London’s best lunchtime fitness classes

Waking up super early in the morning or trekking to the gym after a long day at work isn’t for everyone, which is why we’re all about those lunchtime classes. With classes from 30 to 45 minutes and studios dotted around London, ‘I don’t have time’ is no longer a valid excuse to not fit in a workout. And when the classes leave you feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the day, what’s not to love?

Here are some of the top classes for you to check out in London on your lunch break:

1. Barry’s Bootcamp

Best for: Calorie burn

Studios: West (Bayswater), Central (Euston), East (Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf, SW1 (Victoria), however not all of these locations offer reduced-length lunchtime classes.

Cost: £22 per class, with package deals for multiple class purchases.

Global fitness chain Barry’s Bootcamp is based on the science of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn as many calories as possible and increase fitness. Attendees alternate between resistance training on the floor to intervals on the treadmill. Normal classes are 60 minutes, but at lunchtime (12pm and 1pm), certain locations shorten classes to 50 minutes (including stretching); to compensate for the reduced class length, free protein shakes are offered after the class. It’s a seriously intense session, but perfect for a mid-day pick-me-up if you’re feeling lethargic!

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Barry’s Bootcamp ‘red room’

2. HIIT – Another Space

Best for: Fat burn

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

HIIT at Another Space combines boxing and MMA moves with floor-based resistance training. This high-intensity class is short (35 minutes at lunchtime) and incorporates a variety of exercises to keep your body working. The studios are also beautiful, so perfect to enjoy a shake and shower in post-class.

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HIIT at Another Space, Bank

3. Hot yoga – Another Space

Best for: Flexibility

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

Held in the same studios as HIIT, hot yoga at Another Space is the perfect option if you’re looking for a less intense workout. Don’t be fooled though – expect to work on both your flexibility and strength in this dynamic, heated yoga class. The heat is held at 32 degrees for 45 minutes to gain maximal muscle benefits without the extreme heat of other hot yoga.

4. F45

Best for: HIIT

Studios: All over London! You’d be hard pressed not to find one near your office.

Cost: Cost depends on your membership, which are available as monthly to biannually. The eight-week challenges are priced separately. Intro offers available at most studios.

A concept born in Australia, F45 provides groups classes of functional high-intensity circuit training. F45 has 27 different ‘genres’ of workout, each focussing on a different aspect of fitness, such as HIIT, cardio or resistance training. At the front of each class, screens display each exercise, while multiple instructors roam the class and are on hand to motivate and correct where needed. Most studios also offer an ‘eight-week F45 challenge’, aimed at reducing body fat over the course of eight weeks. This may be too extreme for many (it encourages the cutting of carbohydrates for quick results), but could be the kick needed to get back into shape after some time off.

5. Signature Express – Barrecore

Best for: Barre

Studios: All around London, including Chelsea, Islington, Kensington, Mayfair, Notting Hill and Moorgate.

Cost: Membership starts at £200/month for 9 credits. Introductory offer available.

Barrecore’s Signature Express class promises to strengthen, lengthen and tone muscles in the space of 45 minutes. This class incorporates barre (ballet-like) moves coupled with resistance training.

6. Define Express – Define London

Best for: Low-impact sculpting

Studios: Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia.

Cost: Single credit £28 (excluding £10 off offer for new clients).

If you’re looking for a quick and dynamic workout, the Define Express classes offer all the toning and strengthening of their longer classes in just 30 minutes. Depending on the day, you can expect barre, floor workouts and strength workouts to target specific muscle groups. Lunchtime classes run from 12:30 – 1pm and 1:05pm – 1:35pm.

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Define London

7. Shake & Ride – Boom Cycle

Best for: Mood boost

Studios: Hammersmith, Holborn, Battersea, Monument.

Cost: One ride is £18 with package deals available. A one-month unlimited pass is £135.

There’s nothing quite like spinning to raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Boom Cycle is akin to a party on a bike, with loud music, coloured lights and an instructor who practically dances at the front. If you’re into high intensity cardio, Boom Cycle is for you – expect to leave grinning (and sweating) from ear to ear. Lunchtime classes vary in length – they are either 45 minutes or 30 minutes, and the latter includes a free shake after the class!

8. Quick HIIT – Metabolic London

Best for: All-round everything

Studios: Mornington Crescent.

Cost: Monthly membership is £100/month for unlimited classes. Single class is £20.

If you’re truly strapped for time, this 30-minute class could be exactly what you’re looking for. With a mixture of cardio and strength training, this class will leave you burning fat long after leaving the studio, and the endorphins with power you through your afternoon at work. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but you get out as much as you put in, and at only 30 minutes long, what is there to lose?

