Are personal trainers helpful or just a money making con?

The world of fitness often gets a bad reputation. It started with the expensive gym memberships, where we were seduced by shiny surfaces and trendy cafe spaces, and then once we paid our fees we discovered that we just didn’t feel like turning up every week. Then it moved on to personal trainers with boot-camp army-style tactics, who wanted to ‘push’ us but didn’t seem to have the empathy to realise that we’d used the majority of our willpower just to turn up for the session.

When I set-up my own business promoting the idea of Active Wellbeing, it was all too easy to pick out personal trainers as the antithesis of what I stood for. My approach is all about long term sustainable lifestyle change. Their’s was about quick fixes. My approach is about finding joy in movement. Their’s was about putting in max effort. My approach is about feeling good. Their’s was about looking good in the before and after photos. etc.

The truth is that short term quick fixes, which burn out our willpower, for a result we can’t sustain, is not the best investment of money. Especially when there is an alternative to build lasting lifestyle change in a way we actually enjoy.

But the other truth is that we can’t just put personal trainers in a box. There are many personal trainers out there who do follow the philosophy of lasting lifestyle change, and movement for fun. In fact here are some of their names: Seonaidh Jamieson, Tereza Szalai and Jessica Barclay.

I don’t mind sharing the work of great personal trainers. My philosophy is to help people find what works best for them. And besides, they are not my competition. I am not a personal trainer.

In fact let’s not leave gym membership out. If you are fortunate enough to live near the centre of York you will also find a brilliantly client centred team at Supersonic Fitness (and they still have an ace cafe too!)

At the end of the day it all comes down to personal choice. If you want someone to guide you through the moves, give you direct instructions on what to do and you ALREADY feel motivated to turn up for those sessions, then a personal trainer is likely to be a good option. Do your research, understand what training and experience they have, and consider if they are the right level of push for you. Not too hard not too soft (just like a massage!)

If, however, your main struggle is motivation, getting started, maintaining consistency, setting achievable goals and keeping going, you need to spend some time developing your mindset. As an exercise psychology coach that’s exactly what I do both in The Active Wellbeing Academy and my one-to-one coaching sessions.

There a few money making con-artists in the fitness industry, but trust your own instincts and you’ll spot them. Most people: personal trainers, coaches and gym owners included; just want to help people like you live healthier, happier lives. If you’re not already living a healthy active lifestyle. Ask yourself why? Is it time to make a change? Is it time to invest some money in you?

Diane Brown

The Exercise Psychology Coach &

Author of The Little Book of Active Wellbeing

Why do we talk ourselves out of exercise? (even when we know it’s good for us)

Are you one of those people who recognizes the benefits of exercise, enjoys it when you do it, plans to do more, and yet still talks yourself out of it when the moment comes?

You are not alone.

Our brains are very good at coming up with lots of plausible reasons not to exercise. Here are just a few. See if you recognize any:

  • I’m too busy with work today
  • I’m feeling a bit tired
  • I’m worried if I take too long I’ll be late getting back for …..
  • It looks a bit windy out
  • It looks a bit cold out
  • It looks like it might rain
  • I could probably just go tomorrow

Everything on this list is simply a thought. These are thoughts that commonly spring up just before setting out to exercise (There are lots more!) If your intention is to exercise, then we can classify these as “negative” thoughts. These thoughts are working against your wishes and preventing you from doing something you want to do.

“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones”

Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist

This famous quote by neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, perfectly encapsulates why we should take our thinking in these situations with a pinch of salt.

The mind is designed to hold on to negative thinking. The evolutionary purpose of this is for our protection and survival. Our brains are designed to warn us away from danger and threats, and thus is on high alert to spot the things it thinks we shouldn’t do.

This is very useful if you need to avoid the valley where dangerous predators live, but not so helpful if you’d like to go for a 20 minute walk and your primitive brain feels threatened by the chance of rain in the sky.

Evolution has not caught up with the modern world.

At a conscious level we know the huge benefits of regular physical activity, but at a primitive level we want to feel safe and warm in our cave.

Only food and sex are likely strong enough urges to tempt us outside!

So what can we do about it?

