Category Archives: The initial journey

My initial journey into regaining my fitness, broken up into six distinct months as I started writing my blog. Each month describes a new way I found to fit exercise into my daily routine.

Month 6: Incremental improvement

I see this whole fitness lark as a incremental improvement thing. Some people talk about changing your lifestyle, and yes, if you’ve been a total couch potato for the last few years and eat tons of junk food, then maybe you do need a bit of a lifestyle change. But that’s a scary thought isn’t it? Anything that puts you outside your comfort zone is scary. And what if that wasn’t you? What if you were always moderately active, and eat good, home cooked food and still find yourself slowing down and putting on a few extra bumps here and there.

I nearly always cook from scratch, so I always know what’s in my food. I might get a takeaway at weekends, and I do eat out a lot, but I never eat ready meals laden with salt and sugar.

I do give in to chocolate cravings once in a while, and I love baking cakes, but my biggest downfall is probably red wine. I certainly wasn’t up for anything that could be called a lifestyle change.

I wanted small changes, that wouldn’t impact how I live my life but would still have incremental effects on my body. And it worked. If you’re six months into this, hopefully it’s working for you too.

So far I’ve written this as my ‘story’. A gradual learning process that set me off on the right foot towards feeling fitter. If you are already a bit of a gym bunny, you probably won’t find this useful at all, but if you’re a bit overweight and struggling to know where to start, I hope it’s given you some pointers. From here on in I will be posting as I find new and interesting information, still hopefully at least once a month, more often in my Twitter feed.

For my final ‘monthly’ piece I’m going to focus on two tips to make any exercise you do find time for, work harder for you.

Interval training

I’d heard of interval training, but it was when I saw  a channel 4 programme, the name of which I’ve long since forgotten, showing how many more calories you burn when you vary the level of exercise you do that I really sat up and took notice. This is simply exercising as hard as you can for short bursts, with rests (or slower exercises) in between. The programme I saw showed the participants walking, then running, then walking again, and they burned more calories at the time than someone who was just walking or just running, and kept on burning calories for a couple of hours afterwards.

The Body Coach workouts (https://www.thebodycoach.com/) are based on interval workouts; he gets you to exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10.

I forget all the science behind it, but it’s out there if you want to search for it.

Fasting workouts

I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a fan of dieting, this isn’t dieting, it’s just timing your eating habits to when you tend to do exercise.

I first read about fasting workouts from reading an article by Scott Laidler, who writes a weekly column for the Telegraph. (Scott.laidler.com / Telegraph.co.uk) The basic upshot is that if you exercise on an empty stomach (8 hours after last eating) your body gets its energy from stored fat instead of food that you are still in the process of digesting. This seems to be how a lot of people advise getting rid of those stubborn fat areas; the bits you struggle most to trim down.

For me, the easiest time to do a fasting workout is first thing in the morning. Calling it a fasting workout is a bit grand really when all I really do is to put off eating my breakfast until I get to work, so any walking I do or any energy I expend in the morning is drawing on those fat reserves. I guess if I couple that with interval training the effect will be multiplied. That might not be true, but it can’t hurt.

When I do eat breakfast it tends to be fairly healthy: either muesli, or fruit, or if I’m on the move I make myself a smoothie before I leave the house. I know there are mixed views about smoothies, apparently they turn the good fruit sugars into free sugars, but surely it’s still better than a bacon butty!

Some of this must work, because really, considering how I love my food and how little I really actually exercise, I have managed to maintain a body size and shape that I’m relatively happy with. That doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t rather be a bit fitter and toned, but I’ve stayed roughly the same weight for two years now doing this, where before I started, my weight was gradually creeping upwards.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far, and I hope I can continue to inspire you on a daily basis as I up my tweets, and maybe my blog posts.

Month 5: Stretching and warm-ups

Getting back into exercise after easing off for a while means you should be extra careful not to dive straight in and overdo it.

