If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about cycling, it’s Victoria Pendleton. The British sportswoman, best known for picking up gold and silver at London 2012, is one of the UK’s most successful female Olympians, and has recently turned her hand to becoming a jockey (to which I say RESPECT – most people would probably just put their feet up!)

Anyway, Victoria has recently teamed up with Barclays to promote its new Budget Bootcamps, which is how I found myself in the rather serial situation of arriving at the bank’s Piccadilly branch to do a spin class with the lady herself.

Naturally, I got a photo with her before the class so you wouldn’t see how red and sweaty I got, although all the randoms peering through the glass frontage of Barclays during our class did get to witness my descent into sweaty mess!

Selfie with Victoria Pendleton Barclays Bootcamp

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that apart from looking fabulous in photos (apparently she gets those amazing arms through horse riding), Victoria also had some excellent wisdom to share on the best practice biking. 

In fact, despite being a rather seasoned spinner myself, there were a few mistakes I was making that I wasn’t even aware of until the session, so I thought I’d share in case you’re doing the same! 

  1. Pushing your feet too far forwards 

You know those cage style pedals you have in spinning? Well, I always just shove my feet straight to the front of them and strap my feet in as tightly as possible. 

However, Victoria pointed out that these pedals are made for ‘man sized’ feet and that you shouldn’t necessarily have your toe right up against the end if you have smaller ones. 

Instead, focus on positioning the ball of your foot on the centre of the pedal, which could mean a few centimetres of space between the front of your foot and the cage thingy. 

If this sounds confusing, then just look at the photo of Victoria’s foot below and hopefully it will make more sense!

how to position your feet in pedals during spinning

2. Bouncing your shoulders during the sprint

Part of our session involved everyone‘s favourite cycling move, the stand up sprint.

Victoria pointed out that most of us were getting our technique wrong here, bouncing our upper bodies around with gusto as we tried to force the peddles down on each side. 

Instead, you need to try and keep your shoulders absolutely steady and level, and your back straight, as you drive through the legs. Basically top half of body = still, bottom half = going like the clappers.

‘This will work your glutes more’ said Victoria, and I can confirm my bum definitely noticed the difference! 

3. Cycling at one speed for ages 

While instructor-led spinning classes tend to see you do all sorts of things on the bike (I even did a bike rave once), alone in the gym many of us tend to just sit on the bike and pedal through a set distance or time at a steady speed.

I know I’m certainly guilty of plodding along on the static bike for 10 minutes, before sloping off thinking ‘my work here is done’.

However, Victoria emphasized that improving your cycling – and therefore your body – is ‘all about intervals’.

In fact, she said intervals were the number one component of her Olympic training, involving short bursts of high power, high speed cycling interspersed with more gentle sections (I have a strong feeling Victoria’s version of gentle is very different to mine!)

4. Having the wrong attitude to the gears

Ok, say when your spin instructor says ‘Guys, I want you to turn your gears up to the maximum you can manage for this next 60 second sprint’ do you think a) ‘Hmm, it’s quite a long time, I’ll put my gears up but to a level I know I can manage’ or b) ‘YES I’m going to put my gears up so high I don’t even know if I can make it, but I’m going to try’.

If it’s b) then God’s speed, you are a hero and don’t need to read any further.

If, like most of us norms, it’s a), then you need an injection of Victoria Pendleton thinking in your life.

I have honestly never seen anyone so enthusiastic about the prospect of adding another gear. Or, in fact, about the prospect of pushing yourself in general. She proudly told us that her power on the bike used to go up to 1500 watts in training (to put that in perspective, most people can maintain around 200 watts in a spin class) and she re-emphasized the importance of pushing your body in order to strengthen and tone it.

Her enthusiasm definitely rubbed off and I found myself cranking the gears up to a level I wasn’t even sure I could manage – but you know what, I did. And it’s that kind of drive that’s going to give you the GAINS *gun fingers*

Budget Bootcamp classes are open to everyone, and a session will be taking place in Central London, on Sunday 29th January. Enter a competition to win a space through Barclays Twitter (twitter.com/BarclaysUK) and Facebook pages (facebook.com/BarclaysUK).

Today is Blue Monday – the day of the year when, scientists say, we’re at our most depressed.

What a lovely thought.

It’s fuelled by the crappy weather, high debt levels, the Christmas comedown and flailing motivation to stick to our New Year’s resolutions – basically we’re bored, poor and want to start eating chocolate again.

