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!

Exercise: Back to Basics!

Recently I have heard a few people say “Don’t you have to be quite fit to have a personal trainer?” or “I need to get a little fitter before I have some personal training.” and my answer has been…..”NO, not at all! Every single one of us is an individual and our bodies work in very different ways. We all have to start somewhere and what better way to start than have professional advice from the beginning, rather than try when you don’t really know what you are doing!”

A friend of mine sent me some fitness blogs a few days ago and although most of them were a good read, there were points I disagreed with, one point in particular stood out in my mind and I would like to give my opinion to it. Here is the quote……

“Never do cardio right before weight training, doing cardio uses up your stored glycogen which will greatly compromise your energy level during weight training. On the other hand, doing weight training first will use up the stored glycogen then the body will look for fat to burn as energy.”

As I said above, every individual is different and has different goals. It is true that if you do cardio before weights, you will generally feel more tired during the weights but there is no reason why you can’t burn fat during a weights session too! Also, it completely depends on what is more important to you as an individual to what you do first. For instance, if you want to burn fat and gain general fitness, I would suggest the cardio comes first as it is more important for your overall goal, whereas if you wanted to concentrate more on building muscle or toning up, then the weights section would be more important and should come first, whilst you are fresh and can perform to your best. The other reason why I disagree with this statement is that when doing cardio, if you keep your heart rate to the correct zone, burning fat as an energy source rather than glycogen is easily done. So, like I said, we are all different and it’s about finding out what works for you.

Exercise is like trial and error, as long as the basic guidelines are followed and you are exercising in the correct manner and performing exercises safely(with the correct posture), the rest is about what works for you. You might find that a friend tells you to try something that has got them great results and when you do, you achieve nothing. This is because your body is not the same and will respond differently to some exercise than others.

What is important is consistency, will power, a positive mental attitude(PMA) and belief that with hard work you CAN……be what you want to be, work towards the shape you want to be and become a fitter healthier person. So, with this in mind, I’ve come up with a few pointers that might work for you and help you in the right direction to living a healthier lifestyle:

  • When starting to exercise for the first time or starting up again after a long break, don’t be stubborn and push it too hard too soon. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. If it has a few aches and pains, acknowledge them but don’t ignore them. If you try to push through them you are likely to injure your body by putting it under too much stress before it is ready.
  • Don’t neglect the boring bits! What I mean by this is the warm up and cool down before and after each session. These are not there just to make you look like you know what you are doing, they are there because you DO know what you’re doing! A warm up and cool down will get the body ready to exercise and also bring the body back to a resting state afterwards. Imagine your muscles like an elastic band; if an elastic band is left for too long in a draw and then taken out and stretched immediately, it is likely to snap. The idea of a warm up is to get the muscles warm and more flexible so they aren’t overstretched straight away and tear like the elastic band! Dynamic stretches(stretches on the move) are a big part of a warm up. It is also there to increase the body’s circulation and dilate the blood vessels ready to deal with the body’s need for oxygenated blood when exercising more vigorously. A cool down is just as important to flush away the lactic acid build up in the muscles to reduce stiffness/soreness in the body over the following few days. Static stretching is a big part of a cool down so that the muscles don’t tighten up and shorten after exercise. Keeping the muscles supple is a major part of any exercise programme.
  • Rest is just as important as exercising itself! If you continuously put the body under stress you are actually making micro tears in the muscles of the body. Without sufficient rest to recover, these tears will not repair right and an injury is on the cards. Scar tissue build up is very common from overworking without enough recovery and this can lead to a bigger muscle injury preventing you from exercising all together for weeks on end. Again, listen to your body and it’s aches and pains and if you feel like you need a day of rest and recovery, you probably do BUT this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to get out of exercising. Be honest with yourself because consistency is key.
  • Keeping your body hydrated is a must! Many people neglect the correct fluid intake which can be a bad mistake. The fluids lost from sweating whilst exercising means they are in constant need to be replaced. A dehydrated body will lead to fatigue and the muscles don’t perform as they should causing muscle pulls. It is important to prevent dehydration by continuously topping up your fluid intake before, during and after exercise to replace the lost fluids and body salts. A hydrated body will perform better and is less likely to have muscle injuries, which means regular exercise can continue consistently.
  • Lastly, many people struggle with knowing how many times a week and for how long they should exercise. There is no right or wrong(within reason!) but there are some good guidelines to follow. When starting up, try building up the time of the session gradually starting at 15-20 minutes and over time increasing it to roughly an hour maximum. Also, start with one or two sessions a week and add more as and when the body starts to recover quicker and you feel ready to exercise again. Three sessions a week is more than adequate to maintain a good fitness base but if you want to exercise more, there is no reason why you shouldn’t as long as you give yourself a day or two to rest every so often. Exercising five to six times a week is the maximum I would advise purely so there is a day or two to break the week up for a recovery period.

