Don’t be a Fitness Jack of All Trades

If you follow a lot of fitness type accounts on Instagram / Facebook and scroll at any one time you’ll see posts telling you to eat clean, eat intuitively, eat in moderation, have that chocolate, fast, cut out carbs, eat a high protein diet, count calories, don’t count calories, train hard, train in a way you enjoy, only do classes, never do classes, do CrossFit, don’t do CrossFit, lift heavy, lift for reps, run, walk as the absolute key to reaching your goals. You’ll be encouraged to love your body as it is, lose weight, gain muscle, work on your butt, train for a PB, train for fun, never skip a Monday, not over train. You’ll see posts telling you to reach out to someone if you need support alongside positive vibe only quotes.

My point is that there are so many, often contradictory messages out there. That can make knowing what your goal is and how to get there confusing. It can make knowing when to push and when to rest hard. It can make dealing with your own mental health effectively difficult.

Let’s take exercise intensity as an example. Messages about there being no such thing as a bad workout and the sessions you really don’t want to do being the ones you should do are potentially useful for someone who is struggling to motivate themselves to train, hasn’t trained for a while and needs a bit of accountability. Yet if you are someone who trains religiously every day (or more than once a day), ae showing signs of injury and fatigue and really should dial back your training to avoid burnout, those same messages are not useful. For those people an exercise philosophy that encourages listening to your body and resting when you feel you need to works better. Of course if you flip it that message wouldn’t be useful to someone who often tells themselves excuses not to train as it won’t get them moving.

Of course your social media viewing is largely a prism of your own ideology- we choose who we follow but still not every post you see will be applicable to you, that can make knowing how to approach your fitness difficult. That’s where bringing in a fitness professional can be beneficial.

Most PTs have their preferred methods- things they believe will work best in terms of training and nutrition, however they will also have the knowledge to adapt plans to work for you. That means what your PT prescribes for you won’t be the same as every other client they have, because we are all different and what motivates you effectively won’t motivate every other person to the same level.

Social media is a great tool for ideas and inspiration but as much as we often hear about being careful not to fall into the comparison trap, also remember to not fall into the trap of trying to do every single thing in a quest for the ultimate level of fitness. The most successful people at most things are not successful at everything – they specialise, and in the same way the most effective way for you to get results is to focus on they key things that will most benefit you.

Magic Pills

How often do you see a testimonial on Facebook or Instagram, someone who has lost weight using the latest pill or shake plus the free meal plan that comes with it?

These results are obviously designed to sell you that particular product, yet in reality they results will have come from the free meal plan – the plan that creates a calorie deficit – not the pill or shake itself.

The product might have some benefit. Protein shakes, meal replacement shakes, electrolyte drinks and various vitamins are all useful supplements that can add to your diet.

What is key to remember before embarking on a journey with these products is that the product itself won’t be the thing to bring you results – the results will come from the calorie deficit, the exercise that you do in conjunction. I don’t see anything wrong itself in using such products. At the end of the day the important thing in achieving results (assuming here weight loss is the aim) is adherence to a plan that allows you to consistently burn more calories than you consume, if spending money on products keeps you motivated to do this where’s the harm. If you like the taste and they make you feel good and so you stick with it then win.

The issue comes if you don’t understand why you are getting results. If you think the reason is drinking that specific drink / coffee / tea or taking that specific booster / pill / shot is making you lose weight, you are tied to that brand, that product and the associated cost, you have no way of going it alone. Of course in actual fact there is no reason anyone cannot lose weight without fads or plans or helps. If you have the appropriate basic knowledge you can get results without buying any supplements at all.

When you are frustrated with your progress and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere the idea of a quick fix or something you can buy to solve the problem is appealing, and there’s nothing wrong with buying those products, as long as you know how they fit into the bigger picture.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating and the anti diet movement.

I’m a bit torn by this.

On the one hand I want to support the idea of eating what you want, not feeling guilt for eating certain foods or certain amounts of food and listening to your own body.

