Why don’t you train legs?

Why don’t you train body parts is a common question I get from people when they ask what I did in the gym on any given day.  That I don’t train legs one day, back and biceps the other, chest and shoulders the next confuses some people.

The ‘Bro Split’ type of training is how most people start training in the gym, it’s probably the most accepted way of training, and works very well for certain people.  If you are very lean and looking for specific aesthetic goals for instance, or if you want to manage your energy levels around other training training body parts per session can suit you well.

I think it’s useful however for people to understand that it isn’t the only acceptable way to train.  Just like there are many ways to manage your diet and no one way is better, what works for some training wise will not suit others.

I teach group exercise, train PT clients and have a full time office job, I also like running, so I don’t really have time for four or five sessions all lasting an hour plus focusing on specific muscle groups.  More to the point I don’t really have any interest in doing so.  I’m not looking to get super lean with a six pack.  I like food too much for that and to be honest just want to be fit, healthy, strong and enjoy my training sessions.  For me a training session that leaves me feeling good and fatigued and is done within 30 to 40 minutes is the goal, and two, maybe three sessions is the max I can fit in – often training in my lunch hour.    

So sessions that involve big lifts that use multiple body parts are more effective for me.  Focusing on squats, deadlifts, rows, thrusters for example essentially give me more bang for my buck – maximum results in minimum time.

Of course for others, with different lifestyles and goals, that would not work best for them.  Here lies the most important thing t understand about fitness.  We are all different, what and how much we eat and what, when and how we train will be different for all of us.  If your friend has amazing results and you do their exact same thing it doesn’t mean you will also have amazing results. 

Get a coach, and follow their advice and ignore what everyone else is doing, as just because you’re doing something different to others doesn’t make you right or wrong.  More to the point if you are training with a coach that gets everyone to do the same thing, ask questions.  Because even if your coach specialises in a certain group or area and therefore advises generalised things specific to that group, your actual individual training will be slightly different to your peers.  For instance I work with other group fitness instructors – there are general areas of advice which apply to the all – the type of training we work well with, nutrition and energy level challenges we face etc. tend to be quite common.  However, we still al have different goals, different likes and dislikes, different starting points, so our actual training needs to be programmed differently and some pieces of advice may not apply to us specifically.

Understanding that you don’t need to follow every trend and can (in fact probably should) let some things pass us by and focus on the things that actually serve us, is probably the best fitness lesson out there.

The Cycle

You know when people say exercise is good for your mental health, and can help with conditions such as anixety and depression.

The kicker is that often, when you are feeling particularly anxious or low, exercising can be one of the hardest things to actually make yourself do.

And there begins the cycle of knowing something will make you feel better and yet not feeling able to actually do it, that in itself can make you feel bad for not doing it which adds to the feelings you already had.

Whilst it might feel like you are the only person who ever feels like that it’s actually pretty common, I think particularly over the last year or so when gyms have been largely closed and classes not accessible, because let’s face it, the gym environment or the instructor make a difference in getting yourself motivated to move. Training at home- even with Zoom classes- takes a lot more self start, and self start isn’t always something you have if you are feeling depressed.

The good news is of course that gyms and classes are reopening and that structure that can be so helpful to our routine will soon be back in place. Classes can act as appointments, so even if you’re not ‘feeling it’ you turn up and someone basically gets you moving. Even just the act of going to a gym and being surrounded by strangers can make you more motivated to move. You’re in ‘that’ environment, free of distractions, it makes it just that bit easier to get started.

In the mean time however, if you do find yourself not really wanting to train, even if you know you’d feel better, think about going for a walk or doing whatever form of exercise you enjoy the most, even just for twenty minutes and allow yourself to ease back into it rather than feeling guilty and forcing yourself to commit to punishing schedules you know you won’t stick to and then you’ll feel bad about failing at. This will hopefully allow you to break that cycle and start to feel more motivated to train again over time.

DOMs

I’m going to bet that after everyone in England’s first week back at the gym a few people will currently have DOMs!

Getting back to training that your body perhaps hasn’t done for a while, with weights heavier than you have been using at home is likely to leave your muscles feeling sore and recovery times feeling longer than you were previously used to.

So today a little reminder about DOMs as we ease ourselves back into our gym routines:

  1. DOMS are temporary — depending on how intense they are you will feel OK again in about two to four days without having to do anything (if you don’t feel better by then it might be an injury).
  2. Make sure you warm-up and cool-down.  Making sure your muscles are prepared for exercise and safely recover from physical stress can help reduce the likelihood of DOMs (they won’t guarantee you won’t get them though).
  3. Build up the intensity of your training slowly. If you’re brand new to any type of training and don’t build up your weights / distance etc. your body will react more dramatically to the stress (plus you increase the risk of injury) and even if you’re experienced, we’ve had an extended break from lifting and the likes and need to build back up to where we were pre Lockdowns.
  4. If you’re suffering from DOMs try gently massaging the area affected (tip getting a deep tissue massage will not make you feel less sore!).  Likewise using a foam roller to gently roll out your sore muscles may help.
  5. Keep moving whilst you have DOMs.  Not really intense exercise, allow your muscles to recover – but getting the blood flowing and muscles moving (walking, easy biking, swimming) can help you feel better.
  6. Drink lots of water – drinking water makes everything feel better!

