Break it down by Richard Wheeler

This is the sixth guest post in the fitfor15in15 series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Richard ‘Tricky’ Wheeler knows firsthand how tough the fitness road is when you’re first setting out. His practical method for achieving goals – breaking a two month period into two-week blocks – could be the kick-start you need. Take it away Tricky!

Break it down by Richard Wheeler (Personal Trainer in Sydney, Australia and lover of a good book*)

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Tricky gives the bag what for

I wasn’t always a Personal Trainer. I wasn’t always fit and healthy. I wasn’t always interested in things like health, wellbeing, longevity and looking the best I can in just a pair of underpants.

I’ve heard it said that inside every fat person there is a thin person trying to get out. Taken as a metaphor, I think this displays a lack of understanding of what causes some people to indulge in such a way that we end up fat. Taken more literally, I think it’s just downright disturbing, but let’s not dwell on that.

I’ve known happy people of all shapes and sizes. I just wasn’t one, that’s all. When I was in my teens I was depressed and anxious. It was years before I really acknowledged this, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s blindingly obvious. I drank and partied a lot, because it seemed to make me feel better. By the time I got into my twenties I had not only established a pattern of behaviour, I had come to a number of hard-to-shake conclusions about myself, and the fundamental necessity of inebriation if I was to cope with life at all. I joined a gym at one point, and sometimes went swimming. I subscribed to that popular misconception that if you exercised a bit it somehow erased your misdeeds from history.

I’m proud to say I did manage to hold down a reasonably well-paid job. I just used most of my money to eat rich food, go out to pubs and clubs, and ensure that even a quiet night at home saw me downing at least a bottle of wine to myself. As I got a little older, in spite of the odd visit to the gym, my body decided it was time to outwardly manifest some of the damage I had been doing internally. I didn’t really notice straight away, but I started to see a fat person looking back at me from the mirror more and more in spite of my best attempts at self-delusion, and I realised I had to change.

I started to consider what I ate a lot more. I started going to the gym a lot more. I gave away the cigarettes, the alcohol, the partying, and, bit by bit, I changed. Please, as you read this, understand that what I just conveyed in one sentence was a multi-year project. If you try to do all those things at once, like you see a lot of people do at new year, chances are you’ll stick to it for a few days, then you’ll snap, go on a rampage and end up in a dumpster somewhere, clutching a cake in one hand and somebody’s pet Dachshund in the other.

Getting fit is about life outside of your comfort zone. It’s frequently a determined adhesion to the comfort zone that sees people pile on weight in the first place. I like to recommend to people that they pick one thing, and devote themselves to changing it for a couple of weeks, then move on to the next thing. For example, it’s important to look first at your diet. There’s no mileage in trying to work off a body you’re unhappy with through exercise if you’re trying to fuel the activity with doughnuts and crack. I like to encourage people to break down the next two months of their lives into two-week blocks.

In the first two weeks: Rid your house of junk food, buy in things from the fresh section of your supermarket, create a schedule that will allow you to prepare food ahead of time, so you’re never making food choices whilst starving hungry (guaranteed you will pick something high fat and high sugar). Have recipes to hand for things like stir fries, which are quick and easy but still tasty. Have snack foods available that are nutritious but still interesting to you. Personally, I make a lot of dips, because they stop carrot sticks being so f’ing boring.

In the second two weeks: Go out walking. Walk for a minimum of half an hour every day, and do it at a pace that you could carry on a normal conversation, but it would be broken into weird bursts of a couple of syllables. I once took a phone call while out on just such a walk and the person on the other end thought I was pleasuring myself because of the way I was breathing. If you try to talk and you sound like a telephone masturbator, you’re going about it right. I also encourage you to try to increase your incidental exercise during this time – get off the bus a stop early, take the stairs, not the lift, park on the far side of the car park, or whatever you can think of.

In the third two weeks: Start to incorporate some simple bodyweight exercises into your daily routine. Three times a week, do three sets of pushups and three sets of squats. It can be that simple in the beginning and you will see results. To decide how many pushups you should do in each set, I recommend doing as many as you can, then taking that number and calculating 80% of it. That is the number you will shoot for in each of your three sets. For example, if you can do 10 pushups and 20 squats, you will do three sets of eight pushups, and three sets of 16 squats. Rest for a minute in between sets.

