When should you let something go and when should you stand your ground and make a point?

Today I expressed my opinion on a (fitness related) post and some people suggested that if I didn’t agree with the post instead of commenting I should just scroll on by.

Now this is a sentiment I broadly agree with.  If it’s something you don’t like but it doesn’t affect you why chip in.  Although to be fair surely the point of Facebook and other Social Media outlets is to an extent encourage conversation – if nobody ever commented on anything what would be the point?

But what if it’s about something that does affect you in the wider sense? Well, then, I strongly believe you should comment.

I don’t want to go into massive detail here as this blog isn’t meant to be a breakdown of the topic itself, but to put this in context I suggested (in relation to the This Girl Can campaign) the term girl for an adult female in some situations can be used to reduce the female’s status.  I’ve seen this happen in situations where the term is used to infantilise a woman.  This isn’t always done on purpose or with malice but as a society we are conditioned to think of girls as young, attractive and so on whereas woman is seen as an almost insult.  Boys grow into men but women are often continued to be viewed as girls – it’s a seemingly small difference but one of the little things that keep us from achieving true equality.  It’s largely a perception thing, but perception is important and how we view things affect how the next generation grow up viewing things and so on.  It’s also something so accepted by society that even those of us aware of it are likely to slip into habits of referring to ourselves as girls, yet at some point there were many other things considered culturally acceptable which would not be considered so today.

My point was not to tarnish a campaign or accuse the world of gross sexism- merely to put forward my view that the language we use to refer to one another has a wider implication of how we are then treated by and viewed within society.  There have been numerous worrying indications recently that women’s rights are not automatically assured even today (abortion laws in the United States for instance) and so I do not believe that highlighting this point is merely certain women kicking up a fuss over nothing.  None of this means that I judge another female who would want to refer to herself as a girl or that I believe a specific campaign is sexist for using the word – merely that as a society we should be aware of how things are expressed, as language used does have a impact.

I also believe that discussion of such matters can be beneficial – greater understanding of such things can only help make society more understanding and equal (and this goes beyond gender to discussions opening up about mental health, different cultures and beliefs, the list goes on).

As I say though, this was not what I wanted to discuss here.  My question is when do you turn away and ignore something you don’t agree with and when do you stand up and state your view point?

Let’s take it to the extreme.  How many people turned a blind eye to what happened in Nazi Germany in the thirties because they might not have agreed with what was happening but it didn’t affect them so they said nothing?

Sounds too extreme to compare perhaps but fast forward to today.  Many many people have expressed their outrage over the abortion laws being passed in the United States recently.  This does not affect a lot of these people directly – they live in different countries for instance, but have not been criticised for expressing their dismay at the decision (rightly so).

Today, perhaps I could have just scrolled on by.  But I believe there is still subtle gender inequality within society and so I spoke up and I will continue to speak up when I see such occasions I feel call for it.  Because if, in a few years time, we start to see the type of laws being put forward in the USA be put forward here in the UK (abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland by the way) I want to have known I didn’t just watch things happen because they didn’t affect me directly at the time.  I want to have spoken up, however small the impact I can make alone is, because if we all speak up we can have a voice.

I didn’t believe the campaign in question was negative.  I specifically never said it was negative – in fact I said the opposite! 

I understand it was created by women and designed to do great things and think it has had a positive impact and will hopefully continue to do so.  That doesn’t mean not highlighting the potential issue with the language surrounding it.  Highlighting this does not negate the good.  Quite the opposite understanding the issue some people may have with the language used has the potential to make the campaign stronger and even more inclusive.

What saddened me today was the unwillingness of some to see the other person’s view.  I won’t always agree with you, but I’ll generally try and see things from your point of view too, to understand both sides of the conversation.

I also believe in equality and freedom of speech, from a fitness point of view whatever your age, gender of current level of fitness I’d like this blog to be a place where you can get some useful information of how you can get fitter and feel better (and if you live near me my classes equally so!).

