Training in Heat

It’s been quite hot the last week and this week it’s set to get hotter with weather warmings and the like. So let’s talk training in heat.

Now schools are being advised to consider letting kids run about in the sun, closing early and so on, but children are more susceptible to struggling in the heat so as adults we really don’t need to avoid training during hot weather. If you’re fit and healthy enough to train anyway the heat, whilst uncomfortable, isn’t going to suddenly make training ridiculously dangerous.

There are of course things you can do to be sensible and look after yourself, ensure you don’t overheat, avoid heat stroke, don’t get dehydrated and quite frankly make training more pleasant.

You might like to train earlier or later in the day when it’s cooler or even switch outdoor sessions to indoor where you can enjoy air conditioning making things a bit cooler. If you are outdoors running or cycling wearing lighter colours, kit with tech that helps absorb sweat might help, and of course make sure you’ve plenty of suncream on.

Hydration is key at anytime but particularly when it’s hot making sure you drink plenty of water is going to be key when exercising (and not exercising folks) to counteract any increased risk of dehydration.

You may want to moderate your expectations for sessions – if the heat affects your energy levels, accepting that you may need to reduce intensity a bit or take a few more or longer breaks will help you complete a session without being annoyed with yourself. To be fair, nows a great time to start learning this lesson if it’s something you struggle with. Our bodies will at various times just have a little less to give, and on those days, whether you be tired, hot, run down or stressed, adjusting your effort levels and intensity and accepting that some days feel better than others can be a key step to training without being yourself up.

But beyond being mindful that it might be wise to take a few precautions when you aren’t used to the heat we don’t need to avoid training or going to the gym.

In fact, for generally healthy people, it’s been shown that training in hot conditions can actually be beneficial to your fitness.

Whilst it might feel harder to train in heat training in the warm weather encourages your body to sweat more (keeping you cool), increases your blood-plasma volume (benefiting cardiovascular fitness), and lowers your core body temperature. These things are all beneficial to helping you perform better in any weather.

When you add heat to exercise, you increases the stress load on your body. This stress can play a role in current and future performance. For example, as a runner you might find you have an easier time at a race if your body is already used to adapting to and training through different conditions. More than that there can be mental benefits to training in heat, from an increased sense of achievement of getting through a tough session and also feeling more capable of getting through future challenging workouts.

So the upshot is if you would normally train don’t let the upcoming weather put you off, just take some precautions to look after yourself and stay safe.

Why do people do this?

There’s lots of things I think you can see both sides of in both life and fitness and plenty of things you see within gyms which you might do differently but are still perfectly valid and can work for that person.

What I will never get in gyms is why people think it’s ok to judge other people and make unsolicited comment to them on that opinion.

Generally speaking, most of us would be upset if someone commented that we looked a bit bigger or smaller or had lost a bit of definition. Even the most confident person in a gym can go through periods they feel a little out of shape and having someone highlight it to them doesn’t really help. Realistically, even people who thrive off dissatisfaction cues or challenge as motivation comments about weight, shape and size can be unhelpful.

It occurred to me whilst writing that this might conflict a little with my last post, but I’m not talking about genuine concern for clients or patients that may arise, more the general opinions we have of other gym goers that are simply nothing to do with us.

As a general rule, unless the person has started a discussion about their body or is seeing you in some form of professional capacity where their health / body is the topic, keeping you opinions in your head is generally the best thing to do. You might have great advice about how you think they could grow those glutes, flatten their stomach, tone their arms whatever, but the confidence you’ll give them with that advice is unlikely to outweigh how they will feel when you point out things they were already a bit paranoid about anyway!

Day 1

There’s always so much hype about ‘Day 1’.

You start a diet or a gym regime and people praise the ‘Day 1’ posts. Of course Day 1 is tough, starting anything can be daunting and finding the motivation to start is a positive which should be cheered.

Day 1 is also shiny, new and novel enough to actually be easy though. Those first few meals, gym sessions, days of change have a novelty to them that can help you stick to it.

It gets tougher as the days go by. As people perhaps stop asking how it’s going, as you have long days or challenging days and want to revert back to comfortable habits to make yourself feel better, it becomes harder to stick to your new habits and actions.

It’s not just that. In the early days and weeks results will likely come quick and fast. Depending on how much weight you have to lose you might find the pounds drop off quickly at first. If you are just starting lifting or running you might find the PBs come thick and fast for a while.

As the weeks and months go on and you establish your new habits, those results will slow. This is natural, but it’s also challenging for your motivation, as it gets harder to see progress it also becomes harder to stick to things when times get tough.

Day 1 is tough, starting is tough, but I think staying with it and never having another ‘Day 1’ again is far more challenging and yet also the ultimate goal. Fitness will always be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, peaks and being less at your peak, we don’t need to have a ‘day 1’ every time we have a down though, we just need to keep going with a healthy habits.

Cookie Cutters

The absolute worst thing you can do if you feel  bit rubbish and want to lose weight / drop a dress size / get fitter / run a marathon is find someone on Instagram who has done the same and try and copy what they do / did.  It might be really tempting when you see someone who has reached a goal you aspire to, to think if you do exactly the same you’ll reach exactly the same outcome. There are two things to bear in mind here.

