My Body Needs Exercise!

On Monday I finished a few weeks of intensive travel and my body was broken. My back was stiff, I couldn’t lean over and touch my toes, and I felt sluggish and pretty damn tired. Over those 2-3 weeks I had managed just one (slow) run and a few half-baked attempts at yoga/Pilates. And as I had predicted would happen at the beginning of this year, my work has started to take over and I haven’t been writing on this blog or posting much on Instagram, and I can’t even imagine putting together a video for YouTube!

I am back home for a week before my holiday to Sagres and I have been using it to get my body moving again. I have had 4 hours of tennis training and 2 hours of Pilates and I feel amazing! My body hurts, but in a good way. It has made me realise how important it is for me to be consistent with exercise: my body needs exercise! To think I spent years and years ignoring my body, and now after just 2 weeks I start to really miss the benefits of working out.

Whilst I am pleased that I managed to fit in tennis and Pilates despite all the work I am trying to complete before my holiday, I am still struggling to find the time for all my blogging hobbies. Hence I decided to write this short post, both to take a break from writing about seismic risk (that’s my job btw!) and because I was worried that the more I abandoned this blog, the more difficult it would become to get back into writing for it again. So this post is more for me than you, but I realise that’s probably the case with the majority of my posts! 😉

Health and Fitness Blogging Summit

Whilst back in the UK for the Easter weekend I decided to attend the Health Bloggers Community Summit at the Hoxton Hotel. I had images in my mind of tens of young female health bloggers (at least 10 years younger than me), all kitted out in leggings and trainers, turmeric latte in hand, talking into their phones or cameras for their Instagram stories or YouTube vlogs. Actually, it didn’t quite live up to the cliché, though it wasn’t far off! Whilst leggings and trainers were indeed de rigueur, it was refreshing to see that most people were too busy listening to the talks and interacting with each other to be staring into their phones and documenting the experience. In all honesty, I was probably one of the more prolific documenters of the day, as you will have seen if you followed my Instagram stories. But if you did not, do not fear, as I am going to share all the juicy details with you in this blog post!

Breakfast

The day started with breakfast offered by Bounce energy balls. We were all invited to make our own bounce ball creations, using ingredients that included yoghurt, bounce balls, raspberries, banana slices, blueberries, coconut, edible flowers…and take a photo to share on social media. If you have ever visited this blog before you will know I am not a food blogger, and I am more interested in what my food tastes likes than what it looks like. I do care about what I eat, and I do try and make sure I consider the nutritional content of my food, but I just don’t have the patience to carefully place my ingredients on the plate, and wait whilst I find the right light to take a photo. So I was never going to win the photo competition. But it did taste good.

Photography Workshop

I then attended the photography workshop led by Anastasia. I did a photography course last year, and I have recently invested in an Olympus pen E-PL7, though mainly for my YouTube videos. So I already knew the basics, but I did come away with a really good piece of advice related to lighting (which I haven’t yet been able to implement, as you will possibly notice from the photo at the top of this post…) I often stand near the window to get natural light for my Instagram photos (yes, those ones where I am dressing up in tennis gear), and half of my body is heavily shadowed. I thought I needed to invest in some studio lights to get rid of this shade, but it turns out that all I need is a large piece of white cardboard to reflect the light! Genius.

High Intensity Interval Training

I had to leave the photography workshop a bit early, as I had signed up for a HIIT session run by fitssi (who I think changed their name the next day to vlique?) I thought I had done a HIIT session before, but it turns out I hadn’t. My exercises (which you can see in some of my YouTube videos) are timed and use body-weight, but there is a lot more attention to form and we have more recovery time between circuits. The HIIT session with fitssi (or vlique?) was all about speed and hardly any rest. It was great cardio, but as you’ll find out if you read on, not everyone in the fitness industry thinks HIIT is the best form of exercise.

