This year I’ve taken on the challenge of a 12 week prep with Super Heavy Weight bodybuilder Laurie Carr. I’m not intending on doing any shows so this is not a contest prep but I am treating it as though it were and throwing myself whole-heartedly at the whole experience
Amber Light Villas; quite simply phenomenal. A truly heavenly resort, immaculately presented with breathtakingly beautiful views over the vineyards, villas and sea.
It took me a while to realise that cigarettes were truly keeping me captive. Sure, sometimes they felt like a great release, a little break, a moment to think and chat with friends; a social bond. But really, I was a slave to a rolled up piece of paper with a bunch of cut up leaves. And frankly I felt quite ridiculous for that fact.
Today I am going to talk about something that is maybe slightly off topic… mindfulness.
You may have already heard of the principles of mindfulness, but if you haven’t here’s a quick summary;
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. (BeMindful.co.uk)
Now don’t panic I’m not about to go off into too much of a babbling monologue of philosophy, but I am going to show you how mindfulness can be applied to help you achieve your fitness goals.
Starting right now, not tomorrow
Mindfulness and its techniques can be really useful if you struggle to stay motivated and concentrate on the here and now. We can apply its principles to the gym, exercise and motivation.
We’re often so worried about what we need to do later, tomorrow, next week, by summer, that we forget that the actions that we take right now are our life.
In a world of work, traffic, people, stress and responsibilities how often do you take to just breathe?
If you’re struggling to get motivated to hit the gym try this first.
- Sit in a position you find comfortable
- Take in a breath and observe the sensation
- Feel your chest rise and fall
- Listen to the sound of your inhalation and exhalation
- Clear your mind of thoughts, concentrate on you, your body and that present moment
- Take a few moments to reflect and be calm
Stop thinking and start doing
When you’re in a gym or exercising it’s quite easy to slip into negative thoughts of self consciousness.
“What if I’m doing it wrong”
“What if they’re watching me”
“They’re doing it different, they must be right”
The trick here is to zone into yourself and your body, ignore everything else in that room. Think about;
- The muscles you are using
- The limbs you are moving
- How your body is achieving those things
You might have heard this referred to as the mind-muscle connection. If you can master this you will find your gym sessions are far more focused.
What are you doing and why
You never really think about doing the washing up, you just do it, and joyfully let your mind wander elsewhere. Which is fine, because really the washing up is a mundane task and it doesn’t much require focus to achieve the end goal! But when you’re training for your body you need to keep your mind on track.
If you’re working out in the gym and you’re thinking about what Burt over there is doing, you’re not thinking about what you are doing. If you’re thinking about the pizza you’re having in two days, you’re not thinking about how you’re working on your range of motion. Try to keep yourself in the moment.
Ask yourself, why am I doing this? And constantly remind yourself, that at this present moment you are doing it for you! And that you deserve your own full attention…
The festive season is quickly upon us and with it the mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas parties and drinks with friends.
If you’re on a diet plan you might feel like all your hard work is about to start unravelling in front of you. ‘Tis the season to be jolly after all.
For those of you just starting out you may be worried you’re about to enter in to an un-navigable few weeks.
So let’s be realistic and talk tactics!
Eat before events
If you’ve got a meeting with friends, works do or meal with family, eat before you go. Fill yourself up with some healthy options that are within your exisiting diet.
This is where a lot of people go wrong, they’ll reverse this theory and not eat all day to “make space” for their off plan meal, don’t do it! If you’re full you will be much less likely to be lured by the Christmas pud and brandy cream.
It’s easy to let all hell break loose when you’ve already committed your mind to having a meal that’s outside of your plan. You need to be conscious; although one meal is not going to ruin it all, you don’t want to allow yourself to binge and overeat.
No doubt there are going to be some culinary delights you just can’t bring yourself to resist, and, in my opinion, this is OK! Just try to pick the best options available to you and keep your portion sizes relatively small.
Know your alcohol
Pat mentioned in his last blog post about the danger of liquid calories. Alcoholic drinks soon tot up to a significant amount if you let yourself get carried away. Two glasses of wine is 318 calories, three pints of beer is a whopping 546 calories. Drink Aware has a really handy calculator (www.drinkaware.co.uk) that can help you work out what is a reasonable amount. Check it out, pick yourself a limit and try to stick to it.
Ignore the nibbles
As hard as it may be, try to ignore the nibbles presented to you. Forget the complimentary bread and olives and concentrate on your main meal. You don’t need to be ridiculously strict with yourself, but by eradicating these extra calories you can enjoy more of your main courses without overeating.
Always have a glass
….of water. Yes I know, I’m not giving you much fun here am I? Keep a glass of water topped up nearby, if you’re feeling tempted between courses, take a sip. It’s a great distraction technique and keeps your hands busy.
