Why a spin class is a lot like life

One of the hardest things as a fitness professional is trying to get a message across about the mindset of ‘fitness’ but knowing that some parts of that message will sound completely contradictory to people.  I know that that’s because everyone is different and different people will face different mental challenges when working towards their goals.  Yet I also know it may mean sometimes what i write or discuss on podcasts has potential to confuse.

For instance I did a podcast last week where I said in a nutshell – you can do whatever suits you to work towards your goals, there’s no set right or wrong BUT if you want to change where you’re at you do have to make changes.  If your head says but I am doing what makes me happy that’s fine but also means you need to accept you probably won’t see the changes you’d like.

Now that rule applies across the board but the message is probably more relevant to those who want change but haven’t yet accepted wanting isn’t enough you also have to apply.  For many who listen to my podcast / read this you are already active, have made or are in the process of making changes.  The thing I observe most about people who are already actively trying to make improvements is they undervalue what they are already doing and when they hear messages such as that feel bad and like they need to do more.  Then you get to an opposite problem, where everything gets overwhelming and you almost feel like a failure for not doing more.

Fitness is like life.  It’s a balancing act of ambition and having the drive to work towards your goals and actively do things that will assist that and knowing when you need to rest, go easy on yourself, allow yourself to drop a few of the less important balls.

I teach a lot of spin (sorry group cycle).  I rarely teach to a beat or specific resistance and coach using the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale.  I encourage people to go heavy – for them, or fast – for them.  I say that by the end their legs should feel heavy, their breathing laboured, they should finish feeling they have worked as hard as they can.  They could be going slower than someone else in the class but giving their all.  That faster person could be giving 75%- in which case the slower person will see greater results over a period of time.  What I try and teach my regulars is that they have to self regulate their efforts – when it starts to feel easy they need to recognise that and adjust an element of their ride to increase the intensity, equally if it starts to feel like they can’t carry on they again have the autonomy to adjust.  They also understand that day to day their energy levels will be different, sometimes a class feels harder or better- that is’t they’ve lost fitness, it’s how their week has been, if they’ve been ill, perhaps they are hungry or slept badly.  As the instructor I can look and say ‘you can put more resistance on ‘you can go faster’ but I’m not riding their bike and only they know if i’m right or wrong in my assertion.

I think a group cycle class is a great analogy for your fitness routine as a whole.  Learn to recognise when you are pulling back a bit and need to make changes if you want to reach a goal, but also learn to recognise when you’re being hard on yourself.  Take advice, but don’t just do it without question – understand why and how coaches suggests you make changes so as time goes on you find it easier to manage your mindset to your health.  Be kind to yourself but honest with it.

 

2020 Goals

It’s not unusual to review your life at the start of a new year and decide what you are happy with, what you want to change, what you would like to achieve within the coming year.

Often we want to lose weight, earn more money, travel more and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things being motivators.

It’s understood by most people who work in any kind of field where motivation is key (fitness is a great example) that people are more likely to meet those goals when they genuinely want them for a real reason that they feel some real passion or connection to.

So if you want to lose weight you’re more likely to achieve that when the reason is improved health or to be able to play with your children than because you think you probably should be a size 10.

Not only are you more likely to achieve a goal when there’s a purpose behind it, it’s also more likely to make you happy.

What about when one of your goals is to help other people?

As a society we are sceptical of anyone offering help, the saying you don’t get something for nothing springs to mind. When people offer things for free we tend to immediately assume there’s a catch.

But sometimes, some people’s purpose does involve, in part, just helping people.

Again fitness is a great example of this. It’s an area that many of us who work in it feel real passion about. We want to help people, bust misconceptions and encourage. Now of course we need to earn money too, so we have to charge for some things. But equally a lot of us want to help and will happily provide a lot more for free than you may get in other sectors. Hell, it’s a little selfish because the feeling you can get for knowing you made a difference is some people’s purpose in itself.

So today I wanted to highlight one fitness professional who does just that, and this year has (in my opinion) stepped it up even more.

Lauren McDowell is a Les Mills instructor, who has long been a Tribe Coach (a position where instructors volunteer time to mentor other instructors) and is well known on the instructor social media groups for providing technique videos and feedback.