Let me entertrain you

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I was recently invited to comment on a new phenomenon, ‘entertrainment’ by the Telegraph, who were writing a piece on the rise of boutique fitness classes and the potential side effects of using these classes as your main source of training. I had first come to understand the concept of entertraining via my friend, personal trainer Lawrence Price, who published this post on the subject. It’s an interesting one to comment on, because there are two very valid sides to the argument.

So I just thought I’d share with you a little of my thoughts on the subject. What is it? Is it bad? Can it be good? Read on:

What is entertrainment?

Entertrainment is the concept of working out in the way you want to workout (often very high intensity, randomly strung-together exercises) for fun rather than function.

Why do we love it so much?

The endorphin hit we get from an intense workout, such as boxing or a Barry’s class, leaves a lot of people feeling incredibly positive. When it’s at the start of a day it can set you up feeling upbeat for your day at work, and when it’s at the end of the day it can be a way to shake off frustrations and get the body moving after sitting down all day.

Why has it increased in popularity and what are some examples?

As the wellness sector has expanded, more and more people are opting to go to fitness classes after work instead of home, the pub or even the gym. The classes provide a pre-planned workout (ideal if you’re not sure what you should be doing at the gym), a motivating trainer and, for many, a chance to catch up with friends. It’s like the gym and a club rolled into one. Many even have the flashing lights, loud music and (post-workout) drinks to match! One Rebel, Barry’s Bootcamp, Kobox, F45 and Boomcycle are just some examples.

Why is entertrainment not necessarily a good thing?

When we workout at 100% intensity, 100% of the time, something has to give. Our bodies are not very good at coping with sitting down all day, handling stressful situations, and then smashing out a day’s activity in one (often very intense) hour. Whilst workouts such as these can FEEL good, they often don’t provide the body with other things it needs, such as mobility work, stretching, and rest.

In addition, the vast majority of boutique fitness classes are done in large groups, often reaching up to 50 people. In these groups it’s impossible for a coach to be able to assess whether everyone is doing the exercises right, with the right form at their particular level. If you’re an experienced gym goer that might not be a problem, but tiredness coupled with bad form and heavy weights is a recipe for disaster.

Whilst many of us are inactive all day, our nervous systems are very much active, thanks to work stresses, juggling tasks and everyday demands. Intense workouts just put these systems under MORE pressure, ramping up our sympathetic nervous system further. Your sympathetic nervous system is also known as your ‘fight or flight’ response, and gears you up to tackle stressful/demanding situations. In the short term, this is incredibly helpful, and can help you think on your feet, run away from danger or handle stress effectively, but an excess of time spend in this state can lead to a range of acute and chronic issues, from hypertension (high blood pressure) to insulin resistance. Therefore it’s not recommended to add more stress to your body if it is in a state of heightened physical or mental stress already. Both types of stress (physical and mental) illicit a physiological response e.g. even if you’re not stressed physically, chronic stress such as that from work can have the same negative effect as extreme physical duress.

For a lot of people therefore, a calming yoga session or meditation would be far more beneficial than a sprint session, switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and calming down the body. Without rest our bodies are far more prone to burnout, injury and illness, so a daily HIIT class might not be what’s best for you, especially at particularly stressful times of the year.

 

TL;DR

  • Basically, not all fitness classes have your best interests at heart, and it is incredibly difficult for a coach/trainer to be able to assess your physical state or form during a workout catering for 30 – 50 people.
  • Since we all lead such stressful lives already, sometimes smashing out an intense HIIT class may not be best for our bodies in the long term, and we may benefit more from yoga or a stretching session at stressful times.
  • However, in general, some form of movement is better than no movement, and it’s up to each and every one of us to check in with ourselves and just be mindful of how our bodies are feeling. Still fancy that Barry’s class? Go for it 🙂

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the above! Check out my Instagram and YouTube for more.

My marathon journey – the lowdown

When I was asked in December by Asics whether I wanted to run a marathon in Tokyo I was so excited – for any long distance runner, being flown out to Tokyo to run 42km is an absolute dream come true. However it took me a little while to respond to the offer – believe it or not I’ve actually spent my life saying that I have no interest in running a marathon. I’m a short distance runner (5km is my vibe) and have been plagued by injuries since I started running properly at uni. Not only that, but I don’t see running a marathon as the epitome of fitness – so many people seem to sign up, train, run it and then give up running altogether, as though they have ‘proven’ their fitness and can now give up forever. I much preferred running for fun (with the occasional 5k parkrun to assess time), and the thought of training for a marathon over 2-3 months (and probably giving up my other favourite sports, such as boxing), was daunting to say the least. I’m a runner in the sense that I like to run, but I wouldn’t say my skills are anything special, and marathons definitely take something special to complete.

