Virtual Reality

Last month I went to visit my friend who has always been into technology and she had recently bought a Virtual Reality headset and one of the things you can do on the headset is a virtual Les Mills Body Combat and I gave it a go.

Now it’s not doing Body Combat in the normal sense, you don’t do a full class and it’s not to the music in the traditional way and of course is largely punching as virtual reality kicking isn’t quite yet a thing.

What it is however is actually pretty addictive, once you have the headset on it feels very real and you can feel the objects coming towards you as if they were real. The classes are pretty short, the beginner / practice ones are as short as 5 -10 minutes, also the headset means your movement can feel a little clunky and you can’t really jump about. However you can really get into it and get a bit of a sweat on just because of how immersive it can feel.

Overall, with the technology as it is, it is still probably more of a novelty activity rather than a full on exercise regime, however if you aren’t currently doing that much exercise it can get you moving and is motivating enough that you might actually want to do it every day.

It is of course expensive, I’m not sure how many people at the moment could afford the headset, remotes and subscription but as the technology progresses I’m sure it will become more affordable.

In terms of Les Mills it’s clear Body Combat lends itself to the new technology although to make it more fitness and less experience both the headset would need to be lighter and they would need to work out how to incorporate more lower body into the workouts. What I’m not sure of is how they could lend the technology to the other programmes – Body Step potentially if they developed a Virtual Reality Step but that would add to people’s cost but beyond that I’m not sure. Whether that will affect Les Mills decision to continue to invest in the technology will be interesting as there is certainly potential and it would potentially encourage a whole other demographic of people to move more. That being said they have invested a lot in the Trip, which also requires a big investment by gyms so they may well decide to stay in for the long run with it.

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

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.

How to get started with Les Mills Body Pump

  1. You don’t need to start heavy. I mean you want to use challenging weights for you to get the most from the class but that doesn’t mean matching regulars plate for plate in class one, it’s about lifting what you can and seeing how you progress, so don’t be put off by looking through the window and seeing lots of people lifting more than you think you can.
  2. If you can get to the class at least 10 minutes before you will have a more enjoyable experience as you will be able to get set up without rushing, including time for that last minute nervous wee!
  3. Say hi to the instructor. Tell us you are new to Pump and we will help you get set up and make sure you’re ok during the class.
  4. As a general rule you will need: a bar, clips, a variety of weight plates, a step and a mat every release. The only things you actually need to bring with you are some water and perhaps a towel.
  5. It’s ok to be confused at first. There’s lots of moves you may not have heard of or done before, the beat can be fast and we have pretty short changeovers between tracks. Your instructor won’t mind (or call you out) if you take a bit longer to grab some water and change your weights or don’t quite get things straight away – all of us have felt that first class confusion!
  6. There is a thing called Smart Start. If you get to the back track (track 4) and you have done as much as you can that’s ok – you can leave (no need to put equipment away the instructor will do it at the end of the class). Just give the instructor a nod or a wave so we know you are ok and then next time try and stay for one extra track until you feel ok doing the whole class.
  7. Alternatives are there for a reason. If we say you can drop the weight if you’re struggling we really mean it. Doing the moves well in a modified position will bring greater results than trying to do a move with a heavy weight but poor form.
  8. The music is a huge part of Body Pump. Not only does singing along help you power through a workout but the tempos we use allow us to work our muscles in different ways across the class, so when the instructor tells you to slow down or encourages you to follow their rhythm they aren’t just an OCD maniac – they’re trying to maximise your results!
  9. You will feel it the next day. You do a lot of reps in a Pump class so don’t worry if DOMs hit the next day – it does get easier over time.
  10. It’s a fun class. Don’t feel nervous about starting, turn up, smile, do what you can and enjoy the music whilst giving something challenging a go.

Your First Group Cycle Class

Group Cycle, often known as spin. There are other variations such as Les Millls RPM too. One of the most inclusive classes in a gym. Also the one that in my experience people are most scared to try. I can see why- it looks tough (for good reason – it is) and everyone looks like they know what they’re doing (they don’t, honest) and it looks technical (you have to set up a bike – this was my biggest fear at first).

So if you’ve ever wondered about trying a class but aren’t sure if it’s for you here’s the low down (from my perspective) for first timers on how to get the most out of the class.

