Hardest parts of the job

People think the hardest things about being a group exercise instructor is learning choreography or talking at the same time as moving or always thinking one step ahead so you can cue what is coming next.

These things are tough at first but I think there are harder things we face, here’s a few:

  1. Morning classes – Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching morning classes, they set you up for the day. But if something goes wrong first thing you’re stuck! Wake up ill, train cancelled, anything like that and there’s nothing you can do to avoid cancelling the class. The centre often won’t be open for you to let them know far enough in advance to warn members and you’ll be unlikely to find cover awake and ready to go that early on.
  2. Getting sick – In my day job a little cold is something I can work through, much harder to teach when you feel ill though, and I think fitness instructors are more prone to catching things.  One, we are physically moving at high intensity more often than, say, a PT on the gym floor is, so our immune system is likely to be lower, plus we spend a lot of time in close proximity to a lot of people sweating away (think of the close proximity of bikes in a spin studio and how sweaty the room gets), is it any wonder we seem to catch everything going?
  3. Cover- I personally have been pretty lucky when covering and never had any terrible experiences with members, although it’s a nightmare when you go somewhere new and nobody seems to be able to show you how the stereo system works! Finding cover however can be a nightmare, especially post Pandemic.  I get it, I am pretty much at my perfect balance of classes so not really looking to take on cover and tend to only do it as a favour now, but it does make trying to take time off hard.
  4. Lack of equipment – Those times when classes are full but some bikes are broken, or there’s not enough weights / steps to go around. Trying to find solutions to allow everyone to participate when members who’ve booked on are, quite rightly, annoyed by these challenges is tough at times ad it feels awful when there is no option but to disappoint someone.
  5. No air con –  Nobody enjoys this, members or instructor, and it’s tough to stay positive and keep people moving knowing that everyone is struggling in the heat.

Day 1

There’s always so much hype about ‘Day 1’.

You start a diet or a gym regime and people praise the ‘Day 1’ posts. Of course Day 1 is tough, starting anything can be daunting and finding the motivation to start is a positive which should be cheered.

Day 1 is also shiny, new and novel enough to actually be easy though. Those first few meals, gym sessions, days of change have a novelty to them that can help you stick to it.

It gets tougher as the days go by. As people perhaps stop asking how it’s going, as you have long days or challenging days and want to revert back to comfortable habits to make yourself feel better, it becomes harder to stick to your new habits and actions.

It’s not just that. In the early days and weeks results will likely come quick and fast. Depending on how much weight you have to lose you might find the pounds drop off quickly at first. If you are just starting lifting or running you might find the PBs come thick and fast for a while.

As the weeks and months go on and you establish your new habits, those results will slow. This is natural, but it’s also challenging for your motivation, as it gets harder to see progress it also becomes harder to stick to things when times get tough.

Day 1 is tough, starting is tough, but I think staying with it and never having another ‘Day 1’ again is far more challenging and yet also the ultimate goal. Fitness will always be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, peaks and being less at your peak, we don’t need to have a ‘day 1’ every time we have a down though, we just need to keep going with a healthy habits.

Go hard or go home

I think one thing that is always worth reminding yourself is that harder is not always better.

Sometimes when things don’t feel like they’re going well it can be tempting to look to making drastic changes, be that training to the extreme, dieting to the extreme or filling your day to the point you have no downtime whatsoever. Logic seems to work that if you push super hard results will be amazing and come super quick. Of course what actually happens when we try and go ‘all or nothing’ is when we miss one session, have one bad meal we feel like everything was pointless and give up.   When we plan in no rest, we burn out and need to stop doing everything completely.

Making small manageable changes seems so boring and like it’s really not going to have an effect and we just aren’t trying hard enough. Yet in reality hitting two to three sessions in the gym each week consistently over a few months is always going to have better results than going twice a day every day for a week and then doing nothing for two weeks because we’re injured / shattered.  Eating within a calorie deficit 80% of days for six weeks will produce better results than doing a juice detox for 5 days and then eating whatever you want for three weeks after because you were famished by day 6.

