Uni to Graduate, Participant to Instructor: Ellen Swann

At the start of the year before Covid happened one of the things I really wanted to do with my blog was write about people’s experiences. 

I’ve long believed that often we feel like our concerns and thoughts are so unique to us and as such for fear of seeming silly we hold them back and worry about them rather than discuss them.  When you realise others have the same sort of worries as you it can make things seem less scary.  When we know the things we are anxious about are shared by others it can have the effect of reducing that anxiety a little.  It literally can be a problem shared is a problem halved.  For the past couple of years I’ve written about my own experiences and thoughts for this very reason but I can only write about what I know.  My goal in sharing other people’s stories was opening up discussion on a wider range of topics.

The past few months left this a little on the back burner, we all had other things on our mind, but as the UK starts to open up to some kind of new normal I wanted to share another story.  I know a lot of people who read these posts are into fitness.  Many are already instructors or have considered becoming one, a lot of you are also students or have recently graduated.

Today’s blog is an interview with Ellen Swann.  Ellen is a group exercise instructor and recent graduate.  Her journey to instructor is tied in with her experiences at University and beyond and this will be useful to new instructors, new graduates, those due to graduate this year and people who are considering training to teach around a day job.  It’s about finding something you love and makes you happy and learning to balance your passions with responsibilities. 

I’ve kept this blog to an interview style so you can hear Ellen’s words as intended without my interpretation.  It’s of course worth noting that this discussion took place in the pre Covid world and so is based on gyms as we knew them.  We don’t know how the new procedures will change any of this when we finally get a gym reopen date or how instructor life will change (or student life for that matter),  My guess though, whilst things will be different and the landscape of classes / university may change the sentiments expressed here will probably remain true!     


H: Tell me a bit about you 

E: I’m Ellen, originally from a small town called Chesterfield but moved to Manchester in 2014 to start university and have lived here ever since! I actually work at The University of Manchester now and have since I graduated, I’ve done a variety of roles but currently I’m working in student support. I’m also a group exercise instructor, I started this in 2018 and have been teaching classes weekly for just over 1 year. I mainly teach Les Mills Body Pump, Body Combat and Body Attack but I’m also certified in Body Balance and RPM as well as Zumba and freestyle group cycle.

H: You recently graduated – what did you study and what job did you move into / do you do now? 

E: I studied Music at The University of Manchester and graduated in 2017. I honestly had no idea what I really wanted to do after university but I knew I wanted to say in Manchester so I signed up to the University’s graduate intern scheme and secured my first full-time job as an employability intern in Chemistry, where I promoted careers opportunities to chemistry students and helped students on the Industrial Experience course apply for and secure their sandwich year placements – bit of a change from music, I know! After my intern year I moved to a permanent position as an Undergraduate Admissions Assistant in Mathematics (another very different department!) where I mainly read and processed UCAS forms, making offers to applicants and inviting them in for interviews and dealing with the fallout of A-level results day and Clearing (yes I dealt with 18 year olds and their parents crying and complaining at me down the phone, it was tough!) Then in January 2020 I moved to my current post in the Student Support team in Social Sciences (more change!). I now, with my new colleagues, try to put in place support sessions and events to help students be more successful during the course of their studies and ensure they have a positive student experience and feel they can access help when they need it (not as easy as it sounds!). 

H: How did you find the transition between uni and work? 

E: I actually quite enjoyed the transition from student to (kind-of) adult. As I mentioned earlier I didn’t hugely enjoy my time as a student, I found the pressure of it all a bit much and that I was constantly worried about something or felt that I had to be working all the time and making progress or getting involved with music department/society events. Plus you know all the money that I (and my parents, mostly my parents…) were putting in to this I didn’t want to let them down and didn’t want to come out of it without that holy grail that is a 2:1 degree (I did get my 2:1 by the way, by 0.2%!) So, I found that when I started my full-time job that I did work at work 9-5 and then the rest of my time was mine! No essays to write, no books to read or pieces of music to practice, no concert rehearsals, the list goes on… I absolutely relished those first 6 months of feeling really free and just adulting! I tried cleaning hacks I found on YouTube, cooked new recipes, did some baking, bought clothes I would only wear at work, finally got round to some Netflix shows I’d been meaning to watch and I actually started reading books because I wanted to read them not because a chapter was on a reading list somewhere! 

H: What were the hardest things? 

