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5 Lessons From A Lifetime in the Gym

I’m a self confessed exercise addict and I’ve touched on this subject in a previous blog on body image because that’s where my training journey started out. I felt miserable, tired and my trousers were too tight. I started jogging (if you can call it that, I only lasted 10 minutes on my first few attempts) and immediately felt happier, full of energy and my trousers finally fitted again. For me exercise was the solution to EVERYTHING. Over the years I came to rely on endorphins every single day as they transformed my outlook, personality and sense of positivity, to the point you really wouldn’t want to meet me on a rest day.

1914161_175952931799_2519041_nHave you seen the Snickers ad that says: “you’re not you when you’re hungry”, well that was me until I’d trained. For a time I got away with this and of course developed an interest in nutrition with a view it would help me run even longer and faster, earning me a bigger and better high each day. I joined a gym and started to add in other forms of exercise including different types of cardio, resistance machines, boxing classes and spin. I LOVED it all and developed a great crowd of fit friends along the way who also ‘got it’, we shared a need and love of sweating and the high that exercise gives you.

When I became single in my late 20’s, I sold a house and invested in a tonne of personal training sessions  so I could constantly be out of my comfort zone.  I had no one nagging me to come home for dinner or stay in bed in the morning so I started training twice a day, before and after work, on some occasions I’d get out on my lunch hour and train 3 times a day and if I had the chance I’d run to the gym! That was a lot of showering I can tell you!

I became a personal trainer as I knew exercise was my passion and I could help others discover what I knew, plus that way I could also train all….day…..long!

26390_383047562154_1241585_nThis path started to go wrong for me when I became faced with a number of health issues, the first was chronic IBS (and the reason I’m such a geek about gut health). I was really lucky to have a GP who started to discuss going gluten free, dairy free, managing stress and taking a break from running. I informed him that a break from running would be more stressful to me so I’d give the rest a go. The gut problems were followed by joint issues, they’re often linked, but also likely as I knew so little about recovery and restoration other than a few token stretches after my sessions.

Somewhere along this journey I also came to associate training with self worth, the harder I trained the more respect and status I earned in the gym, the more admired I became, which of course feels awesome. So it was essential I push myself 100% every time I set foot in the gym. I developed several hormonal issues including PCOS and my menstrual cycle completely disappeared, but I still trained – HARD!

I had an epiphany one day when I looked in the mirror and saw Tom Hardy in Warrior looking back at me, I had these ridiculously hench traps and a fierce frown all the time because I was either beating my body or beating myself up about not being strong enough, fast enough or brave enough (box jumps still make me whimper). I had tendonitis in my knees, elbows and a rotator cuff injury in my shoulder, I was running out of injury work around tactics in the gym. I ended up taking a serious break from exercise and doing nothing and I mean nada for months. I took time out to reflect and just simply walked each day. A few miracles happened…

  • I didn’t pile on body fat, if anything I lost it, as I slept more, breathed more and spent lots of time outside not couped up in the gym (more vitamin D for a start).
  • I gained time, we all talk about being too busy and having no time and I could easily spend 2-3 hours getting to the gym, training, showering, etc. Having time meant new opportunities to do more of what I love 🙂
  • I became a happier, nicer person as I had nothing to fear or dread each day so my stress hormones were able to rebalance.

Most importantly…..

I gained so much perspective about how exercise was ruling my life not fueling my life.

Whether you’re new to exercise and just getting started or you’re an old timer looking for some advice and direction for 2016, I want to share with you 5 things I wish I’d know 15 years ago that will hopefully give you a head start! I train now with a totally different head on my shoulders.

The points below aren’t about getting LEAN, SHREDDED or SKINNY, I want you to understand how exercise can be an awesome part of your lifestyle without compromising your self esteem and health.

Less Is Often More

1936683_122380961363_625366_nLess is usually more especially when it comes to lifting weights, cardio and HIIT. I made the mistake for a good 15 years believing longer sessions, more sessions and tougher sessions = better results. Don’t get me wrong we do need to challenge ourselves but not every session needs to be a total beasting for your body! The body adapts to movement quickly and when you no longer feel the muscle soreness or the breathelessness you did initially it’s likely time to advance things BUT be smart about it.  Try some things you’re not good at or alter the style of your training. If jogging becomes easy, it might be time to add some interval training or hill runs. With regards to weights and bodyweight don’t just add extra reps and sets, try to advance the exercises, alter the structure or rest periods and it’s always worthwhile getting an experienced trainer to review your program, Matt loves doing this and you can contact him HERE.

