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.

Trying Group Exercise

Have you ever wanted to try an exercise class but been too nervous? Maybe you think you’re not fit enough or the opposite and it will be too easy. Will you be coordinated enough? Will you be able to keep up? What if everyone else knows what to do?

Classes are how I started exercising and I remember the nerves I felt going to my first class. A few classes later I loved it, over time I tried more and more different types of classes and found a confidence to train that led to me becoming a group exercise instructor myself.

What people don’t realise about classes is that they can be pretty much whatever you want them to be. Yes, you are training in a group and doing the same thing as everyone else, but you also always have the opportunity to approach the class as best suits you. If you want to go as hard as possible and push yourself you can do, equally if you want to train for the mood boost, enjoyment, to feel good or even just take a break from life you can use the class for that. As instructors we are there to push people of course, but we know that people train for many different reasons and can tailor how we teach you to that effect. We know that because we also train for lots of different reasons, depending on the day, our mood, our energy levels.

The other thing to know about classes is they are a great chance to meet new people. You won’t be made to talk to people, you can keep yourself to yourself, but you will over time get to recognise people and get to know them. Classes are friendly environments where we all tend to chat before and after and you can get to know people from a wide range of backgrounds, and make some really great friends too. Above all, they are a lot more welcoming than you might at first imagine.

You can be super fit or brand new to exercise and you will be able to do a class. You can make them part of an existing training regime or just do classes, you can take things at your own pace and build up and there are always alternatives to exercises available for whatever reason you need.

Finally, I think it’s also good to recognise that there are lots of different ways to train. Some will tell you that you shouldn’t be doing classes, they are a waste of time, weights only would be better and so on. The truth is though that each individual will find the best results with different types of training, different combinations, routines, amount of training. Doing what works for someone else won’t necessarily get you the results. So if you think classes might motivate you, if the style of training or working in a group or to music does motivate you then ignore those people and do what you can and will stick with. Like me you may find that other time you mix other training in with classes or you may find you don’t, if you’re moving and happy with what you’re doing that doesn’t really matter.

Ways to help your mental health

Some of my favourite things to do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve my mental health and help manage depression and anxiety that might also help you:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed (with caution) or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when I eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better than turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Hardest one on this list for me! Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself fell more positive.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hard to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do an hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxed by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

Back to Basics

As I’ve written recently I’m looking at going back to basics to get back into a routine.

Over the last week my training has been more consistent, my NEAT has been decent and I’m drinking plenty of water and nailing a few other habits. There’s two things I’ve struggled with though have been my nutrition and getting up in the morning.

I’ve not eaten terribly but I’ve not eaten what I’ve planned and as such have ended up going over my calorie goal. The reason? Stress.

It’s been a stressful week, work and personal stuff combined has meant I’ve been anxious at times and just generally strung out at others, feeling a bit like I was never going to fit everything into each day.

I wish I was one of those people who lost their appetite under stress. I am however a person who turns to sugar instead. Between snacking on sweet stuff and then opting to not eat the nice balanced meals I’d prepared and instead eat more carb based high calorie meals has meant that my nutrition just hasn’t gone to plan.

In reaction to this though I’m not going to do anything drastic. I’ve got food planned for the coming week and I’m hoping for a quieter week so I won’t be as tempted to reach for a high sugar stress release.

The key here I think is to not beat yourself out when the week doesn’t quite go to plan, not react by going on some drastic campaign to make up for it and just focus on starting again the next day.

So I’m taking the same approach to my mornings too. Last week I snoozed my alarm a lot, this week I’m reverting back to a cheap old school alarm in the next room so I have to get up to turn it off. A few bad mornings last week don’t need to define the coming week and other than trying to make a few small adjustments to improve my morning routine I don’t need to do anything crazy.

Dear Diary

I’ve been a bit of a cross road recently.

I’m not where I was fitness or physique wise pre Covid. I’ve written about this a little in previous blogs and I’m not kicking myself over it, but at the same time it’s really hard.

Honestly, pre Covid I thought I was out of shape. I felt like I wanted to lose a few pounds and up my training. Since then though, well. Obviously Lockdown hit and gyms closed, then I went back to teaching but my 14 classes a week became five which meant I was just moving a lot less (but eating the same because, well, I like food). I started taking antidepressants again (including some new medication with which weight gain is pretty common), which have always affected my weight. My dad became ill and mentally holding down both a job and a teaching schedule wasn’t what I needed so I took a break from teaching which meant I was moving way less. Then, a couple of days after he passed away I ended up with second degree burns across both legs (long story) which meant I couldn’t walk for a while and then couldn’t train. So overall I ended last summer about 10kg heavier than before, barely able to run and being able to lift around 50% of what I could.

The hardest thing I found was my own pride. I felt like, as a fitness instructor I should a) have not got myself to this point and b) should be able to just spring back. But I couldn’t, I didn’t want to do any quick fixes or fads, cut foods out or go on and all out mad period where the only thing in my life was training. I tried to be sensible, eat a little bit of everything, train at the level I was at and just build up. I tried to do it quietly, slowly and steadily, but I’ve been frustrated with progress and feel like I’m two steps forward, three steps back. I felt like I couldn’t talk openly about the struggle I felt because it wouldn’t send the right message out or sound positive enough, because of that I’ve held back from trying certain things for fear of looking weak as a fit pro and because of all this I’ve kind of ended up with limited structure and a feeling that I’m not really getting anywhere.

Of course I don’t actually have anywhere I ‘have’ to be. I don’t need to be a certain weight or size (although I can’t really afford a whole new wardrobe so being my old dress size would be useful!), I don’t have to lift a certain amount or run a certain speed and I’m fit enough to teach my classes so I could in theory just be as I am. Except I don’t feel good where I am, I feel less confident and less in love with my body (I did like the way my body looked – like honestly, I looked good naked!), I am signed up for a half marathon in a few months and right now I really don’t know if I can do it, and the idea of doing 100kg deadlift is currently laughable. So I want to lose weight, I want to feel fitter, I want to lift more because I know these things will make me feel better in my skin, stronger, more confident. I want to be at the start line of my half marathon and be excited not filled with dread.

So I’ve decided I need to separate current me from fit pro me a little bit. I know what I need to do and what others could d to progress, I have the knowledge and me currently being in a bit of a slump doesn’t mean I’m rubbish at my job. Equally, knowing alone won’t help me fix where I am right now, so I need to lose any ego and be a beginner, let myself struggle at something, fail in the gym and if people want to judge me, let them. My aim is by October (my birthday) I want to be at a size / shape and fitness level I’m happy with, where I’m confident and love going to the gym again, so running plan is in place, lifting in the gym starts now and eating less like an unsupervised kid in a candy store begins here.