This year she seems to have stepped it up a notch. After asking on Instagram what people wanted help with she has already produced videos on Body Combat kick technique which anyone can view (check it out here).

Lauren’s Video

But beyond that she has also started producing regular simple and practical tips aimed at people starting out or getting back into a fitness journey.

None of this makes Lauren any money, but she believes and is passionate about encouraging others to participate in fitness and doing it in a way that you enjoy and makes you feel good.

I have the pleasure of working with Lauren as part of Jump 4.2, which has a massive support network for instructors, all helping each other out, and she is also always available to support everyone in that group.

Lauren is of course one of many fit pros I know who provide so much help to others beyond the selling of their services, and they do this because part of their purpose is to help others. They can keep helping people even when they get nothing concrete out of it because it serves their purpose and they feel they get value from it regardless.

So back to my original point, there’s absolutely zero issue with your goals being money motivated or weight orientated but to achieve them you need to be motivated, and to stay motivated those goals need to mean something to you. Sometimes what you realise means something to you might not make sense to anyone else, sometimes the value you get out of a goal may not be physical but mental. Having a clear idea of your purpose will however help you make 2020 a year you get closer to your goals and those goals making you happier.

Equally, your goal really doesn’t have to be what you’d normally expect. Could it be to help more people or help specific people, rather than get a promotion or drop a dress size? Would that create a fire in your belly that pushed you to achieve your goal?

You can of course have a mixture of goals and I’m not suggesting becoming Mother Theresa here, but thinking beyond the norm of New Years Resolutions could help you find something your truly passionate about.

I’m pretty confident one of Lauren’s goals is helping more people this year (I’m sure she has others). You can help her teach more people by checking out her Instagram here, and if you do Combat do check out her technique videos!

Lauren’s Instagram

Smear Test Talk

Earlier this week I went for a smear test.

I suspect I’m not alone in dreading this test, from the moment I get the letter reminding me it’s been three years and it’s time to book right up until the moment of climbing on the table.  I know they’re important and a few moments of discomfort are worth it to check I’m healthy but equally it just isn’t the nicest ting and nobody ever really wants to put themselves into situations of discomfort.

Smear tests are used to monitor any abnormal changes early on allowing them to monitor and treat these changes early thus helping to prevent the chance of those changes turning into cervical cancer.  They take roughly ten minutes from entering the room to leaving (the actual test is a couple of minutes if that) and for most women it really is a matter of mild discomfort over any form of painful experience.  However in 2018 it was reported that one in four women don’t book an appointment when they get their reminder letter due to embarrassment, body shape shame or fear of the unknown / pain.  This figure increased to one in three in the 25-29 age range and one in two in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

Much like periods, I feel like smears are something quite common, all women should have them, if you talk to other women most will admit to disliking them or having anxiety around some part of them but which we often feel silly talking about.

But for someone who writes about health and fitness on a weekly basis, I also feel like it’s important to stress that physical fitness or strength or a balanced diet or calorie deficit is all kind of pointless if you don’t take care of yourself at a more fundamental level.  I admit I stated thinking about his when I got my smear test reminder and as a result as well as booking the smear test also booked in a dental check up and an eye test (fyi I over much needed new glasses and twelve years between eye tests is by far too long!).

If you are nervous about getting our smear here’s some tips I’ve found useful for reducing the stress of the situation and making it more comfortable:

  • Wear a long skirt – reduces the amount of undressing you need to do and can make you feel less exposed.
  • You’ll almost always get a female nurse but if you don’t you can request one.  You can also take someone with you if that helps.
  • Tell the nurse you are nervous – they are used to doing his test and will generally be good at putting you at ease, keeping you talking and more relaxed.
  • Ask for a smaller speculum.  I had a horrible couple of smears when I was younger that really made me dread going, and I read this tip on the internet.  I asked the nurse and she explained that they don’t always work and sometime it can mean them trying then having to use a bigger one anyway.  But they will try if you ask and for me the smaller one worked without issue and now I always ask and it always works fine, to the point I barely feel anything.  If you are really nervous this is an option worth discussing with the nurse beforehand.

So three messages for this blog.