Most people I know (including myself) go really hard at it afterwards because they feel they should catch up on all that exercise they missed in between. But whether you’ve taken a break like I had to, or you just find it hard to stay motivated and end up lapsing from time to time, when you’re ready to get going again, ease back in slowly; overdoing it in the first week or so will increase your risk of injury, and cause some aches and pains that’ll just put you off again. If it feels like hard work you won’t want to do it. The reason I’ve kept to this is because it’s a manageable lifestyle change, not a quick fix that’s hard to sustain.

I like to make sure I do proper warm-ups and stretches. (Actually, this applies whether I’ve eased off a bit or not – warming up and stretching is always important.)

Warm up

When I first get up in the morning, I tend to feel a bit stiff, my ankles and right hip take some time to wake up and get moving, so, as nuts as it sounds, I use my morning routine as a pre-warm up, warm up.

I get my coffee on (crucial first step for me), stick some music on and empty the dishwasher, tidy up, put things away from the night before, wander out with the bin and recycling, anything that starts me moving without really thinking about it. After about ten minutes of doing stuff that needs doing anyway, I’m ready for a proper warm up

Obviously I’m going to include my usual mantra of walking, anywhere and everywhere. But sometimes you need to get your heart going a bit faster, so try these out:

  • Stand at the bottom of your stairs (or by your decking or back step). Facing the step, step up, left foot first, followed by your right foot, and back down left foot first, followed by the right foot. Repeat 20 times. Do the same again, leading with the right foot. To get your heart pumping, you need to do it quite quickly, hold on to the banister if this helps keep you steady.
  • If you are ok doing squats, then do 20 fast squats as a warm up.
  • What about gentle jogging or marching on the spot? If marching, get those knees as high up as you can, and get your arms moving too.
  • If you planning a good arm workout, an extra warm up on your arms isn’t going to do any harm. Stand straight bring your arms to your chest in ‘boxing’ pose and punch out forwards and across your body crating a slight twist at your waist. Repeat, at least 20 times with each arm (alternating). If you want to make it a bit harder, use the resistance bands from Exercise 2: wrap the band around your back and hold one end in each hand. See Ex3 for this with and without the resistance bands.

 

I got so into the warm ups that if I didn’t have time for a full workout, I started doing only the warm ups. They became a warm up to my walk up and down the stairs at work. I found they set me up to walk even faster. It became an upward spiral.

I was enjoying getting my heart going faster so much I started wanting more and more cardiovascular (CV) stuff and  discovered Joe Wickes (The Body Coach).

On a weekend when I had more time, or if I got up just 15 minutes earlier than usual I started doing his low impact Hiit routine. Find it here on YouTube

He has lost of other hiit workouts on there, do whichever one takes your fancy. I started with this low impact one because it puts less strain on my knees.

Stretching

After I’ve warmed up I always make sure I do some stretches, even if I know I won’t be doing an actual workout. Someone told me years ago that animals stretch all their muscles daily, and that in itself keeps them fit. I have no idea if it’s true, but I choose to believe it anyway. If you’ve ever watched a dog or a cat wake up, you will notice they always have a good long stretch before they do anything else. You can’t beat a natural instinct I reckon.

For stretches, I can’t do any better than referring you to the whole body stretching routine on SportScience.co website http://www.sportsscience.co/flexibility/whole-body-stretching-routine/

I pretty much always do 4-8 and 13-21, but you should do whichever ones fit with the workout you plan to do. Even better if you can find time to do all of them.

Month 4: Give yourself a break

When I was doing this for real back in 2015, I had to ease off my exercises a bit around this time. My mum was ill and I was rushing straight from work to the hospital three nights a week. It was a pretty stressful period and hard to focus on anything except making sure my mum got the best care.

After she died in the June, I was too devastated to motivate myself at first. In retrospect I think I wandered through those next few months in a haze of grief and incomprehension. Sometimes when life, or death, just happens, you have to give yourself time to just get through it. Normal service can be resumed when you are good and ready.

And so I gave myself time to let lots of things slip. There was still so much to organise, from the funeral arrangements to selling her house. It all takes much more time and energy than you ever imagine it will.

