so it’s not realistic to set big strength goals for further down the line. Therefore I’m setting them for the next four weeks, whilst I’m eating loads and bursting with energy!

Here they are:

I’ll revisit this list over the next month and let you know how I’m getting on.

Deadlift – 80kg for 8 reps
Squats – 85kgs for 10 reps
Pull-ups – 10 wide grip from dead hang (not sure I’ll get this one but will try!)
One-arm row – 25kg dumbbell for 8 reps
Dumbbell chest press – 25kg dumbbells (if someone can help me get them in the air!) for 8 reps
Single leg press – 115kgs for 12 reps both sides
Clean and press – 35kg for 8 reps

I’ll use this coming week’s sessions to test where I’m at and then I’ll take it from there. Most of these goals represent around a 10% increase.

Setting specific strength goals for the next four weeks is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Have your pancake and eat it too

March 8, 2011

Today is “Pancake Day” here in the UK. Yes, I’m 16 weeks out from a figure bodybuilding show. No, I see no reason to avoid Pancake Day. Growing up, it was one of my favourite days of the year. My Dad threw some means shapes as he flung pancakes around the kitchen under his pseudonym “Roger the Tosser” (I can’t believe I just wrote that on the blog. Luckily, I don’t think he reads it!) Sista, remember Pancake Days when we were kids? Hang on, I have a picture of R-the-T in action….here it is!

I digress. You may think Bodybuilding contest prep+Pancake Day=big no no. I say think again! Contest prep just means a bit of lateral-thinking when it comes to pancake batter.

What’s in normal pancake batter? Eggs, milk, flour, oil, and butter, right? Come on, those things are all so easy to find healthy substitutes for. So easy, in fact, that I’d celebrated Pancake Day before 8am this morning.

OK, so I’m not the best food photographer, and an iPhone is not the best camera in the world. But you get the idea.

Into your trusty blender, pour about 4 eggwhites, 40g or so oats and about 75g light plain cottage cheese. Blend. Add a pinch of baking powder and blend again just for a second.

Heat spray oil (or, if you’re me, a bit of coconut oil) in a good pan. Pour some of the batter in and cook just like a normal person’s pancake. Flip and cook the other side.

Plate up and top with whatever you want. I’d suggest good ol’ lemon and sugar isn’t the best choice if you’re in contest prep. I went with sugar-free syrup (yes, it exists and it’s lovely) and strawberry slices.

It should be noted that the recipe amounts above made three further pancakes. The photo above was not my entire breakfast!

Four oaty pancakes like this fuelled me up for my training session today which was a “raw conditioning” (their words) session at the simply fabulous Locker 27, a training facility in Weybridge, Surrey. I’m going to blog about my session later this week but if you are in the area, I urge you to go and try it out. You can contact Steven and the other chaps on info@locker27.com.

PS I also had pancakes for my afternoon snack. I made them out of egg whites, cottage cheese and protein powder. They tasted great but looked awful so I didn’t take a pic. πŸ˜‰

Have your pancake and eat it too is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

How to engage with fitness journalists and bloggers

March 3, 2011

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I recently spoke at the FIA (Fitness Industry Association) Communications Forum in February. I was asked along in my capacity as a freelance journalist and blogger (although I also do copywriting) and my brief was to talk about how the delegates could find, engage with and make the most of fitness journalists and bloggers.

People in the room included PRs responsible for sport and fitness brands, inhouse marketeers of the same and operators of gyms, leisure centres, facilites and events.

Here’s the outline of my talk. I hope you might find it useful. Please remember it’s just my opinion and based on my experiences as a freelance sport and fitness writer. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability – just leave a comment.

Freelance journalists are positioned somewhere between the editorial staff of publications and the PRs and marketing personnel of fitness brands, products and events.

I’ve been freelancing since 2004. A quick rundown of my personal backstory:

– I was made redundant and moved out of London at the same time
– I’d always wanted to work as a journalist and sport was the obvious niche as it’s my personal passion
– At the time, I was a few months away from my first English Channel swim and I realised that, if I couldn’t successfully pitch sports Editors with a first-person article about Channel swimming, I would never make it as a freelance sport journalist!
– I did pitch that article idea, got a couple of commissions and worked my way up from there

I’ve now written for a range of consumer magazines and NGB membership magazines, including:
220 Triathlon, Triathlete’s World, Women’s Running, Body Fit, Good Housekeeping, Practical Parenting, Coast, The Olympic Review, Swimming Times (ASA), Tri News (BTF) and the inflight magazines of easyjet, Air Malta and BMI. I’ve also contributed to a couple of books – one produced by The Observer last year (for which I wrote two chapters) and one (as a ghostwriter) which last week hit the no.9 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list.

