Jürg Widmer Probst - evolution of home fitness

Looking at the evolution of home fitness from the 19th century to the time of COVID-19

Home fitness has never been more popular than in the time of COVID-19. This is largely due to lockdown changing people’s fitness regimes and moving them inside. The closure of gyms and sporting facilities in the UK means we’re all looking for an alternative.

For example, during the first lockdown in March 2020, celebrity trainer Joe Wicks became a focus for schoolchildren and families with his online daily PE lessons. Meanwhile, hardcore gym goers are finding apps, home equipment and alternatives to their usual regime.

The evolution of home fitness starts in Victorian times

From the explosion of aerobics in the 80s to fitness VHS tapes and DVDs in the 90s and 2000s, the cult of home fitness has always been with us. Depending on your age, your first memory of home fitness may have been something like the Jane Fonda workout, or the Green Goddess on breakfast TV.

Or, for younger people, it could be Davina McCall’s fitness empire or the rowing machine your parents bought for the home. So, while home fitness has taken on a new importance during COVID-19, it has been around for a long time. Here’s a quick look through its evolution over the years.

Exercise in various forms has always been part of human life. Yoga, for example, has been around for thousands of years. But ‘fitness’ in the way we think of it today is a much more recent concept. An early example of this can be seen in this Victorian fitness manual, which was printed in 1861. The concept of a daily exercise regime originated with an orthopedic machinist called Gustav Ernst. He essentially invented the home gym using his equipment.

People, of course, walked a lot more back then and gyms as we know them simply didn’t exist. Not long after World War 2, technological innovation boosted the idea of home fitness.

TV and advertising created the home fitness industry  

In the US, the trend was for new tech and homes equipped with all mod cons. People had more leisure time and the obsession with staying healthy and fit began. Because women usually didn’t work, it was natural that home fitness was initially aimed at them through TV shows. There was also pressure from the fitness industry to maintain a slim figure. Jack LaLanne  was the first presenter on an exercise TV show aimed at housewives in 1951. Advertising quickly followed and it became more mainstream.

All kinds of equipment were quickly on the market, from ‘sauna suits’ to vibrating belts – all sold as weight loss and fitness aids. In 1958, the hula hoop was launched as a fitness device and within six months more than 100 million units were sold. Over the next 20 or so years, personal fitness trends turned towards running and jogging.

Along with this trend, gyms began to open all over the place. Just as this became the norm, fitness changed again due to technology. VHS workout tapes became popular, kickstarted by the likes of Jane Fonda in 1982. By 1992, her first tape sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. This was the start of on-demand fitness in the home environment.

Following celebrity fitness regimes on video, DVD and online

Hundreds of celebrities jumped on this trend, with Mr Motivator becoming mainstream in the UK, while supermodels like Cindy Crawford released their ‘fitness secrets’ to convince women they could look the same by exercising at home. The home gym was next with increasingly expensive machines ranging from rowing machines to treadmills, bikes and ellipticals entering people’s homes.

All of this meant people were taking home fitness much more seriously, and by the time the Internet became popular, it moved online. Fitness influencers on every social media platform you can think of sell their form of home fitness, often including products, diets and supplements as well as physical exercise. This has transformed into what we now call the wellness industry.

Exercise is now inextricably linked with self-help, beauty, self-worth and bettering ourselves. This inevitably led to much more complex home exercise offerings that include everything from yoga to mindfulness in addition to luxury gym chains with swimming pools and creches.

Home fitness trends for COVID-hit households

Finally we get to the age of COVID-19. Gyms are, for the most part, closed and outdoor exercise restricted. As soon as the first lockdown was instigated Zoom and YouTube became ubiquitous. People are ordering more home exercise equipment thane ever before. For example, sales of fitness equipment in the US between January and March 2020 increased by more than 55%.

Online classes are now live, with instructors across every kind of exercise regime offering regular sessions. If you don’t fancy that, then there are endless fitness apps offering the same. And while many of these classes need basic equipment, there are plenty of home exercise lessons that don’t.

Whether home fitness is booming right now solely because of lockdown remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that people won’t flood back to the gym just as soon as they can, as these are now much more than places to exercise. Gym culture means that these facilities are social connections and offer a community. People are missing social contact and will want to recapture the human connections gyms and outdoor organised exercise offers.