  1. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you.  That person is highly unlikely to have started from the same point as you, have the same job, family life, outlook on life, taste in foods as you, enjoy the same exercise as you, have the same fitness level.  There are so many variables that affect our ability to stick with a plan when it comes to training and food, no wonder results will vary from person to person. This is why following a cookie cutter plan will generally only works for a handful of people – you end up trying to fit your life into someone else’s template, instead of fitting your fitness plan around your actual life, likes and dislikes.
  2. Someone who posts or offers advice with no fitness training or qualifications is literally offering you advice based on their own experience (see point one as to why that is problematic). What you also need to remember about this is you are very possibly only seeing part of their story. Example, someone posts a before and after of themselves and you think wow, I want to see that transformation and they did it by eating in a 20% deficit and strength training three times a week in a year so I’ll do that and get the same results. Often what happens is they don’t see the same results and beat themselves up. What that person might not have disclosed though, is that before they started to eating in a sensible deficit and training in a sensible structured way they actually went through a period of drastic calorie cutting, massively over training and other unhealthy habits.  Whilst it’s great that they are now in a much healthier place, their physique will be a result of both the healthy and unhealthy habits, makes sense then, that in doing the same you might not get the same results?

Ultimately, any PT will tell you there isn’t one way of doing anything and that is why when you’re stuck working with a PT instead of listening to that bloke in the gym or that influencer on social media will result in a far more realistic and sustainable action plan for you and help you get the best results for you.

Everything you need to know before you try Les Mills Body Combat

One of the classes I’m qualified to teach is Les Mills Body Combat. This was the class that made me want to become an instructor so I really enjoy teaching it and always encourage gym members to give it a go when it’s on the timetable.

I do get that it can be a bit intimidating for new people the first time they come to class. The moves are fast and the terminology can be confusing! But it’s also great fun and punching a kicking the days frustrations away can be incredibly satisfying!

If you are thinking about trying a class for the first time but are nervous and unsure of what to expect here’s a few things that I hope will help ease those uncertainties and allow you to have a great first experience:

  • It might sound obvious but tell the instructor you are new at the start- it will help you feel relaxed and they will be able to make sure you’re ok throughout the class and will make sure you have a good first experience.
  • There are three formats of the class- an hour class (all 10 tracks so sometimes it will be shorter as the length of a track can vary depending on intensity), a 45 minute class and a 30 minute class. The tracks in the shorter (express) versions are selected to still ensure you get maximum benefits from the class despite the shorter time frame (but are the same tracks as the hour class).
  • Body Combat is mixed martial arts inspired. You will experience tracks based on a variety of martial arts throughout the class as well as incorporating some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) training.
  • Don’t worry it’s non – contact. You will be punching and kicking an imaginary opponent or bag (so the air really!)
  • You don’t need any equipment – just you, your gym kit and trainers (and some water!)
  • The moves are choreographed to the music but don’t worry if you aren’t great at following a beat at first- you will still be getting your heart rate up even if you don’t get every combination of moves straight away. Following the music and combinations will get easier and when you do nail that combo to the beat you feel amazing!
  • You are mirroring the instructor’s movements. If they say right foot forward, they will put their left foot forward so if you imagine they are your reflection in a mirror and mirror their moves you will find you are soon putting your right foot forward without even having to think about it! Don’t worry if you new to group exercise we know this takes time to get used to!
  • Once they press play the instructor will generally not pause the music unless you need time to grab a mat. This is to keep the heart rate and intensity of the workout high. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break if you need one- listen to your own body – the instructor won’t mind, just come back in when you are ready.
  • It is a tough cardio workout. You are going to burn calories. You will get out of breath- that’s ok it’s why you are there. If you need to take a break take one, grab some water and come back in when you are ready.
  • There are always opportunities to work within your own personal limits. The instructor will give different options throughout the workout to either dial the intensity up or down. So if you don’t want to jump there will always be a move you can do instead that doesn’t involve jumping but still provides lots of benefit. Equally the instructor will be able to guide you in how to improve a move to increase the intensity if you are ready to challenge yourself a bit more.
  • If you are new there is something called Smart Start. Effectively it means you are allowed to stay for a few tracks. When you feel like you have done enough you can leave (make sure you stretch before you leave the gym!) then each time you try the class, see if you can stay for one extra track until you can do the whole class. New exercise classes can be tough, we know that, but you don’t need to be put off from trying them because you aren’t sure you are ready for a full class yet.
  • There is a lot of terminology that may be unfamiliar – jab cross, uppercut, hook, roundhouse kick etc. It might take a while to remember what each move is but don’t worry you can watch the instructor throughout and over time you will start to take on board what each strike is so you can react quickly to cues.
  • When you strike imagine your opponent is your height! The instructor will tell you which body part to aim for with each strike – if you imagine the opponent is your height you will get the most effective workout possible.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your leg to head height when you kick (I certainly can’t!)! You will probably find as you attend more often your kicks will get higher, but the range of your kick will have a lot to do with your flexibility so don’t worry if you can’t kick as high as the person next to you – work within your own range of movement and just challenge yourself to kick a bit higher as time goes on.
  • If you have done martial arts training some of the moves may feel ‘wrong’. Some of the moves in Body Combat are modified to ensure they are safe and effective for a group exercise environment. It’s a martial arts inspired class – not a martial arts class.
  • Combat is an amazing core class. All the moves involve massive work through your core and your instructor will coach you how to effectively work the core throughout the class. So as well as burning lots of calories and increasing your CV fitness you will also find the workout does great things for your waist.
  • If you have a question about a move, go and chat to the instructor at the end of the class. We generally love talking to people and want you to get the most out of the class. If you aren’t sure if you are feeling a move ‘in the right place’ ask and we can spend a few minutes on your technique to ensure the following week you are confident you are getting the most out of that move / track / strike / kick.
  • Instructors get a new track list every three months- at which point they will teach this in it’s entirety for around 6 weeks. After that they will ‘mix’ older tracks into a playlist to keep it interesting for you and keep challenging your fitness levels until they get their next playlist. In other words – you won’t ever get bored.
  • Finally- it’s an exercise class and it’s meant to be fun. Don’t worry if you struggle with a move or aren’t great at certain kick- ultimately it’s all about moving and having fun whilst doing it so try not to take yourself too seriously.

