What should you look for in a PT?

What should you look for in a PT?

There’s lots of ways you can work with a PT now: one on one, small group, online programming, apps. Beyond cost, what do you look for when deciding who to go to?

Maybe it’s location, if you want to train in person that will be a big factor; but it could also be their specialisms, experience, how fit they look, how comfortable they make you feel, the recommendation from people you trust or their client testimonials.

All of these things are valid reasons, ultimately you’re picking someone to work with based on things that are important and relevant to you is key, and here’s where I think the most important factor in looking for someone to work with comes in.

Do they get ‘you’. Specifically can they understand your pain points, identify how they affect your fitness and help you work around them?

We all have some sort of pain points, whether you think it or not, Some may be more obvious than others.

If you deal with depression or anxiety, that’s going to have an effect on how you train. Shift worker, busy mum, student; all these things can affect your training and diet.

Whether your issue is with fitting in gym sessions in the first place, struggling to focus during sessions, struggling to pluck up the courage to go to the gym or anything else in between; what you want is a PT who can understand that issue and help you with that.

Because in reality getting a gym plan is useful. Having someone tell you what to do in the gym gives you focus. A good PT will programme your sessions to incorporate progression and work specifically towards your goals.

All of that is useless though if it doesn’t work around your pain points. A good coach doesn’t just give you the right exercises for you, they understand the obstacles you face and look at how you can overcome them. That has an effect on what they have you do.

That doesn’t mean they have to have lived your experience, of course that can help but it’s not essential, but they need to be willing to listen, pin point the issues their clients faced and think about how to incorporate solutions into workouts.

If you struggle to stick to workouts or get results, a plan and a coach who can help you work around yourself and the things that keep tripping you up might make a difference. It might not make fitness feel easy but it might make a difference to your results.

Weight Loss & Diets … Dirty Words

My latest podcast all about diets and losing weight … how we view it in society and on social media these days and why it’s still ok to want to lose weight along with a bit about why you might be finding it tough to actually reduce the number in the scales

https://anchor.fm/heather-sherwood/episodes/Diets-and-Weight-Loss–Dirty-Words-e1nm3r7

Things that affect weight loss

Our weight can be affected by lots of things and being aware of the things in our life that might have an impact can be helpful, for instance:

  1. Sleep – When you are tired you not only have less energy to move but are also more likely to eat more in an effort to feel more energetic.  Lack of sleep can also have an impact on your hormones and this too can affect your appetite and cause you to eat more than you need.
  2. Stress- The more stressed we are the more our cortisol levels increase which has shown to cause weight to be stored around our midsection more easily. Feeling like you are constantly in a state of flight or fight can also affect our hormones and affect our weight.
  3. Age- Our metabolism does slow with age and so (especially for women around menopause where estrogen levels start to decrease) it can feel like it’s harder to maintain our weight as we get older.  This is probably heightened by the fact that weight distribution can also change as we age (so we start to notice new ‘problem’ areas we’d never noticed before).
  4. Hydration Levels – Dehydration affects our body functioning properly and can affect amongst other things digestion.  Some people will also confuse thirst with hunger, so whilst the old ‘you’re not hungry drink a glass of water’ saying may feel like outdated diet twaddle, if you haven’t drank much that day but have eaten recently you may indeed actually be thirsty.
  5. Genes- Yes how and where we gain weight is affected by genes and also family background, how we were taught to approach food , our families eating habits and so on will likely subconsciously affect how we think about food now and may be the source of some of our misconceptions about diets and certain food groups.
  6. Medication – Everyone reacts differently to medications but for some weight gain can be a side effect from taking medication long term. That may be because they cause carb cravings, water retention, affect your metabolism, increase appetite (some medications do the opposite and supress your appetite).  Some medical conditions themselves can have an effect on your weight, be it through appetite changes or being less able to exercise / move, and thyroid conditions for instance have a direct effect on your weight away from food and movement.

All of these things can affect our weight and how easily we might find it to lose weight, of course this is just a selection of a variety of circumstances and factors that can play a part.

But whilst it’s good to be aware of these things (and beyond weight reducing stress, sleeping more, drinking more water are going to have a positive effect on us) let’s not forget that they alone are unlikely (medical conditions aside) to be the sole reason you aren’t losing weight. 

