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!

Advertisements

Podcast episodes to enjoy while you are…

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the discovery of the Serial Podcast a couple of years back changed my listening habits for good. I was training for the Paris marathon at the time and found myself chain listening to episode after episode on my long runs. From that point on, podcasts rapidly replaced music during runs and gym sessions, while my at home listening switched from exclusively Radio 4 to an array of podcasts covering everything from sports to true crime and from love to politics.

Three years later, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. Whether I listen for extra motivation while running, relaxation while in the bath, entertainment while cleaning or inspiration while cooking, I’m rarely without the dulcet tones of one of my favourite podcast hosts.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a few new podcasts and like any evangelical listener I wanted to pass these recommendations on. Of course, if you have been living under a rock for the past few years and haven’t yet heard the first series of Serial, this is the gateway drug I would recommend to start you on your podcasting journey. From there you could do worse than to delve into the archives of This American Life, (one of my favourite episodes will always be ‘Our Friend David‘), or continue down the Serial path with S Town (from the makers of Serial and This American Life).

But if you have already enjoyed these series and are looking for something new, or else, you would like something a little different in tone, the below may be for you.

Podcasts for while you are…walking

Happy Place Podcast with Fearne Cottone: Kirsty Young
Hosted by Fearne Cotton, Happy Place explores the experiences and shares the advice of guests on how to find joy every day.
I only discovered this podcast a couple of days ago but have already walked over 50,000 steps, eschewing buses and tubes, so that I could keep listening! I’ve just finished the episode with Gok Wan, which I loved, but I think if I was to recommend a single episode it would have to be the Kirsty Young interview. If you love Desert Island Discs you will really love this episode: thought provoking, engaging and calming, what more could you want from a podcast? I’m really excited to mine the Happy Place back-catalogue of episodes to find some more gems.
The Rich Roll Podcast – Finding joy in simplicity with the Happy Pear

Regular readers will know that I’m a big Rich Roll fan. I find his interviews inspiring, motivating and great for getting me through long runs (not least because he takes the ‘long form’ format to the extreme with interviews running, in some cases, over 2 hours!). While sometimes this sort of time investment can seem a bit of a daunting prospect, and I have found myself losing momentum with some of the seriously long episodes, this relatively snappy episode with The Happy Pear, (Dave and Steve, the Irish, plant-based, sporty twins behind The Happy Pear food product, cafe and book brand) really made my day.

I love these guys so much; they are two of the most charismatic and emphatic advocates for healthy living that I’ve ever encountered. Their philosophy: ‘if you’re happy with really simple things, it’s a lot easier to find joy every day.’

I can guarantee this episode will make you smile and the enthusiasm from Dave and Steve for healthy living, their dedication to family and their attitude towards keeping active will certainly rub off.

Podcasts for while you are…in the bath

Love Stories with Dolly Alderton: Emma Freud

I discovered the wonderful author and journalist Dolly Alderton through the podcast series The High Low (see below), and when I found out that she had released this solo podcast I immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

In this series, Dolly talks to guests about their most defining relationships: the passion, heartbreak, longing, familiarity and fondness that have formed who they are.

My favourite episode has to be this interview with broadcaster, writer and script editor Emma Freud, the woman behind the man that is Richard Curtis. If anyone is well-placed to talk about love in a sincere yet lighthearted way, it is the partner one of the biggest names in romantic comedy.

The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes: The Dangers of Self-Deprecation; & A Deep-Dive Into ‘Nanette’

The High Low came to me as a recommendation from one of my great friends, Helen, and after a car journey of episodes together I immediately got home and downloaded the back list. I’ve subsequently got a whole host of other friends hooked and post-episode debriefs always result in some really interesting conversations.

It pitches itself as a ‘news and pop-culture podcast’, which translate as a really nice mix of high- and low-brow culture, from issues of race, gender and politics to reality TV, romance and celebrity. Whenever I pass this recommendation on I always feel like I have to caveat it with a note that the hosts, while amazing, are incredibly posh (perhaps not something I need to point out given that one of them is called Pandora). While they are hyper-aware of this and don’t shy away from it, it is something that strikes you the moment you start listening and could put some people off without giving it a chance.

There are lots of episodes that I could recommend, but this recent one about ‘Nanette’, a stand-up show by Australian comic, Hannah Gadsby, provides a lot of food for thought. From comedy to the dangers of self-deprecation, I hope this episode gets you thinking and as hooked on The High Low as I am.

