I blame Enid Blyton…

If you had asked me when I was younger if I ever thought I’d be working in the fitness industry I’d have laughed at you. I have always firmly believed myself to be a “non-sporty”, someone who doesn’t have any right to be enjoying being fit and active. So, of course I wouldn’t work in the fitness industry.

Why the belief? Well, I went to boarding school from the age of 8-18, and at the two schools I attended in those years, there was a strong emphasis on team sports. I can now see that I’m simply not a team sports person. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I have no hand eye coordination. These are plain facts. My partner laughs when I pick up a ball to throw for the dogs!

Throughout all this time I have always skied. I have always enjoyed walking dogs. I have actually been pretty active, but the lack of team sports still made me think I was a “non-sporty”. And of course I always compared up the line, not down the line. Of course everyone more active than you is doing more. Of course they’re fitter. But if I just turn around and look the other way, I can see that there are way more people who are less active than me. It’s human nature to compare yourself to the people better than you, though, I guess.

So when did I start to believe I could be fitter and more active? It was when I discovered triathlon. Now, I’m the first to appreciate that swimming in a lake, then cycling and then running is absolutely not for everyone; but for me it finally gave me a sport that didn’t involve letting people down by not being able to catch, being the weak link because you can’t get there quickly enough, and so on. And for the most part in the triathlon world people are supportive of you being there, showing up at the start line; rather than expecting miracles from you. It certainly suited me.

The point of this? Well, for everyone there’s that thing that is right for them. It might be zumba, it might be hiking, it might be playing on the swings. It simply doesn’t matter – it’s what YOU enjoy and gets YOU moving.

And Enid Blyton? Why on earth is it her fault? Well, she portrayed boarding school as being just SOOO much fun, so when the opportunity to attend one presented itself to 7 year old me, of course I leapt at the chance. (And in case you are wondering, no it isn’t all midnight feasts and jolly hockey sticks – it’s just school, but with rubbish food!!!)

 

For support finding your *thing* and getting more active, come and join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook.

Where to start?

When we’re stuck in a sedentary lifestyle, but know we’d like to start moving more, it can be incredibly difficult to know where to start. I mean, there’s the gym, there are classes, there’s the local running club, there’s any number of personal trainers. How do you choose? And what if all those options feel just too daunting. I mean, what if you feel like you’re going to be the least fit person there by a mile, and that everyone’s going to be laughing at you? What if you feel that your size means people will think you shouldn’t be in those places? What if you know that right now an hour of activity is going to be way too much? What if you simply don’t have the time in the day to go somewhere, do the fitness stuff, and then come home? What if, quite frankly, you have no interest in doing any of those things and you’d much rather start on your own terms?

So, where do you start? Start with something. It actually doesn’t matter what you start with, what matters is that you start. You  might choose to start with a 10 minute walk in your lunch break. You might choose to start by taking the stairs rather than the lift. You might choose to start by doing some bicep curls with tins of beans while the kettle is boiling. Then the next day, you might find that the sky didn’t fall on your head, and that you can do that thing again.

Fast forward a few weeks and the stairs are a bit easier, the shopping doesn’t feel quite as heavy, you notice you can walk further. Hang on. You’ve just got a bit fitter. You didn’t need any specialist equipment. Nobody watched you. Your size didn’t get in the way. And maybe, just maybe, you’re feeling a bit better in yourself. Maybe just maybe people are commenting that you look better. Maybe just maybe your clothes are fitting a bit more comfortably.

All that, just because you had the courage to start.

If you want support getting started, join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook. I’ve got your back on this one.

Moving for mental health

As it’s Mental Heath Awareness Week, I thought it was a good moment to write about how being active can have a huge impact on mental health.

Before I go any further, I must point out that I absolutely understand how frustrating it is when someone blithely says “oh, exercise will help you feel better” or words to that effect. If you’re in the depths of a bout of depression, or at the height of a stress wave someone saying that probably prompts a pretty strong “punch repeatedly in the face” reaction in you, but please bear with me.

