This Person Can

Due to a new partnership with Les Mills I’ve seen lots about the ‘THIS GIRL CAN’ campaign this week.

Encouraging more people to take part in sport / exercise, encouraging people to exercise regardless of their hang ups and celebrating the fact that a variety of body shapes and sizes can be fit and healthy  – all a tick for me.

Using the word girl as opposed to woman – issue for me, somehow I can’t ever see a This Boy Can campaign being conceived in any boardroom out there.

That being said there are lots of PEOPLE who for various reasons don’t exercise, who could benefit from the encouragement of such a campaign.

Below are my tips for anyone looking to start exercising.

Let’s call it my THIS PERSON CAN Tips:

  1. Pick something you enjoy doing – Don’t enjoy running? Try swimming, dancing, cycling, yoga, classes, netball, football, rugby.  If you enjoy doing it you are more likely to stick to it.
  2. Wear something comfy – You don’t need to spend lots on new gym gear or trainers.  Just wear something you feel comfortable in and allows you to move.  If you need to buy some gym kit to get started Primark and Sports Direct are great places to look for cost effective kit.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for / accept help- Join a team or class there will be a coach or instructor to guide you, join a gym and you will probably be entitled to an induction / plan as part of your membership.  Instructors and coaches are there to help (and want to) so accept the help offered to help you as you get started.
  4. You don’t need to be an expert – If you lift enough to challenge you it doesn’t matter if it isn’t what you consider ‘heavy’, if you sweat in a class it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit off the beat, if you walk for bits during a run that’s alright, if you join a team and aren’t brilliant that’s fine.  You don’t have to be brilliant at something to enjoy it or keep doing it.
  5. Females can lift / Males can do Zumba- There is no such things as gender suitable training so move as you see fit and do not worry about how this is perceived.  Generally the fitness world is less judgmental than people tend to imagine, everyone started somewhere so you will find most people to be supportive of others efforts.

Fitness Professionals – A Reaction to the Last 24 Hours in my World

If you aren’t a Les Mills instructor you will not be aware of the changes made to the way payments are taken for the materials and education that allow you to teach Les Mills programmes.  To bring you up to speed quickly, in a nutshell people aren’t happy about having the autonomy to pay for what they want when they want taken away from them.  People who teach multiple programmes are not happy that they are now paying more than they used to.  The details of this change affect me but are not really what I want to write about today.

When these sort issues arise in general people take to Facebook to debate them.  I say debate but quite often there is little real debate.  I will normally have an opinion, and I’m happy to express it.  It may be different to the opinion of others, even those I’m close to – I will still express it.  However I also am happy to consider different views, and sometimes my initial view will change based on what other people have expressed as I consider things from angles that I hadn’t originally considered (this is debate).  Sometimes it feels like what actually happens is everyone expresses their view and simply insists anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.  When both the customer and provider do this it creates a situation that becomes harder and harder to resolve.  I sometimes think that people think that listening and acknowledging the validity in an opposing view weakens their own position so they instead aggressively defend their standpoint generating a greater negative response from people (whereas I have also seen some brilliant examples of the opposite over the last 24 hours where listening to people’s concerns has generated much more positive reactions from people who are upset – none of this is black and white).  When we are passionate about something and think it is a good thing we can sometimes be blindsided to the negatives that others may see.  I also believe, by the way, that there is a view that a debate such as the ones over the last 24 hours is always a negative thing unless everyone is pro the change being discussed.  Actually if we viewed not agreeing with each other in a less negative way debates can be extremely healthy, as can being allowed to express your standpoint.  Within my close circle I’ll frequently discuss opposing opinions on topics and we manage to do so without falling out and labeling each other as  negative.