My niche is sport and fitness, particularly triathlon, running, cycling, swimming and open-water swimming and any fitness issue relating to women in sport.

On a personal level, I do a lot of sport: I was a swimmer as a child and at University, then took up running and ran for a club. I then threw cycling into the mix and took up triathlon. Latterly I learned to love road riding in its own right and have done sportives. My absolute niche is as an open water swimmer: I’ve swum the English Channel twice as a solo swimmer, and once (there and back) as a relay. I’ve also swum Windermere and around Jersey. In somewhat of a shock departure from all of that, I’m currently training for a bodybuilding competition – a bit of a change!

In addition to journalism, I work as a copywriter, helping companies and brands communicate by writing them clear, persuasive wording for marketing and sales: websites, brochures, newsletters, email marketing and content for social media (blogging, facebook, Twitter etc). I also write a sport, fitness and training blog – The Fit Writer.

What’s the process behind a magazine commission?

There are two ways in which a magazine article can come about: from a pitch from the journalist to the editor, or from a commission from the editor to the journalist. The latter usually (but not always) happens when the editor already knows the journalist’s by reputation, or if the journalist has previously written for the publication.

How do we come up with ideas? We will keep an eye on the market, read (online, blogs, forums, Twitter, magazines etc), research, listen, talk. When we pitch an idea we don’t have to have case studies or experts but it strengthens the pitch to be able to mention that we will be able to find these. We will want to put together a strong pitch that is pegged on a news item or something else timely. Case studies and human interest angles are always good.

If we get a commission from an editor, we will usually need to find case studies, expert comment and/or products to fit the brief. We may have to do this extremely quickly. We will not want to let the editor down! Whilst we will want to meet our deadline and our wordcount, it will be just as important that the work we file meets the brief, so we will not want to pad the feature out with “almost but not quite” ideas, weak case studies or incomplete information. We will therefore be looking for PRs or marketeers who can help us by getting spot-on product information or putting us in touch with fantastic experts or case studies.

Kit/product tests
As a note – in my experience, kit tests are always commissioned. So we will never be able to pitch an editor the idea of testing a single product as a straight test. That kind of feature always comes from the editor as a commission so, if you want to get your product in front of an editor, you need to send it to them first and then they will send it to one of their freelancers to test.

Blogging is a different matter . We are the editors of our own blog and those of us who have chosen to do kit tests/product tests on our blogs can be contacted directly with product information to see if it is a good fit for our blog focus and our readership. It has to be your call as to whether or not you think blogs are a suitable outlet for your product or your client, but consumers are increasingly turning to blogs for an authentic peer-to-peer voice when looking online for reviews and feedback.

Who does a freelance journalist work with?

They are our “bosses” in a way. They pay our bills, they have the power to commission us – or not. We want to keep them happy!

Can be worth their weight in gold but can make things more difficult than they have to be. Fantastic PRs are a real find and should be treasured! I think it’s silly to perpetuate the “journalists vs PRs” dynamic, as PRs often hold the key to great stories, fantastic ideas and compelling case studies. They are also the route to brilliant quotes from respected experts.

In-house marketing representatives of fitness brands, companies, products can be as useful as PRs but often seem less clued up about how to work directly with journalists and often seem a little “hidden away”. I wish more of them were more active in interacting with us. They can help by keeping us informed about new product developments, lists of events and any press opportunities. If you don’t tell us about it, we probably won’t know until it’s too late!

Product owners/entrepreneurs
Sometimes have a hard time connecting with us but need us – and we need them! They do need to understand what we need, though, which brings me on to my next point.

How can you make the most of freelance journalists?

We want to work with you and hear from you, but you need to know what we need – and what we don’t need – when a deadline is looming. Here are a few tips.