However, after much thought (and my general attitude of ‘say yes now, think more later’), I accepted the invitation to race. For the first time in my life, I was given coaching by someone who understood the purpose of the running for me: to enjoy the process and not hate running at the end. It’s a personal challenge for everyone, and for me the marathon was about getting over the fear of running on my injured knees. I think sometimes the fear of pushing yourself too far and failing can stop you doing things you desperately want to do, and I made a pact with myself last year to stop being afraid and just jump, so I did just that! My training plan was tailored to me, and it suited me perfectly – approx 3 runs a week with time to rest, do boxing, do resistance training and look after my knees. Within the first few weeks of training I got my 5k pb (21.20) and 10k pb (45 something) in training runs (before being told off for running too fast and that I would need to slow down if I was ever going to complete a marathon) XD

Training went well for the first few months, and I loved testing my body. I’m built for power and speed, so to be able to show myself that I could run further than I’d previously imagined my body could handle was amazing. However, around 3 weeks before the marathon my old injury flared up again. I knew it would at some point (I’ve never run consistently in the last 4y without it doing so, which is why I used to only run maximum 10k once per week, to keep it at bay), but I was hoping it’d either be early in my training (leaving plenty of time for rest and rehab) or on the marathon day itself. If you’ve ever suffered from IT band syndrome you’ll understand the pain. It starts with a dull ache on the side of your knee(s) before becoming a sharp pain and spreading up your IT band all the way to your hip. After a while the pain becomes unbearable, and at its worst requires crutches (as I did frequently when I was at uni because I kept running on it, as my coach told me it ‘wouldn’t cause lasting damage’). *Eye roll*. Anyway, it’s a literal pain and the only real short-term solution is rest. Unfortunately this cut out my biggest training week – my longest run of 17 miles and all the other runs that week. Even my 5 – 10km runs were causing minor pain, and I worried I might have to pull out of the marathon (either in advance or half way through). I recorded some of my thoughts pre-marathon here.

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After a week of tapering (including just a few slow, short-ish runs), we headed out to Tokyo for our second taper week, arriving 4 days before the marathon. One thing I hadn’t taken into account was the jet lag, until Chevy, our coach, reminded us that any race done on jet lag was an extra-special achievement. My main concern was running form – tiredness causes poor running form and poor running form causes injuries!

Regardless, it was incredible to be out in Tokyo for the 4 days before the marathon (which felt like about a month!). We walked around the city plenty, even fitting in a short 6km run around one of the parks. Every day was 20,000 steps or more, which potentially isn’t the best way to prepare for a marathon, but it was good to keep the body moving, especially after such a long journey from London (17h of sitting down door to door pretty much)! If anyone is thinking of doing a marathon with a big time zone difference, I would allow one day per hour of time difference (advice I got from someone else) – I think the jetlag was a minor issue but an issue nonetheless.

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Race day came (after an impressive amount of carb-loading on ramen and sushi) and we left the hotel at 7am for the 9am race. I have never seen so much chaos before a race – thousands and thousands of people unsure of where to go, running around in the pouring rain. Having never done a big race before it was pretty overwhelming (but also very exciting!). We were probably far too early to the race – we were dressed in our racing kit (a couple of layers) and standing in the rain for almost an hour after warming up, meaning that by the time we got started at about 9.20am, pretty much everyone was shaking from the cold! Piece of advice (which probably every marathoner knows) – if it’s a cold/wet race, bring a couple of extra layers to chuck in the charity bins as you set off – they collect everything and donate it to charity (from what I heard), which is preferable to everything being chucked on the side of the road mid-race. It ‘only’ took me about 45 minutes to warm up, but unfortunately my once freshly activated glutes were flabby and cold by the time we started, so my IT bands started hurting around 8-10km in (since ITBS is usually caused by having weak gluteal supporting muscles). Obviously not ideal, but not a disaster.

The atmosphere was incredible during the race. Japan is one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever been to, and every few meters there was another group of people offering fruits, sweets and nondescript homemade goodies. Every few kilometres there was also a water/sports drink station. I think I had water about 4 or 5 times during the race, which felt about right for me (but probably ask your own coach what they’d recommend for you). The first 21km sailed past – none of it was easy, per se, but I felt like I was gliding through at exactly the right pace without really having to try. Perhaps I should have just signed up for a half XD

Around 30km in, my non-injured (left) knee suddenly became incredibly painful, changing my pace from about 6 mins/km to around 6 mins 25/km, which is back to the pace I first ever ran a 5k at (albeit 30km into a race). I ended up running with pretty much totally straight legs for 10km until I hit 40km. I stopped for a drink and that was it for me – both knees buckled and I nearly fell to the floor. It was pretty depressing to think that I might have to pull out of a 42km race at 40km in.