Meals out are often loaded with salt too, which may cause your body to increase it’s water retention. By keeping hydrated you’ll help to minimise this impact.
And finally, aside from all the above, give yourself a bit of flexibility and don’t harbour guilt for enjoying yourself!
Does this sound like you? Are you gym shy?
When I first started thinking about getting in to shape my ridiculous shyness was one of my main concerns.
This might come as a surprise to some people, as I am a relatively out-spoken confident person to those who I know. However I am afflicted with a shyness that often comes across as aloof arrogance. Acquaintances often think I’m too stuck up to speak to them, don’t like them or that I’m just plain rude! Which is not the case at all; it’s generally because I feel like I have absolutely nothing useful to say and don’t want to make a tit of myself!
If the thought of going to a crowded gym leaves you with irrational fears like:
- I’m unfit and everyone is going to stare at me
- People might laugh at me because I don’t know what I’m doing
- I’m fat compared to the other girls
- I’m small compared to the other guys
- I don’t really want to talk to anyone
- It’s going to be full of uber motivated people who are generally better at life than me
Then I can sympathise with you! And please read on…
Being afraid of trying something new is entirely normal. You’re not a freak or a misfit, you’re not socially inept and it’s not something you can’t change.
You just have to provide yourself with some coping mechanisms to get you going and think about things from a different perspective.
Strategies for shy people
- Sign up online or over the phone: if even the thought of stepping foot in a gym makes you squirm, sign up online or over the phone. Try to avoid peak hours for your first session if you feel a little daunted.
- Get a PT to write you a training plan and follow it yourself: you don’t have to undertake PT sessions to get a training plan. A good PT will happily write you out a training plan and go through it with you without tying you into an expensive ongoing contract and sessions.
- All hail the headphones: the international signal for “don’t talk to me”. If you want to avoid social interaction get some of your favourite music on a playlist, plug yourself in and tune the world out.
- Sign up at a smaller gym: I’ve been to a lot of different gyms in my town, and there’s only a handful which have a nice atmosphere. It seems the bigger the gym the less welcoming it is. Independent gyms are normally run by local people who have a genuine interest in fitness and not just raking in your money. I go to two gyms in Lincoln on a regular basis; Performance Gym and Fit4Less Lincoln. Both have a nice, relaxed atmosphere, with friendly staff and I feel comfortable training there. Don’t be afraid to try a gym out before you sign up, go with one that works for you and your personality.
- No-one is laughing at you: seriously, people at the gym are busy working on themselves. They aren’t looking at you or laughing at you, and if you think they are, well who’s the mug here? They’re wasting their time while you’re doing something positive!
- Everyone is working on something: that guy over there eyeing himself in the mirror? He’s probably hating on his arms and wishing they were bigger. That slim girl working her abs on the mat? She probably thinks she’s fat. Everyone has issues with their own body, remember that.
- People are just people: that’s right, just a bunch of cells like you and I. They’re not better than you, they’re not more motivated than you. In fact, step into any gym and you’ll find plenty of people idly sitting on their phones not really doing much at all. Sometimes the gym is just a place to escape for people, you’re not going to be surrounded by a bunch of hyped up lions pumping iron and gazelle like beauties pounding the treadmills like they’re training for a zombie apocalypse. Just normal people, doing stuff.
- Get a training partner: if you’ve got a friend who is also interested in going to the gym, go with them! You’re much more likely to succeed if you’ve got someone there to talk to, and it’s always great to have someone to spot you (help you with your weights).
Still not sure you can do it?
Acclimitisation is a proven method to conquer fear or anxiety. By repeatedly exposing yourself to the situation that you feel unsure or afraid of, you will gain tolerance. Here’s 3 things you can do:
- Learn the basics: there’s plenty of information on this website and across the internet. Learn some basic exercises and how certain machines work by reading tutorials and watching videos.
- Look at transformation pictures and read some real life journeys: there’s nothing more inspiring than reading about someone who has managed to change their body completely, especially if you can relate to their previous body type.
- Set yourself a goal: start small; be it sign up to a gym, buy some new trainers, or commit to attending the gym once this week.
Things to remember!
The way you feel is not insurmountable; you just have to challenge yourself step by step.
Everybody in life is winging it!
Everyone in that gym was a newbie one day too, no-one came flying out the womb with a dumbbell in their hand.
Excuses are funny little things really. You make a plea of bargain to yourself to allow yourself to do (or not do) something. Even if ultimately that excuse is stopping you from achieving a bigger goal and you know it’s counter productive. It’s a completely backwards way of thinking; in the world of psychology it’s called self-handicapping.
So here’s a little excuse I made for myself…
“I can’t do fasted cardio in the mornings, I don’t have time and I need to get to work as a priority. If I get up any earlier I’ll be too tired.”
