What I’m thinking as a trainer while I’m working with your body

My own personal trainer is a lean, mean, muscled machine, as is my boxing coach. Both are very fit and experienced competitive fighters who can look pretty intimidating. Was I nervous when I started training with them? Absolutely! I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of being trained, worrying about knowing nothing about lifting weights or throwing punches and feeling distinctly underpowered in the cardio department while they both run rings around me during padwork drills.

There’s always someone fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable out there than you, and that’s why I have my own coaches to keep me challenged and progressing and accountable; it’s why most people sign up for personal training and I also feel that every trainer should have their own coach to push them on. We all need someone else to motivate us. But we start where we start, and it’s the responsibility of a good trainer to meet the client where they are and not pass judgement. I know that when I train with my coaches, I’ll be getting valuable feedback on my skills and not on the size of my thighs.


(Training my client Helen at Powersports.)

I think worrying about being judged as weak/fat/clumsy can put people off signing up with a PT, and that’s a real shame. A good trainer isn’t the same as a shouty military  instructor who motivates through humiliation (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case be my guest and find someone who isn’t me). A skilled personal trainer is an empathetic listener, an excellent coach and flexible according to the needs of their client. If someone arrives fighting off the flu, then the tough HIIT session I planned is going to be dropped in favour of light training and a stretch-based session. Working 1:1 on fitness is about far more than writing someone a programme full of sets and reps. You can be someone’s agony aunt in times of trouble, you will be asked for a lot of advice on areas well outside of health and nutrition, so be prepared to go way beyond what you think is required if you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer!


(Working with Ella and her arthritis at Sweaty Betty Bristol – training isn’t just for the athletic elite.)

My client base is predominantly female (I have three male 1:1 clients and a handful more in my yoga and HIIT classes) and I have been very conscious about how I speak in my work about women’s bodies. There’s enough shaming going on across social media; I want everyone who comes through my door to know they are not judged. Just being in a class for the more anxious members of my client base is a big achievement, as is training in front of other people in a shared space. For many people who have not exercised for some time, are injured, experiencing personal problems, are pregnant or carrying a lot of weight, training is a matter of getting through it, and I commend my clients for their efforts. People’s lives and their motivations are often far more complicated than we can appreciate.

We talk about form and technique in my classes and 1:1s, not about being skinny. My clients literally applaud each other’s efforts and we have fostered a reputation for being one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around, of which I am very proud. I know when someone new arrives, my fitness tribe will make them feel comfortable and motivate them through the class, whatever their size, whoever they are and whatever they can do.


(With Pearl and Shirlee, left, and Meg, right, at my group classes. We’re a friendly bunch!)

And when I am watching my clients working out, what goes through my mind? To be honest, it’s very technical. I’ve been trained through my studies to look at the body in terms of balance, form and alignment so I’m absolutely focused on how you are performing a movement and nothing else. I’m looking for the best, safest form you can achieve, and then working out ways to modify something you may be struggling with or progressing an exercise if you are looking strong. I will notice your mood and your energy and how that is affecting your training, and I might ask you some questions to see how I can help if you seem a bit off. I’m looking at your static posture as well as your dynamic movement patterns to see if something needs correcting, not because it makes me feel clever but because incorrect information is being fed to your brain and central nervous system when something is out of alignment. That’s a potential injury waiting to happen and it won’t get you closer to your goals.

I pay my clients compliments on their form and give praise where it’s due. I’m honest if I think you need to work differently or you could try harder on your nutrition, because that’s my job and I would be doing you a disservice as a coach and maybe even compromise your safety if I don’t speak up or call bulls**t where necessary. Telling someone they are not ready to perform a certain exercise or why they not losing weight isn’t fun, but I will always explain what you need to do to get there over time and with practice.

Am I thinking you look fat/thin/too muscly/too anything? Nope. I really am a dispassionate observer trying to help you achieve what you told me you want to do. If I pay you a compliment, it’s because you’re working hard to get closer to where you want to be, and you deserve it. I feel that my yoga teacher training and practice makes me a more compassionate trainer, but I also feel that is an essential quality for any decent trainer working with clients putting their mental and physical wellbeing in their hands. It’s a matter of basic respect and helping someone feel better about themselves. If you’re not willing to be motivational and take joy in your client’s gains, no matter how small, then it’s not the job for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I think trainers should responsibly coach their clients, then have a look at this article I wrote for the Personal Trainer Development Centre.

If you are interested in working with me 1:1 or coming to my group classes, then visit my website – link below. We also have a fitness half day event coming up on October 14th where you can get a taste of several areas of my work: HIIT, yoga and coaching.

I’m always happy to see a new face looking for a warm welcome!


www.befitbristolfit.com My episodes show me in group training and with 1:1 clients.

