How ae you prepping for the big gym reopening?

Gyms in England reopen on 12th April (hopefully), classes can start back from 17th May (hopefully). There is hope restrictions will be largely lifted around 21st June. The rest of the UK is likely to be around about the same I’d guess. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard I need to lose my Lockdown weight before June or I need to get my fitness back ready for when gyms reopen.

To be fair many people have covered the first of those statements. Very quickly, you don’t need to be any size or shape come June. Come June you can enjoy seeing people and going places and generally not being stuck indoors whether you have stayed the same weight, put on half a stone or five stone during Lockdown. If you want to lose weight go for it, but it doesn’t need to be by the specified time.

Getting fit to return to a place where you go to get fit baffles me. Will you need to build back up to pre Lockdown weights or endurance levels if the access to equipment you have had has been limited these last few months? Of course. Does that matter? Not really, you’ll still be allowed in the gym, there are no pre requisites before you’re allowed access. Of course what we are really worried about is being judged. Turning up and being the only one feeling less fit or more out of shape than this time last year. It won’t be the case, I can almost guarantee 90% of people feel the same as you.

When I think back to last summer when I went back to teaching after several months in Lockdown. Was it tough? Hell yes. Weights felt heavy, sitting on a spin bike was less comfortable than it was, I was beetroot red at the end of classes. So was everyone else. As the instructor I had to ease back into it, all my regular class members did too. There was no judgement, either of each other or of me as an instructor. We all laughed about it, shared tips and compared progress as the weeks went on and we got into our routine again.

I’m all for building yourself back up now, I kind of don’t want to feel completely dead after my first class back when I need to teach a few hours later, so I want to start to increase my activity levels now. It’s still going to be a shock when I get back to the gym though and that is fine.

We haven’t had a choice about this enforced absence from the gym so we don’t need to make ourselves feel bad about it or put so much pressure on ourselves. Instead I’m looking forward to seeing people again, and being with them in finding it a bit tough to start with but getting through it together with my classes.

“With the limited time we have you can’t be and do everything”

“The least focused people I know aren’t those that are uninspired. The least focused people I know are those that are inspired too easily.

If every new piece of information makes you change direction you’ll never make real progress – with the limited time we have you can’t be and do everything.

The most focused people I know are those that are able to let inspiration come and go.”

Steven Barlett, Founder of Social Chain

I saw this on Linkedin recently and immediately thought this is such a great piece of advice.

Of course it relates to business, I know a lot of PTs read my blog and I know how tempting it can be to want to jump on every trend, be involved in every ‘next big thing’ and I think Social Media makes it harder to resist that urge. The downside to trying to be involved in everything is that you can end up spreading yourself too thin. Instead of doing one thing well you can end up jus doing lots of things ineffectively, confusing your client base and moving further away from your niche. It does take self control to get over that FOMO and not worry that you might be missing out, but focusing on one really good idea and not getting distracted to the detriment of that needs to be balanced with knowing when a good opportunity comes along.

Beyond business this sentiment is exactly what many people trying to find the perfect diet or fitness regime for them need to remember.

How often do you read about the current new training craze, see a new diet or new ‘rule’ that people claim has transformed them (think Peter Kay ‘I lost fifteen stone in A DAY’) and been tempted? Because right now you don’t feel great and really want to feel more in control. I think honestly, even those of us who KNOW these things are fads sometimes feel that little bit of temptation on a low confidence day where you feel like you just need to do something drastic and logic has to compete with pure blind wishful thinking. When that moment passes of course you know that the calorie tracking and sensible plan that’s bringing steady results is what you should stick with, but the advertising on that shake is appealing or the image of that fitness transformation is enticing. Sticking with something when new things come along is tough, but is what will provide better results than constantly jumping from programme to programme, PT to PT, gym to gym.