…I was going to the gym pretty much every night of the week to get all my training and cardio in, and I wasn’t getting much time to myself (tiny violins please). Something needed to change, but as far as I was concerned there was no way around it.
In my mind there were many reasons why this wouldn’t work. I already get up at 5:45am, walk Captain (my dog), feed him, clean his run, cook my food for the day, have my breakfast, get ready for work and leave the house for 7:30am. If I got up any earlier I was sure my world would implode, I’d be arriving at work resembling an Orc and I’d be tired all day. (I’m sure there are some sleep deprived parents rolling their eyes at this!)
But the thing is deep down I knew I did have time, I just needed to be more organised and motivated.
Sometimes you’ve just got to give yourself a kick in the proverbial.
Challenge excuses with solutions
If you have excuses yourself, analyse what the deep rooted motivation is behind them and then challenge those thoughts. Is the ‘reason’ you’ve given yourself really true? Is there a way round it…?
I figured that if I prepped my meals and had my change of clothes packed and ready the night before I would only need to get up 15 minutes earlier. I’d still have time for a 30 minute dog walk and to do cardio before heading to work.
So then my two excuses became a bit void and the real reasons reared their heads:
- I’ll be too tired e.g. I love my sleep and I’m a lazy oik
- I don’t have time e.g. I can’t be bothered to do all that extra stuff before bed
Now for the motivation… start small
I said to myself: “I will trial this morning cardio business for one week; 3 morning sessions. If you do turn up to work resembling a creature of the earth and it negatively impacts on your performance then you can re-evaluate, but first, you must try.”
I wasn’t scaring myself with crazy over-commitment, but it’s enough of a trial that I’d feel like I gave it a good go. Because in my mind this was just a trial it didn’t seem quite so distressing to wrench myself out of bed for a few days, after all, it wouldn’t be forever.
Since Sunday is a relatively free night for me to do all my food preparation I agreed with myself a Monday morning would be my first go. I peeled myself out of bed at 5:30am and zombied myself to the gym by 6:45am. And hey presto I got my cardio done with all limbs and organs intact!
The thing that came to me as a shock most of all; I felt awesome.
Mountain, molehill; excuses abolished.
Fasted cardio is now well and truly part of my routine.
Now time to challenge your excuses, write a list and then ask yourself each of these:
- Is my excuse really valid?
- What is the real reason I do/don’t want to do this?
- What is a realistic solution?
Set yourself a mini-trial to see if you can do it… you might just surprise yourself.
Being a newbie I’ve had to learn some lessons the hard way. I’ve put together some tips that hopefully you’ll find useful as you start your journey too.
Working in an office environment can be particularly tricky; you have to navigate bacon butty Fridays, endless birthdays, leaving do’s, retirements, cake and coffee mornings, and all the related sugary delicious treats that come with them.
You have to deal with the bargaining; “you’re being silly, take one”, “come on, one won’t hurt” and “you don’t need to lose weight, have a slice of cake!”.
This is where you really need to dig in your heels and show restraint. Eventually friends, family and co-workers will see you’re dedicated. Just the same as they wouldn’t offer a peanut to a nut allergy sufferer, they’ll stop offering you those all too alluring indulgences…
- Trust your PT; Pete in finance may well have won the 100m sprint at school but that doesn’t make him qualified to offer you nutrition advice. Your PT has designed your diet plan for your body and your goals. If you want to avoid shooting people down in flames try responding with “that’s a great tip thanks, I’m going to see how I get on with this first though”.
- Swap in an “on plan” item; OK so everyone’s having bacon buttys and you’re not, you feel really left out right? Take this opportunity to order yourself a coffee or a hot/cold drink that is on your plan. Half of the enjoyment is just the ritual of doing something together. Soon you’ll feel a sense of pride that you’re choosing to have something healthy while everyone else is on their second breakfast of the day!
- Tupperware, it’s important; When you’re out and about or at work for the day you need to prepare your food and take it with you. I can’t stress enough how important good quality plastic storage containers are; vaccum sealed (click and lock) tupperware will keep your food fresh for a good few hours even out of the fridge. Invest in some decent boxes and a cool bag. (I never thought there would come a time in my life that I got excited over tupperware; quarter-life crisis maybe!). I made the mistake of using cheap boxes once and found that when I came to eat my meal it smelt like a thousand dead fish, I then had to scrabble around to find something to fit my plan.
- Eating out; Staying on your diet can be difficult if you are trying to maintain a social life. Avoiding situations so you aren’t tempted to slip on your diet can mean you end up isolated. I meet with my friends and just have a coffee while they eat. You might think that would be awkward but eventually it just feels entirely normal. Eating out every once in a while isn’t going to hurt your diet, check out menus and find somewhere that offers something like your scheduled meal. Remember restaurants nearly always tailor to your requirements, don’t be too shy to ask them to keep the sauce and butters off for you.