Recovery: an essential aspect of a balanced training programme

So I fully expect this post to be met with howls of laughter from my friends and clients. Only last year I was commissioned to write an article on the importance of holidays to people’s health, only for everyone to pitch in along the lines of  ‘you never take time off, you big hypocrite’… Anyway, I’m starting to draft this on the eve of a full seven days off work, I’ll have you know, so I feel perfectly justified in pointing out the added value of rest and recovery as part of your training schedule. Ahem…

As much as some of my clients find getting off the sofa and into my classes a tough call, others I find hard to dissuade from exercising every day, and sometimes more than once. I’m not a fan of the ‘yoga every damn day’ thing. Everyone’s body needs at least one rest day a week, and that includes from playing pretzel.  Make it a meditation practice instead, and just give yourself a break. There’s a mental stress involved in making yourself achieve every day without respite, not to mention putting your hard earned physical gains at risk by overtraining.


(Don’t. Really. Everyone needs a day off, even yogis.)

Fundamentally, we make improvements to our bodies by putting it under controlled stress when we train. This encourages growth of lean muscle tissue as well as gains in strength, power and endurance. Cardiovascular fitness will also be improved, depending on the nature of your training; it is possible to get cardio into weight training with the use of explosive movements and short rest periods, but you need to slow down and lift heavy to build muscle.

Putting our bodies under this stress means we need to give it time to recover, which can be a day spent relaxing    away from the gym as well as planning our training to avoid exerting the same muscle group or energy system on consecutive days. For example, you wouldn’t gain anything from two leg days in a row as your muscles would be too tired to perform well on the second day, and we also don’t recommend HIIT more than two to three times a week either, as it is so intense when performed correctly. Programme to get the most out of your body. Here is my typical week:

Monday: yoga and weight training

Tuesday: boxing-style gym session with skipping, bag work, kettle bells and body weight exercise

Wednesday: maybe yoga and a walk, sometimes a 5km run

Thursday: boxing lesson and yoga if time allows

Friday: weight training

Saturday:  no training

Sunday 5km run and yoga.

For me, this is a good mix of cardio, weight training, stretching and the boxing conditioning that I love. I also teach eight hours of group yoga and fitness classes, 16 hours of 1:1 personal training and walk up to 100km a week, so I get a lot of incidental exercise in addition to what I schedule specifically for my body.

I sleep well, feel tired when I should and, until I wrecked my right tensor fascia latae while dancing  (not training!) I’d also not experienced any physical problems, so I feel okay with this balance. What I need to do more of is be ready to take a ‘deload’ week more regularly, where I decrease the intensity of training and let my body recover (roughly every six to eight weeks), as well doing more foam rolling and get regular massages. This would definitely improve my overall physical maintainance. I have a happy home life, excellent friends and a yoga and meditation practice for my mental well being. I also love what I do for a living, obviously, so I feel pretty balanced.


(Me, this week, on holiday: no sports kit and a big chocolate milkshake! Bliss…)

If you are experiencing the following, you may be overtraining and are due for a deload:

– experience regular niggling injuries

– never seem to recover completely from training

– are always tired but get poor quality sleep

– feel guilty if you take a rest day or feel that you need to ‘earn’ your food. Neither of these are healthy approaches to fitness.

To maintain balance:

– always take at least one day a week off from training. Active recovery is fine, such as walking, but skip the tough vinyasa yoga class for something more relaxing.

– vary your training and avoid the same activity or working the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

– prioritise sleep. If you are very active, you may well need an extra hour nightly and certainly not less than seven.

– eat well to fuel your recovery, including quality sources of protein and plenty of vitamin-rich vegetables. Don’t e restrictive.

– ease off the ‘I must’ attitude. A day off won’t hurt if you are genuinely needing a rest, have to work overtime or life gets in the way Frankly, if Tom Hardy asked me out for dinner, I wouldn’t give the gym a second thought before running into those tattooed arms. I digress…

Ultimately, unless you are a pro athlete being paid to look and perform in a specific way or are a serious competitor, remember to take time out and be kind to yourself. You don’t need to push so hard. Even those athletes have an off season. Training regularly still puts you in a very small percentage of the population that performs vigorous exercise routinely. Be proud of that fact in a week in which we learned that most adults over 40 aren’t getting as much as 10 minutes of brisk walking a MONTH!!

Be proud of your prowess, but also know when to stop.






How did I get here? A rundown of my fitness career history

It’s been a very flattering thing to receive requests for interviews and personal emails asking how I started my business and got into a career as a fitness professional, so I thought it might be helpful to summarise how I did it, offer an insight into my professional journey and a few pointers for those looking to follow my lead. I hope you find it interesting as it is not a conventional story, and the idea is to inspire those of you who feel (not so!) that it’s too late to start getting fit and healthy or want to start a fitness career at 40+.


Have I always been into fitness?

Definitely not! I did anything to get out of PE at school as I was really clumsy and found it all hard. I was usually the last to be picked for team games so it didn’t do much for my self-esteem and I was much stronger academically. I didn’t find out I was dyspraxic until my early 40s when I was on a course to learn how to work with students with dyslexia and dyspraxia and took the tests myself, so my clumsiness suddenly made sense.

My reintroduction to movement actually came in my early 30s when I tried learning to dance Argentine Tango and turned out to be ok at it. I danced regularly for about seven years until my interest in martial arts started to dominate. I took up lau gar kung fu at 35 and actually thought I was going to pass out from the effort in my first class, but I stuck with it and made it to my brown sash over about five years of training multiple times per week, then decided to stop and focus on yoga teacher training before I took my black. I was at an age when I wanted to nurture my body rather than have it punched and kicked!