E: For me the hardest thing was letting go of music, more specifically letting go of playing my instrument (the cello aka the big violin). I haven’t touched it since my final recital which was 4.30pm on 31st May 2017 (the date is forever ingrained in my brain). I still have my cello, I see it sat in its case every day. Every day I still feel guilty for not playing anymore, for “giving up,” for it being “such as shame” to be wasting all the time and money (my parents’ money…) that was put into it. It took me a whole year to really get over it to be honest, like a break up effectively. I cried about it several times. But the relationship I had with my cello was unhealthy, I never felt good about myself when I played, I never truly found joy through playing it was always constant effort and sacrifice and eventually unsustainable. Preparing for that final recital nearly broke me (well it kind of did along with other things but that’s a whole other story I won’t go into now) so I had to move on. I’m much better for it but it’s still hard and a lot of people don’t really understand why I don’t just play anymore – I actually feel a bit sick just thinking of having to sit with my cello again and play, it takes me right back to being a failure of a music student and not being good enough no matter what I did and that’s no way to live a life!

H: During that transition you also trained to be an instructor – why did you decide to do that? 

E: Once I’d started my first full-time job, I decided I needed to do some exercise. Anyone who has ever been a student will know that taking care of your body isn’t really the number one priority so now I had some time to do something about it. I joined the nearest gym to my work so I could go there first before heading home and decided that I should do a class to get me started as someone would tell me what I needed to do. I decided to go for Body Pump as lifting weights would be fine right?! It was the best and hardest 45 minutes ever but I loved it and haven’t looked back since. I fell in love with Les Mills classes and in August 2018 signed up for my ETM, Body Pump and Body Combat modules and in October 2018 I was fully certified and covering multiple classes every week and in December 2018 went on my Body Attack module! Actually writing that down has made me laugh, it sounds ridiculous to have crammed so much into 4 months (all whilst working full time) but I just found my passion, it made me feel amazing – that’s the reason why I committed to the classes in the first place, they lifted me out of my weird student haze and made everything seem clear and normal and I just couldn’t wait to get to my next class to get that feeling of pure joy (something I still have and hope to never lose). I was actually good at teaching classes, was quick at picking up choreography and putting it to music and felt confident at the front, an absolute revelation to me after 3 years of being the worst as a student. Of course, I had help along the way from the instructor who first suggested I sign up for the courses and I’m really grateful to the instructors who let me team teach and gave me technique and coaching tips during those early days.

H: How was it learning a new job and training to teach at the same time? 

E: Really hard lol! I had to adjust again to not having all my time as my own and figuring out how to prioritise what needed to get done when. I just cared about becoming an instructor so much and passing my assessments and teaching really good classes. I put so much more work into my Level 2 Exercise To Music in those 6 weeks than I ever did over the course of my 3 year degree and cried many tears over the tiny boxes in my assessment booklet and making sure my routine was the best it could be by doing grapevines and step curls at any given opportunity! 

H: What did you do to help you get through doing both at the same time? 

E: Made sure I was still doing things for myself that I enjoyed such as making sure I saw my PT for training sessions regularly, treating myself to a shopping day, having chilled weekends so my body could recover from the hectic weekdays and generally not sweating the small stuff so I could focus on getting all the work done and teaching as much as possible so I was ready to film for my certification videos.

H: What struggles did it bring about? 

E: I’m sure my colleagues at the time noticed I wasn’t giving as much to my day job as I could. I’d usually have a headphone in listening to Body Pump (again and again and again…) and was tapping out my ETM choreography under my desk to make sure I knew it all off by heart! It did also make things a bit stressful with my flat mate who essentially went through all of the emotions of becoming an instructor with me and consoled me when I was still filling in my assessment booklet the night before my exam!

H: How did you overcome them? 

E: I just approached everything as best as I could. I did my work very quickly and tried to keep on top of things in the morning during my day job so I could spend the afternoon looking at fitness stuff. With my flatmate, he saw how happy all the fitness classes made me so knew it would be ok in the end which I am forever grateful for, we support each other which is super important. Find the people who will pick you up even when you are lower than low – people need support from other people, period.

H: How do you find balancing a full-time job and teaching? 

E: Hahahahahaha! Don’t think I can ever say I have a balance! I definitely have a favourite and prioritise that over everything else. I’m not ashamed to say that I listen to my music (through headphones!) and read the choreography notes at my desk, make playlists on the app (yes I use it to teach, come at me…), plan my training and complete coursework at work. I just have to ensure it doesn’t impact on anyone I work with so if work emails need answering or spreadsheets need updating etc. that has to get done in a timely manner. Some weeks it’s really hard especially around new release time, trying to fit in learning new tracks, mixing old ones, attending workshops and still doing my normal life but it keeps me busy and keeps me excited about teaching because I love the challenge of doing it all.

H: Best tips and hacks for keeping a balance with two jobs and still having a life? 

E: Talk to people. Face to face, on the phone, on social media, whatever method you use make sure you do it every day. Just sharing your little stresses with others is really helpful and makes you feel less alone as it can be quite lonely when you are doing 14 hour days (train in the morning 7-8, work 9-5 then teach in the evening 5-8) and only coming home to eat, shower, unpack and repack your bag for the next day and sleep. Also planning in advance and being really strict with yourself about it, sometimes I end up with back to back weekends where I am away for various things so I make sure I have one weekend where I am home, scheduling rest and downtime is actually more important and difficult than doing the 14 hour days during the week!

