A Weekend Training At Body Flex, Aylesbury (Two Training Sessions)

November 29, 2015

Remember when I created a Google map and list of UK gyms owned and run by natural bodybuilders? The map is here >> UK natural bodybuilders’ gyms <<. At the time, I pledged to do some kind of grand tour, visiting each gym to train, interview the owner and blog about the gym.

That hasn't happened (yet?) but this weekend I took a road trip to stay with my bodybuilding buddy Chris Roche. We trained twice at his local gym, Body Flex in Aylesbury, which is owned and run by former natural World Champ Tony Montalbano (there are rumours of a comeback in 2016, but you didn’t hear it from me…)

The time of year between the end of one bodybuilding season and the start of the next can be a bit boring. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the close-knit community of natural bodybuilding. So I take it upon myself to invite myself to training sessions and travel around in order to hang out with the good folk of natural bodybuilding.
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This weekend was one of those road trips. I went up to Aylesbury, trained twice with Champ Chris Roche at Tony Montalbano’s Body Flex – all fuelled by Chris’s Dads excellent cooking (burp).

Chris is a Personal Trainer based at Core Strength Fitness in Aylesbury. He’s the UKDFBA British Teenage Champion 2012/13, BNBF British Teenage Champion 2013 and placed 3rd in the amateur U24s at the WNBF Worlds in 2013.
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I can’t remember when I first met him, but we became firm friends on that trip out to the WNBF Worlds in Boston in 2013. I remember thinking (shame on me!) that I couldn’t possibly be friends with a young fellamelad of Chris’s age. I am, literally, old enough to be his mother (cringe). We agreed to hang out for a day and I was wondering what the hell we’d have to talk about. Well Chris, my apologies! πŸ˜‰ We had a great time on that trip and have remained good friends since. We’ve trained together tons of times – at Emporium in Birmingham over Bodypower weekend, and at various “natural meets”, and now at Body Flex.

aylesbury personal trainer
Here’s what we did:

Saturday: Shoulders, Abs
– Hammer strength plate loaded shoulder press: several sets adding weight each time, then a final drop set
– Single arm dumbbell lateral raises, the final one a drop set
– Single arm dumbbell overhead press, final one a drop set (I managed the 20kg for a few!)
– Rear delt dumbbell flys (Chris taught me how to actually do these properly)
– Real debts on the pec dec with horrible “holds” and a drop set
– Hanging leg raises

Sunday: Legs, Calves
– Barbell squats, 4 working sets (I did 70kgs)
– Plate loaded hack squat: 5 sets of 10-12 reps with minimal (30 seconds or less) rest (yuk)
– Plate loaded leg press: 15-20 reps for 3 sets (heavier every set) then a quadruple drop set (yuk)
– SLDL with dumbbells – 3 sets (I used the 30kgs for these which I was pretty happy with)
– Nordic hamstring curl (ouch)
– Seated calves on plate loaded machine
– Toe presses on leg press

Great couple of sessions, thanks Chris!

What did you train this weekend? Have you trained at Body Flex? Can anyone guess which gym on my map/list I’m training at next weekend?

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A Weekend Training At Body Flex, Aylesbury (Two Training Sessions) 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.

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Week 5 catch up – congratulate yourself

November 26, 2015

Another late “weekly catch up” from me! I like to keep things fresh. Thursday is the new Sunday (or something).

Truth be told, I don’t feel I have a great deal to report which is perhaps why I’m dragging my feet. We’ve talked about setting a goal for the 8-week challenge/thing, discussed keystone habits, fessed up to our red flags, and I’ve banged on and on about journalling.

As we head into the second half of our 8 weeks, what would be useful to discuss?

How about celebrating even the smallest successes? I’ll admit that my “measurable” progress with my goals have been up and down, certainly not linear, and I’ve felt a bit like I’m going two steps forward and one step back.

But I’m essentially an optimist and like to see the positives, or at least the opportunities for doing better.