(Left: in fallen angel pose on the cover of Cardiff Life. Right: co-teaching a yoga anatomy workshop for Yoga Alliance Professionals with Sally Parkes at the OM Yoga Show, London.)

What was my biggest motivation?

The big push to get healthy had really come when my father died very early from bowel cancer when he was barely 60 and I was just 32. It shocked me out of the unfulfilling life I was living and pushed me towards getting fit. I was still unwell with the Epstein Barr virus I had contracted a while earlier, but I knew I needed to take myself in hand physically and mentally, as well as find work doing something I really loved, rather than just existing.

That first kung fu class propelled me into the world of fitness and I have never looked back. I am still amazed that I went from not being able to walk for 20 minutes without getting tired, to sparring and doing training drills for up to three hours at a time. Even though I don’t train in martial arts any more, I’m lucky to work out of the gyms of my trainers, Team GB coaches Sean Veira and Sharon Gill, and feel very supported in my business.


(Left: winning a first place trophy at the WUMA championships with the Bristol Lau Gar team. Right: receiving my diploma in instructing unarmed combat from Kevin and Jake O’Hagan.)

How did I end up self-employed?

I intensified my studies in my spare time and dropped to four days in my university role as a lecturer on professional skills and career coach so I could start building Brainbox up to be my sole source of income. I had actually set it up in 2004 as a side interest while I was training to be a personal coach with Newcastle College but knew I wanted to take things further, setting a goal to be completely independent by January 2015.

I got my diploma in instructing unarmed combat first, which took about six months, took another year to complete my Integrative Nutrition Health Coach qualification, added on my 200 hour yoga teacher training with Sally Parkes Yoga in 2014 and thought that was enough to be going on with. I made the decision to leave my job while I was taking the yoga teacher training and became fully self-employed on September 1st 2014, a few months ahead of schedule. I felt physically sick that first day and had nighttime panic attacks for a week leading up to it, but I was determined to make it work.

How has the business evolved?

After just a few months, my clients were asking for more fitness options as well as yoga, so I began studying for my fitness instructor qualification then my level three certification in personal training, which all took about six months. It was the key to boosting the business even though it was entirely unplanned, but I’m so glad I did it as I absolutely love the work.  I even ended up with a role in the TV series Be Fit Bristol Fit as a result!

Since then, I have studied for further certifications in advanced nutrition for weight management, kettle bell instruction and online personal training, and am currently well into studying for my corrective exercise specialisation with the National Academy for Sports Medicine. As someone with a history of chronic fatigue, I never dreamed of having this kind of career but find it all completely fascinating and am fit as a fiddle these days. I basically get paid for doing what I would choose to do in my free time and get to apply my academic training to debunking fitness and nutrition myths.

How hard is it to be self-employed?

Very! And far harder than you ever think it will be. Although I had some big clients on my list when I quit my job, like Airbus and Arup, it hit me early on how hard it was going to be to build a steady client base. After four months I had to make some adjustments to stay afloat. I made the difficult decision to stop renting my own flat and moved in with a friend to cut my costs. I had to get used to living on less than half the salary I had in my university job, and the lack of financial security was really very scary. I was tracking every penny and had to think twice about everything I spent my money on.


(Left: running a workshop on confidence at Airbus. Right: promotional shot from my time as a brand ambassador for Sweaty Betty.)

While things are more steady three years later, I still work long hours, six days a week. In this industry, you work when other people don’t, so it’s early mornings, lunchtimes and weekends, which makes socialising with anyone other than fellow fitness people very challenging. When I’m not with clients or teaching classes (which is about 23-25 hours a week), there are programmes and classes to write, my online clients to deal with, social media promotion, blogging and paid writing work as well as the larger corporate workshops I run. I work with two agencies, Realise (formerly Real Healthy) and Delegated Services to offer wellness and coaching work in businesses and schools, as well as still working as a lecturer and consultant in higher education every autumn. I like the diversity of my role, but it is very heavy on client-facing work and can be physically draining as well as emotionally tiring, so I make sure I get at least an hour or two of downtime at the end of the day and one day off a week to relax.

Advice for would-be ‘fitpros’?

  • More than ten years of 1:1 coaching put me in an excellent position to coach people physically, but few trainers have that experience. You really need to like working with people and helping to solve their problems. That means being an empathetic listener. Having been ill and overweight in the past means I am sympathetic to people trying to make changes as I know how it feels to struggle.
  • A  lot of new personal training businesses fold quickly due to lack of clients. Sticking up posters or leaving cards in the gym just won’t cut it. Offer taster sessions for people to experience your style or, as I do, teach group fitness classes; the vast majority of my 1:1 clients come from my classes or by recommendation from people attending them. Get your name out there by writing for other people’s web sites and blogs or by contributing to charity and regional events. People need to meet and connect with you before they hire you, and to know that you are credible.
  • Be prepared to keep up your knowledge and keep training even after you qualify. Otherwise you won’t be competitive with those constantly updating their portfolio in new industry that sees a lot of new information constantly coming its way. If you don’t like studying and researching fitness when you’re not working, then this isn’t the industry for you. Read reputable web sites such as the Personal Trainer Development Centre to get ideas and motivation on running your business.
  • Make time for your own training and don’t let it be squeezed out by clients. It also really pays to have your own coach to motivate you and keep things fresh. I train with Tom O’Hagan, founder of Apex PT, in weight training and calisthenics, and Nathan Champ in boxing. In my own time, I run, lift, do HIIT sessions and practice yoga to maintain all round strength, endurance and flexibility. You have to set a good example to your clients and stay healthy.
  • But don’t try to be perfect! Clients relate to you more when you are human. I am totally honest about what I eat, which really isn’t perfect even though I train hard. My clients like that I look lean and fit without being shredded; they are actually turned off by that kind of look, so targeting your niche market is crucial. I’m never going to coach bikini competitors and am fine with that!

