What is it?

You’ve probably heard of FRAME – with studios in Shoreditch, King’s Cross, Victoria and Hammersmith to name but a few, the fitness chain is taking over London, and bringing with it a unique line of quirky classes, from 80s Aerobics to Ass and Abs.

The class that caught my eye, however, was the Spice Girls workshop. I mean obviously – I was a child of the 90s, so anything involving the world’s best girl group was always going to appeal (FRAME definitely knows how to appeal to the millennial woman).

At £25, it’s not cheap, but I decided to sign up to the two-hour session with a mate who was equally keen to unleash her inner Geri one Bank Holiday Monday.

My experience:

It can basically be summed up like this – positives: the class was really fun, negatives: I realised that I am a terrible dancer.

Actually I kind of already knew the latter. Although I love dancing on a night out when I can just freestyle with a glass of wine or six, once I have to follow an actual choreographed routine I’m hopeless. I discovered this on my hen do, when I played the part Beyonce in my own music video (diva WHO?) but going to FRAME’s workshop only confirmed my complete lack of skill when it comes to learning and remembering a set dance routine.

The class started with a warm-up to the dulcet tones of Posh, Scary, Baby, Ginger and Sporty, before we ‘broke the ice’ by strutting one-by-one across the room using our best Spice Girls moves. Sounds terrifying I know, but once you’re in the room with a bunch of similarly over-excited 29-year-old women it would seem weird not to do an individual runway walk by means of introduction.

Then we started learning the actual routine to the classic tune, Stop. Our instructor, who I have no doubt is a normally professional dancer and can’t believe the hilarity of bunch of dweebs gyrating around thinking they look like popstars, was nevertheless very friendly and patient, offering to repeat any sections we didn’t understand (umm, all of it please).

After learning each section bit by bit, with a tonne of repetition, we were divided up to ‘perform’ our learnings back to the class. My group consisted solely of me and my mate Rosie, who managed to get lost about five seconds in and basically spent the rest of the ‘performance’ doing what we do best: freestyling like a pair of goddamn queens.

I realise I’m making the whole thing sound like a bit of an ordeal but the whole point is it was LOADS of fun and no pressure to actually be good, which is lucky considering we basically recreated the dancefloor seduction scene from the Inbetweeners movie.

Fitness level: Any

I burnt: A quite frankly STAGGERING 750 calories, even though I was enjoying it so much I barely noticed I was exercising. Now that’s a win.

More info here.

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F45 Tottenham Court Road London

Even if you’re into fitness, it’s always good to shake up your exercise regime every now and again, and after getting stuck in a workout rut over recent months, I decided to take on the F45 8-week challenge.

If you haven’t heard about F45, let me explain…F45 is a group training concept that originated in Australia (hence why you’re almost guaranteed to hear a few Aussie accents in one of the London branches!)

Each studio runs a class on repeat throughout the day: one class all through Monday, a different one all through Tuesday, and so on. Part of the appeal of F45 is that these classes are regularly changed – you never get that feeling of déjà vu that can happen so often in a structured class.

The classes are HIIT and circuits based, but you could be doing anything at each station, from lifting weights, to boxing with a partner, to TRX press-ups. Each class is 45 minutes long and involves short bursts of activity with a quick rest in between each.

It’s a formula that’s been massively popular – there are now lots of F45 studios all over the world, and thousands of people have posted their body transformations on Instagram. Many of these body makeovers are down to the ‘8 week challenge’ – a program that requires participants to go to five F45 sessions a week and stick to a diet plan available via the F45 challenge app.

One of the promises of the plan is that you’ll gain muscle if you follow it – which definitely appealed to me, as despite upping my strength training recently, I’ve still got a long way to go before I feel strong and toned. As a vegetarian, I also struggle to get enough protein, so the eating plans (which include a meat-free option) are another sell.

At the start of the plan, I was weighed and had pictures taken in my underwear from the front, side and back (honestly not as horrendous as it sounds, it’s done in the female changing room where everyone is always in their pants anyway). This is so you can see the physical changes at the end of the plan – because as we all know, the scales are not the most reliable indicator of how successful you’ve been.

THE EXERCISE

So how have I got on?

Well, firstly the classes. These are brilliant. At the Paddington branch, where I’ve been training, owners Cam and Dani have an infectious energy and enthusiasm that perks up even the most cold, drizzly morning (and in February there were PLENTY of those).

