I’m in a pretty blissful place right now, having existed on a diet of panettone and BBC period dramas for the past week, but one thing that’s driving me nuts is the annual deluge of ‘new year, new you’ crap that’s hitting my inbox.

There’s nothing wrong with using the new year as a marker to motivate yourself, but the press releases I get range from the wishy-washy (“Feng shui your way to fitness”) to the downright delusional (oh hi there, detox tea).

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know there are plenty of more practical routes you can adopt if improved health and fitness is your main goal for 2018. So, without further ado, here is my no-bullshit guide to making exercise a regular thing in your life this year…

STOP DOING STUFF YOU HATE

Exercise: the more horrible it is, the better for us – right?

Well in my opinion, this attitude never works long-term.

Don’t get me wrong – exercise should be sweaty and uncomfortable to a degree, but if you’re just having a shit time (rather than a hard but rewarding workout) then you’ll always be searching for excuses not to work out.

For example, I absolutely hate doing cardio in the gym. I find it incredibly boring, sweaty and soul-destroying. In my early twenties, my routine consisted entirely of gym-based cardio, and as a result I used to DREAD every trip because I found it so awful.

treadmills

You know what? I just don’t do it anymore. For me, cardio is much more enjoyable if I’m running outside or going to classes rather than slogging it out on the cross-trainer.

Basically, if you’re finding one type of exercise a nightmare, instead of forcing yourself to have a crappy time in the name of fitness, just ditch it from your repertoire – because life really is too short for workout dread.

LEARN HOW TO LIFT WEIGHTS

Without a doubt the change that has made the biggest difference to my body is starting to incorporate more strength training into my routine.

I was a complete cardio freak for years, but although I could run for hours, ask me to lift even the tiniest of dumbbells and my twig arms would be quivering.

woman doing weights

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a beefcake (YET!), but there’s definitely more muscle under my cosy layer of Prosecco and chocolate button-created flesh.

For many women, the weights area of the gym can be quite an intimidating place (read about how I overcame this here), but if you start strength training you will soon realise that a) basically everyone in there is only interested in doing their own thing, especially the preening blokes and b) the results totally outdo the initial awkwardness you might feel.

In fact, weightlifting is particularly important for women, especially as we get older, because it helps protect against weakening bones (apparently this is a particular issue for us girls).

If in doubt, book a couple of PT sessions to learn the ropes, or watch videos on bodybuilding.com where you can learn the basic lifts such as squats and deadlifts.

STOP GIVING YOURSELF TIME TO MAKE UP EXCUSES

I’ll be honest, I’m not one of those people who loves exercise so much that they would rather be doing it than lying in bed with a Toblerone. Given the chance, I’ll think of a million excuses to not bother with a workout (“it looks like it might rain”, “That single cough I just did might be a sign of a serious illness”, “It is ESSENTIAL that I stay at home and do a face mask”).

That’s why I’ve found that switching to a morning workout is the key to exercising regularly, because you don’t have a chance to think of excuses before you’re out the front door.

The one thing you should remember with exercising at the crack of dawn is to always, ALWAYS pre-pack your bag the night before if you don’t want to end up sans knickers when you get out of the shower.

However, for me it’s a really effective way to avoid excuses or getting caught up in work, and there’s no better feeling than arriving at your desk knowing your fitness is done for the day.

INTRODUCE SOMETHING NEW

Once upon a time, my exercise regime consisted entirely of running. Having spent my younger days thinking I was completely crap at sport, based mainly on the fact I never learnt how to do a cartwheel at school (too tall – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), I was quite excited to realise that I could run a fairly long way without having a heart attack, and started to go through the usual ritual of 10ks, followed by half marathons, and then a full marathon in 2013.

I carried on running after that, but gradually, the realisation struck: I was really REALLY bored of running. Where once it had been valuable time alone with my thoughts, now I was pretty fed up of huffing and puffing around Clapham Common every morning, What’s more, I was starting to get injuries, and while I could run for ages, other areas of fitness – such as strength – didn’t get a look in.

Since then, I’ve adopted a much more varied exercise regime. From weights to HIIT classes, spinning to pilates, a more balanced approach to workouts means I never get bored or overdo things physically.

If you are the type of person who finds exercise boring – and plenty of people can sympathise on that one – then adopting a pick n mix approach will help you stay engaged and motivated.

BUY YOURSELF A FITBIT

fitbit screen

You know what the most exciting thing is about having a Fitbit? Learning how many calories you burn JUST BY BEING ASLEEP.