I have been very lucky to be featured in magazines and newspapers and to be on TV, but it’s down to laying a lot of ground work and working my ass off. I have done a great deal of writing to get my name out there as an expert and taken every opportunity to get more exposure, even when it’s added a lot more to my workload. I am also very true to my personal ethics, which is why I rarely promote other people’s products unless I really like them and I choose partners and clients carefully. I have turned down work with organisations I felt were not a good fit and have tried to create a unique brand with Brainbox: no fads, no fuss, just smart training from a former academic with an eye for bullsh*t.

I wish you luck if you are trying to crack the fitness industry at a more advanced age (ahem!) and hope you feel inspired to try exercise again if you have let it fall by the wayside. See you soon!



Healthy eating: the new ‘normal’

Eating a healthy diet seems to have become increasingly complicated of late. If you’re not counting macros, activating your nuts and chucking raw cacao/baobab/unicorn dust into your meals then you’re obviously not doing it right. And the big question? Do you eat ‘clean’? Because if you don’t, you’re a bad person and processed foods are the Devil.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. But given the recent slew of cookery books and blogs from a host of healthy eating gurus in their 20s (and many without any kind of legitimate nutrition qualification) you could be forgiven for thinking that your storecupboard has an inferiority complex if it isn’t stocked with maca powder, raw cacao and coconut blossom syrup. No one I know eats like that. I don’t ask my clients to eat this way. I do not eat this way to be healthy. It is completely unnecessary and beyond the weekly food budget of most people.

We seem to have ended up very far away from eating ‘normal’ food, just enough for our energy needs and optimal nutritional value, and not too much of it, to paraphrase food anthropologist Michael Pollan. We also have so many labels attached to different ways of eating: Paleo, ketogenic, ‘if it fits your macros’ and of course ‘clean eating’, a phrase from which many early embracers are now distancing themselves as it has become increasingly associated with forms of disordered eating.

Now, I don’t prep clients for bikini competitions, so you’re not going to get me wading into the debate on how many grams of protein you need per kilo of body weight for ‘gains’. There are plenty of people out there who will do that for you. I just want to remind you of some very simple guidelines for eating a balanced diet for solid nutrition and offer a few tips for fat loss, if that is something you are working towards. I don’t want you to weigh your food or be the goon who turns up to someone’s wedding feast clutching their plastic box of chicken and greens. No, really. Just don’t. Food can be a joyous social celebration, so get stuck in occasionally. For the most part, here’s what to bear in mind.

– learn how to compose a plate. Start with vegetables, 2-3 kinds to take up half the space. Add a palm-sized portion of protein (meat, fish, two eggs, tofu, beans, lentil) and a dribble of healthy fat such as olive oil. You can also cook with a small knob of butter, eat a small piece of cheese or add a few nuts. Add starchy carbs like rice or other grains only after exercise to help refuel your muscles, if you tend to over eat them. Ultimately, though, if you are trying to lose weight, you just need to consume fewer calories than you expend, and carbs can still make up some of those calories. Just choose wisely.

– three meals a day? Five? It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t eat more than your body’s energy requirements. See my previous post for the link to the Precision Nutrition calculator

– you’ll get more nutrition out of your food if you cook it from scratch. Ready meals can be high in salt and low in nutrients.  However, we’re all busy so do shortcut where you need to to. I use those packs of microwaveable rice (no, microwaves don’t kill you) and prepped meat or fish fillets with some kind of sauce. With a bag of mixed vegetables, it’s a quick and healthy dinner at the end of a long day. If you do have time, batch cook a big casserole or curry on a Sunday. Home made ready meals can’t be beaten when you’re home late and tired and only have to quickly reheat something tasty.

– Remember that the basics are healthy: eggs, chicken, fish, lentils, cheese, vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds and dairy. You don’t have to do all the fancy stuff and add loads of supplements – there is no evidence that they work. You don’t need to cut out dairy or gluten unless you have a clinical reason to. If you care about the welfare of your dairy and meat, buy organic and free range if your budget allows, or eat less of it. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein but you will need to combine them to get complete proteins; these only come from animal sources.

– if you’re worried about eating out, many restaurants post their menus online so you can have a look in advance and make the best choice based on what’s available.

