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.

Listening to your Body

Learning about exercise, fitness and what to do to reach your goals is a never-ending learning curve. Everyone has an opinion and there are many that are controversial. It can be quite confusing hearing lots of opinions and advice from different people and even when we know our stuff, we all still make mistakes. I’ve recently made a big mistake at which I should have known better and it’s important we learn from these mistakes. We can listen to as much advice as possible from people who know more than us, but the most important thing, is to listen to our bodies when it comes to how we feel when training. Sometimes we can get complacent after exercising regularly and that can be a dangerous place to be, as I found out recently. When we commit to exercise we all like to push it hard and see results, but sometimes that’s not the way to go. The rest and recovery is just as important and sometimes more important than the actual exercise. What none of us want is to burn out and end up injured!

I was recently running on my usual 10 mile route and I could feel my right calf was tight. I’d been training hard for a couple of weeks before hand and wanted to keep pushing myself. My body was trying to tell me that it was time to stop and recover but I didn’t listen. When I felt my calf tightening I should have cut my run short, gone home and rested for a few days to let my body recover, but I didn’t and thought I could just get through until the end. I took my body one step too far and after a few quick successive sharp pains I felt a ‘ping’ and the damage was done, I had pulled my calf. I have pushed my body to the limit so many times before that I got complacent about my fitness level and ignored the signs. We all have a limit, we just need to know when to stop!

When we exercise and continuously push our bodies to the limit, we actually tear tiny muscle fibres. These muscle fibres are so small and there are so many of them that it’s not noticeable, but over time they rebuild and cause scar tissue, what most know as knots in the muscle. If we don’t give our body time to repair and recover, these small tears can be far worse and that is when more serious injuries occur. Muscle pulls/strains are common because of many reasons but they can be prevented with a little common sense and just by listening to our bodies and having a rest when we feel we need one!

Here are some signs that might help you prevent an over usage injury………

  • Dehydration –  The body is made up of 70% water. If the body gets dehydrated, normal functions will suffer including muscle performance. Generally, if you feel thirsty or you have a dry mouth, the damage is already done, you are already dehydrated. If you feel this way, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and you feel ready to exercise before trying to push yourself. Don’t ignore it and try to exercise as dehydration can be very serious.
  • Tiredness –  When you are tired mentally or physically, the reaction times slow down and concentration levels drop. If you don’t concentrate on a run, bike ride or many other activities, or you just react slower than normal, it may be the difference between putting your foot in a pot hole or seeing it earlier, dodging it and avoiding an ankle injury. If you feel tired, rest and make sure you have recovered fully before exercising again.
  • Tightness –  If you are contemplating a weights or CV session but a certain muscle or area feels tight, it’s tight for a reason. Don’t push through it and hope it eases off, as it can be far worse like a muscle pull, such as the one I’ve experienced through doing exactly this! Be sensible, let the muscle recover and make sure it is fully warmed up, stretched and feeling ready to exercise before you exercise again.
  • Illness –  If you are recovering from an illness, make sure you have recovered fully before trying to exercise. Your body’s immune system is down and exercising at this point can increase the risk of injury or further illness. There are some minor illnesses like a basic headache that exercising can actually help with. It helps to dilate the blood vessels in the body so the blood moves more freely with less pressure in the head, hence easing a headache, but if the body has an infection or virus, bacteria can thrive when the body temperature is raised therefore prolonging the illness. I suggest you take the extra few days to recover and make sure you are on top form to be able to push yourself hard, when you get back to feeling 100% again.

The key to preventing injuries is to be smart. If you’re in any doubt and you just don’t feel quite right, don’t risk it. That doesn’t mean don’t exercise just because you can’t be bothered, but be sure you are fit and able enough to perform to a good intensity and get the best out of whatever exercise it is you have chosen.

So, next time you want to exercise, let your body speak to you AND make sure you listen! Enjoy your workout : )