It is, however, widely acknowledged that getting more active can help manage the symptoms of some mental illnesses. Sufferers of stress, depression and anxiety can often find solace in exercise. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, which make us feel good about life; when exercising, one is generally focusing on what to do now and next so there is less space to worry; if you exercise outdoors, the mindful aspect of absorbing nature can also help.

All this still sounds pretty simplistic – get moving and you’ll feel better. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but just as seeing a good friend can help lift the symptoms for a time, so can exercise. Better yet if you can get active with a friend who understands and will let you chat. The simple act of moving forwards side by side, and chatting, rather than trying to talk while face to face can remove some of the reservations about saying what you feel. If you overhear some of the conversations that occur in running and cycling clubs, you’d know what I mean (quite blush-worthy sometimes!).

Give it a try. Don’t ditch the medication – it is definitely doing a job, but try being a bit more active. If work is stressful, try a 10 minute walk when you get home. If you suffer with depression, try getting outdoors and being active. If it’s anxiety, put on your favourite song and have a dance around the kitchen. And let me know how you get on. I’m rooting for you.

The right activity at the right time

This week I am doing a course. It’s the GP referral course which will allow me to work with people with various medical conditions, and is also the gateway to several further courses that I want to do. It’s 4 days of pretty full on learning, and so far seems really useful.

However, it’s got me thinking about exercise guidelines vs personal capability. Over the last couple of years, for whatever reasons, my body has spent a lot too much time in the fight or flight mode, and as such I’ve been “stressed” (intentionally in inverted commas – I haven’t felt stressed, not in the way you do when there’s a deadline to meet, or a million things vying for your attention) for much of that time. Funnily enough existing like this takes its toll eventually, and right now I find myself in a sort of chronic fatigue type situation. If I plan ahead, I can find energy for what I need to do, but that’s all. This week, for example, I am finding the energy for this course but it will be at the expense of next weekend, when I will likely collapse; I spent much of last week gearing myself up for it, too.

Enough of the pity party, Emily, what’s the point?

OK, sorry! The point is on this course we are told the guideline amounts of exercise for people with various different conditions. Many of these conditions are attributed to sedentary lifestyles, among other things, so it makes very good sense that moving more will help. However, the guidelines seem to state that for each one ideally the person should be doing some sort of cardio exercise 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes (there are variations on this theme – I’m not for a second suggesting the guidelines are exactly the same for every condition).

Now, from my new position of understanding what it is too need to eek out your energy, and from having been told that cardio exercise is one of the big stressors for my body, I am finding this all very interesting. Yes, I absolutely agree that we all should be moving more. Yes, I 100% on board that my role is to encourage people to get more active.

What I am taking from these guidelines each time we get to that slide for a new condition is that getting active is the key here. It isn’t going and training for a 5k, a half marathon, a triathlon, whatever; it is moving more. For anyone with any of the conditions we are studying being more active WILL HELP. For me currently, being active HELPS, it’s just a different level of active to previously.

I’m really excited to learn more and to see how I can couple this learning with my experience to better support people who are inactive to take those first steps, to find their “thing”. We all have a thing. At the moment mine is walking. I walk with the dogs, I take in the sights and sounds of nature. I used to run to achieve the same, but not for now.

If you’re reading this wondering if maybe just maybe there’s an activity you could try that you just might enjoy, let me help you find it.

Right, I’m off for a snooze before today’s learning…

Kindness

On a lovely dog walk with a friend recently we were talking about what I wanted to achieve with my Jumpstart programme. The overwhelming thing was kindness.

By this I don’t mean going and giving all your worldly goods to charity, or taking a steaming pot of  stew to an elderly neighbour, although those are great things to do. What I mean is kindness to yourself.

Huh?

All too often we think of everyone else’s needs before our own. Got children? You put them before you. Got a partner? Their needs are pretty high up. Friends? Yep, you’ll rush to help them out. Animals? They need to be cared for. You? Sorry, who? ME? I don’t have time to be kind to me!!