– if you are starting to gain weight around your middle over 40, then you may need an honest look at what you’re eating and start creating more of a calorie deficit. Cutting back on alcohol is a good place to start if you have become a regular wine drinker of an evening. Getting more weight-bearing exercise will help maintain bone density and strength as you age, too.  Get moving and avoid being sedentary as much as you can. All the incidental exercise adds up.

So, keep it simple and feel free to ignore the complex advice and ingredient lists. Poached eggs on a slice of good quality toast with some creamed spinach, or a piece of grilled fish with a green salad is far less fuss and just as good for you as some bonkers recipe full of sea buckthorn berries and baobab powder. And there’s always room for cake. Keep it real, people, and you won’t go far wrong.





Worn and torn

I’ve had a few training-related injuries in my time. Some mashed knuckles, bruises and a partial shoulder dislocation due to kung fu. A destabilised shoulder after some really bad press ups (definitely improved since then!) and a nasty ulnar nerve problem after I hit my elbow off a wall. All on the same arm. Ouch. But, thanks to my brilliant physio, Chris, I have always been sorted out, patched up and sent on my way with a lot of rehab exercises to do.

That was all when I trained recreationally and still had a full time desk job as a university teacher and career coach. Three years ago, I gave up that job to teach yoga and retrained as a personal trainer and fitness instructor. My typical week sees me teach 14 hours of 1:1 sessions, eight hours of group fitness and yoga classes, walk approximately 100km, do a couple of 5-6km runs, weight train 2-3 times and train in boxing. That’s quite a difference, especially when you suddenly up your game at 42 years old and keep adding on over the years.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when the old bod started complaining about a month ago, but the speed at which I disintegrated gave me a scare. Had I started this new ‘healthy’ career too late? How much longer could I feasibly work with my body before I had to explore more coaching-based options?


(See above: officially broken…)

I had initially injured my right hip dancing Argentine Tango last month when someone led me into a too-vigorous gancho: one of those fabulous flying leg decorations you may have seen on Strictly. I felt something inside my leg wince, hobbled home and rested it, waiting patiently for whatever was up to recover. It didn’t. Teaching and practising yoga gradually became torture as so many poses need an external rotation of the hip,  and that was exactly what was triggering my pain. My sacroiliac joint on my right side (a source of constant pain for years which has necessitated a hot water bottle being wedged into my back every night just so I can sleep) started screaming even more loudly than usual and then my right knee suddenly balked at any weight-bearing exercise. Walking up and down stairs became something I wanted to avoid, weight training was agony and my reliably lovely yoga actually hurt. I was ready to take out shares in ibuprofen gel. The only thing I could do comfortably was box; thank goodness for small mercies.

To finish things off nicely, I demonstrated a side plank too quickly in a class and felt my right bicep tendon go ‘ping’, swiftly followed by pain in my shoulder. I booked to see my physio and was bracing myself to be told how much I would have to drop from my schedule and that I was officially old and falling to bits.

But not so! Yes, I had acute injuries in my hip and shoulder but the larger problem was not to do with age. Chris noticed that my right leg is significantly longer than my left, something that hadn’t been apparent when we had previously been focused on fixing my shoulder. It took an exercise book about half an inch thick wedged under my left foot to bring my hips and pelvis into line. It’s not something that would have been a problem if I had kept my desk job but the sudden increase in activity was exaggerating the uneven load through my joints and accelerating all the nasty biomechanical side effects. My hip had no chance of healing with everything out of whack. Oh the irony that I am now studying functional anatomy for my corrective exercise course…

So, after some excruciating massage therapy I was able to walk away (just) knowing I was on the mend and not just a worn out old bag. I am wearing a lift inside my left shoe to realign me and my muscles are all currently renegotiating and relearning my movement patterns now that everything is in its right place. My SI joint is much less painful, I took 30 seconds off my mile per minute run pace yesterday and my first weight training session after treatment found my left glutes and hamstrings finally earning their keep after years of letting the right side do all the work. While I feel like a Thunderbird puppet getting used to walking with the heel lift, everything is on the mend and I can carry on doing the job I love.

Lessons learned: I need to maintain myself with more regular massage, that’s for sure, and take more rest breaks. Oh yeah, and signing up to learn biomechanics and corrective exercise was a great idea! You learn a lot from your own injuries when it comes to working with clients, as well as having more empathy for their pain and frustration so, if I was going to get injured, learning how to understand and fix dysfunctional bodies has come at the right time!

For you guys, attention to correct alignment is essential to avoid injury, so bear with me when I’m picky with you; I don’t want you to end up seeing your own physio with a list of injuries as long as your arm. HIIT in particular can aggravate problems if you have imbalances when accelerating and decelerating in jump drills. Pay close attention to advice from your trainer and learn to listen to your body; if something hurts, pain is your body’s message to you to stop, so don’t push beyond your limits. Progressive overload is fine; sudden increased demands on yourself are not. Ask for help, get advice and stay safe. Happy training!