Although I’m not 100% thrilled with the idea of Blue Monday – sometimes I think that telling people they’re really depressed can be a bit self-perpetuating – it’s fair to say this isn’t the jolliest time of year.

So here are 18 little things you can do that will make you feel instantly happier…

If you have… 1 minute

1. Text a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages

There’s nothing like catching up with a close friend, or just letting them know you’re thinking of them, to make you feel all warm and fluffy inside.

2. Make a cup of tea

Oh god the amount of times I’m at work thinking ‘I’m dying for a cuppa’ but convince myself I can’t possibly tear myself away from my desk for one minute to make one. Life is ALWAYS better with a tea on the go (plus health experts say we should be getting up from our desks regularly) so just move yo-self.

3. Water your plant

Looking after nature is, in itself, therapeutic – researchers have found that having plants around you improves feelings of wellbeing and reduces anxiety. Plus, let’s be honest, there is nothing more depressing than realising you’re the type of person who can’t keep a pot plant alive – get watering!

4. Give someone a compliment

Sorry to sound slushy, but making other people feel good makes you feel good. It’s time to tell that person you work with that they’re looking damn fine today (in a less creepy way).

5. Spray yourself with your poshest perfume or aftershave

The one that makes you feel like one of those fancy, gorgeous people on the fragrance adverts, who for some unexplained reason are zipping around Venice on a speedboat or wistfully rolling around under a translucent bedsheet.

6. Google ‘cute baby elephants’

And spend 60 seconds looking at cute baby elephants. Their trunks! Their ears! Their sweet, fluffy heads!

If you have… 5 minutes

7. Listen to your favourite upbeat song

NO weepy stuff. Whether it’s the Bee Gees or Beyonce, make sure you dance, sing or strut with full vigour.

8. Book yourself in at a restaurant you really want to go to

Snap up a table and then think about who you’d really like some quality time with.

9. Reply to the email you’ve been putting off forever.

You will feel so relieved afterwards that your mood will instantly be lifted!

If you have 15 minutes…

10. Browse the web for a really great birthday present for your friend/family member 

There’s always another birthday coming up, and all too often you find yourself chucking some last minute purchase at your mate or telling them (untruthfully) that you ‘left the present at home’.

The thing is, it’s really nice giving people good presents – ones that you’ve really thought through – and you’ll feel instantly more cheerful once you find the right gift.

11. Eat your favourite chocolate bar

And do it absolutely guilt-free. Rather than just scoffing all the crap food that comes into the office, and feeling bad for it, save yourself and sit down for 15 minutes with a cup of tea and your favourite chocolate. You deserve it!

12. Start planning your next holiday

There’s nothing better to lift the spirits than having a Google for flights and hotels. Even if you’ve got a tiny budget like me, there are so many cool places on Europe you can travel with EasyJet. I’ve just booked Italy for June and seriously, it is seeing me through the January blues!

easy ways to feel happier

13. Call your mum

Some of you will read this and be like ‘What, I already call my mum like 16 times a day anyway?’.

But there are others, like me, who sometimes realise they haven’t phoned their parents for weeks, so give them a quick ring (this obviously only applies if you have a good relationship with your mum to begin with!)

14. Pop out and get a coffee

I’m a simple soul and I’m not ashamed to say that a skinny cappuccino or latte brings me joy (#basicbitch). Just remember, those takeaway cups they give are NOT recyclable (they contain plastic) so for extra happiness points take a reusable mug – I’ve got an Ecoffee mug which does the job perfectly (and sometimes in Pret they give you free coffee for being eco-friendly!)

cappuccino brickwood clapham

If you have… 30 minutes

15. Watch an episode of your favourite comedy

From Game of Thrones to Westworld, so many really popular TV shows these days are just a bit… serious. And violent and scary. When I’m stressed out or low there’s nothing better than watching a few episodes of Peep Show or The Royle Family to get me back in a good mood.

16. Switch your phone off and read

If you’re already feeling down then scrolling through endless pictures of people having fun on social media or freaking yourself out by reading all your work emails is not going to help.

Instead, put your phone off or in another room and take some time to read offline – I recommend Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue which I’ve recently finished, which shows you what goes into the making the UK’s most iconic magazine.

17. Tidy up

OK bear with me here. I know tidying isn’t everyone’s idea of a laugh, but if you’re the type of person who gets miserable when surrounded by clutter and mess, then spending some time tidying/putting things away/sorting out a charity bag can be hugely therapeutic.