H: Plans for the future? 

E: I am currently working towards my Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification and have big (scary!) plans to establish my fitness business and offer personal training. I’m nervous to put myself out there as it’s literally my name and face on everything but I feel really passionate about this and want to make a difference by helping people to feel good like I do when I exercise or move to music. If people even feel a shred of what I do then I’ve done something right and that’s all I want.

H: If there is one thing you could tell other people looking to train to teach / just graduating?

E: I just want to reassure any students out there reading this who may not be having “the time of their life”, are experiencing uncertainty over their future and questioning whether this whole university thing was worth it. Life may not look anything like what your teachers, parents etc promised or how you imagined it would be at this point but you’ve gained so much valuable experience that you don’t even realise you have yet and you can use it to do whatever it is you feel passionate about. So what if you don’t get on that grad scheme or earn the big money straight after graduation, there are no grade boundaries now or marking criteria to work against – no one is going to grade your life progress so just do whatever feels right for you and if you enjoy the process the results will come, promise!

If you want to hear more about Ellen’s experiences as a Group Exercise Instructor specifically you can listen to this podcast, taken from a series which also looks at instructor experiences with the notion that looking at one person’s experiences can help others too: Ricky Long Podcast: Ellen Swann

You can also listen to my podcast from the same series: Ricky Long Podcast: Heather Sherwood

Coming out of Lockdown? Do you have a Plan?

How weird is the world right now?

I spoke in a private Facebook coaching group yesterday about how I have genuinely found coming out of lockdown harder than going into it.

That surprised me because I was genuinely worried about my mental health prior to lockdown.  But in hindsight although the build up, uncertainty and speculation was anxiety inducing at the time it also meant I mentally prepared myself for the absolute worst, and because of that it was nowhere near as hard as I’d expected.  The rules weren’t as strict, I wasn’t arrested for buying non essentials with my shopping and I found a routine of sorts.  There were bad days of course but I coped.

What I didn’t think about was how to manage leaving lockdown.  I kind of assumed it would be easy- going back to normal.  That would be a positive not difficult.  Except it hasn’t been.  It’s been more stressful and emotional and overwhelming and anxiety inducing than I ever expected.

There’s two things I’ve since realised.

Firstly, we get used to things much quicker than we think we will.  So although I anticipated lockdown / work from home routine would be tough to adjust to, I had adjusted.  So going back into the office, things being more open has been another period of readjustment, and it’s continually changing.  Going into lockdown was very quick and a big change in one go, now things are evolving so every time I feel like I’ve got on an even footing things change a bit again.  Of course gyms are not open yet so I know that things will change again as they open and classes are integrated back into my week too.  The thing that threw me most about this is that I hadn’t really thought about how the change would impact me.  I thought as it was going back to normal it wouldn’t affect me at all and that lack of preparation on my part I think probably contributed to the feeling of overwhelm.  I’ve loved seeing real people again and getting back to a sense of reality but just because something is good in one sense doesn’t mean it isn’t also hard.

That brings me onto the second thing I’ve realised.

In March I expected a few weeks of lockdown then back to normal.  But we are not going back to normal.  Things are different, so you are going back to work and most things will be the same but some things won’t be.  That’s going to be the same for going back to the gym, going on a night out, to the pub, to the shops.  It isn’t bad or scary but it’s different and at first that is unsettling, because change is hard and takes adjustment.

So if I could give one piece of advice to people who are still essentially in lockdown and about to start easing that and going back out to work etc. be prepared.  The thought you put into how lockdown would affect you, put that same amount of thought into how you feel about this change.  being mentally prepared can help.  Give yourself time to adjust.  If you don’t train for the first week or so after you go back to work that’s ok, it’s likely to feel mentally and physically draining adjusting to the change so give yourself a break.  Finally know that it’s normal to feel unsettled by this, it’s the unknown and that sort of change makes most of us feel anxious, so you aren’t bad at coping if you are struggling a bit, you are normal so allow yourself time.




Dream Big; Reach for the Sky; Dream, Believe, Achieve; You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To and Other Pointless Quotes


They are important right?  I mean if you are on Facebook or Instagram you get the idea of working towards your goals, knowing what your goal is, never losing sight of your goals thrust in your face daily.

I include me in that by the way.

I really do believe that having a goal that you really care about drastically increases your chances of adhering to your plans.  A goal is good, but it has to be one you are passionate about and that holds a genuine meaning for you so that it acts as your motivation.

Equally, saying to people don’t aim high, don’t set big goals would be limiting.  It’s cheesy to say if a goal doesn’t scare you it isn’t big enough but there’s something to be said for aiming higher than you currently think you can reach, thinking big if you like to encourage you to progress.

