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?

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(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.

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(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!

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

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’.

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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…

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

 

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.

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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.

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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:

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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