So to finish on a positive note, if you got to this point of this blog I’d love for you to comment or message me with what topics you would find useful for me to write about so I might be able to help you with your diet, training or anything else fitness related.

Have a great weekend!

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.

Post Natal & A Fitness Instructor

About a month ago I wrote a blog about how periods affect my teaching of group ex classes.  Turned out I’m not alone in this, it’s just we don’t really talk about it.

The blog also bought to attention the numerous other changes the female body goes through that also affect how we train, how we teach classes and how we feel about our bodies.

I decided I wanted to explore this a little more, because I do believe that the first step to improving understanding on issues which are rarely spoken about is to start talking about them.  I have no personal experience in some of these changes however, and this blog has always been about my personal experiences.

So I reached out to a friend who is both a group exercise instructor and a new mother to try and understand what effects on training and teaching giving birth has had.

Jo gave birth to Jasper in October.  She remained active throughout pregnancy, still teaching Pump until close to the birth and continuing to lift weights and train in Crossfit during pregnancy.  She returned to teaching last week (Pump again to begin with).

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I know from conversations throughout her pregnancy she was very realistic about getting back into training and teaching after the birth, she wasn’t expecting to be back to pre – pregnancy shape within days or weeks and was always going to approach things sensibly.  Her experiences post birth are therefore helpful in appreciating how, no matter our knowledge and realism, there are numerous effects which impact instructors returning after giving birth that we might not give a second though to.

Physical Effects:

“Your alignment is WAY out and no muscles are connecting or firing up so your joints hurt”.  Effectively a new mother has to start again in terms of movement, re-learning how to walk is a reality for some mothers.  No matter how much someone might want to get straight back to teaching within a few weeks, giving birth isn’t something your body can just bounce back from.

“When you can walk for 30 minutes and your insides don’t hurt it could be time to start to exercise again. Meanwhile all your pregnant fitness, despite training to the end, has gone because it’s taken 8 weeks for your wedding cake sized uterus to shrink down to the size of a marble again”.

Many of use have had injuries and then had to regain our fitness following some time out.  Post birth you’re adding time where you cannot train on top of recovering from the physical trauma the body goes though giving birth.

This is of course true for all new mums, but for those who need to bounce about as part of their job, the task of getting your body moving in even a basic way again must be daunting, and having the patience to allow yourself to heal when your income is dependent on you needing to move again must add an extra layer of stress for some.

Jo highlighted the core in particular as a physical challenge post birth.  Now how often do you tell your class to brace their core in the average 45 minute class?

“Training can begin. Only nothing connects. So life is banded muscle activation. Body weight. No impact. And all the core… All you want is intensity but rowing 200 m cuts you in half – literally no core”

As instructors most of us are aware of what to advise our members: check with your doctor / midwife, wait until after you 6 week check up, lower back and core will feel weak, joints are still more supple than normal so injury is still a greater risk.

I’ll be honest until I spoke to Jo about this I don’t think I realised HOW weak someone’s core could feel to them (I’ve limited experience within my classes of members who are post natal).  Every woman is different of course but I for one feel like if I have a recently post natal member in my class having a deeper understanding from someone’s real experience will help me be a better coach.

Mental Effects:

“There’s me thinking I would be teaching at 12 weeks”

Jo was sensible and listened to her body, rebuilding her fitness over time, re- adding in new skills week upon week to build up to a point she could train confidently again.

But the side that probably gets less attention (because we all tend to focus on the physical – our jobs being to train people’s bodies) is how you feel teaching post pregnancy.

“You have no brain. Your brain has been solely focused on building a new human for 40 weeks… You can’t even think straight. Why are you in this room? Who are these people? Not to mention your mini human is here and you’ve never had one before so keeping it alive is now your sole purpose… Researching EVERYTHING 24/7. You forget to eat. You can’t even get out. You have to plan 6 hours in advance to take a new born out.”

Most people, whether they have had kids or not, probably understand to a degree that having a young baby is exhausting.  I cannot imagine learning Body Pump whilst my brain felt like this.  My brain almost explodes during new release time anyway so the pressure of learning and retaining chorey at a time when you don’t feel mentally sharp anyway must be exceptionally tough.