Equally another thing people in fitness are guilty of is trying to be EVERYTHING. Super lean, whilst lifting really heavy and training for a marathon and the Crossfit Open and attending twenty five classes a week whilst training to be a Yoga instructor and maintaining three full time jobs. Now there’s a few super human people out there who can probably do all this and still have time to knit hats for orphans but for most of us we are literally setting ourselves up to feel like utter failures by taking on too many things. Again the key here is accepting we can’t jump on every bandwagon. Sometimes you’ll see people posting about an achievement you may love to emulate one day but right now it’s not practical, or something you really admire but really know you don’t desire enough to commit to what would be required. That’s ok – even if you are a success in you field you don’t have to be able to do everything. The saying about Jack of all Trades, Master of None and all that. Most people who are a success in their field are a success in their field are so precisely because they have specialised in a specific area.

“With the limited time we have you can’t be and do everything

Pick what you want, work out the best way for you to achieve that and focus on that thing until you have, then you can move onto the next goal with confidence.

Me: Man Down

This week was tough. I needed to complete my February challenge of 56 miles for the month (I had 9 miles to do) and wanted to hit 100km and also run a half with my friend Hollie.

Wednesday we met to go for a 6 mile run, that day I’d not eaten nearly enough and had a busy day, including going for an ill advised lunch time 3km run. I just about managed the evening 6 miles but also completely wiped my energy levels. I spent the next two days trying to refuel and did absolutely limited amounts of activity to recover, but come Saturday it was clear I wouldn’t be able to run. I woke up and my hip and knee were so sore and stiff I was barely able to walk properly, let alone run 13 miles. Deciding to postpone I ended up sleeping a lot on Saturday and generally felt completely wiped out energy wise.

I think the improved weather today made me feel a bit more energetic. A nice long slow walk with a friend round a park made me feel less lethargic and I decided to give a little run a go to get the last couple of km I needed to reach the 100km in February mark. Four very very slow km later I completed that challenge and went home to have a long stretch. A 45 minute Les Mills Stretch class felt needed and made my hip and back feel much better than they have done the last couple of days.

So my lesson for February is I need to focus on my recovery as much as my activity lessons. I know I need to keep increasing my activity levels, that will help me greatly when we can go back to classes and I’m teaching several classes a week again. I don’t want to suddenly go to teaching after barely moving at all for months on end, as I don’t think that would be enjoyable for me Equally however, whilst I do start to increase what I’m doing I also need to make sure I’m eating enough and resting and stretching adequately to ensure I also stay in a good condition.

March is therefore another 100km challenge, a sensible calorie deficit and more mobility work. Hoping the good weather continues to make this feel easier!

So there’s February’s lesson.

Privilege and Fitness

Thin Privilege. I get the concept but I’m not totally sure I really get it.

Yes of course it’s potentially easier for a PT or fitness who is ‘thin’ and has been training for years to advise a client to do x y and z because their body and people’s reaction to them make it easier. Yes, maybe it’s easier for them to say love your body and embrace the process than it is someone starting from a different position.

But actually do we need to start referencing posts or advice with an acknowledgement that we may be different from the people the advice is aimed at? Maybe it is good to acknowledge and some readers may appreciate the self awareness but really, should only PTs themselves following a calorie deficit coach people to hit one? Should all fitness professionals only work with clients who are like them so they are not preaching to people ‘less privileged’ than they? I’d of course say not, people educate themselves, gain knowledge and experience to allow them to impart advice. If we were all limited to only things we had direct experience with that would be a loss to the industry in general.

But beyond that, fact is we are all privileged in some way or another. Things about our body, genetics, health, background, birth place, parents, education and more will naturally make us more privileged than someone else in many given situations (and of course disadvantaged in others). There will be situations in which we could say well do this that and the other and it be far easier than it would be for someone else. Case in point over the last year. Stay at home Save Lives is a far easier prospect for someone of Furlough, knowing their job is safe or able to work from home, living with family members they have a good relationship with in a nice house with a garden than someone who has lost their income, qualified for not support a lives in a flat with no outdoor space. Should people reference their social media posts with #economicprivilige?