Ageing, menopause and my man-sized appetite

My own trainer likes to joke that, for a small woman (5 feet 2 and 126 pounds), I have the appetite of a large man. This is ridiculously accurate. I love to eat. I love food. I am not and have never been one of those people who just ‘forgets to eat’. This is a totally alien concept to me. Not having a cigarette or coffee habit to fall back on, I eat. Food is my habit. I don’t do it for comfort or out of boredom. I like to make and enjoy eating really bloody good food, and I live in anticipation of each meal. That is all.

Having a large appetite wasn’t really a problem due to the sheer volume of physical activity I manage each week: I burn between 2,300-2,700 calories a day and walk over 100km a week. I can eat a decent 2,000 calories a day and still create a deficit for weight loss. And in case you’re thinking I’m fixated on calories and weight, tracking and measuring data is one of the most effective tools available for weight loss. High fat and protein diets where you blissfully ignore your calorie consumption and eat ‘intuitively’ can end in significant weight gain if you aren’t aware that 100g of almonds contains 576 calories – which could be one third of your total daily intake for a sedentary female, for example.

However, perimenopause kicked in and things have started to get more challenging. Hormonal changes mean that I am experiencing a frustrating paradox where I am even more hungry than usual but really need to be eating a less as my body develops a propensity to lay down extra fat around my belly. I feel ravenously hungry all the time and am having to think more carefully about what to eat, how much and when, so that I don’t go completely overboard.

What works in terms of nutrition and fat loss is very individual; a Paleo diet works for your friend because it works for your friend. You may find the low carb and no dairy approach too hellish to manage, especially with homicidal mood swings to cope with, so you need to think about the best carbs for you and when the best time is to eat them. Going dairy free is also not great when we need calcium for decreasing bone density as we age.


(Yes, that’s me. I developed my love for carbs early. I’m a pro.)

While there is no one size fits all way in which to make losing weight work for you, here are some of the strategies I use myself as well as with my clients, so try some out, tweak them, and then stick to what works:

– the only thing we know for sure that works for weight loss is creating an energy deficit consistently over time. This means consuming less energy than you use. While there is not a simple and direct correlation between calories in and calories out (people metabolise food at different rates and some people will store excess calories from some food groups more readily than others) you still need to know what’s going in. I recommend the energy calculator at Precision Nutrition to help you get a more accurate picture of how much you really need to eat based on your activity levels. You may be surprised by how easy it is to over eat for your needs and trimming a couple of hundred calories daily might make all the difference.

– fill up on healthy sources of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu or pulses/beans. Protein is satiating for longer than other foods. If you start your day on toast, it’s no wonder you’re hungry soon after and crave more carbs. If I eat carbs for breakfast I will want to eat like a horse all day. Start me off with eggs and I’ll be happy for hours and manage my carb cravings.

– start by filling half of your plate with vegetables. They are filling and very nutritious for far fewer calories than bread or pasta. Veggies are a key source of dietary carbohydrates; I will poke you in the eye if you tell me you’re ‘carb-free’. You either don’t understand your food groups or you need to eat more greens before you drop dead.

– Speaking of which, please don’t ditch food groups. You need carbohydrates for energy, especially if you exercise, and carbs need to be present in the body for fat to be burned. Eat healthy, unrefined carb sources such as sweet or white potatoes, rice or oats for energy in the right portions. That’s a golf ball size portion of rice, not a plate of risotto, a small sweet potato or 50g or half a cup of oats. If you’re really struggling to lose weight, then limit your starchy carb portion to one meal a day, preferably post-exercise to restock your muscles with glycogen.

– don’t fear healthy fats like butter, olive oil, nuts or avocado, but be aware of their high calorie content. You may be making a ‘clean’, healthy smoothie but a tablespoon of trendy nut butter throw could will blow your calorie allowance for the day. However, flaxseeds are an excellent fat source and provide Omega 3 fatty acids which perimenopausal women can benefit from. Their anti inflammatory properties can relieve sore joints & dryness, as well as helping to balance mood and improve the triglyceride profile of post-menopausal women which can often be too high. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds to porridge, Bircher pots or smoothies.

– if it’s in the house it gets eaten. Leave the trigger foods at the supermarket and avoid the psychological warfare of resisting them once they make it to your kitchen.

– be aware of any bad habits that can lead to self-sabotage and make a list of strategies to avoid them. If you tend to over eat in restaurants, check out the online menu and decide what to order in advance so that you make a better choice, for example.

– if you slip up, move on. Your next meal (not tomorrow) is your chance to start again.

Need help? My personal training clients are all offered nutrition advice as well as fitness, so visit my page if you live in Bristol and want to try it out. Not local? My Badass Body Online package is just £50 a month for a weekly tailored workout you can do at home and you get your nutrition support along the way.

Good luck!



The 40+ body in the fitness business

I am, apparently, recognisable by my shoulders. This is according to the film crew at Troy TV who drove up behind me on the way to a shoot and spotted me by this rather well developed part of my anatomy. People usually recognise me by my bum but, hey, things change…

As a personal trainer, I’ve realised that people comment on my body more than they used to. I wasn’t offended by the point about my shoulders: in fact, even my clients are becoming recognisable by their unique shoulder definition! However, in an age where body comparison and paranoia  is rife thanks to social media – see my earlier post on this one – I feel even more under scrutiny being a fitness professional, especially being over 40. I guess people see the body of a trainer as a useful point of comparison for their own development, although I do occasionally get people asking how the ‘bodybuilding’ is going, with a bit of a smirk,  or men telling me that having muscles is ‘unfeminine’. I thought we were beyond all of that, but apparently not.