Seriously though, I find it very useful to have my Fitbit Ionic attached to my arm. Achieving your daily step count becomes quite addictive, which means you’re motivated to go out at lunch rather than stay at your desk, walk rather than catching the tube and stroll off your Sunday hangover instead of just lying on the sofa all day.

You can also set workout goals and measure your calorie-burn for each exercise sesh; not something I’d advise getting obsessed with, but if you were the type of kid who enjoyed getting stars for good behaviour, then you’ll find this really motivating (although sadly, unlike my childhood star chart, I didn’t receive a paddling pool for reaching 100).

MAKE A WORKOUT SCHEDULE AT THE START OF THE WEEK

“But I’m too busy to exercise” is the excuse about 80% of the nation uses to weedle themselves out of what they see as adult P.E. (side note: I have a friend who claims she was so masterful at excuses she NEVER had to do P.E. throughout the whole of secondary school. Skillz).

Well sure, we’re all busy, but that’s why you have to be organised. I find the best thing is to sit with my diary at the beginning of the week and work out exactly where I’m going to fit each session in between my other commitments.

By doing this, you make exercise a priority rather than “something you’ll get round to if you have time” – because believe me, you will never, ever have time.

BUY NEW WORKOUT GEAR

I’m not suggesting you spend hundreds of pounds on an entire wardrobe of Sweaty Betty (the leggings are great but £95 OHMYGOD) but buying a few nice pieces of fitness gear will definitely make you feel inclined to mosey on down to your local park for a run.

In particularly, I recommend buying a pair of high-waisted leggings that you can pull up around your stomach (no one enjoys seeing their tummy VPL waving back at them in the mirrors during aerobics), a good sports bra and some thin vests in any colour that won’t show up sweat patches (grey marl you are NOBODY’S FRIEND).

OVERCOME THE FEAR

You know what the very hardest thing about exercise is? Overcoming the initial dread when you’ve been out of the game for a while.

There have been certain times in my life when exercise has fallen by the wayside, and getting back into the swing of things is daunting.

The key to a good exercise routine is simply making a habit of it. Once it’s part of your everyday routine you don’t overthink fitness – you just get the hell on with it.

If you are keen to get fitter but feel intimated by the whole thing, I recommend the “10 minute” approach. Basically, tell yourself you will just do 10 minutes of jogging/gymming/a Davina DVD and that if, after 10 minutes, it’s the worst thing in the world, you give yourself permission to do so. The vast majority of the time, you’ll discover you want to carry on; simply crossing that psychological start line is the difficult bit. The number one tip for 2018 is to conquer your doubts and go for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to think only crazy people exercised on holiday.

I’d read those guides in women’s magazines covering ‘6 exercises you can do in your hotel room’ or ‘How to get a six pack on your sun lounger’ and think no thanks hun, when I’m on holiday the biggest workout I want to do is toddling around the pool for a five minutes or walking from my table to the breakfast buffet for my 500th round of pancakes.

Once I started to get a bit more into the old fitness, I did become more concerned by the two-week breaks from exercise, but consoled myself with the fact that I walk a lot more on holiday than I would in an average desk-bound day at work. For example, a single day walking around Universal Studios on a press trip clocked up a mega 35,000 steps on my Fitbit – surely as good as a gym session, right?

However, in the past year, I’ve actually done something that once seemed unfathomable – I’ve gone to THE GYM while on holiday.

A hotel rooftop in Naples

I know, I know – I’m a weirdo.

But give me the chance to make a case for continuing some kind of exercise routine on holiday.

Firstly, there’s the fact that for once, I’m not trying to squeeze in a gym sessions in between work/social events/important TV shows I want to watch. I’m therefore not in a rush and staring angrily at the person taking up five pieces of gym equipment at once/stressing out while I wait in the 3-mile shower queue/trying to dry my hair, put on my knickers and apply mascara all at once.

Treadmill with a view!

In fact, holiday gymming is the most leisurely of activities; you can potter around the place all damn day if you want, and even if you just go for half an hour, you congratulate yourself so much more than you would at home because OH MY DAYS YOU WORKED OUT ON HOLIDAY YOU HERO.

Holiday workouts normally mean being confronted with some mad hotel gym that contains a few handweights, a running machine from the 1960s and a few other non-identifiable contraptions – but I like that it makes me change up the exercises I’m doing and take a more creative approach to my workouts. Rather than just going through the motions I actually have to plan out what I’m going to do, which is fun if you’re a fitness nerd.

