Starting at the beginning

Recently I’ve found myself thinking a lot about people starting exercise for the very first time and trying to remember how I first started exercising. During my long training runs in preparation for the London marathon, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my life, my training, what drives me and the goals I’ve set and achieved over the years, and it has got me thinking about what it would be like for someone who isn’t naturally into keeping fit, or those where exercise isn’t second nature to them. For someone like me it’s very hard to imagine not having regular exercise in my life, so from time to time it’s good to take a step back and think about it from a beginners point of view to appreciate the difficulties they have to overcome. To do this I started by asking myself a few questions…….

 Q1. How would I feel about going to the gym for the first time if I didn’t know where to start?

 Q2. What would my fears be about exercising if I was overweight/out of shape?

 Q3. What advice would I like to be given if I was starting to exercise for the first time?

Answering these questions as if I was a beginner gave me a good idea about how a beginner might feel and it gave me an idea about how I can help others that don’t know where to start or what to do.

Here’s my conclusions: With anything in life, the unknown can be daunting and exercising for the first time is no different. We all get paranoid that people will watch and stare if we don’t know what we’re doing and they might make comments. The truth is, everyone has to start somewhere and making the first step is the hardest. Once that’s done, it gets easier each time you are willing to put the effort in. People don’t like to fail so if we look at something in a negative way and believe we can’t do it, many people won’t attempt it and therefore they can’t fail.

I think Michael Jordan’s quote sums this up quite well…..

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

– Michael Jordan

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

– Colin Powell

In life, the best athletes don’t become the best because they never fail, they become the best because they have failed at times, they learnt from their mistakes and improved on them until they became the best. Failure isn’t losing; failure is not trying in the first place!

So I believe a beginner would like a few tips that could help with the basics and give them a base level or something to build on. With that in mind I’ve come up with a few ‘do’s and don’ts’  that could help someone take the first step to a healthier life.

Do……commit to a schedule whole heartedly as results don’t happen over night. It takes time to get in shape so stick with a routine and let your body respond to it. Nothing in life is free we have to work hard for it, so don’t expect it to come to you, work hard to go and grab it.

Don’t…..make excuses and miss workouts unless it really can’t be helped. Missing workouts lead to a slippery slope of not doing them at all and lets face it, what is more important than your health? NOTHING!

Do…..take things slow. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t built in a day and neither is your fitness levels. If you’re starting from the beginning, you have to WORK your way to the end before you reach your goal. See it as the rungs of a ladder, take one step at a time! This leads us nicely into the next don’t…..

Don’t…..push it too hard too soon. Imagine your muscles as elastic bands; if an elastic band sits in a cupboard for too long without being stretched it loses its flexibility and strength, and if stretched too much straight away, it will snap. Your muscles and body are the same. They need time to adjust and get the flexibility and strength to progress step by step and pushing it too hard too soon will only lead to injuries.

Do…..set yourself goals but make them realistic. Giving yourself something to aim for is great for motivation but if it’s well out of reach and unrealistic, it can also become demoralising if you don’ t reach it. SMART(Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time) goals are always a good start.

Don’t……set yourself one big goal. It’s always good to set short term and long term goals so that there is always something to aim for that isn’t in the distant future. Never reaching a goal can again be demoralising so small goals will keep you heading in the right direction(going back to the rungs of the ladder again!).

Do……ask for help or advice if you don’t know what you’re doing. There is no harm in asking someone who knows what they’re doing for some advice. There are a lot of people out there that are willing to help, so don’t think you are on your own.

Finally…..

Don’t…..give up! We all have good and bad days but we need to experience the bad to really enjoy the good. Exercise is a learning curve and over time it can really improve your health and life as a whole. There are many benefits to keeping fit and healthy, so remember next time you feel like giving up just how much good you are doing for your body. The fact that regular exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life should be enough to keep you wanting to make a habit of it.

So there are my tips for any beginner that is thinking about exercising for the first time. I hope they help you reach your goals and inspire you to start making your body healthier sooner rather than later.

Good luck!

Have you quit yet?

The last month has been a crazy period since my last post. This time of year can be the busiest period for a personal trainer with all the health and fitness new year’s resolutions that people make. As it’s such a big thing for a lot of people to set goals/targets at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be the perfect subject for a blog. So, my question to you(if you’ve made a new year’s resolution!) is, ‘have you quit yet?’

Many people use a new year as a fresh start and the chance to start again and make things happen. A lot of new year’s resolutions I hear about are about lose weight, eating healthier, stop smoking, training and competing in an event(triathlon, marathon etc) and to generally be more healthy. The problem is, as humans we aim high and sometimes too high! Some of us set a target which is just unrealistic in the short term and it can be demoralising if we don’t reach our goals in the time we want to. That’s not to say we won’t get there in the future if we continue to work hard towards our goals, but many people just fall at the first hurdle and quit as their original goal just looks impossible to reach. I believe there are ways in which we can help ourselves reach those goals without quitting and I’ve come up with a few tips that I think might be helpful to prevent you from quitting before the end of January!