So here’s what I’m giving myself small pats on the back for this week:

– not just keeping up with my dog walking activity since it’s turned so cold and dark, but actually increasing it. I’ve switched my daily schedule around a bit (when I can) so I can make the most of light mornings, and I’ve been heading out for 1 hour+ and tackling at least one decent hill in that morning walk.
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– identifying “red flag” feelings (this week it’s mainly been feelings of frustration about a work project) and doing something proactive rather than reacting by getting all wound up. When I can, I’ve gone for that daylight dog walk when a conference call got rescheduled (etc). Work frustration and feeling “stuck to my chair all day” is a key “red flag” feeling for me, so this week I’ve been trying to flip my reaction to it.
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– going training even when I didn’t feel like it
. For some reason, just this week I have really started to struggle with training after work. It hasn’t just felt a bit hard, it’s felt awful! I can barely keep my eyes open, the drive to the gym is horrible, I feel in a foul mood, and I don’t feel strong at all. So I’ve made it my mission to get motivated: play music in the car or at home before I go, dance about a bit (before I go, not at the gym), arrange training with a buddy, design myself a session I know I’ll love (or that scares me bit!)

– having a full day off when I really thought I needed it. On the flip-side, there was one day this week when training just wasn’t happening. I started getting ready to lift weights, and realised I really, really didn’t want to go. Not only did I not want to go, but I didn’t “need” to (in that my other sessions over the week covered everything). So… I didn’t go. It’s hard to do, actually! But I knew it was the right decision. Instead I ploughed through a load of work, did some housework and got other sh*t done. Later that day, I was due to go boxing (which I love). But the thought just made me want to curl up and go to sleep. So after a bit of soul-searching, I decided to give myself a break. I had an evening at home, and thoroughly enjoyed it. And you know what, the next day I set a new PB in the gym!

What can you congratulate yourself for this week? Even if it’s not something you would normally think of as “good”?

In other news: two new PBs this week! A deadlift PB of 142.5kgs (I’d been stuck at 140kgs for ages and knew I had a bit more in me) and a debatable 62.5kgs for bench. I think my training partner might have helped a teeny bit. It certainly wouldn’t have passed in a powerlifting comp. But I put 62.5kgs on the bar and I pressed it! I’ll get it properly-properly soon, and I’ll certainly congratulate myself for it! It wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t even bench 60kgs!

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Week 5 catch up – congratulate yourself 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.


Lift Heavy Things Up & Down, Once

November 20, 2015

I’m going to do a Powerlifting comp.

Before I go any further, here’s a quick “strength sports 101” for people whose brains go blank when they see a barbell*

(*hi Dad)

Bodybuilding: the one where you use weights in the gym to make your muscles big, but then at the competition you don’t lift any weights up and down. You pose on stage in sparkly pants/bikini. The judges neither know nor care what weights you can lift.

Powerlifting: the one where you lift weights up and down in the competition. You only do three different lifts. Bench press (lying on your back on a bench and pressing the bar up and down), squat (standing up with the bar on your back, and squatting up and down), deadlifting (leaning down to grab hold of the bar, then standing up with it). The judges don’t care what you look like in a sparkly bikini, but they are very strict about how you lift your weights up and down.

Olympic lifting: the one you might see on TV sometimes during major sporting events, where people in singlets do athletic stuff with a barbell like lifting it over their heads. The lifts have funny names, “snatch” is one.

Strongman: the one you probably watch on TV over Christmas. You’ve probably only seen massive great big giant men doing it. The events are very memorable, even if you’re not sure why they’re doing them; things like pulling a truck, deadlifting a car, or lifting a series of very big heavy stones.

OK, so the one I normally do is bodybuilding. I’ve done strong(wo)man a couple of times. Now I’d like to have a go at powerlifting. If I ever give Olympic lifting a go, you have permission to make me eat any one of my numerous hats.
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Which federation?

