Train Sane!

There is a massive temptation when we start on a new healthy lifestyle to work out every day, getting up at the crack of dawn, and following all the Instagrammers who are showing us the latest workouts and encouraging us to ‘train insane’.  We ultimately burn out by about day 5, give up and never raise our heart rate intentionally again until the next time we realise it’s time to do something about our health and fitness.

We want fitness yesterday, and we aren’t prepared to wait and put the effort in until our bodies catch up with what we actually want them to be. We get frustrated that we can’t do the things we want to be able to do, so after a while we just give up and say we are just never going to be fit, it’s not for us.

Slowly, slowly, catch the monkey!

We have to accept that getting fitter is something that has to happen over time, building up slowly. There are some very fortunate people who seem to have a natural level of fitness without setting foot in a gym or a class, but the majority of us aren’t that way, and we have to train our bodies, so that our muscles become stronger.

In 2014, a group of friends and I decided we were going to take on the challenge of the National Three Peaks. This is where you climb the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales, within 24 hours. This obviously requires a level of fitness to allow you to be up and down each mountain in about 4 and a half hours, and then fit in the 10 hours minimal travelling in between the three mountains. We did some training walks and we thought we were good to go, but our first mountain took about 6 hours. We carried on, and with a catalogue of errors that came our way had to call time on the challenge after the second peak. Deep down the majority of us knew we just weren’t fit enough. I definitely wasn’t. I wasn’t fast enough, and I wasn’t agile enough.

We repeated the challenge, the following year, making some changes to our plan and all those who participated got a lot fitter, we failed again, but this time due to the weather, on our last mountain.

Finally in 2017, we undertook the challenge a third time, but by this attempt there was only me and my husband left who wanted to complete it. The difference in my level of fitness from 2014 to 2017 was night and day. I was probably 2-3 stones lighter, and had gone from running 5k, two to three times a week, to taking part in weekly spin classes, strength training in the gym, running 10k three times a week, and 2 -3 HIIT sessions a week.  By this point I was completing half marathons around the 2 hour mark, and 10k races in just over 50 minutes. I knew that I was now fit enough, because slowly but surely I had increased my strength, stamina and fitness.

My husband on the other hand is one of those lucky, naturally fit people.  He gets up mountains like a little billy goat, and chose to rest on his laurels. This came home to roost, on the third mountain, as his knees gave in, and he just couldn’t walk any further. He turned round and went back to the car. Me and our friend John carried on, as there was no way I wasn’t completing it a third time.  We made it to the summit, then back down to the car with 2 hours to spare of the 24 hour challenge.

My point in telling you this story is to illustrate that fitness is not instant. It comes over time, and if you have a particular goal in mind, you have to do the right training, and accept that it may take you some time to get there. It also serves as a reminder, that even those naturally fit people have to do some relevant training to take on a particular challenge, to get the muscles ready for the battle ahead.

Fitness is an ongoing journey. During the time between 2014 and 2017, my journey just wasn’t about completing the National Three Peaks Challenge, my journey was to transform myself from someone who didn’t think they were capable of very much physically, to someone who now has the confidence and self belief that with the right training and the right amount of time, I am capable of achieving anything that I put my mind to, and if I can do that, anyone can. We just need a sensible plan!

‘I just don’t have time to exercise’

These days, with so many different types of workouts available on line, at local classes, couch to 5k groups, walking groups and local sports facilities, there really is no excuse to not fit in some exercise, somehow.  And, if you really can’t fit it in, maybe it’s time to look at your lifestyle and see where some changes can be made, to actually give you some time back for yourself. For a lot of people exercise is the time that’s needed to allow them to be themselves – not a girlfriend, husband, mum, dad, nurse, teacher, admin assistant or whatever their job might be – but actually just being ‘me’.

This might mean drafting in a bit of help with other commitments, some extra help from other family members to take on some of the jobs that you normally do, to give you the time to yourself.  If you are the person in your house who always does a particular job, can it be done at another time, or by someone else to allow you to go to a class that you enjoy?

