Have you noticed that wellbeing is often seen as a gentle approach to life, and fitness as more vigorous?
I think it comes from sport being perceived as the domain of men.
Even with our modern thinking in 2020, such ideas persist in our culture, and not just in the elite sporting world. Amateur sports clubs tend to be mainly male membership. On the flip side, drop in classes for Yoga, Pilates and maybe even a Zumba dance workout are mostly filled by women. Why is that?
Is it because women are not capable of or cannot enjoy tough physical activity? no.
What I find intriguing is why the ideas of wellbeing and fitness have become separated. One for the gentile folk in life, and the other for those who prefer rough and tumble.
I’m fighting back against this attitude. Being physically active is one of the very best things we can do for our wellbeing, and taking care of our wellbeing boosts our motivation to be physically active too. It’s all about putting our own needs first, and feeling good.
In my practice I run programmes, services and clubs that blend being active with women’s wellbeing. As an activity that is both affordable and easily accessible (once we know how), moving our bodies is one of the core foundations of wellbeing.
One of the most common barriers to exercise for women is not being able to get time away from children. This has never been more true than now.
During the lockdown of COVID-19. How on earth can you keep exercising with 2 and 3 year olds running round your ankles, your other half trying to work from the kitchen table, or coping as a single Mum without any of the relief of nurseries or relatives having the kids for an afternoon?
Kids love to move!
Whilst it’s not ideal, the great thing about being with kids is they do love to move! You will be surprised at the types of exercise you can do where young kids especially will happily watch or join in: dancing, aerobics, hula-hoop, piggy backs, kids yoga on YouTube.
The traditional approach might see you turning to Joe Wicks (I’ve done far more of his sessions than my 7 year-old!), or (quite understandably) putting them in front of the TV whilst you sneak in a Zoom Yoga class. There are lots of ways to be energetic in your home, with a bit of imagination, planning and open-mindedness about what ‘counts’ as ‘exercise’.
Make the most of your outdoor daily exercise time. Maybe you can get some jogging done as the kids go up and down on their scooters. Or you can have ‘races’ with them to the end of the street and back. And let’s not forget skipping. Competitions to see who can get the most jumps without stopping really appeals to a child’s sense of competition and challenge. And it’s much harder than I remember it too!
Blend it into your routine
If that’s not enough. there are also ways to make housework into a fitness routine. Rather than carry out your chores as simple jobs to be done, look where you can inject more movement. Speed walk around the house. Race the kids to see who can put the clothes away the fastest. Go up and down the stairs more times than you really need to, and wiggle your hips to the music when washing up.
Recognise what you’ve acheived
At the end of the day what you do doesn’t really matter, along as you are staying safe and well. that is your most important job. Recognise that you have made that extra effort to take care of yourself and notice how it makes you feel. Then make plans to repeat it the following day, and see if you can do a little more.
As the UK schools closed, and the nation were told to stay at home, Joe Wicks (aka the Body Coach) self-appointed himself as the nations P.E. teacher. As he explains in his first video, Joe originally wanted to be a P.E. teacher in his younger days, but life took him down a different route. If you have come across him before it is most likely through one of his ‘Lean in 15’ recipe books, or his You Tube channel packed with HIIT workouts to do at home. I’ve tried his stuff before, but I prefer outdoor exercise to HIIT routines, so didn’t stick to it for long.
It’s not just for kids
So this morning, in an attempt to encourage my 7 year old to exercise I decided to do one of Joe’s P.E. workouts myself, if for no other reason to set a good example, but also because I was really feeling the need to get some more exercise myself. By the end I felt great. My mission to encourage my son to join in had failed, but I had got my heart rate up and felt energised and much more positive about the day.
It’s very simple
I was initially put off by the lack of music, but soon realised that Joe’s constant chattering was enough of a background soundtrack. His encouragement, light heartedness and self-depreciation make you feel like it’s ok if you can’t always keep up, and that you can get some exercise without taking it too seriously. The sequence of exercise, break, exercise, break means you’re never far away from the next break, which makes it easier to keep going. Joe also provided plenty of options of harder and easier versions so if, like me, you’re not as nimble as a 7 year old. There was normally an easier version you could keep going with.
This is what P.E. should be like
I know from my own coaching practice that many women have developed an aversion to exercise due to experiences at school. To me this is a tragedy, and I’m pretty sure Joe would agree. He has been working with schools in recent years to try and promote physical activity to children in a way that is fun and engaging. He also takes the time to explain what’s going on with the body and the feel-good benefits it creates. I would have loved him to be my P.E. teacher – and why not. Maybe this is an opportunity to try again. Yes, these workouts are aimed at children, but the level is suitable for adults, you can work at your own level, and even Joe got himself out of breath!
Here is an opportunity
So, to anyone who falls into the category of hating school P.E, I would say – give it a go with Joe! Especially if you have time on your hands, and you’re avoiding going out of the house. This is a great way to start your day and create a new experience of being active.
And if you’re used to being active but have found your usual workout venues are closed, these workouts will be great for you too. You can work at the more intense level, get as worn out as Joe, and feel refreshed and ready for the day.
How to get involved
Joe’s P.E. workouts are streamed from his YouTube channel every weekday at 9am. You can watch the life streaming or play one of the previous recordings. I’m lucky enough to be able to play YouTube directly on my TV, but if this isn’t an option for you a tablet or laptop would also work well – and would even give you the option of taking it into the garden! If you’re new to this type of technology, persevere and ask friends for help if needed, it will be worth it.
OK, I know it doesn’t look like it right now, but in a couple of months flowers will be blooming, birds will be chirping and many of us will be looking forward to getting outdoors more and even getting a bit more active with friends and family.
