Taking the ‘work’ out of ‘workout’

On those occasions when someone remarks on how ‘good’ or ‘disciplined’ I am to exercise on a regular basis I always feel like a little bit of a fraud. It’s not like I have to drag myself to the gym, or force myself to lace up my trainers, shunning a favoured spot on the sofa or an evening in the pub; the truth is, I actually really enjoy exercise and want to workout.

While for many people exercise may seem like a drag, or something that needs to be ticked off a weekly to do list, for me it is an escape and a way to pacify my restless legs and even more restless mind. I find relaxation in my runs, ‘me time’ in my yoga practice and serenity in the swimming pool. I love attending spinning classes with my friends, or spending time alone in the gym, headphones in, focusing on form and technique, leaving all of my stresses and worries outside. That’s not to say that I never miss a workout, or that I never have those days when I’d rather lay in the bath than lift weights, but in recent years, finding the sports and workout times that work for me has made keeping fit a whole lot easier.

What I’ve learned, through trial and error, is that working out doesn’t have to be hard work. If you can find the types of exercise you enjoy, done at the right time of day and driven by the right motivating factors, you may find that a 6am slog can be transformed into an 8pm indulgence.

So how can this magical transformation occur? I’ve outlined a few things here that have worked for me.

Find a sport that you enjoy

This may sound obvious, but so often I hear of people forcing themselves to pursue an activity that they dislike simply because they feel they ought to do it. Instead of pushing yourself in a direction that you don’t want to go, think about what it is you enjoy doing and how you like to do it. If you know you prefer social activities to solitary sports then look for team games rather than solo pursuits, or join a running/swimming/cycling club instead of going it alone. Consider whether you need a coach or trainer to motivate you and therefore whether PT sessions or classes would work well for you, or, if you prefer to have the freedom to undertake workouts at your own pace, maybe look to more ‘open’ activities instead of things like boot camps and Cross Fit. Ask yourself if you would rather spend more time outside and therefore whether running, kayaking or paddle boarding would be fun for you, or if you favour being inside, look at activities within gyms or studio spaces, such as yoga, zumba, box fit or spinning.

And remember, the answers to these questions don’t always have to be the same.

I love doing yoga on my own in the morning, but equally enjoy a group dance class with someone telling me what to do. I love running and swimming outside, but also like  lifting weights in the gym. The secret is when you don’t enjoy something, figuring out specifically what it is about that thing that you don’t like. For example, running for me is an escape and a chance for some internal processing, so I have no interest in having a coach dictate my pace or forcing me to run track. I know that I dislike getting on the bike in the gym as I find it really hard to motivate myself, but I love going to spinning classes and I know I will put in a really good session with the help of an instructor shouting directions from the front of the room.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that for most activities it can take a little time for enjoyment to grow while you build up your fitness, confidence and competence, but if after a couple of months of persevering you still don’t feel like the regime you are following is working for you, then don’t feel like you have to stick it out, simply change it up.

Time it right

It’s not just what you are doing that can impact on your enjoyment of different types of exercise, but also when you are doing it. It so often seems that when people take on a new fitness regime they automatically opt for the 6am workout window, which to me seems like they are making it unnecessarily hard work for themselves. While I appreciate that for some people this is the only option available, for many others it is just one of the multifarious slots in the day when we can sneak in some exercise.

I’ve learned that while I love running I have no interest in going before work in the mornings. I find that I am sluggish and uncomfortable running at this time, my stomach is never happy and my limbs are heavy. Come lunchtime, however, I’ve got my trainers on and I’m ready to bound out of the door like a gazelle! I’ve discovered that my favourite way of starting the day is with a yoga session, preparing my mind and body for the day ahead, but it is very rare that I will take to my mat after this 6:30-7:30am window. Swimming is a lot more flexible for me, I love an early morning swim, a sneaky lunchtime dip, or a post work session, but that said, I find getting into the pool a whole lot easier in the summer when it’s warm outside, than stripping down and diving in when there is snow on the ground! The weather impacts on my running motivation too, and my husband and I joke that we are the opposite of ‘fair weather runners’ as we much prefer running in the cold than in the heat and do our best training and races between late September and early April.

Where you are in your life can also impact on the types of exercise that feel right for you. While pregnant, for example, swimming, walking, Pilates and yoga have definitely taken priority, and I’ve put running on the back burner for now. Injury and illness may also dictate what you feel you can do and you may find lower impact exercises or strengthening workouts take over from HIIT or intense cardio sessions.

Remember, you can be a seasonal and time specific athlete and can workout on rotation if that works best for you.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

While there are times when working out alone seems like the best option, for me, there is nothing like accountability to others for getting me out of the door for a training session. Whether it is going on a run with a pal, agreeing with colleagues that we will head to the gym together after work, or playing a team sport, knowing that others are relying on me to be there is often all the motivation I need. Even on the days when I would rather train alone, it can help to agree to meet a friend at the pool or gym, knowing that we will do our own sessions once there, but then may go for a coffee together afterwards.

The secret with group training is not to let being with others give you an excuse not to train as hard as you might otherwise do. Remember that standing chatting at the water fountain in the gym or gossiping at the end of the pool isn’t going to help you hit your fitness goals!

I hope that this is all helpful and that it motivates you to try a new sport or at least to try shifting the timings of your exercise to see if it improves how you feel about working out. If you have any additional motivation tips I’d love to hear them.