I hope this blog has given you an insight into a few basic pointers, to help get you on track for starting on the first rung of the ‘fitness ladder’. Remember, you know your body better than anyone else, so make sure you treat it with respect, listen to it and learn from it, and it will take care of you and reward you with the success of achieving your goals.

Marathon Recovery

As I sat down to write this blog I could think of nothing more fitting than a few tips about recovery, on the weekend of the London Marathon. Thousands of runners and walkers will be thinking about crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles but the truth is, it doesn’t stop there! What happens next is just as important as the training leading up to the marathon and the marathon itself. Having a few clients running the marathon, I thought there will be many people out there that don’t know the best way of recovering and could do with a few tips. Many of these tips can be used for recovery after any exercise or sports event not just for such gruelling events as the marathon, so here goes……

  • Cool down: Recovery starts straight away after the event. A cool down is very important to reduce stiffness and muscle soreness created from lactic acid build up in the muscles. A thorough cool down can help flush the lactic acid away and reduce DOMS(delayed onset muscle soreness). A jog, walk and thorough stretch could be the difference between recovering in days or weeks. Once you have stopped running, your muscles will stiffen up, even after a cool down, so it is wise to keep moving every 15-20 minutes on the way home from the marathon, to prevent an uncomfortable recovery period.
  • Rehydration: Replacing lost fluids is vital. You can lose lbs just from lost fluids that need to be replaced for a speedy recovery. Also body salts and electrolytes need replacing and a good way of doing this is to add a dioralyte sachet to each bottle of water that you drink. They don’t taste great but they will help to replace the salts and electrolytes that your body has lost. It is important to drink water throughout the day not just gulp straight after the race. A good way to judge dehydration, is the colour of your urine. If it is dark, you need to continue to rehydrate until it is more of a pale yellow colour.
  • Replacing energy: Eating a high carbohydrate and protein meal will help your energy levels and the protein is great for muscle and tissue repair. If possible, try to eat a good meal within the first hour after finishing the marathon. Chicken and pasta are a good example of a high carb and protein meal.
  • Ice: If you can cope with it and you have somewhere to have one, an ice bath is great for keeping inflammation to a minimum. Ten minutes are all you need to help with your recovery. If you really can’t handle an ice bath, putting an ice pack on any areas with aches or pains will again reduce any inflammation and help speed up recovery. As much as you might want one, refrain from having a warm bath or sitting in a hot tub as they will increase any bleeding in muscles and can impede recovery.
  • Blisters: If you have accumulated some blisters during the 26.2 miles, they can get very uncomfortable after the adrenalin of the race fades. What you do with them depends on if the blisters are in tact or broken. If in tact, I would suggest sterilizing a needle, bursting and draining the blister and get some fresh air to it so it can dry out. If it has already broken and split away from the skin, it can become very sore. Cleaning it with antiseptic will stop infection but it will need to dry out and  heal without further rubbing/friction on other shoes. Try to keep the area open, flip-flops will allow you to air the blister out without rubbing unless it is under the foot.
  • Rest: After all the above, arrange a massage or two to help you rest and move any muscle soreness you still have. The general rule for exercising again is to rest for as many days as the amount of miles you run (26 days) before training again, but each individual is different. Let your body speak to you and if it feels too early, it probably is!
  • Sleep: The following days after the marathon, it is important to get plenty of sleep. This is your body’s time to heal and a good nights sleep can make a big difference in the way you feel mentally and physically.

Now you have completed the marathon and achieved what so many can only dream of, it is up to you to take care of your body and use these tips to help you back to normality.

Congratulations on your achievement.