Once my head was in a space to start thinking about getting back into a routine again, I was surprised to find that I hadn’t really gone as far backwards as I thought I had. I’d been more active generally on a daily basis without even realising it. Starting exercising again was easy. It helped me feel better, like I was taking control of things again.

Seeing my mum so ill and then losing her had also made me think about my own mortality; I decided to make sure I was as fit as possible for as long as possible. She had been active all the way through her life; she worked in nursing when it was far more labour intensive than it is today with modern lifting equipment and handling aids. She was a strong and able woman and I decided to take that and honour her in my own way by making the most of my life from here on in. My motto became, “Don’t just think about it. Just do it!” (Thanks Nike).

So, if you need to take a breather sometimes, don’t beat yourself up about it or think of it as the end of the road. You can take up where you left off. So I’m making this month’s blog about inspiration, about not giving up, and about keeping doing whatever you do for your reasons and heading towards your own goals.

If losing my mum wasn’t bad enough, my line manager at the time she was ill wasn’t very supportive, so when I was offered a new job I jumped at it. An added stress you might think, but I was going somewhere I’d worked before and it felt like going home. The people there were good friends and made me feel valued again.

And with a six storey car park and an office on the third floor, I had ample opportunity to walk up and down nine flights of stairs a day, and that, in part, is what got me back on track. I started to see a difference again, and was heading toward my goal at a steady pace.

And when I say goal, I’m not talking about those people you see in magazines who have lost six stone and could fit twice into their old clothes. Well done to them, that’s amazing, but far too ambitious for a lot of people, and a goal that’s too hard will just set you up to fail. My goal was to lose about one and a half stone and to tone up; it wasn’t all about weight, a lot of it was about how my clothes fitted and how I looked. Losing the muffin top, the bingo wings, the flabby thighs and all those other lovely phrases we use to describe the bits of our bodies that we’re not too comfortable with.

So to keep it realistic, and sustainable, this month my advice is to look back at the exercises from Months 1-3, and work out a routine that’s perfect for you; one you can stick to, and one that works on the bits you most want to change. For me it was my stomach, my bum and my arms, so here is the routine I wrote for myself when I got back on track after my break. I’ve done a basic template that might help you create your own, and you can  download a printable version.

I’ve also included links to some of the websites and blogs that have inspired me along the way. You might have seen these on my twitter feed. Hopefully they’ll give you a bit of oomph like they did me!

James Clear: continuous improvement

Whole body stretching routine from Sports Science

Month 3: resistance is useful

I’m still walking three days a week and doing some minor arm work two days a week, plus the crunches and leg work in Exercise sheet 1 every day, whenever I get the chance (or whenever I remember). I’m also doing squats and sit ups using the ‘Just 6 Weeks’ app that I mentioned in
month 2.

I was shown how to do squats as part of a physiotherapy routine after I managed to completely mess up a ligament in my knee (my axial cruciate ligament is gone completely so I need good muscle strength to do the ligament’s job). If you’re not sure how to do a good squat, look it up. The most important thing is to make sure your knees are never in front of the line of your toes as shown in Exercise 2.

I can do the squats in work (every time I go to the loo) or pretty much anywhere if no-one is looking, but the rest I can only do at home where I can lie down. I use a yoga mat when I do stuff like this. If you don’t have one, use a couple of towels on the floor for a bit of padding for your back and hips.

So I’ve been walking plenty, and getting fitter, but not really started to tone up, especially my arms. With all that commuting there has been plenty of time for research, and eventually I thought of a way to do some bicep and tricep curls with resistance. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, I’ll use resistance bands.

I had a look around, and you can buy lots of fancy ones with handles, but they are bulky to carry round and quite expensive. I was looking or the type you get from a physiotherapist, quite basic, but they still do the job and dead easy to slot in a handbag or a pocket.

For less than a tenner you can get a pack of three different ‘strengths’, just search for ‘resistance bands’ or ‘exercise bands’ and you’ll find loads.

Exercise 2: Squats and resistance illustrates the first few easy resistance-band exercises you can do almost anywhere.