There are lots of powerlifting federations/associations (just as with bodybuilding) but I’m choosing to compete with the BDFPA (British Drug-Free Powerlifting Association), partly because lots of my friends lift with this association so I’m guaranteed to have friends at my comp, and partly because – as a natural bodybuilder – I’m serious about competing in tested sport wherever the option exists.

Full Power? Whassat?

At most powerlifting competitions, you can either do “full power” which means you have a go at all three lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) or you can opt to do just one lift.

Equipped or unequipped?

You can also lift “equipped” (which involves bits of kit which help you be able to lift more weight, such as bench shirts, knee wraps) or “unequipped” which means you can use a belt and that’s about it.

I’m going to do full power (yolo) and unequipped, because I just want to see what I can lift, and I can’t be bothered getting used to lifting in kit – it’s a whole new world of technique.
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What do you wear?
As an unequipped lifter within the BDFPA, I wear a singlet (kindly lent to me by my powerlifting buddy from the gym) with a t-shirt underneath, long socks for deadlifting, a belt, and any suitable shoes. I’ve got myself some Olympic/squat shoes for the…er..squat (obvs) and I must say they make a lot of difference. I really love them. They make me feel much more secure as I squat, I feel I can go deeper (which is important, because if I don’t go deep enough at the comp, my lift won’t count), and my posture feels better. The belt and I are not enjoying such a harmonious relationship at the moment, but it’s early days. I hope that, with time, I will be able to see past the belt’s tough, unrelenting exterior and that it might soften up and be more gentle with me. Until then, I will (wo)man up and deal with the pain!
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I’ve barely started training for the comp, but I’ll post more about training another time. I do bench, squat and deadlift regularly, and can lift OK weights for all three. But obviously I’m keen to do as well as I can at the comp. And training for just one maximum rep is very different to using the three lifts as part of hypertrophy-style bodybuilding training.

At the moment I can lift:

– 60kgs for 2 reps (bench)
– 100kgs for 1 rep (squat)
– 140kg for 1 rep (deadlift)

And yes those are all executed properly according to powerlifting rules – I train in a powerlifting gym and my training partner is a powerlifter.

I’d like to get the bench up a bit, the squat up quite a lot, and the deadlift up a fraction if possible.

Here’s what I need to do before the comp:
– get used to the belt
– make sure my technique is “comp legal” for all three lifts (hitting correct depth, locking out, pausing at the chest etc)
– poss smash belt with meat tenderiser?
– try to get my lifts/numbers up as much as possible (particularly bench which is my weakest one of the three)
– poss run belt over with truck
– decide on my openers (the weight I’ll nominate as my first attempt on each lift)
– decide how much I’ll probably go up by after that (you do each lift three times, so you nominate your opener, and then have two more goes on each lift, obviously going up in weight each time, but by how much is up to you)

Have you done a powerlifting meet? How was your first comp? I’d love to hear any advice, funny stories, dos or don’ts.

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Lift Heavy Things Up & Down Once 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.


Week 3 & 4 catch up (red flags)

November 17, 2015

I really am winning at life with this whole “return to blogging thing”!

You know how it is, the longer you leave something the more difficult it is to get back to it.

So – I’ve just decided to write something tonight even though I’m not sure what I’ve got to say.

We need a catch-up for weeks 3 and 4 of the 8-week challenge/thing.

How have you been getting on?

I can report that I’ve been making slow but steady progress, getting my sh!t in order, knuckling down to a more regular training routine and structured eating plan.

It hasn’t been perfect (what is?) but I’ve been tracking and journalling everything, so I can look back and identify what’s still causing me to stumble, how I can improve, and what I can do better in the remaining 4 weeks of our “challenge”.

In the previous round up post, we talked about keystone habits.
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Today, let’s talk about what I call “red flags”. These are things which you know full well can derail you, and which you can sometimes see or feel as “incoming”, but which can also trip you up when you least expect them.

I’m getting much better at seeing my own “red flags” coming at me, and better too at identifying and understanding them.