  • Everyone is welcome- all fitness levels. Yes it will be hard but you really can go at your own pace
  • Every instructor’s class is different. So if you don’t like mine try someone elses – there will be a style you like / format you enjoy / class with music you love out there- shop around! I sometimes teach rides where we work along to the music other times I teach HIIT style tabatta, some people do races and competitions. I won’t be offended if you try my class then I see you at someone elses next week!
  • One thing to note, trade marked classes such as Les Mills RPM will be similar in every gym / with every instructor. They are pre- choreographed and so you will always get the same format – even if you go to a class in a different country. This really suits some people, especially if you like routine.
  • Get there 10 minutes early and say hi to the instructor. Tell them you are new, tell them you are nervous. They will be nice, they will look out for you and they will show you how to set up your bike.
  • There will normally be modifications or different levels you can work at and the instructor will always offer these different options throughout the class- take the ones that suit you. Never tell yourself you are doing the easy option. They are just different and people take different options for all sorts of different reasons.
  • Put some resistance on the bike – going too light sounds like a good idea (especially when you feel like you are going to die half way through!) but it will mean you bounce – this will hurt your bottom, believe me. After my first class I walked like a cowboy for a week.
  • Always make sure your feet are strapped in – loose straps are dangerous. Dangerous is bad.
  • There is normally a brake on the resistance button. Normally by pressing down on it you can stop the feet dead. It’s useful to remember just in case! The instructor will tell you about the bike if you introduce yourself at the start.
  • Don’t be afraid to add resistance when asked to. If you add too much you can always take it off. You’re there to get fitter – challenging yourself is the way to do this. Noone will laugh if you get stuck!
  • Take water – you will sweat, you will get thirsty.
  • Maybe take a towel- I refer you back to the sweat!
  • Taking recoveries is fine. You are meant to work hard- if you push so hard you need to take a moment then well done. The instructor won’t shout at you – just sit on the bike, keep the legs spinning and come back in when you are ready.
  • When you are new it can seem like everyone else is faster and fitter than you. Remember they may have been doing this a long time and have conditioned themselves to last the full class. They will not have been like that in their first class so don’t beat yourself up. Try your best, try and enjoy it and just focus on giving your best effort. Nobody is there to compete with anyone else so just work at a level right for you. Nobody is going to judge you.
  • Cycle classes are meant to be hard- the great thing is as you get fitter you can go faster and at a heavier resistance so it stays effective and never gets to the point it feels ‘easy’
  • Above all Group exercise is meant to be fun so relax and smile – the music and other people make it more interesting than just sitting on a bike in the gym!

DOMS

If you’re new to training and have just joined a gym you might be experiencing a little muscle soreness after your workouts right now. We call this Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS and it’s nothing to worry about, it’s your bodies reaction o doing something new. Here’s a few things to remember:

  1. DOMS are temporary — depending on how intense they are you will feel OK again in about two to four days without having to do anything (if you don’t feel better by then it might be an injury).
  2. Make sure you warm-up and cool-down. Making sure your muscles are prepared for exercise and safely recover from physical stress can help reduce the likelihood of DOMs (they won’t guarantee you won’t get them though).
  3. Build up the intensity of your training slowly. If you’re brand new to any type of training and don’t build up your weights / distance etc. your body will react more dramatically to the stress (plus you increase the risk of injury).
  4. If you’re suffering from DOMs try gently massaging the area affected (tip getting a deep tissue massage will not make you feel less sore!). Likewise using a foam roller to gently roll out your sore muscles may help.
  5. Keep moving whilst you have DOMs. Not really intense exercise, allow your muscles to recover – but getting the blood flowing and muscles moving (walking, easy biking, swimming) can help you feel better.
  6. Drink lots of water – drinking water makes everything feel better!

Toxic Diet Culture?

Today I saw a post referring to calorie counting / losing weight (dieting) as toxic.

Toxic!

In 2022 can we please stop referring to anything we don’t personally like as toxic? Because whilst calorie counting may not be right for everyone that doesn’t mean it’s toxic. same with weight loss.

Now, quick caveat, there are people for whom calorie counting isn’t a good idea, it can indeed for some become obsessive and be damaging. For those people yes calorie counting is not to be encouraged.

But for many calorie counting is the most simple straight forward, cost effective and practical way of creating a calorie deficit – which if you want to lose weight – is what you need to achieve.

So let’s reframe the notion that calorie counting is toxic. Calorie counting is simply a method of tracking energy intake which for some people will work well but whom for some may not be beneficial.

Swimming is a very good way to exercise. Except not for me, because I can’t swim. Does that mean swimming is toxic and a bad way to train, because it doesn’t suit me? Pretty sure everyone reading said no in their head just then.

Very few things in life are in themselves toxic, our relationship with something may well be toxic, that doesn’t mean it is also toxic for everyone else.

Diets get a bad rap, because traditionally they’ve been seen as restrictive and not sustainable. That’s really not the case these days. Most coaches will encourage sensible calorie deficits and won’t suggest you cut out food groups or stop eating your favourite foods.

Diets are just using a bit more energy than you consume each day to create a physical change in your body. Unless you’re doing that to please someone other than you it is not toxic.

Certain things might be a bit triggering to us personally, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically toxic, I think it’s a bit unhelpful to ourselves not to recognise that, as it puts all the responsibility for our reactions onto society, when in reality we can’t control what other people say or do so we have to instead look to control how we chose to react to it.