In the same way, sometimes, even when we are training and eating sensibly we still need to take time out. A de-load week isn’t failure, it’s actually a smart way of letting the body recover so we can continue to improve. Increasing our calories to maintenance strategically sometimes (for instance ladies that time each month when you feel more hungry) might actually improve your results rather than hinder.

In a nutshell trying to go all out often ends up having the opposite effect whilst also making you feel a bit miserable and like a failure. Small steady changes which don’t feel like much on the other hand will be easier to stick with and over time make you feel more positive and start to see results.

Sleep

Sleep is so important to our heath for a variety of reasons, but I’ve often found that people who train a lot tend to struggle getting to sleep, staying asleep and feeling like they have had a good quality sleep on a regular basis.

My sleep recently has been a bit hit and miss, where I feel like I’ve either been sleeping a lot or not sleeping enough. That in itself isn’t great as trying to make up for shorter nights sleep on other nights by sleeping in for longer can also have a negative effect on your sleep habits and how you feel.

A few years ago I did a podcast in relation to this topic where I delve into a bit more depth into some practical solutions for dealing with struggling with a regular sleep pattern. You can listen on the link below or you’ll find it on my Podcast on Apple, Anchor or Spotify (Series One, Episode Three).

Heather’s Podcast

Fitness v Fat

Since Lockdown and gaining weight I’ve not felt great about my appearance or fitness. Confidence wise I guess the two are linked, I don’t feel great about training because I don’t feel great in my body.

The way I’ve been trying to rectify this is losing weight, to feel better in my body, as if that will then make me feel better training, because I feel better in myself.

Recently though I remembered when I’ve felt like this in the past and tried changing my thinking. Instead of worrying about appearance I’ve just thought about training and more than just focusing on training, hitting specific goals.

One of those was run a half marathon, another is to get my deadlift to 120kg, I also want to get closer to an unassisted pull up.

By focusing on those specific metrics and doing what I need to in order to reach those, I have in turn lost some weight and feel a bit better in myself. Instead of feeling bad that I’m not where I want to be I can see I am making progress and that is much more motivating than just being unhappy until I hit my ‘perfect’. Instead of being upset about what I can’t do, I’m focused on what I can do to get better at those things, and with that I feel more confident and happier about my health and fitness.

I think it’s easy when you feel like you’re not where you should be to get bogged down in the negatives and the assumption that you can’t feel good until you’re at your goal destination. Ultimately though it doesn’t really benefit you to do that, whereas making small changes and working towards specific, performance related goals, allows you to shift your focus a bit and actually make progress and feel better. Ultimately it’s unlikely we’ll ever be totally happy with our body and fitness, even if we get to what we think is our goal, by the time we reach there we normally manage to change the goal posts for ourselves.  So I think it’s important to remind ourselves sometimes that fitness isn’t one static moment in time and we are ever changing and as such we kind of need to roll with it a little bit.

Cookie Cutters

The absolute worst thing you can do if you feel  bit rubbish and want to lose weight / drop a dress size / get fitter / run a marathon is find someone on Instagram who has done the same and try and copy what they do / did.  It might be really tempting when you see someone who has reached a goal you aspire to, to think if you do exactly the same you’ll reach exactly the same outcome. There are two things to bear in mind here.

  1. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you.  That person is highly unlikely to have started from the same point as you, have the same job, family life, outlook on life, taste in foods as you, enjoy the same exercise as you, have the same fitness level.  There are so many variables that affect our ability to stick with a plan when it comes to training and food, no wonder results will vary from person to person. This is why following a cookie cutter plan will generally only works for a handful of people – you end up trying to fit your life into someone else’s template, instead of fitting your fitness plan around your actual life, likes and dislikes.
  2. Someone who posts or offers advice with no fitness training or qualifications is literally offering you advice based on their own experience (see point one as to why that is problematic). What you also need to remember about this is you are very possibly only seeing part of their story. Example, someone posts a before and after of themselves and you think wow, I want to see that transformation and they did it by eating in a 20% deficit and strength training three times a week in a year so I’ll do that and get the same results. Often what happens is they don’t see the same results and beat themselves up. What that person might not have disclosed though, is that before they started to eating in a sensible deficit and training in a sensible structured way they actually went through a period of drastic calorie cutting, massively over training and other unhealthy habits.  Whilst it’s great that they are now in a much healthier place, their physique will be a result of both the healthy and unhealthy habits, makes sense then, that in doing the same you might not get the same results?