The clever bit, of course, is in dealing with them! Not sure I’m quite there yet, but here’s what I try to do… when I remember…

Here are some of my red flags (in the context of sorting out productivity, eating habits, and healthy lifestyle changes – my general aims for this 8 week challenge)

Being tired
– What I do about this: go to bed! If this isn’t practical, then I just try to be gentle on myself. Take a rest day from training if I’m feeling really rubbish. Or go for a walk instead of a hard training session.

Creating too big a calorie deficit (either from food in, or energy out)
– This is an obvious one, but it’s something I still find difficult. Maybe it’s from doing so many years of bodybuilding contest prep in a row, or maybe it’s just that I’m not very good at maths. But I can quite easily go “too low” in calories either from not eating enough, or from expending too much energy. And then after 5 days, almost like clockwork, my body sends me very clear signals!

Being pissed off at having to walk the dog in crappy weather
– This sounds really silly, but I’m just being honest! If it’s dark, cold, raining and/or blowing a gale, I can feel “hard done” by and get in a really foul mood about life in general LOL! What I do about it: just try to calm down. Walk the dog, but then come home and take my time getting warm and dry, and chilling the f*ck out…

Feeling “left out” (possibly what some people call FOMO – fear of missing out?)
– An odd one to try and describe. Because I live alone, I can sometimes feel as if every one else (yes, every single other person on the entire planet) it out doing amazingly fun things, and I’m just at home, and nobody knows where I am or cares… wah wah wah… (you can probably see how this can quite easily turn in to a negative mindset, especially if combined with “being tired” and “having to walk the dog when it’s really windy”!) What I do about this? Get a grip. Call a friend. Or just chill out at home and do something I enjoy. Mainly get a grip πŸ˜‰

Having hunger or cravings triggered by something I see or hear
– I’m sure this one is something leftover from contest prep. I can quite easily have cravings triggered by the oddest things: a lyric in a song, a fleeting glimpse of someone’s food on social media, even an advertising billboard. What I do about it: I don’t watch TV, and if I did I wouldn’t be one of those people who watches Bake Off when trying to eat healthily. If I know I’m in a particularly vulnerable mood, I will switch radio stations when adverts come on (no, I don’t want Burger King’s new breakfast menu!) I don’t follow many foodie-type accounts on Instagram, particularly not the IIFYM type ones.

Procrastinating over a piece of work
– I love my work, and most of the time I can’t wait to get my teeth into each day’s project. But sometimes, let’s be real, I’m just not feeling it. It could be the work itself, but more likely it’s me. I’m tired, I don’t want to be sitting at my desk for such a long time, I want to be a stuntwoman or a jockey instead. What I do: unless I’m up against an immediate deadline, I switch my focus and do something else instead. The only rule is, it has to be something else productive, which will free up time later so I can do the work I’m avoiding. So I might do business admin, or update my website, or answer email enquiries.

Feeling lethargic or generally “blah” for any reason
– We all get those days when everything just feels flat. Life is boring. Work is boring. Walking the dog in the rain is boring. What I do about it: usually go and train πŸ˜€ If that’s not practical, I do something to just get my energy up. I live and work by myself, so putting cheesy 90s dance music on and dancing around the kitchen is an entirely doable thing for me. The dog is used to it, and there’s a big tree outside my window so nobody can see in.

Right, told you today’s reboot blog post might be a bit random.

What are your “red flags” which can lead to bad choices or poor habits which you’re trying to avoid?

Coming soon:
– I’m doing a powerlifting meet! (Blog post featuring photo of new shoes)
– Why I love boxing so much
– 7 signs you might be thinking about doing another bodybuilding comp

Chat with TFW on social media
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Week 3 & 4 catch up (red flags) 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.


Week 2 of 8 (and a word about Keystone Habits)

November 3, 2015

How is it Tuesday night already? This is my check-in post for the end of week 2 of our 8-week challenge/thing. Never mind that the end of week 2 was…er…Sunday.