Podcasts for while you are…cleaning

Ear Hustle – Left Behind 

I discovered Ear Hustle via the Radio 4 Extra Podcast Radio Hour, when they played a short clip from one of the episodes. I was immediately intrigued and after listening to the previewed episode in full, quickly caught up on the entire first series. The podcast presents stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison, shared and produced by those living it. The hosts, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, are a visual artist employed by the prison and an inmate respectively. The stories they explore are honest, funny, difficult and thought provoking and offer a new and nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.

The episode I would recommend you start with is called ‘Left Behind‘ and is about prisoner Curtis Roberts, who was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing under the three strikes law for committing three non-violent robberies. The story explores how he ended up becoming a thief and how has has struggled to maintain a sense of hope during his years in prison. It is really moving and will certainly start to make you think differently about the people incarcerated in the US as well as the American judicial system.

30 for 30, Bikram: Arrival 

Recommended to me by friend and fellow podcast addict, Anna, this series of 30 for 30 explores the life of yogi Bikram Choudhury, from his rise to fame and fortune to stories of scandal and sexual assault.

If you have heard of Bikram yoga but know nothing about the man behind the moves, then this podcast is definitely for you. I knew nothing of how Bikram took Beverly Hills by storm, using his Hollywood connections and rags-to-riches origin story to build a devoted following and lay the foundation for a yoga empire. Nor did I know about the seedy underworld of this empire and the mental and physical abuse suffered by many of his followers at his own hands.

For this series you will need to start at the beginning with the first episode, ‘Arrival’, but you will soon find yourself at the end!

Podcasts for while you are…working out

Running for Real with Tina Muir: Colin McCourt

I migrated over to the Running for Real podcast with Tina Muir after she left another podcast favourite of mine, Run to the Top. As a presenter, I find her relatable and easy to listen to and she always has interesting guest on the show. I know I’ve mentioned this episode with Colin McCourt on the blog previously, but it is so good it bears repeating. McCourt was a middle distance runner who competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and was on track to race in the Olympics in 2012. However, when at the age of 27 he didn’t make the 2012 GB team he stepped away from running for what he thought would be for good.

During the years that ensued he struggled with his mental state and with his weight until one day, when he saw an old photograph of himself running, he decided to seriously rethink how he was living his life. By reintroducing running and structured training, as well a by improving his diet, he regained control of his life.

If you need a little motivation to get you out of the door for a run or to the gym, or if you need something to spur you on while you are running, this is the podcast for you.

Fit and Fearless: How to be Healthy when Hectic with Alice Liveing 

I discovered Fit and Fearless via my friend and fellow fitness fanatic, Sophie. She had spotted an episode on pre- and post-natal training and sent me a link and I started listening from there. The episodes are short and easy to digest. They are good for shorter runs or gym sessions rather than longer slogs.

As a starter, this episode with fitness guru Alice Liveing is great for tips on how to be healthy when you’re snowed under, but as I think I’ve mentioned this before, I will also recommend this more recent episode with dancer and singer Fleur East.

Podcasts for while you are…cooking

Table manners with Jessie Ware: Yotam Ottolenghi 

In this podcast, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and her mum, Lennie, host a series of guest from the worlds of music, culture and politics, for dinner. Discussions centre on food and family with a soupçon of oversharing. I first head about this podcast a few months back when it was mentioned on High Low by Dolly Alderton, but I only got round to listening this week.

I really loved this episode with one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. In it they discuss Yotam’s children, husband and their surrogacy process, as well as his new book in which he will be (finally!) simplifying some of his dishes. Perfect listening while you are cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Motivation, discipline and true grit

‘Don’t wait around to feel “motivated”, just get disciplined.’

These were wise words of Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, speaking in a recent interview on the Runners’ Connect Run to the Top podcast, words which have been doing circuits in my mind ever since.

It’s funny how some things just catch your ear; some pithy refrain that you hear in passing suddenly resonates with you, as if holding up a mirror to your thoughts and behaviours.

How often have I waited to feel inspired to get up early and go for a run and found myself still in bed gone 6am as inspiration has failed to come? Or how many times have I allowed myself to skip a swim session at the end of a work day on the basis that I just wasn’t feeling up to it?

