Be Kind To Yourself

What have you been doing the last couple of weeks?  Feeling super positive and bettering yourself?

I’ve spoken to lots of people who feel a little rubbish after watching other people doing all kind of things in lockdown (fun things, productive things) because they’ve just about got through the days.

Equally I know there are people out there who are pushing on with projects and trying to make the best of the situation but are finding that even after having an ‘on paper great day’ they still feel a bit rubbish and don’t know why because they are doing everything ‘right’.

Honestly, I feel like a bit of a fraud at times right now asking how others are or trying to support them if they need it, when I myself don’t feel like I’ve got it all together right now.  I don’t know if that’s me being silly or something other people are feeling too.

Then I think we all feel a little like we maybe don’t have the right to complain.

Maybe you’ve had one of these thoughts:

Struggling to work from home?  Well at least I have a job. Furloughed and in limbo / bored?  At least you’re getting some income in?  Self employed and lost your income?  You have the opportunity to still earn or look for other income streams.  Struggling with home schooling?  You have family around you and can spend time with your kids. Student, no income, education in limbo? You will still be able to get your degree and maybe be doing lectures remotely.  We should grateful.  And yes of course we should.  In the grand scheme of things staying indoors to keep safe is probably one of the easiest sacrifices a country has ever asked of it’s citizens in times of emergency.  But all of these concerns above and many more are really valid, it’s ok for us to feel stress and upset over them.

I think right now there is a pressure on anyone who admits to struggling with what is going on in their life that they should look on the bright side as they will be better off than someone.  Of course that’s true.  It’s always true not just in this situation but in general, but what is different about this situation is that we don’t really have much control over it and it all happened so suddenly it’s a lot for any of us to process and deal with.

So I think it’s important right now to go easy on yourself.  If you manage to progress your business or learn a new skill be proud of that but also know that doesn’t mean you can’t have bad days.  If you get through it by being kind to yourself and doing what needs doing then that is ok too.  If some days are good and others are bad or if you are there for people even though you don’t have the answers all of that is alright.

It’s hard at the best of times to admit in public that you might be struggling with your mental health, even now there is much more coverage.  This situation has bought mental health much more to the forefront of peoples minds but also doesn’t make it any less difficult to say when you might need a bit of support.

I’ve written and podcasted a lot about how you can work on you fitness and nutrition during this time.  For some people perhaps I myself am making them feel bad if they really don’t want to think about that right now (you don’t have to by the way but if you want to and it helps why not).

There was a lot of talk just a month ago about being kind and we need to remember to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others right now and do what you need to do to make yourself feel ok.

What Day Is It?

What day is it? Have you started to lose track a bit?

I’m still working so week v weekend still has some structure but not teaching classes means I’m a bit lost on the actual day. Normally the class I’ve taught that morning indicates the day of the week!

It becomes really hard to think of new things to write about, talk about when you stuck indoors almost all of the time.

I could talk about setting new goals or trying new things, using the time effectively, but actually as much as you might want to right now (and may even be doing so) it’s really tough.

Because yes you might have more time now.

But the other conditions in your life are different.

So you’ve been wanting to start that project and have just needed a few clear days, now you have them, but the project might have required things you can’t currently buy or going to locations you can’t currently get to.

So yes, now could be a great time to work on your side hustle or upping your game. Equally maybe those projects may have to be out on hold. That doesn’t mean your failing.

Perhaps instead there are other things you could do. These could be money making ideas but equally they could be self care things, things that do something positive for you.

Again I really didn’t know what to write about today because days are getting a bit Groundhog Day like.

But whatever you’re doing at the moment, it isn’t any less important than what anyone else is doing.