I’m not saying that awareness is a bad thing but I that being aware and that awareness impacting your actions is a far more powerful thing than referencing awareness of something alone. Almost a case of walking the walk rather than talking the talk.

Which Camp Do You Sit In?

Recently my consumption of social media has got me back to thinking about something I touched upon in a podcast back in January.

Possibly because I follow a lot of fitness based accounts and pages I feel like there are lots of different messages out there at the moment. I mean they’ve always been out there but Lockdown and the impact of the fitness industry feels like it has made more noticeable- perhaps I’ve just got more time to notice, perhaps people are putting their messages out there more forcibly.

There are accounts pushing weight loss, accounts pushing detoxes, accounts pushing fitness transformations and the ideas around obesity and it’s connection with Covid (even Boris has said he struggled to fight it because he was fat). At the other end of the spectrum there are accounts promoting body positivity, health over size, intuitive eating. Between these two camps (if you like) some overlap in moderation between the two whilst others are firmly in one camp and critical of the other. Trigger Warning is something I’ve recently started to see on posts more frequently, with the notion that someone posting about food or training or body image in a way that disagrees with the reader in any way may trigger some terrible emotional response.

Is it any wonder people get confused about diet and fitness. When there are so many conflicting and emotive messages on a topic someone is already a little confused about anyway they muddy the water.

Personally I tend to agree with both sides of this coin. I don’t believe you should be made to feel like you need to look a certain way or be a certain size or eat a certain way. Equally however, whether you are overweight or not, if you are not happy with something and want to change it in a healthy way then you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about that and like you are betraying a body positivity movement. Much like feminism shouldn’t mean women who chose to stay at home over becoming a CEO shouldn’t be made to feel like they are betraying women kind, people who want to work towards a physical goal shouldn’t be made to feel bad.

Again, I’d say many fitness professionals would agree – it’s a balancing act. We don’t go up to people in the street and tell them they must work with us to lose weight. People come to us, they have seen our services advertised and they want the service offered. Equally, whilst many PTs these days specialise in the type of work they do, not all our clients are the same. Some may be looking to lose weight, find motivation, need encouragement to stick to workout schedules. Other clients may be the opposite and need help training sensibly or gaining weight. Advice that works for one person could potentially be damaging for another.

Of course that’s where the internet and posting about fitness gets tricky. Generally a post will have a target audience. If it’s about losing weight for instance, the writer really wants to get across the importance of reducing calories. Could someone with a potential eating disorder latch onto that advice? Maybe, in the same way that people who need to lose weight could latch onto something about intuitive eating which could be very useful to someone who needs to move away from calorie counting because it sounds appealing but in actual fact is unlikely to help them lose the weight. We always tend to manage to seek out the information that fits our agenda lets face it.

But this is the point, not everything written on social media will be for you or relate to you or be relevant to you. If you are recovering from something and know certain things could be triggering, removing those types of accounts from your feed until you are in a position to be able to read without feeling a reaction is surely a better move than the writer not writing the post (assuming here it’s a responsible, factual post). If you don’t agree with calorie counting and you are happy with your diet then don’t do it, if you find it useful, do it. Lose weight if you want to, if you don’t, don’t. I do believe that obesity is an underlying health condition that predisposes you to be more adversely affected by certain illnesses. So does smoking and drinking. Whilst I’d always encourage people to look after their health whether they want to exercise or eat a balanced diet is no more of my business as how much they drink or whether they smoke is, unless that is, they make it my business by coming to me as a client.

I also believe education is important. It is everyone’s choice to decide what to do with their body, but I’d like it to be an educated choice and there are many basic blocks of health and fitness and diet that people often do not understand, and in place have a series of myths and misconceptions about food. When people say you should eat and do what you enjoy that’s right, but what if you you enjoy is the food and lack of movement that is causing you health issues, at that point a message which is inspiring to already active people who maybe put too much pressure on themselves and need to be reminded they are enough could be damaging to someone who really does need to make changes and maybe needs more structure.