Ultimately this has got me thinking about how we work together as fitness professionals.  It’s a weird situation.  Other fitness professionals are our colleagues in some senses but not in other senses.  I have an office job by day and the people I work with are colleagues, it’s very clear cut – we all work for the same company and have to follow the same rules etc.  If something changes it tends to affect most people in a similar way.  Fitness professionals are self employed / contractors / their own businesses (how we define ourselves if a personal choice).  We may work at the same gyms but we all negotiate our own terms, potentially compete for classes, have different degrees of reliance on different fitness roles (main source of income could be PT, classes, other jobs entirely) so how we view changes will be very different for everyone.  It makes an already quite competitive market feel more competitive.

It seems an odd idea expecting people who in some ways compete to also work together at the same time.  For me it’s become the most positive way to progress your fitness career however.

I work in various ways with a number of different fitness professionals, some in my local eco system (where there is more argument you are competing for the same customers), others in different parts of the country all together.  I also talk regularly with instructors from all over the UK, who I sometimes have different opinions to but am able to discuss them without falling out!  This has made the fitness world so much nicer for me.  Some things are still frustrating of course, but there is a support network, places where you can ask questions or vent about annoyances without being attacked by people who do not agree.  I’ve found new work opportunities through networking and looking at how I can work with people rather than compete against them.  I’ve learnt things because I’ve opened myself up to different people and they’ve helped me with things they are good at rather than guarding their knowledge and I’ve tried to do the same.

A few years ago there was a movement for a fitness union to fight stagnant pay, which struggled because essentially, as was pointed out at the time, if you don’t teach for the current rate there will always be someone else who will – basically the same argument that as we are all self employed we cannot work together at the same time.  This isn’t true.  Of course any partnerships need to be beneficial to both parties (and I mean that as individuals and our partnerships with providers such as Les Mill and gyms) and we need to be aware of what we offer against what we take (again both sides too- including gyms and providers).  In a busy market however, with every changing trends, I think we need to reconsider how we work with other fitness professionals, possibly gyms and providers also need to consider how they work with non staff member fitness professionals also.

For me personally, I’m happy where I am currently at.  My professional connections within the fitness sector are growing stronger and are all positive relationships where I don’t feel I am competing and I feel I can make a difference.  The changes in fees, well it’s not ideal as it makes keeping three programmes I don’t physically have classes in financially no longer viable – but there you go, a potentially difficult head over heart choice made for me so good in a way!  Perhaps Les Mills will listen to the feedback and adapt the new system to assist those with multiple programmes, if they don’t then instructors have the same choice as me and Les Mills can equally make the choice on how to work with those instructors.  What I do know is knee jerk reactions are normal and to be expected and debates are hard not to be drawn into but a) debates don’t need to be seen as a bad thing and b) we will get more done if we try and hep each other.

 

International Men’s Day

Apparently today is International Men’s Day,

Think back to International Women’s Days when from Facebook and Instagram you KNEW it was International Women’s Day because EVERYONE had something to post.

I wrote a blog post that day about needing a day to acknowledge women specifically because as a gender we are still marginalised in many ways in society.  Essentially you could argue the other 364 days of the year are International Men’s Day.

But I think the article below articulates well, why celebrating men is also important in removing gender stereo types and bias.

Sometimes it’s good when you read something to consider your own opinions and their validity and this article made me do just that.

Click here for the link

Twenty Things All Les Mills Instructors Will Know – Updated and 100% new content (take that 80% new content Advanced Training)

  1. The words Recommended and Required mean different things.
  2. Les Mills have Live Chat- when did that happen!?
  3. You won’t need to do 2 touchpoints a year if you fall out of a tree and break your leg whilst rescuing your cat in December.
  4. Yes, that appears to be the only example of special circumstances anyone of Facebook can imagine.
  5. Other than that you do.
  6. Except maybe you don’t.
  7. It’s complicated.
  8. But Tribal Gatherings do still count as a Touchpoint for all your programmes.
  9. Yes even if you don’t do that programme on the day.
  10. Maybe check on Facebook though just in case?
  11. Talking of Tribal Gatherings – Combat and Step will apparently always clash.
  12. Body Balance will always be on at the crack of dawn.
  13. This is just the law now. Like wearing Reebok is #thankyoureebok
  14. Future instructors will one day know of Aim 1 and Aim 2 in the same way I know of actual physical copies of releases – a mythical thing people more experienced that me reminisce about! I mean imagine waiting for the postman to deliver your DVDs!
  15. We will now do Advanced Training.
  16. Advanced Training is quite pricey though so Black Friday probably definitely needs to happen!
  17. Advanced, Elite – does anyone now know how the hierarchy works?
  18. Nobody knows how Tribe Coaches will be made now – can we cope with this much change in one go?
  19. But the portal seems able to cope with quarterly bookings this time round – what will we talk about on Facebook?
  20. Ahhh Virtual- we will talk about Virtual.

