Anxiety and the Gym

When people think about anxiety and the gym we normally think about how anxiety can make it hard for people to get started, go to the gym or a class for the first time or start something new. That’s a valid topic to discuss because the unknown and uncertainty can be anxiety inducing to many of us at the best of times.

Another impact anxiety can have on your training that maybe gets overlooked though is how it affects your concentration. Now it can be argued that people with anxiety are incredibly good at concentrating, it’s just it tends to be on whatever is causing anxiety which isn’t a great thing to be hyper concentrated on.

This has two effects, firstly, it reduces the ability to concentrate on what you actually want to concentrate on at that moment. For instance in the gym, whilst some people might find working out a good distraction from whatever is causing anxiety, others might find that they are too affected by the anxiety to fully focus on their workout.

This might often be the case when the second effect of anxiety comes in play, the physical effects; a racing heart, increase in body temperature, headaches for instance. These symptoms can make it very difficult to focus on what you should be focused on or to settle down into your training.

I often find that if I’m doing something such as teaching a class, exercise can reduce my anxiety, probably because I’m having to think about what I’m doing. If I’m just training in the gym for me though, and I’m anxious about something, particularly if it’s just happened or is ongoing, I often find it much harder to fully get into a workout and my intensity reduces. Of course there’s an argument that just getting into the gym and doing something, even if it wasn’t exactly what you wanted, is still a positive and probably still has many benefits.  If you find yourself thinking this sounds familiar to you though, maybe consider having little strategies to work around this up your sleeve, attending a class, training with a friend, a play list that always calms you down perhaps.

Ultimately, we are never going to be able to avoid having bad days, so understanding how your own mind and emotions work and how you can best work with them rather than against them is the best way of managing your training when these things hit.

2023 Goals

If you’re looking to make changes or set yourself some challenges for 2023, it isn’t enough to just want things to change, you need to work out what actions you need to take to make those changes happen.

Here’s a podcast all about goals, what, why and how…

https://anchor.fm/heather-sherwood/episodes/Goal-Setting-Your-Why-and-How-e1pver7

Training in 2023 will be Hybrid

Pre Covid not many gym goers seriously thought about training at home.

Things like Les Mills on Demand and Peloton existed of course, but by and large people had physical gym memberships and went to gyms and classes week on week. The home based apps were considered by many an ‘added’ extra to a workout routine.

Lockdown changed that. We had little choice during that time to embrace online classes, training at home or outdoors and many people invested in fitness equipment.

For some of us it was only really a means to an end. I found training at home (beyond running which I did anyway) hard in terms of space and also in terms of maintaining focus. Some people found it liberating though. Saving time on travelling, finding it easier to fit in around work and child care, many people found they didn’t see the point in going back once gyms re opened.

Beyond that, whilst many people did still want to return to actual gyms, they found that new working patterns where they still worked from home, or did for at least half their week, it wasn’t necessarily practical to return to the gym (or at least not every day) especially when their gym was closer to their place of work.

So where do we stand coming into 2023, the year where we can probably say that habits, which at the start of 2022 were sill a bit up in the air, have settled?

Hybrid membership options need to be where gyms start to focus I think in order to retain memberships. Memberships where there are online offerings for days people want to train at home, or flexible memberships where people not planning to use the gym all week could opt to pay less for a reduced access (there’s already student memberships at university gyms and off peak memberships available in many places so it would just be tweaks in access required), maybe even more reasonable PAYG options.

Currently workouts are a bit like streaming platforms – depending on what you want to watch you might need Sky, Netflix, Disney and more to watch everything- if you want to train at home and in the gym you need a gym membership and in most cases also an online app for home workouts. If more gyms started to provide a more robust hybrid option where the online wasn’t an after thought (I’m sure there are some out there already on this wave length) they could look to solidify their membership base and overcome the shifts that are occurring in where and when and how people train.

What trends do you see coming in relation to training in 2023?

What should you look for in a PT?

What should you look for in a PT?

There’s lots of ways you can work with a PT now: one on one, small group, online programming, apps. Beyond cost, what do you look for when deciding who to go to?

Maybe it’s location, if you want to train in person that will be a big factor; but it could also be their specialisms, experience, how fit they look, how comfortable they make you feel, the recommendation from people you trust or their client testimonials.

All of these things are valid reasons, ultimately you’re picking someone to work with based on things that are important and relevant to you is key, and here’s where I think the most important factor in looking for someone to work with comes in.

Do they get ‘you’. Specifically can they understand your pain points, identify how they affect your fitness and help you work around them?

We all have some sort of pain points, whether you think it or not, Some may be more obvious than others.