Also, because the classes are so varied I haven’t felt any workout dread. Classes vary hugely,  including MKatz (mainly weights based), Brooklyn, which features high-intensity cardio and a round of boxing, and Foxtrot, one of the few sessions where I genuinely thought I might throw up towards the end. While they’re tough, the fact you move round the circuit means you’re never stuck on an exercise you’re not keen on for long, and there’s a great camaraderie between everyone who trains there, which definitely keeps you going.

F45 8 week challenge london paddington

Over the course of eight weeks, I never got bored of the workouts, and I genuinely think you could go for months without getting fed up. It’s also lovely that you get to know your fellow class-goers so well; by the end I felt like I was in a little 7.50am club where we would all chat in changing rooms afterwards and compare notes on which stations we found best/worst. Having this team spirit definitely makes the experience more enjoyable, and it doesn’t at all feel forced or clique-y.

THE FOOD

Luckily, the vast majority of the recipes have been really tasty, and I’ve been introduced to a few new veggie foods such as tempeh (do not fall into my mistake and sample this raw – it tastes MUCH better cooked in the recommended spices!!). I was also pleased that it didn’t cost me a million pounds to buy all the ingredients, which has been the case on other meal plans.

As for hunger, it’s been totally fine. The first breakfast on my first day was an avocado chocolate smoothie. As the greediest person alive, I was genuinely worried that I’d be ravenous again by the time I sat down at my desk at 9am – but you need to trust the plan, because actually by upping my fats and proteins (I am normally very much a carb-fiend) I stayed full much longer than I expected.

As well as reducing my carb intake, the plan has also drastically reduced the amount of sweet treats I’m munching my way through. While normally snack time in the office would involve foraging around the freebie table looking for cakes and chocolate, now I’m following the plan and having snacks such as a protein shake made with almond milk, chickpeas and nuts. I have to say I did draw the line at the ‘celery boats’ though, since it turned out this just constituted a stick of celery with some almond butter on it. No hun, no.

In week two my sister was staying with me for a few days, which means she got to try out the meal plans. It made me realise that unless you have a gigantic fridge, doing this challenge alongside a housemate or partner would be tricky, as there is SO MUCH FOOD at the beginning of the week (those bags of spinach are massive beyond all reason)

However, my sis – also a veggie, much to my mum’s horror – was really impressed with the meals, which included breakfasts such as scrambled eggs and asparagus (warning – asparagus does weird stuff to your wee!), lunches including lentil and chickpeas with courgette, and dinners such as spiced rice and greens.

I admit I have had a few slip-ups (mainly due to my sweet tooth) but these have certainly not been as bad as my normal routine; think a square or two of dark chocolate rather than hoovering up a massive Dairy Milk, or indulging in some Halo Top (it’s basically calorie-free, right?) instead of mainlining Ben & Jerry’s.

The biggest tests on the eating regime came when I was eating out or on holiday. In these cases, I tried to stick as closely to the principles of the F45 eating plan as possible – choosing high protein, low carb options, not going mad for any sugary stuff and sticking to decaffeinated drinks.

That brings me on the most dramatic incident of my first fortnight, when the plan requires you give up caffeine, as well as dairy. I decided to prepare myself for this by kicking the caffeine a week early, as I couldn’t bear the thought of coffee and sugar cravings all at once.

Unfortunately, after a week caffeine-free (I had a splitting headache the first day but was fine after that) I completely forgot about my new regime and had a coffee with a friend at the weekend. What followed was the most delirious night’s sleep I have EVER had – I couldn’t get to sleep for ages because my heart was hammering out of my chest and I then proceeded to wake up what felt like every 45 minutes throughout the night.

It’s really made me see what a massive effect caffeine has on your body, and I’m considering giving it up for good, rather than just for the first two weeks of the plan. Cheese and milk chocolate on the other hand? I’m not so sure…

THE RESULTS

I am really pleased with the results of the challenge – I feel fitter than I have in ages and also have given my eating habits, which had strayed into the dangerously carb and sugar-focused, a big reboot.

I’ll confess, I’ve meandered slightly from the food brief – some weeks I would buy the ingredients on the list and end up doing my own thing with them. But by simply eating a more balanced vegetarian diet I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin and a reduction in stomach fat.

I haven’t lost loads of weight, but then I didn’t expect to since I was already exercising five times a week. However I definitely look more toned and more importantly have noticed I can lift heavier weights and sustain tough cardio exercises for longer.