But I also think if you want to make a change – specifically lose or put on weight – you need to know what you are eating.

Because really, if you don’t currently track what you eat you are kind of eating intuitively.  So if you aren’t where you want to be that intuition isn’t quite working right now.

I’m not saying track everything forever, but getting an idea of where you are at and learning what the right amount of calories feels like will allow you to eat with more freedom going forward.

I think of it a bit like learning to drive or staring a new job.  When you first start something new you really think; you are aware of what you are doing and when, maybe following notes or using reminders, you never do something without checking or on auto pilot.  Once you have been doing it for a while you gain confidence, you know how to do things and don’t need to constantly check, tasks are done instinctively and sometimes you ‘just know’.

When you see someone experienced do something well but making it look effortless you can normally bet they were not like that at the start.  They went through a learning process and what might now be done without thinking almost definitely took a lot of concentration to begin with.

So I think listening to your body and eating what it wants is a great concept, taking away some of the negative feelings that can be associated with diets, but if you also want to achieve a certain result the fact is you still need to effectively manipulate your calorie intake and that takes knowledge, of where you are at and where you need to be.

Intuitive eating can be a thing, but your intuition needs to be in the right place first.

Lost Momentum

I’ve not written a blog since 20th July when I took some time out due to an injury.

I rested for about a week and a half then intended to get to the gym as they reopened in England, but just didn’t.  The rest combined with not teaching for such a long time now (and not yet having classes to go back to) meant I found it really hard to motivate myself to get back into the gym.

So here’s the thing.  Exercise is an anchor for me.  Something which grounds me when I’m feeling a bit rubbish.  It’s not something I feel I have to do, I enjoy it and it makes me feel good and quite frankly sane, it’s also a great stress reliever and when I’m busy a quick run or workout can help you come back refreshed and refocused.  But it’s also really easy to lose momentum, even with something that you know is beneficial to you.  In turn this makes me feel a bit down about things in general, so it’s something that I’ve struggled with a bit.

Right now in the world most of us have probably lost some momentum.  Life changed over night (I went from teaching 10-15 classes a week and being out an about almost all the time to working from home to now working in an office but not yet back to teaching) and even as it changes back it’s different to what it was, and it’s continuously changing.  Getting back to things you know are good to you and enjoy sounds like it should be easy but it really isn’t.

For me I’m just getting myself back into the gym as often as I can, I’ve reduced the duration / intensity of my workouts so i can build back up (both from the injury and extended break) and I’m not kicking myself if I have a long day and have to miss a training session.  I know overtime I’ll get back into that habit and hopefully by the time I start teaching again (in a few weeks hopefully) I’ll feel much more in the swing of things, but I can’t expect myself to just bounce back to where I was in March.

If you need a bit of motivation to get yourself back into the swing of things, firstly, that’s ok- I think most of us are in the same boat.  Secondly, I have designed a two week gym plan to help ease yourself back in which you can download here.

http://eepurl.com/g4PLOz

 

Permission To Eat

How many times have you not eaten a meal or snack because you ate too much the day before or because you haven’t trained today or you’ve been really lazy?

So you skip a meal or eat the lowest calorie thing you can find to compensate.

Then later, when you’re either really hungry because you’ve not eaten or you really want to eat certain foods because you now feel bad and want comfort food, you eat all the foods you enjoy but which also make you feel bad because they are ‘naughty’.

Then the next day the cycle begins again.

Or you are sticking really closely to a low calorie diet and creating a 500 calorie a day deficit.  You do this for 30 days creating a 15,000 calorie deficit.  But it’s hard to stick to, you always crave your favourite foods.  You get to a weekend away, and you’ve been so so good recently so you think what the hell and eat anything and everything all weekend.  Now you have 5,000 calories a day for 3 days, which is the same amount of calories that you just spent a month creating a deficit of.

You’ve deprived yourself so much that you feel you have to have a blow out and the blow out almost cancels out the progress.

Both of those situations are linked to how we view food; good and bad foods, naughty foods, how we deserve or don’t deserve food, how some foods should be avoided or we need to earn higher calories foods.

