New To Body Combat?

One of the classes I 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.

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 (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.
  • 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.

Scoring an Own Goal?

I had a conversation with a friend over the weekend about goals.

Goals are great for keeping you motivated and on track with your training and nutrition, and people who are quite consistent with their eating and training are often very good at setting and then working towards goals.  This is a good thing obviously, but equally it can cause us to put unnecessary stress on ourselves.

See when we are very motivated to achieve XYZ it can become easy to start comparing yourself to others, to start picking holes in our own progress and under valuing our own results.  It can also become difficult to recognise that as your goals differ from other people’s what their success looks like and what your success looks like will also be different.  Even more so as your goals change what you measure results on might change at the same time at which point it can become even harder to accept the subsequent changes to our body or strength.

Added to this, most of us generally take on board what other people say and think about our bodies with minimal questioning.  So if those around us comment on say our weight when we have been training to increase our strength (as opposed to trying to lose weight) it can be difficult to remind ourselves that our weight isn’t important to us because that isn’t our goal.

What I’m trying to articulate here is that at a really basic level setting goals is a great start to a fitness journey but for people where fitness is already part of everyday life we can sometimes get confused about what our goals are and what they mean by paying too much attention to other people’s opinions and other people’s goals.

For me, previously my goals have been running orientated and next year I’d like to pick that up again, at which point my training and nutrition will need to reflect that.  Right now though, if I am totally honest I need a break from a specific goal.  I’ve spent the last few years chasing one goal and qualification after another and need a bit of a break.  I actually just want to train and eat to feel good.

I often say I’d like to be leaner, but if I’m honest right now I’m no willing to stop eating cake in the quantity I do or train more often or for longer that I currently do, so I’m not likely to get leaner than I currently am as I don’t want to change my current lifestyle.

That will change- probably next year I will reset everything and work towards a running based goal.  But until then if I see someone smashing out some PBs, running marathons or looking stage ready and feel that sense of failure that I’m not in that condition right now I need to remember I’m not in that condition because I haven’t trained to be in that condition and I haven’t trained to be in that condition because that is not my goal.

Set a goal by all means. Set one that means something to you. Then work to that goal and don’t be swayed by what other people think, say or are doing.  And if you change your mind and change your goal that’s fine, you can always readjust your own goal posts.

 

 

 

Easy ways to work on your own mental health

Following Mental Health Awareness Day Thursday I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health (whoever you are) and perhaps even help manage depression and anxiety:

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 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

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?

World Mental Health Day 2019

 

World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention

There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on.  Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma.  We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.

There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.

One

It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.  Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn.  These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for.  You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do.  As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.

If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands.  Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t.  If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.

Two

From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness.  The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me.  I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so.  It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.

You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out.  It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so.  You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill.  You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.

These situations could be improved with education.  I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.

Three

Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime.  Being aware everyday is important though.  If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable.  It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them.  But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them.  You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them.  On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.

Sleep

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Sleep is so important to our heath for a variety of reasons, but I’ve often found that people who train a lot tend to struggle getting to sleep. staying asleep and feeling like they have had a good quality sleep on a regular basis.

I recently did a podcast in relation to this topic where i delve into a bit more depth into some practical solutions for dealing with this.

Heather’s Podcast

 

Why I Run

Over recent years I’ve entered a lot of races.  10k, half marathons , even a marathon.  People always ask why.  There is one simple answer.

For the goodie bag.

That’s partly a joke – I like the support from the crowd and the variety in the route which makes running a long distance more palatable than just plodding down the same cycle route or park that I normally run in.

But essentially getting some food and a t shirt at the end is an incentive for me (want to be my friend- I’m very food motivated)!

I have a friend who literally runs for medals- she picks races based on what the medals are like!

I have another friend who does endurance events almost purely just to see how far they can push themselves.

In all our cases the event itself, location, the time we might get, our likely finishing place are almost irrelevant factors in our decision to take part.

Our motivation for doing incredibly challenging things doesn’t always have to be a story worthy of it’s own background music on a Britain’s Got Talent audition.

Do you struggle to set yourself a fitness goal?  Is that because you can’t think of that thing that sets your soul on fire and when people ask you about it you can give a long inspirational speech about how an angel came to you one night and told you that you were destined to do this thing?  Do you have something you’d quite like to try for whatever reason but that reason seems a bit superficial, silly even?

I run for goodie bags.  You can do literally anything you want for any reason you want!