Being crazy I decided that I would walk the last 2 kilometres, being overtaken by runners everywhere. Despite the fact that I overtook 870 runners during the course of the race overall, I will always struggle with the face that I lost 62 places in that last 2kms. It took me 18 minutes to complete the last 2k, but through gritted teeth I did complete it!

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I would usually never advocate running through extreme pain (or really pain of any sort) but you can’t really quit a marathon at 40km, which is why I kept going. Running through pain is what got me the recurring injury in the first place, so please, if you’re training and you feel pain don’t do as I did in the race – please rest up!

As mentioned multiple times on my Instagram, my main goals for the marathon were to complete it and to soak up the atmosphere. I completed both of those things with flying colours, and for that I am so proud. Competitive me will not stop beating myself up for not completing the marathon in my self-imposed unofficial time goal of 4h, but having said that, if I were to read someone else being disappointed in their time of 4h, for example, I would feel really crap about my time of 4.28.50, which is why I can’t exactly complain about such a time. Running a marathon is amazing regardless of the time you do it in, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses – you don’t have to be amazing at everything, even choosing to take part can be the most impressive bit sometimes!

TL;DR

Would I recommend running a marathon? Yes absolutely, if only to find out what you’re made of and show yourself that you can do things you never believed possible (42km is a bloody long way).

Am I happy with my time? Yes, in hindsight under the circumstances, I am absolutely bloody impressed that I finished the marathon, let alone in under 4h30. If you can do it faster than that, that’s great! If you are slower that’s also great! It’s pretty cool that we’re all running marathons, don’t you think?

Would I run another? Tough question. Logical me says no. I know my hips are misaligned and that I’m injury prone, so marathon training will never really benefit me as much as all the other training I do. However the me that likes crazy challenges may well say yes to another marathon or ultra marathon, especially if it’s in a cool place or for a good cause! Never say never 😛

Would I recommend Tokyo marathon specifically? Yes, especially if you’re looking for a personal best – it’s pretty much totally flat/even slightly downhill and has lots of long roads and few sharp corners. The atmosphere is amazing and don’t worry too much about the weather – apparently we got the only rain they’ve had on marathon day in over 20 years!

Advice for running a marathon?  I think more than anything, don’t over train. More is not necessarily better, and injuries are easier to prevent than they are to cure. Slow running is very valuable (a skill I’m still learning) and finding a few running buddies makes it far more bearable. I’ve got a general running tips vlog here (although I’m no expert, just sharing what I’ve learned).

What did I learn?

  • I am capable of far more than I thought (4 years ago running 2km was impossible due to injury, and 5 years ago my 5k pb was 32 minutes).
  • Slow running is as hard as fast running. Harder mentally.
  • Marathons are hard.
  • I’m really fit (I never ‘hit the wall’ during the marathon, probably because I was forced to run much slower than planned), but that could be better put to use over shorter distances and doing more races per year.
  • Running a marathon can be kinda boring at times, but also the biggest feeling of achievement ever.
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Just after I stopped crying

Check out my favourite running gear and supplements I took during training for the marathon.

6 runners you should follow

… On Instagram! (Please not in real life). I know that a lot of you are really enjoying my marathon training content, and with that in mind I thought I’d share with you some of the people who inspire me with my training. Give them all a follow – I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Holly Rush (@rushbynature)

An advocate of trail running here – Holly is one badass woman. I first heard about her whilst watching Asics’ coast to coast Dubai – Oman video as she was one of the 5 Asics frontrunners taking part. Follow for long(ish) captions and thoughts on running and races. She also ran the Tokyo marathon last year so I’ve been pestering her for tips!

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Adrienne Herbert (@adrienne_LDN)

If you’re looking for motivation in all aspects of your life, look no further. The amazing Adrienne practically oozes motivation in every Instagram story. She is the co-founder of ‘Get To Know’ (a community of creative women), host of Power Hour podcast, with guests such as Fearne Cotton, AJ Odudu and Deliciously Ella and a mum! Somehow in between all the other things she does she has time to run, showing us that time doesn’t have to be a barrier to staying healthy.

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Tashi Skervin-Clarke (@tashi_skervinclarke)

I first met Tashi around 3y ago and have followed her running journey since. She is a personal trainer and running coach and writes amazing captions about running and the effect it can have on us. Follow for a balanced approach to running and strength training. Running faster is not just about running more!