The problem with thinking about and labeling food in this way is your emotions affect what you eat and what you eat affects how you feel.

In other words we need to not feel guilt when we eat certain foods or certain amounts and accept that food is something that we use for energy.  We can enjoy it and should enjoy it and yes, depending on the situation, we do also need to be aware of calorie values and how much or little we consume.

However labeling food does not help us, equally telling ourselves we much do a certain amount of activity to earn food is also damaging to our own self worth.

You need to eat a base number of calories every day for energy even if you stay in bed all day.  Telling yourself you do not deserve to eat certain foods because you’ve not trained much is equally as bad for your own self worth as feeling bad about eating certain foods.

In finding a way of eating and training that you enjoy and is sustainable removes the guilt and the urges to binge and allows you to feel happy with your diet and nutrition routine.

We need to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat.

 

 

 

 

Why do people doubt the energy balance equation?

As a PT and group fitness instructor I frequently talk about the Energy Balance Equation.  How if you want to lose weight you must have more energy going out than in, if you want to gain weight it’s the opposite and to maintain you want them to be about equal.

It’s essentially the base of any nutrition knowledge, and the first thing anyone needs to get to grips with if they want to work on their nutrition.

Macros, meal timings, supplements.  They all have a place sure, but if you haven’t got your calories in v calories out in the right place what time you eat dinner, the amount of protein or fat you eat or whether you take BCAAs or won’t make much difference to your success.

Equally, people will say I had massive success with this way of eating / this method / this diet, and essentially behind each of these methods the fundamental reason for success is the individual found a way of controlling their calories in v. out that was appropriate to their goals and which suited their lifestyle.  It can be dressed up in many different ways but that fundamental lies behind every successful method of actively managing food intake.

So why are we so reluctant to believe this?

Almost universally, at some point of another, most people have chosen to believe that either the reason they are not reaching their goals or are reaching their weight management goals is something beyond calories.

No again, I’m not saying that other factors cannot help refine a diet.  If you are managing your energy balance well the types of food you get your energy from, when you eat, extra supplements can help you improve energy levels and performance.  They do this however building upon the foundation that is you eating the right amount of food for your gapl each day.

If you are over eating by 1,000 calories every day whether you eat those calories at 6 am or 6 pm makes no difference.  Whether the calories come from avacado and lettuce or Nutella on biscuits makes no difference.  Your body shape makes no difference, your genetic make up makes no difference.  You are eating too many calories for your goal.  Energy in v. energy out is like gravity- it’s a fact.

So why do we self sabotage on this so often?  Because actually, when it’s this simple, we all have the ability to successful manage our food intake in line with our goals.

I think  it comes down to two main reasons:

Firstly, people selling their ideas means that very often the calories truth is hidden behind a gimmik.

We buy into products or brands or books and theories that promise us results.  In order for those brands to stand out and or you to go to them specifically they need to have a selling point- the thing that makes their methods work.

For that they need to sell you lots of reasons beyond calories as to why their methods work.  You do their diet, you lose weight or gain weight and so accept that those methods must be the reason.  But behind all of these diets there is still always the energy balance equation, and whilst other factors can also provide benefit you still need that energy balance to be right.  What these brands don’t do is actively promote calories as the key.  They let is silently do the work in the background and let their ‘unique selling point’ take the credit.  Essentially they are like a really bad boss taking credit for what their team does as the ground work!

The second factor is our own emotional response.  It’s so much easier for us to think if i can get this one really sexy aspect of my diet right everything else will fall into place.  Why else do diet pills appeal to people – you take this one pill, make no other changes and you’ll see results.  We like that idea.  If I add this supplement that will make the difference.  Because accepting that actually we aren’t eating enough or are eating too much means we need to actually work and make real changes to what we eat.

