Stop. Take a Minute.Make it Simple.

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with everything that is going on?

I suspect a lot of people do because one of the most common reasons people give for not exercising or looking at what they eat is that they are too busy.

I’ve said here before that really this can be overcome with planning, working out what you need to prioritise and what you can realistically do, being realistic about your goals.  I stand by this, but I also get it.

I think it’s a natural feeling to have sometimes, to be completely overwhelmed.  Whether you already train regularly, eat pretty well,  juggle lots of jobs and tasks or whether these are things you aspire to do but don’t feel like you do right now, sometimes it just feels like there’s too much stuff.

Sometimes out of nowhere the balls your kept in the air for ages feel like too many balls or trying to change one small thing in your house of cards feels like it will bring the whole thing down.

This is when you need to stop and evaluate.

‘Hustle’ is great.  If you want things you do have to work, whether that be in your career or working towards your ideal physique, but when you attempt to do everything perfectly you can end up reaching the point you actually are doing nothing because it’s all just got too much.

Sometimes you need to sit and look at everything on your to do list.  Take off some of the pointless tasks that don’t really matter.  Look at your training, look at your diet and pin point exactly what is you need to focus on right now and forget about everything else you hear about and think maybe you should be doing too.

My plan for the 6 weeks or so before Christmas?  Well I noticed these last few days I’ve been putting off important shit because I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed.  When I’m overwhelmed i comfort eat, when I comfort eat I feel sluggish and don’t really want to train.

I’ve stripped my work load back to a manageable amount of work, with the things that will earn me money taking priority.  I know I’ll get more results taking longer to do things I want to do but actually doing them rather than just saying I really must get on with that.

I’m going to track my food, not cut stuff out or eat differently (It’s Christmas, there’s going to be cake and I’m not saying no!) just make sure I’m staying within my TDEE.  That will make me feel better about training – Training I want to hit hard.  Not hard as in spend hours in the gym, but plan my sessions in and treat them like appointments and be 100% present in the session to be the best of my ability that day.

Essentially I’m planning to finish 2019 by focusing on doing the basics well.  That’s going to make life feel simpler and therefore reduce that feeling of juggling lots of balls.

If right now you feel like you can’t hit your fitness goals because you’ve too much on try taking a look, seeing what you can drop and what really simple things you can commit to right now to get you closer to your goals by the end of 2019.

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?

New to Body Pump? Tips!

New to Body Pump?

Classes with lots of equipment can seem scary, but Pump is a great way to introduce weights based training into your routine with the added benefit of having an instructor there to help you get the hang of the moves.

So this is my ‘what you need to know’ guide to taking your first Body Pump class:

  • Arrive at least 10 minutes early and introduce yourself to the instructor so they can help you set up and so they know that you are new. This can help them tailor their teaching, ensuring you have a good first class.
  • Stick with light weights for your first couple of classes and concentrate on getting the hang of the tempos and the moves. Body Pump works because you are doing large numbers of reps, so whilst you want to use a challenging weight eventually, it’s ok to start off light – 3.75kg each side might be a good starting point for most and allow you to work on technique as a priority.
  • The instructor will give you a guide of what to put on the bar at the start of each track (e.g. double the weight, take 1/3 off etc.). Listen carefully to this – they will normally give two options – one for regulars, one for new people but do not be afraid to stick with the same weight all the way through on your first class.
  • We will also tell you what else you need for the class – for instance you might need a separate weight plate not on your bar.  You’ll be tired in between tracks but try and listen and get the equipment advised close to hand – if you have to go hunting for a weight plate half way through a track you miss reps and will get stressed (not what anyone wants for your first class!)
  • The structure of every class will always be one of these – where ever you go, whoever teaches:

60 minutes

  1. Warm up
  2. Squats
  3. Chest
  4. Back
  5. Triceps
  6. Biceps
  7. Lunges
  8. Shoulders
  9. Core
  10. Cool down

45 minutes 

  1. Warm up
  2. Squats
  3. Chest
  4. Back
  5. Lunges OR Tricep / Bicep Combo
  6. Shoulders OR Lunges / Shoulders Combo
  7. Core
  8. Cool down

30 minutes

  • Warm up
  • Squats
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Core

So when the whole class looks like they know what is coming they do for a reason- and after a couple of classes you will too!