Jürg Widmer Probst - fitness influencers

Be careful how you choose fitness influencers to use as inspiration

Millions of people turn to online fitness influencers to help them get on track with diet and exercise. But on every platform, from Instagram to TikTok, there are many different kinds of fitness influencers.

For every knowledgeable fitness trainer or accomplished athlete, there is someone trying to sell a product. Not every fitness influencer is a professional worth listening to, so for anyone routinely checking out Instagram or YouTube for health and fitness advice, here are a few tips.

How do you find the best fitness influencers online?

The first thing you should look at is whether they are obviously trying to sell a specific range of products. While fitness influencers will rarely spell out that if people buy their product, they will automatically become fit and slim, it is usually heavily implied.

Any fitness expert worth listening to will have been practicing a healthy lifestyle long before they started to be an online influencer. And no-one with a very obviously toned or muscle-bound physique achieved it through buying a product. Fitness and health take discipline, hard work and dedication.

So, while it’s tempting to take a fitness influencer’s impressively lean body on face value and hope that you can get the same by buying their diet shake, deep down you know this isn’t true.

Some fitness experts online are anything but

Just as being bombarded with pictures of someone with the perfect lean physique can leave you hoping for a miracle, the same applies with fitness influencers who show off big muscle gains.

It is worth remembering that steroid use is common among competitive athletes in certain sports. And of course, there are many fitness influencers who are not bound by competition rules as they aren’t competing at all. They can achieve muscles in any way they want and present something else as the truth online.

Perhaps the best advice would be: ‘don’t believe everything you see’. Fitness influencers have a strong vested interest in appearing to show subscribers and fans a beautiful, perfect body. Their next aim is to convince people that they too can look like this if they just sign up for this expensive exercise regime and protein shake.

Photoshop also comes into play here. These days, photo editing is so accessible and easy to do that pretty much everyone has some kind of filter on their pictures. And for those making money from fitness accounts, the added impetus on appearing perfect is clear. Many fitness influencers routinely use FaceTune, Photoshop or any other software to make themselves look leaner, more built or curvier, depending on what they’re selling.

How to choose a worthwhile fitness influencer

 Given the pitfalls of online fitness influencers outlined above, here are some tips to help you choose one that’s worth following. Finding a fitness influencer or expert to follow is a useful way of keeping motivation levels up and can help you reach your goal.

  1. Are they accredited by any official body?

Look beyond their pictures to find out whether they are actually an accredited trainer or nutritionist. Steer away from anyone clearly selling any kind of multi-level marketing (MLM) product and look instead for fitness influencers who are backed with some kind of certification.

Not every professional fitness instructor will come with formal credentials, but you should easily be able to find evidence of past clients or success stories. Google the name of the influencer and find out about their background and experience before you decide to follow their advice.

  1. Are they a nutritionist?

Most fitness influencers include diet in their advice and instruction. Exercise and nutrition are not the same, and they require different levels of expertise. Don’t just follow an influencer who purports to have the answers without finding out whether they are a registered dietician first.

Remember that anyone can say they’re a nutritionist as in many countries there is no legal definition of the term. However, registered dieticians have provable expertise, years of training and something useful to say.

  1. Is their message consistent?

Beware of any influencer who chops and changes their fitness and nutrition advice. If they constantly offer different products or all of their posts are sponsored, then skip them. Like most aspects of health and fitness, there is no easy answer but there is a simple one.

If you want to lose weight you must eat less. If you want to increase muscle, you need to lift weights. If you want to become an athlete or seriously improve your fitness, you must stick at it. This kind of consistent advice and instruction is what you need to make true changes to your health and fitness.

Worthwhile fitness influencers on Instagram or any other platform aren’t afraid to push this message of consistency. They will include it in their instruction, rather than offering a product that promises to be the answer. Look for those who share success stories with before and after pictures, or proof of how they improved over the years.

 

Jürg Widmer Probst - lifestyle overhaul

Reset, recharge, regenerate – how to manage a complete lifestyle overhaul

This year has been profoundly stressful for most of us. Dealing with the existential threat of a global pandemic while also keeping our jobs, children, schooling and health on track has taken its toll.