We also often tend to over estimate (for people looking to gain weight) or under estimate (for people looking to lose weight) how much we eat in terns of calories I find.  That’s why tracking, whilst unsexy compared to intuitive eating, is useful.  Again though it’s harder work and seems very old school and boring next to I eat what my body tells me it wants.  Now i’m not saying doing that is a bad thing – but you have to know how to listen to your body to do that, and if you aren’t already getting the results you want I’d suggest you don’t yet know how to listen to your body.  The way to learn is unfortunately the very boring learn about calories in v. out until you find the right balance for you – once you’ve grasped that eating intuitively and not tracking becomes very possible because you do then have a better idea of your energy (by which I mean calories) levels.

We all want to think we are different.  That calories might be your issue but mine is my metabolism, mine is how I react to certain foods, my blood type and so on.  It might be to a certain degree – but that thing is in reality going to be such a small factor in comparison to your energy in v. out.  So for many of us is our issue is we are focusing on something that makes a 1% difference to our diet instead of focusing on something that can have a massive difference.  We then assume that because we aren’t seeing our desired results we need to delve even deeper into our biology and chemical makeup to see results.

The best way to get results is to stop bullshitting yourself.

Workout what you burn.

Workout what you consume.

Change those to get the result you want.

It’s boring.  It’s simple.

That’s why we always look for other answers.  We assume it’s so boring and simple and obvious it cannot be the key.

We literally cannot see the wood for the trees.

Training and Nutrition: Lockdown Edition

So here in the UK we are now coming up to a week into lockdown and a couple of weeks of concerted social distancing.  This has without a doubt had a dramatic impact on so many aspects of our lives.  I briefly did a blog on working last week but being a fitness related blog I wanted to take a moment to talk about how I’m approaching my fitness during this whole thing.

Obviously everyone will be different and depending what equipment you have at home and what your goals are how you approach your training and diet right now will vary.

For me, like a lot of people I would imagine, I have no equipment at home, very little space indoors and my garden is not really suitable for exercise (it’s all gravel) although there is a car park which I can make use of on the grounds.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to approach my training by forgetting about maintaining strength or fitness, forgetting about trying to improve in any particular way.  Instead I’m focusing on just moving and using moving in a way to feel good, stay mobile and benefit my mental health.

My general plan of action is to do a little yoga flow in the morning, go for a short run at some point to get some fresh air (literally 2- 3 km or some intervals / sprints/ pyramids) at lunch time and then do either some body weight training fro 2-30 minutes or an online class such as Les Mills On Demand in the evening.  This does mean I’m doing much less each day in terms of exercise but I am still keeping myself ticking over and feeling good.

Stretching and mobility work is going to be really important.  I’m sitting a lot more and my new set up of home working is not good for my posture so it’s vital that I stretch more often to avoid discomfort.

My real challenge is going to be my diet.

I normally walk a lot- I do 25,000 steps or so without trying a day.  Last week not only did I train a lot less but i also moved a lot less in general.  My step count was closer to 5,000 steps.

I’m therefore burning fewer calories.  So i know I’m going to need to eat less.  I can’t control not being able to go to the gym.  I can’t replicate my training at home.  I can’t move as much as normal with one opportunity to walk or run each day.  I can control how much I eat.

So I’ve tried to cut my calorie intake by around a fifth.  The first couple of days that was tough but I am moving less so I’m not lacking in energy from it.  This is the strategy I know that will stop me feeling like a potato by the end of lockdown because I’ve done much less than normal and eaten the same or even more .

So in a nutshell that’s my plan – it might evolve, maybe it will change but right now I have a strategy to help me feel like I’m drifting aimlessly or getting wound up because I cannot replicate my normal routine.

What’s your plan of action for the next few weeks?

 

 

Overwhelm

This year has been tough so far, I’ve been stressed an because of that I’ve found myself training less and eating chocolate like it’s the only food on the planet.  At first it was lack of time stopping me training.  I normally do most of my sessions on my lunch breaks at work but I’ve been busy and kept thinking if I just work through my lunch today I can catch up.  Of course I never did catch up but I have got myself completely out of the habit of training.  I normally eat chocolate quite frequently anyway, that’s fine, it fits into my diet perfectly well but as I’ve been more and more stressed I’ve turned to it more and more, it’s a comfort food thing I suppose.