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Latoya Shauntay Snell (@Iamlshauntay)

I think I can across Latoya on twitter after someone shared a blog post she wrote on fat shaming. Shauntay doesn’t look like what you’d probably think of when I say ‘badass marathoner’, but marathoner she is, and badass she definitelyis. Her highlight ‘Who’s Latoya’ explains her journey but in all honesty I’m just amazed at anyone who can run as many marathons as she does. An inspiration.

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Max Wilkocks (@maxwilko)

As the co-founder of the Track Life podcast, Max talks a lot about running. In fact there’s very little else he talks about or does. Summers and winters are spent racing around the track and on disgustingly long races (although he insists 10k is his favourite). Follow for beautiful pictures and the sort of complaining about running only a runner could do.

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Rory Southworth (@rorysouthworth)

If you’re more a fan of the mountains than road running, Rory is the man to follow. Epic pictures of scrambles up rocks combined with shoe reviews (he’s sponsored by Salomon) means this account never gets boring. This will make you want to get out of the city and to any one of the locations he travels to!

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My running story

I first decided that I wanted to be good at running when I was about 10, a few years after I first stepped foot on a track. School sports day was never something people trained for, and I resigned myself to only being good at 100m and long jump, because anything over 200m left me legless and feeling like I was about to die. The first time I consciously attempted longer-distance running training was years later in secondary school. I was about 16 and training for the national schools squash championships, and was convinced that training more was always better. I made it a couple of kilometres through sheer force of will, despite every step feeling like my legs were made of lead. I think it’s a common feeling for first-time runners, especially those who attempt to run their first 5km at 200m pace, as I always did – a problem I didn’t resolve until many years later!

Unsurprisingly my first instinct was that I would never be a long distance runner (my body is definitely built for speed and power, not endurance), but persevered, if as much for weight loss benefits as anything else!

When I joined university I immediately joined the athletics club – since running is cheap and simple it seemed like the easiest option in terms of clubs, and it gave me the opportunity to try lots of events without any real aim but also without a huge cost. I did cross-country (badly) every winter and track every summer, usually running around 400m and being drafted in last minute for various other events to make up teams. I was never particularly good, but the social aspect of the club kept me coming back, and it felt good to be part of a team, especially during cross country in the winter!

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University cross country – more a social event than anything!

However, it was during this time that I first started suffering from IT band syndrome, the second most common runner’s injury (after runner’s knee). Runs longer than 3km would make it flare up, and it crippled me to the point of not being able to manage stairs without a crutch. Every time I would have a flare up it would put me out for 6 weeks, where I was unable to run (but thankfully still able to gym). After 6 weeks I would go back to running, feeling fine but having done nothing to solve the root of my knee problems. Needless to say, my three years at university were plagued with injury. Occasionally I would be able to manage a 6km run, but running when I was tired, stiff or simply running on the wrong day would mean I would injure myself and be out for another month or two. It was irritating to say the least, and I resigned myself to being able to run only 2km – 3km at a time (albeit faster and faster).

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My 5k pb in university second year – 23.01 (almost 2 mins slower than now)

After university I discovered boxing, which gave me far more of a kick than running ever did, and for a while I was satisfied simply gymming and boxing to keep fit. However, being able to run is pretty integral to my DNA, and running had allowed me to get outside and explore places better than anything else, so I was adamant that I would strengthen my weak supporting muscles in my hips and glutes (the cause of my ITBS) and work on my striding (heel striking puts a lot of pressure on the knees and can exacerbate injuries), whilst simultaneously continuing other sports so as to avoid over-training in one area as I did at university.

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Boxing training made me fitter than ever and allowed me to start running again

After years and years of trial and error, better shoes, rehab and rest, I am finally getting to the point at which I can trust my body to run further than 5km without giving up. For years I’ve turned down opportunities to race in some amazing places for fear of putting myself out of action for months, and finally I think it’s coming to an end! I don’t want to jinx it but now I’m working with a coach (who is very aware of my history of injuries) and taking adequate time to activate muscles before each run (and rest properly afterwards), I’m feeling really positive about my journey ahead – it’s only just beginning!

My goals this year:

  • Finish Tokyo marathon with no injuries.
  • Complete a fell race
  • Bring my 5km personal best below 21 minutes
  • Bring my 10km personal best below 44:30 minutes
  • Run a half-marathon
  • Enjoy the journey!
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23km in the bag and no pain – a highlight of 2018

Running essentials – gear

Hi everyone! I get asked (pretty much on a daily basis now) what gear I’m using to train for the Tokyo marathon, from shoes, to leggings that don’t fall down, to fitness watch. So here I’ll share my absolute faves.

Tops

This mid layer from Underarmour is a godsend in the cold. I have many versions of this, but for this weather I’ve not found anything more comfy!