Covid-19 Observations of a Les Mills Fitness Instructor

  • Doing a class at home is a hundred times harder than teaching a class in a gym.
  • It’s also really hard to not just stop half way through a session at home and start doing random household tasks… like dusting your lightshades!
  • You may find yourself randomly looking around the room and randomly smiling at nobody as you do a class at home.
  • You’re probably already wondering if you’ll remember how to teach when gyms reopen.
  • When gyms closed you thought to yourself I’m going to have all this time to learn the new releases, I may even script.
  • Two weeks in you haven’t touched them and have realised you’ll still probably leave it until the week before to learn them.
  • Logging into a quarterly webinar and not being able to talk or be seen on camera seems weird now we are all Zoom experts.
  • You’ve listened to so many different explanations of why we can’t use the music to teach classes online you should be a PPL PRS music licencing expert but actually you still don’t really understand because Zumba don’t seem to be having the same problem.
  • You have however strangely enjoyed doing a bit of freestyle teaching or body weight training.
  • You’ve probably taken up running.
  • And if you were already a runner you’re now shocked by the number of runners you now see out each day.  Like really, I used to be able to run in my park without passing a soul now it’s like the Great Manchester Run out there!
  • You are now coming to the realisation that you can’t eat like you normally do because now you’re not always on the move.  You miss classes and members of course but secretly this is why you really want to gt back to teaching as soon as possible.
  • You’re worried your chocolate consumption may mean you won’t be able to jump when we return.
  • You’ve actually wondered if Smart Start also applies to the instructor.
  • You’re already starting to dread the DOMs you will feel after that first class back.
  • And the saddle soreness!
  • You don’t need to wear gym kit every day now but you still do. Because that’s all you own.
  • You still randomly instinctively put batteries in your basket at the supermarket and you will have a battery stockpile by the time you return to teaching.
  • Listening to other music is a revelation.
  • You miss you class members and realise that teaching is really only about the people, the rest of it is all just pointless stress if you take a step back and look logically.  In the last week before gyms closed and we knew every class could be the last for a while nobody cared if you got things wrong or your coaching wasn’t perfect, we all jut moved and enjoyed it and went for it because it served a benefit to all of us at a stressful time.  We stress far too much about silly things normally and when we return we should all remember this.

Training and Nutrition: Lockdown Edition

So here in the UK we are now coming up to a week into lockdown and a couple of weeks of concerted social distancing.  This has without a doubt had a dramatic impact on so many aspects of our lives.  I briefly did a blog on working last week but being a fitness related blog I wanted to take a moment to talk about how I’m approaching my fitness during this whole thing.

Obviously everyone will be different and depending what equipment you have at home and what your goals are how you approach your training and diet right now will vary.

For me, like a lot of people I would imagine, I have no equipment at home, very little space indoors and my garden is not really suitable for exercise (it’s all gravel) although there is a car park which I can make use of on the grounds.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to approach my training by forgetting about maintaining strength or fitness, forgetting about trying to improve in any particular way.  Instead I’m focusing on just moving and using moving in a way to feel good, stay mobile and benefit my mental health.

My general plan of action is to do a little yoga flow in the morning, go for a short run at some point to get some fresh air (literally 2- 3 km or some intervals / sprints/ pyramids) at lunch time and then do either some body weight training fro 2-30 minutes or an online class such as Les Mills On Demand in the evening.  This does mean I’m doing much less each day in terms of exercise but I am still keeping myself ticking over and feeling good.

Stretching and mobility work is going to be really important.  I’m sitting a lot more and my new set up of home working is not good for my posture so it’s vital that I stretch more often to avoid discomfort.

My real challenge is going to be my diet.

I normally walk a lot- I do 25,000 steps or so without trying a day.  Last week not only did I train a lot less but i also moved a lot less in general.  My step count was closer to 5,000 steps.

I’m therefore burning fewer calories.  So i know I’m going to need to eat less.  I can’t control not being able to go to the gym.  I can’t replicate my training at home.  I can’t move as much as normal with one opportunity to walk or run each day.  I can control how much I eat.

So I’ve tried to cut my calorie intake by around a fifth.  The first couple of days that was tough but I am moving less so I’m not lacking in energy from it.  This is the strategy I know that will stop me feeling like a potato by the end of lockdown because I’ve done much less than normal and eaten the same or even more .

So in a nutshell that’s my plan – it might evolve, maybe it will change but right now I have a strategy to help me feel like I’m drifting aimlessly or getting wound up because I cannot replicate my normal routine.

What’s your plan of action for the next few weeks?

 

 

Coming Back From Pregnancy as a Fitness Instructor: Re- Blog

I wrote this blog one year ago.  At the time I’d just written a blog about periods and teaching group exercise and it had highlighted that there are plenty of topics out there that affect lots of us but never get talked about. Talking about these things can help us, whether that be by letting us know we aren’t alone or by teaching us how other people have dealt with experiences either giving us tips or reassuring us that what we feel isn’t unusual.

As part of this I then wrote this blog in collaboration with Jo Brickell- Haggen.  This was one of the blogs (along with ones of period and smear tests) that made me really want to write about topics that are often ignored overlooked to try and encourage conversation which will hopefully help people who are experiencing the same things.