I think judgement is negative, from both sides of the coin. We need to remember that our message normally has a desired audience, an avatar, yet anyone can see it. Therefore it could potentially affect someone in a way we didn’t mean it to. I don’t think there is much we can do about that but that’s why I prefer a more measured message- a message which gets your point across without dismissing the other side. There is never one right way with diet or fitness, when people in fitness struggle with that notion it’s not hard to see how confusing that would be for consumers.

Understanding points of view other than your own and seeing their merit even if you disagree it’s automatically a bad thing or something that weakens your own standpoint.

The January Diet

January is when traditionally people go on ‘a diet’.

The word ‘Diet’ conjures up images of restriction, lettuce leaves, starving, no chocolate, cakes or sweets, cutting out carbs, cutting out fat … the list goes on.

What ‘Diet’ actually means is the sum of food consumed by a person – what we actually put in our mouth.

Some diets may be more health focused than others, some may promote weight loss and others weight gain, but we all have a ‘Diet’.

So if you were planning on starting a ‘Diet’ next week– good news- you’re already on one and have been for the last 365 days!

So actually all you need to do, if you did want to lose weight next year, is make some small improvements to that current diet.

If you have booked sessions with a trainer, signed up to a programme or plan (in person or online) then you know you will get the advice you need to do this sensibly.

If you are planning on making the changes yourself then don’t look to quick fix diets or plans that promise you a six pack in six weeks.

Work out how many calories you burn daily, take 20% off this and aim for that number of calories each day.  This will create safe and sustainable calorie deficit which will allow you to reduce body fat steadily.

You can eat whatever you want as long as you stick to that calorie allowance.  Perhaps you will want to make more sensible choices (if that makes you feel better and you find it helps keep you fuller as you reduce your calorie intake a bit) but overall the way to reduce body fat (which I am assuming is the goal here) is to consume a little less than you burn.

Overtime you might want to start fine tuning what you eat, but to start just focusing on hitting a calorie deficit is a great habit which will make a huge difference to how you feel and one small change to your diet at a time will have a longer lasting effect on your health in 2020 than any quick fix fad diet.

By the way. You don’t need to detox out Christmas – your body is pretty well equipped to do any required ‘detoxing’ and you don’t HAVE to go on a diet or lose weight next year (but I’m a PT and I know lots of people will want to so I’d rather put out sensible advice on the subject than just tell you to not feel pressure to lose weight (pretty sure you can make that decision on your own)).

What Day Is It?

The bit between Christmas and New Year. The bit where days merge into one, nobody really knows what day it is, what time the shops shut and the fridge is still full of Christmas food meaning the food coma kind of just rumbles on.

This is the week you might well feel a bit rubbish, fat, unfit and generally feel the urge to commit to a month long detox in January where you consume only lemon and water.

Of course in actual reality your body does a pretty good job of ‘detoxing’ itself and actually just eating and training in moderation will make you feel better pretty quickly and be far more enjoyable.

People tend to like extremes. A diet doesn’t work unless we go from whatever size we are to emaciated stick in three days, a training programme doesn’t work if you can’t go from couch to marathon in three sessions. If it doesn’t have a label on it that says natural, vegan friendly and detox on it it isn’t goo to be effective.

These things don’t last though. When was the last time you made a drastic New Years resolution and actually stuck to it?

You know what does last? Finding a nice little routine that works for you.

I love food. I eat a lot. No point in being restrictive – I just ricochet the other way. I also enjoy moving. Running, lifting, classes – movement makes me feel good. So I move.

I’m writing this on an exercise bike in the gym – some people here are clearly working off their Christmas. Me – I felt stiff after a few days of largely sitting and wanted to move. I didn’t need to guilt myself to coming here – I wanted to, I woke up looking forward to it.