OK, let’s put this another way around: if you never make time to be kind to number one, you’ll run out of steam to help everyone else. So rather than saying “I don’t have time to be kind to me”, let’s try “how can I make time for me?” I’m thinking maybe 10 minutes. How about you grab 10 minutes before the chaos of the day and do some yoga stretches? Or take 10 minutes at lunchtime and walk around the block? Or include the family – take 10 minutes before dinner and all dance like loons around the living room.

Kindness, in this context, is about giving yourself the time to keep having the energy for everyone else.

If you’re struggling with how to find the time, or what to do to fit little bits of activity in, why not join our Community over on facebook. Lots of hints and tips on how to get a bit more active and ultimately be kind to yourself, and all while surrounded by lovely kind people.

Success stories

Being terribly British, I’m not one to sing my own praises. However, as my clients’ biggest supporter I am desperate to sing their praises and share their successes. While I may have shoved these clients in the right direction, only they have ultimately made the changes in their life. That’s pretty cool, right? I am privileged enough to be involved in big changes. Wow.

I am genuinely honoured when people choose to start their fitness journey with me. I’m touched beyond belief when someone who has always considered the exercise world to be out of their reach trusts me enough to make the little changes I suggest. I could do a happy dance every single time someone does something they had always believed was beyond their reach, something “other people” do.

Give us some examples then, Emily…

Client A – she sidled up to me at a networking event about 6 months ago and quietly said “I think I need your help”. We started working together a few weeks later, when the time was right for her. At that point she was battling various health issues and had to allow 45 minutes to walk to work partly to give her time to catch her breath, partly because her knees were so sore. After only a couple of months of us doing a 30 minute session a week and her then doing shorter sets while dinner was cooking (with an emphasis on building leg strength so her knees were supported), and with some small switches in her food, she had a medical follow up which showed she had lost 7% body fat. Wow.

Fast forward another 3 months and we ran together for the first time. I think she had expected we’d do maybe 1km, or that after a couple of minutes she’d be crawling on the floor gasping for breath. Nope. 3.5km in half an hour. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Oh, and that walk to work – now takes 7 (SEVEN) minutes.

Client B – she has always felt exercise was for those fit people. She never felt it could possibly be enjoyable. It was some sort of torture people did, and the effort of even getting to a gym or other fitness gathering point was tiring enough to mean the class she might have set out to take part in would be off the cards by the time she arrived. In an early Skype conversation she mentioned her husband has a stationary bike “he goes on there for an hour at a time, you’ll never get me on there”. I suggested it might be a good warm up. For 3 minutes, before doing some other exercises at home. Maybe while listening to a podcast.

A couple of months later, and after a pause when life, family, cake, got in the way, we got back to speaking regularly and establishing where we were with the stationary bike. 2 mins was enough, with a short at home session after it. We’re building back up. What she didn’t notice was that the other day when we spoke on Skype she answered downstairs and so had to walk up 2 flights of stairs to get to her office, where we always speak. No being out of puff; she kept chatting to me the whole way up the stairs.

Client C – she has wanted to make some changes, to get more active, to work with her body again. We started out with some at home exercises, including doing some sessions together over Skype, so she stayed accountable. Then, a couple of months ago, she decided it was time to face her fear (phobia, fear belittles it) of swimming. Working with a life coach friend, Debi, she addressed the phobia, and then she gave me the great honour of being the person she wanted in the water with her when she first took a dip.

 

I am passionate about helping people get started. I can’t put into words how amazing it feels to hear and see these wonderful women discover that actually they CAN.

It may be odd to say, but I don’t want to work with people who are already going to the gym. For me, there’s no fun in that. There are lots of people who do that. But being trusted with someone’s first foray into getting more active? For me, that’s just awesome.

Loo vs exercise!