Panel Discussions

I managed to attend 3 panel discussions: 1) getting into the wellness industry, 2) how to work with brands and 3) improving the quality of the fitness industry. By far the best panel discussion of the day was the last one, led by Clean Eating Alice (and which you can watch on her Facebook page).  She invited Luke Worthington, (head of trainer education at Third Space, London), Jonathan Lomax (owner of a number of bespoke gyms), and Amy Hopkinson (digital editor at Women’s Health Magazine) to discuss what they liked about the fitness industry, how to achieve fitness goals, failing at fitness, how to recover, fitness trends, and more. The one thing that stuck in my mind from the discussions is that HIIT sessions and doing lots of different exercise classes will not necessarily help you achieve your performance goals, and slow, controlled, carefully executed exercises with correct breathing can be better for both your mind and body. This was good news to me, and provided me with more confidence that my personal trainer is getting me to do the right things, and the fact that I don’t have access to Barry’s Bootcamp classes in Italy (not to mention any names, ahem!) is perhaps not such a bad thing after all.

Reality Check

As I checked my Instagram feed over lunch I came across the following photo, posted by Amy Hopkinson’s boyfriend on Instagram. Amy’s handle on Instagram is wellness_ed and her boyfriend, Ted, has set up an account called wellness_ted.

All fitness and wellness bloggers will at some point or another be guilty of posting clichéd photos and cringy inspirational quotes, and Ted’s posts remind us we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. We need to take a reality check sometimes, and make sure we truly believe in what we are saying, doing and promoting. (And btw, Amy told me she agrees and whilst I’m sure she gave him a bit of a b******ing, her relationship should be safe!)

Yagaflex, Pilates and Piloxing inside a Decathlon Store

Today I discovered two new fitness activities – Yagaflex and Piloxing – thanks to Decathlon Italia’s Fitdays. I went along to my local Decathlon this morning to try them out as part of the national ‘Fitdays’ initiative, which sees local gyms offering free fitness sessions inside Decathlon. I was a bit apprehensive before going along as 1) I wondered whether there would be anyone else going, and 2) I worried we were going to be putting on a spectacle for all of the customers of Decathlon. I didn’t have to worry about point 1, as there were at least 5 or 6 of us (well, at least at the beginning), but I was right to worry about point 2. We were situated right in the central aisle of Decathlon and so everyone that went there this morning had to watch us jumping, boxing, stretching, bending over, squatting, and wobbling around as we tried to find balance, all whilst sweating profusely (only partly due to our location beneath the industrial heating system)!

Pilates

Pilates

We did Yagaflex for the first 30 minutes. I am not sure if this activity is ‘Made in Italy’ or if it is something that also exists abroad, but I had never heard of it before. It seemed to be a mixture of cardio and Pilates, but there was a strong tribal dance component, which saw us stomping and squatting to African music. It also involved a long sequence of sun salutations, which were very similar to those in Yoga, but a bit faster and with more dance-like movements. Many of the other women there had done it before, so I was a bit slower at picking up and following the moves, but the fact I have done Yoga and Pilates before certainly helped. I did get a bit stuck at one stage (as you can see in the photo above!) and couldn’t work out how we were supposed to contort our legs to get into position. But overall I found it fun, slightly challenging from a fitness point of view, and the time just flew by.

Next up came a 30 minutes Pilates lesson, which was focused around the use of an elastic strap (as you can see in the photo below). I have had two Pilates lessons in my life, and this was fairly similar to those but faster-paced, which I liked. I am not very flexible, and I think the type of exercises we did, which focused on stretching the hamstrings and opening up the hips, are exactly what I need. I recently picked up an elastic strap from Decathlon, so I think I will try out some of the exercises that I learned today at home.

Pilates

By the end of Yagaflex and Pilates there were only two of us left, but I think that was partly due to what was coming next: Piloxing! Again, possibly another Italian invention, I don’t know, but I discovered that it is a mixture of Pilates (standing), Boxing and Dance. I have never tried anything boxing related, and I am sure my punches were quite pathetic, but I enjoyed mixing cardio with punches and squats, a few leg raises and some dance-like movements. We only had 30 minutes so I only got to see a glimpse of what Piloxing is, but it was tough and fun at the same time, and I think I am going to explore joining a weekly class (if I can fit it in to my schedule of tennis, HIIT, Pilates, and home Yoga practice!).

Have you ever tried out these exercises before? If so, please do let me know about your experiences with them in the comments below!