This January find yourself something for your body and mind that will make you feel good. Doesn’t matter if there is something my else that would be more ‘effective’ for fat loss or fitness. You’ll stick to the thing you look forward to doing, the thing that you feel great after doing. You won’t stick to the thing you ‘should’ do.

Then next year when Christmas is over (and we are in tier 784) you’ll be heading off to do that thing that makes you feel good for moving and not thinking about what you can do in January to feel less like baby elephant.

Training Over Christmas

Do you plan to train over Christmas? Do you normally train over Christmas?

I like to go for a short run on Christmas Day, less for exercise purposes and more to get a bit of fresh air and loosen up my body (which is almost always stiff after sitting on trains travelling cross country) and I like to get a gym session in on Boxing Day if I can, again because it feels good to move.

Some people of course prefer do nothing over the festive period and others like to stick to their normal training routine completely.

One thing that I know can be common for people who do train habitually as part of their every day life and who chose to train in anyway over Christmas is that others can find this strange and make comment on it. That might be because they are visiting family they don’t normally stay with and who aren’t used to them making time to train, or it might be because family members feel they should instead be spending that time doing Christmassy things or that they should be taking a rest because it’s Christmas.

Throughout the year people who train often can find confused reactions from those in their life that don’t, generally overtime the people important in your life will understand you needing to take time to go to the gym each day, but like many things, this reaction can feel heightened at this time of the year (where festivities are supposed to over take everything in our order of priorities). If you don’t enjoy training it can be genuinely baffling why someone would choose to go for a run or to the gym when they have the perfect excuse not to.

The same can of course apply to your diet. I don’t mean your calorie deficit, i just mean your daily intake of food. You may for instance have decided to eat normally until Christmas Eve but if you decide to not partake in all the chocolate and Christmas foods that always appear from 1st December you can be classed as odd, boring and obsessed. It can hard for those who love Christmas foods (I count myself as one of this camp) to understand why others don’t seem to.

If you are someone who wants to train over Christmas don’t feel guilted into not doing so or bad for taking a bit of time out to move if that’s what makes you feel good. If you aren’t one of those people just know that exercise is rarely just about exercise and many people who chose to train over Christmas will be doing so because it brings about a lot more benefits than just burning a few calories, and if you let them have that hour without making them feel bad for it the rest of the day is likely to be a lot more enjoyable!

Finally – Christmas will be a lot different to normal for many this year, so if you need to train to help with whatever has happened – do!

Am I Fat?

Do I think I’m fat? Short answer no. Longer answer, no but it’s complicated.

Have I ever been fat? Yes. Do I weigh more today than I did when I was fat? Also yes. Are my clothes smaller though. Again yes. Are they bigger than they were a couple of years ago? Yes again. Have i put weight on since Lockdown? Hell yes!

I started the year teaching around 14 classes a week and training 3-5 times, maybe with a run or two thrown in. I could basically eat as i wished and not put weight on, if I wanted to lean down I’d need to track and eat more with more thought but could still eat a hell of a lot (in fact I needed to eat a lot to maintain energy). Then gyms closed and I ended up doing a bit of training at home and running more. Yes I was doing a fair bit of cardio, but obviously much less in terms of weights. This had an effect on my body. I went back to teaching in September but had to stop again in November and being in Tier 3 has meant I’m not going to get back to teaching until at least the new year. Even still training I’m doing less, but added to that I’ve found a real lack in motivation since the end of Lockdown 1. Works been busy and all I want to do is eat and not move. Doesn’t help that it’s basically dark all the time at the moment!

Result is I’m a bit more rounded. Not fat but bigger than I was. Heavier too, which makes running harder. Because moving feels harder I feel less inclined to want to do it. I bet plenty of you recognise that vicious cycle right there.