Still. Moving on!

In last week’s round-up post I explained that I’d spent the first week tracking things and sort of observing myself from afar, gathering the data about the things I wanted to work on over these 8 weeks, so I can see where I need to make some changes.

This week just gone I’ve been focusing on making those changes.

As explained in the initial post (here), I’m using these 8 weeks to work on a business plan (not suitable – yet – for talking about here) and for working on my somewhat haphazard eating routine.

Week 2 was good. About 75% good, I’d say. Which is presumably some kind of improvement (74%? Not a clue. I do phrases, not percentages.)

What went well:
– I planned almost all of my meals
– I tracked everything (I use myfitnesspal)
– I definitely ended up eating less than I have been!
– I remembered how much I actually enjoy eating pretty simple meals and snacks, and I didn’t miss the “extra bits and bobs” I cut out.

What still needs work:
– Weirdly, I’ve actually been under-eating a few days a week, and this isn’t helping me achieve the consistent balance I want. Perhaps I’m still in that contest-prep mindset? I don’t know. But on a few days last week I ended up towards the lower end of the calories I need to fuel my everyday activity and training. This isn’t the plan at all – the whole point of this 8 week thing for me is to work out a good consistent plan which gives me what I need, every day. No ups and downs.

Measurable progress:
– I weighed in at the start of the 8 weeks, and have weighed in once since. I’ve dropped a small amount of weight.
– I’ve gone down one notch on my gym belt.
– I’m sleeping a lot better.

Right, I’m shattered from tonight’s boxing session. Before I sign off, let’s talk about something useful: keystone habits.
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Keystone habits are those habits which are fundamental to your day going well. If you don’t do them, it feels like your day can easily spiral out of control and get away from you. But if you do them, everything else falls into place.

Keystone habits are linked to other good habits (for example, training in the morning means you choose healthier food for lunch….) They set in motion a kind of chain reaction that help other, less fundamental, habits take root.

I’m big on habits and I’m always reminded how integral my own keystone habits are to the success (or not!) of my day, particularly when I’m trying to work on changes to diet, activity levels, productivity at work, or sleep.

Here are my keystone habits

– Writing in my paper journal every morning before I get out of bed
– Planning my meals (however loosely) for the next day
– Writing a to-do list for the next day
– Moving my a$$ every day (usually training, of course, but if not training then a really decent long/hilly walk with the dog)
– Eating at the table (as opposed to standing up, or on the sofa)
– Leaving my phone downstairs when I go to bed

If I do all of those, I can be pretty sure that the rest of my day will go well. I’ve just noticed that they top-and-tail my day, actually!

If I don’t journal in the morning, the day starts running away from me without me “checking in” with myself and I feel a bit…disconnected.

If I don’t work up a sweat doing something physical every day, I feel lethargic and crappy and can end up moping about making rubbish food choices in the evening. (I never said this stuff makes logical sense!)

You can read more about keystone habits in Charles Duhigg‘s book The Power Of Habit (I listened to it on Audible.co.uk)

What are your keystone habits?

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Week 2 of 8 (and a word about Keystone Habits) 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.


How Does It Make You Feel?

October 28, 2015

Full disclosure: this blog post is asking a favour.

For a fledgling idea of a work “thing”, I’m really interested to hear your thoughts and feelings on something.
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How does it really make you feel? Being at a bodybuilding show, when you’re not competing?

Could be that you’re off-season for a year. Or maybe you’ve official retired from the sport, and you’re there to support a mate, catch up with friends, or do official stuff like judging.

Doesn’t matter. Whether you’re new to the sport or you’ve got posing trunks older than the guys in the Junior class, whether you’ve competed once or 100 times, whether you’re on a year out or out of it for good.

I’d love to know what kind of thoughts and emotions it brings up. Good ones, bad ones, predictable ones and unexpected ones. And anything in between.