  1. Male or female – be more holistically health conscious in 2020.  Don’t just eat well or exercise but make an effort to look after your body in all ways.  That means things like health check ups, resting when injured and not making a training session a priority over other aspects of your overall health.
  2. Help make 2020 a year to reduce stigma – feel less pressure to avoid conversations on periods, health checks like smear tests, prostate checks, checking your breasts (not much experience here but equally important) because these conversations can help others.
  3. If you haven’t had a smear test and are of an age where you should book an appointment with you GP.

Live PT vs. Online PT

So you have decided you need a PT.

Time was that meant going to your local gym, now though there are other options as more and more PTs offer online training too.

So which should you pick? This is my opinion on the pros and cons of live v online PT (note I do a bit of both so perhaps that makes me biased, perhaps more objective I don’t know!)

Live PT

Pros

– If you’re new to training a PT with you as you train will help build your confidence

– They can review and correct your technique

– They can keep you motivated

-Making an appointment with someone makes you get to the gym

Cons

– Expense – you are paying for an hour of that persons time, if you want to do that three times a week that’s going to cost a bit

– If you have experience in the gym you may not always need someone with you

– You have to fit training around both your schedules so it’s not particularly flexible

– You are limited in options as you need to train where the PT works

Online PT

Pros

– If you are confident in the gym it provides you the coaching and guidance you need without someone watching over you – you can still get feedback on lifts, advice

– Complete flexibility as to when you train

– Often cheaper than live PT

– Can be completely tailored to you – giving you as much or as little support as you desire

-Allows you to pick a coach from anywhere and train anywhere

Cons

– If you aren’t sure about training this option can be harder (although not impossible with many coaches offering videos etc for guidance)

– You need to motivate yourself to get to the gym and train and be honest about what you are doing.

10 Easy Ways To Become Fitter in 2020

  1. Work out how many calories you burn a day on average and eat this many (to maintain weight) or 20% less (to reduce weight)
  2. Swap one of your sugary snacks with a healthier replacement (e.g. a piece of fruit) each day. And yes I know fruit has some sugar in it but a banana over a Mars Bar will help you cut calories and provide less of a post sugar slump.
  3. Stop having cheat meals. Cheat meals create a restriction / binge / food as a reward mindset.  Eat whatever you want whenever you want within reason without viewing food as good and bad.
  4. Eat protein. Aim to eat 1 to 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight. Will help you feel satisfied without overeating.
  5. Drink at least 0.033 litres water per kg of your body weight each day (so if you weight 60kg drink two litres a day).  Fat loss, performance, whatever your goal- hydration is so important to your health.
  6. Don’t exercise at all at the moment? Aim to complete a 30 minute session every week for a month, two 30 minutes sessions a week the next month and three 30 minutes sessions the following month. Boom = Exercise habit created.
  7. Increase your NEAT. However much you exercise aim to increase your non exercise movement by at least 10% each day over the next few months (i.e. walk more)
  8. Get more sleep. Enough sleep every night will help with weight loss, stress, energy levels. Seven hours is goals.
  9. Learn something new. Want to learn to do a handstand, swim, play netball? Working towards mastering a skill will get you moving without exercise being the main goal itself.
  10. Set yourself a challenge. Run a race, do a Tough Mudder, compete in a swimathon. Setting a challenge can give you the incentive to get to your training sessions and maintain focus.

The Anti New Years Resolution Blog Post

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?

Up until a few years ago I did – I’ve made many New Year’s Resolutions over the years, in fact honestly I’d make the same resolutions year after year which I never kept.

These days I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions as such. Here’s why:

January is a shit time to make drastic changes

It’s cold, dark and everyone is depressed and skint after Christmas.  It’s a rubbish time to decide to suddenly make drastic and often restrictive changes to your life.  Result is you feel miserable two days in and give up.  Planning to give up chocolate on January 1st when you probably have a shed load of left over chocolate in your cupboards is practically setting yourself up for failure. Deciding not to drink in the most miserable month of the year so you’re left sitting on the sofa instead of going out to catch up with friends is going to become unappealing quickly.