In the fourth two weeks: Begin to consider the future. Going for a walk is something I will always like, because I find it fulfilling, calming, and still a great way to stay in control of my weight. However, a life of going out walking every night because you have to, plus doing ever more pushups and squats on your living room rug might seem like an unfulfilling way to get fitter. I take your point.

I have been a Personal Trainer since 2008, and there has been one thing during that time that has constantly amazed me more than anything else I came across in the industry. People would frequently show up at the gym who had absolutely no interest in lifting weights, running on a treadmill, doing classes, or anything else. They wanted the results, so they’d gone out and joined up with only the results in mind.

Imagine that your goal is to drop a little weight and maybe put on some lean muscle (unless this actually is your goal, in which case don’t imagine it, simply reflect on it). The fastest way to do this might be to combine a weights program with some sprints on the treadmill or rower, but if you absolutely hate lifting weights and running, you’re unlikely to stick with it, no matter how much you want the results. Consider something you might actually like to do instead, like a kickboxing class, or swimming, swing dancing, volleyball or yoga. There are hundreds of different choices out there, and whilst they might not all represent the fastest path to your goals, chances are they represent a path you will actually stick to, which means that in the long run, you will be more likely to get that lean muscle and weight-drop.

Getting fit and staying fit is all about finding a process you love, and doing it for the love of doing it. One of the fittest people I have ever met has no interest in fitness activity at all – he says it bores him senseless. He is, however, passionate about surfing and rock climbing, and he does them just because he thinks they’re a lot of fun. He stays lean, fit, strong and cheerful as a result.

These days I’m pretty damn happy most of the time. I have bad days, but the good days outweigh them massively. I enjoy going to the gym, or going out running. I discovered a love of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I hope to return to very soon. I won’t be a Personal Trainer forever, there are too many in the world, but it’s been an amazing ride!

* How Tricky and I know each other is a classic story. On Facebook, there is a section for favourite books. One of mine is Allan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. In January 2008, Tricky contacted me via Facebook because it’s one of his favourites too. “… in a network of over one and a half million people, we are the only people who have it in our books list. That seems kind of wrong. Alan Sillitoe is a genius, and a sadly forgotten one.” Tricky went on to say no need to reply, he won’t contact me again, he just wanted to say it was cool that I liked the book too. Of course, I wrote back – if you love a book, you want to talk about it. Turns out we both lived in Sydney (even though he is English), both worked in television and had both worked in Camden, London, for different television companies. Too many coincidences to ignore! So we met up for a beer and have been mates ever since!

I am a spinner by Peta Yaxley

This is the third guest post in a new fitfor15in15 series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Peta Yaxley stumbled upon a community willing to share its knowledge and she now enjoys new skills which have dramatically altered her life. Take it away Peta!

I am a spinner by Peta Yaxley (school teacher in Australia and lover of music)

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Peta spinning at the Borough Markets, London, during a blizzard!

I am a spinner. I take raw fleece, preferably dark, straight from the shearer and through a process of carding and drawing and plying I make yarn. It’s such a simple, pure process and I am addicted. There are many things I love about spinning wool – the main being that the only thing that has come between me and my garment is a shearer. In a world of sweat shops and Primark, there is an ethic to my craft, along with the general ‘slow cloth’ movement, that looks to embrace the slow process of transforming raw materials into something beautiful and unique to the creator.

I left Australia in 2004 after a bad breakup and three years later found myself lonely and depressed living in London. Working in London in the hubbub of broadcasting, I revisited crocheting and then taught myself to knit under the tutelage of my dear cousin Karen, who also lived in the UK. As my love of these crafts cemented, I saw Karen spinning (and saw the cost of quality yarn) and thought I might try my hand at a wheel. It was my urban epiphany.

At the back of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (where I had spent many a trashy night in my ‘lost years’) was The Vauxhall City Farm where I met an amazing group of older women who taught me their crafts. My Saturday mornings became sacred as an escape from the churning cog of London town – I would jump on my bike, pop into the Farmers Market on the way and then with panniers full of veggies I’d cycle across town to the farm. I learnt to spin on a drop spindle, then a wheel. We spun the fleece from the farm’s sheep and alpacas and I learnt to dye from their large and comprehensive dye garden. All this whilst I bonded with women of all ages and walks of like – my love of the craft circle was born too.

