A Fitness Blog – Where’s the Exercise Posts?

This is a fitness blog and I’m a PT and group exercise instructor so my main job is very much training focused / related. Yet this blog and a vast majority of the online coaching I do is very much nutrition and mindset based.

Here’s why.

You know when you think about getting fit you think the actual exercises you do, how many reps, training splits, the amount of weight lifted, the ratio or cardio to strength training – all that jazz – is going to be the most important part of getting results? Well, it’s not that it isn’t important it’s just not as important as you think it is.

If you are already very fit and active and you want to improve in one specific area or you have a very specific goal to train for then the details of your training will matter much more, if you want to work on doing a pull up, doing legs every day won’t help much.

If you’re starting to get more active, want to drop weight, improve your health, feel better in yourself, then the actual specifics of what you do are going to be more based what you enjoy and what you feel comfortable doing right now. In my mind, what’s the point of trying to force people to do an ‘ideal’ training plan if they hate it, are too nervous to go into that area of the gym yet, haven’t quite got to grips with the movement patterns? Would some modified moves and a more simplified program that helps them gain confidence be a better starting point? of course. If someone prefers classes or using resistance machines over free weights and incorporating those things mean they train then why wouldn’t we incorporate them?

If you’re meant to do a legs session, a push session and a pull session a week and one day you really cannot face doing legs but you’d be up for a second push session then, you know what, the world won’t end and you won’t end up some weird uneven specimen for it.

Basically training has so many benefits and it’s an important element of our fitness and health but it doesn’t need to be over thought or cause dramatic stress. Whilst I think it’s useful to encourage people to do it via blogs, detail adds only so much value.

Secondly with training most people is simple. If it’s a live PT you do what the PT says (with various levels of moaning), away from sessions when given a training plan (or if it’s online training) people tend to follow the plan as given. You say do squats, they’ll squat.

Nutrition advice, not so much. For the majority of us, food is so much more emotive. Whilst training certainly acts as an anchor and stress reliever for many it doesn’t tend to have the same emotional pull as food does. So when you say to someone here’s a training plan it’s generally not questioned. Talking about calorie deficits, not needing to cut out food groups, the importance of actually eating carbs, why it’s ok to have chocolate, why ‘clean foods’ don’t really exist. These are concepts so intricately engrained into our culture that push back is much more likely with the nutrition side of things.

Same with mindset, even if someone accepts what you say about food or say the importance of resting when injured rather than pushing through, it’s much harder to act on it and go against ingrained instincts.

So it’s not that training is easy to do or not important, it’s that once you get started doing something – anything – it’s often the most straightforward unemotive part of health and fitness. You soon start to see benefits beyond the physical and form habits. It’s that diet and motivation and mindset around health is a much more challenging area for the majority of people, whether that be people new to fitness or very experience people (PTs have to convince people not to train some days a lot more than you might think).

For this reason the topics I choose to write about are often diet and mindset based because they are the areas where I think people often need reminders and support and clear information to help make informed decision with regards to their fitness. When I do write about training I try to keep it to posts that will be useful to people, what to expect from classes, at the gym, what to pack in a gym bag and so on – practical things that might help someone train, because if they’re already training and don’t want to pay for a PT or coach they’re probably happy enough with what they’re doing and I’m not sure how useful a bunch of generic training sessions would be.

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.

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.

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.

Fat?

Since Lockdown I have gained about 10kg, Actually, that’s a lie, since the end of the first Lockdown I’ve gained about 10kg.

There’s lots of reasons, gym closures, changes to routine, changes to work patterns, personal things going on this year, anxiety medication changes, injuries. All in all it’s created a perfect storm where my once fluctuating but generally sitting in a quite comfortable range for me body is bigger and heavier.

In itself that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are the changes to me shape (like around my mid section), a few new stretch marks and the fact it’s just so much harder to run when you’re carrying an extra 10kg.

I want to be body positive about this and say it’s all ok. Because if I was happy with it then it really would be. I’m by no means overweight and even though I’m not as fit as I was I’m actually still fit, healthy and strong.

But I’m not happy with where I am and admitting that doesn’t make me a feminist traitor, slave to diet culture, hypocrite or anything else. Because I believe people should be able to strive to be what they want to (within the realms of it being safe and not harmful), so if that means losing weight, then so be it, because telling people to love and accept their bodies when they aren’t happy isn’t any more liberating than feeding people diet culture.