Resolutions tend to be negative

Generally we say things like I’m going to give up… sugar, wine, chocolate, smoking.  It’s something we are NOT going to do anymore.  This means we feel like we are depriving ourselves.  Depriving yourself is rarely a long-term plan for success.

Resolutions tend to be vague

I want to lose weight, I want to get fit, I want to earn more money.  They are goals / outcomes we’d like to reach yes, but they aren’t very specific and how and when they will be achieved isn’t always clear.  How often do you make vague plans with a friend to ‘catch up soon’ only for that catch up to not happen?  It’s not because we don’t want to catch up it’s just because we’ve been too vague for anything to actually happen.  Resolutions can be a lot like that.

Resolutions end up leaving you feeling worse about yourself

If you don’t succeed then you feel like a failure. Yet if you set something too restrictive and ambitious you’re unlikely to stick to it and so you’re essentially setting yourself up to feel shit. 

Negatives out the way – I fully believe in improving things – here’s what I think is better than making New Year’s Resolutions and why:

Change when you are ready

There’s a popular saying that if you’ve thought about it you’re ready. Right now, 2 days before New Year Day – if you’re thinking about stopping drinking fizzy drinks – stop. Right now. Why wait until Wednesday? If you want to start running start running – these things aren’t banned until January 1st. 

If on January 1 you don’t feel ready to make a change but do a couple of weeks into the year start then, or in February or August or October, you haven’t got to wait until 2021 if you miss 1st January this year.

New Year’s Resolutions have the idea of starting at midnight on 1 January – change can however happen at any time.  How often do you think I’ll start my diet on Monday and eat a weeks worth of food over the weekend knowing restriction is coming- you ‘could’ start a diet on Thursday (well we ‘could’ not call it a diet at all but that’s another blog altogether). Generally change that happens when you’re ready as opposed to an imposed time tends to be more effective.

Choosing to make positive changes

Positive changes are easier to put in place than ‘I won’t’ type changes. I will drink more water, I will eat vegetables with every meal, I will walk 10,000 steps a day.  These are things you are going to do – so you do them and you’ve created a change.  You might have also eaten ten chocolate bars but you’ve still eaten vegetables with every meal, the change has still happened. Positive changes make us feel better and so we are more likely to stick to them.

Goal setting over resolutions

I don’t make resolutions any more but I have sat down and done some goal setting for 2020.  I have decided what I want to achieve, these are specific goals so they aren’t things like ‘I want to get fitter’ they are set things I’d like to get done, some will be quick and relatively easy others less so.  Along with these goals I have made detailed plans of what I have to do to reach these specific goals and planned out realistic timescales for taking these actions. I’ve asked for feedback from people more experienced than me on these plans and discussed goals that include other people with them so we are on the same page.  I know what I need to do personally and professionally in 2020 and how I plan to do it.  I’ve got more chance of reaching these goals than if I left I chance.

SMART resolutions

Specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time specific.  If you goal ticks all these things you’re more likely to be able to reach it. 

Commit to creating habits / systems instead

If you want lose weight you could think of it as working towards creating habits that in turn help work towards weight loss.  Make drinking more water, creating a calorie deficit and training three times a week a habit and you will achieve your goal but you also find it is something that starts to fit into your everyday life as opposed to something you have to work towards constantly.  The benefit of this is you can pick one small thing to work on then once that has become a habit work on something else, building change gradually.

Re-framing how you think

Take a non fitness resolution (because it isn’t always about weight!) ‘I want to get over my ex and for them to see me looking happy.’ 

You could re-frame this thought process to what would make you happy?  Seeing your friends more perhaps? So instead of I want to get over my ex you could say I want to go out and do something fun with my friends once a week / fortnight / month (commitment depending here).  Instead of focusing on becoming happy or getting over someone you could just commit to doing something that has the potential to make you happy and allow feeling happy and getting over them to happen naturally – all the time your still succeeding in your actual goal of getting out and socialising.  It sounds very self help book but when you start to habitually re-frame your thoughts, you start to find it easier to make changes.

I’ve made lots of changes to the way I approach things in recent years– old habits die hard admittedly but by looking at making changes in a more positive light you can create a you that you are happier with without setting a single resolution on New Years Day!