Well first of all an understanding of what’s really going on does help. Understanding that it’s not just you and you’re not just being lazy. This is basic human programming. You’re being human.

When we accept we are not at fault we can stop the self-criticism and beating ourselves up. None of that helps. Instead we can deal with the real issue and find better ways to support and motivate ourselves.

It’s important to recognize that putting positive thinking at the front of our minds (the thoughts that will encourage physical activity), may take a little effort. At least until those thoughts become more habitual. But, the good news is that our minds are extremely adaptable (even into older age) and a little concerted effort can really tip the balance. So that when the time for exercise comes, we feel motivated and ready to go.

If you would like to begin working through your thought obstacles around exercise, and train your mind to see the positives more often, you can begin with my free guide “The Introductory Guide to Active Wellbeing”, available to download here.

Why I wrote ‘The Little Book of Active Wellbeing’

I remember it like it was yesterday: the sheer sense of frustration, the sense of loss, and yet a deep, instinctive knowing that I had to do something.

Just 18 months earlier, I had been the fittest- and healthiest-ever version of myself, having recently completed a 17-hour ironman triathlon; the culmination of a dream that required four years of building up my strength and stamina, as well as generally getting my act together. I was so proud of my achievement, and it represented so much more to me than a fitness event. It symbolised a journey towards becoming the sort of person that I wanted to be – who I’d dreamed I could be.

I thought I would be fit and healthy for life; that I could finally be the kind of person who goes out and exercises just for the fun of it. From now on, I could join any event I wanted at the drop of a hat. I’d finally made it, and nothing would ever be this hard ever again. Little did I know…    

Pregnancy hit me like a train.

I felt sick, and I didn’t want to move at all. Mid-pregnancy, I felt like I could exercise again, but at the same time, I was an anxious first-time mum. Which exercises was I ‘allowed’ to do? Was it safe? Should I be more careful, seeing as though I’d had three months off? Confusion led to inaction, and then my baby was here. 

You see so many incredible stories of fit, athletic women who work hard to recover their fitness soon after childbirth. I am in complete admiration of them, but it wasn’t my experience. My baby didn’t let me sleep, ever. I was up all night and then all through the days, too.

‘Sleep when he sleeps,’ they said! 

Well, that advice doesn’t work with babies who only ever want to be carried. Fear of him waking would prevent me putting him down, and fear of squashing him would stop me sleeping myself. A sleep-deprived six months later, and I was not in good shape, neither physically nor mentally.

I’d worked so hard to improve my physical health, and now it felt like it was all just slipping away; like I’d gone into reverse, and all the work had been undone. I was back where I started, only worse, as I now had the family situation to balance, too. It was so frustrating. On the rare occasions where I had opportunities to exercise, I was either too tired or too busy being Mum to do anything, and so I started to wonder if it was time to accept frumpy mummy status, and consign my active lifestyle to the past.

No!

After many false starts and motivation struggles,

I started to realise that it wasn’t just my baby stopping me from exercising; something inside my head was getting in the way. I’d set out with a new plan and all the best intentions, but then either guilt or laziness would stop me putting my plan into action. That was when I started looking for help. I found a life coach and decided to give it a try.

After just three sessions, she had helped me to change my whole perspective on how to approach getting active again. I started to realise that it didn’t have to be ‘all or nothing;’ it didn’t matter if the plan wasn’t carried out perfectly. Small steps and self-compassion were the ways forward. It took some years, and the road was a bumpy one at times, but I eventually went on to complete several more triathlons, a half-ironman and an ultramarathon in the proceeding years.

Now, this may be where you expect the ‘happily ever after’ story to end, but there’s a twist to this tale.

Yes, I got back to ironman levels of fitness, but the funny thing about going back to something you once had is that it’s never quite the same, and I soon realised that it wasn’t really what I wanted, either. I’d been on a journey, climbing a mountain, crashing to the bottom and then climbing back up again, and although I loved the view at the top, I began to understand that maintaining such an intense level of training and commitment wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I had learned the hard way that by pushing myself up those mountains again, I was only increasing my chances of crashing out and spending a few months (or years) doing not much at all. I began to wonder, What if… which is where the story of my book really begins.

What if there was a gentler, more balanced and more moderate way to approach fitness and exercise?