The apothecary of dyeing with plants had me transfixed as I learnt about the wonders of woad and weld and madder. Reds from Brazilwood and greens from stinging nettles. Yellow from marigolds and those blues from indigo – those blues! I was transfixed and transformed by a craft centuries old – mordants and dye baths and rinses – alkaline or acid bath can alter my hue. Addicted.

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Spectacular indigo dyed wool, drying on Peta’s property

There is a meditative state that I get from spinning that calms me. I often spin listening to music or the radio and I can be at the wheel for hours; time dissipates as one hand sorts the fleece and the other releases the draw. I can spin very fine and have tried my hand at sheep, alpaca, yak, angora, cashmere and the amazing world of silk. Spinning silk is akin to working with cobweb – fine and strong and stunning.

There is a resurgence of women into knitting, crocheting and spinning. For all the twee ladies (to whom I owe a huge gratitude) there is a growing number of us into the ethics of the craft. There are guerrilla knitters, yarn bombing public monuments. Ravely.com connects millions of us across the globe as we share projects and advice and patterns. There are stitch’n’bitch groups globally, connecting women (and some men) together; Stitch London was an amazing network – some nights there would be over 80 of us making at Royal Festival Hall. Good, clean, productive fun.

I quit London and spent a year in the Middle East. I’d already joined a knitting group online and fell straight into a community of expat women who welcomed me and helped me navigate the strange land I had fallen into. Again, huge gratitude to the Doha Knitters. I spent a hot, repressive Ramadan spinning silk dyed with spices from the local souk. I later knitted a shawl that earned me first prize at the local Bangalow Agricultural Show (in northern New South Wales).

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Peta’s winning silk shawl

Back home to Australia, a land built off the sheeps’ back. The irony of living in the Northern Rivers of NSW where it is ‘too wet for sheep’ doesn’t escape me. There are loads of alpacas though – in fact there are currently eight on the macadamia farm where I live. Two spinning wheels that have crossed continents and oceans sit in my awesome tin-shed-conversion flat and I spend days outside spinning staring across the valleys. I have taken on the local agricultural shows with gusto – first prizes and highly commended for shawls and vests and skeins. I joke that I’m giving the nannas a run for their money.

These days I am never happier than when I am at home, outside in the sun, BBC6 on the radio, cat by my side and sat at my favourite Ashford spinning wheel. It is the simple things.

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Another beautiful creation – Peta’s mandala shawl

February 19: 15 minutes of fast moving

After completing a recent five-day workout challenge (please also see the previous five days of posts), it was time to give the body a bit of a break. I’ve still managed to sweat, but the home-spun, off the top of my head, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout today was just a fitfor15in15 minutes in total.

My idea was to keep moving the whole time, and do whatever came to mind, all while trying to keep a natural flow. So I ended up doing a mix of squats and lunges with punches, crunches, skipping on the spot, knee lifts, plank, fast twisting on the spot and so on, with a warm up and cool down. Thanks to all the exercises I’ve done in the past five days, it felt like I had plenty of options to choose from.

Minutes before starting, I’d finished my morning routine of meditation and stretching, so I felt quite warmed-up to begin with. My arms and butt cried out a little while doing this surprisingly quick routine and I’m now sitting at my desk with that satisfied grin of knowing I don’t have to do anything more today. *grin*

And that’s enough from me! I’m very happy to hand over to my first guest contributor, Nat Gauld, who has been a fitness instructor in Australia for more than 10 years. In the 24 years we’ve known each other, Nat has gone from a curious and enthusiastic participant to a fully accredited and passionate fitness instructor. Take it away Nat!

Getting Started by Nat Gauld

This is the first guest post in a new series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Since meeting Nat Gauld in 1991, she has gone from an enthusiastic participant to a fully accredited fitness instructor with more than 10 years teaching experience. Take it away Nat!

Getting Started by Nat Gauld (RPM, Body Balance, Body Pump and Pilates instructor and lover of chocolate)

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Nat Gauld, in full swing, teaching her Body Balance class.

The hardest part of exercise is the same as the hardest part of writing a blog. Getting started. That first word. That first step. If you have the motivation to get out of bed and put on your gym shoes, you have cleared the biggest hurdle.

Having a goal is the key – doesn’t have to be a huge one. It can be: I want to do a 5km fun run; I want to wear that dress I spent too much money on two years ago; I want to have energy to play with my kids; I want to eat Tim Tams (an Australian chocolate biscuit) or I want to feel better about myself.