If you deal with depression or anxiety, that’s going to have an effect on how you train. Shift worker, busy mum, student; all these things can affect your training and diet.

Whether your issue is with fitting in gym sessions in the first place, struggling to focus during sessions, struggling to pluck up the courage to go to the gym or anything else in between; what you want is a PT who can understand that issue and help you with that.

Because in reality getting a gym plan is useful. Having someone tell you what to do in the gym gives you focus. A good PT will programme your sessions to incorporate progression and work specifically towards your goals.

All of that is useless though if it doesn’t work around your pain points. A good coach doesn’t just give you the right exercises for you, they understand the obstacles you face and look at how you can overcome them. That has an effect on what they have you do.

That doesn’t mean they have to have lived your experience, of course that can help but it’s not essential, but they need to be willing to listen, pin point the issues their clients faced and think about how to incorporate solutions into workouts.

If you struggle to stick to workouts or get results, a plan and a coach who can help you work around yourself and the things that keep tripping you up might make a difference. It might not make fitness feel easy but it might make a difference to your results.

Food v Exercise

I don’t know about you but I find it so much harder to keep my nutrition in check compared to training.

People always seem to think that the training is the hardest and most important part of a weight loss goal.  In reality though exercise forms a small part of your daily energy expenditure (even if you train everyday) and as it is a calorie deficit that results in weight loss it stands to reason that your energy intake is likely to be a bigger variable each day than expenditure is and therefore more likely to negatively affect weight loss.

Plus in reality, once you get into a habit training regularly isn’t actually that hard.. If you can find something you enjoy doing it will be less hard work getting the training in and more a part of your day you look forward to.

Food on the other hand can be tricky. Trying to eat a balanced diet, stay within a calorie goal and still eat foods you enjoy often enough you don’t end up on a crazy binge is tough.  There are far more variables to contend with here and we often have a more emotional relationship with food, which adds to the challenge.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that although I feel like my training is getting back to a more consistent state and I feel better for that, my nutrition feels much less in check.

For the last few weeks I’ve focused on the training side and let myself feel more comfortable with my routine, this week I’m going to focus on what I’m eating.

To do this I’m trying to eat higher protein and to my calories each day, not trying to go super low with calories, so that  I end up getting really hungry and eating a horse (and by horse I mean whole cake).  Instead I’m trying to plan in tasty meals and snacks which won’t leave me hungry so I have less urge to grab additional higher calorie snacks.

Training when ill

I’ve got a cold, I started to feel a bit run down Friday and Saturday morning my nose felt blocked up. I went out for a run Saturday lunchtime and by the time I got home I felt rough and spent the day on the sofa. Sunday I felt better but decided not to train instead going out for lunch but by the time I got home I knew it was man down, a full blown cold had hit. It’s not a total shock, I’ve had a bust and stressful few weeks and actually said a few times recently that I knew I was doing too much and was making myself sick. The fact of the matter is when we get stressed and over work ourselves we are more susceptible to picking up colds etc.

Once ill, people who train regularly often find it hard not to train when they are ill, even if rest may actually be more beneficial for them, I used to be the same, although now I’m a lot better at listening to my body and taking a break to recover.

So, should you train when ill?

It’s generally recommended that mild to moderate activity is usually OK if you have a cold (with no fever). In fact, exercise may even help you feel better in the short term, opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving congestion.

If your symptoms are all above the neck generally it’s considered safe to train. Symptoms above the neck include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and sore throats. You may still want to think about reducing the intensity and length of your workout, so maybe going for a walk instead of a run for example, or if you do want to run reducing the distance and going at a slower pace.

If symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, a hacking cough, an upset stomach, muscle ache) it is however recommended that you do not exercise and instead rest until the symptoms subside.

A Fever should make exercise a hard no, raising your body temperature further if you already have a fever, will not aid recovery and could make you feel worse, so if you show any signs of fever sit out of any exercise until your temperature is back to normal.

Of course you shouldn’t exercise with or around other people if you have any type of contagious illnesses, although if you feel OK you could always do a gentle home workout.

Exercise can help boost your body’s natural defenses against illness and infection, and regular moderate exercise 3-4 times a week (for around 30 minutes) has been shown to have numerous benefits to a person’s health.

It’s worth remembering though overtraining can actually lower immunity. That means if you are training intensely every day with no rest days, de load weeks or structure (i.e. you’re constantly trying to get a PB every session) you are not only at greater risk of injury but also may find yourself catching colds more often (group exercise instructors doing multiple classes a week you may also find yourself in the group!).