Because of this I’m really proud of this blog and one year later I thought it was a great time to republish it.  I know it’s a strange time at the moment and really the current health crisis is at the forefront of most of our minds but that doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about other aspects of life (and sometimes a break from CoronaVirus is welcome right?). 

So below is the blog all over again… 

The blog also bought to attention the numerous other changes the female body goes through that also affect how we train, how we teach classes and how we feel about our bodies.

I decided I wanted to explore this a little more, because I do believe that the first step to improving understanding on issues which are rarely spoken about is to start talking about them.  I have no personal experience in some of these changes however, and this blog has always been about my personal experiences.

So I reached out to a friend who is both a group exercise instructor and a new mother to try and understand what effects on training and teaching giving birth has had.

Jo gave birth to Jasper in October 2018.  She remained active throughout pregnancy, still teaching Pump until close to the birth and continuing to lift weights and train in Crossfit during pregnancy.  She returned to teaching last week (Pump again to begin with).

img_3078

I know from conversations throughout her pregnancy she was very realistic about getting back into training and teaching after the birth, she wasn’t expecting to be back to pre – pregnancy shape within days or weeks and was always going to approach things sensibly.  Her experiences post birth are therefore helpful in appreciating how, no matter our knowledge and realism, there are numerous effects which impact instructors returning after giving birth that we might not give a second though to.

Physical Effects:

“Your alignment is WAY out and no muscles are connecting or firing up so your joints hurt”.  Effectively a new mother has to start again in terms of movement, re-learning how to walk is a reality for some mothers.  No matter how much someone might want to get straight back to teaching within a few weeks, giving birth isn’t something your body can just bounce back from.

“When you can walk for 30 minutes and your insides don’t hurt it could be time to start to exercise again. Meanwhile all your pregnant fitness, despite training to the end, has gone because it’s taken 8 weeks for your wedding cake sized uterus to shrink down to the size of a marble again”.

Many of use have had injuries and then had to regain our fitness following some time out.  Post birth you’re adding time where you cannot train on top of recovering from the physical trauma the body goes though giving birth.

This is of course true for all new mums, but for those who need to bounce about as part of their job, the task of getting your body moving in even a basic way again must be daunting, and having the patience to allow yourself to heal when your income is dependent on you needing to move again must add an extra layer of stress for some.

Jo highlighted the core in particular as a physical challenge post birth.  Now how often do you tell your class to brace their core in the average 45 minute class?

“Training can begin. Only nothing connects. So life is banded muscle activation. Body weight. No impact. And all the core… All you want is intensity but rowing 200 m cuts you in half – literally no core”

As instructors most of us are aware of what to advise our members: check with your doctor / midwife, wait until after you 6 week check up, lower back and core will feel weak, joints are still more supple than normal so injury is still a greater risk.

I’ll be honest until I spoke to Jo about this I don’t think I realised HOW weak someone’s core could feel to them (I’ve limited experience within my classes of members who are post natal).  Every woman is different of course but I for one feel like if I have a recently post natal member in my class having a deeper understanding from someone’s real experience will help me be a better coach.

Mental Effects:

“There’s me thinking I would be teaching at 12 weeks”

Jo was sensible and listened to her body, rebuilding her fitness over time, re- adding in new skills week upon week to build up to a point she could train confidently again.

But the side that probably gets less attention (because we all tend to focus on the physical – our jobs being to train people’s bodies) is how you feel teaching post pregnancy.

“You have no brain. Your brain has been solely focused on building a new human for 40 weeks… You can’t even think straight. Why are you in this room? Who are these people? Not to mention your mini human is here and you’ve never had one before so keeping it alive is now your sole purpose… Researching EVERYTHING 24/7. You forget to eat. You can’t even get out. You have to plan 6 hours in advance to take a new born out.”

Most people, whether they have had kids or not, probably understand to a degree that having a young baby is exhausting.  I cannot imagine learning Body Pump whilst my brain felt like this.  My brain almost explodes during new release time anyway so the pressure of learning and retaining chorey at a time when you don’t feel mentally sharp anyway must be exceptionally tough.

“Then there’s the…. I hate my body. It hurts. I look shit. I’m not me. I’m a human incubator that will never be me again depression”. 