I saw an article yesterday saying that the average Brit spends more time on the loo than they do exercising. (You can read the full article here)

OK, the headline is pretty powerful, but actually the facts are scary. Apparently the majority of us spend double the time on the loo than we do exercising.

I’m just going to give this a little consideration. Double the time on the loo than exercising.

Nope, saying it again isn’t making it any less shocking.

Right. How do we change this? Well, we start multitasking (not while on the loo – I’m not encouraging Zumba at the same time, or anything like that, don’t worry!!). We can do exercise while cooking. We can add in some activity while brushing our teeth. There are so many ways to fit more time being active into even the busiest of lives.

I am a firm believer that little changes equal big results. If I ask a client to do an hour of exercise everyday, she’ll most likely fail after a week. That’s not a harsh indictment of my clients, it’s a realistic view that someone who is currently inactive won’t do an hour a day. It’s too big. It’s daunting. It’s terrifying. It doesn’t get done. Failure occurs.

So what do my clients do? They start with what is achievable. With what will bring about success. If that’s 5 minutes a day for the first week, and it gets completed, then it’s a win. We can move onto 10 minutes in week two. 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week is suddenly an hour of exercise. For someone who was previously inactive. Awesome.

Now according to the article about the loo, we spend 3 hours (and 9 minutes, but I’ll over look the 9 mins for now) on it a week. Well, working on my building activity levels theory that’s 30 mins a day, 6 days a week. In the mantra of little changes equalling big results, and in the mindset of wanting to bring about success not failure, I would rather my client completes her 30 minutes in whatever way works for her – that might be a brisk walk to work in the morning (10 mins), a 10 minute dash to the shops at lunchtime and then 10 minutes of exercises she can do while getting dinner ready in the evening. Voila, 30 minutes a day on work days and we’ll work out what is fun exercise for the weekend. It might be a longer walk. It might be roller skating. It doesn’t matter – by this point she only needs 30 more minutes and she’s beaten the stats in the article. Winning!

In my head there’s a really good punchline here about movement being about more than bowels, but I’ll erm leave that there!

Seriously, though, if you or someone you know fits the bill for this, please put them in touch with me. I’d love to have a Skype chat with them to see how we can fit more activity into their everyday life, and get them away from being a statistic.

Willpower

Of late I have found myself having quite a lot of conversations in which the topic of willpower has come up. It’s got me thinking about the wider implications of the word.

There is a widely held belief (or certainly it’s portrayed in the language we use) that things fall into “good” and “bad” or “naughty”. Take food, for example: I regularly have people confessing to all the “bad” or “naughty” food they have eaten recently, as though in telling me they’ll somehow absolve themselves. Or maybe I’m expected to berate them and be pious about the fact I never eat anything “naughty”. This conversation inevitably leads to the confessor reaching their own conclusion that they have no willpower and therefore they’re a failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t ever eat anything “naughty”. I enjoy salads, I enjoy pizzas, I enjoy wine, I enjoy chocolate. I don’t like coffee or tea. I don’t like pineapple. The difference is in my labelling of these things. Over the years I have learnt that my internal language is the only thing that helps or hinders me. If I tell myself I have no willpower because I eat chocolate, I will eat more chocolate, feel guilty, feel a failure, eat more chocolate. And repeat. If I tell myself I can have some chocolate, I will eat the amount I want AND THEN STOP. Because I have permission to eat all of it.

The same goes with exercise. I don’t have any willpower for exercising. I go for a run because I enjoy running. But (unless I’m training for a specific event, and need to cover a specific distance) I am allowed to turn around at the top of the road. If when I get to the top of the road I want to carry on, then that’s what I’ll do.

Am I rambling? The point I’m making is that the word willpower needs to go in the should box. It’s an external pressure “oh well I should do some exercise, because, you know, society thinks I should” vs “I want to do some exercise because I want to be more active”. External pressures inevitably lead to guilt because we can’t ever meet the expectations of this external someone who is applying the pressure. And so we believe we have no willpower. And so we feel guilty. And so we have some more chocolate and do no exercise. Cos, well, we have no willpower, right?