If you are eating more calories than you are burning a day that is the reason you are not losing (or even gaining) weight. Your medication might be making it harder, stress and lack of sleep may not be helping,  but these things are great things to review either for the other benefits they bring or as additional considerations AFTER you have established whether your energy in versus energy out is where it should be.

Think of it like trying to ice a cake before it’s cooked.  You need to get the absolute basics (calories) right before looking into the minute (lifestyle factors, macros, whether your Deadlift on a Monday or Friday) aspects of your life for the results to turn out as you’d like.

Food v Exercise

I don’t know about you but I find it so much harder to keep my nutrition in check compared to training.

People always seem to think that the training is the hardest and most important part of a weight loss goal.  In reality though exercise forms a small part of your daily energy expenditure (even if you train everyday) and as it is a calorie deficit that results in weight loss it stands to reason that your energy intake is likely to be a bigger variable each day than expenditure is and therefore more likely to negatively affect weight loss.

Plus in reality, once you get into a habit training regularly isn’t actually that hard.. If you can find something you enjoy doing it will be less hard work getting the training in and more a part of your day you look forward to.

Food on the other hand can be tricky. Trying to eat a balanced diet, stay within a calorie goal and still eat foods you enjoy often enough you don’t end up on a crazy binge is tough.  There are far more variables to contend with here and we often have a more emotional relationship with food, which adds to the challenge.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that although I feel like my training is getting back to a more consistent state and I feel better for that, my nutrition feels much less in check.

For the last few weeks I’ve focused on the training side and let myself feel more comfortable with my routine, this week I’m going to focus on what I’m eating.

To do this I’m trying to eat higher protein and to my calories each day, not trying to go super low with calories, so that  I end up getting really hungry and eating a horse (and by horse I mean whole cake).  Instead I’m trying to plan in tasty meals and snacks which won’t leave me hungry so I have less urge to grab additional higher calorie snacks.

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.

Have you tried eating less food?

Have you seen the latest suggestions from various Government Ministers for how people could survive the current cost of living crisis that people across the UK have been facing.

People could work more hours perhaps (because if you already work two jobs or 40 hour plus a week you have lots of extra hours to spare).

Maybe you could look for a better paid job (because we all normally try to work in the lowest possible job we can find of course).

Perhaps people could swap to supermarket’s basic brands to reduce the cost of their weekly shop (because no person on a budget has ever thought of doing that already).

The most perplexing was Bois’s flex that he was responsible for free bus travel for pensioners (because riding the bus all day means you don’t need to switch the heating on at home).

My point here isn’t that the current Government is so out of touch it’s not even funny, it’s that sometimes, even though advice may be factually correct it’s not actually very helpful to the average person. The average person who is stretched financially now is very likely to already be working as many hours at the highest pay rate as they can and probably shopping in the most economical way possible. It’s not these efforts that are the issue it’s that costs are rising higher that wages and people are feeling the squeeze on their money after bills.

The same can be said for some diet advice out there.

Think about your average magazine headline or ‘lose weight without trying’ fitness post on Instagram.

Swap sugar out for sweetener in your coffee, take the stairs instead of lift each day, increase your daily step count by 20%. Little changes like that can make a difference and help you lose weight almost without noticing, but only if you don’t already do them.

If you currently have 3 sugars in your tea that small change is going to reduce your daily calories, so is swapping from a milky coffee to a black coffee. If you don’t do much exercise upping your NEAT will help you see results. What about those people though, that already drink black coffee sans sugar, train 3-5 time a week and walk around 20,000 steps a day. It has to be acknowledged that sometimes there aren’t little easy wins out there for everyone and sometimes the changes needed to help someone see some results are a bit more complicated than anything the Tories have thus far managed to come up with for our finances.

That’s not to say that once you reach a certain point you can’t get further results of course, just that the idea of making little cut backs here and there in calories or adding in a little bit of extra exercise isn’t going to be appropriate for everyone. If you are already training every day and your NEAT is high trying to do more is possibly going to be detrimental in terms of overtraining, stress and impacting your life. If you are already in a calorie deficit very day reducing your calorie intake further is likely to be both impractical and misery inducing. At this point you need to speak with a PT or nutritionist and get an action plan that’s specific to you.