But we need to be entirely honest.  Not all goals are achievable.

So whilst you should aim big, you should also be realistic.

Let’s say you want a BMI under 25.  According to the NHS 25 or above is overweight.  So perhaps that’s your goal.  On paper that sounds reasonable, a healthy goal.  Is it realistic?  For me, not massively.

I’m 5 foot 11.  To have a BMI of a healthy range I should apparently weigh 140-170lbs (10 stone to 12 stone 1lb).  I actually weigh 13 stone 7lbs at present.  I’m not overweight, I’m not fat.  But to reach what at first sounds like a very reasonable goal I’d need to lose a minimum of 1 1/2 stone, that’s a lot given i’m not actually unhealthy or overweight at the moment.  I weighed 10 stone a few years ago for a while.  I sort of had had that lolipop look and could only maintain it by eating very little and exercising a lot.  It wasn’t in any way enjoyable or sustainable.

So for me a BMI of 25 or less might sounds reasonable but it isn’t really realistic.  To do what I do for a job, to train a I enjoy training and to keep as busy as I do I need fuel.  Naturally i sit around my current weight, happily, without restriction, with chocolate and alcohol.  So that reasonable sounding goal isn’t actually realistic.

You need to make a goal work for you. So it needs to be personal yes, it’s good for it to be big sometimes, but it also needs to be achievable or it serves about as much benefit as not having  goal – in fact probably less because it could have a negative effect on you if it makes you feel like you’ve failed.

Sometimes we can ignore the Social Media motivational quotes and be safe, boring and sensible with our goals and still get results.

Working as a team when your self employed

A few weeks ago a friend (a fellow instructor) said of me and another instructor (a mutual friend) “it’s nice you work together”.  This was in response to us arranging coffee mornings at the gym where we both teach the majority of our classes.

To be honest, doing this as a team was never in question when we had the idea- we’ve always worked as a team with ideas (technique sessions, communicating with the gym etc.) because at the end of the day, we both want the same results, want to do the best for our class members and the gym and know that working together makes that more achievable.  In fact, the same is said for all of the class instructors at the gym in question – we support each others Social Media posts, communicate and look to work as one where we can.  It’s beneficial to us, in a job that can be quite isolating we have support.  It’s beneficial to our members, who know we are all working towards one goal of providing the best experience we can.

I know, from stories and from Facebook groups, this isn’t the case everywhere.  For every team that works as a team there seems to be people that sometimes seem to go out of their way to outdo others.  You hear bonkers stories of instructors encouraging people to not turn up to the cover instructors class when they’re on holiday, or to complain about another instructor or that get upset when a member says they also like the classes of someone else too.

I’m thankful that they are stories for me, in my time teaching I’ve met amazing instructors who helped me, advised me, taught me things and haven’t ever been like that.  I’ve never turned up to cover and found a hostile class, those I’ve covered for are more likely to have told the class to be nice or that they’ll enjoy my class.  I always big up cover that the class might not have met before, I’ve left aux leads and batteries and stereo instructions stashed away for people attending the studio for the first time as my cover.  It’s in my interest for my class to like the cover and them to enjoy teaching the class – it makes finding cover easier!

Let’s face it-  we all get it wrong sometimes and it’s hard to never feel competitive or compare ourselves to others, but generally, and especially as I have gained experience, I’ve realised more and more, the benefit of us fitness professionals working with each other rather than against each other.

I would class myself as a decent instructor.  I’m comfortable enough to know there are some things that the instructors I work with are better at that I am, I know there are things I’m strong at and things I’m less strong at.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and beyond that we all have different approaches and styles of teaching.  By working as a unit we provide variety (if you don’t like my teaching style they’ll be other instructors who’s classes suit you better and vice versa, what we care about is you find the classes you do enjoy – in reality most people come to all our classes and like the fact that we offer a different experience which keeps things interesting), we can plug each others gaps – refer people to one another if we think someone else would be able to answer a question more effectively.

Will there be fewer classes when we return? We really don’t know at this stage.  The industry as a whole will take time to build back to full capacity.  We don’t yet know whether the timetable for us will be as before straight away or gradually built up over time.  We don’t know whether we will get all our classes back yet.  What we haven’t done is decide to look out for ourselves in a bid to make sure we are the one to get our classes back if some do need to be dropped.

We’ve agreed this is an opportunity.  We’ve stayed connected with class members throughout in different ways.  We have ideas of how we can help the gym promote classes when we return, we’ve been fortunate in that the gym has stayed in touch (and furloughed us) even if they can’t provide certainty on classes right now, and we know there’s an opportunity to build on connections built in lockdown and be an asset to the gym (another thing we sometimes forget when trying to argue or worth – we need to be able to show the gym why we are worth what we’re asking for, be that in monetary terms or what classes we get).  There are no certainties right now of course, but it feels like this is a much better approach than competing with one another for classes.

