Sunday, 22 May 2016

Health and fitness: Taking control of my body


I've been running and going to the gym on and off since I was at university, but it never quite 'clicked' until now. I had no structure to my workouts, would go every day for a week and then give up for two, and lived off of Doritos and Mini Cheddars from the work vending machine. I'd never been anything but slim, until things got a bit doughier than I would have liked during 2015, mainly due to stress. That said, I've never felt totally happy with my body. I would regularly lay in bed scrolling through Instagram, confronted by endless fitspo. When one day I didn't fit into my usual size jeans I had a full-on changing room breakdown, then ordered pizza on the way home because I felt sad and well...pizza. And there are billions of girls out there in the same boat.

This year, instead of letting it get to me, I joined a new gym, took control and never looked back. Since January my body has gotten stronger and leaner. I've gained muscle weight but my legs and waist have gotten smaller, and I can also confirm that what they say about doing your squats is most definitely true. Once I've completed my current 12 week programme I'll hopefully be proud enough to share the results, but until then I thought I'd share the 6 things that have helped me finally take control of my own body and stop comparing it to other people's.

1. Find a really good gym

I was a member of a large chain of gyms while we lived in Cambridge, and found they had little interest in the progress and development of their members. Yes it was new and slick and air-conditioned and some of the equipment was snazzy, but it also expensive and constantly busy and not an environment in which I managed to achieve very much. If you're going to a gym like this and struggling to motivate yourself I'd suggest looking for a different kind of gym, 

After moving back home in January I joined a local independent gym, and it's safe to say I love it. It's owned by a guy who was a couple of years above me at the local school, is housed in an old office block with no air conditioning, is half the price of our nearest big leisure centre and is full of people who are passionate about getting results. As a result attracts a lot of body builder types, which means the selection of free weights is huge and everybody helps each other out. It's a place I really love to go and sweat my stress away.

2. Get a structured workout plan

I used to turn up at the gym and do whatever I fancied, or go outside and pound the pavement with no real aim. It really didn't get me any noticeable results, and let to me obsessively weighing myself and wondering what I was doing wrong. 

Four weeks ago I caved into the Kayla Itsines craze and started her Bikini Body Guide workout plan. Don't be fooled by the name - this 12 week programme combines high intensity circuits, weights, bodyweight training, and cardio into a hard-hitting set of workouts that's properly kicked my butt into gear. Only one month in I am noticeably stronger and finding moves like commandos, press-ups and burpees dramatically easier. I have muscle deifnition appearing left right and centre and my legs are feeling solid instead of jelly-like. 

BBG isn't for everyone, and if you're only just starting out it may be best to get a personal trainer to draw you up a plan, but having a list of exercises to conquer each time I go to the gym means I always leave feeling satisfied I've pushed myself further.

3. Find some motivating tunes

I'm lucky that my local gym plays a great mix of pumping music, so I rarely need my headphones, but heading out for a run I always need a good playlist to keep up the momentum. I've found Spotify is great for this, with tonnes of workout playlists of all speeds and genres. I also got myself an iPod shuffle to provide some extra variety, which I can clip to my top instead of wearing a bulky phone armband.

4. Step away from the pizza...sometimes

I would be a huge hypocrite if I sat here and preached about always eating healthy, choosing 80% fruit and veg and meeting those pesky macros. I am well-known among friends for being a bit of a dustbin, and frankly have had pizza three days in a row this weekend. Fad diets are an absolute no no as far as I'm concerned. I even failed at slimming world because for some reason it wanted me to limit my ketchup portions. That said, hitting the gym so hard and so often means I have been making better choices for the most part. I always try to get lots of protein in to aid recovery, and am trying to cut down my sugar intake. 

We've recently started making recipes from the popular Lean in 15 book by Joe Wicks (a.k.a. The Body Coach), which are super quick, super healthy and most importantly very tasty. The tortilla pizzas and potato hash are my personal faves. For me I think it's all about finding foods that are healthy but also yummy and satisfying, so that I don't go running outside to the ice cream man with a quid in my hand every evening when I hear that telltale sound.

5. Find yourself some good gear

Good workout gear doesn't have to be expensive, but it can really help make you feel more comfortable during a workout. I've invested in items from F+F at Tesco, Primark, H&M and Sports Direct and am finally happy that I have enough items to last the week without having to put on a dreaded load of washing. I also chose items I felt looked good, with dark material and flattering waistbands a must - I feel like much more of a motivated gym bunny when I'm not worrying about lumps and bumps or sweat stains. 

Footwear is also important, but you don't need to break the bank on it. Don't get sucked in by gait analysis in specialist shops unless you're a total pro or have a recurrent injury. Focus on finding shoes that give you enough support and have enough room in them that they don't rub as you're running and jumping around. 

6. Stop comparing yourself to others

I have my wobbles and down days but my most important advice when it comes to getting fit and healthy and truly taking ownership of your body is to quit the comparison. Half of what you see on the internet isn't real and the other half is only achieved with an army of trainers, nutritionists, beauticians and filters. You are more than good enough as you are, and your decision to take control of your body and make any improvements to your physical state should only be to make yourself feel better, not those around you.

As for me, I'm looking forward to busting out a strong and confident beach bod in Turkey later this year during the all inclusive holiday we've finally booked - it's about time!

Do you struggle with body image or fitness motivation? What are your tips for gym/workout success?

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