*Note this is intended as a tounge in cheek look at recent developments in the world of the Tribe and not intended to be taken too seriously!

We all have mental health

10th October is World Mental Health Day.

I have suffered from (do still) depression and anxiety.  It’s an important topic and I’d be happy to talk to anyone – whether they need someone to talk to or want to just gain a greater understanding.

BUT

Mental health isn’t just depression or anxiety or any one singular condition. Mental Health is something we all have – it’s how we deal with life, how we feel.  You might feel great that’s still mental health.  We all need to be aware of how we take care of ourselves, to keep ourselves well mentally and much as physically.  Self care isn’t only for people with illnesses – it’s soemthing everyone needs to practice.

Every year there is a specific focus of World Mental Health Day–This year being “young people and mental health in a changing world”.

According to WHO “Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Our focus is on building mental resilience among young people, to help them cope with the challenges of today’s world.”

One challenge highlighted is the impact of technology in people’s lives.  This topic can go beyond young people however, there will be few people of any age who do not find themselves increasingly relying on various forms of technology in all aspects of their lives (if you’ve lost your phone recently you will probably have realised just how much this is the case).

Social media is probably one of the most obvious ways in which technology has changed the world in a matter of years. The expanding use of social media undoubtedly brings many benefits to our lives – we can develop social contacts and business relationships regardless of location.  However, the same technology can also bring additional pressures into our lives, as connectivity to virtual networks at any (ALL) time of the day and night grows and becomes the norm.  Being ever connected and seeing more aspects of other people’s lives in a way we previously would not have can have a profound effect on our own mental health and how we view our own situations.

Only this morning I was having a conversation with a member at a gym I teach at who recently removed themselves from Facebook for this very reason.

They have been away studying at university and seeing pictures of friends from home together every week, having fun together as a group, whilst this person was miles away and couldn’t be with them produced negative emotions. Despite speaking to them and knowing that these Facebook posts were not the full picture (during the week these friends barely get a chance to speak and it’s not all constant socialising) the emotions the Facebook posts created wasn’t positive and since removing themselves from Facebook they feel happier.

We all know social media posts create a version of our lives whether we mean to put a filter on things or not it’s inevitable that it happens.  Whether we present something as glossy and amazing or terrible – we have decided how it is presented to the world.  The world then views it from their own prism and puts their own spin on what we’ve said.

All this sounds like I’m anti social media but I’m not.  I use Facebook, Instagram (occasionally Twitter, never really got the hang of Snapchat) and obviously I blog.  I have got work from and made business connections through the advances in social media.  It has so many benefits and can add value to your life as long as you are aware that it can also add new types of pressure.

So here are a few ideas of things you can do to protect your own mental health and help create a healthy relationship with technology:

  • Keep social media buttons organised together in a folder on your phone and keep it away from your home screen so you don’t feel like a slave to the sometimes endless notifications popping up.
  • Decide when you will look at messages and emails (maybe once or twice a day) and ignore all incoming things in between these times – if it’s urgent people can call you!
  • Try not to look at your phone for the first hour after you wake up. Getting some fresh air and thinking about your day without seeing what others have posted can change your outlook on the day completely.
  • Try not to look at your phone for an hour before you go to bed. This allows you time to unwind and relax before you go to sleep which will probably help you get to sleep quicker.
  • If you use a sleep app which tracks your REM cycles they often mute all social media notifications once turned on which helps if you struggle with self control on reducing message checking.
  • Just like parents do with their kids – give yourself maximum daily screen times. Don’t let yourself mindlessly scroll through social media platforms.  Give yourself a limit each day and once it’s been exceeded stop mindlessly scrolling through your feeds.
  • Call people sometimes. Having a chat can be great for your mental health and takes away the anxiety that can be created via the misinterpreting of a text message.
  • Actually arrange to meet up with people too when you can!
  • Remember that what people post isn’t always 100% what you think it is- those pictures of smiling people don’t show the argument they had 10 minutes beforehand because someone forgot to put the bins out.
  • If you find yourself getting annoyed by someone’s posts there are a variety of ways of muting them whilst remaining their friends
  • If you enjoy using an app – use it. If you start to feel it adds stress – stop.  I use Facebook and Instagram and enjoy interacting with people on it.  Snapchat just stressed me out so when I got a new phone I just didn’t install the app.

As much as technology may cause some increased stresses to our mental health it also allows people to talk about it more openly about the topic of wellness and to a much wider audience so there are lots of positives to our changing world.

Talking about and being aware of the potential issues arising from change can help us work though them and stay well.  We all need to be aware of our mental health and develop systems to help us maintain a happy healthy life as our surroundings change.  That’s not easy- believe me I know – but days like today and discussions like the ones created by days like this can all play a part in helping work towards better mental health.

The Art of Doing Nothing

On Saturday, I took a friend for a spa afternoon (hi Jane!).  We swam (well she swam I paddled), had a steam, chilled in the Jacuzzi and then had a Mud Chamber experience.

This involved using exfoliating salts and then coating ourselves in mud before chilling in a little chamber for 45 minutes as the temperature and steam increased.  There were no clocks – the whole thing was automatically timed for the showers to come on after 45 minutes of heat (they didn’t as it happens but that’s not the point of the story).

So, we were pretty chilled out after a lie in, leisurely breakfast and an hour by the pool and as we hadn’t seen each other since Christmas we had plenty to catch up on as we sat in the chamber.

But, you know what, 45 minutes (which eventually due to a malfunction turned into 75 minutes) is a really long time to just sit.  As time went on we both found ourselves remarking how strange it felt to be so cut off – we were chatting away but quite simply neither of us were used to just sitting still and doing nothing for an hour.

Of course both of us can sit on the sofa for an hour doing not very much of anything productive with the best of them.

But, we are almost always on our phones mindlessly scrolling, chatting online or maybe making a to do list or watching TV as we sit.

Put simply neither of us every really just sit, with just our thoughts, or even without our thoughts.  We constantly feel the need to fill time or occupy our mind.

I think it’ got a lot to do with Social Media- having a constant stream of information available.  Even if I’m doing something else I’m often multi tasking.  I fill my journeys, runs, time cleaning the flat with listening to podcasts, talks I’ve saved and want to hear, music that I need to learn choreography to for classes.

Whilst that might make me productive it also makes me very bad at switching off and stopping my brain from overloading – no wonder I frequently stress myself out.

Taking some time out when possible to sit and relax- be that via meditating or going for a walk and focusing on your surroundings or going for a massage and just focusing on the feeling etc. is actually a skill which I need to learn to be better at, because being able to take time out will ultimately be better for both my metal and physical health.

What is and isn’t Role Model for a Fitness Professional / Brand

As a fitness instructor or PT, how does your own lifestyle and physique matter?

In recent months I have seen so many Facebook posts debating this issue in a variety of ways and from a wide range of perspectives:

  • From an individual instructors point of view does it matter if you are, in less than perfect condition? What does out of shape even mean? What is too big or not fit enough? Can you go the opposite way and be intimidating or make people feel bad because of your physique or fitness? Is your lifestyle role model material and how do you balance your own real life situations with clients expectations of you?  Does any of that even matter or should people just mind their own business?
  • For Fitness brands – How should you select people to represent your brand? Should everyone look the same or should diversity matter? If diversity matters should that trump their ability to do the job?  Are there some shapes that should not be represented no matter what public opinion says because they do not fit your brand or what you want to represent (perhaps you view them as unhealthy)?