I think most women benefit from around 2-4 sessions a week, men can get away with a little more if sleep and stress are in check.  Around 45 minutes is sufficient if you are savvy with your time. If you train longer or more frequently than this make sure your nutrition and recovery knowledge is up to speed and you have the right foundations in place. I WISH someone had explained to me that we grow lean muscle and get stronger and fitter outside the gym as the body recovers when I was training every day and wondering why I had so little to show for it. Now I train 2-3 times a week and I don’t doubt I have less body fat (I don’t measure any more) than when I trained twice a day BUT even more importantly I’m stronger, fitter, happier and not quite so annoying to be around 🙂

Don’t Cheat, It Ain’t Worth It!

303170_10150297335917155_1924199275_nI set myself a mini resolution of being able to perform 50 non-cheat push ups by the end of January, ambitious I know, but shoot for the moon and all that jazz. I say this because our body’s are clever and like to find the quickest, easiest method of performing a movement which sometimes makes us natural born cheaters. Press ups are an easy exercise to cheat on, by simply altering the position of your arms you can over rely on your upper body and miss out on a wicked opportunity to train your core muscles and even your glutes. However, with group training and social media it’s all become a numbers game and we repeatedly see exercises performed badly for the sake of getting a gazillion reps in. This year I’ve decided to focus on the exercises that I need to improve my form on, most are bodyweight including push ups, pistol squats and handstands – no more kicking my legs in the air and hoping for the best! When you train with this goal in mind not only is your training more mindful (so time will fly by) it will feel more rewarding because you’ll progress quicker, build strength in a balanced manner, condition joints, tendons and ligaments (avoiding injury) and besides if you continue to cheat, you’re really only cheating yourself and what’s the point in that!

Excitement Before Endorphins

4576_89831457154_7561854_nDon’t be fooled by the endorphins at the end of a session, of course you’ll feel better afterwards but really you should still ENJOY the thought of getting moving and the process. This will change as you get into different routines, everything can seem exciting at first but when you know what to expect the sense of dread can easily kick in and suddenly things aren’t fun anymore.

When we taught classes we always varied the structure, introduced new methods of training each week and even the playlist was always different. We injected humour and personality into EVERY class we taught. You can do this yourself by finding a training environment that brings out the best in you, it could be a group class, yoga studio or gym. It should be a place you really want to go to and move in a way that has you smiling, buzzing and excited, if this isn’t the case then your training needs a revisit. Our minds and bodies can get bored easily and need new stimuli so don’t be scared to mix things up, there are so many ways to move. I’ve recently join some freestyle yoga classes which are like nothing I’ve ever done before, one minute we’re training pistol squats, then handstands, then we’re hanging from a bar and every class is new and different and I genuinely look forward to getting in that studio and being amazed at what my body can and cannot do.

Be A Jack Of All

552826_10150997476842155_1867489086_nI always prided myself on being a jack of all trades when it comes to training. I don’t think I’ll ever be the fastest, strongest or fittest but thankfully I’ve stopped trying to be. I’m proud of the fact I can run, lift, bend, jump, dance (kinda!), climb, crawl, squat, etc etc I can swap between disciplines and train endurance, coordination, balance, strength – I can jump into a new activity and know my body will embrace the challenge and perform, maybe badly at first! What’s important now is that I can do this for life. The last few years I’ve really come to understand the importance of being able to do this for as long as possible. Even in my grey haired years I want to be hiking, swimming and telling people I don’t need help with suitcase at the airport 🙂

Not only is it important to vary the style and nature of your movement but REMEMBER – mobility, stretching, nutrition, sleep and Epsom salts baths are equally essential, ideally from the onset of your training journey.

Have a Bad Day Back Up Plan

IMG_4232Sometimes stress, low moods and busy ‘to do’ lists can ruin our motivation to train. Whenever, I feel like this I struggle to psyche myself up for the gym, so on these occasions I have a backup plan. I put together a playlist of my favourite tunes on Spotify (the best fitness investment EVER!) and either head out for a walk or get on an exercise bike. Why? Because both are non intimidating, effective forms of exercise (for fat loss, joints and mood health) and usually lead me to ease into other things. Once my tunes kick in and I’m breaking a sweat I often throw in a mini challenge. If I’m walking it could be some bodyweight squats or push ups on a park bench, if on a bike it could be mini hill climb, 20s sprint interval or get out the seat and pedal. The important thing is to have no expectations from your session when you feel like this, you’re just going to MOVE, anything else is a bonus 🙂 Walking and light cycling are such underrated forms of exercise and rarely spoken about in the fitness realm but they are both low impact, get your heart rate up and do the job, plus they might set you up for bigger training adventures 🙂

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