There’s lots of generic advice out there that assumes a starting point of nothing, and if you are just starting out it can be helpful, but you need to remember that not every tip and piece of advice will be beneficial or right for you. Have you tried eating less food is not going to be the advice every person looking to lose weight needs.

What type of PT do you need?

If you follow a lot of fitness people on social media (and to be honest if you read this blog you probably do unless your one of my friends and I made you follow it!) you’ll notice they fall broadly into a couple of camps.

Camp one – people saying drink this, do this, take this and you’ll get results like me. These are the ones doing ‘what I eat in a day’ ‘How I train’ ‘I can’t live without this’ sort of posts

Camp two- people calling those in camp one out and saying ‘don’t fall into the trap of believing the hype, editing, filtering that these PTs post’ and ‘there are no quick fixes or magic formulas’.

I guess I fall into camp two as do most of the PTs I know, but I don’t want to over simplify things, because it’s not always a simple as that’s ridiculous don’t follow that advice.

So for instance, a PT or coaching programe that states that Intermittent Fasting is THE solution to weight loss, and if you sign up and follow our diet and training plan you’ll be 2 stone lighter in three months. The magic ingredient here is you are only going to eat between 11 am and 7 pm so you won’t be having breakfast, we’ll also make some small ‘tweaks’ to what you eat right now. I’d say this a camp one type PT – one method, one size fits all and will get you results. Now let’s be fair. If 10 people all signed up, all followed it completely to the letter they’d probably all lose weight, and to be fair they’d also do so quite safely. Why would that be the case though? Well because they all cut out breakfast, made a few small adjustments to lunch, dinner and snacks and so reduced the amount of calories they consumed. The magic ingredient here was an eating window which meant they ate less each day, a rule that stopped them eating more because they followed it. They could have achieved the same results eating at whatever time they wanted but just counting calories. Equally if they had stuck to the window but not cut out breakfast or made any tweaks they wouldn’t have lost weight, because the eating window wasn’t the magic ingredient their energy balance was. The camp one PT isn’t bad or dangerous here and they may well be getting their clients results, they just aren’t educating them, so if Intermittent Fasting doesn’t actually suit that person and they can’t sustain it long term they are more likely to end up back where they started. This is the same argument I’d make about Slimming Clubs.

Much the same can be said about other ‘tips and tricks’ people post to ‘help people get results’.

‘I drink hot water and lemon every morning upon rising and have abs because it curbs hunger and helps melt away fat as well as detoxing your body.’ – Now having water upon rising will help hydrate you after several hours asleep, it can help wake you up, adds a bit of natural flavour to the water and it has been said water and lemon can aid digestion. I like to start my day with this, but not because I think it will make me thinner, it’s a part of my morning routine that helps me start the day feeling relaxed an alert and means I’ve had at least a little water before I start on the coffee. The PT claiming doing this will help you get abs is bullshitting you and neglecting to tell yo about the very low calorie diet, genetics and training that also contribute to those abs. Again it isn’t a lie, I’m sure they incorporate this as part of their routine but it isn’t the truth either is it.

‘Here’s what I eat in a day’. Great. I mean nothing wrong with giving people food ideas, I might see that salad and think oooh that looks tasty I might try and make that. But what you eat in a day, no matter how great you look, does not help me. Are you the same height and weight as me, with the same activity levels? Nope? Then what you eat isn’t going to be appropriate to me because I need to eat differing amounts. It doesn’t harm me to see what you eat, but it doesn’t help me reach my goal. It could make me feel bad though!

You’d recommend these Supplements would you? Great, they could benefit you, I mean I certainly do take supplements myself and there are some supplements that selections of the population could generally benefit from. You know what the word supplement means though right? Extra. So yes you could buy that supplement and you might feel some benefits. he supplement will not get you the results though if the rest of your diet isn’t working for you.

My point here is, none of these posts or types of actions you see from some PTs are wrong or bad for you or from a bad place but they fail to acknowledge the overall function of a positive diet for weight loss or any other goal.