For myself I have been overweight, I have been very skinny and am now less skinny, more lean.  I’m not the strongest person in the world but could be described as reasonably strong.  I’m definitely a work in progress.

I have had a lot of positive feedback from members over the last year as they have seen my body become leaner and more muscular / defined.  I work in a gym where there are already instructors with very good physiques (far better than mine) who definitely inspire a lot of members.  Equally however for many (particularly females) seeing my shape change has created a dialogue about how I’ve done it and hopefully created a positive message that progress takes time and patience and doesn’t just happen overnight.  So for me for every member / client who wants their instructor to look like a Greek God there will be others who find more motivation from somebody who seems to be working on their own fitness at the same time. Likewise, I think people generally appreciate that instructors have real life problems too and perhaps they have been injured or ill and are coming back from that and may not be in their peak shape – that in itself can provide motivation and inspiration to people.

Physically therefore I think fitness instructors can be positive role models regardless of physique.  Here I think the most important element is how we promote health and fitness.  I tend to be about balance – we want to eat well and exercise  to feel good and give us energy but we have to allow ourselves room to live too, and unless we are training for a very time specific goal 80/20 is a good rule to live by.  How should you find that balance? For me there isn’t a right or wrong answer- what works for me may not for someone else.  If we promote sensible healthy habits and show that we live by these rules I think we are decent role models – why pretend we never let a cake or glass of wine pass our lips and provide people with unrealistic expectations for themselves, which just set them up for failure.  If we preach moderation but then over train ourselves or say you should eat everything in moderation but dangerously restrict our own calorie intake i don’t think that is great role modeling.

I think for fitness brands this issue is far more complex but the importance of presenting positive role models becomes even more important as these people will have greater exposure than your average fitness instructor.

These brands are businesses so how they select the people who will represent it naturally will depend on and reflect their values.  For some people diversity seems to be the key – customers want to see a mixture of ages, sizes, backgrounds to make a brand feel inclusive- they want to feel represented.  I tend to lean more to the school of thought that people should be selected because they are the best people for that job – not because they tick a box on an equality drive.  Yes sometimes this means that some groups are under represented but this highlights the issue of why some groups are more or less likely to succeed in certain roles (e.g. why there tends to be fewer women on boards in business etc.) .  Of course if people who are perfectly good for a role are overlooked because they are deemed too old, not skinny enough not attractive enough this would lead me to question that brands values.

It’s actually a more important marketing point than the mere morals of employment law however.  If you area large brand with a big following the type of people you choose to represent you say something about your beliefs.  Can you truly promote inclusivity and everyone being welcome in your world / sphere of the fitness arena if everyone who represents you is a size 8 and under 30? Do these people provide motivation – an inspirational image of what can be achieved? Or does it suggest to customers who are older or larger that they are inferior / do not fit in?

I appreciate this is difficult because if you are good enough to represent a big brand you are possibly at the top of your game – if you are at the top of your game are you therefore likely to be a certain age and size? Or does this train of reasoning exclude the fact that peak fitness isn’t limited to one size / shape / level and therefore there should be more diversity to show a variety of people a variety of ways they could work towards their fitness goals?

Finally, there is one particularly sensitive subject – regarding those people who are very very slim. I say this is sensitive as, the way I see it, there are different reasons someone could look very skinny.  Some people are naturally very slight- they can try all sorts and struggle to put on weight- should these people be prevented to rising to the top of their fields any more than someone who naturally carries weight and find it hard to lose it?  Some people this size however, will be small because they restrict their calorie intake in a way that is not healthy to promote.  Is it responsible of a brand to allow these people to be presented to potentially susceptible customers as role models?  How does one distinguish between the two?  How do you stop the audience from trying to aspire to a physique that may only be attainable to them through starvation even if the person in question is just naturally built like this (it’s a similar debate to that of the Supermodel one which has been ongoing for years)?

