What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

Working out how to train?

Working out what to eat?

I don’t think so.

For me it’s accepting that you will never be perfect.

You decide to start something – training for an event, looking to drop a dress size, whatever it may be.  You have your plan in place and you’re committed to doing it.  Day one does well, so does day two, then day three something comes up and you can’t eat what you planned or miss a training session and suddenly it all feels like it’s unravelling.  Fast forward a week later and you’ve completely dropped your plan and feel like you need to start again.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap.

It’s why so many people don’t reach the goals they set themselves.

A lot of us are very bad at accepting that one slip up doesn’t really matter.

I’ll admit this is something I’ve always been bad for.  I’d start the week ready to have a totally perfect week and get to Friday upset with myself that it hadn’t happened.

Then I learnt (OK I had drummed into me) that PERFECT DOES NOT EXIST.

BUT.

A couple of not perfect things in an otherwise positive week won’t derail my progress.

Now, I get if you are on show prep or similar and a few days out then a slip up could make a massive difference.  But if you want to feel good on the beach in a couple of month times and go over your calorie goal one day in a week it really isn’t going to matter that much.

As people we tend to focus on the negative over the positive.  So there could be 9 great things about our week and one bad thing and you can almost bet your life we will spend more time thinking about that one negative.

So how do you get the results you want?

You accept that things don’t have to always go to plan for progress to happen.  If in a week you miss one training session but have two really good ones, those two good ones haven’t been cancelled out by missing the third.  If you’ve eaten everything you planned most days but on Tuesday had a cake, that cake hasn’t cancelled out all the nutritious stuff you’ve also fed your body.  If the last month felt really really positive but this week you’ve felt a bit off that doesn’t cancel out last month.

In the same way people say one healthy meal won’t make you slimmer or one exercise session won’t make you fit.  Well nor will the cake make you fat or missing that gym session and going to the pub mean you’re back to square one.

Find your goal. Make your plan. Then stick to it?

Nope.

How about:

Find your goal. Make your plan. Do it as best you can and when life gets in the way don’t start again just keep going and do what you can.

Not as catchy so probably won’t catch on but might mean you’re a little more likely to hit those aims.

Social Media, Mental Health and Living Your Best Life

Social Media isn’t reality, did you know that?

It feels like recently there has been a lot of acknowledgement that people tend to post a ‘best of’ of their lives of Instagram and Facebook- nights out, impressive meals, pretty hotels etc. and that can sometimes make us feel bad about our own lives; that we are perhaps not exciting enough, successful enough, interesting enough.

More people now, possibly in response to this, post more mundane / normal things on Social Media (if you want to know what I’ve eaten at any given time check my Instagram stories and there will be a not very attractive meal that may or may not have some nutritional value to it but to be honest is likely to involve cake, because I’m a fitness instructor and like to fuel my body with foods that provide it with value but I also really really like cake).  That’s good right- fewer perfect lives and more normality will make people feel less disheartened?

But actually does it?  Is my account any different from someone living their best life?  I would say my social media is reasonably warts and all, I post the days I eat the food I planned but I equally post the unplanned cake and chocolate.  I post pictures on nights or days out but my Twitter account, which is basically a tool for complaining to Northern Rail about their ever worsening service, demonstrates that my daily commute is far from glamorous and my days are simply long most of the time.  Yet even I unwittingly self ‘airbrush’ my own life.  In what ways?  Well, obviously not everything I do or eat gets posted, so I might not specifically hold back certain things and post others, but what I do post can’t totally reflect my day or who I’ve seen / spoken to or how I feel (I’m a historian by degree and we will tell you that all historical accounts are subjective so this isn’t something new with the advent of Facebook).  If I’m feeling a bit anxious or down for whatever reason I’m a lot less likely to post anything, so it’s not that I always feel OK and sarcastic as my accounts may suggest, just that my response to not feeling on top form is to withdraw a little rather than tell the world.  So even if you follow people who are pretty open and honest you still don’t see everything.