We actually have to make time for exercise in a sensible and sustainable way. Not in a way that becomes too onerous on you physically or leaves you neglecting your loved ones.  Could you get up half an hour earlier, just once or twice a week (not every day!) to be able to go for a walk or do an online workout? What about giving up some of our TV, social media or online time? I can’t even begin to imagine how much time is lost staring at screens in the 21st century. Can you change the way you socialise? If socialising for you generally means going out eating and drinking, what about doing something physical instead? Simple tweaks once or twice a week, can make all the difference.

Make it important

Life gets in the way of training sometimes and that is what we just have to accept. However if life gets in the way more than it doesn’t, meaning you miss weeks of training at a time, it’s time for a new tactic.

If you have a specific goal to work towards, you need a specific training plan, and you need to factor this in to your life and other plans. If the goal is going to really stretch you, then sticking to your training plan is essential, so it’s important to find a way to make it work for you.

Make your training important.  If you have a particularly challenging goal, it will have to be more important than everything else that you do. See your training plan through, like you would your work and family commitments. plan it in properly. Write it in your diary or on your calendar, as a continuous reminder of what needs to be done when, and what needs to be organised, to make sure it happens.

Start slowly

Whilst the government recommendations are to exercise for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, for someone who is currently doing nothing, that is going to be potentially pushing it, so we think that we should start by making simple changes.  |It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise class or activity, could you make a rule to always take the stairs, or maybe park the car a little further from your destination, to increase your number of steps. How about making walking or cycling part of your commute to work.

Once we start to build up our fitness, we can look to increase the amount that we do.  Have a look at what other opportunities for exercise there are. What classes are on near your home or your work place? Can you squeeze in a lunch time or after work class, or a walk with a colleague or friend.

Our muscles soon start to respond, leaving you feeling stronger and fitter, and making the exercises easier. When this happens it’s time to up the intensity and frequency of our exercise sessions. It is important we get rest days in though, so that we don’t over work our muscles. It is OK to train on consecutive days, just make sure you don’t train the same muscle groups on two days successively.

‘But I don’t actually like ANY exercise’

Some people say that they don’t particularly like exercise. My feeling on that is that they just haven’t found the one they like yet. There are so many variations of classes and sessions available, there has to be something. There might have been something that you really liked as a younger person or at school – why not look into whether there are any local groups or teams where you can join in with something from your school days like rounders, hockey, football or netball.

I always thought that I wasn’t a runner, but one day something just clicked, after being inspired by other people I knew who were running.  If they could do it, there was no reason why I couldn’t.  I downloaded the couch to 5k app, and off I went, teaching myself to run for 30 minutes. Once I had done that, I realised that there were a few other people doing it too, so started turning acquaintances into friends, as we arranged runs a couple of times a week, and before I knew it, I was a runner, with a whole load of running friends to boot! A whole new social circle.

I think the difference between enduring and enjoying exercise is the social aspect that you get from exercise.  Aside from the post exercise high, exercising with friends is really fun and you can encourage each other to push harder. I love training with friends and learn a lot from them too. I had never set foot in the ‘scary mens weights’ part of the gym 2 years ago, but a friend convinced me to go along with him and I learnt so much, and changed my body shape in the process. I now walk in that ‘scary bit’ alone with my head held high, ready to push my body to the next level.

More than just physical fitness

Exercise doesn’t just improve our physical fitness. It is also good for our emotional well being. It really can help keep you sane, not just by that release of happy hormones during and after the exercise either.  Exercise builds networks and social groups, it creates and cements friendships with the most diverse groups of people. It removes barriers between different groups in society.  You don’t know if the person next to you in a class or on a group walk is a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, you don’t know if they are penniless or they are a millionaire, but you are connected by your effort to improve your physical abilities.

This week!

If you aren’t currently doing any exercise, or you are hell for leather on something that deep down you know is unsustainable, then take a step back and come up with a realistic plan to get you fitter and healthier. Make it simple and straightforward and most of all stick to it!

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