Return of the Gym

Back to the gym this week. Like many people I’ve been ridiculously glad to get back to training in a gym, with more than the couple of bits of home equipment and proper gym floors and real space to be able to move and just the hustle and bustle of a gym.

Because even if I’m doing a body weight workout or a workout with a set of dumbbells or band or studio barbell which I could technically do at home it just feels better in a gym. I feel like my workout intensity is higher, I’m more focused , I enjoy it more and leave feeling like I’ve just worked more.

Part of it is I just don’t have much space and don’t really have the flooring for high intensity workouts (the first lockdown well and truly knackered my living room carpet) but beyond that I find the act of leaving the house, walking to the gym, entering that different environment mentally prepares me for the workout. I find that I don’t have the distractions I have at home (Ohhh I really need to clean under the sofa or that lampshade is a bit dusty). There’s even a case of the strangers not paying you any attention around you providing some form of silent accountability to not give up when you start to feel tired.

For some people the convenience of working out from home have been a revelation. Classes or workouts on demand, no traveling to and from time, no having to wait for equipment. I get that but for me the atmosphere of the gym, beyond providing a wider range of equipment and possibilities, gives me a focus that I just don’t have at home.

Home workouts were a mean to an end for me personally but I’m so glad I can finally get back into an actual gym!

Training Over Christmas

Do you plan to train over Christmas? Do you normally train over Christmas?

I like to go for a short run on Christmas Day, less for exercise purposes and more to get a bit of fresh air and loosen up my body (which is almost always stiff after sitting on trains travelling cross country) and I like to get a gym session in on Boxing Day if I can, again because it feels good to move.

Some people of course prefer do nothing over the festive period and others like to stick to their normal training routine completely.

One thing that I know can be common for people who do train habitually as part of their every day life and who chose to train in anyway over Christmas is that others can find this strange and make comment on it. That might be because they are visiting family they don’t normally stay with and who aren’t used to them making time to train, or it might be because family members feel they should instead be spending that time doing Christmassy things or that they should be taking a rest because it’s Christmas.

Throughout the year people who train often can find confused reactions from those in their life that don’t, generally overtime the people important in your life will understand you needing to take time to go to the gym each day, but like many things, this reaction can feel heightened at this time of the year (where festivities are supposed to over take everything in our order of priorities). If you don’t enjoy training it can be genuinely baffling why someone would choose to go for a run or to the gym when they have the perfect excuse not to.

The same can of course apply to your diet. I don’t mean your calorie deficit, i just mean your daily intake of food. You may for instance have decided to eat normally until Christmas Eve but if you decide to not partake in all the chocolate and Christmas foods that always appear from 1st December you can be classed as odd, boring and obsessed. It can hard for those who love Christmas foods (I count myself as one of this camp) to understand why others don’t seem to.

If you are someone who wants to train over Christmas don’t feel guilted into not doing so or bad for taking a bit of time out to move if that’s what makes you feel good. If you aren’t one of those people just know that exercise is rarely just about exercise and many people who chose to train over Christmas will be doing so because it brings about a lot more benefits than just burning a few calories, and if you let them have that hour without making them feel bad for it the rest of the day is likely to be a lot more enjoyable!

Finally – Christmas will be a lot different to normal for many this year, so if you need to train to help with whatever has happened – do!

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.

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

 

Lockdown Fitness

How are you tackling your fitness during lockdown?

Maybe you’re not.  If this is all too much for you right now to think about training or you’re still going out to work everyday and can’t focus time on it that’s perfectly ok, there’s no need to feeling guilty about that.

But if you’re at home, have time and have the desire to keep moving for physical or mental health reasons (or both) what are you doing?

I said at the start of lockdown that for me moving was more about my mental health and routine than getting fitter or stronger.  The fact is I don’t have the equipment I would normally have access to, so cannot rain in my preferred way.  That meant I took the view that training would be something to make me feel good and that was it.  I’d train as and when I wanted and how I felt like at the time.

Last week I started to change that mindset a little, only a little – I’m still limited in what I can do but I also felt ready to get a little focus.  I think the issue was that to start with just moving felt ok, but overtime the lack of a goal meant motivating myself to do anything was getting harder.  The lack of accountability to a structure wasn’t helping either.