“Then there’s the…. I hate my body. It hurts. I look shit. I’m not me. I’m a human incubator that will never be me again depression”. 

I discussed in my recent post about periods that feeling of standing in front of people wen you are on your period and that yucky feeling that makes you want to fade into the background – not have 30 sets of eyes on you (someone described it well as feeling exposed).  Again here, this is another time when even once you feel fit enough to teach you also have to re- find the confidence to lead despite not feeling confident at all.

Practical Effects:

Apart from who will look after the baby whilst you train, prepare to teach (even teach in the early months before child care is arranged!)

Sleep has a big impact.

More specifically – You don’t get any.

“No rest in the day.  No rest at the night.  So you’re always under fatigue.  So classses seem daunting … and you can’t remember any choreo”

I don’t want to pain a negative picture of training or teaching after giving birth, personally I felt like Jo took to motherhood like a duck to water and nailed it!

As Jo says:

“Train at home . Order food to be delivered online. Join a gym to take baby with you. Gather your support network. Express milk so you can rest and partner feed. Take one hour everyday away from your baby. Plan your meals. Have a routine. Be consistent. And most importantly TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS”

This plan meant that when Jo came back to teaching she loved it and felt great about it, so it’s not all doom and gloom at all, but by understanding the stresses and emotions surrounding training and teaching in the months after giving birth we make the fitness community more supportive and inclusive and allow us to also potentially understand our members better.  We can also understand so help to provide support to those who may not necessarily seem like they need much encouragement.

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There is so much more that could be written in relation to periods, pregnancy and post pregnancy and our understanding of these effects (beyond the standard what modification can I give to a pregnant lady in Pump understanding).  I’m also aware that there are PTs who specialise in pre and postnatal training and some PTs who understand the effect of the menstrual cycle extremely well on training.

What you don’t see very often is discussions of the real effects of these natural physical processes- both physical and mental.  How they affect the more mundane aspects of training or teaching.

We can all rectify that. By talking about experiences we can empower others, both showing them they are not alone in feeling a certain way and also by educating each other in a way that we might be able to better understand both our fellow instructors and also female members.

Thank you to Jo Brickell- Haggan for providing the content for this blog and allowing me to share her honest experiences so freely.

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International Women’s Day 2019

It’s International Women’s Day.

To me today appears to have different meanings for different people.  For some today is about celebrating the achievements made towards gender equality whilst acknowledging there is still work to do and working towards changing that.

For others it’s a day where we all tag other women on Social Media in a show of solidarity.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to support and acknowledge the people in your life you admire and appreciate.

But why don’t we make a choice to do that not just today but for the next 364 days of the year.  If someone deserves recognition give it, if someone needs support offer it.  ‘Strong women fix each others crowns’ and other such quotes don’t have to be confined to today (or the days following a break up).  Next week or next month when you find yourself thinking something judgmental or bitchy about someone (be honest, no matter how kind you are generally we all do it sometimes) stop yourself, re-frame your thoughts and return to the positive female empowerment expressed today.

And take a moment away from all the tagging today to consider the theme of this year’s IWD (every year there is a specific focus) #BalanceForBetter. Working towards gender balance.  What can we all do within our own ecosystems to work towards gender equality, today and everyday?

And Gender Balance – that means it requires men’s input too.

IWD used to annoy me because I viewed it as limiting the importance of half the population to one day.  Now I see it as a chance to refocus our understanding on how we interact with one another both female to female and female to male and use that understanding every day.

P.s. To all the companies who use taglines about female empowerment and strong women today whilst promoting an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal of women the rest of the year.  Shame on you.

Another One For The Ladies

Following on from my earlier blog this week I thought I’d re post an old blog about foods that may help with PMS and some which you may want to avoid.

Now a) I’m not a nutritionist, this is all from general research I’ve done on a subject that affects me and b) I’m not saying these will stop period pain or that you should never have the things on the avoid list – just that theoretically there may be some foods you want to try and eat and others less so if you suffer from cramps etc.