What if you could enjoy being healthy and active without feeling you had to push yourself so hard? What if moving your body could be about developing a greater sense of wellbeing, instead of some weird, modern-day penance for eating cake?

This is how the idea of Active Wellbeing was born.

My book is for women who want to find a better way to engage with fitness and exercise but are not quite sure how. 

It’s for those who want to be more active, but have previously struggled with low motivation, lack of time and feelings of guilt for putting themselves first. 

It’s also for those who are generally active, but sometimes find themselves locked in an internal debate about whether or not it’s self-indulgent to be taking care of themselves, forever asking if they’re doing too much or if it’s really worth the effort.

It’s also for women who, like me, used to spend a lot of time on sport and fitness, but whose lives have now changed to the point that they need to find a new approach. 

This book didn’t exist when I needed it, and it didn’t exist for all the other women who needed it either. I spent years struggling, trying to figure out my own solutions, riding an emotional roller-coaster of thinking I’d solved it, just to find another hurdle and self-doubt around the corner. Eventually the answers came, but it was often a lonely journey.

That’s why I wrote my book.

We deserve better. We deserve to feel supported. We deserve to know that it’s ok to put our own needs first. We deserve to live healthy, active lives, without feelings of guilt or self-judgment. My book will help women learn to do exactly that. I can’t wait for you to read it.

You can find out more about my book at http://www.facebook.com/fitbee.co.uk

The Balancing Act of Life

As women we often face a balancing act between work, our family, and taking care of ourselves.

In this balancing act, it’s usually taking care of ourselves that comes in a distant third place.

We know we need to work, because that’s how we earn money to live.

And then we use all the rest of our available for family, and caring for their needs.

There’s even a scientific term for this: the ‘ethic of care’ which has been shown to be an especially strong force on women’s lives.

And that’s fine, to a degree.

But sometimes, the balance goes wrong.

Sometimes we realise that over time we’ve neglected ourselves. We’ve neglected our own self-care.

And as a result our wellbeing, physically and mentally, can begin to suffer.

So what to do?

Well, I work with women to help them lead more active lifestyles because I know how important it is to our well being. I’ve felt the benefits in my own life, and I’ve seen it with my clients too.

But women often worry about taking the first step with exercise. We’re used to seeing the usual promotions on exercise: keep fit classes, gyms, boot camps, and it just all seems like such hard work.

We also worry it will take us away from our families too much. That it’s too selfish and self-indulgent to spend all that time on ourselves.

But there is a better way to approach this.

There’s a way to approach getting active that fits in with life.

And there’s a way to approach getting active that fits in with family life too.

This is what I promote in my Active Wellbeing Academy. It’s a more integrated holistic approach to being active, moving more and feeling better about ourselves.

When we take care of our own wellbeing our families benefit.

They benefit directly.

It’s not possible to take care of others, if we have started by first neglecting ourselves. Our well being has to be the priority because it’s at the very centre of what makes everything else work.

7 Exercise Myths Busted!

We have a lot of ideas about exercise. What it is, and what it isn’t. Often these ideas have come from our past experiences and even the experiences of others, but because of the way our brains work we seldom question whether these experiences offer conclusive evidence, or even if they are still relevant to our current situation. They are simply integrated into our beliefs and our being.

Let me give you an example. If you went to see your doctor about having an operation, would you prefer that recommendation was based on 10 years of scientific research or on conversations she’d had with friends and family?

If your last experience of “exercise” was 90s Step classes, 80s Keep fit videos or even P.E. at school, then you need to know that the world of fitness has moved on. Yes there are still gym-bunnies and Personal Trainers who want to push you “to the max”, but they are following a model of fitness mostly tailored to young men (or middle-aged men who wish they were young men).

I am championing a fresh approach to fitness and “exercise” based on recent research. It focuses on an active lifestyle rather than just a training plan. It allows for all different kinds of body movement and body types, and most excitingly for me, it places the emphasis on mental wellbeing and how people feel – not looks or performance numbers.

I’m calling it ‘Active Wellbeing’.

It’s time to take back the benefits of body movement and I’ll start by busting 7 common exercise myths.

