When is a calorie deficit not a calorie deficit?

When is a calorie deficit not a calorie deficit?

You might be surprised at how often people say to PTs, I’m barely eating anything and still not losing weight or I’m in a calorie deficit but nothing is happening.

This is when the idea that it must be your metabolism, carbs, the time you’re eating or the lack of random expensive magic juice in your diet that is stopping the weight loss.

Now I’m reality, on the odd week it might simply be water retention, not having a poo recently, your period or hormones affecting your weight.

But if your weight is consistently not coming down week on week even if you are in a calorie deficit here’s the reason for the scale not going down.

You aren’t actually in a calorie deficit.

– Are you actually tracking and if you are are you including EVERYTHING (sauces, coffees, left overs). You need to honest with yourself here.

– Are you consistently in a deficit. If you are Monday to Friday but waaay over calories on the weekend you probably aren’t actually in a real deficit.

– Maybe you are being honest about what you’re eating but overestimating how much your burning each day.

If this is the case you could try dropping your calories by a small amount each day (250 calories to start) and seeing what happens, you might need to drop a bit further but by bit until you start to see movement.

If you are in a calorie deficit consistently you will overtime drop weight so if you aren’t seeing progress you are not in a calorie deficit. Good news here – now you know that’s the issue you can work to change it.

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.

Training when ill

I’ve got a cold, I started to feel a bit run down Friday and Saturday morning my nose felt blocked up. I went out for a run Saturday lunchtime and by the time I got home I felt rough and spent the day on the sofa. Sunday I felt better but decided not to train instead going out for lunch but by the time I got home I knew it was man down, a full blown cold had hit. It’s not a total shock, I’ve had a bust and stressful few weeks and actually said a few times recently that I knew I was doing too much and was making myself sick. The fact of the matter is when we get stressed and over work ourselves we are more susceptible to picking up colds etc.

Once ill, people who train regularly often find it hard not to train when they are ill, even if rest may actually be more beneficial for them, I used to be the same, although now I’m a lot better at listening to my body and taking a break to recover.

So, should you train when ill?

It’s generally recommended that mild to moderate activity is usually OK if you have a cold (with no fever). In fact, exercise may even help you feel better in the short term, opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving congestion.

If your symptoms are all above the neck generally it’s considered safe to train. Symptoms above the neck include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and sore throats. You may still want to think about reducing the intensity and length of your workout, so maybe going for a walk instead of a run for example, or if you do want to run reducing the distance and going at a slower pace.

If symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, a hacking cough, an upset stomach, muscle ache) it is however recommended that you do not exercise and instead rest until the symptoms subside.

A Fever should make exercise a hard no, raising your body temperature further if you already have a fever, will not aid recovery and could make you feel worse, so if you show any signs of fever sit out of any exercise until your temperature is back to normal.

Of course you shouldn’t exercise with or around other people if you have any type of contagious illnesses, although if you feel OK you could always do a gentle home workout.

Exercise can help boost your body’s natural defenses against illness and infection, and regular moderate exercise 3-4 times a week (for around 30 minutes) has been shown to have numerous benefits to a person’s health.

It’s worth remembering though overtraining can actually lower immunity. That means if you are training intensely every day with no rest days, de load weeks or structure (i.e. you’re constantly trying to get a PB every session) you are not only at greater risk of injury but also may find yourself catching colds more often (group exercise instructors doing multiple classes a week you may also find yourself in the group!).

So ultimately, training when ill (as long as it not chest or fever based) won’t hurt if you feel well enough to do so, but resting and letting your body recover may well be more beneficial. For many of us exercise is as much for our mental health as physical and taking a break can make you feel a bit rubbish anyway, so when you already feel bad because you’re ill it’s even harder. Having said that, in order to be as healthy as we can we need to think, not only about actual training, but also how we look after our bodies overall, and sickness is in an indication that our body isn’t currently running at 100%, meaning taking time to look after it rather than trying to push through may actually be something to consider.

Training in Heat

It’s been quite hot the last week and this week it’s set to get hotter with weather warmings and the like. So let’s talk training in heat.

Now schools are being advised to consider letting kids run about in the sun, closing early and so on, but children are more susceptible to struggling in the heat so as adults we really don’t need to avoid training during hot weather. If you’re fit and healthy enough to train anyway the heat, whilst uncomfortable, isn’t going to suddenly make training ridiculously dangerous.

There are of course things you can do to be sensible and look after yourself, ensure you don’t overheat, avoid heat stroke, don’t get dehydrated and quite frankly make training more pleasant.

You might like to train earlier or later in the day when it’s cooler or even switch outdoor sessions to indoor where you can enjoy air conditioning making things a bit cooler. If you are outdoors running or cycling wearing lighter colours, kit with tech that helps absorb sweat might help, and of course make sure you’ve plenty of suncream on.

Hydration is key at anytime but particularly when it’s hot making sure you drink plenty of water is going to be key when exercising (and not exercising folks) to counteract any increased risk of dehydration.

You may want to moderate your expectations for sessions – if the heat affects your energy levels, accepting that you may need to reduce intensity a bit or take a few more or longer breaks will help you complete a session without being annoyed with yourself. To be fair, nows a great time to start learning this lesson if it’s something you struggle with. Our bodies will at various times just have a little less to give, and on those days, whether you be tired, hot, run down or stressed, adjusting your effort levels and intensity and accepting that some days feel better than others can be a key step to training without being yourself up.

But beyond being mindful that it might be wise to take a few precautions when you aren’t used to the heat we don’t need to avoid training or going to the gym.

In fact, for generally healthy people, it’s been shown that training in hot conditions can actually be beneficial to your fitness.