And in fitness overall this perhaps the attitude we need to take in general. Of course we are technically competing with others for clients, for classes, but we are equally all different and offering different services, so some clients will be suited to us, others better suited for someone else.  Away from the gym I teach most of my classes at I am also involved with lots of other group fitness instructors as part of Jump 4.2 and with a group of other fit pros on a Business Mastermind.  Again these are environments where even though the majority of the group (or all the group in the case of the Mastermind) are fitness instructors competition is replaced by support, being able to ask questions or put forward ideas and get honest feedback without worrying about sounding silly.  In recent months I’ve seen so many fitness professionals do amazing things with the encouragement of their peers, which shows why working with rather than against each other could give the self employed fitness professionals a bigger chance to flourish than just focusing on outdoing our closest ‘rivals’ for classes ever will.

Things all Les Mills Instructors Know – Covid -19 Special

Being a fitness instructor has changed.  Here’s a brief guide to being a Les Mills instructor in the new Covid-19 world.

  1. How do I work Zoom has replaced what is the number for the office as the most commonly asked question on all instructor pages.
  2. Nobody knows what release we are now on for any programme.  Some instructors opted to skip a release, some did not and Les Mills United will be a release in between the numbers we don’t know anyway anymore.  Nobody has asked if we will have to pay for it.  I’m quite surprised by that.
  3. Launches and what to launch are still a hot topic even though we quite clearly won’t be able to do a traditional launch for a while yet.
  4. I’m still slightly surprised nobody has asked what the best trainers for training on carpet are yet.
  5. If instructor led Zoom classes prove anything it’s that virtual is not yet ready to replace live classes.
  6. Either all instructors have very tidy homes or people did a lot of cleaning at the start of Lockdown.
  7. We are willing to pay A LOT for barbells.
  8. Could you teach in a facemask has replaced dumbbells in Body Pump as the most controversial debate.
  9. Largely because it’s ok to use Dumbbells in Body Pump now… Glen said… only took a worldwide pandemic to sort that out.
  10. We are all thinking about teaching in the rain, because we live in the UK and it’s summer time, so obviously it’s going to rain every time we teach outside.

Permission To Eat

How many times have you not eaten a meal or snack because you ate too much the day before or because you haven’t trained today or you’ve been really lazy?

So you skip a meal or eat the lowest calorie thing you can find to compensate.

Then later, when you’re either really hungry because you’ve not eaten or you really want to eat certain foods because you now feel bad and want comfort food, you eat all the foods you enjoy but which also make you feel bad because they are ‘naughty’.

Then the next day the cycle begins again.

Or you are sticking really closely to a low calorie diet and creating a 500 calorie a day deficit.  You do this for 30 days creating a 15,000 calorie deficit.  But it’s hard to stick to, you always crave your favourite foods.  You get to a weekend away, and you’ve been so so good recently so you think what the hell and eat anything and everything all weekend.  Now you have 5,000 calories a day for 3 days, which is the same amount of calories that you just spent a month creating a deficit of.

You’ve deprived yourself so much that you feel you have to have a blow out and the blow out almost cancels out the progress.

Both of those situations are linked to how we view food; good and bad foods, naughty foods, how we deserve or don’t deserve food, how some foods should be avoided or we need to earn higher calories foods.

The problem with thinking about and labeling food in this way is your emotions affect what you eat and what you eat affects how you feel.

In other words we need to not feel guilt when we eat certain foods or certain amounts and accept that food is something that we use for energy.  We can enjoy it and should enjoy it and yes, depending on the situation, we do also need to be aware of calorie values and how much or little we consume.

However labeling food does not help us, equally telling ourselves we much do a certain amount of activity to earn food is also damaging to our own self worth.

You need to eat a base number of calories every day for energy even if you stay in bed all day.  Telling yourself you do not deserve to eat certain foods because you’ve not trained much is equally as bad for your own self worth as feeling bad about eating certain foods.

In finding a way of eating and training that you enjoy and is sustainable removes the guilt and the urges to binge and allows you to feel happy with your diet and nutrition routine.

We need to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat.





Knowledge doesn’t equal application

Knowledge doesn’t equal application.

Several times over lockdown myself and my friend Jane have said to each other, why are we so much better at giving each other advice that dealing with the same situation ourselves?  It’s because when we look at other people’s problems we can approach them with a certain degree of dispassion that allows us to offer practical advice.  When we try and apply it to ourselves our emotions challenge the logic of said advice making it harder for us to follow.

Having knowledge on something is good, generally if you are approaching a situation you want to have at least a basic amount of knowledge.  Yet knowledge doesn’t take into account the surrounding factors which can cause complications and challenge even what we know to be correct.

So why is it important to acknowledge this?