And how many times have I pushed on to do that workout and discovered that actually, despite a weary mind, my limbs are feeling pretty good, and by the end of the session I’m so glad that I overcame that glimmer of doubt, that moment when I let myself half think that I might not train?

The fact is I’m sure very few of us have actually ever regretted doing a workout. There are of course bad sessions and tough sessions and sessions where the whole time you just want it to be over, but when it is over the emotions experienced are more likely pleasure, satisfaction and relief, not regret. Conversely, if you are anything like me, there are certainly times when a missed workout has left you feeling guilty or flat.

Taking this all on board, the message from Kamb is that motivation shouldn’t be a necessary precursor to exercise (or indeed to applying yourself to, and excelling, in any aspect of your life) and ‘I just wasn’t feeling motivated’ really isn’t an adequate excuse to not do something to push yourself closer to your goals. Yes, it certainly helps on those days when you have that extra ‘get up and go’, but with a bit of discipline, the cultivation of good habits and hacking your lifestyle to decrease any obstacles that may get in your way (for an early morning run Kamb suggests sleeping in your gym kit, or putting your alarm clock at the other end of the room from your bed and next to your trainers for example) then your goals are eminently achievable, with or without that ideal of a motivating force powering you forward.

This all put me in mind of an article I read in the Guardian Family by Paula Cocozza on the power of ‘grit’.

Alongside discipline, grit appears to me as one of the paragons of successful living. I like the idea of pushing myself, challenging my expectations and perceived limits, staying motivated and focusing on goals even in the face of adversity. Of course back in the real world practice doesn’t always follow theory and I’m apt to be taken over by flights of fancy, dead set on some idea one minute and on something totally different the next.

Cocozza’s article is based around a new book by Angela Duckworth. Entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The book examines the notion that natural talent is not the only path to success. Duckworth uses herself and other successful people, from entrepreneurs to athletes and from chefs to army cadets, as case studies to uncover the traits that have resulted in each of them rising to the top of their fields. Qualities include ‘the commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to want to improve and succeed, and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice to get there’.

In the book, which is part autobiography part social study, Duckworth reveals that in her own difficult relationship with her father, who was never satisfied by her achievements, grit and the adoption of an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude spurred her on to success.

As a mother now herself, Duckworth also teaches her own children ‘grit’, although in a slightly more palatable way than the one served up to her. She has developed a practice called the ‘hard thing rule’, where each family member must choose a discipline and apply themselves to it, and no one is allowed to give up until the activity has run its course. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for learning to stick with something, particularly when it is something that you find so tricky and I’m thinking of applying this rule myself.

In the book Duckworth also challenges the reader to discover how gritty they are. The quiz questions she uses are below so you can see if you really have true grit. For each question select the answer phrase which best applies to you and make a note of your score (from 1 to 5, as given) for each answer.

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

2. Setbacks don’t discourage me, I don’t give up easily

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

4. I am a hard worker

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

6. I finish what I begin

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

7. My interests change from year to year

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

8. I am diligent. I never give up

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lose interest

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an import challenge

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

Now add up your points and divide by 10 for your grit score.

If you scored 2.5 you are grittier than 10% of US adults,  3.0 grittier than 20%, 3.3 grittier than 30%, 3.5 grittier than 40%, 3.8 grittier than 50%, 3.9 grittier than 60%, 4.1 grittier than 70%, 4.3 grittier than 80%, 4.5 grittier than 90%, 4.7 grittier than 95% and 4.9 grittier than 99%.

Of course, this score only applies to you as you are at the moment, and you can cultivate more grit based on your weaker answers.

I’ll leave you with another of my new found favourite quotes, this time from Jack Canfield speaking on the Rich Roll Podcast:

‘Do just one thing each day towards your goal.’

It’s that simple. Now go and achieve something!

January Blues?

So it’s colder than it was in December, even though you were hoping that Spring might be on its way, and it’s still dark when you wake up in the mornings and when you leave the office at night. The joie de vivre of the New Year and all of it’s resolutions seems an awfully long time ago, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re totally broke. With all of this stacked against it, it’s little wonder that January is associated with the blues.

In the dying moments of January, I wanted to write a post to give readers a little lift; to give you that spark of motivation to keep on top of your training and to maintain the post-Christmas clean eating and regular workout habits that you entered into with so much energy just 31 days ago.