So ultimately, training when ill (as long as it not chest or fever based) won’t hurt if you feel well enough to do so, but resting and letting your body recover may well be more beneficial. For many of us exercise is as much for our mental health as physical and taking a break can make you feel a bit rubbish anyway, so when you already feel bad because you’re ill it’s even harder. Having said that, in order to be as healthy as we can we need to think, not only about actual training, but also how we look after our bodies overall, and sickness is in an indication that our body isn’t currently running at 100%, meaning taking time to look after it rather than trying to push through may actually be something to consider.

Training in the Heat – Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about working out in the heat and how, for the majority, it’s going to be perfectly safe. Here’s the other side of the coin.

If you don’t want to workout today or tomorrow that’s ok.

Whilst there’s no reason you can’t make time to train today if you want we need to remember that training should complement your life.

So if the idea of training when you’re hot and sweaty just standing still gives you the ick and sounds like the worst idea since someone suggested to Boris he should run for PM, don’t train.

Two days off from the gym will not derail your progress, make you put on weight or send you back today square one. By all means train if you want, Government warnings aside you’ll probably be ok, but if you don’t fancy it don’t make yourself feel bad.

Everything you need to know before you try Les Mills Body Combat

One of the classes I’m qualified to teach is Les Mills Body Combat. This was the class that made me want to become an instructor so I really enjoy teaching it and always encourage gym members to give it a go when it’s on the timetable.

I do get that it can be a bit intimidating for new people the first time they come to class. The moves are fast and the terminology can be confusing! But it’s also great fun and punching a kicking the days frustrations away can be incredibly satisfying!

If you are thinking about trying a class for the first time but are nervous and unsure of what to expect here’s a few things that I hope will help ease those uncertainties and allow you to have a great first experience:

  • It might sound obvious but tell the instructor you are new at the start- it will help you feel relaxed and they will be able to make sure you’re ok throughout the class and will make sure you have a good first experience.
  • There are three formats of the class- an hour class (all 10 tracks so sometimes it will be shorter as the length of a track can vary depending on intensity), a 45 minute class and a 30 minute class. The tracks in the shorter (express) versions are selected to still ensure you get maximum benefits from the class despite the shorter time frame (but are the same tracks as the hour class).
  • Body Combat is mixed martial arts inspired. You will experience tracks based on a variety of martial arts throughout the class as well as incorporating some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) training.
  • Don’t worry it’s non – contact. You will be punching and kicking an imaginary opponent or bag (so the air really!)
  • You don’t need any equipment – just you, your gym kit and trainers (and some water!)
  • The moves are choreographed to the music but don’t worry if you aren’t great at following a beat at first- you will still be getting your heart rate up even if you don’t get every combination of moves straight away. Following the music and combinations will get easier and when you do nail that combo to the beat you feel amazing!
  • You are mirroring the instructor’s movements. If they say right foot forward, they will put their left foot forward so if you imagine they are your reflection in a mirror and mirror their moves you will find you are soon putting your right foot forward without even having to think about it! Don’t worry if you new to group exercise we know this takes time to get used to!
  • Once they press play the instructor will generally not pause the music unless you need time to grab a mat. This is to keep the heart rate and intensity of the workout high. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break if you need one- listen to your own body – the instructor won’t mind, just come back in when you are ready.
  • It is a tough cardio workout. You are going to burn calories. You will get out of breath- that’s ok it’s why you are there. If you need to take a break take one, grab some water and come back in when you are ready.
  • There are always opportunities to work within your own personal limits. The instructor will give different options throughout the workout to either dial the intensity up or down. So if you don’t want to jump there will always be a move you can do instead that doesn’t involve jumping but still provides lots of benefit. Equally the instructor will be able to guide you in how to improve a move to increase the intensity if you are ready to challenge yourself a bit more.
  • If you are new there is something called Smart Start. Effectively it means you are allowed to stay for a few tracks. When you feel like you have done enough you can leave (make sure you stretch before you leave the gym!) then each time you try the class, see if you can stay for one extra track until you can do the whole class. New exercise classes can be tough, we know that, but you don’t need to be put off from trying them because you aren’t sure you are ready for a full class yet.
  • There is a lot of terminology that may be unfamiliar – jab cross, uppercut, hook, roundhouse kick etc. It might take a while to remember what each move is but don’t worry you can watch the instructor throughout and over time you will start to take on board what each strike is so you can react quickly to cues.
  • When you strike imagine your opponent is your height! The instructor will tell you which body part to aim for with each strike – if you imagine the opponent is your height you will get the most effective workout possible.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your leg to head height when you kick (I certainly can’t!)! You will probably find as you attend more often your kicks will get higher, but the range of your kick will have a lot to do with your flexibility so don’t worry if you can’t kick as high as the person next to you – work within your own range of movement and just challenge yourself to kick a bit higher as time goes on.
  • If you have done martial arts training some of the moves may feel ‘wrong’. Some of the moves in Body Combat are modified to ensure they are safe and effective for a group exercise environment. It’s a martial arts inspired class – not a martial arts class.
  • Combat is an amazing core class. All the moves involve massive work through your core and your instructor will coach you how to effectively work the core throughout the class. So as well as burning lots of calories and increasing your CV fitness you will also find the workout does great things for your waist.
  • If you have a question about a move, go and chat to the instructor at the end of the class. We generally love talking to people and want you to get the most out of the class. If you aren’t sure if you are feeling a move ‘in the right place’ ask and we can spend a few minutes on your technique to ensure the following week you are confident you are getting the most out of that move / track / strike / kick.
  • Instructors get a new track list every three months- at which point they will teach this in it’s entirety for around 6 weeks. After that they will ‘mix’ older tracks into a playlist to keep it interesting for you and keep challenging your fitness levels until they get their next playlist. In other words – you won’t ever get bored.
  • Finally- it’s an exercise class and it’s meant to be fun. Don’t worry if you struggle with a move or aren’t great at certain kick- ultimately it’s all about moving and having fun whilst doing it so try not to take yourself too seriously.