One method of eating isn’t intrinsically better than all others, one supplement or habit won’t change your life in isolation. What Bob down the road or Sam on the internet did won’t automatically work for you in the same way it did for them. When you see dramatic testimonials from people remember that, yes they probably did do that plan, but they also probably found themselves in the right mindset with the determination to work really hard to get results at that point. In other words had they joined a different plan at that time they may well have also got the same results, because that was the time they were ready to commit to making a change. That’s not knocking any coaches. The coaching and support and tools need to be there for people to use and get the results, I’m just saying the chances are the people who went from the love handles before pic to the six pack after pic probably weren’t reluctantly dragged onto the program, did the bare minimum and still saw those results, they were probably the ones who’d decided it was time to make a commitment to see change and went all in.

Camp one PTs always appeal to people because they make things look simple, make one small change and that’s it and I’ll get you the body you want. What if I told you you could eat whatever you want but take this shake as well and you’ll be three sizes smaller by Christmas. I mean if it were true we’d all be up for that. Camp two PTs are a bit duller, honesty is much less of a big seller and the idea that actually you will need to create a few new habits, lose a few old ones, change your eating habits and exercise is just not as appealing as drinking a glass of lemon and hot water first thing each day.

Generally though, whatever a camp one PT says on their posts online if you sign up to their program you’ll probably find a fair few hidden changes you need to make that a camp two PT will just upfront honestly tell you to make, in fact the type of changes they’ll probably tell you to make in free content online. The value from a camp two type PT comes from the support to make those changes, the education to help you understand those changes and the overall understanding that there is no one size fits all solution and whilst Intermittent fasting might work really well for Gary it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Susan so she’s going to be using MyFitnessPal whereas Jane isn’t looking to lose weight at all so she’s not even looking at calories or eating windows but we are looking at how much fruit and veg she eats in a day.

That’s where the two camps differ really in my opinion. A good PT should be able to help YOU. If they promote one type of way of training, eating or living they are helping one type of person, probably someone like them and if you aren’t like them will they be able to help you reach your potential? The type of PT that can listen to you, your goals and your needs and work out what will work best for you and help you set realistic goals and timeframes is much more likely to help you be successful and enjoy the process.

Weekends and Weight Loss

Happy Friday. As we’re heading into the weekend you’ll no doubt see a lot of posts on Instagram about how a weekend binge will ruin any progress with your diet.

Now at face value this is true. Let’s say you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to be in a 20% calorie deficit and you have stuck to this every day so far this week. Then tomorrow you go out for brunch, then have a takeaway and a few (well maybe more than a few) drinks, including some hefty on the calorie cocktails and eat 4,000 calories and then Sunday feeling a bit worse for wear you have a Fry Up and lots of stodge to soak it up and manage to consume another let’s say 3,500 calories. All those Instagram posts are correct. You’ve eaten 3,500 calories more than your goal. Your deficit goal for the week was 3,500 calories (20% of 2,500 leaves you eating 2,000 calories a day). You’ve just eaten that deficit over the weekend, so yes instead of losing weight that week you’re likely to maintain your current status quo. Not ideal if you are wanting to lose weight.

Yes, to combat this you could just not eat and drink like an utter dick all weekend. You manage to eat homecooked meals that contain the odd vegetable Monday- Friday and not five Espresso Martinis in two hours and you an stick to a nice bowl of yoghurt and fruit for breakfast instead of a stack of pancakes. You could, theoretically do this Saturday and Sunday too right. I mean if you really want results it will be worth it right? And you an decide this works for you. Maybe routine and having the same sorts of food food every day of the week and not eating more one day and less the next suits you, in which case crack on.

But let’s be honest, for those of us who work Monday to Friday it’s easier to reign in the urge to eat like a five year old let loose in a sweet shop because for large amounts of the time we are busy and so sticking to ‘better choices’ is naturally easier. The weekend is when we want to see friends and family, socialise, eat, drink and live. We don’t want to restrict ourselves and so that’s why it’s always ‘do the weekends ruin our diet’ articles you see as opposed to ‘are hump day Wednesdays making you fat’. If we are honest and realistic is just telling people to eat better on the weekend going to stop them eating more? Is suggesting that they substitute rice from broccoli rice so they can feel like they’re joining in or putting their burger between two slices of lettuce instead of a bun going to help (I have such an issue with foods masquerading as other foods but that’s by the by)?