Whether you’re still in lockdown or not, it could be worth taking some time to consider a lifestyle overhaul.

Do you need a lifestyle overhaul?

Particularly relevant for people who are suffering from panic attacks or anxiety, whether due to COVID-19 or not, a total reset could be the best thing you ever do. It takes commitment and drive, but the results could change your life.

And while you could go the whole way, ditch your job and material possessions and move countries, this is obviously not practical for most people. We all have responsibilities that are impossible to abandon. Furthermore, most of us don’t want to restart everything from scratch.

Having said that, having a clear out and getting rid of excess possession is a great way to start your lifestyle overhaul. It’s something that everyone can do, and always has a positively cathartic effect on your mindset. Clearing physical space and creating calm surroundings will positively impact on your mental health too. It will create emotional and physical space, which is a great starting point to change your lifestyle.

How happy are you in these areas of your life?

There is no single formula for rebooting your life, but below you’ll find ideas that could help you change your life in a way that will make you feel calmer, more in control and happier.

Think of this list as starting points across different spheres of your life. Of course, you may find that you’re happy with some of these spheres, and only want to change specifics. Or you may feel the need to change pretty much everything. It’s up to you.

  1. Are you happy in your job?

Your career is a huge part of your life, whether you want it to be or not. If you love your job, then this contentment is likely to cross into all parts of your life. And if hate it, the same happens. If you are fulfilled in your career then you will be happier in every way.

Not only does it mean your daily life is happier on a personal basis, but you will be a better partner, friend, colleague and parent. You will be emotionally present and communicate in more meaningful ways. It’s automatically easier to look after people and contribute to your family or friend group. In short, it permeates everything. And this is true if you hate your job. This will end up with you feeling exhausted, out of kilter with your friends and family, disconnected, depressed and generally down. Chances are this will affect your home life, and everything will be more difficult.

It is possible to have a fulfilling career that fulfils you emotionally. It may not be easy to attain, but you are allowed to follow the career path that you really want to do. If you are unhappy with your work, consider whether you can retrain, change path or alter your role to make better use of your talents and natural gifts. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, look to your career first. And change it if you need to.

  1. Are you happy with your friends?

Another piece of the puzzle of your emotional happiness and mental health is who you spend time with. While you can’t necessarily choose your colleagues or boss, you can choose who you surround yourself with.

If you’re a social butterfly but have few deep connections, it could be time to review your social circle and make some changes. Conversely, if you spend too much time alone, you may need to widen your friendships. Either way, choose carefully and look at who you spend time with. Do they lift you up or bring you down? Do they have personality traits you admire and want to emulate?

You always have a choice over who you surround yourself with. It’s better to take time out of the social scene and spend time by yourself than continue to surround yourself with people who make you unhappy. Search for truly meaningful connections, set boundaries and be the caring, attentive friend you want to have.

  1. Are you happy with your partner?

If you have a gut feeling you’re not in the happiest relationship, then it’s time to listen to it. All healthy relationships involve intimacy, of course, and you may be happily single. But if you are in a partnership, whether that’s a spouse, lover, close friend or any other, and it’s not bringing you joy it could be time to move on.

Being in an unaligned intimate relationship is draining. It takes away from your emotional and mental resources and affects your whole life. If you don’t feel supported, seen, nurtured and loved and your gut is warning you that you’re in the wrong partnership, think hard about making a drastic change.

  1. Are you happy with your health?

Every one of these life spheres affects your physical and mental health in some way. But your diet, exercise and general lifestyle may also need an overhaul. If you drink too much caffeine, eat too much refined sugar, take drugs, drink too much alcohol, sleep badly and don’t exercise, you’re going to feel pretty bad.

This gets worse the older you get, and you could very well end up with low energy, depression and anxiety, all curable by changing your diet. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise can improve your life in every way. Drink more water, cut down on caffeine and alcohol, ditch cigarettes and recreational drugs and eat more nutritionally balanced food.

Stay offline for as long as possible every day and resist the temptation to stare at screens in your spare time. Take the time to rest, to read, to just be. Try meditation and mindfulness, and make your bed your favourite, peaceful place to be.