Dos and don’ts

– Do contact us, but only with information we have previously stated we’ll find useful or which will fit the commission we’re working on
– Don’t send information which doesn’t fit the bill, no matter how strongly you feel the magazine should feature it

– Do note our deadline and tell us honestly if you can help us meet it
– Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver

– Do send complete information, images, case studies, contact details
– Don’t send information and then disappear off the face of the earth (at least let us know who else in your team we should speak to)

A good relationship can last a long time

When we find PRs or marketeers who feed us great ideas and help us do our job, we want to keep hold of them! Personally, I am always happy to meet PRs a few times a year to have a mutual thrashing out of ideas, to tell them what I’m working on and to hear which clients they’re working for. As an example, I recently met up with a PR at a tradeshow we were both attending. I took part in a challenge one of her clients was running at the event (and blogged about it) and then talked to her for over an hour. She told me about her latest clients and suggested some really exciting, useable ways I could work them into pitches. As a result, I came up with at least four pitches on the way home, one of which was accepted and one of which is being considered. I really value that PR and will always read her press releases and take her phone calls.

What makes a good press release?

We’re always aware that editors get hundreds of pitches per day. Similarly, be aware that we get hundreds of press releases. Here are a few tips to help yours be amongst the ones we read and keep hold of:

– it’s not enough to have a product, you need to understand what we need in order to work that product into a magazine article
– we need an angle and a story to support the product
– newsworthiness is good – peg the press release on something topical or timely
– a spokesperson or ambassador is helpful
– case studies, stories, real people are always useful – but they need to be genuine and we potentially need to be able to interview and photograph them
– images need to be high res and labelled
– please don’t forget the basics – dates, contact details, names, ages, prices, RRP, where to buy…

What kind of news interests us?

This will depend on the journalist and their niche but, generally, anything related to a news story or event is better for us to pitch, as is anything with a strong human interest angle, a great set of quotes, a solid expert or spokesperson, and of course anything truly new, fun or innovative which hasn’t been done before! (Not asking for much, are we…!)

What do we need from you?

When we approach you:
– understand our deadlines
– tell us honestly if you can help in time or not
– full and complete information
– access to interviewees
– high res images
– (potentially) product to test

When you approach us
– relevant information which fits our niche (ie don’t send information about golf to an equestrianism journalist unless they’ve asked for it)
– friendly, helpful – meetings are good
– make sure you spell our names properly and don’t BCC with someone else’s name!
– personal details are good (Hi Nicola, I saw your feature about wetsuits in 220 Triathlon recently…)

How to find a journalist or commission
Twitter – search the hashtag #journorequest
– website Responsesource
– Networking – online and “real life”

Thank you – please do keep in touch with me and send me information about any relevant products, events, interview opportunities or brand developments. I am happy to consider product/kit tests for my blog, and guest blog posts. I am also available for advice or practical help about copywriting for sport and fitness.

How to engage with fitness journalists and bloggers is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Giving it a tri

February 27, 2011

I hope you’ve had a nice weekend. I had lots of family over today, including my Auntie Rose, who has decided to take up triathlon. Now, it’s terribly rude to talk about a lady’s age but, if I tell you that I’m 33, you can probably work out for yourself that my Auntie is not quite a teenager. So I think it is fantastic that she is training for her first triathlon.

Auntie Rose and my little sister 20+ years ago yesterday πŸ˜‰ – sorry both of you, ha ha!

Auntie Rose is no couch potato – she’s a good swimmer and plays tennis (very well, I’m told) regularly. But triathlon is quite a challenge for anyone.

Before lunch, she picked a few products from my cardboard boxes of items I’ve kit tested for magazines (PRs, if you want them back, please just ask – Auntie Rose has only borrowed them). And, over lunch, she picked my brains about the mysteries of brick sessions, transitions, race belts and lock laces.

I’m thrilled to be able to help her out and can’t wait to cheer her on in her first race. And I’m delighted to have someone else sporty in the family!

I’ve asked her if she’ll do a few guests posts on this blog as her training progresses. If there’s any part of the learning curve you’d like her to write about, please let me know.

Did you take up a particular sport later on in life? Would you ever consider doing a triathlon?

I’ve got an exciting day lined up tomorrow with one big bit of kit to test and a talk to give at an industry event. I also owe you a blog post about fitness kit I’ve tested this week – some interesting stuff! I’ll blog again soon…

Giving it a tri is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

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