But your body doesn’t start at zero every day. You know how people say one bad day of food won’t make you fat or one salad won’t make you lose 6 stone, our body responds to what we do over a period of time. So your 2,000 calories doesn’t have to reset every morning. So say you actually look at it as 2,000 x 7 = 14,000 calories a week. You naturally easily eat less Monday- Friday so say you eat 1,700 calories each day, except for Friday when you had a couple of biscuits at work and had 1,800. You’ve had 8,600 calories, that leaves you 5,400 for the next two days. Now that still isn’t a fuck it I can go crazy here amount of calories. But that’s say a relaxed 3,000 on Saturday for a big Saturday meal (with maybe some swaps on the booze swapping cocktails for Prosecco to lower the calories- a swap i can get behind!) and 2,400 on Sunday for a decent amount of stodge t clear up the hangover.

That’s a solution that is both not letting your weekend ruin your diet but also not letting your diet ruin your weekend. It isn’t saying sod it and throwing calories counting out the window but it is allowing your diet to fit around your lifestyle. So yes, a crazy cheat weekend will ruin your dieting progress but a plan that allows you to fit those weekends into it can certainly exist.

A Fitness Blog – Where’s the Exercise Posts?

This is a fitness blog and I’m a PT and group exercise instructor so my main job is very much training focused / related. Yet this blog and a vast majority of the online coaching I do is very much nutrition and mindset based.

Here’s why.

You know when you think about getting fit you think the actual exercises you do, how many reps, training splits, the amount of weight lifted, the ratio or cardio to strength training – all that jazz – is going to be the most important part of getting results? Well, it’s not that it isn’t important it’s just not as important as you think it is.

If you are already very fit and active and you want to improve in one specific area or you have a very specific goal to train for then the details of your training will matter much more, if you want to work on doing a pull up, doing legs every day won’t help much.

If you’re starting to get more active, want to drop weight, improve your health, feel better in yourself, then the actual specifics of what you do are going to be more based what you enjoy and what you feel comfortable doing right now. In my mind, what’s the point of trying to force people to do an ‘ideal’ training plan if they hate it, are too nervous to go into that area of the gym yet, haven’t quite got to grips with the movement patterns? Would some modified moves and a more simplified program that helps them gain confidence be a better starting point? of course. If someone prefers classes or using resistance machines over free weights and incorporating those things mean they train then why wouldn’t we incorporate them?

If you’re meant to do a legs session, a push session and a pull session a week and one day you really cannot face doing legs but you’d be up for a second push session then, you know what, the world won’t end and you won’t end up some weird uneven specimen for it.

Basically training has so many benefits and it’s an important element of our fitness and health but it doesn’t need to be over thought or cause dramatic stress. Whilst I think it’s useful to encourage people to do it via blogs, detail adds only so much value.

Secondly with training most people is simple. If it’s a live PT you do what the PT says (with various levels of moaning), away from sessions when given a training plan (or if it’s online training) people tend to follow the plan as given. You say do squats, they’ll squat.

Nutrition advice, not so much. For the majority of us, food is so much more emotive. Whilst training certainly acts as an anchor and stress reliever for many it doesn’t tend to have the same emotional pull as food does. So when you say to someone here’s a training plan it’s generally not questioned. Talking about calorie deficits, not needing to cut out food groups, the importance of actually eating carbs, why it’s ok to have chocolate, why ‘clean foods’ don’t really exist. These are concepts so intricately engrained into our culture that push back is much more likely with the nutrition side of things.

Same with mindset, even if someone accepts what you say about food or say the importance of resting when injured rather than pushing through, it’s much harder to act on it and go against ingrained instincts.

So it’s not that training is easy to do or not important, it’s that once you get started doing something – anything – it’s often the most straightforward unemotive part of health and fitness. You soon start to see benefits beyond the physical and form habits. It’s that diet and motivation and mindset around health is a much more challenging area for the majority of people, whether that be people new to fitness or very experience people (PTs have to convince people not to train some days a lot more than you might think).

For this reason the topics I choose to write about are often diet and mindset based because they are the areas where I think people often need reminders and support and clear information to help make informed decision with regards to their fitness. When I do write about training I try to keep it to posts that will be useful to people, what to expect from classes, at the gym, what to pack in a gym bag and so on – practical things that might help someone train, because if they’re already training and don’t want to pay for a PT or coach they’re probably happy enough with what they’re doing and I’m not sure how useful a bunch of generic training sessions would be.