Jürg Widmer Probst - health and wellbeing gadgets 1

5 health and wellbeing gadgets you should try right now

I’ve recently written about some of the best fitness apps available, but in this blog I want to include some more general health and wellbeing gadgets. The best of these are ideal to help people monitor progress, keep on top of their fitness and begin to follow healthy habits.

The most useful aspect of these gadgets is that they keep you accountable. When you set a goal – whatever that is – tracking progress in a way that shows you exactly how far you’ve come is incredibly motivational.

From scales to forks – the best health and wellbeing gadgets on the market

Wellbeing apps and gadgets aren’t just about tracking steps or miles, they can also help you to measure all kinds of other goals.

  1. Smart toothbrushes

The market for electric toothbrushes is huge, with millions of people switching away from manual brushing. But technological advancements mean that the innovation in this sector never stops.

Smart toothbrushes are connected to an app and can give you all kinds of data about your brushing technique. It can help you correct errors, ensure that you don’t miss parts of your mouth and much more. For example, Colgate has designed a smart toothbrush that can penetrate the toothpaste to track any plaque build-ups in the mouth. It glows with a white light when teeth are judged clean, and a blue light when more brushing is needed.

Oral-B are also releasing a smart toothbrush in August 2020 – the Oral-B iO. It features 250 new patents that will help the user reach the zenith of tooth brushing. A brand-new brushing technique that tracks and targets plaque in a new way is part of its success. There appears to be no end to the innovative advancements in oral hygiene, and these brushes can transform your teeth and gum health.

  1. Fitness bands and wearables

These aren’t new. Most of us have tried a FitBit or another version of a fitness tracker at one time or another. However, if you’ve not used one in a while it’s worth checking out some of the newer versions. All kinds of tracking tech have improved, from heart rate monitoring to sleep statistics and oxygen saturation. You can find bands that are waterproof, designed to look like jewellery, with GPS tracking and a host of other features.

Many of the fitness bands available on the market today can track different exercises without you needing to reset them. So, if you switch from yoga to running, it will keep pace with your training programme.

  1. Connected running insoles

Runners constantly fight a battler with their gait and technique. Without proper running shoes and insoles, it’s easier to get shin splints and other injuries that can stall training. And now smart insoles are available to runners.

The Nuurv Run insoles slot into the shoe and connect to a unit that is also connected to the wearer’s smartphone. Using 32 sensors all built into the insole, the technology constantly captures data. By analysing cadence, step length, pronation (linked to the height of the arch), balance and footstrike, data is sent to the app. The app presents a post-running summary of data from before, during and after the run.

Designed to specifically work out elements that could cause injury in the future, the insole also keeps the user on track with pace.

  1. Smart weighing scales

Scales in 2020 are about much more than reading your weight. Smart scales calculate BMI and body fat, so that the user knows much more precisely how their training and diet is going. We all know that muscles weigh more than fat. Traditional scales don’t differentiate between weight from fat and weight from muscles. And as people train their muscle density will change.

Smart scales are synced with smartphones, giving the user an easy to understand chart tracking the changes. All of the brands you’d expect offer smart scales, including Garmin. The Garmin Index Scale measures BMI, body mass and weight and comes with Bluetooth, WiFi and connectivity with Android or iOS apps. It also measures the user’s water weight, bone mass and muscle mass and seamlessly integrates with other Garmin trackers and running watches.

  1. Smart forks

Even eating utensils can help you stick to your goals. The HAPIfork connects to an app on your smartphone and tracks the speed with which you eat. If the user is judged to be eating too fast, the fork will vibrate. The idea is to stop overeating or eating too fast and encouraging mindful eating.

These are just a fraction of the tech available on the market to help you track exercise, food and healthy habits. No-one should use only gadgets to monitor health, so be sure to check with your doctor if you need to before using them.

Jürg Widmer Probst - fitness apps

Studies show fitness apps are more popular than ever

Coronavirus and the ensuing measures taken by Governments to contain the virus have changed the way we work, socialise and, of course, exercise. Many of us are changing how and where we exercise. With gyms closed and restrictions for many countries restricting outdoor time, fitness apps and home exercising are getting us through.