It’s my job to be fit and have a body that looks that way; I have to be a good advertisement for my job. Instagram is full of photos of young trainers baring their six packs, vascular thighs and bulging biceps, but are they the appropriate criteria on which to judge how well they can train a client, and not just themselves? Can they adapt their training to suit someone with far less ambitious body goals? I don’t have a six pack but am in good shape for a 45 year old. However, part of me still remains a little pressured by the fitness industry norms to get leaner so that I ‘look like a trainer’.


With the right lighting and from a good angle, I can Insta with the best of them but I have to remind myself of two things when I start all the negative comparisons: one, I’m 45 not 25, and two, being a good personal trainer is more about being a good coach than having a great body (and who decides what a great body looks like?) and that coaching is what I do best.

Personal trainers and fitness models are not the same thing, although social media may convince you otherwise. My body helps to sell my business but what keeps my clients with me is my ability to build a strong working relationship with them. My goals are not your goals. Training myself is not an indicator that I can also train you.

My job is to help you identify your fitness targets and motivate you to achieve them with my skills and knowledge base. My formerly unhealthy past of being chronically ill and a bit chubby actually helps me work more effectively with my clients, as I know how hard it is to make a change. And being older? I’ve been around the block many times so when clients need to unload about their personal life (if you’re thinking about becoming a trainer, sharpen up your counselling skills because it’s not all about reps and sets) I’m sympathetic and pretty unshockable.

I’m already planning ahead for my future career as I have a limited time frame as to how long my body will be able to work at such physical intensity. I have an appointment with my physio this week to sort out a range of aches and pains. Switching to a more coaching-led practice is one way forward, as is specialising in working with an older age group. I’ve also just started a course that will qualify me as a specialist in corrective exercise, as I want to deepen my anatomical knowledge and I enjoy the challenge of working with clients with postural issues and injuries – that would be most of you!

For now, I’m working on myself to stay healthy and fit so that I can enjoy my job, and to make progress with my own strength goals. We have to look inside and focus on what we want to achieve for ourselves, not to fit other people’s conceptions of how our bodies should look. So for anyone who has been called unfeminine, too muscly, too skinny, too big or too much of anything – screw ’em. Do the best for you, right now, to get yourself one step closer to whatever you are trying to achieve: a pull up, a Parkrun, a walk around the block without getting out of breath. And, if you need a motivational trainer with a sympathetic ear who’s already been there, you know where to come…




Hot, tired and homicidal: the perimenopause years

It started with the night sweats. Sudden and total soakings leaving me with claggy clothes and wet hair, not to mention feeling completely knackered when trying to get up a few hours later to see early morning personal training clients. Then came the mood swings, again sudden and extreme. I was a placid yoga teacher one minute then a swearing maniac the next, threatening serious harm to my piece of s**t laptop.


But did you know that the onset of perimenopause, the years leading up to full menopause and cessation of menstruation, can also bring on panic attacks, heart palpitations, violent nightmares & severe sleep disturbance, as well as memory loss? I thought I was descending back into the horror of my twenty-something depression, becoming obsessive over sleep, feeling angry at the world and increasingly wanting to ditch my healthy diet for alcohol and all the yummy refined carbs I could get my sweaty little hands on. But no. A visit to the GP confirmed that this litany of symptoms was all within the realms of normal for perimenopause, if a little early. I was offered anti-depressants and declined (I am not going back down that path) but accepted a Pill with a higher dose of oestrogen, which seems to have balanced things out in the short term and made me feel more human.

It’s a funny state of affairs. I look and feel far too young to accept that I’m entering this phase in my adult life and yet, as someone who never felt the urge to have kids, it’s a bit of a relief that I can let that side of things slide. And yes, I do actually feel like a human being achieving their full potential without becoming a parent, so please don’t bother with any patronising comments on this. I will delete you or maim you, depending on my hormones. Some of us just don’t want to be a mum.

My main concern was how these changes would affect my work and my love of training. Having done weight bearing exercise for ten years, my bones should have pretty good density to take me forward. I get calcium because I love cheese and yogurt, and I get plenty of protein for the collagen matrix that keeps bones bendy from meat, fish and eggs. I eat a mainly healthy and balanced diet based on fresh produce, minimal alcohol and a few treats to keep me sane.

The main challenge has been my body’s traitorous encouragement to lay down extra fat stores all of a sudden. While what I need to do is create a bit more of a calorie deficit to keep things under control (extra body fat, especially around the belly, is not healthy, and no one hires a trainer who looks like they might need one themselves) my body is constantly asking me to eat, especially the kind of carbs I know I should limit, so I’m fighting a constant battle of wills. My strategy, as it is for so many of my clients who need to watch their calorie intake, is to plan and prep and carry food with me. I now spend more of my time between clients sitting at the gym instead of in one of Bristol’s many fab cafes where there are far too many sweet temptations. Saves me a bundle of cash each week, too.