Obviously this question goes out to people who compete (any federation, any category) or who have competed in the past (doesn’t matter if it was once or 100 times, last year or decades ago).

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How do you feel beforehand? Do you have any negative feelings about being at the show when you’re not “in shape”? Do you feel put off? Do you think it might inspire you to compete again (and is this in itself a welcome thought, or a negative one)?

How about when you’re there, seeing people up on stage?

And what about when you’re face-to-face with people you’ve competed against in the past, and people who have been a judge, or people you know spectated when you were competing?

Do you feel like a fraud, think you have to justify your current look? Or do you feel proud at your past achievements and happy that this is all just part of your bodybuilding journey? Or something altogether different? (I’m not trying to lead you in your responses, just giving some idea of the things I want to explore.)

And finally how do you feel on the way home, and in the days after the show? Inspired? A bit depressed? In a glass case of emotion? πŸ˜‰

I’m fascinated to know. I’ll tell you why at some point.

Get In Touch

You could comment here, or on the Facebook post. I’m sure it’ll spark some interesting discussion.

But if you’d rather keep your feelings private, please email me nicola@nicolajoyce.co.uk I’d rather you felt able to be completely open.

Rest assured anything you tell me will be kept completely confidential. This isn’t for a work commission. It’s research for my own personal work project, and I won’t ever use your words.

Photo credit
Photos in this blog post are from the archives of bodybuilding and sport photographer Fivos Averkiou of Showshoots – thanks Fiv!

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How Does It Make You Feel? 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.


Week 1 of 8 (I’ve got the info, now to use it!)

October 26, 2015

Here we are at the end of the first week of 8-weeks of “getting sh!t done” We’ve got about 10 people along for the ride, including Tara at Sweat Like A Pig (she blogged about her goals here).

As explained in the original post, I’m using the next 8 weeks (7, now!) to knuckle down and get more consistency in a few areas of life: work and business (which I won’t be blogging about cos it’s a future project), and eating. I won’t ramble on about it again so check out the post if you want.

So, one week in and what have I learned?

I used the first week simply to track, watch and assess where I’m at. Unsurprisingly, the numbers tell me that I’m eating too much. But I also realised that my food is kind of all over the place. Some days I’ll eat too little (because I’m busy, or haven’t got myself organised, or because I just don’t realise how little I was eating). Inevitably, a couple of days of this leads to overeating.
Protein Bars
I can also clearly see repeat offenders in my diet, things which aren’t bad per se but which are definitely tipping me into over-eating territory. Protein and energy bars/flapjacks being one! But now that I’m aware of just how many I’m eating/how often, I can reduce it. Doesn’t help that I’m about to write a protein bar product review article for a client…

Armed with all the info, I can crack on with levelling things out and getting some consistency in there. Even if all I do is end up on the same average numbers across the week, I think it’ll do me a lot of good to be more balanced and mindful of it on a daily basis.

As we head into week two, then, my goals are to keep tracking food (all the time, not just when I remember or when I’ve eaten things I’m not mildly embarrassed to write down!) and to try and even things out across the week. Oh – and I’m going to go to bed earlier! I suspect that fixing this one (bad) habit could help me in all sorts of ways.
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How are you guys tracking, measuring or motivating yourselves?

I do a lot of writing stuff down (as you might expect). I keep a paper journal, which I write in every morning (just a few minutes to jot down what I want to achieve, what I need to do, etc) and then every evening (rounding up how I’ve done and how I’m feeling). I also journal online (Penzu – it’s great) which I have open on my work computer and update as I go along.

For bigger-picture stuff, such as how I want to tackle this 8-week challenge, I just use a wall-planner and work back from my final goal, breaking things down into weekly or even daily goals.

I don’t use apps or any online tracker, mainly because nothing online can ever properly replace writing things out by hand for me.

Let me know how you’re getting on!

Chat with TFW on social media
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Week 1 of 8 (I’ve got the info, now to use it!) 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.


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