So I got a plan.  The plan still focuses on what I can do- run, at home cardio in a small space, online classes and some weights with the two sets of dumbbells I have, but it gives me accountability to a lockdown goal (keep moving and keep positive) and a structure to my training.

I’ve also focused on the specifics within my plan that are going to benefit me most.  Not training first thing in the morning was affecting how my day felt it was going and also my attitude towards my diet.  Making the first thing I do each day some form of training has improved how I feel in general, how productive I feel and made me want to visit the fridge less often.

I guess what I’m saying is I needed a plan not just for my fitness itself but because fitness is normally so much part of my routine that the lack of plan was affecting my overall day.  Putting that plan in place has improved my overall feeling of well being.

Equally, I know for some people the idea of a set plan would be restrictive and in itself may negatively affect them.  Some people are loving trying different things, others are trying to recreate what they normally do.

We all enjoy different types of training and react differently to certain types of structure in our training.  The key is working out what’s best for you, there’s no right or wrong.  When you have identified this you can plan accordingly, either yourself or with a PT who can help you find a way of training that works for you, this can be particularly useful if you’re starting to train in a new type of way as expert guidance at the start can help you train sensibly and effectively making it more likely that you enjoy your training.

However you approach training right now this is a great time to start thinking about what does and doesn’t work for you, what you’re missing and not missing, what you’d like to do when gyms reopen.  It’s like having a blank canvas to start again after lockdown which is kind of exciting when you think about it!

 

 

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.

 

What Gym Kit Do I Need?

What should you wear to the gym? Simple answer.

Whatever you feel comfortable in.

And that answer is fine if you spend a lot of time training and know what does and doesn’t work for you.  This blog isn’t for you though.

Because that answer isn’t very helpful if you are thinking about starting some form of exercise in the New Year and really don’t know what to wear.  Then it’s just another obstacle to getting started.  I know because years ago when I was overweight and knew that I probably needed to do something not knowing what I should wear (and not feeling comfortable in a ton of lycra) was a good enough excuse to keep putting getting started off.

So here’s some tips to get started:

  • You don’t need to spend lots of new kit. If you want to and can afford it and it will make you feel more confident by all means go splurge in Victoria Secrets.  If you’re starting to dip your toe into the water you don’t need to though – go to Sports Direct or Primark and buy a couple of pairs of bottoms, a couple of tops and a couple of pairs of socks (and if youre female a couple of sports bras).  They don’t need to be any fancy materials to start, as long as you feel comfortable and can move about in them they will work to get you started.  As you get more into training and get to decide what you enjoy doing you can then invest in kit that works for that particular sport in time – right now those expensive compression running tops could be a waste of money if you find out that really you much prefer Zumba.
  • You don’t need super expensive trainers. Same as with clothes. Once you settle on a sport or area of training you may wish to invest in certain shoes (lifting shoes, dance shoes, running shoes, cycle shoes) but to start just buy a pair of trainers that are comfortable.  Think about what you are planning on doing.  If you are going to try classes out a trainer with a spin spot on the sole (a circle type mark on the sole will indicate this) can be useful as it allows you to turn on the spot (which you will do in most dance based classes but is also useful in classes such as Body Combat) – most trainers in the ‘studio’ section on a sports store website will have this.  These shoes will also work well if you plan on venturing into the gym.  If you are going to go running look for a trainer in the running section of the store / website- it doesn’t need to be expensive right now.  For cycling classes you may eventually want to be a cycle shoe you can use cleats with but until you know it’s the exercise for you just pick a trainer with a decent sole (very thin soles will make the class a little painful).
  • You don’t need to wear very fitted clothes. Of course you can if that’s what makes you feel good but don’t feel the pressure to go super skimpy lycra clad if that will make you feel self conscious. People wear all sorts of things to the gym from baggy tops to brightly coloured comic strip style leggings so whatever style will make you feel good is the style to pick and if that means covering up or wearing something loose go for it (just try and make sure it’s not so baggy it impedes safe movement / is something you risk tripping up on!)
  • You don’t need to expose lots of flesh. As above, wear what makes you feel good. Some people like wearing shorts or a crop top to train in, others people prefer to wear leggings and vest tops or long sleeve tops – it has nothing to do with how ‘fit’ people are or what their abs look like – it’s just personal preference as to what makes people feel comfortable whilst training so go as covered or uncovered as you wish.
  • Your basic kit shopping list might look something like this:

 

  • Gym bag (big enough to fit everything in)
  • A sports bra (females) and a comfortable pair of knickers / Boxers
  • Leggings or shorts
  • A comfortable, breathable top (t shirt, vest, crop top) – not something like a jumper because you’ll just be too hot
  • Socks
  • Trainers
  • Hair bobble if you have long hair
  • Water bottle
  • Small towel