  • Talking of continuity – we get a ‘new release’ every 3 months. So at that point, every instructor will teach this new set of tracks for 4-6 weeks. That is why when you do your first class some people will look like they know what is coming – they have probably done the track lots of times before! After about 6 weeks, the instructor will probably start to ‘mix’. This means they will bring back some older tracks to keep things interesting and keep your body reacting well to the class.
  • As a new member, you can take advantage of something called Smart Start. This means that if you want to try a few tracks (we suggest up to the back track) and then leave you can do. Leave your stuff out and the instructor will put it away at the end of class. Then next week you can stay for a couple of extra tracks, and a few more the week after until you can do a whole class. This is optional and you can stay for the whole class if you want, but it does provide an option to try the class out and build up week by week if you are new to exercise or unsure about being able to do a whole hour.
  • With Body Pump your technique is more important than weight so don’t worry too much at first about what you are lifting – instead work on getting the moves. Doing them well will bring better results than just picking up a heavier bar!
  • The tempo is also really important in Body Pump. You will hear the instructor ask you to move at different tempos (3/1, 2/2, bottom half pulses). These aren’t just to make it more interesting. The different tempos help to work different muscle fibres and maximise your results so try to work with the instructors pace.
  • You aren’t moving or jumping (well occasionally you might be jumping but rarely!) but you will sweat and you will get out of breathe. Don’t worry about this or think it means you’re unfit.  Body Pump will burn calories as well as shaping your body.  You’ll notice the instructor will be sweaty and out of breath by the end of the class too!
  • Don’t be worried if you wake up the next day and climbing the stairs or tying your hair back hurts! This is your body reacting to new training and will pass in a few days. After a few classes your body will take less time to recover!
  • If you have done weights in the gym before you may be confused by a couple of the moves we do in Body Pump! Be aware that some moves (Deadlifts for instance) are modified for the studio environment. This is for safety reasons as a) we move at a fast tempo and b) the instructor needs to make sure a large group of people are all moving safely.  You can do both sorts of training, they both have their on benefits and it doesn’t need to be one way of the other.

I hope that the above tips have made the idea of trying a class less daunting! If you do decide to give the class a go, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Should you Train on Holiday?

I’ve trained on holiday- not everyday, but I’ve got a couple of short workouts in and a couple of 20 minute yoga practices. As a fitness instructor I am used to training most days and often multiple times a day so for me this is still a massive break for the body.

Should you train on holiday though? And if you do what should you do?

Well to start the most obvious answer is it’s completely up to you. If you train regularly and are going on holiday taking a break from your everyday routine is exactly the point so there’s nothing wrong with deciding that you aren’t packing gym kit.

Some people enjoy their training however and will feel better for a quick gym session some days (or you may be training for an event and still want to get some sessions in whilst away) and if that’s you don’t feel guilty about recognising and acknowledging this, although it’s worthwhile remembering there is a difference between wanting to go and do a little bit in the gym a few times and feeling guilty about not sticking to your normal busy training schedule – a holiday is about finding more time to relax after all.

So if you’re going to train what should you do? Again this is entirely up to you. You might want to go with some form of plan but try and be flexible – there could be activities there you’d enjoy trying instead of your planned routine or you could arrive to find a less than well equipped hotel gym. I would try, however, to keep sessions quick so you’ve more time to go enjoy the sun, and also keep them fun – things your enjoy rather than things that are going to kill your legs and leave you aching for days!

Some ideas of things you could do:

  • Hotel Gyms – worth remembering they will vary dramatically in quality so you may need to be flexible with what you do
  • Swimming
  • Running – you may need to do this early or late depending on the heat. Running on sand is hard!
  • Classes – many hotels now put on classes you could try
  • Water aerobics – a staple of most hotels activities and suitable for all levels of fitness
  • Sports – there is often organised volleyball or football you could get involved in, many hotels have tennis courts if you can rope someone in for a game
  • Body weight workouts – if there’s no gym you could still get a little body weight workout in either outside of in your room
  • On demand workouts – if you have space in your room and the internet there’s a host of streamed website services such as Les Mills on Demand (currently doing a 21 day free trial for women as part of the This Girl Can campaign) and Beach Body
  • Yoga – a great way to both workout and relax and could be done outside or in your room
  • Walking- getting out and exploring is still a great form of exercise

Above all if you train you want it to enhance your mood whilst away not feel like a chore or a penance for all the food you’re enjoying so make the choice that suits you best and enjoy!

Post Marathon Blues

Today’s blog topic is a request (possibly my first ever topic request!) and is focused on the Post Marathon Blues.

This doesn’t just need to apply to marathons, it could equally apply to people who have trained for any big sporting even (half marathon, 10k, big swim or cycle, triathlon, a show, a tournament- anything where all your focus for several months has been working towards being in your peak physical form and at the top of your game for one specific event).

How we feel after an event is not something we tend to focus on.  We put lots of thought into preparing for things and on the day itself and even on the immediate recovery in the hours or days after a physical event.

But many people report feeling a bit down in the weeks after a marathon or other big event.  Words like lost, aimless, flat, down, void, lacking in motivation come up in conversations.  It’s a lot like that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday and the realities of normal life hit you and now because the holiday has been and gone you don’t have anything to look forward to.

This is due to both physical and psychological reasons.

Physically the day itself will probably have left you feeling extremely tired, a cumulative effect of weeks of training hard and the extra effort of the day itself and you may have picked up blisters, bruised toenails and niggles which don’t help make you feel great about yourself.  Your endorphins will have been high during the event and as you settle back into normality this can have an effect of how you feel as you struggle to replicate the high you felt in that moment again.

Mentally, you no longer have the event to focus on and that can leave you feeling like life has no meaning or focus after months of everything you do revolving around training (can’t go out Saturday have a long run on Sunday morning, can’t eat that as I’m in training and so on).  It can make it harder to you to motivate yourself to eat well or train as you no longer have that reason for doing so.  Many of us thrive on routine and having something meaningful to us to work towards and once you reach your goal where do you go from there?