So what keeps me going when the January blues are lurking?

  • Let someone else talk you into the right head space
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app

I’ve mentioned previously how much I love the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast, but it bares repeating. I find listening to other runners talk about their training, fuelling, form, races and the hurdles that they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are today incredibly motivating. Listening to these interviews and insights during my long runs helps to distract my mind from how many more miles I have to go and listening on my train commute only makes me want to go out and run all the more. If you want an episode to motivate you to run, listen to this interview with Fernando Cabada, or if you are more interested in running form, try this interview about the TrueForm Runner. There are heaps more that I could recommend, but I’d suggest you check it out for yourself – download an episode and then head out on a run.

I have also started listening to the Healthynomics podcast, which I discovered as a result of Run to the Top. It has some really interesting interviews and a great no-nonsense approach to running and fuelling for runners and while I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes, I can tell that I’m going to be tuning in regularly. My other recent discovery is the the Radio Headspace podcast, which was recommended to me by my friend Sophie and which is motivating in a very different way. With subjects ranging from mind and body, to careers, innovative inventions, relationships, life and death, it’s a great all-round informative and inspiring listen and particularly great if you’ve got a curiosity about mindfulness and meditation.

  • Make plans and stick to them
Schedule your runs
Schedule your runs

One of the best things about following a marathon training programme is that it doesn’t require any thinking in terms of what workout you are going to do. You have a week-by-week list of runs and cross-training sessions and you have to complete them. This removes that moment of doubt when you wonder if you really want to go on that run after work, when its cold and dark outside, or whether you might just be better off going straight home and having a nice hot bath. As soon as you start to question if you will make a workout, the chances are you will end up skipping it.

Schedule your workouts like you would meetings or supper dates and don’t flake. Once you have your plan, don’t question it and if you have a particular run or session that you think might be difficult to do, enlist a friend to come with you. I don’t know what I’d do without my pal Louise accompanying me on my mid-week evening runs. And this week I also organised a trip to the pool followed by supper with my friend Rosie. On a chilly, dark evening I could easily have bypassed my swim and skipped straight to supper, but having someone with me helped me make it into the pool and made the post-swim meal taste all the nicer as a result.

  • Change it up

Try a new route, run your usual route backwards (not actually backwards, but you know what I mean!), swap a swim for a weights session, or yoga for dancing. Changing up your workouts helps to keep you motivated, prevents exercise complacency -when you just allow yourself to go through the motions without really pushing yourself – and also helps to keep all of your muscles active.

I’ve been cross-training with swimming and trying out new pools to add more variety and I’ve been using the techniques I learned at the yoga retreat to lead some of my own yoga practices, rather than just going on autopilot and not really engaging properly with my body and breath as I let someone else talk me through a workout.

  • Read yourself fitter
'The Way of the Runner', Adharanand Finn
‘The Way of the Runner’, Adharanand Finn

As with listening to fitness podcasts, I find reading books, blogs and magazines on health and fitness also keep me motivated. Buying a copy of Women’s Health to read on my lunch break or picking up a free copy of Coach Magazine on my commute to work can make the difference between fitting in a workout that day or not. Similarly, reading about other people’s fitness exploits in books or on blogs also makes me want to go out and succeed in my own sporting challenges. Recent blog discoveries include Healthynomics and Underground Wellness, while on on my ‘to read’ list I now have My Year of Running DangerouslyThe Way of the Runner and The Dark Side of Fat Loss. There are more reading recommendations on the Read page of my blog if you are in need of further inspiration.

Surrounding yourself with people who normalise being fit, healthy and mindful of their diets really helps to keep you on course when others suggest that your vegan diet, lunchtime runs and early morning workouts are just crazy.

  • Dress to sweat 
osprey backpack
A good running rucksack allows you to run your commute – definitely a worthwhile investment!

When in doubt I love treating myself to a new piece of running kit to help motivate me to get out and run (this is probably why I am broke!). At the moment I love any excuse to wear my pink and navy Nike leggings and at the risk of becoming an ‘Active Wear’ stereotype, that means working out!

Treating yourself to new gym kit obviously isn’t a sustainable motivating factor but sometimes it’s ok to splash out on a new headband or some brightly coloured leggings if it means you feel you are investing in your health and you do then go out and use them for sports.