Ultimately, any PT will tell you there isn’t one way of doing anything and that is why when you’re stuck working with a PT instead of listening to that bloke in the gym or that influencer on social media will result in a far more realistic and sustainable action plan for you and help you get the best results for you.

Can cutting out coffee help you lose weight?

Can Intermittent Fasting help you lose weight?

Sure, if you eat during a shorter time window every day but don’t eat dramatically more than you usually would at each meal or eat extra meals in that time period (i.e. you don’t just eat breakfast later) you will possibly lose weight. Why?  Because you’re eating fewer calories. You may also find other health benefits to eating in this way and it can really suit some people’s lifestyles and mindsets.  But is it a magic formula in itself? No, if it’s not for you the fact is you’re really not missing out on some great health cheat.

Can cutting out coffee help you lose weight?

Maybe, if you normally drink it with milk and (or) sugar and cut back you’ll reduce your calorie intake naturally and you may see an effect on your weight. Equally, even with black coffee you may find you sleep a bit better and as getting enough sleep is helpful when it comes to both weight loss and training you might see a small benefit there. Having said that coffee can sometimes act as an appetite suppressant so cutting back may affect your appetite a bit at first, if you’re also adding in pre workouts to replace a pre gym black coffee you might even end up consuming slightly more calories.  Essentially, whilst there may be benefits they might well be minimal.

Can using an acupressure mat help you lose weight?

It is reported that Acupressure mats provide many benefits, including weight loss.  The idea being the pressure points relieve stress due to the release of endorphins, lowering cortisol and this reduction in stress helps weight management.  I have an acupressure mat and try to use it every night, I certainly feel I sleep better and feel more relaxed after 20 minutes laying on it, for me, whether there is much scientific research or not it makes me feel good. Does it help with weight management though?  If it does it’s probably minimal and only in conjunction with eating the appropriate amount of calories.  Would laying on this mat alone reduce weight? No.

Will meditation / mindfulness help you lose weight?

Mindfulness, practiced often, can be an effective method for helping change habits and ways of thinking and as such could help you lose weight by helping you adjust your habits. Again, on it’s own it will not help you lose weight, it’s a tool which can help you adjust your behaviours and the change in behaviour is what will lead to weight loss.

There are many habits, actions and behaviour changes which, can when incorporated into your life, make you feel better and assist with weight loss. Ultimately though, weight loss comes from consuming fewer calories than you burn over a consistent period of time.  Sometimes on a weight loss journey, the habits we adopt across the way can feel like the magic ingredient that actually made the difference in losing weight. Perhaps they are, in the respect if they make us feel better and more positive and help us stick to a calorie deficit then they are positive weight loss tools that can also bring other benefits at the same time.  It’s important to recognise that in terms of weight loss however, these things alone do not create a calorie deficit and understanding this will allow long lasting changes to occur.

Everything you need to know before you try Les Mills Body Combat

One of the classes I’m qualified to teach is Les Mills Body Combat. This was the class that made me want to become an instructor so I really enjoy teaching it and always encourage gym members to give it a go when it’s on the timetable.

I do get that it can be a bit intimidating for new people the first time they come to class. The moves are fast and the terminology can be confusing! But it’s also great fun and punching a kicking the days frustrations away can be incredibly satisfying!