Whilst it might feel harder to train in heat training in the warm weather encourages your body to sweat more (keeping you cool), increases your blood-plasma volume (benefiting cardiovascular fitness), and lowers your core body temperature. These things are all beneficial to helping you perform better in any weather.

When you add heat to exercise, you increases the stress load on your body. This stress can play a role in current and future performance. For example, as a runner you might find you have an easier time at a race if your body is already used to adapting to and training through different conditions. More than that there can be mental benefits to training in heat, from an increased sense of achievement of getting through a tough session and also feeling more capable of getting through future challenging workouts.

So the upshot is if you would normally train don’t let the upcoming weather put you off, just take some precautions to look after yourself and stay safe.

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.

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.

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.

Mental Health Awareness and Loneliness

You may have seen already that this week of Mental Health Awareness Week and there will be plenty of people sharing their own experiences with their mental health struggles, raising awareness of the struggles many people face on a daily basis, as well as lots of practical advice.

As ever, however, there is a specific theme to the week and this year it’s loneliness and how this can affect people’s Mental Health, so, to keep with the theme, I wanted to focus this blog on this particular topic in the fitness arena.

Exercise is accepted as being good for our mental health, but if you don’t currently do much in the way of exercise it may seem like exercise is often a pretty solitary pursuit. The first instinct for most of us when we think exercise is going to the gym or maybe for a run, things where it’s going to be you doing something alone. The idea of training with other people if your new to exercise can also seem pretty intimidating, even just going to the gym when it’s busy can feel like a lot. So it’s not surprising that for many people struggling with their mental health and feeling isolated and lonely, the idea that exercise could help not only with their mood but also with meeting people, seems a bit of a stretch.

When I first started exercising I persuaded a friend to come to a Zumba class with me because quite frankly I was overweight, unfit and no way was I going alone. I loved it, she hated it. As much as it made me feel unreasonably nervous I went back for class two by myself and then class three, class four and so on. Over time I tried more classes: Body Jam (ironically now the first Les Mills class I tried and one now I couldn’t do well if my life depended on it), Circuits, Street Dance, Body Combat, HIIT and Body Pump. I started seeing the same faces each week, started saying hi (always having a spot helps here!) and over time met people, many of whom are still friends to this day. In fact some of my best friends I met through classes. As much as attending classes involves only me and I don’t need anyone with me to attend it’s certainly led to me meeting a lot of people and realising gyms can be very much a community.

So if you are feeling isolated, maybe you’re in a new area or life has changed recently and you’ve found yourself with time on your hands and fewer people you feel connected with, exercise can be something that provides more than just an endorphin boost.

Now, granted training in the gym isn’t always the easiest way of meeting people. If you’re lifting or on a piece of cardio kit you won’t naturally meet new people (although you might start to see the same faces if you go at regular times and again get to know those people, but there are plenty of other options which lend themselves a little more to widening your social circle.

– Group exercise classes allow you to keep to yourself but you will see the same faces every week so getting to know people organically is much easier

– Group PT / Small group training, much like classes will mean you end up training with the same people each week, and will involved more interaction, making it easier to get to know new people. This can also be a more cost effective way of trying PT sessions.

– Lessons. Do you want to learn to swim better or dance or try another skill. Signing up for lessons in something active is another way of meeting people who you have an interest in common with, which is great if your nervous about small talk!

– Joining a sports team can be a great way of enjoying training whilst also getting to know new people, there will often be team socials to help you get to know your team mates away from the pitch.

– Running clubs, much like sports teams, often have social events planned as well as runs, meaning you can run at your pace then meet people after.

-Cross Fit, a bit like group exercise, if you join a box you’ll often find you see the same people each week, making it easier to get to know new people.

– Online apps, as much as these seem a bit anti social, you will often find online PTs also have a social media group for their clients. Whilst not immediately a face to face option for meeting people these can allow you to connect with similar people and many people find people they connect with and can chat with even if they are miles away in groups such as this.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can help your Mental Health with exercise whilst also connecting with new people, which in itself can also benefit your Mental Health.

You can read more about the official campaign, including downloading some resources for specific populations below.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

Run Forest Run

I used to run a lot, I’ve only done one marathon but I’ve done a lot of half marathons and 10Ks in recent years.  Now I was never massively fast (I’d definitely describe myself as the tortoise rather than the hare) but I could complete 5km within 25 minutes, 10km within an hour and so on so was comfortable signing up for runs and knowing I’d get around in one piece.

During the initial Lockdown when gyms were closed I ran most days and so was in a pretty good place running wise.  Repeated Lockdowns, back and forth changes, injuries and personal issues just made me stop running for a while.  Added to not being able to train at all, weight gain and general not feeling 100% my running ability is not where it was.  I hadn’t run as much as 5km unbroken for a long time and the addition of more than 10kg of bodyweight in a short period of time made running for ten minutes plus really hard work.

I’ve signed up for a half marathon in May so now is the time that I need to get myself back to a point where it’s doable to run 13.1 miles.  I’ve started running short periods (like 15/20 minutes) unbroken and last weekend ran 5km without walking.  It took me about 38 minutes, but this weekend I got that down to 36 minutes.  I’ve been meaning to try Park Run to help keep up a routine of running but my times have been putting me off.  Realistically I know they’ll be other people running at my pace but my brain keeps telling me I’ll be last and so I keep chickening out.

The  thing is if I was talking to a client I’d be reassuring them that they can do it, they won’t find themselves last and even if they did it wouldn’t matter and I’d mean it, but we’re always harsher towards ourselves aren’t we.

So this weekend I’m going to make myself go and give Park Run a go with the aim of doing it in less than 36 minutes.  At no point am I under any illusion that this half marathon is going to be easy but I’m determined to get myself to the point where I can do it and run the whole thing.  Zero ego, I might be slow and the next month or so will not be pretty but I know I’ll feel good if I get myself to this point.