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.

Do the basic things really well

How are you feeling about your nutrition right now?

It’s really tempting when you aren’t feeling on top of things to look for radical solutions. But what we really want to do at times like that are revisit the basics.

If you’re currently feeling a bit lost think about

– Your TDEE

– Macros / proteins

– Your calorie deficit

– Your habits and anchors that make you feel better

Remind yourself of the most important principles.

You don’t need to drastically cut calories or change what you’re eating just remind yourself of the basics. Once they are in place you can think about more in depth aspects of your nutrition, but until then you will likely be sabotaging your own results by ignoring the foundations in an attempt to build the house quicker.

Do the Basics Well

Successful people do the basics well and consistently

Sometimes it’s easy to look at things and think- they’re too simple there must be more to it than that. The reason I’m not getting the results I want isn’t that I’m eating too little or too much it must be how my body responds to certain foods… and so on.

Now the truth is there are lots of variables to our health and fitness. But, you can take account of all these things and yet if you don’t nail the basics it won’t be effective.

Think of your fitness and nutrition like levels in a game- to get to level two you must master level one. Each level acts as a foundation for the next level. You’ll often hear of things like the nutrition pyramid – that’s the same concept, you need to establish a solid base (in nutrition that’s getting your energy balance right as we discussed yesterday) before looking at macro and micro nutrients, meal timings or supplements will be useful- you basically don’t want to build on a shoddy base!

It’s human nature for us to want to look into the specifics, the idea that little tweaks will be the things that makes everything fall into place for us is tempting. But it’s the little tweaks at the basic level that will first make the difference. Once you’ve cracked those then feel free to move onto looking at the specifics of what and when you eat if you still want to- although you might find that you feel less of a need to.

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!

What the PT Ordered

Like most PTs I’ve done a few gym inductions this week, set people up with a plans to get started and so on. Those plans have varied depending on people’s goals, experience and health / injuries. Everything I programmed has it’s purpose and reason. There could be other ways they could train of course, but what I have suggested will help them gain confidence in the gym, get comfortable with movement patterns and key lifts (with modified moves to start with for some). I could have given them more flashy sexy looking programmes but that where I haven’t it’s because I think that would have been confusing, overwhelming and just not what they need at this particular time. I’m not a PT to show people how much I know, I’m there to help others learn to enjoy moving.

Some of these clients however have had people they know say to them ‘oh you need to lift more / go deeper / use a bar or weight.’ As well meaning as that will have been all it’s done is knock their confidence and confuse them when what they were doing was already effectively getting them started on a fitness journey. Keeping things simple isn’t always a bad thing and it might not be for you but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for someone else. There’s so many was to train, the best way for one individual isn’t the only way.

Similarly, whilst someone trying to (with good intention) correct the form of someone who is just learning a movement pattern and is moving perfectly safely but just not perfectly isn’t always helpful. Remember when you first started lifting and were trying to remember multiple things? You won’t have had great technique let’s face it. Sometime moving safely and getting used to that pattern then working on improving technique week by week, point by point is going to be more confidence boosting and motivating than feeling rubbish because they can’t get everything right straight away.

My adice.

If you want to get started in the gym and are new, get a plan (most gyms will do one when you sign up as part of your membership) and if your family of friends say ‘oh no don’t do that do this’ remember the gym instructor is trained to plan something specific to you, and whilst your mate might be a regular gym goer it doesn’t mean they have the skill set to safely help you get the most out of getting started. Accept their support and encouragement but know that there is more than one way to skin a cat so doing something differently to others doesn’t make it wrong.

If you have a friend or relative starting at the gym this year and they are working with a PT, encourage them and support them and letting the PT provide the training advice is the best way you can support them.

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.

I’m Back!

This week, after a break over the summer due to personal reasons, I’ve come back to my full Group Exercise teaching schedule (around my day job so not actual full time teaching).

Immediately after my first class I remembered how much I love teaching and classes. Do I feel like I need to get fitter still- yes, did that matter much? Not at all. The connection with people and being able to coach and encourage people to feel like they worked hard and enjoyed it makes it one of the best jobs you can do. My favourite feedback was that was hard but I enjoyed it, because that’s exactly how it should be, we aren’t training for the Olympics so it should be enjoyable and make you feel good (even if at the time you’re swearing under your breath!).

What I also realised is I’m effectively starting back and with that need to take my own advice and ease myself in. I need to teach all my classes of course so I can’t just do a couple this wee and build up (or leave early) as members can. What I can do is plan my week accordingly. As such I made sure at the weekend that I’d done a food shop, meal prepped, got clothes ready for the week. I’ve kept my diary as clear as possible so in between work and classes I can chill and recover as I knew I’d be more tired than usual this week.

Sometimes you need to acknowledge how much you can reasonably take on and succeed with and whilst it’s good to challenge yourself, doing so to a degree where you’re likely to feel rubbish or like you’ve achieved nothing because you burnt yourself out is counter productive.