Here are my tips to help you stick to your new year’s resolutions and have a fitter, healthier and happier year:

  1. Mini targets: You may have a goal in mind and like I said it is reachable if you work hard towards it, but it may be something you will achieve in the long term. Try breaking it down in to smaller targets so that you have something more reachable in the short term. By working hard towards a goal but not reaching it for a long time, it can get mentally tough and easy to give up! None of us want to give up so make it more achievable. For example, you might want to lose three stone in weight. Three stone is a lot to lose if you do it the correct way(2 lb’s a week!) and could take six months or more if you work towards it religiously and get the 2 lb loss each week. Only seeing the odd ‘lb’ or so loss each week makes three stone seem so far away, so why not aim towards half a stone within a month which is much more realistic and gives you a short term goal. 
  2. Rewards:  Taking on board the tip above, once you’ve set your small targets, try treating yourself every time you reach a ‘mini target’. Being successful without rewards can also seem pointless until you reach your main goal and see the overall reward. So, treating yourself at each small target you achieve, makes it a little more fun and gives you an incentive/something to aim for. For example(using the same example as above), every time you lose half a stone, buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, like a new item of clothing for your new body shape! 
  3. Moderation:  Cutting out the bad is always the right way to go but if you are used to something, cutting it out straight away can end up leaving you with cravings, for example, cutting out cigarettes or a certain food to lose weight. Why not try to cut down a little at a time or if you do choose to cut it out of your daily routine, there is no harm in having it once every so often(in moderation) and do it less and less until you are completely sure you are ready to stop all together. Cutting something out of your diet or nicotine out of your life all together straight away can lead to a relapse as the craving is too much to handle. Wait until you are mentally strong enough to completely stop before you force yourself to stop. 
  4. Facts:  This won’t work with all new year’s resolutions or with all people for that matter, but it’s human nature to enjoy seeing black and white facts on how well we’re doing and the successes we’ve had or having, and generally simple facts are enough to spur us on. Writing a diary or logging data is a great way to look back at past success and give us belief again when things aren’t going quite as well as they did at the start. Sometimes progress slows down and is less noticeable so graphs and figures are great for showing you may still be heading in the right direction and if you’re not, they might just give you the kick up the backside that you need to get on the path for success again! For example, you might have only lost half a ‘lb’ this week and you think you’re getting no where fast, but if you look back, you may well have lost a stone in total and it can be a positive action to keep you smiling and not quitting!

So there are my tips to help you reach your new year’s resolutions. Some might not work for you or they all might work as everyone is different and our minds work in different ways, but hopefully from the four tips above you might have got something to keep you heading in the right direction. Remember….nothing worth having in life comes without hard work!

If you’ve read this blog, I’d love to know your new year’s resolutions, how you’re getting on with them and what you are doing to reach them? Please feel free to share your comments, you never know….your success stories or advice may well help someone else in the same situation.

Thanks for reading my blog and good luck in 2012 in reaching your goals, whatever they may be.

Adding ‘lb’s’ Over Christmas!

Coming up to the festive season, many of us start thinking about how much we eat and some of the junk we end up putting into our body. With this comes the problem of standing on the scales and taking a gasp as we see our weight much higher than before the Christmas break. Sometimes it’s not just a couple of added ‘lb’s’ that we end up having to shift with our New Year’s resolutions, it can be much more and not the greatest way to see in the New Year. So what can we do to prevent this from happening and still enjoy the treats of Christmas?

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can help us with the problem of gaining weight after eating badly. Fortunately, there is something far better……EXERCISE! In the ideal world we would all eat healthily and enjoy some regular exercise which would go hand in hand to keeping us all fit and healthy inside and out, but we all know this isn’t going to happen! Obviously I would always advise everyone to eat the right foods, drink the right fluids and exercise regularly but there are times during the year when we all want to let our hair down and enjoy ourselves. With that comes junk food, alcohol and lack of sleep. Stress can also be a major problem for the body which is why having time to relax and have some fun is important too. So it’s all about finding a balance!

I personally don’t agree with counting calories as that feels very restrictive and no way to live, but it’s common sense that if you burn off the added calories you put into the body with some of the junk food, it helps to keep the weight off. So the solution to the problem is obvious; if you eat fattening foods you have to work harder to burn them off! There is no easy route in life to be successful, it requires hard work and dedication. Fitness is no different and Vince Lombardi has made some fantastic quotes explaining just that, here are a couple of my favourites….

“Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price”

“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done”

I think these quotes typify my views to exercise and keeping fit. If we put the work in, we get rewarded for our efforts! You have two choices……

  • Make sacrifices and restrain yourself around the junk food and alcohol that helps us pile on the ‘lb’s’ over Christmas. Eat healthily and maintain how you would normally live throughout the year.
  • Exercise regularly throughout the Christmas break and be able to eat some treats and enjoy yourself, knowing you are limiting the damage by burning more calories through exercise.

It is harder to lose weight after the damage is done than to maintain it through regular exercise at the time! To give you an indication of how much effort it takes to burn off the wrong foods, here is an example…

A Mars bar contains roughly 280 calories. For a 150 lb person to burn off the calories in a Mars bar they would need to run for about 25 minutes if they were running at a pace of 6mph.

Obviously these figures would change with the weight of the person and speed they run at. This is just an approximate guide but it shows how much effort needs to be put in to burn off one minute of enjoyment from eating that Mars bar, so is it worth it and are you willing to work hard to burn it off?. Now ask yourself this question and the answer will tell you if you should take choice number one or number two above….

Are you dedicated and hard working enough to exercise regularly to burn off the amount of calories you will consume over Christmas?

If your answer is no then stick to choice number one and make some sacrifices, if it’s yes then enjoy exercising over the Christmas period and you’ll have the opportunity to treat yourself too! 

I’ll leave you with a tip to a question that so many people have asked during my time as a personal trainer and one that so many people have problems with already and others will have over Christmas…. “What is the best abdominal exercise to get a flat/toned stomach?”

If you do plan on working hard and being able to have the Christmas treats,  just remember one thing…..you can do as many abdominal exercises as you want but your abdominals will not show if there is body fat over the top! Sit ups, abdominal crunches and any other core exercise will not be enough to burn the fat needed to see visible abdominal muscles, that comes from cardiovascular exercise for about 30 minutes at a time at a steady pace. There is no harm in building your core strength and when the body fat percentage decreases, the abdominals will be more visible.

Time to start planning your Christmas exercise schedule! Have a great festive period.