Whether we choose to do HIIT in our living room, count our steps while we walk round the house, or are now exercising more often outside as lockdown lifts, there’s no doubt that people are exercising in a different way. Lockdown is not only fundamentally altering our collective attitude to health, exercise and looking after ourselves, but it’s changing the way we do so. And most of our actions are now virtual.

Fitness apps more popular than ever due to coronavirus

Data from mobile phone operator EE shows that people in the UK are now relying on apps more than ever. And many of these are exercise specific apps. In addition to a notable increase in video apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, lockdown is also boosting our use of fitness apps.

Between February and May 2020, there has been a huge increase in downloading and use of apps of all kinds. Already popular fitness app Strava now has triple the number of users and data usage compared with figures from before lockdown. The app is used mostly to track cycling, running and walking, although it can also be linked to other devices to track different kinds of exercise too.

MapMyRun is also dealing with higher user numbers. The app’s users and data usage has doubled between February and May as many more people began running outside for their daily exercise.

Interestingly, Fitbit shows considerably lower numbers and data usage on the network compared with pre-lockdown. Of course, this is just one mobile network, but it does show a general trend towards jogging, running and cycling as preferred exercise habits during the pandemic.

Health, wellbeing and nutrition apps are also popular

Meditation, nutrition and relaxation apps are also experiencing higher numbers of users since lockdown began. There has been an overall increase in online use and the way we’re using mobile networks. According to Marc Allera, CEO of the consumer division of BT: “Lockdown has driven huge changes in the way our mobile network is being used.

Fitness apps in particular are leading to huge spikes in data usage by people on the network. In the initial weeks of the lockdown, supermarket orders using mobile apps also spiked, but have now settled to a new normal. It’s likely that the same pattern will occur for health, wellness and fitness apps too, as we all adjust to the new normal.

3 fitness apps to try right now

Here are three of the best fitness apps to take you through lockdown and out the other side:

  1. Aaptiv – this app’s USP is that it gives you a personal trainer to take with you wherever you go. When you log in and record your personal settings, the app creates a weekly plan. Each day you choose form a number of different workouts that aim for your fitness goal. These include everything from stretching to cardio and strength training. Each workout is led by a different personal instructor and comes with a soundtrack.

The app is audio led rather than video, so while you exercise you hear instructions rather than see then. However, there is an archive of video clips so you can check your form. It’s ideal if you only have a small indoor or outdoor space to exercise in.

  1. Fiit – an app that is easiest to use when you hook it up to your TV, Fiit offers hardcore workouts. You really do need to see the movements and exercises to ensure your form is correct and safe. The workouts on offer are challenging and effective, with trainers that help you stay motivated. It needs more space than Apptiv, so it’s one for people who have a decent sized room in which to exercise.
  2. Nike Training Club – this fitness app is for experienced exercisers who already have a good standard of fitness. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners or those returning to exercise after a long gap. This is because the workouts are challenging, with plenty of exercises that will push your strength and endurance. Each workout is broken down into clips that show you exactly how to do each movement. It can be a bit repetitive as it concentrates on repetitious movements, but it is effective. And it’s the only free app on this list, so it has that in its favour.

 

 

Jürg Widmer Probst - how much exercise

How much exercise is really necessary to stay well?

Most of us know we need to exercise to maintain our fitness and protect our health. But for those struggling to find the motivation to work out, it’s useful to know how much you really need to do to boost your immune system.

There is evidence to suggest that exercising regularly can improve your immune system, and therefore your chances of fighting off any illness. And in these times of coronavirus, this is something many of us are particularly interested in.

Why how much exercise you take matters

The virus and its consequences mean that more people than ever are searching for ways to relieve their stress and keep well. For many people, regular workout is the ideal solution. Not only does it boost your mood, but regular exercise will also give you more energy and help you deal with stress.

The link between exercise and the immune system is hotly debated by scientists. Researchers have been studying it for years and there are conflicting opinions. For example, some researchers say that exercising intensely without recovering properly can actually increase you’re chances of getting sick. But another study from 2018 says it debunks the idea that too much intense exercise suppresses the immune system.

As with most things, the answer is somewhere in between the two extremes. Recent research shows that regular, moderate exercise is good for our general health and our immune systems.

Which type of workout is best for keeping healthy?