18. Go for a walk with a podcast

Being outdoors has been shown to improve mood, but if you feel a bit aimless just walking around, listen to a good podcast to focus your mind while you get a breath of fresh air. I love Emma Gannon’s IRL podcasts, PanDolly, Jools & Sarah and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – but whatever floats your boat really!

 

 


Most of us are busy people, and that means exercise is often slotted in around work, socialising and various other appointments.

Much as I’d love to end each exercise session with a 10-minute meditation and kale smoothie, in reality I’m normally raking a brush through my hair while simultaneously trying to put my knickers on under a towel and not flash the entire gym changing room (a sign of my utter Britishness, because really, being naked in a female changing room is not ‘flashing’).

As someone who is almost constantly five minutes late in life, I’m always pushed for time in these changing room sessions, which means I’ve perfected the art of getting ready post-workout REALLY BLOODY QUICKLY.

Here are my top tips…

1. Be prepared

Pack your gym bag carefully so you know where everything is and you don’t spend valuable seconds digging around in its depths looking for contact lenses or emptying the entire thing out to find fresh socks.

I’ve found the best thing to do is have a little gym toiletries bag (including padlock and spare contacts, the banes of my life when it comes to forgetting things!) and bung this in whenever you’re going to the gym. Pack shampoo and conditioner at the top so you can quickly grab them when you’ve finished your fitness sesh and head for the shower.

2. Shower smart

The shower can be one of those places where you lose track of time as you start to ponder important questions like ‘Will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle actually get married?’ or ‘I wonder how many hours of TV the Gogglebox families watch per week?’ DON’T let this happen – use your shower time to stretch and wash in super quick time, and set the temperature to cool to help bring your body heat down a level.


3. Hair

If you’re washing your hair, towel dry it as much as you can in the cubicle to reduce blow-drying time (this is why it’s always necessary to have two towels, even if your stingy gym tries to give you one).

I find brushing my hair through straight away with a Tangle Teezer also helps as a lot of water flies off in the process.

You’re not going to have time to do a full fancy blow-dry, so focus on the roots above all else – a hairdresser previously told me that if you dry the roots and the uppermost layer of the hair smooth, then you’ll look presentable not matter what hell breaks loose underneath.

4. Sweat

As a severely sweaty person (mmm), one of the main problems I have post-workout is that I seem to stay red and sweaty for friggin’ AGES. Trying to apply makeup to a sweaty face is an ordeal I wish on no-one, so what can you do?

This is where the cool shot on the hairdryer is your best friend. I find that blasting my face with the cold air is a good way to dry up sweat and cool myself down (plus other people at the gym will think you look really intriguing, which is great). Honestly though, it does the job – if you’re not washing your hair, it’s also a good way to banish sweaty roots and has a lifting effect on locks.

Another tip for sweaty types is to put your clothes on as late as possible. I know this goes against everything us prudes stand for but really, if you stay in your undies for a while you will cool off more quickly.

5. Foundation

Even with the old cold hairdryer trick, I know that a liquid foundation will just slide right off my big hot face straight after a workout. If you’re like me then skip the moisturiser – it’s just another slidey substance to contend with – and go straight for a solid foundation, applied with a beauty sponge.


I have discovered the best one ever is this Max Factor Miracle Touch foundation – it doesn’t feel heavy on the skin but the coverage is really good, and it turns my post-gym face from terrifying red monster to normal human being in a matter of seconds.

6. Makeup

Keep it basic. I know this is bleedingly obvious but now is not the time to be trying out a three-tone eyeshadow combo with top and bottom eyeliner. Take it from one who has spent far too many minutes leaning over the mirror in Fitness First trying to create even liquid liner flicks and then becoming increasingly flustered (and sweaty) as they smudge everywhere.

My usual ‘quick’ makeup goes: foundation, concealer (only if really necessary), blusher, mascara, and lipstick. The last point is very important, I’ve found. You can go super minimal on the rest of your face but suddenly if you apply a lipstick (nude or bold) you look 100% more pulled together. And it takes about 3 seconds.


7. Avoid tight trousers

Your good work will be entirely undone if you end up lying on the bench for 10 minutes trying to wrestle on your skinny jeans. Leggings and a loose jumper is my ultimate post-gym speed outfit.

barrecore signature express lunchtime

What is it?

Perfect for busy people (i.e. errryone in London), Signature Express is a new class from the lovely folks at Barrecore which is designed to give you a fast and effective 45 minute workout in your lunch hour. It’s being introduced into the Mayfair and Chelsea studios in January.

