It's one of life's eternal questions: whether it's sparked by booking a holiday, planning a wedding, or even setting a New Year's goal: 'How can I get fit fast... when I just CBA?' Or rather, what's the best way to get fit when you've got no time, motivation or energy to spare?
Despite us all knowing how good exercise is for us, when it comes down to actually doing it, it’s a whole different story. Some of us are still mentally hiding in the toilets trying to avoid PE lessons and there are always a plethora of excuses at the ready: it’s too cold to run outside, too hot to run outside, too windy to run outside. Plus, if you’ve just worked a long day and are juggling other commitments, the last thing you want to do is put some leggings on and break a sweat.
However, much like a smear test, exercise is a necessary discomfort if we want to keep ourselves healthy, and everyone has to start somewhere.
When you're just starting off your pursuit to getting fit, your stamina doesn't tend to be tip top. It takes some getting there.
So, we caught up with personal trainer and founder of Ladies Who Crunch, Nancy Best, as well as Olly Banks, personal trainer at Fitness First on how even the laziest of girls can get fit from square one.
Why do we struggle with motivation to exercise?
We’ve got our cute two piece on, we’ve tied the laces on our running shoes, we’ve filled up our bottle of water – so why are we back sat on the sofa, staring into space and not in the gym?
Best points towards the diet culture ingrained into society, as well as the pressure to ‘go hard or go home’ when starting a new regime.
“We’ve seen slogans such as ‘sweat is your fat crying’, ‘no pain no gain’, which adds to societal expectations of what exercise needs to be. It can be pretty off-putting, especially if you’re someone who’s gotten out of your rhythm with exercise,” she explains.
“There isn’t enough of a conversation about exercise being a gentle process. It doesn’t have to be extreme from day one.
“Lots of gyms offer intense 12 week plans, which may be motivating for some, but a lot of us need more of a softer approach. A lot of the time, a more methodical, less extreme approach is a lot more effective.”
Banks says the best way to get cracking if you're uncertain is to start looking at short-term benefits.
“The problem with long-term goals is that they can seem quite distant when you’re first starting out, which can hinder your motivation,” he explains. “And, when your goals are that far away, you’re less likely to hold yourself accountable.
“Setting short-term goals can act as a stepping stone to help you reach your target. Whether it’s something simple like turning up to a set amount of workouts in a week or just staying consistent with your nutrition, short-term goals help make positive steps towards the bigger picture.”
Is a 20-minute workout enough?
Something that might be holding you back from getting started on your fitness journey is dedicating large chunks of time to getting your sweat on. We read of huge, complicated exercise routines made up of burpees, sprints and crunches and it’s enough to make anyone want to give up and order a pizza.
However, Best asserts that long days down the gym aren’t necessary, particularly if you’re looking to build a new routine.
“Going from nothing to signing up to hour long classes can be overwhelming, and people can struggle to keep up with that pace and just burn out,” she says.
“To start with, committing to regular 20 minutes sessions is a brilliant first step and will help you find some sort of consistent routine.”
It doesn’t have to be 20 minute HIIT sesh either, especially when you’re getting started.
“It can be a quick yoga class or pilates class on your laptop at home,” Best continues. “It could even be a walk down the high street to get a coffee and back.
“Once you start doing those regular 20 minutes and handling them okay, those longer exercise classes won’t seem so daunting.”
What are the best exercises for beginners?
There’s plenty of fitness regimes out there to flirt with – to the point it might even feel overwhelming just picking one to start with.
But many of us may be overlooking one of the simplest, but most important, factors of exercise – walking.
“Walking is huge,” Best says. “It’s such a powerful way to get away from your screens, getting you out and about in nature, getting you moving. There’s a lot of research in just how impactful your steps are for your longer health just as much as doing intense exercise. Do not underestimate the power of steps.”
If you’re not into doing heavy weights or getting particularly sweaty, Best suggests simple yoga or pilates classes that can be done by following YouTube tutorials at home.