By now if you read my blogs regularly you know how to lose weight.  You’ve heard the words calorie deficit many times.  Knowing a calorie deficit is required doesn’t make it easy to lose weight.  Exercise has lots of health benefits.  That knowledge doesn’t in turn make getting started with exercise easy.

Don’t get me wrong- knowledge is important.  Understanding why you are doing things and how they work is vital in making sustained changes.  But knowing in itself if only the first step.  You need to actually apply the knowledge for it to work.  It’s a bit like buying a load of lovely new gym kit.  That can be a great first step to getting yourself moving, but it is only beneficial if you do actually put it on and move.

So how do you get to the application stage?  I believe there are several points you need to reach:

  1. You need to have a reason, something that you feel strongly enough that it provides the motivation for you to start making changes.  For some people this might be push factors – the doctor says you must lose weight for your health or you must lower your blood pressure, other times it could be pull factors – a dress you’d like to fit into, you want to run a 10km.  Having a focus or goal can motivate you to apply your knowledge.
  2. You need to care about your reason.  Ever tried to do something that you didn’t really care about well?  It rarely turns out well, we need to care about what we are working towards – when you do something to please someone else or becasue you’re made to sticking to it becomes so much harder.
  3. You need to have a plan.  You’ve contemplated taking action enough to formulate a goal, a reason to make a change.  Now you need to plan how that change will be effective.  There’s rarely just one thing you can do to work towards a goal, yet sometimes the problem with having knowledge is it can be overwhelming in deciding what you should do.  Trying to do too much at once can be detrimental, so creating an action plan helps you implement knowledge with confidence.
  4. You need to have support to action your plan.  Maybe that’ a coach / PT – someone who can provide more direction and accountability, or perhaps it’s recruiting people around you to motivate you and hold you to account.
  5. You need to know progress isn’t linear.  You won’t see progress and change every week.  You won’t hit every target when you want to or expect to.  You will have weeks where you feel like you are going backwards.  That’s ok.
  6. You need to be flexible.  You might need to tweak or change your plan.  Knowing what you need to do and having a plan doesn’t mean than things can’t change- you might shift your own goal once you get started or you might find something isn’t quite working.  Flexibility will allow you a greater chance of creating change.
  7. You need to understand your own mindset.  If you accept that knowledge doesn’t equal application it’ also easy to understand that wanting to reach a goal doesn’t mean you will never sabotage yourself.  Understanding that you will have relapses, set backs and things won’t even go to plan but that doesn’t mean you are back to square one will help keep you on track.

If you’ve ever beaten yourself up because you aren’t where you want to be even though you know what you should be doing to get there stop.

Knowing and doing aren’t the same thing. Knowing is desirable.  Applying knowledge is a whole other skill set.


Diets DO Work

How many times have you heard the phrase diets don’t work?

I’ll be honest I’ve said this myself so many times.

Then last year I went to Martin MacDonald’s Nutrition Tour and he said something that turned my thinking on this totally on it’s head.  I’ll have to paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote.

Diets do work, weight maintenance is what people fail at.

When we say diets don’t work, as fitness professionals we are saying it from a good place ,as a way of trying to protect clients, but it isn’t actually what we mean.  It’s a simplified statement to generalise what we mean.

Because the fact is diets do work.  Or at least they can if you follow them.

Firstly let me clarify here when we talk diet we generally mean a way of losing weight.  I’ve said previously in it’s most accurate term your diet is whatever you happen to eat, but as a society we hear diet and we think weigh loss effort.  That is how I’m going to use the word today.

I’ve also said before all diets, no matter how they are dressed up, work by creating a calories deficit in some way.  If you create a calorie deficit you will lose weight.  Some ways are healthier than others. Some ways are more likely to promote unhealthy relationships with food than others.  Some ways provide more education as to how you are losing weight than others and some pedal myths that you are in fact losing weight because of a pill or a shake or your food combinations instead of calorie control.  But, the fact remains you burn more calories than you consume you create weight loss.

Therefore diets do work.

I can say oohhh don’t do Herbal Life, Weight Watchers, Slimming World or whatever diet you want to put in place of that, but fundamentally if you do them and follow them you will lose weight.  It would be wrong of me to lie and say that is not the case.

So why do I and so many people say you shouldn’t follow a diet when they do work?

Because what we really mean when we say that diets don’t work is that diets, as opposed to educated lifestyle changes, work whilst you follow them.  When you stop following them and go back to previous eating habits they will stop working, and the issue with diets is that they are very often not sustainable in the long term or if they are sustainable they tie you into contracts with that brand.

Some diets are restrictive.  Anything very low calorie or which cuts out certain foods for no other reason than weight loss is hard to maintain forever.  Especially once you have lost the weight and the scale coming down every week no longer exists as motivation.  I’ll tell you from experience no matter how much you believe staying at your ideal weight will be motivation enough it really isn’t.  Therefore very restrictive diets are difficult to maintain long term and so if you don’t have the knowledge and acquired skills on how to maintain weight once you reach your goal it is the maintenance part you may struggle with, and this is often why we see people yoyo diet.

