Covid-19 Observations of a Les Mills Fitness Instructor

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

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

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

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

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

So below is the blog all over again… 

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Effects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Effects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Effects:

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

Sleep has a big impact.

More specifically – You don’t get any.

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

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

As Jo says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2020 Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren’s Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren’s Instagram

What Gym Kit Do I Need?

What should you wear to the gym? Simple answer.

Whatever you feel comfortable in.

And that answer is fine if you spend a lot of time training and know what does and doesn’t work for you.  This blog isn’t for you though.

Because that answer isn’t very helpful if you are thinking about starting some form of exercise in the New Year and really don’t know what to wear.  Then it’s just another obstacle to getting started.  I know because years ago when I was overweight and knew that I probably needed to do something not knowing what I should wear (and not feeling comfortable in a ton of lycra) was a good enough excuse to keep putting getting started off.

So here’s some tips to get started:

  • You don’t need to spend lots of new kit. If you want to and can afford it and it will make you feel more confident by all means go splurge in Victoria Secrets.  If you’re starting to dip your toe into the water you don’t need to though – go to Sports Direct or Primark and buy a couple of pairs of bottoms, a couple of tops and a couple of pairs of socks (and if youre female a couple of sports bras).  They don’t need to be any fancy materials to start, as long as you feel comfortable and can move about in them they will work to get you started.  As you get more into training and get to decide what you enjoy doing you can then invest in kit that works for that particular sport in time – right now those expensive compression running tops could be a waste of money if you find out that really you much prefer Zumba.
  • You don’t need super expensive trainers. Same as with clothes. Once you settle on a sport or area of training you may wish to invest in certain shoes (lifting shoes, dance shoes, running shoes, cycle shoes) but to start just buy a pair of trainers that are comfortable.  Think about what you are planning on doing.  If you are going to try classes out a trainer with a spin spot on the sole (a circle type mark on the sole will indicate this) can be useful as it allows you to turn on the spot (which you will do in most dance based classes but is also useful in classes such as Body Combat) – most trainers in the ‘studio’ section on a sports store website will have this.  These shoes will also work well if you plan on venturing into the gym.  If you are going to go running look for a trainer in the running section of the store / website- it doesn’t need to be expensive right now.  For cycling classes you may eventually want to be a cycle shoe you can use cleats with but until you know it’s the exercise for you just pick a trainer with a decent sole (very thin soles will make the class a little painful).
  • You don’t need to wear very fitted clothes. Of course you can if that’s what makes you feel good but don’t feel the pressure to go super skimpy lycra clad if that will make you feel self conscious. People wear all sorts of things to the gym from baggy tops to brightly coloured comic strip style leggings so whatever style will make you feel good is the style to pick and if that means covering up or wearing something loose go for it (just try and make sure it’s not so baggy it impedes safe movement / is something you risk tripping up on!)
  • You don’t need to expose lots of flesh. As above, wear what makes you feel good. Some people like wearing shorts or a crop top to train in, others people prefer to wear leggings and vest tops or long sleeve tops – it has nothing to do with how ‘fit’ people are or what their abs look like – it’s just personal preference as to what makes people feel comfortable whilst training so go as covered or uncovered as you wish.
  • Your basic kit shopping list might look something like this:

 

  • Gym bag (big enough to fit everything in)
  • A sports bra (females) and a comfortable pair of knickers / Boxers
  • Leggings or shorts
  • A comfortable, breathable top (t shirt, vest, crop top) – not something like a jumper because you’ll just be too hot
  • Socks
  • Trainers
  • Hair bobble if you have long hair
  • Water bottle
  • Small towel

Gym to Office- Gym Bag Guide

What To Pack:

  • Gym bag – Small gym bags are cute. They are also impractical for the gym to office routine and will end up frustrating you.  Pick something big enough to allow you to carry a winter outfit and boots as it’s better for it to be a bit roomier in summer than too small in winter.  It’s a plus if they have a section for trainers / wet towels.
  • Towel: Ideally a microfiber one as they take up less room, are light weight and quick drying (can also be used multiple mornings before they need washing). Most common thing to be forgotten – emergency tip: use your gym kit as a makeshift towel when this happens!
  • Shower gel, Shampoo (2 in 1 with conditioner if you can) and deodorant. miniatures are expensive and don’t last long so just take full size ones. Keep them in a toiletries bag though because a leaking shampoo bottle is never fun.
  • Other toiletries – These will depend on what’s a non negotiable in your morning routine. I’m pretty minimal which helps from both a packing and getting ready with speed point of view but you may need moisturiser, hair spray etc.  Remember though, the less you use the less you need to carry.
  • Hair brush. Maybe foldable to save space.
  • Hairdryer / straighteners. Now I don’t dry or straighten my hair as it’s naturally straight so I don’t need to.  You may have a gym that has these in the changing room anyway.  If you need to use these products and the gym doesn’t have them consider getting travel sized versions to assist with packing.
  • Underwear. Second most common thing to be forgotten.  It’s never fun going commando to work or wearing a sweaty sports bra (ladies) so just try not to!
  • Work clothes. You may or may not have a choice what you wear to work.  If you can choose go for things that don’t easily crease.
  • Make up – Pack what you need for that day and no more. It helps save time getting ready and space.
  • Shoes – Third most common thing to forget. Some pro packers I know keep a spare pair in work for such occasions!

Ten Things To Know Before Your First Class

  1. Nobody will be looking at you. You will find that everyone in classes will be focusing on themselves so you don’t need to be self conscious about what you are doing.
  2. It doesn’t matter if you have two left feet. If you are moving you will burn calories even if you go in the wrong direction or use the wrong foot first.
  3. You don’t have to do the whole class first time. If you aren’t sure you can do the whole class straight away speak to the instructor – we will be happy for you to give it a try and leave after a few tracks if that feels right for you – you can keep building up how you long you stay for over a few weeks.  Some exercise programmes have specific plans in place for this (for instance Les Mills have SMART START where you can build up how much of a class you do over a few weeks / classes)
  4. Classes tend to look more intimidating than they really are. If you look in on a class it will look like everyone is super fit and coordinated which can put some people off giving them a go.  In reality everyone works to their own fitness levels, limitations and for their own reasons so there is no set standard of fitness or ability required.
  5. There are always options. You don’t have to jump or run or do any particular exercise that you are not comfortable doing – the instructor will always give you alternatives and they will not make the class any less effective or less of a workout if you take them.
  6. Try to arrive early. Just five or ten minutes will do. That gives you time to get set up and speak to the instructor without rushing or getting stressed – this is especially important if it’s a Group Cycle class or Body Pump class (or any other class which requires equipment) as having the equipment set up right here can make the class a lot more enjoyable.
  7. Tell the instructor you are new. We try and look out for new faces but we don’t always manage to pick out everyone new in a busy class. When we know you are new to the class we can make sure you are set up, know what to expect, check for anything we might need to know to make sure we offer particular options that might help you.
  8. Class goers tend to be friendly. Everyone remembers the first class they went to and you’ll find people will be happy to help you set up or give you a hand during class if you need one and the instructor isn’t close by (still go introduce yourself to us though!). If your nervous just give someone a smile or a hello and they will more than likely start chatting.
  9. Take water. You will need it!
  10. Have fun. My favourite thing about group exercise is that an hour moving to music goes so much quicker than an hour in the gym.  Don’t worry about how good you are at what you are doing, have fun a do what you can and hopefully you’ll find that you soon see results without feeling like exercise is a chore.

Ten Things You Need To Know When Joining The Gym

  1. Nobody is judging you. We were all new once and only dicks take the piss out of new people in a gym- the rest of us take the piss out of those dicks (not new people).
  2. Most people in gyms are not experts so don’t assume what that person in the corner who looks like a pro is doing is ‘right’.
  3. There is no one way to train so don’t worry if people are doing different things to you.
  4. If you aren’t sure how to do something ask a member of gym staff. They are doing this job because they like helping people.
  5. Book in for an induction – gyms are a lot less scary when you know how the equipment works.
  6. Get a programme if your gym membership offers it- it will give you a good starting point.
  7. Try classes. They can be a great place to start if you aren’t really sure about the gym itself.
  8. Smile at people. Gym regulars tend to be a friendly bunch and we don’t think it’s weird talking to people we’ve never met in the changing rooms.
  9. If you aren’t keen on the first thing you try try something else – there will be something you enjoy and that will be the best way for you to get results.
  10. You don’t need to train every day. If you currently never exercise doing something once a week is a 100% improvement on your activity levels. You will still see results – it doesn’t have to be seven training sessions a week or nothing.