I don’t follow the theory that it is best to start an exercise program with a friend or family member – then you are not only responsible for your motivation but theirs. If they don’t want to go to the gym or go for a walk, that’s a way-too-easy escape clause for you and you don’t need it. Don’t let them lead you down the easy road out and don’t take on guilt when you want to exercise and they don’t. Once you have a routine, encourage friends to join you and you’ll make friends doing group fitness anyway!!! Group exercise is proven to have lots of benefits – social, as well as physical.

Set yourself a realistic goal, especially if you are starting from scratch – 15 to 20 minutes of any cardio is a great beginning. Case in point – this blog! And most of all don’t set foot on scales – they are your enemy. Your weight can fluctuate widely due to water or food consumption, hormones or once you start turning fat into muscle. Use your clothes to judge your progress and your recovery time – as you get fitter you will feel better faster and your clothes will start to loosen.

The first six weeks are the hardest but once you are in a routine it can become a great lifetime habit. Exercise will make you feel good – I find it a great stress reliever. I exercise in the morning before work because then it is done for the day. It doesn’t matter if your plans change during the day and you need to work late or go play – the job is done.

And remember to reward yourself for your commitment! Be it a beverage or something yummy – or even buying new gym gear!!! It doesn’t matter what you wear to exercise but new gear can be a motivator and a reward. You don’t need to look the part when you start though – go for comfort when working out. Thankfully the days of lurid G-strings over Lycra leotards are long gone. I must confess to wearing them back in the Darwin days, when we worked together, but Ange was way more sensible and more the T-shirt and shorts person! Shelling out for expensive gear is not a motivator when starting off, so wait until you’re hooked!

And reward yourself with a day off when you need it – especially if you are unwell or really tired.
Exercise is actually fun and once you start you won’t want to stop.

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Nat, instructing an RPM cycling class, believes exercising should be fun … and leads by example!

February 17: Day four of the Fitness Blender Challenge

Writing every day makes it feel like time is moving quickly – or IS it just going really fast? Soon enough, we’ll be one-sixth of the way through the fitfor15in15 year. Yikes!

Right now, we’re at the six-and-a-half-week mark (sounds like a movie!) and I’m definitely feeling changes … I’m using less body moisturiser. (Joking!) We don’t own a set of scales, so I have no idea how much I weigh and don’t care! All that matters at the moment is my belt does up one hole tighter and there’s a hint of some muscle about the places; there’s a little less hail damage on the outside of my thighs and my ‘toodles’, the wobbly bits at the back of the arms, sway less in the breeze – all great incentives to keep going. Maybe when I’m feeling at my peak (December 31) I’ll post some ‘before and after’ photos. *how embarrassment*

This morning, I finally wrote my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, so have a read if you fancy. Over the past few weeks, I’ve used the KonMari Method to lighten the clothes and books load, sort out my cupboards and drawers, and it prompted me to clean my desk too. Now I just have to go through 18-months worth of papers from my German classes so the office will be clean and organised … on my side. (Ha! Just testing to see if Leo is reading this?!)

At lunchtime, I met the friend (Leonie) of a mutual friend (Kim) in Bern, which was great. It was nice to hear Leonie’s Aussie accent and talk about life in Switzerland. My neighbour lent me his car for the quick trip, in return for buying him a loaf of Basler Brot! A very fair trade.

And now, I’ve just finished day four of the “Fitness Blender 5 Day Workout Challenge to Burn Fat & Build Lean Muscle.” My arms are really feeling it! There were quite a lot of push ups, downward dogs and punching. This workout focused on kickboxing and yoga moves and was totally enjoyable – Daniel and Kelli mix up the exercises to keep it fun, even while your arms are shaking and sweat runs in your eyes. They’ve found a really good balance of exercises, and also, for me, it’s nice working out with professionals because you feel it’s going to pay dividends. (Maybe this is also a sign I should stop exercising on my own so much, because today I found myself laughing along with their couple banter and saying thanks at the end of the session :-/ … )

Tomorrow is the last day of the challenge, and they’ve promised we’re going out with a bang, so I’m going to take it a bit easier on Thursday and include a special guest post from Nat Gauld, a fitness instructor who may give you the push you need to start your fitfor15in15 challenge. Just because it’s halfway through February doesn’t mean you can’t start now!

Wishing you a wonderful day.