Here’s the re post…

When I’m on my period I literally crave fatty, sugary, salty foods.  When you spend a lot of time trying to eat well this is pretty annoying so I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time looking into why and what I can do to try and make myself feel better (because I suffer from horrible cramps most months and bloat enough to feel like I may actually be pregnant with a baby Elephant) without giving into eating 10,000 calories of pure fat and sugar a day.

Just before and during our periods our Serotonin levels lower (less feel good hormones), our stress hormones spike (not helping in the feeling good department) and our bodies use more calories making us feel hungry more often.  It’s therefore not hugely surprising we want to comfort eat- but apart from eating too much of the crap stuff affecting your body shape aims (I won’t say weight!) eating too much sugar will also cause a spike followed by a crash and burn which also doesn’t make you feel good in the long run.

I’ve therefore been making an effort to read up on what foods will help make me feel better without having a negative affect on looking after myself in general to try and implement them more into my diet .

Foods To Eat:

  1. Water – Not really food but hydrating well helps keep skin clear, prevent bloating (the better hydrated you are the less likely you will retain water) and reduce cramps.
  2. Almonds – also sesame seeds / flax seeds- these have calcium in them and calcium (but not dairy) can help reduce cramps.
  3. Dark chocolate – A little dark chocolate can help relax muscles and so reduce cramps, it will also help release some happy hormones.
  4. Celery – Full of water but not full of calories so a good option if you feel the need to constantly graze!
  5. Hummus- This one may be a bit controversial. I have read that chickpea’s can help you sleep better and also help improve mood. I have also read however that they can be classed as a Legume and cause bloating so perhaps eat in moderation.
  6. Pineapple – Help relax muscles (less cramps) and reduce bloating
  7. Bananas – Helps relax muscles (reduce cramping) also contains Vitamin B6 which can help improve your mood. Banana’s are also good at helping to regulate the digestive system, which some women can have problems with during this time.
  8. Tea – Yes it has caffeine in it, but it’s apparently better for you than coffee (which can increase anxiety levels and cause you to and retain water). Other types of tea can also help: Green tea for instance provides a little caffine still, peppermint tea can help soothe an upset stomach, Chamomile tea is relaxing and can help reduce anxiety.
  9. Spinach / Kale- These foods have Calcium in them which assists in alleviating cramps. They are also Iron rich (our iron levels can drop whilst we are on our period hence why we crave iron rich foods).
  10. Salmon – This is full of omega 3 and Vitamin D. If you can eat it the week before you are due on it may have an anti – inflammatory effect.
  11. Oranges – Provide Calcium which can help relax cramping muscles and Vitamin D (can help regulate your mood).
  12. Brocolli – Full of Magnesium, potassium, Calcium, Vitamins A, C, B6, E – Good for improving your general mood and fighting fatigue.

Foods To Avoid:

  1. Fizzy drnks – Can cause bloating.
  2. Processed foods – Tend to be high sodium – can cause bloating. Making food from scratch can reduces salt intake.
  3. Fried foods – Can elevate estrogen levels.
  4. Legumes (I mentioned this before – some things I’ve read say hummus can help, others say avoid) e.g Kidney beans, blackbeans et.c due to their bloating effect.
  5. Refined grains – refined foods can interfere with blood sugar levels and regular control of appetite, so whole grains are a better option than cookies, white bread etc.
  6. High fat foods – Can affect hormone activity and contribute to inflammation (and cramps)
  7. Coffee – Can increase anxiety / stress levels and contribute to water retention.

Really, this list is not too different to the type of foods I’d want to eat more of / avoid at any other time of the month but if you tend to feel a bit rubbish at certain points in your cycle knowing how you can help manage those symptoms (painkillers and hot water bottles aside) thinking about your diet isn’t a bad starting point.

Note- I’m not a trained nutritionists this is simply based on my own research about something that affects me- I would always recommend you see a qualified dietitian should you need advice!