Other diets are certainly less restrictive and I do see that there is honestly no reason why once ready to maintain weight you could not continue with them.  The issue with these is they very often tie you into a product.  Weigh in groups for instance (Slimming World, Weight Watchers and so on).  You could continue to attend these and eat in this way quite comfortably to maintain but you must continue to buy into the method because there is a lack of education included to allow you to go alone.

Equally things like Herbal Life, these can be promoted by PTs who also provide education around nutrition.  But they integrate their products into that education, so you believe you not only need a protein shake and a herbal tea and a pre workout and a meal replacement shake to lose then maintain weight, but you need that particular brand.  I believe that psychologically if we have succeeded in losing weight on those products we will believe even more so that they are important to remaining on track.  This essentially means to maintain weight loss you are tied into a product for however long you maintain.  If you suddenly can’t afford that product, mentally it is a lot easier to then lose that maintenance.

So when a PT says diets don’t work what we really mean is the diet phase is really not that important in the grand scheme of things.

You want to lose 3 stone.  You think that that is the hard part and then keeping it off will be easy.  Nope, at 1lb a week allowing a few weeks where you lose nothing you can comfortably lose 3 stone in a year (less if you are very focused but actually you don’t want to be obsessed with losing weight).  Say you are 25 and live to 98, that is 1 year of weight loss and then another 72 keeping that weight off.  If you are successful at this the majority of your life is in the maintenance phase not the diet phase (obviously not taking into account life changes etc).

So when we say don’t diet, we mean diet if you wish to lose weight, but don’t follow a fad.  Learn about calories, get a coach,  not a diet plan (PTs can provide advice and education not diet plans unless they are qualified nutritionists), get an idea of how much energy you need to eat.  Then eat that food in a way that suits your lifestyle (by the way that could be paleo, via fasting or another method if you are also aware of your calorie consumption).  If you do that once you hit your goal you adjust your calories slightly and just continue as you were.  The key here is all the time you have eaten normally, in a way that really suits you – not in a special magical way that has helped you lose weight but requires a lot of thought every day / week or a lot of money.  The key is you’ll know why you lost weight and don’t attribute it to magical speed foods (yes Slimming World I’m looking at you) or a magical pill (there might well be a product out there you love that makes you feel great and that’s cool, use it, feel great but all the while know that product is not the reason for your weight loss).

A decent PT knows if they do their job well you won’t need them forever – if they try and make you reliant on them forever they pretty much just want your money.  We might retain clients for a long time because they feel the benefit of our support or thrive from the accountability, valid reasons to see a coach, but we want clients to understand where their results come from – not to mystify them so they remained chained to us.  Whether you chose to continue working with a coach or not you should be given the skills that if you went it alone you have knowledge and are empowered to do so.

Diets do work.  We struggle with maintenance.  That’s why dieting in a sustainable and suitable way paves the way to a greater chance of success with maintenance, and if you are currently dieting or thinking about starting a weight loss journey know both that and this.  Weight loss isn’t what you want.  What you want is to be able to maintain that once you reach the goal.  You don’t want it to be a short term thing so don’t look at short term options.


You Can’t Take Likes To the Bank

Blog 10 of my mini series…


At the end of February (feels like a life time ago now) I traveled to Belfast to attend the Only Just media Summit.  This was just as Corona Virus was starting to become a ‘thing’, before Social Distancing had become a ‘thing’ and the week that Northern Ireland had just had their first case.

The event was a full day of speakers, all experts in their fields, talking to a room full of bloggers, Vloggers, content creators and brands.  My plan immediately after the event was to write some blogs on the speakers and my key takeouts.  Life then got in the way, CoronaVirus exploded and took up all my time at work and this idea got left in the notes section of my phone.  Until now.

Today is the final blog where I want to outline my key take outs for the day.

Why?  To be honest it’s probably multipurpose (like that kind of cleaning product you but to clean the kitchen and bathroom if like me you are not a ‘Mrs. Hincher’.  Partly I think it will help me solidify the key points I took away from the day, because although I’ve not written about them here until now I have started to take action.  But also because I think you as the reader could also benefit from these takeouts.  You might not be interested in branding or social media or content creation but some of the ideas I took away could just be useful for your approach to your job or you life in general.

So introductions over today’s blog will focus on the talk given by Alan Wallace, an account brand and project manager from Northern Ireland.


‘You can’t take likes to the bank’ said Allan.

How many likes your photos on Instagram get or how many shares are not a metric to bank on.

I think whether you use your social media accounts for personal reasons, for business or both this can be easy to forget.