The issue is eating well and training are anchors in my life.  When I am in my normal routine of a short training session most days and getting some good meals in me along side some chocolate I feel good, I feel capable of dealing with stress and juggling lots of roles.

So falling out of these habits because of stress kind of creates a never ending circle where I’m not doing the thing that prevents stress because I am stressed.  Not great, especially as I suffer from anxiety and so keeping track of the anchors that make you feel good is really important.  As an added stress on top of this is that because I’ve been eating more and training less I’ve also put on some weight, whilst I’m still not overweight or dramatically busier my clothes feel tighter and I feel less comfortable, this of course doesn’t help when you already don’t feel great.

None of this is uncommon, lots of people have these struggles.  They are perfectly valid, we lead high stress lives these days and it’s easy to end up a bit overwhelmed and a bit crap.

For me I always think it’s bonkers that you’re a fitness instructor, so you know exactly what you need to do to fix it, because you advise and support other people with this regularly, but that knowledge doesn’t always equate to making things easy.  I mean most of us know we need to burn more calories than we consume to lose weight, simple concept, not simple to do.  Most things in life are really quite simple at their core, it’s the application that is the thing that trips us up.

The thing is it’s ok to fall into a this cycle but you do need to be able to pull yourself back out of it too.

So how do you pull yourself out of a cycle where you are struggling with your training / nutrition?  Small changes, focusing on doing small simple things that you know will make you feel better over time.  I’m not talking bubble baths and face mask style self care, I’m talking doing the easy practical things that will make you feel more purposeful and on track.

My small things for this week are:

  • Track calories for the week to see where I’m actually at with food consumption
  • Drink 4 litres of water a day
  • Take my lunch break very day regardless and go down to the gym and train for 20 mins
  • Stretch every day
  • Get in at least one long walk this week

I’m not expecting at the end of the week for these things to have magically made me feel amazing, but I think that if I do these things I’ll feel better than I do right now and that is a step in the right direction.

 

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people

On Sunday I’ll be appearing on Ricky Long’s podcast talking about the fitness world in general.

One of the things we talk about is Slimming World, I myself did Slimming World before I became a fit pro and feel like I have a decent understanding of it from many angles because of this.

This wasn’t the focus of the podcast so I went into a lot less detail that I could have so I wanted to delve a bit deeper into a point here – it’s not enough as fitness professional to say what’s wrong with slimming clubs – we need to look at what we ourselves can do to help people who may otherwise have turned to such clubs

I did a podcast last year which you can listen to here, where I spoke about my own personal experience of Slimming World and what I think is wrong with the system.

Rather than rehashing that here I instead want to talk about something I’ve touched upon both here and in my upcoming podcast.

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people.

When I needed help I went to Slimming World, I didn’t go to a PT – the idea intimidated me and didn’t feel accessible. All these perfectly nice people I know now would have intimidated me- me now would have intimidated me. I wouldn’t have gone to a fitness event or gym because I’d have felt like a fraud like I didn’t fit it.

Sliming clubs felt accessible for me. That’s why I took that route.

I eventually found training and with it learnt about nutrition and left Slimming World and am where I am now. BUT for that to happen took PTs and group ex instructors who didn’t criticise the route I’d chosen to take, they didn’t point out in distaste all the things that were wrong with Slimming World. They educated me within a framework that allowed me to see why Slimming World can work on a energy in / energy out basis and allowed me to come to the realisation that I didn’t need the club and see the faults for myself.

There weren’t Facebook groups back then for Slimming World but to be honest if there had been and some people had come into them and attacked what was, at the time, working for me I’d have probably defended Slimming World and I wouldn’t have felt like I wanted to go to those people for advice.

In short – as Fitness professionals I think we need to find a balance between exposing myths and educating people without making them feel stupid for trying to reach their goals. How I see this…

That PT thinks everything about Slimming World is stupid

I do Slimming World

So they must think I’m stupid

I’m not going to them to help

In attempting to help there’s a real danger we actually alienate without meaning to.