Thankfully, these feelings tend to only last a few weeks and people normally spring back to their normal self but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better in this situation and feel the positivity you probably expected to feel after your big achievement.

Celebrate

Plan to do something nice to celebrate your achievement – a massage, spa break, celebration meal.  Take time to congratulate yourself for what you achieved so it doesn’t feel insignificant now.

Book something nice

Similar to above, you could consider booking a weekend break or holiday- something to focus on that is nice and not exercise.  This is bound to improve your mood

Reflect

Think about what you achieved, all the positives and even what you would have done differently in hindsight.  Think objectively about whether it’s something you would like to repeat or if once was enough.  That way if you choose to train for the same event in the future you know what pitfalls to avoid and if not you know you can confidently say once was enough.  Sometimes reflecting on your feelings can give you more ownership on how you feel and help you both make decisions and manage your emotional responses better.

Recover Properly

Get a sports massage, continue to eat nourishing food (and enough of it) to help the body recover, stretch, get some good quality sleep and take some time to just sit and chill.  Any sporting event which take a toll on your body requires some proper mindful recovery in the days after to help you feel better physically which in turn will help you feel better mentally.

Do some low impact exercise

Don’t feel like you need to be back training he day after.  A week or two off could be exactly what your body needs.  If you feel the urge to exercise though try and stick to low impact options which place less strain on your CNS.  You may want to try some yoga or similar during this time.

Don’t run for a couple of weeks

Similar to above, a couple of weeks not doing the exercise you have just trained hard for can be beneficial, both in allow you to physically recover but also give you that little bit of excitement when you do go back out for that first run after a couple of weeks.

Find a new challenge

After a couple of weeks when your rested and refreshed this could be the time to think about what comes next.  Another run of the same distance, a step up to the next distance (Ultra anyone), maybe looking at trying something new instead.  Setting your next goal will give you a renewed sense of focus.

Above all, don’t stress about feeling a bit blue after a big event.  It’s human nature and being sensible and kind to yourself is the key to letting it subside.

Equally, if you suffer from depression anyway, don’t let the idea of post event blues put you off training for an event.  Research has shown that having something to aim for and the training and self care associated with that training can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression and as long as you are mindful that you might feel a bit down immediately after the event and have your coping strategies in place this should have a generally positive impact on your mental health.

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.

Race Day Eatings

Yesterday I ran my first long distance run for a year.  I used to run quite often so had my race day routine finely tuned to suit me so found it relatively easy to get myself back into the swing of things even after some time.

This is what I did to fuel my body on race day.

Breakfast:

2 Turkey rashers, 2 poached eggs, 1/2 avacado, mushroom, asparagus and grilled tomato; Pint water; Coffee

My race was at 2 pm so I had a late / leisurely breakfast around 11 am.  I’m a fan of a reasonably big breakfast before a race, and if I’d have been running for over an hour would have added some more carbs, such as some toast or a bagel but for a 10km run this filled me up well and remained within my calorie goals for the day.  There can be an urge when you have a race day to eat lots and lots because, well you’re running a long way, but you need to bare in mind that run won’t burn more calories than your training runs or normal training sessions in the gym so you need to be mindful not to over estimate how many calories you need in comparison to normal.

Tip: Eat one of your normal breakfasts – before a race is not the time to try something new – you want to know your stomach can handle running on what you eat.

Tip: Have plenty of water the day before and when you get up to hydrate then don’t drink for an hour before you run so you don’t need a wee half way round!

During the Run:

Water 

I sipped about 250ml water on the way round to stay hydrated.  It wasn’t very warm and I was running for an hour so there was no need for any additional fuel as my body was already well fueled.

Tip: Gels are not necessary unless you are running for over an hour if you are sufficiently well fueled and hydrated leading up to the run.  For longer runs an energy gel after the first hour may help, but try them in training runs first and stick to the brand you practiced with on the day (again you don’t want to risk your stomach objecting!). Jelly babies act similarly to gels in giving ou a boost on longer runs.

Post Run:

TGI Friday’s Sesame Chicken Strips with fries, Frozen Irish Coffee, 500 ml water

After a run you want to eat a soon as possible – ideally within a 30 minute to an hour window.  I planned to eat at home but ended up facing an hour wait for my train so found somewhere in the station to eat.  I ideally look to replenish with a meal that has both protein and carbs.  You always want to eat something that feels like a treat after a race too so my go to post run meals are chicken and chips or a roast dinner.  No roasts around in the station so this was the best thing I could find!  Alcohol should be consumed in moderation – although it’s always nice to have a celebration tipple, but try and have some water as well.

Tip: Look to eat asap after you run, and to get something with carbs and protein in it.  Chips are not the devil.

Recovery:

Pint water with electrolytes

When I got home I made sure I drank lots of water and the first glass I had I added a scoop of electrolytes to replace any salts lost.

Tip: A hydration tablet or similar product can aid recovery.