It’s easy to see someone else getting hundreds of likes or shares and compare yourself to them and wonder what you are doing wrong.

After writing nine previous blogs about social media in this series, how you can use it to aid your own personal brand (regardless whether you use that brand as part of a business or just for you) it feels right to finish on that thought, and it felt a good way for the summit itself to end.

A reminder that when we post content we want the content to matter to us and be true to our own personal beliefs and values.  When it is, if it doesn’t get the kind of traction we had hoped we can still feel good about the content because we know it’s worthwhile.

Why do people doubt the energy balance equation?

As a PT and group fitness instructor I frequently talk about the Energy Balance Equation.  How if you want to lose weight you must have more energy going out than in, if you want to gain weight it’s the opposite and to maintain you want them to be about equal.

It’s essentially the base of any nutrition knowledge, and the first thing anyone needs to get to grips with if they want to work on their nutrition.

Macros, meal timings, supplements.  They all have a place sure, but if you haven’t got your calories in v calories out in the right place what time you eat dinner, the amount of protein or fat you eat or whether you take BCAAs or won’t make much difference to your success.

Equally, people will say I had massive success with this way of eating / this method / this diet, and essentially behind each of these methods the fundamental reason for success is the individual found a way of controlling their calories in v. out that was appropriate to their goals and which suited their lifestyle.  It can be dressed up in many different ways but that fundamental lies behind every successful method of actively managing food intake.

So why are we so reluctant to believe this?

Almost universally, at some point of another, most people have chosen to believe that either the reason they are not reaching their goals or are reaching their weight management goals is something beyond calories.

No again, I’m not saying that other factors cannot help refine a diet.  If you are managing your energy balance well the types of food you get your energy from, when you eat, extra supplements can help you improve energy levels and performance.  They do this however building upon the foundation that is you eating the right amount of food for your gapl each day.

If you are over eating by 1,000 calories every day whether you eat those calories at 6 am or 6 pm makes no difference.  Whether the calories come from avacado and lettuce or Nutella on biscuits makes no difference.  Your body shape makes no difference, your genetic make up makes no difference.  You are eating too many calories for your goal.  Energy in v. energy out is like gravity- it’s a fact.

So why do we self sabotage on this so often?  Because actually, when it’s this simple, we all have the ability to successful manage our food intake in line with our goals.

I think  it comes down to two main reasons:

Firstly, people selling their ideas means that very often the calories truth is hidden behind a gimmik.

We buy into products or brands or books and theories that promise us results.  In order for those brands to stand out and or you to go to them specifically they need to have a selling point- the thing that makes their methods work.

For that they need to sell you lots of reasons beyond calories as to why their methods work.  You do their diet, you lose weight or gain weight and so accept that those methods must be the reason.  But behind all of these diets there is still always the energy balance equation, and whilst other factors can also provide benefit you still need that energy balance to be right.  What these brands don’t do is actively promote calories as the key.  They let is silently do the work in the background and let their ‘unique selling point’ take the credit.  Essentially they are like a really bad boss taking credit for what their team does as the ground work!

The second factor is our own emotional response.  It’s so much easier for us to think if i can get this one really sexy aspect of my diet right everything else will fall into place.  Why else do diet pills appeal to people – you take this one pill, make no other changes and you’ll see results.  We like that idea.  If I add this supplement that will make the difference.  Because accepting that actually we aren’t eating enough or are eating too much means we need to actually work and make real changes to what we eat.

We also often tend to over estimate (for people looking to gain weight) or under estimate (for people looking to lose weight) how much we eat in terns of calories I find.  That’s why tracking, whilst unsexy compared to intuitive eating, is useful.  Again though it’s harder work and seems very old school and boring next to I eat what my body tells me it wants.  Now i’m not saying doing that is a bad thing – but you have to know how to listen to your body to do that, and if you aren’t already getting the results you want I’d suggest you don’t yet know how to listen to your body.  The way to learn is unfortunately the very boring learn about calories in v. out until you find the right balance for you – once you’ve grasped that eating intuitively and not tracking becomes very possible because you do then have a better idea of your energy (by which I mean calories) levels.

We all want to think we are different.  That calories might be your issue but mine is my metabolism, mine is how I react to certain foods, my blood type and so on.  It might be to a certain degree – but that thing is in reality going to be such a small factor in comparison to your energy in v. out.  So for many of us is our issue is we are focusing on something that makes a 1% difference to our diet instead of focusing on something that can have a massive difference.  We then assume that because we aren’t seeing our desired results we need to delve even deeper into our biology and chemical makeup to see results.

The best way to get results is to stop bullshitting yourself.

Workout what you burn.

Workout what you consume.

Change those to get the result you want.

It’s boring.  It’s simple.

That’s why we always look for other answers.  We assume it’s so boring and simple and obvious it cannot be the key.

We literally cannot see the wood for the trees.