Goals

If we want to be good at something we have to do that thing often, repeatedly, until it becomes a habit, second nature.

If you wanted to be good at ballet you’d go to ballet lessons every week and practice ballet often. You wouldn’t join a Jazz class and spend your free time practicing the Waltz and then turn up to your ballet recital expecting to be great.

Often with our training though we set ourselves goals and then do completely different things before getting frustrated with ourselves that we haven’t met our goals.

Or, we set ourselves so many goals all at once that there just isn’t any way we could train for all of them in any effective, meaningful way.

Of course if you’re starting out and just wanting to move more then doing different things every week is completely fine and will keep things interesting.

But if you are looking to run a half marathon, building up to longer runs and strengthening your legs and core need to be your focus. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do any upper body work too, but if upper body workouts take up 80% of your workouts you aren’t working to your goal.

If you want to improve your squat though, running every day isn’t going to help you, you’ll want to be doing variations of squats and mobility work. Again, you’ll want to add in some upper body workouts but they won’t be your focus.

Growing your glutes? Again if you keep finding your bench press is the lift you work on the most your sessions are not aligned with your goals.

If you have set yourself the goals of doing a pull up, getting your deadlift to 100kg, running a marathon, learning how to do a headstand, the splits all whilst losing 10kg and committing to do yoga every day, you’ve probably set yourself too many goals to actually achieve any of them. How on earth would you fit everything you need to do to work towards those goals into one week? If this is you maybe pick the goal that’s most important and work towards that, saving the rest for after you’ve completed that first one.

Ultimately if we want to be good at something we need to do things that will help us get good at that thing. That’s not to say you can’t also do things in the gym you enjoy or that your week shouldn’t be balanced, but your focus should remain on exercises that help you work towards that goal.

Virtual Reality

Last month I went to visit my friend who has always been into technology and she had recently bought a Virtual Reality headset and one of the things you can do on the headset is a virtual Les Mills Body Combat and I gave it a go.

Now it’s not doing Body Combat in the normal sense, you don’t do a full class and it’s not to the music in the traditional way and of course is largely punching as virtual reality kicking isn’t quite yet a thing.

What it is however is actually pretty addictive, once you have the headset on it feels very real and you can feel the objects coming towards you as if they were real. The classes are pretty short, the beginner / practice ones are as short as 5 -10 minutes, also the headset means your movement can feel a little clunky and you can’t really jump about. However you can really get into it and get a bit of a sweat on just because of how immersive it can feel.

Overall, with the technology as it is, it is still probably more of a novelty activity rather than a full on exercise regime, however if you aren’t currently doing that much exercise it can get you moving and is motivating enough that you might actually want to do it every day.

It is of course expensive, I’m not sure how many people at the moment could afford the headset, remotes and subscription but as the technology progresses I’m sure it will become more affordable.

In terms of Les Mills it’s clear Body Combat lends itself to the new technology although to make it more fitness and less experience both the headset would need to be lighter and they would need to work out how to incorporate more lower body into the workouts. What I’m not sure of is how they could lend the technology to the other programmes – Body Step potentially if they developed a Virtual Reality Step but that would add to people’s cost but beyond that I’m not sure. Whether that will affect Les Mills decision to continue to invest in the technology will be interesting as there is certainly potential and it would potentially encourage a whole other demographic of people to move more. That being said they have invested a lot in the Trip, which also requires a big investment by gyms so they may well decide to stay in for the long run with it.