How Strict Do I Need To Be?

I’m a fan of a relaxed Paleo diet- if calorie tracking doesn’t work for you a four day on three day off ‘paleoish’ diet can be a good way of managing calories without counting.

When people start Paleo for the first time the most common question asked is …

Can I … [insert hack here]

Can I have almond milk in coffee?

Can I have nut butters?

Can I have fruit and nut based bars?

My answer is always well technically if you were to follow Paleo strictly no, but as we are looking at a Paleo based way of eating then yes if it makes you happy and enjoy your food.

Essentially you have two choices when you elect to do a method of eating such as this.

Either do it as it is prescribed.

Or roughly follow it but add in a few of your own rules.

Neither is the right or wrong way (and there are so many variations in between).

The choice on how you approach it depends on what you want from your diet.

If you’re doing two weeks of Paleo to kick start a bit of fat loss, well to be honest the more strict you are with the bigger results you’ll see.  And yes, you might really crave pancakes for breakfast for two weeks, but it is just two weeks so just abstaining for fourteen days won’t kill you.

On the other hand if you’re doing two weeks of Paleo to just re-set some habits or if you’re planning on doing Paleo as a longer term way of eating then having a few ‘adjustments’ to the rules might well serve you better.

Equally if you know you won’t last two weeks without a few tweaks there is not point setting yourself up for failure by not making those tweaks.  80% is always going to be more effective than 100% saint for ten minutes before giving up will be!

Hopefully by now you know there’s no right or wrong way of eating – the way that suits you won’t suit everyone else, so it stands to reason that the decision of how closely you stick to something also needs to be personal to you.

Social media is awash these days with judgement over food.  I’m in one particular group where people defend their way of eating (Keto, IM Fasting, plant based) with zeal and lament anyone who doesn’t do the same as them or doesn’t follow that particular diet in exactly the same way as them (who doesn’t love a they’re doing it wrong post).  Don’t get me wrong there are times when I see things and think OK- perhaps you’re over complicating this or hmmm, I think you’re looking in the wrong place for the problem here; but actually if it suits them and makes them happy and isn’t a diet of cyanide that is going to kill them then it’s none of my business.  You can offer educated advice but you have no out and out right to be heard.

I digress – how strict you follow a food plan should depend on your goals and how you feel.

My general rule of how to decide what’s right for you.  Think about making those little adjustments – does the idea of adding a bit of flour to some pancakes for breakfast make you smile and really look forward to that meal when you wake up tomorrow or are you already feeling guilty about ‘breaking the rules’ before you’ve even done it?  That normally gives you a decent idea of which way will work best for you, because if what you eat makes you feel guilty after eating it that’s not going to lead anywhere pleasant.

This outlook can be expanded beyond Paleo to any way of eating, way of training, in fact way of living.

Does what you are doing make you happy.  Yes – keep doing it then.  No – maybe you need to make some adjustments to change that.

Will adjusting the training plan you’ve been given make you feel like you’ve ruined your workout or will swapping those sprints out for a row make you feel 100% more successful.  Depending on your answer to those questions you have your answer as to whether you should follow the ‘rules’ to the letter or not.

What kind of person are you?  If you feel guilty when you bend a rule then stick to them and don’t make yourself feel guilty.

What result do you want?  If you are looking to get very specific results then following a plan very precisely matters, if you are looking to feel better but have more relaxed goals then you can equally follow guidelines in a more relaxed manner.

The key is knowing yourself and knowing your goals then being honest about what you need to do, sacrifice or change and for how long to get to those goals.

Because if you want transformational results on a fitness plan but are only wanting to follow the plan 50% of the time you’re going to be disappointed, but if you know what you want isn’t as dramatic then the changes don’t have to be so dramatic either.  Neither of those extremes are wrong, they are entirely personal and in reality the only person you need to be able to justify yourself to is you.

I’m not saying join a programme and don’t do it here!  What I’m saying is very few of us can do everything 100% perfectly for even a short period of time (well I say very few of us , perhaps others can and I’m just trying to make myself feel better!) so knowing your own expectations of yourself, what will feel like success to you and then working to that level is the key to success.

If you have high expectations cool- but know you’re going to have to be stricter on yourself to reach them, in that case looking for the hacks and quick cheats won’t serve you.  The opposite applies just as much.

Pick your stance, work to that stance and don’t be swayed by what others are or aren’t doing.