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Under all your gear you’ll want a base layer for warmth and moisture wicking. This one from Asics does the job nicely.

Bra

A good, well fitted sports bra is of vital importance when it comes to running. I love this one by Underarmour and this one by Asics as featured in my latest vlog.

Leggings

The most important thing for me when choosing leggings is that they don’t fall down when I run. Second most important thing is that they don’t get sweaty and make me cold when I’m outside. I have a couple of favourites that smash both of these elements!

These coldgear leggings from Underarmour are perfect for colder runs. They’re super soft and a little thicker than my usual legging, so great for this time of year.

Alternatively, my all time favourite running leggings come from technical brand 2XU. They’re not cheap, but if you’ve ever raced, you’ll see a large proportion of the runners wearing this brand and for good reason – they’re fab! The compression technology also promises to deliver you faster times and less muscle soreness (I did indeed get both my 5k and 10k pbs in the leggings). I couldn’t find the exact ones I have (they’re old) but here are the same type in another pattern!

Socks

Socks are easy to forget when it comes to running, but when you start to run further the importance of a good sock becomes very evident. My favourite brand is Stance, so have specific socks for all kinds of activities. Again, not cheap, but fully worth it.

Shoes

Potentially the most important thing when it comes to running – shoes! Because we all run slightly differently, a shoe that works for me might not be a shoe that works for you. However since I have a neutral stride and wear a neutral shoe, chances are it’ll be great for a large proportion of you!

My all time favourite running shoe is the Gel Nimbus 20 from Asics in Platinum. Most colours are also reduced, but get in there fast – they’re selling out!

Alternatively, if you’re planning on running off-road/in muddy places, a good trail running shoe makes all the difference. They’re also great if you don’t want to invest in cross-country spikes but need some extra grip. These shoes from Columbia can be raced right out of the box (they gave me no blisters on a wet and muddy 23km trail race) and will keep your feet dry for the most part. I can’t find them in my colour but you can find other colours here.

Rucksack

I don’t think people realise how useful a running rucksack is until they have one, at which point it becomes invaluable. Whether for holding gels, water or extra layers (usually all of the above for me), it’s just so useful to have with you on every run. This is my all time favourite from Columbia – however, if you’re much smaller than me and not wearing lots of layers, it may sit a little big.

Watch

I used to use the Fitbit Versa (for about 8 months) before it broke. I was impressed with the heart rate sensor and ease of use, but when it came to running it really let me down, cutting off as much as 10% off any route due to poor GPS. I hope new Fitbits have better sensors! I’m now looking at the Garmin Forerunner collection which is unfortunately obscenely expensive. But when it comes to running, Garmin and Polar definitely lead the way!

 

Three things I’ve learned from marathon training

There’s something about marathon training that teaches you a lot, both about yourself and also about the human psyche. Perhaps it’s the necessity of having hours with only your own thoughts as you pound the pavement (almost by definition of training for a marathon), but I’ve been thinking a lot about what marathon training is teaching me about myself and others who do the same. Here are a few of the things. No doubt I’ll learn more as my training picks up for the next four weeks.

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Early morning runs are truly special, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy them

I can run
It’s an on-going joke with my boyfriend that as soon as I get into running, I injure myself, and that anything above a 5k might as well be a marathon. It’s been pretty awesome to realise that a lot of that fear of running far is in my head. Sure, injuries are physical, but the fear that we so often get after an injury/accident can be significantly more debilitating than the injury itself. Three years on from my chronic IT band pain I was still apprehensive about running further than 10km for fear of being set back years. But with the right amount of rest, the right shoes and right training plan, I have (touch wood) really impressed myself with not only the fact that I CAN run far (I recently did my first 10k race and half marathon), but that I’m finally allowing myself to enjoy it, and I think that’s something to be celebrated.

 

I’m lazier than I thought
I say this partly in jest. It is perfectly normal to put off tasks that, let’s face it, are not necessarily as appealing as sitting in bed watching prison break. Procrastination can sometimes get to the point where it’s actually too late to do something anymore, and you end up not doing it because you’ve put it off for so long and the moment has passed. People ask me how I stay so motivated and the reality is, I am not always motivated. I have discipline and enjoyment, and both these things have always been enough to get me to the gym or to boxing on time. However, with running it’s different. Running is not something I naturally love every second of, so it takes that little bit more energy to get myself outside in the cold (and often dark) outdoors to do my training for the day. BUT what I have discovered is that my discipline is very much in check. I haven’t missed a training day (although I have postponed a couple to fit with my schedule) and I am proud of that. As Adrienne says ‘you can do hard things’, and it’s blooming cool to realise that I can.