A mad gym I was confronted with in Sorrento

There’s also the fact that it’s the one time I exercise with my husband, which is quite a nice bonding experience (in real life we never exercise together, in fact I did an interview with Women’s Health all about how we nearly killed each other while training for Ride London as a couple, so this harmonious holiday fitness really is a rare occurrence).

Perhaps most importantly, we always get the gym to ourselves, because everyone else is far too sensible to consider exercising on holiday. Me though? I’ve now become such an enthusiast, that for my 30th birthday trip to New York I’ve legit ticked ‘fitness centre’ as one of the criteria when searching for hotels. I can literally feel 22-year-old me falling to her knees in horror at this news, but soz babes – this is what you’ve become.

 

wake-up-london-john-lewis-workout-review

What is it?

Combining a number of Time Out-worthy phrases – ‘rooftop’, ‘pop-up’ and ‘morning workout’ – Wake Up London is a Tabata class happening on top of John Lewis Oxford Street throughout the summer and into September.

It’s run by fitness company HEX, aka personal trainers Phil Wilkins and Chris Timmins, who normally operate round my neck of the woods in Clapham, but are taking up early morning residency on top of a shop because, well, why not?

My experience:

Firstly, I have to say it’s pretty bloody exciting walking around John Lewis when it’s still closed – so many neatly lined up things! No other people! (Not that we were allowed to buy anything at 7.20am, obviously).

There were around 10 of us in the class, and we bundled into the lift up to the sixth floor, where John Lewis is currently hosting a rooftop bar/restaurant thing for the summer called The Gardening Society.

john-lewis-the-gardening-society

Luckily, the astroturfed set-up for the rooftop bar is also perfect for an early morning workout; I had been half expecting a blank concrete wasteland when we got up to the top, but instead there were plants, cute little benches and wooden buildings dotted around.

We started off with a warm up which involved jogging, jumping and crawling our way round the astroturf. Then, we were split into two groups, one of which started with boxing, the second with a series of exercises such as push-ups, weighted squats and V-sits.

hex-wake-up-london-john-lewis-exercises

My boxing partner was fairly unthreatening looking, so I was shocked when I took the pads and had to catch some pretty ferocious punches. More enjoyable for me was the exercise set; there’s something about doing Russian twists in the fresh air that makes them so much more enjoyable.

In fact, the main perk of the class was definitely the chance to enjoy the great outdoors while getting a morning workout out of the way, although I’m not sure it would be so lovely in the rain (apparently they run the 45-minute classes every Tuesday or Thursday, come rain or shine).

john-lewis-workout-review

 

Fitness level:

Definitely any – and it’s a welcoming class to go to alone.

I burnt:

210

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Have you ever watched Laura Trott or Jason Kenny whizzing around the velodrome on telly and though ‘yeah, I could do that no probs’?

If so, you should probably get yourself down to London’s Olympic velodrome – aka Lee Valley Velo Park – which offers a Taster Session for wannabe track cyclists to find out what it’s really like to reach top speed on two wheels at a 45-degree angle.

I bought the hour-long Taster Session as birthday present for my boyfriend Sam – it was 40 quid each for an hour. We turned up 45 minutes early, as requested when we booked, but were told to wait about 20 minutes before actually getting kitted up. This at least gives you the chance to go and see the velodrome from the spectator seats – it’s a pretty impressive sight!

Next we had to don our gloves and helmets and were given a bike. ‘They don’t have brakes by the way’ the guy told me as he rolled a bike my way. Oh brilliant.

lee valley velodrome taster sessions review 1

I will say now that this activity is not really for the faint-hearted. Before booking I’d read a bunch of reviews online, all of which seemed to be by 45-year-old men, and that was certainly the main demographic when we showed up. A voice in my head said ‘Well this will be fine, I’m obviously one of the fitter ones here’ but as well as strength, you also need nerves – that track feels a whole lot steeper once you’re on it, and on top of that you also have your feet strapped in to a bike with no brakes.

However, the instructor eased us in fairly gently – starting with a pedal round the flat section at the bottom of the track before we gradually moved up higher.

You have to cycle pretty bloody hard to stay up on the slopes – this really is a workout – but once you’re up there it’s an exhilarating feeling.

As for stopping with no brakes – you basically have to slow yourself down as much as possible and then grab the handrail while trying not to fall off. A bit of a test in itself for some of us (yes me).

The entire session is over in an hour, which is really as much as you can manage given the amount of effort that goes in to track cycling. Although I was nervous beforehand, I came out of the velodrome feeling really pleased that I’d given it a go – it’s a pretty unique sensation, and an experience I’d definitely recommend trying!

