January can be one of the most triggering months for us in terms of our bodies/weight/self esteem with us all being bombarded with ‘encouragement’ (masked as guilt) to sign up to transformation workout plans, post-Christmas detoxes , cleanses and faddy diets.
As much as I am a huge advocate of physical activity and lover of exercise, I am also totally aware of how stressful it can be for some people to start an exercise programme, or even contemplate starting, let alone starting one during the ongoing global pandemic.
I think we need to be careful not to over commit ourselves when it comes to physical activity and exercise. We often set unrealistic exercise goals that ultimately may leave us feeling even more deflated than we already do,. Often we end up nursing an injury or reinforcing the belief that “exercise isn’t for me” because it has not been an enjoyable or successful experience.
Exercise can be stressful
For me, exercise is my stress relief. It is my ‘go to’ when things are getting a bit much, if I’ve got a lot on with work/home and I need some release. Or even if I just need to burn off some excess energy. A heavy weights session or kickboxing training will usually sort me out in 60 minutes and leave me feeling refreshed, de stressed and raring to go.
However, for some, this is definitely not the case and in fact, would potentially add to their already elevated stress levels, making them feel much worse.
The thing is, heavy weights and kickboxing, as effective as they are for me, are not for everyone! It is really important that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that one size fits all for exercise and just because running 5k a day works for Susan down the road, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Exercise needs to be something that we enjoy. If you are signing up to a daily running programme for January, even though you absolutely hate running, the chances are you are going to be adding stress to your body/lifestyle and not reducing it……and who needs any more stress right now?
My advice to you, if you are not a lover of exercise, but want to be doing a bit more in terms of physical activity right now is:
If you are not a regular exercise, then it is important to start simple so that you can get your body used to moving more gradually. What better way than walking. I think it is one of the most underrated forms of exercise – its free, no equipment required and we can make it as short/long and fast/slow as we want to.
I get that its absolutely freezing but if you wrap up well, once you get going and the heart gets pumping and it doesn’t feel as cold as you think! At a brisk pace for 60 minutes, you can actually cover about 3-4 miles. How good does that sound? 3-4 miles of being outdoors in the fresh air, getting Vitamin D, switching off from work, leaving the house and getting the body moving!
Don’t overdo it
If you have decided to start a new fitness training plan, it is really important that you don’t do too much too soon, especially if you were not following a regular exercise programme before.
So often in January I see beginners (who have not exercised for months) throw themselves 110% into a hard core training programme. They go from zero exercise to 6 workouts a week, usually lots of advanced HIIT and in most cases alongside a highly restrictive diet.
What happens in most cases after a week or two? Well, their immune system can be weakened by the overload of stress on the body and there is a good chance some form of injury has occurred as they haven’t allowed their body to build up gradually.
It is so important to build exercise up gradually and listen to your body – if it is telling you to rest, then you need to rest. If you haven’t exercised regularly before, then doing just 1 session a week is a step forward, you don’t need to start off on 5 times week.
Low – Impact is OK
In fact, it is more than OK and for some people it is the best method of training for them even if they’re not a beginner. Far too often, social media influencers tell us that we should be doing all these crazy high impact plyometric exercise because “that’s how they got their bikini body” – BULLSH*T……..(how they look like that is a whole other blog!)
A great trainer I worked with years ago said to me that “whenever you are doing an exercise, you should always ask yourself (or your trainer) why am I doing this? What is this improving? How is this helping me reach my goals?” and it has always stuck with me.
If your goals this January are to just get more active and maybe lose a little bit of body fat – then there is absolutely no need for you to be doing box jumps, tyre flips or any other kind of crazy plyometric training programmes. There is an easier (and safer) way.
Exercise should be fun
Adrienne Mishler (aka Adrienne LDN) wrote a blog recently on low impact exercise for Huff Post and this quote really resonated with me, “I think we need to move away from thinking that there’s a right way to move – that unless you’re going further, faster and getting fitter you’re not doing it right, If it gets your heart rate up or your muscles working, it’s doing what it needs to do.”
Remember, for exercise to be sustainable, it must be enjoyable, so find something that gets you moving and that makes you smile, whatever it may be! It might be dancing around in the kitchen to your favourite music, pounding the pavements listening to your favourite podcasts, walking the dog around the local park, online zoom classes – whatever it is, do what works for you and not what social media tells you that you should be doing!