Month 2: just keep walking

If I get the train to Manchester Victoria instead of Oxford Road, I get to walk an extra 15 minutes each way, that’s an hour a day altogether, but only for three days a week. Still, I’m getting three hours exercise a week, without really adding any time to my days. The extra fifteen minutes walk just replaces the time I would spend anyway changing trains. And of course walking costs nothing!

I’m doing the exercises from Exercise1 either at my desk or on the train, probably managing to do all of them twice some days. I’m trying to engage my core muscles all the time; walking around, sat at my desk, on the train. It really feels like it’s beginning to have an effect – but not visibly yet. I might have become slightly obsessed, but I reckon it’s worth it.

I’m working at home the other two days so I don’t really get any walking in at all.

I did get a Powerball® for Christmas. I’d heard this little gizmo was good for building strength in your arms so I put it on my Christmas list. I love it, and it means I am finally starting to do some work on my upper body, albeit quite limited. It’s not something I feel comfortable using on the train though; it’s quite noisy, so I only use it the days I work at home.

Luckily for me I also do quite a bit of DIY and I also try to treat any housework I do like exercise. So whether it’s hoovering or hanging washing out, I do it with gusto.

Someone also told me about an App called Just 6 Weeks (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/just-6-weeks/id580878681?mt=8) . The idea of this app is to gradually build up to 200 sit-ups, or 150 dips etc.

Just because I’m working from home doesn’t mean I’m not busy, so I just do the sit ups and squats for now. The other exercises are beyond me anyway. And starting from my very low baseline, I can do both of these in just over ten minutes, that’s not much more than it takes for my morning coffee to brew.

 

 

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Month 1: the first steps – walk your way fit

I have two work contracts. I drive to one and get the train to the other. Either way, I spend at least two hours of my day commuting and I want to put that time to good use.

I’ve always tried to fit walking into any commute. The two days I drive I park at least a fifteen minute walk from the office, further if I have time, and when I’m on the train I have a fifteen minute walk to the station, so all told I’m walking for half an hour a day, and even after week it started to get easier. By the end of the month, I could actually run if I was late, that wasn’t an option before.

When I drive, it’s just me, so even when I’m stuck in Jams, there isn’t much I can do. But if you car share, and take turns driving, then you could do a decent workout on the way to work every other day. Fab! For me, the train and the office were destined to be my main focus but the exercises will be pretty much the same.

I’m no expert, I’m just a 55 year old woman who wants to get fit, but I’ve been to the gym before, and I’ve had a couple of stints with a physiotherapist after a knee op, so I knew what I wanted and what I had to work on. Walking is great for general fitness, but I was also thinking, “What about those bingo wings? How do I work my arms out ? What about my core muscles?” I’m sure there are lots of you out there who can relate to my rambling thoughts below.

What, when and how?

I’m a great fan of lists, so this is my very first list of ‘What?’, ‘When?’ and ‘How?’.

Note: To see examples of the first exercises I came up with, see Exercise 1. These are pretty simple on purpose. This is just the beginning in a whole new you. I will add more exercise routines as and when I get a chance, at least monthly. Don’t forget to keep up with the walking too; you want to get fit AND tone up, so you need both.

A list of exercises also shown in text

My first list of random thoughts on exercises I could do anywhere

Arms/bingo wings/those bits that bulge from under my bra straps

  • Bicep curls
  • Press ups/pull ups/arm raises
  • Need some form of resistance? Wrist weights? My bag? Handle on the seat in front?
  • Stand up ‘press-ups’. Leaning at an angle on a wall and pushing. Anywhere really, but lifts or loos are the best option.

The exercises I should do to support my knee

  • Squats, leg raises at my desk?

Lose the flab around my waist

  • Stretches (when I go to the loo?)
  • Sit-ups/reverse curls (not really possible, is there an alternative?)
  • Can ‘engage’ core muscles sitting anywhere (desk/train)
  • pelvic floor exercises (as above, pretty much anywhere)

Glutes, I don’t want to get ‘old-woman-flat-bum-syndrome’

  • Squats (loo again)

Exercise 1

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