Oh and you also get a certificate, as modelled by Sam.

sam-lee-valley-velo-park

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In many ways I consider myself a strong, independent woman *sassy finger waggle* but until recently my gym habits were one area in which I fell down massively.

Thing is, I’ve always found the weights section of the gym pretty intimidating, and instead of venturing in there, fell into the typical ‘girl’ pattern of cardio and floor work, steering well clear of that testosterone-fuelled, grunty area in the corner.

Until now.

I’ve been keen to introduce more strength work into my fitness regime for a while (girl gotta get some abs, right?!), and I finally realised that there are only so many kettle bell swings you can do before you need to start lifting proper weights.

It was time to go into the danger zone.

Firstly, I needed to know what to actually do in there. If you are a weights newbie, I urge you not to just hop on over to the squat rack and start ‘having a go’ – it’s really important to get proper advice on technique if you want to avoid injury.

Luckily for me, I had one free personal training session with Fitness First, so I asked my PT, Georgina, to focus on strength training, and show me how to do all the basic lifts and bits of equipment.

With her, I wasn’t bothered about going into the male-dominated area of the gym – her being a PT felt like it legitimised my presence (which is ridiculous, I know). Plus, because she was fetching and setting up all the weights for me, I didn’t feel like a goon trying to work out what I was doing.


The first time I ventured into the weights area alone, however, was a different story.

First of all, there was the panic of trying to work out what to do. Georgina had shown me the techniques, but I had no idea how to actually set everything up. I felt super self-conscious as I fannyed around trying to adjust weights and heights on various bits of kit, partly because some of the guys in there were legit just staring at me (thanks for the offer to help, lads).

Weights etiquette was another area I couldn’t get my head around, initially. I ended up accidentally stealing the squat rack from someone because even though he was nowhere in sight when I arrived, he was still ‘using’ it (apparently I should’ve been able to tell from the fact there were weights on the bar, which is weird because people hardly ever bother taking them off at the end of their session).

Finally, there was the perving. And I know it happened because the place is FULL OF FRICKING MIRRORS. As I lay back on a bench to do a chest press, I was treated to the reflection of a guy who genuinely just stared down my top for the entire 15 rep set. Sigh.

Ok, so my first foray into the weights area on my own was a bit of a disaster, and I spent most of it feeling flustered and embarrassed. But, luckily, things have improved a lot since then.


Part of this is getting into the groove of knowing what I’m doing. After my first solo trip, I recruited my boyfriend to go to the gym with me (poor guy agreed to be seen in the weights section with A GIRL, what a hero). We both did our own thing but it was nice being able to ask him occasional questions without feeling like a moron, and I was soon a pro at sorting out the equipment myself.

I also came to the realisation that actually, the guys in the weights area of the gym are just the normal guys you meet in every other area of your life, but wearing gym stuff. I know it sounds stupid, but I had conjured them up into a special breed of extra scary man in my head, whereas actually, it’s just the nerdy guy from IT but in shorts. Yes, just like in real life, a couple of them will be pervy, but most of them are just nice men going about their own business.

Most of all, my transformation into weights lover came from growing confidence, and the realisation that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else, even if I was squatting 30 kilograms not 300. At first, I felt embarrassed putting my piddly little weights onto the bar; now I feel proud that I’ve finally overcome my fears and am getting stronger as a result. Beyonce booty, here I come.


TIPS FOR WEIGHTS NEWBIES

  • Definitely ask someone to show you the ropes to begin with. This could be a personal training session, a member of gym staff or even just a particularly knowledgable friend. It’s important not to start off with bad habits when it comes to lifting weights, because you want to improve your body, not demolish it.
  • Try a weights class like Body Pump to get the hang of certain moves – such as dead lifts – before lifting weights on your own.
  • If you’re feeling shy, recruit a weights-loving friend or partner for your first few trips to help you build confidence, knowing there is someone to ask if you’re unsure. And don’t be scared to ask people around you for advice – they are just normal people!
  • Unsure if someone is using a piece of equipment? Just ask. If they’re not even nearby and they claim to have been ‘using’ it, they can get stuffed – you can’t claim half the weights section to yourself, mate.
  • Don’t lift the same amount every time – gradually increase it to challenge yourself. Record your progress on your phone so you can see what you lifted last time and hopefully increase it.
  • Start off with moves that use multiple body parts (weighted lunges, squats, dead lifts etc) – you can move on to more targeted work later, if you wish.