Until my next, stay fit!

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1,500m two ways

As I get closer to my due date, and as London gets hotter and hotter, I’m finding swimming is my fitness saviour.

I’m definitely slower and get tired a lot quicker than ever before, but I always feel better for just getting into the pool and moving my body. Being in the water also helps to ease my heavy legs and deflate my ugly swollen feet and ankles!

This week I’ve hit the pool four times, and while I can’t go as far or as fast as usual, I’m aiming for 1,500m per session. My sets aren’t the most varied at the moment, as I can’t do backstroke (due to buoyancy issues) and I also find it slightly awkward swimming fly in a busy, public pool, but on the plus side this is encouraging me to get the kick board and pull buoy out to make things a bit more interesting.

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Here are two options for 1,500m sets, which I’ve enjoyed this week while 36 weeks pregnant:

Warm-up

200m front crawl

Main set

200m breaststroke

4 x 50m free kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m front crawl pull
200m front crawl
4 x 50m breaststroke kick plus 15 seconds rest between sets
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

100m front crawl

1,500 m

Or

Warm up

400m front crawl

Main set

4 x 50m from crawl kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m breaststroke
200m front crawl
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

300m front crawl full

1,500m

Do let me know if you have done any fun swim sets lately that I can enjoy this week.

An escape to the country: Our treehouse babymoon

With a tendency towards minimalism and a love of the great outdoors, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of my longer standing whims (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron?) has been to stay in a treehouse. This desire was finally realised last week, when R and I headed to Wales for three nights in a secluded cabin in the canopy.

Located just outside the village of Tintern, sited at the top of an orchard and surrounded by fields on all sides, the treehouse offered the perfect solitude we were looking for. Built by our host, Gemma, it spanned three rooms – a combined lounge/kitchen/diner, a bedroom and a bathroom – plus a little balcony, just big enough for my yoga mat! With running hot and cold water, a wood burner and an electric hob, we had every luxury we needed for a glamping weekend away.

While a few people raised an eyebrow at my desire to holiday in a treehouse while 33 weeks pregnant, this did little to dampen my enthusiasm. In fact, taking a few days to escape the hot and hectic city, and all of the jobs that need to be done around the house, was just what we both needed. Chore, TV, work and stress free we enjoyed long chats over unhurried meals in the local pub, read our books while sitting on the balcony overlooking the orchard, went on long walks fuelled by a supply of hot cross buns to be enjoyed when sufficient mileage permitted, lingered over the crossword over breakfast of properly made (not microwaved!) porridge, played cards and scrabble in front of the fire, and generally embraced the serenity and togetherness that we know may become increasingly rare in the coming months.

While the excitement of the new addition to our lives takes up a lot of ours thoughts, energy and plans at the moment, our weekend in the trees was a wonderful opportunity to just be us again for a while. Whether it was while doing yoga on the balcony or reading a trashy magazine (me), going for a morning run or enjoying a third pint at the pub (R), we indulged ourselves, free from the usual pressures of home life. We also enjoyed those conversations, which so often come with our holidays, that are liberated from the bounds of domestic priorities – no questions over what’s for dinner or who’s going to empty the washing machine!

While I don’t often talk about my relationship here, I just wanted to acknowledge how lucky I am to have such a wonderful partnership with someone with whom sharing a tiny space in the trees is all the luxury I need! I love that when our relationship is stripped back to two pairs of walking boots, our anoraks and some time outdoors, we are both at our best, no grand gestures or fancy hotels required. It was good to be reminded of this and to have it at the forefront of both of our minds ahead of the new challenges that await us.

I was too sad to leave when Monday morning came around and we needed to get back to the city. Sadly our treehouse retreat was not enough to satiate my whim for a treehouse holiday; rather, it fuelled my desire to book another! Let’s hope baby Suze shares her parents’ enthusiasm for time outdoors and we can enjoy more treetop adventures together.

Until my next, enjoy any summer escapes you have planned.

We stayed at Mistletoe Treehouse, Tintern, booked with Canopy and Stars.

Sneaky little 2k swim

While I’ve been trying to get into the pool at least once a week, I’ll admit that recently I’ve not been swimming proper sets, but rather, just putting my head down and doing laps. However this week, inspired by a recent episode of the Rich Roll podcast with Australian Olympic swimmer Micheal Klim, and to mark 29 weeks of pregnancy, I put together the below set.

As I can’t do backstroke at the moment (on account of my enormous belly) I’ve found myself structuring my sets around breaststroke and front crawl. I can still do fly, so I popped in a little bit for variety!

While it’s not the most inspired set in the world, I felt so good afterwards – having some structure definitely makes the metres pass more quickly and getting in the pool helped to shift a bout of nausea that had been plaguing me all day.

So if you want to swim like a very pregnant woman, the below is 2,000m and took me 45 minutes.

Warm up

200m freestyle

Main set

4 x 100m full stroke, kick, pull, full stroke (no rest between 100m)
30 seconds rest
200m breaststroke
30 seconds rest
100m breaststroke kick
30 seconds rest
4 x 25m fly (15 seconds rest between 25m sets)
400m as 200m freestyle pull, 200m freestyle full stroke
30 seconds rest
100m breaststroke drill (2 kicks to 1 pull)
200m breaststroke
30 seconds rest
100m freestyle kick
30 seconds rest

Swim down

200m freestyle

Total: 2,000m