This make me sound like I’m not keen on Social Media but that isn’t the case at all.  I use many forms frequently and find the positives outweigh the negatives for me personally most days.  But nothing is cut and dry.

Social Media allows fitness professionals to talk to people openly beyond the clients in their gym and there are many excellent fitness professionals, both well known on Social Media and those only known more locally, who provide great insights to people for free.  This can potentially then encourage someone to go and seek out more advice and make huge strides in their fitness journey.  Equally, advice and posts could be misunderstood or someone could take advice that was meant for a different demographic to them and not get the results they want.  So positives yes, but we also need to be careful about what we say and promote.

Social Media can connect people who would otherwise not have met and provide opportunities to get advice and mentorship from such people and allows businesses to connect with clients on a more human level.  Equally it can cause debates and misunderstandings as people don’t know each other to understand why they have those opinions or view points because their situations are different. It often appears easier to argue with someone you never have to see and that can create an environment where people feel more able to say things they wouldn’t in person.

Social Media has opened up conversations around mental health.  Now I’m still a little dubious about this.  I like how people feel more comfortable talking about it.  I am less keen on how sometimes when people do post things about their own mental health they can be met with well meaning but not necessarily helpful reactions.  It’s tough to know whats really going on behind even the most honest of status.  I think being aware of the emotions of the people we talk to daily is a better way to show support to others.  Watching out for the signs that suggest that someone is maybe a bit stressed or anxious is possibly going to be more helpful on a realistic level.  However well meaning, we aren’t doctors or health care professionals and whilst listening to people express their feelings on Social Media can help both break down barriers and make the person in question feel heard / better understood, it also encourages us to offer advice – which might end up being helpful but equally could not be. Our feedback could end up being harmful to the person posting. Nonetheless the reduction in stigma surrounding mental health issues is a positive thing.

Social Media can help keep you motivated.  I know of many social media accounts which responsibly promote building a healthy mindset and teach hacks and systems which allow you to approach life’s challenges and which don’t try and fix whether you are ‘happy’ or not (if you are interested I can direct you to some people). Equally however there are well meaning posts that show a happy picture and a quote about only wanting to deal with positive vibes.  Those posts are probably normally quite personal to that individual and reflect what they are feeling at that moment and are not a dig at others.  Yet I sometimes feel they could have a negative effect on people who maybe at that point do not feel positive.  Because let’s acknowledge that depression means you don’t always feel positive but that this doesn’t mean you are a ‘negative’ person.  In reality we all have days when we don’t feel 100% positive and that doesn’t make us negative people.  Sometimes we don’t need to be told to be more positive we just need to be able to vent or have a rant and clear out our mind / work though our thoughts. When we post on social media we don’t always think how our words could be interpreted by others, nor can we be held responsible for how someone else takes our words of course – this is just another one of the double edged swords of the medium.

Like real life, Social Media isn’t all great and isn’t all bad – it’s messy and can be viewed differently day by day.  So in reality how we respond to anything whether it be something showing someone’s ‘best life’ or someone posting something real and honest is going to depend on how we feel ourselves that day and on any given day the same post could be viewed as inspirational and motivational or equally something which makes you feel a bit shit. That’s our internal reflection of what we see more than what is actually posted.

So yes, sometimes accounts may only show the best bits, but I think all accounts however honest and real can affect people in different ways regardless iof intention.

How do we deal with that, because for a lot of us, Social Media is a part of life and just dropping out isn’t necessarily an option we want?

Well in part I think just acknowledging that Social Media is always a life through a filter or a censored opinion – even when we think it’s totally real- it’s just not possible to be 100% real via a computer / phone or photo, even when you try. I go back to history as my example, as a historian all sources are tainted by subjectiveness – be they propaganda materials or diaries and personal testimony.  