Evidence is also mixed regarding which type of workout is best for the immune system. In scientific terms, exercise has a short-term effect on the white blood cells in the body. These are the body’s defence against infection. When we put our body under stress through exercise, the white blood cells are increased which, in theory, means more protection against illness.

Interestingly, the exercise you do doesn’t necessarily have to be hardcore before this immune system response kicks in. Pretty much any exercise done for at least 15 minutes a day is helpful. Exercise also lowers stress levels, which can help you avoid illness. It’s known that stress levels affect the immune system and can really slow down our body’s fightback against disease.

There is little doubt that doing too much exercise can be bad for you too. Overtraining can weaken your immune system and damage your body. Any exercise programme should include adequate rest and recovery time for you to get the true benefits from it. The best course of action is to regularly exercise and don’t overstrain yourself. While living under the stressors of the pandemic, it’s better to prioritise regular, moderate exercise rather than train for something major.

How often should you working out to stay well?

To keep healthy, you don’t need to set yourself the target of running a marathon. Official advice from the NHS is that everyone should do at least 150 minutes of moderate workout every week as a baseline. That’s just half an hour a day for five days of the week.

People who exercise for around half an hour a day most days appear to get ill less often than those who don’t. If you prefer to exercise vigorously, then the amount of time you need to set aside per week drops to 75 minutes. Ideally, you should spread out your training, so you do a bit every day, rather than rely on completing the whole lot in one day. It’s about exercising without overtaxing your system.

And while there is no guarantee that any kind of lifestyle precautions can stop you catching COVID-19, there is evidence that the leaner and fitter you are the better your chances of dealing with it. Those who have exercised regularly before contracting the virus are more likely to suffer less and recover faster. There also appears to be a link between obesity and mortality for coronavirus sufferers. Regular exercise and eating well are the best forms of defence against the virus during these challenging times.

Jürg Widmer Probst - stay in shape during lock down

How to stay in shape during coronavirus lockdown

Millions of people around the world are now under lockdown as countries fight to stem the spread of coronavirus. With so many now at home with little opportunity to go outside, there is concern regarding the negative impact this might have on mental and physical health.

Rafts of research back up the theory that being sedentary is bad for your health. Therefore, finding ways to stay active while under lockdown is essential to maintain your health and boost your immune system. Exercise also lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and can drastically reduce the risk of stroke, diabetes and heart attack. So what do you do if your usual exercise routine revolves around going to the gym or training for a marathon?

Exercising outside and at home to stay in shape

If you can exercise outside, then do so. This means that as long as you’re not self-isolating because you or a family member has symptoms of the virus, and you live in a country that allows it, you can still go outside for exercise once a day. This can be running, walking or cycling. Ensure you always stay at least 2m apart from any other person while you are exercising outside in order to follow social distancing.

However, even if you’re stuck indoors there are plenty of ways to get active and to maintain your exercise regime. If you own equipment, such as a treadmill or exercise bike then these are the obvious places to start. But if you don’t, try the following:

  • Use your stairs – run up and down your stairs if you have them for as long as it takes to get out of breath. Do as many reps as you comfortably can and increase them every day.
  • Walk – simply walk around your house or flat. Walk as fast as you can and if you can use a Fitbit or another step counter, ensure you get 10,000 steps a day.
  • Dance around your living space – this is a great way to get some cardiovascular exercise while having fun. It’s also something you can do with the whole family. Dance for 15 minutes three times a day and you’re getting some real exercise in.
  • Stream exercise online – there are endless exercise programmes available to stream online. From paid for programmes to free exercises on YouTube or any number of apps, find one you like and do it every day.
  • Exercise DVDs – dig out those old yoga DVDs and vary your workouts by doing something different every day.
  • Resistance exercises – check online for the proper way to do these exercises. You can use either weights or resistance bands. But if you don’t have these, you can use your own bodyweight. Include squats, lunges, step-ups and press-ups.

NHS exercises online to try for stay in shape during lockdown

While there are plenty of private fitness apps and programmes available from famous faces, the NHS has also put together a number of easy fitness plans anyone can do at home. Check out the 10-minute cardio workout specially designed to do at home as an example. It aims to help you lose weight, burn calories and maintain your fitness as part of your overall exercise regime. Always warm up before hand and stretch afterwards to cool down.