Personally I can’t wait. For me daylight is important for my mental health, and whilst I’m managing OK at the moment, I’m really looking forward to getting an extra boost. My plans range from outdoor swimming to running, with maybe some long walks and definitely some gardening thrown in.
I’m aware that I’m in a pretty fortunate position. Not only have I learned how to manage my activity levels, I’ve also learned how to not be put off by the ups and downs of taking care of my wellbeing. However, I only came to be this way following years of experience and a determination to keep driving forward and find a solution.
As a consequence of this drive, I have completed an ironman triathlon, 3 half-ironmans, an ultra-marathon and a whole range of swimming, cycling, running and triathlon events too numerous to list here. I’ve also experienced the incredible power of exercise on my wellbeng, and I’ve seen it in countless others too.
Often in Spring, I’m looking over the horizon to the next big challenge, but now as a Mum in my early 40s, I have chosen to take a new perspective. I have chosen to go after the holy grail … balance!
So this Spring I’m on the look out for family friendly bike trails, adventure parks, and as many parkruns as I can fit in. In between all this I’ll be looking for the best way to serve others with an outlook similar to mine. A keenness to exercise and be active, with a desire to keep a balanced life and involve friends and family too.
My programs are unique in that I focus on your mind more than your body. Even Olympic Champions know that success is 90% in the mind. I intend to share what they know with the masses.
My next program begins Monday 24th February. Pop me a message if you’re interested.
It’s a common cliche that we all sign up to expensive new gym memberships in January, only for them to become deserted by February. The cynical amongst us might even suggest that gyms are only interested in extracting money from us, and care little for whether or not we achieve our fitness and wellbeing goals. In fact, isn’t it better for them if we fail and then we keep going back to spend more money?
Whilst there’s always unscrupulous money grabbers, in every industry, the truth is that most people choose to work in health and fitness because they love to support and inspire people to live healthier and happier lives. Yes it’s a business, but it’s also a business striving to make a positive impact in the world.
5 Top Tips
So how do you choose a gym that’s really going to support you and dodge the money grabbers. Here are my 5 top tips:
1) Do your research.
Have you thought about what you need from your gym membership? There’s no point signing up because there’s a great looking pool if you never had any intention of going swimming. If you really want to do classes what are their classes like? Is it possible to have a taster or trial? It sounds obvious but sophisticated marketing at this time of year can often lead us to rush a decision before we’ve really done out homework.
2) If you wouldn’t pay full price then don’t buy at discount.
I think this is important because you need to make a judgement whether this place is really value for money. If you know you’d be prepared to pay top prices then you are genuinely getting a bargain. If you are only buying because “it’s cheap at the moment” then maybe your hearts not really in it.
3) Talk to the staff.
It’s the people that really make the place. Don’t be fobbed off with sales office people on a mission to lure you in. You want to talk to the reception staff and fitness instructers and decide for yourself if they come across as friendly, welcoming and supportive. Trust me, you’re going to need those positive vibes when you’re trying to motivate yourself out the door on a cold wet day.
4) Consider different gym types
There can be huge differences between different gyms and there really is no one size fits all. I know some people who love the budget style gyms, and it works well for them because they are self motivating and are just paying for what they need – the basics. Others prefer more of a luxury spa feel.
For example, I recently visited Supersonic Fitness, a boutique gym in the centre of York, and I was blown away by how much they broke the mold of the traditional chain gyms that I was used to. Before my visit some people commented that it was expensive. The reasons why became apparent as I took my tour and interrogated one of their lovely fitness instructors. With membership capped at much lower levels then traditional gyms, the Supersonic instructors are really able to focus on individual service and attention for their members. There is a real family vibe between the staff. And the relaxation suite with both infra-red and thermal saunas is a little piece of luxury after a long work out.
Supersonic have taken the deliberate decision to focus more holistically on both fitness and wellbeing, and this commitment was certainly backed up by the delicious, nutritious food offered by their cafe. So yes, it is a bit more expensive, but if they fit your needs, and you can afford it, then it could be perfect.
5) Location, Location, Location
Even if you find the greatest gym which fits your needs and your wallet, it isn’t going to work for you if you have to do a 2 hour round trip to make it there. Great locations are: close to work, on your commuting route, or close to home. The last one being especially useful if you want to use it on your days off.
Think about when you most want to use the gym and how traveling there will fit into your day. Many people prefer to go to the gym straight before, or straight after work. Having to to go home first, and then motivate yourself to get out again can be a big challenge, so a gym you can use before or after work takes one more obstacle out of your way. Another good routine is to go to the gym just before shopping. You can then use the inspiration from your workout to help you stick to healthier choices in the supermarket.
When you think you’ve found a gym in a great location, try a travel trial run on the days you think you will use it. It may be that you visit at the weekend, but getting there in the week at rush hour takes 4 times longer. This is something you’ll want to find out before paying up.
So gyms do tend to get a bad rap, but if you can find one that works for you then absolutely go for it. When you find a good fit, a gym can be a great source of support and inspiration, and a little me time space away from the wild outdoor weather. Don’t be put of by the cliches and the cynics. Only you know what is right for you
Dr Diane Brown is a Fitness & Wellbeing Coach, qualified in Sport & Exercise Psychology, Wellbeing Life Coaching and Triathlon Coaching. She has overcome her own health challenges to successfully complete an Ultramarathon (2018) and Ironman UK (2011). Diane’s current mission is to help as many women as possible to create active lifestyles, gain greater wellbeing and enjoy a better quality of life.