Some people are more honest and open in how they use Social Media though so you could look to pick people to follow who match with your values and make you feel better / empowered rather than crap – people who will talk to you, respond to questions with honest answers.  If there are people on your feed on any site who make you feel rubbish you can remove them or mute them (because you may not be able to remove your mums neighbour three doors down without causing awkwardness in the supermarket).

If we choose to use Social Media for positive it can be a great addition to our life, it just needs to be something that we are aware of how it affects us and react accordingly to that. That means breaks when needed and setting boundaries that work for us (because everyone’s limit will be different).

Beyond that, I believe working on our own emotions and head space is a really important thing. How we train, eat, feel can be impacted by Social Media only so much when we are in the best place we can be at the time. How often does a post trigger you into a mood on a bad day but on a good day you’d find the same thing funny? That is why when I don’t feel so great I spend less time talking on Social Media. It is also why I haven’t just invested time and money into my physical well being but I also work with a trainer on my mindset as well – our wellness is a much more rounded package than just our bodies.

For me systems and creating habits in the real world, which help me respond differently to triggers than I used to is the key to then feeling healthy towards what I see on Social Media (and beyond).

This blog started as one thing and then sort of meandered elsewhere so apologies for the random nature of what has essentially been a mind dump on how I feel about Social Media and mental health, but as I said I have systems in place that help me process my own thoughts and sometimes this blog ends up being one of them … so here it is a very public social media style way of considering social media.

Also – sometimes we just do nice things and want to post them for people to see. So as reflective as I have been sometimes we really just had a nice holiday and want to share!

Would love to hear your thoughts – whether you agree of disagree!

After the Happy Ending

People thinking reaching their fitness goal is hard, and don’t get me wrong it is.  If you want to drop 2 or more dress sizes or lose several stone starting from nothing and doing that can be very hard indeed.  It involves making changes to your lifestyle, creating new habits and keeping doing those things week and week.

Getting to your goal feels brilliant. People will notice the change, you will feel brilliant.  But what happens after?

The challenge is that the motivation to keep to healthy habits can be strong when you keep seeing the scales go down or having to buy smaller trousers, but at some point you reach where you want to be and those visible motivators come to a halt.  Of course you still need to do all those things to maintain the goals you’ve reached but now you don’t have the initial goal to motivate you.

In my mind – the initial transformation is tough. What comes after can be tougher (it’s a bit like what happens after the Happy Ever After moment in films).  Now you don’t have the oh wow moments to give you that push.

Mentally, this can be challenging.  If you’ve ever lost a lot of weight you may have had the same (I admit not overly healthy) struggle to not just keep on going.  I got to my aim and just kept on pushing to lose more – it can almost become an addictive feeling.  Of course eventually I realised it was in no way sustainable to keep losing or stay the size I had reached and still eat cake (or well eat really) plus I had discovered weights.  But several years on i do sometimes feel in a bit of a limbo.  I don’t need to lose weight but I’m not as small as I once was and keeping yourself on track and motivated when you’re in that position isn’t always easy, in fact it takes a massive change in mindset and rethinking of your goals.

If you’ve reached your initial goal and now feel at a bit of a loose end, you’re not alone and it’s not unusual.  New goals can be formed but you also need to give yourself a break for not being sure how you feel once you have reached your goal because reaching a goal is really rarely the end of a story.

2019 So Far

Well that went quick.

Two months into 2019 already.

63 days since you set your 2019 resolutions (or better still goals). 302 days until you’ll probably set some more.

How are you getting on? Have you stuck to working towards them, reached some of them already even. Or do they seem further away than ever?

I’ve made progress. Not as quickly as I’d have liked… a failed exam, some frustrating news and a torn tendon in my knee have all set me back in one way or another in terms of where I wanted to be at the end of February, either fitness nor personal goal wise.

Yet I have made progress, I have made positive steps towards my goals, I’m nearer than I was to them two months ago and I’ve taken those set backs, gone back to the drawing board, adjusted my timescales a bit so they won’t be reasons I look back and feel like I failed.