I definitely recommend the 8 week challenge. Those in my F45 branch who really committed to the eating plan have seen staggering results, so if you’re willing to put in the work and dedication you can definitely shape-up successfully with this challenge.

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IMG_8206

I am undoubtedly a morning person. Given the choice between doing a task at 6am and 10pm, I would nearly always opt for the crack of dawn (accept when it comes to morning raves – after one very unsatisfactory experience, I’ve put those in my hate-abase for life). By 9pm, I’m barely able to stumble to the bathroom to brush my teeth, let alone engage my brain and body in any kind of exertion.

However, even with my inclination towards the early hours, I have to admit morning workouts in the winter are tough. Darkness and freezing temperatures are hardly enticing, especially when the alternative is staying warm in bed, or loitering around on the sofa with toast and tea before work.

Given the fact I’m allergic to evening activity, however, I basically HAVE to do my workouts in the morning. And, whether it’s because you’re an evening sloth, work long hours or have a busy social life, you may well be in the same boat.

So how do I manage it? Here are a few tips I’ve learnt from my pre-work fitness sessions…

Go to bed earlier

No-brainer right? If your alarm is set for 5.45am, you can’t stick to your normal bedtime routine – but this fact seems to be lost on a surprising amount of people.

Personally, I’m in bed by 10pm (see the previously mentioned sloth phase that kicks in at 8pm). Some people might think that’s laughable, but whatever your normal bedtime, you definitely need to adjust it so that you’re still getting a full night when you adopt your new wake-up routine.

There have been approx. 2 million studies on how getting enough sleep makes you less stressed, less hungry and more beautiful (or something like that), so assuming you can sacrifice sleep as part of your workout regime just doesn’t cut it.

Prep your stuff beforehand

I’m dishing out this piece of advice like I ALWAYS stick to it (sadly I don’t), but leaving the house at 6.30am is immeasurably easier if I’ve prepped the night before. Plus, my work outfits are a hundred times better if I don’t choose them in 3 seconds while stumbling around in the dark – and I never risk accidentally forgetting to bring knickers (truly the worst).

The evening before a dawn workout, I pack a bag with my work clothes for the next day, makeup, protein powder, toiletries etc, and also lay out my gym clothes so that the amount of decisions I need to make in the morning are ridiculously minimal.

Don’t give yourself time to think

Leading on from my previous point, there is a lot to be said for morning workouts in that you literally don’t have time to talk yourself out of it.

If I’m heading to the gym in the evening, I’ll probably come up with a thousand excuses for not going while I sit at my desk all afternoon. On the other hand when my alarm goes off first thing, I don’t even let myself consider the possibility of not going to my class or the gym – it’s as mandatory as going to work, not optional.

I’ve wanged on a lot here about the importance of making exercise a habit, but it’s so true. Once rolling out of bed and straight to the gym becomes habitual, the struggle is drastically reduced.

Try a scheduled class

There are two big benefits to booking a morning class rather than trying to drag yourself out for a run or to the gym. Firstly, the fact it starts at a strict time means you absolutely cannot “just have another 10 minutes in bed” – you have to get up and moving.

Secondly, motivation can be difficult on cold winter mornings, but if you have an instructor shouting at you then you’re far less likely to simply lie on the mats listening to Rihanna and doing the occasional sit up than you would alone in the gym.

Get someone else on board

One thing that has made a big difference in my morning motivation is persuading my husband to get up and head to the gym at the same time (separate gyms, we’re not that annoying).

It means he no longer lies in bed grumbling while I try (and fail) to silently get ready for the gym; and it also means if I’m having a ‘meh’ day he’s more likely to motivate me to get out of the door.

If you have a partner or flatmate who can adopt your routine with you, it’s really helpful. An alternative would be to promise to meet a friend at the gym or get an early morning running buddy – you’ll feel dead guilty if you don’t make it, which means extra resolve to get out of the door.

Look on it positively

If you see exercising first thing as the ultimate hardship then you’re always going to end up groaning at the sound of your alarm.

But, if you think of the positive aspects – arriving at your desk feeling like you’ve already achieved something, enjoying a hearty breakfast to reward your efforts and most importantly, having your evenings free to see friends/cook elaborate dinners/ lie down watching Netflix for four hours, then you will see early morning exercise as one of the most savvy things you can do.

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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.

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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.