 

People who constantly run marathons are somewhere between sadists and gods
Marathon training is really, really hard. It’s not just that each run is difficult (although lots of them are), it’s also that you have to consistently push yourself harder, and there’s not really any possibility of settling into a routine during training. People who frequently put themselves through this baffle me, and I have continuing respect (and a little fear) for them all. And yet the sense of community when you find someone else who is also running a marathon is also incredible, so I can see how people become addicted. Pushing physical boundaries alongside thousands of other people has to be one of the most incredible experiences ever, and I’m excited to be a part of that, no matter how painful it is getting there.

I would love to hear what you learned as part of your training! Whether it’s for a marathon, cross-fit competition or your first 5k – it’s all valid!

Train like an athlete

Health and fitness is everywhere – from your food being marketed as ‘high protein’ or a ‘post workout bar’ to your favourite influencer dancing around in an Ivy Park tracksuit. It’s inescapable, and as someone who used to be teased for eating healthily and enjoying the school PE classes, it’s exciting.

However, I find myself questioning more and more how much these people and brands are actually focussed on fitness and health. I 100% believe that brands focussing more on health is generally a good thing, even if that’s just jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to look ‘cool’ or sell more products, but I worry about the amount of people buying into things that will make them LOOK more #fitness without actually providing them the actual fitness to back that up.

I am probably biased – I have been doing ‘fitness’ since I was about 15, always in the form of functional training, whether training for the national schools squash championships, BUCS cross country or my latest boxing match. But seeing people take part in a 12 week plan to ‘grow their booty’ (without any focus on actual fitness/strength) and then give up is frustrating for me. The amount of emphasis placed on looks (often at the expense of performance) leads me to worry about the longevity of the West’s ‘passion’ for fitness. It reminds me of when I was growing up and the Kate Moss ‘heroine chic’ look was in – you didn’t have to take heroine, as long as you looked like you hadn’t eaten in 3 weeks (thinking about it, this was probably for the best, but since fitness is actually very good for you, it would be nice if people were as dedicated to BEING fit as they are to LOOKING fit). 

It’s easy to imagine my view comes from a place of ‘I was here first, everyone else is just pretending’ but that’s genuinely not it. There are a number of reasons for my concern, and all (I believe) are legitimate. 

  1. When you train for aesthetics, the emphasis gets placed on your looks and how much working out can make you look a certain way. For every person who sticks to fitness after discovering the other benefits, there is someone else who quits after they become disillusioned about the lack of a six pack they were promised after 90 days. Fitness isn’t looking a certain way, it’s about a bunch of internal factors that we can’t even see. 
  2. There are a lot of actual, real life athletes on Instagram, whether they’re competing for the country or working overtime to allow them to self-fund their training and competition fees. However, brands are often choosing to work with people who ‘look’ a certain way over those who actually DO a sport. As someone who works in the fitness modelling world, I see this all too often. Of course, aesthetics are important, but I’ve been told I’m ‘too muscly’ for a job that literally requires lifting weights. Who could look more like a person who lifts weights than someone who got the body they have by literally doing just that. It would be nice to see a little more championing of people who actually DO a sport. 
  3. I like to think that we’ve moved past the point of extremes, because health is sort of by definition ‘balanced’. However a number of fitness guides and classes encourage plenty of extreme behaviour to look a certain way. Sure, they work, but are they ‘healthy’? Training like an athlete (i.e. functional training) focusses on performance and all-round fitness. Runners lift weights, rugby players practise sprints and everyone works on mobility and balance. Training purely for aesthetics can lead to serious physical problems further down the line, especially from poor form and over training certain areas. This is something I’m still working on too – it’s the only way to make training sustainable.

Thankfully training purely for aesthetics often becomes the gateway drug for all the other benefits of exercise, and those who start working out to lose weight can discover a plethora of other benefits. Other factors become the driving force behind working out, and at this point a person’s fitness becomes way more balanced (I’m sure a number of you can relate)!

It’s not entirely necessary to want to run a marathon or to achieve a triathlon PB, but training like an athlete can leave you feeling mentally healthier, accomplished and physically sound well into your older age. Rest and recovery is a key part of an athlete’s training plan, and whilst reducing workout intensity might not give you THAT body in 90 days, it sure as hell will keep you motivated enough to continue working out long, long past then. 

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How to avoid a plateau

Are you going to the gym a lot, eating a healthy diet and still find yourself unable to tone up? Maybe you made a bunch of progress early on, but now it’s just not happening. This is called plateauing, when you’re putting in the same amount of effort before but just not making the progress. It can be caused by a number of factors, individually or combined, and is often the cause of people losing motivation in the gym.