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Squatting My Way to Better Tennis

My tennis coach often tells me to bend my knees and use my legs more during our training drills. Apparently, bending your knees lowers your centre of gravity, thus providing you with more stability, and helps with shoulder, hip and trunk rotation, which allows you to give more power to a shot. This is something I particularly need for my backhand shots, but I need to be constantly reminded to bend my knees, otherwise I will naturally tend to stand up too straight. I suppose part of the reason I don’t naturally use my legs is that it is tiring to move around with bent knees, especially if you haven’t worked enough to strengthen those leg muscles.

Once a week I will work on my general fitness and strength with a personal trainer (it is something I do with my partner, and we really enjoy these joint sessions which are very much targeted at what we need to do to become better tennis players). Last week my PT mentioned that squats are a great exercise that anyone could do without needing a personal trainer, equipment, or even dedicated time. A squat is a compound exercise which means that it uses multiple muscle groups. There are so many opportunities during the day when you can fit in 10 squats: when you are waiting for the kettle to boil, your porridge to heat up in the microwave, or are brushing your teeth before going to bed. My personal trainer said we could all do 100 squats a day (and you can find many people online that are doing such a challenge), but I think that might be a bit much for a starting point and could be difficult to maintain. You also need to make sure you have got the technique right to avoid injury, with your weight on your heels, knees over (but not beyond) your toes, and your lower back with a slight natural arch and aligned spine and neck – a search on Google will bring up many videos and webpages which can explain how to do it properly.

Now that we are at the beginning of February and I have finished Dry January and 31 days of yoga (both of which I plan to continue as much as I can), I think it is time to introduce a new health goal into 2017. So I think I am going to try squatting every day to build my leg muscles. I will do at least 10 squats as I am waiting for the kettle to boil in the morning and whilst brushing my teeth before going to bed. That is at least 20 squats a day more than I would otherwise do, so that has to have an effect. I am sure I could manage more on some days, but I won’t be too ambitious about it to begin with. And please believe me that I am honestly not doing this for a peachy derrière – it is highly unlikely I will ever post a belfie on Instagram! – but I am doing this because I am hoping that with increased muscles I will find it more natural, and less tiring, to bend my knees and use my legs when playing tennis. Of course, I will happily accept any collateral effects… 😉

My Dry January Progress | Week 4 (The End!)

This is my last post on Dry January, even if there are still 3 days to go. The thing is, I know I won’t drink anything before the end of the month, so there is no need for me to wait until then to write this. Though I did read this morning that supermarkets in the UK are braced for a spike in alcohol sales today as people are expected to put an early end to Dry January…. But I also read in a lot of the comments to that article that people who have gone through Dry January are also thinking about doing Dry February too, given how good they feel. I am also inclined to continue abstaining from alcohol, though I won’t necessarily ban alcohol from my life forever. I don’t want to get into the habit again of drinking at home every night, but I can see myself having the odd Aperol Spritz or glass of wine with a meal in a restaurant or at a dinner party.

This week I came to the UK and it was probably the first time I went out for dinner in London without drinking alcohol. And it was fine. It was easy. But funnily enough I still didn’t wake up feeling great as my body now seems to have hangovers from food, and my digestive system complained from all the treats I gave it! I am sure not everyone is as sensitive as me to what they consume, and so I think we each have to learn what works for us, without religiously following the various diet plans and fads that are out there. I prefer to feel less bloated, to feel more hydrated, to digest food more easily, to have more energy and so I am learning what to consume in order to feel like that 95% of the time, but I also have that other 5% to enjoy flapjacks, chocolates, cookies, muffins, pizzas, Prosecco….

I am sure my body has gone through many great changes this month due to the lack of alcohol, but I can’t personally see any radical improvements to my skin and I’m not sure I lost weight purely from drinking less alcohol (as I also improved my diet and did Yoga everyday). I definitely sleep better now and typically wake up feeling more refreshed and less dehydrated. Apparently my liver should have started to shed any excess fat it may have built up in the past, and if I continue avoiding alcohol my red blood cells should start to renew. That should allow the cells to transport oxygen more efficiently around the body, and give me even more energy. For me, these are good enough reasons to continue cutting out alcohol from my everyday life.

So I am not planning on cracking open a bottle of wine on the 1st February to put an end to my alcohol fast, and that to me is the biggest achievement I could have hoped for from Dry January.