Now actually Slimming World can be successful in that it creates habits that lead to a calorie deficit. It’s not unsafe or faddy as diets go.

It doesn’t educate.

But you know what – I played rugby for a while, no idea of the rules I just ran at people.

Would I have been a better player if I knew more – yes. Did I still play? Yes.

I honestly don’t know how the best way to go about it is, but I feel like supporting and understanding peoples choices creates an environment of trust that might convince people away from Slimming World and into training and understanding basic nutrition more than simply laughing at the notion of syns, body magic and star weeks ever will.

2020 Goals

It’s not unusual to review your life at the start of a new year and decide what you are happy with, what you want to change, what you would like to achieve within the coming year.

Often we want to lose weight, earn more money, travel more and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things being motivators.

It’s understood by most people who work in any kind of field where motivation is key (fitness is a great example) that people are more likely to meet those goals when they genuinely want them for a real reason that they feel some real passion or connection to.

So if you want to lose weight you’re more likely to achieve that when the reason is improved health or to be able to play with your children than because you think you probably should be a size 10.

Not only are you more likely to achieve a goal when there’s a purpose behind it, it’s also more likely to make you happy.

What about when one of your goals is to help other people?

As a society we are sceptical of anyone offering help, the saying you don’t get something for nothing springs to mind. When people offer things for free we tend to immediately assume there’s a catch.

But sometimes, some people’s purpose does involve, in part, just helping people.

Again fitness is a great example of this. It’s an area that many of us who work in it feel real passion about. We want to help people, bust misconceptions and encourage. Now of course we need to earn money too, so we have to charge for some things. But equally a lot of us want to help and will happily provide a lot more for free than you may get in other sectors. Hell, it’s a little selfish because the feeling you can get for knowing you made a difference is some people’s purpose in itself.

So today I wanted to highlight one fitness professional who does just that, and this year has (in my opinion) stepped it up even more.

Lauren McDowell is a Les Mills instructor, who has long been a Tribe Coach (a position where instructors volunteer time to mentor other instructors) and is well known on the instructor social media groups for providing technique videos and feedback.

This year she seems to have stepped it up a notch. After asking on Instagram what people wanted help with she has already produced videos on Body Combat kick technique which anyone can view (check it out here).

Lauren’s Video

But beyond that she has also started producing regular simple and practical tips aimed at people starting out or getting back into a fitness journey.

None of this makes Lauren any money, but she believes and is passionate about encouraging others to participate in fitness and doing it in a way that you enjoy and makes you feel good.

I have the pleasure of working with Lauren as part of Jump 4.2, which has a massive support network for instructors, all helping each other out, and she is also always available to support everyone in that group.

Lauren is of course one of many fit pros I know who provide so much help to others beyond the selling of their services, and they do this because part of their purpose is to help others. They can keep helping people even when they get nothing concrete out of it because it serves their purpose and they feel they get value from it regardless.

So back to my original point, there’s absolutely zero issue with your goals being money motivated or weight orientated but to achieve them you need to be motivated, and to stay motivated those goals need to mean something to you. Sometimes what you realise means something to you might not make sense to anyone else, sometimes the value you get out of a goal may not be physical but mental. Having a clear idea of your purpose will however help you make 2020 a year you get closer to your goals and those goals making you happier.

Equally, your goal really doesn’t have to be what you’d normally expect. Could it be to help more people or help specific people, rather than get a promotion or drop a dress size? Would that create a fire in your belly that pushed you to achieve your goal?

You can of course have a mixture of goals and I’m not suggesting becoming Mother Theresa here, but thinking beyond the norm of New Years Resolutions could help you find something your truly passionate about.

I’m pretty confident one of Lauren’s goals is helping more people this year (I’m sure she has others). You can help her teach more people by checking out her Instagram here, and if you do Combat do check out her technique videos!

Lauren’s Instagram