Here are a few of the ways you can avoid for plateauing, or kick-start progress again. Of course, everyone is different, so it’s worth taking a long, hard look at your training plan to see why your progress isn’t what you hoped.

 

Progressive overload

Progressive overload is the technique of making your workouts harder each session. If you’re lifting weights this means instead of doing 12 reps of 50kg squats every week, you increase the weight you’re squatting by a small amount every session. Obviously this can’t continue forever, but it ensures your body doesn’t get used to the same session without growth. Workouts have to be challenging to encourage growth, and once your body adapts, they are no longer encouraging the progress you’re looking for. If you’re a runner doing intervals (just as another example), reduce rest time between intervals, or increase the speed at which you aim to do each interval. The best way to ensure constant overload is to track your workouts closely – if you’re serious about progress, record your lifts/time each session and aim to improve on this. The number of girls with notepads in the gym recording their sessions now a) makes me very happy and b) shows me that they are taking their fitness and progress very seriously.

 

Variety

For similar reasons as above, if you’re doing the same workouts day in day out, your body is going to get used to it and stop developing. After a while doing the same thing will do nothing to change your physique, and can cause burnout. Why not try cross training – incorporating other workouts into your routine – to kick-start progress again? If you’re into lifting weights, try some form of cardio (trust me, you just need to find the right one!), or join classes at your gym for new exercises. If you lift light, lift heavy (with fewer reps). If you lift heavy, try lifting lighter but more reps. Hell, try reformer pilates – if you’re used to being strong, this will definitely give you something to work on! The idea is just to mix it up. It’ll likely restart progress, stop you getting bored and reduce the chance of injury too! It’s a win win (win). Read why cross training is so important here.

 

Rest

Have you been steadily increasing the number of hours you exercise for per week in an attempt to continue your progress? When progress slows it can be tempting to eat into your rest days, chasing progress. However, this can actually harm your progress. Not giving your body enough time to rest can prevent muscle fibres from rebuilding after sessions, and cuase the sort of fatigue that’ll mean you can’t workout as hard as you could before. So instead of working out 4h a week really hard, you end up doing 7h of half-arsed work, exhausting yourself in the process. In this way, rest can improve your progress if you’re trying to kill it in the gym day in day out. In addition, the stress of working out everyday when you’re not ready for it can increase levels of the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone), causing water retention, cravings and a widening waistline. The number of rest days you should take totally depends on your body, your training style, your goals and other factors in your life (sleep/work!), but take a read of my post on rest days to try to figure it out.

 

Fuel

If you’re trying to make quick changes to your body it can be really (really) tempting to reduce your calories as low as possible. However, the lower your calories, the lower your calorie burn. This is not to say that we should all be stuffing our faces, but for some reason people often equate health to eating as few calories a day as possible, and really that can be very counterproductive. I started my fitness journey on a very unhealthy diet of between 800 and 1200 calories a day, thinking that everything I ate had to be burned off. Sure, I was fit, but my body wasn’t nearly as toned or strong as it is now. The lack of food also caused me to crash half way through workouts, meaning that I was working far less than I could have been, and burning fewer calories in the mean time. My fitness and physique didn’t progress until I doubled my calories – I now eat between 2200 and 3000 calories a day, approximately, which fuels even the heaviest of my sessions, and provides my muscles with plenty of building blocks for growth after I workout. If you’re into calorie counting, that’s fine, but if you can eat intuitively to give your body everything it needs, even better. If you listen to your body you’ll be able to tell if you’re eating enough. The chances are, a lot of you probably aren’t!

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One thing to make sure is that your goals are realistic – when you first get into exercise you tend to make much more progress than later on, especially if you were overweight or unfit to begin with. This progress can’t continue forever, and sometimes plateauing is a sign of your body getting to its ‘happy place’ in regards to muscle mass and fitness levels. Don’t be disheartened when your progress slows. If you’ve followed all the steps above, there’s a chance your body is content with where it is, and there’s not much you can do to change that (healthily). Have you experienced plateaus in training? How did you resolve it? Comment on my Instagram and have a look round here for more health and fitness tips.

This post was originally written for Xen-do martial arts

Autumn – shoot with Kudzai

The post these photos were taken for was written for Gymshark and is featured on their blog. Go and take a read for some advice on how to keep active in winter!

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Cold weather shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got the right clothes

As the days get shorter and weather less and less predictable, keeping active often seems a lot less appealing.

However in the winter, more than ever, it’s important to keep active to maintain a positive mindset and get some fresh air. Something that annoys me is this attitude that spring and summer are the only months when you should take care of your body, and the rest of the year your health just doesn’t matter.

 

To read the rest of this post head to the Gymshark blog. Or, scroll down to see more pictures.

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