On the same token, is it therefore also irresponsible to promote people as role models if they are overweight?  Does this equally imply that this is a healthy aspiration?  Is this balance between not wanting to encourage people to be stick thin or overweight the reason that for some brands everyone ends up looking the same?  Is it possible to strike a balance?

To be honest whilst I know where I stand on individuals instructors being positive role models for their clients / members I’m not sure which side of the fence I sit for brands.  I am torn between wanting more diversity in who is represented within the industry but also against a drive for diversity topping all other aims within fitness.

I do think that in an industry that is largely focused on aesthetics this type of debate is unlikely to ever be settled.

Relationships- Facebook and Reality

I’ve had a few conversations recently that made me think about our relationship with social media and how social media affects our relationships with others.

How many friends do you have on Facebook you haven’t seen in more than 12 months? more than a month? How many have you never met?

Social media has warped our perception of what it means to be friends.

I’m old. To me my friends are the people I speak to daily, weekly, sporadically but often as well as those who I may see less often but have deep seated connections to (old housemates, best friends from school etc.).

Then I have friends I know via my jobs but don’t really know well enough to have a one on one conversation with. We all have friends who fall into both categories sometimes people can cross from one to the other over time, others stay in one camp all the time.

This is how I see the distinction. The number of people on a friend list, number of followers and number of likes and gushing comments on posts do not define my worth. The people I speak to all the time – who know what’s happening in my life not just what I post on Facebook- their opinions matter to me.

I feel like for some, perhaps more so those bought up in an age of social media, this is less the case. The distinction between quality interactions and connections versus instagram fame are less defined.

This has more to do with fitness than you would first think it does.

Fitness is big social media business these days. The platform allows you to make yourself well known and carve out a reputation by depicting yourself in a certain light.

This is a brilliant tool and I’m not knocking it at all- I know many people who have used the medium well and carved out reputations that are genuine and true to who they are.

These people tend to understand the difference between real life relationships and Facebook relationships. This ability to understand what a real connection is allows their personality to show on social media and whilst they may come across less polished than others at times they tend to be pretty happy with how they are perceived, largely I think because they are comfortable within themselves – they have their people, their support – the reaction to something they post therefore becomes ess important to them.

I also know of fitness professionals who post to boost their business in the way they think will win them clients and likes, but which is maybe more detached from who they are in real life. To be fair I’ve seen this method build profiles and large followings of strangers – make people recognisable to people they’ve never met – so for some people this works really well. Again, those people still tend to nurture a group of positive relationships away from social media.

But I worry there is a risk amidst all this Social Media hype of people getting swept away – because having lots of friends online doesn’t help you when you need a shoulder to cry on or you are having a crap day. If we focus all our energy on growing followings we risk loosing opportunities to build personal connections with people we actually see or speak to daily. That’s not saying I think we should all quit social media – but perspective and balance are lovely things!

To be honest when I’m enjoying someone’s company I normally forget to log onto Facebook or Insta. The people I speak with most often – when I meet up with them I’m less likely to tag that on Social because I don’t need to tell the world I’m there to make it worthwhile for me – although obviously if there isn’t a selfie it didn’t happen still, that’s jus the law these days – which is unfortunate because if it isn’t food I’m unlikely to photograph it!

This has been a bit deep and rambling (sorry) but my takeout from my brain dump is pretty simple.

I think we should embrace social media- I have great banter online, love sharing photos and Insta stories along with my random opinions and gnome updates. Sometimes it can be used to great effect to get your message and opinions out there. You can meet some lovely, like- minded people. We just need to remember to cultivate real life relationships at the same time. Because, if nobody online likes your photo but you best friend messages you and says it looks great which matters more?