“It’s something that can be calm and help mindfulness, especially if you’re conscious about doing this in public.
“There’s brilliant resources online as well, just as long as they’re from a qualified professional – check their credentials and make sure it’s safe, robust advice.”
Banks suggests some easy exercises for people to try if they want to go a little further: squats and lunges are great to engage your lower body, while push-ups are great to work out the upper body. Bicep curls work for the arms, and bent over rows with dumbbells will help your posture. Planks will help stabilise your core. If you're unsure of what these exercises should look like, or you want to check your form, be sure to speak to a personal trainer.
How can you make your fitness routine a habit?
Right. You’ve picked the regime, you’ve done some burpees and you’re now treating yourself to a celebratory lie down on the sofa. It’s fine for a one off – but how can we ensure we stick to it for more than about two weeks?
According to Best, it’s about being strict with assigning when you do exercise, aiming for a little and often approach.
“Regular exercise doesn’t happen by accident,” Best says. “Assign yourself training days and stick to them.
“Create a formality around it when you’re planning your social calendar. Eventually, it can become baked in and you stick to it.”
Banks adds that it's easy to be too ambitious when you start out. Instead, he wants beginners to take a step back and consider what amount of exercise is realistic.
“If your goal doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle and responsibilities, you can quickly find yourself feeling burnt out and putting your workouts on the back burner — one missed session can lead to another, and another and another,” he explains. “A common approach is to set an attainable fitness goal, something that you can work towards that can keep you motivated.”
Teaming up with pals is another great way to ensure you keep exercising, as you can hold each other accountable.
“Even if it’s something small, like going on a walk with a friend,” Best says. “It can stop exercising from being so isolating and relentless.”
We don’t have to think purely about when we can cram classes in either – a more holistic approach to our health with keep us inspired.
“Making sure we’re not tired by getting enough sleep, making healthier choices when it comes to food, cutting back on alcohol consumption – all these small decisions can ladder up to consistency and help you build a habit,” Best says.
Banks agrees it's also important to celebrate your small wins.
“We’re our own biggest critics and are quick to put ourselves down if we don’t reach the goals that we’ve set,” he explains. “It’s inevitable that you’ll slip up during your journey, whether you miss a workout or fall off your meal plan, but this is normal and isn’t the end of the world!
“If you set a short-term goal and stick to it, acknowledge and celebrate this just as much as you would acknowledge when you’ve slipped up. We often forget that we need to reward ourselves when we reach a goal instead of just setting another one straight away and forgetting that success.”
What are sociable ways to exercise?
Best encourages us lazy girls to look into our interests and pick classes that best resemble them. Love a Saturday night boogie to Beyonce in the club? Try a diva-themed dance class.
Prefer a more mindful approach and some quiet time? Consider a small early morning, or late night, yoga class.
“Focus on what brings you joy, and start seeing exercise in terms of movement, rather than aesthetics,” Best says. “People go on autopilot and think they must do legs bums and tums or aesthetic labelled classes. Don’t think about exercise in those terms.”
“Think of it as connecting with like-minded people who will share their passions – and then guess what? You’re more likely to stay going and enjoy yourself.”
What are the benefits to staying fit?
It seems like an obvious question, but reminding yourself (or learning more about the answer(s) can be a huge motivator). Keeping yourself physically active helps improve brain health, reduces the risk of disease, strengthens your bones and muscles and improves your ability to do everyday activities – among numerous other health benefits.
However, Best is keen to stress how regular exercise can improve your mental health too.
“Exercise releases feel good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin,” she explains, “You can really help manage your mental health by having some sort of regular exercise routine.
“It’s also vital that in the long-term, you can build a body that keeps supporting you throughout later chapters of your life.
“You feel like that later chapter of life is a million miles away, but it’s the choices you make now that means it makes such a difference when you’re older and your body starts to change. It’s vital you’ve got a good baseline of fitness in place.”
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