I’m on a commitment to myself now to lose some of the weight- not all of it, I think I’d be happy a bit bigger than I was, but enough that running doesn’t feel like I’m carrying a weight vest. It isn’t all weight based though – I’m not actually bothered by the scales, I want to look in the mirror and think ‘yeah’ again rather than ‘noooo’. I also want to be able to lift what I could lift before and enter a half marathon without training knowing it will be painful but I’ll get round. Really what I’m saying is I want to feel more like me again.

I think when people talk about gaining weight or other changes and how they want to reverse that we so often prescribe the idea of it being a bit shallow to the thought, actually most of the time we’re just trying to get ourselves back after tough times and there’s nothing wrong with that.

How do you react to the ‘uncontrolable’?

I’m currently injured. Well I’m not injured as such, but due to burns on both my legs (don’t ask) which basically cover both my whole shins I can’t walk very far (progress, last week I could barely walk), do much training beyond a bit of upper body work, run or teach.

It’s super frustrating. Beyond those restrictions I also can’t have a bath or shower and am restricted to contorting myself to wash my hair and sink washes. Generally it’s made me feel rubbish.

I’m used to having quite a structured day and when you can’t do what you normally do and end up sat on the sofa more watching TV, with itchy legs and generally feeling rubbish it can make you feel a bit down. As it’s come as we start to come out of the seemingly never ending Lockdown period of he last 18 months it feels even more frustrating.

All I’ve been able to do is adjust my expectations of myself.

So I’ve aimed to walk around 5,000 steps a day, just about doable at the moment but way off my normal 20,000-30,000 steps a day.

I’ve trained a couple of times, focusing on upper body and using machines I can sit down on plus the reclining bike to move the legs.

I’ve increased my protein intake dramatically to assist the burn healing process. Focusing on eating a varied diet rather than restricting my calories even though I’m moving way less.

I’ve tried to get 8 hours sleep, hard because my god my legs itch, but I’ve slept as much as possible.

I’ve drank at least 3 litres of water a day, aiming for 4 litre. My body is dehyrated anyway and it’s been warm.

I’m not where I want to be and I don’t feel great but I’ve made the positive steps I need to in order to help myself feel a bit better and not go completely crazy.

Hoping next week the dressings can come off and then I can start to build up my movement and start to get myself back to where I’d like to be but in the mean time I’ll just focus on the small things I can do as I can’ do anything about the things I can’t do right now.

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!

Gratitude

Have you ever tried a gratitude challenge / journal?

I like the idea of practicing gratitude.  I think as new age as it can sound at first it’s actually a very practical and CBT based way of managing your own mental health.

The reality is it is very easy to see a negative and focus on it and feel bad because of it.  When you make the effort to try and look beyond that to positives, however small, it can start to transform how you feel in that moment.  The more you intentionally work to transform negative thoughts to positive ones the more naturally it comes and the more naturally it comes the easier it is to focus on the positives of a situation over the negatives.  So the act of practicing gratitude daily is a good way of training your brain and thus feeling better in yourself.

What isn’t so easy however is actually getting started.  At first completing a gratitude journal can feel somewhat ridiculous and getting started when you may not feel in a positive space is actually pretty hard.

I had CBT sessions back in 2016 when I was struggling with depression and anxiety.  At the time I thought the techniques I was shown in these sessions didn’t work – I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be able to turn situations around in my head or look beyond my situation as it was at that point.  Now, in a much better place, I see how useful the techniques actually are and use them frequently, but I continue to believe there is an irony in the fact that I actually needed to feel better to begin to practice the tools that could have made me feel better at the time.

Learning to manage your own mindset is a skill to be learnt and developed.  That is why social media posts telling people to just feel ‘positive vibes only’ and other such slogans irk me so much, gratitude isn’t something that is easy to just suddenly feel- particularly in challenging times.

This is why I particularly liked an Ebook that I recently downloaded that teaches you how to start approaching gratitude.  Rather than a book to record your own lists of what you are grateful for (I really like these too, I always think you’re far more likely to stick to things when you like the tools you are working with) this actually approaches how to do it.

It was produced by a small business called LSW London.  The company’s main product is actually a really pretty set of 45 cards with tasks to carry out to help you improve your mood (the idea is you take one out at random and complete it, almost teaching you habits that can help anchor you).  However they also have this Ebook (only £3.95) and several mindfulness based recordings to listen to (£2.99 each).

If you are unsure about how to get starting with the practice of gratitude I would highly recommend this ebook as a starting point to get you going.

Check out the LSW Website