  1. Exercise is hard work

No. Exercise can be hard work but that completely depends on what you’re doing and how much effort you want to put in. Government recommendations are based on 150 minutes per week of ‘moderate’ activity. This means getting slightly out of breath. A fast walk or slow jog will do it for most people, and there’s lots of other options if they don’t sound like fun.

2. You need to lose weight before starting to exercise

No, not quite true either. Above a certain weight we do need to be a bit more careful as carrying extra weight can increase injury risk, but there are two good ways to address this. One is by choosing low impact activities in the beginning and the other is by building strength which can better support the weight. There is always some kind of movement that we could be doing. The confusion often comes in when we start dismissing movement as ‘not proper’ exercise. If weight loss is a goal then you need to know that being active improves body confidence and increases adherence to healthy eating, so you could actually argue that you need to start “exercising” before losing weight.

3. Life is too busy to fit exercise in

This is a very popular myth, and we are all too accepting when people offer this as a reason for not taking action. Life is certainly busy. There is no doubt about it. But this is actually a reason for increasing exercise, or at least increasing the amount of physical activity we blend into life. When we increase our physical activity levels we improve our sleep, we improve our eating habits and we reduce our stress levels. All of this combines to make us more energised, refreshed and effective in our life and our work. When you feel more energised you can get more done in less time, and with less effort. It can be hard taking the first step, but we can begin with very small steps.

4. Only “exercise-type” of people can enjoy fitness

There is a persistent myth of the “exercise-type” of person. By this I presume people are referring to those people the see as physically active: marathon runners, long distance walkers, Olympic athletes etc. These are highly visible and often elite athletes, but they don’t possess special physical-activity-enjoyment abilities. What they possess is an ability to give something a try, build up their confidence and recover from set-backs. This is something anyone can achieve (the confidence – not the Olympics!). If you have never exercised in a confidence-building environment, it is not surprising if you don’t enjoy exercise, but it doesn’t mean you’re the wrong type of person, it just means you haven’t been given the right, supportive environment to try out an activity you enjoy.

5. Now is not a good time

Similar to ‘Life is too Busy’ comes the classic ‘Now is not a good time’. One of the best things I see about getting more active is that it doesn’t take long to get results. Yes, it can take 6-8 weeks to see the physical benefits of exercise, but if you go for a walk today, you will feel mental wellbeing benefits today. I’ve yet to come across a day or situation that wouldn’t benefit from a 10 minute walk, some fresh air and a clearer head. I’ve never heard anyone say “I had it all under control until I took that 10 minute walk and it ruined everything!” I’m just going to leave that there.

6. Everyone will look at me

I was once really sad to hear of a lady who really loved swimming but wouldn’t go because she didn’t want people to see her walking from the changing room to the pool. The saddest thing about the story was I realised lots of women feel the same way, and it’s not just swimming either. Some women won’t exercise in public because people will see. Some women don’t even want to exercise at home because the family will see. There is a worry that everyone will be watching, but you know, they won’t. Yes some people might see you, but they are more interested in themselves than whatever it is you’re up to. I completely appreciate the self-consciousness that can come with larger body size in particular, but these are your thoughts. In reality you have no idea what other people are thinking. You are guessing based on what you are thinking. I happen to know that most people seeing someone exercise feels inspired to do the same or happy for that person who’s giving it a go.

It’s not that everyone is looking at you. It’s that you are looking at you. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see a person being brave enough to give it a go, and inspiring other people.

7. I’m too old to start

One of the most eye-opening moments for me, in my Sport & Exercise Psychology training, was when I saw the evidence for improved wellbeing of active versus inactive people, across different ages. As you would expect it was always better to be active than not, but what was startling was to see a relatively small gain for someone in their 20s turn into a large gain in the 40s and bigger and even bigger gains were made as life progressed. What I realised was the biggest benefits of becoming active were available to those in their 40s, 50s, 60s and up. It really was never too late to start – just more important!

I hope this has given you some useful insight into the world of physical activity. Do let me know if it raises any thoughts or question for you in the comments below, and please do share if you think it will help others.

Stay Well

Diane Brown

Wellbeing Life Coach & Exercise Psychology Coach

http://www.fitbee.co.uk