Fitness Instructors and Periods

The menstrual cycle is less of a taboo subject these days.

Women and some men find it a lot easier to talk openly about periods and the various side effects, which is without doubt a good thing.

And I’m about to talk about it some more.

One thing I often (when I say often I mean every month) wonder is how other female fitness instructors feel about teaching classes during their time of the month.

Me personally, I find my period is the thing out of everything that affects how I feel when teaching the most.  More than fatigue, early starts, multiple classes in a day, DOMs from training sessions, being hungry, eating too soon before a class – all those things we generally accept will have an impact on how we teach.  None of those things affect my teaching as much as my period does.

I don’t know if that makes me odd or if other female instructors feel the same – mainly because it’s not really something that often comes up in discussion.

I find that odd in a way because I’d talk to people about how their period affects their eating habits or their training in the gym – and I think a lot more fitness professional discuss these things with clients now.  Yet generally, whilst I always note how for one week of the month I struggle with classes more, I rarely give it much more than a passing thought.

I have quite long periods (five days average) and they are pretty heavy for around two of those days (normally days 2-3).  I tend to get bad cramps for he first couple of days and breast tenderness pretty much all the way through.  I hate almost everyone for those five days, am somewhat irrational at times and will cry at almost anything.

So actually when you think about that you can kind of appreciate why I think teaching during your period is harder than at other times.

We all know exercise can help cramps, and I do always know I’ll feel better afterwards, but sometimes standing up in front of people and smiling when you feel like someone is punching you repeatedly in the stomach is tough, even when you know that once you get started it will get better.

Even the best sports bra doesn’t help much when you are jumping about with sore boobs – and when you’re taking the class dropping the intensity a bit to stay comfortable isn’t really an option.

The moods and the tears.  Now classes for me can make this so much better.  A good class can cheer you up, fill you with feel good hormones and improve your day.  Make a mistake, or get a complaint and all the hormones make it feel so much worse – suddenly things you would normally shrug off make you feel terrible.

I also find I muck up more.  I’m more forgetful and clumsy (yes even more than normal).  These are not things that help when teaching an hours worth of choreography to music!

And the worst feeling when it comes to periods.  That feeling when you’re not quite sure if you’ve leaked. No women like this feeling.  The attempt to check if you have or not without anyone seeing.  Not really any way of doing that when you’re up front in a class so when it happens you have to just have faith that it hasn’t happened.

Put all that together and it kind of makes sense why I find teaching on my period more stressful than at any other time.  I still enjoy it once I’m started but it’s a harder because there’s added factors affecting how I feel and move.

So my question am I just odd or do other female group exercise instructors feel the same way?  What do you do to get over these feelings or do you just ‘man up’ and get on with it?

Three Reasons to Ditch the Scales

1) Your weight fluctuates. A lot.

The time of day, time of the month, how much water you have drunk, how much alcohol you have drunk, when you last had a poo, your hormones.  They will all affect the number on the scale so it’s not the most effective way to track your progress and using weighing yourself alone can be inaccurate and disheartening.

2) A number on the scales won’t make you happy.

Being comfortable in your body won’t automatically happen when you hit a certain number on the scales.  Everybody has some body hand ups regardless of their weight or size. Focusing on feeling strong and healthy will help you feel more positive about yourself in a way a number can’t and help prevent an all or nothing kind of outlook on your fitness journey, where how well you week went depends on one number.

3) Your weight isn’t an indication of your health or fitness level.

Have you ever seen one of those line ups of several women who all weight 60kg.  You could weight the same as someone else and have a totally different body shape.  Someone who is a size 10 could weigh the same as someone who wears a size 14.  Height, muscle, body type – how we ‘wear’ a certain weight is different from person to person, and, unless you are medically obese, how fit or healthy you are has little to do with the number on the scale.

Just a note – muscle doesn’t weight more than fat.  A pound of muscle weights a pound and a pound of fat weighs a pound.  However muscle is less dense, so if you reduce body fat and build muscle you might not weigh less but you will look leaner.