My biggest piece of advice for having willpower is to stop requiring willpower. Reword your inner monologue. Get rid of ALL SHOULDS. Replace the ones you like with WILL, and get rid of the ones you don’t want in your life.

I should go for a run = I won’t go and then I’ll feel guilty and tell myself I have no willpower.

I will go for a run = I will run because I have chosen to, and I didn’t need willpower.

Everytime you catch a should creeping in, ask yourself if the sentence is right with will in place of should. If it isn’t, don’t do it. There’s no guilt, it just wasn’t right for you right now.

Permission granted to say no when things aren’t for you and to feel zero guilt for it.

 

Why exercise?

Seems a silly question – the media are always telling us we should be more active, there are government guidelines for how many minutes a week we should be doing, most people have had a gym membership at some point.

But actually, why exercise? Why do something you keep being told you should do? I for one hate being told what to do, so why do I exercise?

I run because it makes me feel better. I cycle because it gets me out into nature so I see beautiful scenery and wildlife. I swim because while I’m focusing on not drowning I can’t worry about anything else in life. I do short exercise sessions like the ones I give to my Jumpstart clients because sometimes there isn’t the time for anything more, and I enjoy being out in my garden doing something active. I walk with the dogs because it clears my head.

I don’t go to high octane classes that I perceive will make me feel bad about myself (I have little coordination!), I try not to compare my speed to other people’s. I exercise because it fuels me. Just like eating healthy food, it makes me feel better. I exercise in the time I have available – some days that’s just 15 minutes. Some days it’s more.

And why am I a personal trainer? Because I want to help other people find their little bit of peace through exercise. I want to enable others to feel better, happier, brighter in life. Join me!

www.embracingfitness.co.uk/jumpstart

Jumpstart

Ever since I qualifyed as a personal trainer I knew I wanted to be able to do distance sessions via Skype, so I could work with clients anywhere rather than being limited geographically. For me the reason for retraining was to be able to help people who don’t know where to start to do just that. I wanted to enable these people to get more active without the pressure of going to a gym, without the humiliation of going to a class where they don’t know the moves already, without the expense of buying equipment but with the full support of someone who understands where they’re coming from.

So, why do I understand? Well, I am not that person who has been sporty since childhood. Getting active is pretty new on me, too. I ran my first ever mile in 2012. Also, I’m a size 14-16, I know that cake and wine fall into people’s mouths. I am realistic about this. I can give you a list of excuses as long as your arm why not to exercise. I also can give you a list of reasons as long as both arms why actually doing the exercise will make you feel better. And I want to help you add reasons to the 2nd list.

OK, so how does Jumpstart work then? We start with a chat over Skype so I can establish both what your goals are but almost more importantly what your barriers are. If you’re someone who doesn’t function until they’ve had 5 coffees, I won’t ask you to “just set the alarm 15 mins earlier”. If you’re a straight in from work and the pyjamas go on type, then I won’t start expecting an hour run from you at 8pm. Jumpstart is simply about fitting exercise into YOUR life. It doesn’t matter how I fit my exercise into my life, or how your partner, your mum, your auntie’s cat or anyone else fits it into theirs, I want YOU to succeed. We’ll start small. Achievable. You may well think I’ve not set you enough in the first week. Good. That means you’re succeeding. It’s achievable.

So if you want a personalised exercise plan that is designed to fit into YOUR life then Jumpstart is for you. 3 different levels – Silver, you get the plan, but then you’re on your own; Gold, plan plus weekly chats to see how you’re getting on and adapt the plan accordingly; Platinum, all that plus a food diary analysis. The food diary part is done in a very similar vein – I won’t give you an hour by hour plan of what you MUST eat NOW, rather we’ll have a look at achievable changes that will make the food you eat work with you, not against you.

Sound good? Sign up here – I for one can’t wait to help find a fitter you.