Now, I like to think I’m moderately fit. Not a pro, obviously, but maintaining fitness and training regularly is up there in my top three ‘do not take this away from her’ list… I can’t imagine a life without sweat or Lycra. What’s not to love? Anyone can be a fit mama.
A friend asked me how I manage to stay active, even when these bloody children are making me want to collapse with exhaustion. “Well,” I replied. “I go to the gym or train from home and I walk everywhere.” She looked slightly dejected. “So it’s not that you have a fast metabolism or good genetics or that you’re just lucky? You actually have to work hard at it?” Hell no, to the first bit. Hell yes, to the second.
So, as a result of that conversation, and because I feel a bit gym wanker-y today, here are my top tips for maximising your time and your workouts to make them more effective. Note: I’m not trained in this. At all. So if you do heed my smarts with some of these, particularly item 3, don’t sue me if you get a carpet cleaning bill from your gym.
1. Make Time
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a mum, like me. Which means you have no time, EVER. A spare five minutes is either spent quickly hoovering up some sort of mealtime carnage, or forcing a brimming laundry basket towards a washing machine, or frantically chopping up some sort of greenery for dinner. With exercise, you really do have to force that window of opportunity and make it habitual.
I go to the gym two evenings a week, as well as weekends. In the evenings, I’ll breastfeed the youngest to sleep and finally get my trainers on at about 7.45pm. Often, I don’t get home until gone 10pm, when my husband is dozing on the sofa and all the good programmes have finished. That’s it, that’s my evening. It’s not so bad now the evenings are slowly getting lighter, but when we were ball deep in winter it wasn’t much fun. A few weeks ago, I crashed through the front door at 10.20pm, a sweaty, sticky, hungry mess. “Why am I doing this?” I asked my husband. “Because it’s only two evenings a week and you don’t have to do it tomorrow?” came the reply. He’s right. Factor in some rest days and you’ll be surprised how far you can push your energy levels on training days.
I’m a massive fan of the gym because it gets me out of the house and I’m a runner, so I use the journey as running training too. But in addition I use free workout videos from YouTube, and a subscription service that streams live classes. I also do the 30 Day Shred workouts by Jillian Michaels most days, which is a great example of a system that allows you to alter the intensity and resistance depending on how you’re feeling.
Especially now that it’s getting a bit warmer, do not scrimp on the fluids. Water, electrolytes, whatever – fluid is very important when you’re sweating like a racehorse. One to two hours before your workout, drink a litre of water. 15 minutes before you begin, drink another half litre. During an hour long workout, I try and drink at least another litre. It sounds like a lot, because it is a lot, but getting dehydrated during your workout can reduce your performance by as much as 25% and make your brain all bleurgh.
Dehydration can also lead to muscle cramping and delayed tissue recovery after injury, so just get guzzling. You’ll be used to a weak bladder anyway so add in a few more loo trips to accommodate the extra sloshing and you’ll be fine.
3. Embrace Vomit
Not literally. But in every workout, at some point, I like to go at it so hard that I think I might be sick. Which doesn’t sound like very enticing, admittedly. But our bodies respond to stress and that’s when changes start to happen. Tabata training is particularly brilliant for this hardcore style, and any personal trainer or instructor will tell you that it’s SUPPOSED to feel horrible. That, for a few seconds, you really want to be feeling bloody awful, and that’s the whole point.
A typical Tabata routine might be 20 seconds of all out exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeating this for 8 rounds. It’s a form of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which I’ve banged on about before. It’s so effective because you immediately elevate your heart rate to into a fat burning state, and your body is forced to work incredibly hard to keep up. Meaning, you work out harder for less time and still see results. My god, you will SWEAT. But you’ll also feel it the next day, which I genuinely get a kick out of.
4. Change Matters
Our bodies are brilliant, but they’re also inherently clever at second guessing us and taking lazy routes if we let them. Have you ever noticed how having a break from your fitness regime seems to turn your body into sluggish slop when you pick it back up again? We need to be constantly challenging ourselves, and moving the goalposts. As soon as our bodies adapt to a repeated workout style, it starts to become less effective each time. Think about it – if you run the same route for 30 minutes then do 60 crunches and 30 press-ups at home, your body learns to expect that. It doesn’t work as hard, because the same muscle groups are being used each time. It takes shortcuts. You increase your base muscle strength, yes, but you’re not going to add anything more over time or tap into the lesser used muscles.
Mix it up. Try out a new class, or run the same route but in reverse so that your body has to cope with changes in camber and pace. When using free weights or machines, swap one of your sets for a burnout round by altering the exercise, or increasing resistance by adding more weight. Is there an exercise that you always skip from your workout DVD because you’ve got it into your head that it’s a bit hard? Do it anyway. It’s supposed to be hard. Hard is good…!
5. Take Photos
I don’t have scales in my house, so I tend to assess my weight based on how my clothes feel and how I look. Once a month, I strip to my underwear and take a photo of myself in my full length mirror, in the same stance. I can use these to track back over the last few months and see subtle little changes to my overall tone and podge levels. Obviously the time of day and weather has an effect on lighting, and if I’ve eaten then I’ll probably look a bit “fuller”, but generally it’s a good little benchmark. It’s sometimes reassuring, and sometimes an amber light that I need to switch something up, but I find it helps me to stay relatively on course.
I do take the odd gym wanker selfie in the gym toilets too, which I may or may not post on Instagram for extra motivation.
Off you go then, there’s a gym wanker in all of us! You’re welcome.
-SJW April 2017