So, if you’re in this with me, a few tips:

– make time for self-care. Meditation and yoga stops me killing people. Long hot baths are also one of the most calming things I can do for myself.

– I don’t demonise sugar, but cutting back can reduce the blood sugar fluctuations that aggravate hormonal symptoms.

– establish sleep rituals to help you nod off. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Read something calming instead of trawling through Netflix, realise that it’s midnight and panic that you’re not asleep already.

– eat well. That means meals made from real ingredients most of the time. Make your plates up of healthy fats, lots of veggies and lean proteins. Don’t cut out carbs but eat small portions of unrefined grains to fuel your exercise and avoid cravings for toast and doughnuts.

– Move! Exercise is one of the best anti-depressants out there as well as helping to offset the belly fat, so find something you like and keep at it.

Need help? Get in touch with me at http://www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk and I’ll do my best not to swear at you/sweat on you/smash your laptop. I’m a total professional, right?

The dangers of comparison & how to love where you’re at right now

When I flick through social media feeds like Instagram, something that brings me up short a lot of the time is how young a lot of fitness and diet gurus are these days. I know – patronising, much? Not at all. I’m not out to denigrate young people – they can’t help being in their 20s as much as I can help being middle aged, apparently – but it’s easy to forget that even as a personal trainer I’m not going to look like the youthful Clean Eating Alice or Madeleine Shaw, lovely as they are, so comparing my abs to theirs is really a pointless exercise, especially if it makes me feel dissatisfied with my body.  By the time you’re over 40, your hormones not only encourage your body to lay down abdominal fat but they also increase your appetite to make weight control even harder. Bastards.

Comparing ourselves to what we see on social media is endemic and also useless. We all know very well that what we post is the result of many attempts at getting the perfect angle on a selfie (I have a short body and long legs so I angle carefully rather than go straight on and look like a dumpy midget in yoga pants) and, while I may feel 25 in my head, there’s no getting away from the fact that the bod is genuinely 45. Like most women my age, I am far from cellulite free, have surgery scars, visible veins… I could go on. And it gets really hard to keep things in perspective if you spend as much time on social media as I have to while promoting my business. Because I have such a young face, I’m convinced people will think I’ve let myself go rather than than realise I’m doing bloody well for 45!

The thing is, though, I wouldn’t go back to my 20s if you paid me. I was focused on my burgeoning academic career, ate crap, hardly moved except to get more food or to walk to the pub because I was sat on my ass writing my PhD, suffered from depression, was stressed to all hell with frequent anxiety attacks and had all the energy of a sloth. I was about a size 12-14, far too big for my small frame and looked pretty dead behind the eyes.


When I look at this photo (taken when I was around 28) all I remember is how unhappy I was with pretty much everything in my life at that time. I lacked any self-confidence and had zero drive to change. I wouldn’t mind the thicker hair back, but that’s about it!

So while I might admire the bodies of the twenty-something Insta-pundits, I am happy to wear the literal and figurative scars of the 40+ fittie because I have the confidence, spirit and independence that only comes with age. Older women are still so undervalued in our culture that no one really shouts about how ageing might make staying fit that much more of a challenge but that it absolutely equips you not to give a f**k. I have become much better over the years at saying ‘no’, challenging unfairness and inequality, and simply going my own sweet way.

This photo was only taken a few weeks ago but I love the energy and sass I have in my life right now:


And do you know what else I like about my age? That it makes me better at my job. Whatever coaching work I’m doing, whether it’s fitness, nutrition or helping someone making a career change, I can empathise better with my clients because I’ve been there. I’m not a young trainer who has always been lean, fit and untroubled by major life challenges.

So, if you’re browsing online and feeling like you’re over the hill and in a slow decline, stop it! You can only appreciate where you are now when you stop and look back at how far you’ve come.  This is why I look at old chubster photos when I’m being picky about my abs/legs/whatever and am hugely grateful that I made a change, got my life together and am old enough to appreciate what I learned from the process.

Fittie Over 40: the sometimes relevant ramblings of a middle-aged personal trainer

I thought it was time to offer a few musings about my own life as a fitness instructor, yoga teacher and personal trainer at the grand age of 45, given that I have plenty of clients over 40 these days who seem to enjoy my social media posts and look to me for fad free, no frills advice on healthy living.

I want to share the truth behind being a middle aged female working in the fitness industry, dealing with all the physical and hormonal delights that come with ageing. And yes, that means talking about menopause, ‘cos it sure isn’t going anywhere and is a natural phase of life that all us female badasses have to learn to negotiate.

So stand by for some fairly honest observations about trying to stay fit as a middle aged training professional when you’re hormonal and knackered and yet still needing to perform and set a good example to everyone else. Because in the face of green juice, I’ll always take a chocolate milkshake instead, and *no one* will replace my love for Dairy Milk with raw cacao.

If you’ve had enough of quick fixes, eating clean and trying to reach unattainable standards of six packs and svelteness, you’re in the right place. I’ll be sharing my own struggles to keep myself on track while offering some sound advice on how to succeed for yourself. Until then, where’s my next client?

Find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk and on the telly box with www.befitbristolfit.com