If you don’t feel you started 2019 as you’d have liked, well we’ve only done 1/6 of the year. Plenty of time to turn things around. If it’s started well that’s 302 more opportunities to move closer to your aims. Whichever camp you fall into regularly reviewing your progress will increase your chances of ending 2019 happy with your progress.

I’m writing this on a flight to Edinburgh during some pretty windy weather so it’s a bit of a bumpy ride (excuse any typos it’s currently a bit like a ride at Alton Towers). Tomorrow I’ll spend the day reviewing my progress and working out my next steps with a group of fellow fitness professionals, as we do once a month to keep up focussed and striving for improvement.

I wrote a lot of blogs in December and January about making small changes to get closer to your fitness (or other) goal. Wherever your currently at pick one small thing to do in March and just do it.

P.s. We took off late because of a problem with paperwork at Manchester Airport- the captain just announced he took a shortcut and we made up the time and will still land early. If that’s not a metaphor for what I’ve just talked about I don’t know what is!

Things I’ve Learnt – Re-Blog

I wrote this six months ago- all still remarkably true and relevant.

  1. You aren’t perfect.

I think I’m like most people in that when I start something new I want to be 100% perfect or I feel like I’ve failed and need to start again.  But it’s impossible to never have slip ups on a long term plan.  Getting out of the cycle of deciding a whole week was a write off become of a bad day or bad meal was one of the biggest factors to starting to see results.

  1. Day 30 (or 60 or 100 or 200) is harder than day 1.

People always talk about Day 1- and in some ways Day 1 is tough, it’s the starting something new, the first step in making changes. But by the same token, Day 1 is exciting – it’s the start of something new, when you feel all positive and hopeful.  Sticking to something once the novelty wear off or once results start to slow is the real challenge.

  1. Consistency and steady progress is boring.

Everyone loves a Facebook status or Instagram post where they can show their before and after pictures demonstrating dramatic results.  Realistically though long lasting changes take time and progress isn’t always immediately apparent.

  1. The loudest people in the gym often don’t have a clue.

When I started venturing into the free weight section alone I used to feel so inferior.  All these people claiming space and equipment and confidently broadcasting their strengths and opinions on how things should be done.  I tend to assume that if someone is loud and forward with their opinion they must know their shit- and yeah, some do.  Get comfortable in the environment and take time to look and you will see however that many do not!  Go in, do your own thing with confidence and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing in terms of training or weights.

  1. You need to eat more.

I used to try and keep my calorie intake low – the bigger the calorie deficit the better.  Really, this makes you tired, makes training harder and will eventually stop you getting results.  Stick to a sensible calorie deficit and results will come and will be easier to maintain.

  1. There is no such thing as an ideal diet.

And by ideal I mean those diets you see advertised in magazines- ‘Eat all the cake and still lose weight’ ‘Drink all the Gin and still lose weight’.  We would all like that magic diet which would allow us to eat as much of our favourite foods as often as we like and still loose 10lbs per week.  Essentially, though, if you look at them, all these diets still involve some form of restriction – eat low calorie meals through the day and allow yourself cake everyday in moderation (i.e. a small slice).  You therefore have to accept that you can eat what you want within reason but if you also want to stay within a calorie allowance and hit your Macros you will need to balance that out with sensible options for other meals. I have 4 pretty strict days to allow me the freedom to have 3 pretty relaxed days and stay within my goals.  That means for 4 days a week I sometimes have to say no to things I want in return for that relaxed weekend.

  1. Some days will be shit.

Not all training sessions will be fun, not all will bring PBs, sometimes you will feel like you have made no progress.  If every session was a great session they would just be your normal sessions.  Accept that even a tough session will bring benefits to you and don’t sweat it.

  1. Rest is important

When you start it feels like you will get more results if you keep on going and do as much as you can.  Rest allows your body to recover and prevents over training though and in the long term will improve your results.