If you are thinking about trying a class for the first time but are nervous and unsure of what to expect here’s a few things that I hope will help ease those uncertainties and allow you to have a great first experience:

  • It might sound obvious but tell the instructor you are new at the start- it will help you feel relaxed and they will be able to make sure you’re ok throughout the class and will make sure you have a good first experience.
  • There are three formats of the class- an hour class (all 10 tracks so sometimes it will be shorter as the length of a track can vary depending on intensity), a 45 minute class and a 30 minute class. The tracks in the shorter (express) versions are selected to still ensure you get maximum benefits from the class despite the shorter time frame (but are the same tracks as the hour class).
  • Body Combat is mixed martial arts inspired. You will experience tracks based on a variety of martial arts throughout the class as well as incorporating some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) training.
  • Don’t worry it’s non – contact. You will be punching and kicking an imaginary opponent or bag (so the air really!)
  • You don’t need any equipment – just you, your gym kit and trainers (and some water!)
  • The moves are choreographed to the music but don’t worry if you aren’t great at following a beat at first- you will still be getting your heart rate up even if you don’t get every combination of moves straight away. Following the music and combinations will get easier and when you do nail that combo to the beat you feel amazing!
  • You are mirroring the instructor’s movements. If they say right foot forward, they will put their left foot forward so if you imagine they are your reflection in a mirror and mirror their moves you will find you are soon putting your right foot forward without even having to think about it! Don’t worry if you new to group exercise we know this takes time to get used to!
  • Once they press play the instructor will generally not pause the music unless you need time to grab a mat. This is to keep the heart rate and intensity of the workout high. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break if you need one- listen to your own body – the instructor won’t mind, just come back in when you are ready.
  • It is a tough cardio workout. You are going to burn calories. You will get out of breath- that’s ok it’s why you are there. If you need to take a break take one, grab some water and come back in when you are ready.
  • There are always opportunities to work within your own personal limits. The instructor will give different options throughout the workout to either dial the intensity up or down. So if you don’t want to jump there will always be a move you can do instead that doesn’t involve jumping but still provides lots of benefit. Equally the instructor will be able to guide you in how to improve a move to increase the intensity if you are ready to challenge yourself a bit more.
  • If you are new there is something called Smart Start. Effectively it means you are allowed to stay for a few tracks. When you feel like you have done enough you can leave (make sure you stretch before you leave the gym!) then each time you try the class, see if you can stay for one extra track until you can do the whole class. New exercise classes can be tough, we know that, but you don’t need to be put off from trying them because you aren’t sure you are ready for a full class yet.
  • There is a lot of terminology that may be unfamiliar – jab cross, uppercut, hook, roundhouse kick etc. It might take a while to remember what each move is but don’t worry you can watch the instructor throughout and over time you will start to take on board what each strike is so you can react quickly to cues.
  • When you strike imagine your opponent is your height! The instructor will tell you which body part to aim for with each strike – if you imagine the opponent is your height you will get the most effective workout possible.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your leg to head height when you kick (I certainly can’t!)! You will probably find as you attend more often your kicks will get higher, but the range of your kick will have a lot to do with your flexibility so don’t worry if you can’t kick as high as the person next to you – work within your own range of movement and just challenge yourself to kick a bit higher as time goes on.
  • If you have done martial arts training some of the moves may feel ‘wrong’. Some of the moves in Body Combat are modified to ensure they are safe and effective for a group exercise environment. It’s a martial arts inspired class – not a martial arts class.
  • Combat is an amazing core class. All the moves involve massive work through your core and your instructor will coach you how to effectively work the core throughout the class. So as well as burning lots of calories and increasing your CV fitness you will also find the workout does great things for your waist.
  • If you have a question about a move, go and chat to the instructor at the end of the class. We generally love talking to people and want you to get the most out of the class. If you aren’t sure if you are feeling a move ‘in the right place’ ask and we can spend a few minutes on your technique to ensure the following week you are confident you are getting the most out of that move / track / strike / kick.
  • Instructors get a new track list every three months- at which point they will teach this in it’s entirety for around 6 weeks. After that they will ‘mix’ older tracks into a playlist to keep it interesting for you and keep challenging your fitness levels until they get their next playlist. In other words – you won’t ever get bored.
  • Finally- it’s an exercise class and it’s meant to be fun. Don’t worry if you struggle with a move or aren’t great at certain kick- ultimately it’s all about moving and having fun whilst doing it so try not to take yourself too seriously.