My experience: 

Exercising in your lunch hour can be tricky, especially if you’re an absolute sweat monster like me (see below, post run).

sweaty-selfie

Firstly, there’s the issue of slotting a workout into your allotted hour. Last week, I tried popping to the gym at lunchtime, and only managed 20 minutes on the treadmill before I had to head back to the changing rooms to de-sweat myself before work. 

After a gym session, you’re generally going to need a shower, which for me means an extra 25 minutes washing/drying my hair, applying makeup, reapplying makeup after it sweats off my face, etc.

So what I need is an intense workout that doesn’t involve a massive clean-up operation after. Enter, Barrecore Signature Express.

I’d previously tried BarreSculpt at the same Mayfair studio, and loved it, so I had high hopes when I rocked up for the new lunchtime class, led by the lovely Barrecore founder Niki Rein.

She explained that each of the new lunchtime classes will concentrate on a different part of the body (e.g. legs, abs). We would be doing a class focused on our ‘seat’, as she very politely described it (I guess they could hardly call it the arse class).

Well, let me tell you, my bum left that class feeling like it had been put through an army bootcamp, and then some.

Using the barre, our body weight and a ball Niki led us through a series of intense exercises, each of which you could feel working seriously deep into the muscles. 

barrecore BALL

If you think Barrecore is a wishy-washy pointy toes kind of affair, think again; your muscles will be screaming at points. 

However, if you want a short, sharp, toning workout this is really excellent. Plus, because it’s all about intense moves such as squats and pulses, you don’t get particularly sweaty – PERFECT for lunch hour fitness.

I guess the only downside is that, unless you work right next door, it’ll probably take you more than an hour in total to get to the class, do it and then get back to your desk. But seriously, this workout is worth grabbing an extra 15 minutes for…

Fitness level:

Anyone can try this class – but be prepared to find it tough!

I burnt:

150 calories

More info here.

What is it?
Calm by Candlelight is a new restorative yoga class set to launch into Virgin Active in February 2017, when the fitness chain will completely revamp its yoga programme. The idea is to become more of a ‘health club’, looking at mental and emotional wellbeing as well as giving people buff bods, so the class is all about unwinding and de-stressing – something I’m sure we can all get on board with!

 virgin active calm by candlelight

The Calm By Candlelight room – LOTS of equipment!

My experience:

I arrived at the yoga class frazzled from a hectic day, so the sight of a quiet, candlelit studio lined with mats, cushions and blankets was a welcome one. However, if you’re expecting sun salutations and downward dogs, you should know: this is completely unlike any yoga class I’ve tried before.

The session was led by international yoga guru Patrick Beach, who has helped design Virgin Active’s new programme.  At the beginning, he said ‘you might be holding each pose a little longer than you’re used to’, but I anticipated an extra 30 seconds, not holding poses for five minutes or so each.

And the poses themselves are different. Although I was familiar with postures such as the pigeon or the dragon, in this class you incorporate extra equipment (mainly big cylindrical pillows, which are my new fave thing) into the move, helping you relax into the pose and hold it for much longer.

virgin active calm by candlelight

Not really acceptable to take a selfie at yoga but it happened…

Staying in position like this is simultaneously calming – forcing you into a sleep-like stillness – and helps you very gradually push into a deeper stretch. For example, in one exercise we were lying on our backs and stretching out our hamstrings using a strap round the foot. Normally I find this agony and can feel my whole leg spasming in protest, but a longer session meant I could eventually let the leg relax and stretch much further than normal, giving my poor running muscles the relief they deserve.

And that’s the crux of this class to me. It’s not really a ‘fitness’ session – you couldn’t treat yourself to a Big Mac as a reward – but its a complement to fitness; the big stretching session that you keep promising yourself you’ll get round to but never find the time for at home. Shutting yourself in a room and being slowly guided through the stretches means you just HAVE to do them, and the feeling afterwards is lovely – like you’ve rediscovered muscles you never knew you had, and spent a good chunk of time focusing on your body rather than forcing it to do stressful things!

virgin active calm by candlelight

Fitness level:

Anyone could do this class – the moves can be adapted if you’re lacking in flexibility or particularly tight in one area. However, it’s actually the super-fit people – those who exercise all the time – that I think would benefit the most from this session, as that coiled spring of a body will be completely relaxed and rejuvenated by the session.

I burnt: 

Well hardly anything, but that’s so far from being the point it doesn’t matter!

For more information go to VirginActive.co.uk