Goals

If we want to be good at something we have to do that thing often, repeatedly, until it becomes a habit, second nature.

If you wanted to be good at ballet you’d go to ballet lessons every week and practice ballet often. You wouldn’t join a Jazz class and spend your free time practicing the Waltz and then turn up to your ballet recital expecting to be great.

Often with our training though we set ourselves goals and then do completely different things before getting frustrated with ourselves that we haven’t met our goals.

Or, we set ourselves so many goals all at once that there just isn’t any way we could train for all of them in any effective, meaningful way.

Of course if you’re starting out and just wanting to move more then doing different things every week is completely fine and will keep things interesting.

But if you are looking to run a half marathon, building up to longer runs and strengthening your legs and core need to be your focus. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do any upper body work too, but if upper body workouts take up 80% of your workouts you aren’t working to your goal.

If you want to improve your squat though, running every day isn’t going to help you, you’ll want to be doing variations of squats and mobility work. Again, you’ll want to add in some upper body workouts but they won’t be your focus.

Growing your glutes? Again if you keep finding your bench press is the lift you work on the most your sessions are not aligned with your goals.

If you have set yourself the goals of doing a pull up, getting your deadlift to 100kg, running a marathon, learning how to do a headstand, the splits all whilst losing 10kg and committing to do yoga every day, you’ve probably set yourself too many goals to actually achieve any of them. How on earth would you fit everything you need to do to work towards those goals into one week? If this is you maybe pick the goal that’s most important and work towards that, saving the rest for after you’ve completed that first one.

Ultimately if we want to be good at something we need to do things that will help us get good at that thing. That’s not to say you can’t also do things in the gym you enjoy or that your week shouldn’t be balanced, but your focus should remain on exercises that help you work towards that goal.

Gym sayings that should be scrapped

Not all calories are equal

Different foods have different nutritional values, some can offer more more nutritional benefits than others, may be more or less filling, may affect your energy levels in different ways. Fundamentally though a calorie is a unit used to measure the food we eat, a unit of energy if you like and the calories in a 200 calorie salad are the same number of calories in a 200 calorie chocolate bar. In terms of energy in v energy out all calories are equal.

No carbs after 6pm (and other timing rules)

Whether it be this rule, Intermittent fasting, the 5:2 diet or any other rule that suggests when you eat will be the magic ingredient to weight loss. Whilst setting yourself eating windows may help you eat less and therefore lose weight you don’t suddenly store more fat by eating after 6pm or having breakfast.

Muscle weighs more than fat

Whilst it’s true the same volume of fat will take up more space than an equal volume of muscle (hence you can drop a dress size but remain the same weight as your body composition changes, a useful thing to remember) a pound of fat and a pound of muscle of course both weigh a pound.

Never miss a Monday

If you want to train 3 times a week why would it matter that one of those in on Monday? Whilst the concept of starting the week positively makes sense if Monday is inconvenient for you it really doesn’t matter.

Go hard or go home

Yes you want to work hard during your workouts, but life happens. Some days we are tired, have little niggles, we might be recovering from a cold. Some days we might be fatigued from previous sessions. On those days going hard could be more detrimental than positive. Listening to your body and resting, stretching or taking a de-load week when needed can help improve results more than simply pushing through.

‘Baby Weights’

No matter what you lift to someone out there it will be ‘so heavy’ and to someone else ‘their warm up weight’. Judging your weights in comparison to others won’t help you progress or make you feel good about yourself in the gym. Others might be lifting more of less than you but sticking to weights we personally find challenging for the rep ranges we are doing and working on progressive overload in relation to that weight range is the best way to progress.

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

Help I’m running a half in 6 weeks!

Have you realised you’re just a few weeks out from your run and you haven’t really started training?

In my latest podcast I talk about my current situation, factors to help you decide what to do and how to approach the situation if you decide you’re still going to run.

You can listen here:

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.