Goals

If we want to be good at something we have to do that thing often, repeatedly, until it becomes a habit, second nature.

If you wanted to be good at ballet you’d go to ballet lessons every week and practice ballet often. You wouldn’t join a Jazz class and spend your free time practicing the Waltz and then turn up to your ballet recital expecting to be great.

Often with our training though we set ourselves goals and then do completely different things before getting frustrated with ourselves that we haven’t met our goals.

Or, we set ourselves so many goals all at once that there just isn’t any way we could train for all of them in any effective, meaningful way.

Of course if you’re starting out and just wanting to move more then doing different things every week is completely fine and will keep things interesting.

But if you are looking to run a half marathon, building up to longer runs and strengthening your legs and core need to be your focus. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do any upper body work too, but if upper body workouts take up 80% of your workouts you aren’t working to your goal.

If you want to improve your squat though, running every day isn’t going to help you, you’ll want to be doing variations of squats and mobility work. Again, you’ll want to add in some upper body workouts but they won’t be your focus.

Growing your glutes? Again if you keep finding your bench press is the lift you work on the most your sessions are not aligned with your goals.

If you have set yourself the goals of doing a pull up, getting your deadlift to 100kg, running a marathon, learning how to do a headstand, the splits all whilst losing 10kg and committing to do yoga every day, you’ve probably set yourself too many goals to actually achieve any of them. How on earth would you fit everything you need to do to work towards those goals into one week? If this is you maybe pick the goal that’s most important and work towards that, saving the rest for after you’ve completed that first one.

Ultimately if we want to be good at something we need to do things that will help us get good at that thing. That’s not to say you can’t also do things in the gym you enjoy or that your week shouldn’t be balanced, but your focus should remain on exercises that help you work towards that goal.

Gym sayings that should be scrapped

Not all calories are equal

Different foods have different nutritional values, some can offer more more nutritional benefits than others, may be more or less filling, may affect your energy levels in different ways. Fundamentally though a calorie is a unit used to measure the food we eat, a unit of energy if you like and the calories in a 200 calorie salad are the same number of calories in a 200 calorie chocolate bar. In terms of energy in v energy out all calories are equal.

No carbs after 6pm (and other timing rules)

Whether it be this rule, Intermittent fasting, the 5:2 diet or any other rule that suggests when you eat will be the magic ingredient to weight loss. Whilst setting yourself eating windows may help you eat less and therefore lose weight you don’t suddenly store more fat by eating after 6pm or having breakfast.

Muscle weighs more than fat

Whilst it’s true the same volume of fat will take up more space than an equal volume of muscle (hence you can drop a dress size but remain the same weight as your body composition changes, a useful thing to remember) a pound of fat and a pound of muscle of course both weigh a pound.

Never miss a Monday

If you want to train 3 times a week why would it matter that one of those in on Monday? Whilst the concept of starting the week positively makes sense if Monday is inconvenient for you it really doesn’t matter.

Go hard or go home

Yes you want to work hard during your workouts, but life happens. Some days we are tired, have little niggles, we might be recovering from a cold. Some days we might be fatigued from previous sessions. On those days going hard could be more detrimental than positive. Listening to your body and resting, stretching or taking a de-load week when needed can help improve results more than simply pushing through.

‘Baby Weights’

No matter what you lift to someone out there it will be ‘so heavy’ and to someone else ‘their warm up weight’. Judging your weights in comparison to others won’t help you progress or make you feel good about yourself in the gym. Others might be lifting more of less than you but sticking to weights we personally find challenging for the rep ranges we are doing and working on progressive overload in relation to that weight range is the best way to progress.