I discussed in my recent post about periods that feeling of standing in front of people wen you are on your period and that yucky feeling that makes you want to fade into the background – not have 30 sets of eyes on you (someone described it well as feeling exposed).  Again here, this is another time when even once you feel fit enough to teach you also have to re- find the confidence to lead despite not feeling confident at all.

Practical Effects:

Apart from who will look after the baby whilst you train, prepare to teach (even teach in the early months before child care is arranged!)

Sleep has a big impact.

More specifically – You don’t get any.

“No rest in the day.  No rest at the night.  So you’re always under fatigue.  So classses seem daunting … and you can’t remember any choreo”

I don’t want to pain a negative picture of training or teaching after giving birth, personally I felt like Jo took to motherhood like a duck to water and nailed it!

As Jo says:

“Train at home . Order food to be delivered online. Join a gym to take baby with you. Gather your support network. Express milk so you can rest and partner feed. Take one hour everyday away from your baby. Plan your meals. Have a routine. Be consistent. And most importantly TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS”

This plan meant that when Jo came back to teaching she loved it and felt great about it, so it’s not all doom and gloom at all, but by understanding the stresses and emotions surrounding training and teaching in the months after giving birth we make the fitness community more supportive and inclusive and allow us to also potentially understand our members better.  We can also understand so help to provide support to those who may not necessarily seem like they need much encouragement.

img_3079

There is so much more that could be written in relation to periods, pregnancy and post pregnancy and our understanding of these effects (beyond the standard what modification can I give to a pregnant lady in Pump understanding).  I’m also aware that there are PTs who specialise in pre and postnatal training and some PTs who understand the effect of the menstrual cycle extremely well on training.

What you don’t see very often is discussions of the real effects of these natural physical processes- both physical and mental.  How they affect the more mundane aspects of training or teaching.

We can all rectify that. By talking about experiences we can empower others, both showing them they are not alone in feeling a certain way and also by educating each other in a way that we might be able to better understand both our fellow instructors and also female members.

Thank you to Jo Brickell- Haggan for providing the content for this blog and allowing me to share her honest experiences so freely.

img_3081

6 Tips for Working From Home

Following the PMs briefing last Monday lots of people started working from home. I’m still working in the office at the moment (on a very skeleton staff, most staff are at home) but am all set up ready to work at home should I need to.

I’ve never worked at home before so I thought I’d get some advice from someone who does often split their time between home and an office (because they know what both are like so can provide good advice for someone used to an office suddenly changing to working from home life). So I got some tips from Zoe Cumberpatch who is a Geologist and due to her role at the University works in a variety of locations all over the world!

I’ve not had to put any of these tips into practice yet but as lots of people I know have I thought it could be useful to outline the advice now in the hope some of it helps!

1) Plan in plenty of extra time for everything.

It takes a lot longer to do your everyday tasks and you also need to get used to new equipment and using different systems and procedures to get things done. When you’re busy this is frustrating so over estimate how long tasks will take so you don’t end up feeling ‘behind’


2) Make sure you have adequate food and resources but not overstocked.

Snacks are good – forever grazing because you’re now closer to your kitchen won’t make you feel good long term.

3) Separate sleep, eat, exercise, social and work as much as possible

Different rooms for each if possible but if not could be different outfits for different parts of your day, whatever it takes. Getting showered and dressed to go to work will help you mentally ‘clock in’. Zoe said she actually puts make up on for their virtual ‘work social’ so still feels like getting ready to go out – these rituals can help you get in the correct frame of mind for the part of the day you’re in. Given that we won’t be going out much even after work this is vital for our mindset and letting us focus in work time but then switch off after.


4) Fresh air and light (open windows and curtains) is sooooo important

I mean it is normally anyway but whilst we are more tied to our homes than we are used to these things will do a lot to improve mood and help keep you alert.

5) Water is also key.

If you are like us you’ll be in good habits of drinking water in the office but have less of a habit in place at home. Transferring those habits to home life is now essential..

6) Take breaks

It’s easy to feel guilty about not being in the office and so skips breaks or work longer. Short regular breaks have been proven to sharpen the brain and improve your productivity – as a rule a quick stretch or walk to get a glass of water every half an hour will help keep your productive.

It’s important we all make the circumstances work for us as well as possible right now and I’m hoping that these tips will help me if I need to work from home and in the mean time that they can help you.

Thank you to Zoe for giving me her advice and allowing me to share it to help others.