Anyway, as I said I know I’m not fat but I’ve also decided I need to reignite my passion for training so I can start to get back to where I feel comfortable (my fighting weight if you will). I hate restricting my food too much so whilst I do need to think more about my nutrition I know my movement is where I need to make the big changes personally.

Here’s the awkward thing for a PT. We want to help people feel good about their fitness, not encourage negative thoughts about weight or their body, not obsess over calories, develop negative food associations with food groups, over train, train as punishment, the list goes on. We want people to train for strength, for confidence. It would be disingenuous to suggest however, that when we feel unfit, out of shape we don’t feel as good or confident as we could. Part of our job is helping people navigate that fine line between working hard to feel good and taking things too far and it starting to have a negative impact. When the person whose fitness we are looking at in question is our own it can feel either more awkward. Do we tell people we want to work on ourselves or withhold it because we don’t want to suggest that size or weight does or should matter? Do we ignore things that do matter to us and effect our confidence in an effort to show they shouldn’t matter much?

I wrote yesterday about moderation, not taking things to extreme and I think most things in fitness can benefit from this philosophy. Let your training complement rather than take over your life, let it make you feel good about yourself. This can include feeling good with how you look, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also entirely possible to know you’re fit and healthy and not fat but still want to work on your own body. Saying you want to drop some weight doesn’t have to mean you think your fat or are being harsh on yourself or one of those people who says they are fat trying to pinch the non existent fat around their belly.

We all know where we are and where we want to be. If there is a gap between the two we are allowed to work to reduce that gap, so if you have things you would like to change you are allowed to – even if you know that what you want to change is someone else goal or ideal.

Eating Over Christmas

We often get stressed about what to eat over Christmas. Parties, drinks, meals out, mince pies and the seemingly never ending stream of food on Christmas Day itself can create a feeling of guilt and overindulgence which makes us feel fat and wretched.

When you think about it, Christmas is one day, three if you count Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Yet we often spend the whole of December muttering about how much we’ve eaten and how much we are going to need to go on a diet come January. There are various ways you can approach food over the festive season, whether you give up all pretense of eating anything that resembles a vegetable on the day you open the first door of your advent calendar or continue to strictly count every calorie berating yourself for the mince pie you accidently ate last Tuesday.

Now either of these might work for you and if you want to do them you are free to do so, we all suit different ways of eating. But there is such a thing as the middle ground.

Do you want to abstain everything you would enjoy over the month of December? Probably not, but equally even the most level headed person would probably feel some guilt over eating like an unsupervised child in a sweetshop for four weeks straight. But what about picking certain days to forget the tracking (the three big days, those days when you’ve events planned) and during the rest of the time eating normally.

Now I get to the idea of eating normally – because when I say eating as normal, that doesn’t mean not having those Christmas treats- because those treats can be part of your normal diet. Whether it be Christmas or any other time of the year having flexibility in your eating is the way you will most likely see success and find you working towards your goals.

That’s not to deny that Christmas can be a more challenging than other points of the year. Maybe you need to put some extra strategies in place to help you eat normally and not go mad. Perhaps you have a big brunch before that last minute shopping trip to avoid the need to stop and grab high calorie fast food options, perhaps you decide what days you’ll have that creamy Christmas coffee instead of your normal black coffee rather than replacing every coffee with a Christmas alternative. If you have lots of celebrations planned (less likely this year lets face it) maybe you pick some to not drink to reduce your alcohol calories of hangover food feasts. These type of tactics to help you stick to your goals can help at any point of the year though, so shouldn’t be thought of as specifically Christmas related.

So my diet message for Christmas is, think of this time of the year as no different from any other. Some days you will want to relax your focus and eat ALLL THE FOOD, but if you eat normally all the days around that you can still reach your goals. A few days a month of not eating within your calorie range will not undo everything – at any time of the year.

If you try and take away the mental association we tend to have of overeating and Christmas going hand in hand we can enjoy the festive period without feeling like we need to repent in January.