- Eating in; If you’re going to be eating in with friends or family make sure you have your food either prepped or ready to prep. I often take my meals uncooked round to a friend’s house and cook it while they cook theirs, it makes me feel more included.
- Seasoning is your ally; If, like me, your cooking skills originally featured culinary delights such as potato wedges with grated cheese, then cooking healthy is a learning curve in itself. Stock yourself up on a plethora of spices and herbs to season your foods. Try to spend some time discovering what you like and your diet will stop being a chore. I have to give props here for this to Rob “The Chef” Lynch; he has been training for over 11 years and has spent an inordinate amount of time showing me how to prep my meals properly. Do you know someone who is a good cook? Get them to help you too!
- Kill the cash; Working near to a vending machine or shops is the death knell of all diets. Mitigate this risk; leave your card and cash at home or somewhere else out of the way. This way you can’t enable yourself to buy and eat something off that you perhaps shouldn’t be.
- Set reminders; I am hideously forgetful, and live a very busy life which has me often on the go from 5:45am to 22:00pm. To make sure I’m getting enough water and don’t miss meals I have reminders on my phone to help me keep on track. It’s a great way of being accountable and keeping to a schedule.
- Gross yourself out; Chocolate is my weakness, cheesecake too. But have you ever looked at the ingredients in packaged foods? Take some time to educate yourself on what exactly those ridiculously long named ingredients are. Mostly they’re preservatives, fillers, cheap syrups and oils. Glucose syrup in prepackaged ham, for example. The food industry is a machine, geared towards cheap ingredients for maximum profit, which is pretty icky when you start researching.
- Be proud; What you’re doing is a good thing, it takes resilience, strength and determination. Be pleased with yourself for sticking to your plan and making a positive change and don’t let anyone tell you different!
I was the kind of girl at school that would forge notes to get out of PE (sorry mum). I hated it. I’ve got asthma and I ran like a pigeon (I probably still do), so for me anything involving sport was just a means of me hideously embarrassing myself.
Taking that through to adulthood I still had a phobia of anything that was going to push my body too far, because it was uncomfortable and a horrifically pointless waste of energy to me. I have dipped in and out of going to the gym on occasion. And by that I mean sitting on a treadmill for two minutes and rewarding myself with some congratulatory chocolate immediately afterwards.
Alongside my irrational fear of anything heartbeat inducing, I’ve always had quite an unhealthy relationship with food. If I felt down some days I would eat nothing at all, or worst case I would eat 7 chocolate bars and an onion ring sandwich. I knew nothing about nutrition and little about cooking. Baking on the other hand, well, I can whip you up a batch of cookies in 15 minutes flat!
I’ve never been very big but I’ve yoyo’d from my smallest at a size 4-6 (7st 6lbs), to my biggest at a size 10-12 (8st 9lbs). The weights don’t sound that different I know, but I am short and a small weight gain is a big difference on me!
The most important thing, though, is I was not healthy or physically fit…
That defining moment
The turning point for me was on a holiday a couple of years ago. I noticed a mum playing with her child in the swimming pool and she had an incredible figure, slim but muscular. She was probably ten years older than me and I was in awe of her.
I looked back on the photos of myself in a bikini from that holiday and I was suddenly very ashamed of myself. There was no excuse for me, I was young, I had few responsibilities and yet here I was looking like an absolute blob in comparison. And yes maybe you shouldn’t compare… but I did, and I’m glad for it.
I had a really tough year last year, it’s not something that I am going to go in too much detail with just yet (we lost a close family member to cancer). But personal challenges left me having to reconfigure my life, find a new home and start a new chapter in my life. At this point I was very contemplative and my health and fitness was one thing I thought I could drive all that negative energy in to.
After that I read hundreds of articles. Hundreds. I confused myself, went round in circles, and then finally settled on Paleo and yep I lost a stone in weight. But… I looked bad for it. I looked skinny and flat… nothing like slim-muscular-goddess-swimming-pool lady. Not only that but I suffer with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as Seasonal Allergy Syndrome) and the paleo diet was leaving me with very few options.
Now I needed some guidance, I didn’t know what to do in a gym or what I should be eating to get where I wanted to be… so I chose a local PT and approached them for a nutrition and training plan.
Armed with more knowledge and direction I gained the confidence to go to the gym by myself. I was no longer bumbling around looking lost meagrely picking up a dumbbell and holding it like it might give me rabies. I went with purpose, knowing what I was doing and I got my training done.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation, I strongly suggest you find a coach or PT to get you started!