Corona – Mental Health

Avoided it as long as possible but it seems impossible not to write something about the CoronaVirus, Covid-19 if you want to sound posh about it. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing stuff at work in preparation for this point (multi let building etc) but up until late this week it all felt a little OTT.

I honestly have no idea what I think, so many conflicting opinions of my own let alone other peoples. On the one hand I think well it’s flu – most of us may not even realise if we get it so I see some elements of the panic as dramatic, it’s not the plague. Yet I also understand if I get it and pass it to someone more vulnerable this is very different so we should all follow the advice of hygiene – this is not new advice of course it’s how we normally stop the spread of germs.

What does make me nervous is people’s reactions – there aren’t any food shortages,, let’s be clear about that. The reason you can buy paracetamol, pasta, eggs, rice, loo roll – that isn’t because CoronaVirus has depleted our supplies, it’s because people are panic buying for no reason. Yes if you need to self isolate having two weeks of food in is a good idea but how much do you normally use in two weeks? You don’t need more than that, and bear in mind if your self isolating it is probably because you are showing signs of illness so will you be as hungry anyway? Plus what do you’re eating – unless you actually enjoy spam (I won’t lie I’m partial to a bit, it reminds me of my great nan and sandwiches at her flat as a kid) why buy it? What would you normally buy for a two week shop? Have that it, maybe a couple of tins of soup or beans in case fresh stuff goes off towards the back end of two weeks. Really it’s not the apocalypse, it just feels like it because we’re all hoarding like dicks. If the government put us into a form of lockdown supermarkets will remain open as will chemists. You notice how in no country so far on lockdown anyone has been told survive on what you stockpiled it starve? People can leave their house to shop and even go to the bank (yeah don’t think you’re getting away without having to pay the bills). So be prepared a bit more than normal fine but this isn’t the last shop you’ll ever do- you will be able to go shopping next week too. In fact by this mass hoarding we are just hurting our fellow humans. All that spam or economy beans you’ll never actually eat, well for some people that’s their normal shopping because that’s all they can afford – and you my friend have just taken the whole stock of it to put in your cupboard never to be eaten, whilst those people can’t afford to but the more expensive tins left on the shelf. Well done huh.

We don’t know what will happen or how long until it starts to die down and settle, we could have to get used to a different way of living for a while. What I’m pretty sure of is that how we look after each other – strangers not just those closest to you, is what will make or break us during those months.

So this all got me thinking about mental health. Two strands.

On the one hand I’m actually most nervous about my own head if I do need to self isolate. I suffer from depression and it’s under control but two weeks or more without social interaction as I live alone would be a massive challenge to that. I don’t do well cooped up and if my insight into the outside world is the current media I’m not sure how I’ll cope. I don’t think I’ll be the only person thinking this.

The second strand of my thinking is regarding anxiety.

The panic buying. I’ve spoke negatively about it above, but I do understand it’s a way of processing anxiety about an unknown threat to life as you know it. It is illogical, but anxiety is illogical.

The reporting of this in the media makes people worry that they should also stockpile, it creates a new anxiety amongst others than what if they stockpilers turn out to be right. I won’t lie I checked my cupboard to see what I had in. The never ending debating and what ifs and news programmes discussing various options for what could happen do not help settle any anxiety, nor does what I and wondering could today be the day something changes.

I read a quote which was interesting. People with existing anxiety seem to be coping better with this. I don’t know how true this is, I see some cases of this (myself included I think we really need to be practical here even if that is hard) and some where this definitely use to the case.

What I do think is true is that most of us who have some form of anxiety are more familiar with coping techniques and also more able to remind ourselves that the worst case scenario in our heads isn’t necessarily the truth. That’s a lot harder when the whole nation seems to think the same worst case scenario mind.

There’s no way of knowing what will happen. People are rightly worried about income, physical and mental health and a change to our daily lives. Limbo is a horrid place to be and you end up feeling helpless.

Right now we can control what we can control

– We can wash our hands, wipe down tables and gym kits

– We can self isolate if get the symptoms to reduce the spread

– We can listen to supermarkets, think of others and not panic buy

– We can check in on people who are worried or self isolating or maybe a bit older and less able to go out and do their own shopping

– We can support our employers by following their policies as they are also going to be under a lot of financial strain during this

– We can follow any rules imposed calmly as public unrest won’t make any situation better (old enough to remember the riots?)

I can’t claim to know anymore than anyone else, these are just my thoughts but if anyone does need an ear to vent to my door is open.