  1. You can’t do everything.

It’s tempting to try and master as many things as possible.  Realistically though unless you are naturally talented at something the chances are you will need to devote time to things to master them.  Therefore trying to win a Strongman competition whilst also training for a marathon is probably not going to work.  Pick your thing and focus on that.  I wanted to run a second marathon but with teaching classes around my full time job I had to accept that finding time to fit the training in would not be possible and as I didn’t want to take a break from teaching I put that aim on the back burner.

  1. Weight is a bad indicator of progress.

Muscle weighs more than fat, your body is full of water blah blah blah.  At first you may be able to monitor your weight- eventually you will need to go off clothes size or pictures if you don’t want to feel completely demotivated.

January 1st v. January 3rd

January 1st Dry January – no alcohol for 30 days

January 3rd I really needed a glass of wine last night after my first day back at work. Fail.

January 1st I’m not eating any chocolate ever again

January 3rd Except for all the chocolate I have left over from Christmas. Fail.

January 1st I’m going to go to the gym every day

January 3rd I haven’t actually been to the gym yet. Fail.

January 1st I’m going to get up and go for a run every morning.

January 3rd It’s very cold and dark in the morning I might just stay in bed. Fail.

January 1st I’m giving up carbs this year.

January 3rd I’m hungry I might just have some pasta. Fail.

OR

You could forget any of these all or nothing resolutions and pick one small change you could make from the following and just work successfully on that instead:

  • Have at least one alcohol free night a week
  • Twice a week replace your normal sweet treat with some fruit
  • Do 30 minutes of activity twice a week
  • Get up an hour earlier once a week and go for a walk
  • Eat two handfuls of vegetables / salad with every breakfast, lunch and dinner

Feel the Fear and Do It Anway – Reblog

On Sunday I travelled down to London to do my Aim 1 (Advanced Instructor Module) in Sh’bam.

Now I can’t dance. I closely resemble a plank of wood attempting to move to the beat (I can hear what I’m supposed to be doing and when, I just struggle to make my body do it when it comes to dancing). So whilst I’ve done the equivalent courses already in Body Pump, Body Combat, CX Worx and GRIT and also my Aim 2 in Body Pump so knew what was coming, I was really really (really really really) nervous about this one.

Added to this, for personal reasons, I wasn’t in the best head space when Sunday arrived and my confidence and concentration was at an all time low.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of what you do on an Aim but in addition to teaching and getting feedback on this particular course you also learn about (and try) various different types of dance, which- in my case- meant spending the whole day trying things I’d never tried before (ballet, contemporary, Jazz…).

I will start by confirming that, as anyone who has ever met me would expect, I did not excel in any of the movements tried. I also managed to completely forget the choreography for my track about 10 seconds in the second time I taught and pretty much fell to pieces.

I spent much of the day feeling really quite uncomfortable.

But I’m glad I did it.

We all like doing things we are good at. We never mind trying things when we are confident they are going to go really well. That’s fine because even if you’re good at something, going on courses such as these and getting feedback can still improve you.

But although I was by far the least able person in the room on this occasion it was probably one of the most valuable Aims I’ve done. Regular readers will know I hate cheesey phrases like ‘step out of your comfort zone’ but on this occasion, this is what I was forced to do. Not just occasionally but for 9 hours straight! I gave so many things a go that just didn’t feel natural or comfortable or easy- and when my attempts went wrong I tried my best to laugh it off.

I will never be a ballerina but learning how to do things that scare you is a skill that can help you in all aspects of your life, not just the gym.

So if you think your rubbish at squats and so fear approaching the squat rack just go and do it. You might still be a bit rubbish afterwards but you’ll be giving yourself a chance to improve at the same time as reducing the mental block surrounding it.

If you want to learn to do a handstand, sod what people think and just start practicing – the worry about what you will look like is normally a lot worse than any kind of response you might actually receive.

I’ll sign off by saying a massive thank you to Laura Turner for putting up with me the whole day and not laughing at my attempts to dance and also all the other Sh’bammers for their encouragement and advice!