Official guidance states that adults should carry out at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity each week. In addition, strength exercises should be carried out at least twice a week.

What if you’re new to exercising regularly?

If you don’t have much of an exercise plan in place, lockdown could provide you with the perfect opportunity to start one. It’s never too early to start your fitness journey and the most important element is doing something regularly. Preferably exercise every single day in some form and ensure that you get out of breath when you do so.

While we all navigate the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that we maintain our fitness and work towards becoming as healthy as possible. Not only does this strengthen our immune systems and give us a higher chance of dealing with the virus should we contract it, it will help to take the pressure off the country’s health service at such a crucial time.

Jürg Widmer Probst- running distance

How to choose your ideal running distance

Most road runners have a favourite distance, but picking your ideal running distance can be tricky as you weigh up options from 5km to the marathon.

For many people, the choice boils down to how much time they have available, but factors such as your fitness, body type and even your life goals will influence your choice.

Time

Finding enough time in your life for a run can be challenging, which is why 5km and 10km races are so popular.

This is exemplified by the success of Parkrun, an organisation which puts on free 5km races at more than 1,400 venues in 22 different countries. An estimated quarter of a million people take part in these runs every Saturday morning.

Parkrun’s success is partly down to the fact that 5km is a realistic target for most people, and you can build up to the distance quickly even from a low fitness base. Training runs can be short, so they can fit into busy schedules.

If you have your eyes on longer races, then you have to think about the sheer amount of time you need to be training. Completing a marathon under three hours is a very respectable achievement, and your training is likely to take up a lot of time every week.

Body type and fitness level

Your body type plays a big part in the running distance you choose, especially if you are just starting out.

Road running has an impact on your body, and mostly that is positive, as your lungs, heart and energy systems can all improve with exercise. However, you also have to manage the physical demands that running places on your joints, muscles and bones.

When you run your lower legs absorb around four times your body weight, which is one reason why the best distance runners are usually short and slim. Their legs do not need to work as hard just to carry the rest of the body.

If you are heavily built or overweight, you can risk foot and shin injuries if you start running too far or too quickly. Take it slow and keep it short to start with, and increase your pace or mileage as your fitness improves.

Beware the call of the marathon

The marathon is an iconic distance and anyone who completes one deserves tremendous praise, but don’t assume it’s your ideal running distance or even your ultimate goal.

You can run for fitness, health, companionship, pleasure, and even for the thrill of competition without tackling something as long and demanding as a marathon’s 26 miles.

Such a long race demands a huge commitment of time and energy, and that just might not suit your body or your lifestyle.

The same logic applies to various time milestones, like 20 minutes for the 5km or 1 hour for the 10k. These are arbitrary goals that might not be useful to you.

Goals

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set any ambitious goals for yourself as a runner. Your running distance now might be just a starting point, and your goals should be appropriate and achievable.

You may have a goal of completing a Parkrun, or you could be using running to achieve a different goal like losing weight or reducing your blood pressure.

Be realistic about your goals and identify intermediate goals that will help you achieve your ultimate aims. For example, you can work up to different milestone distances as you aim to complete a half-marathon.

Be flexible and enjoy yourself

Running is one of the most joyous and liberating ways to exercise, and when you find your ideal running distance it can be very satisfying to set personal bests or discover new routes.

But don’t be afraid to experiment at different distances to get the most out of your exercise. If you love the tempo and convenience of a 5km, try an occasional slower 10km to give your body a new challenge.

As you get older you might also want to change your running distance. This encourages some runners to slow down but go longer, while others opt for reducing the distances.

 

Running is a wonderful form of exercise and finding your ideal running distance is part of the experience. Think about your body type, try different distances, keep focused and, most of all, enjoy yourself.

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The importance of core strength

Everybody should have good core strength, because without it you are less likely to achieve your exercise goals and more likely to pick up injuries.

The good news is that you can benefit from the work of researchers, trainers and athletes who have spent many years developing excellent ways of building core strength.

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What is core strength?

Your core muscles include the muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis, and when they are strong you will find it much easier to do many physical activities.

Different people will need different approaches to core strength, whether you are an athlete looking for a slight edge in performance or a novice trying to get started on a new exercise regime.

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When to do core strength exercises

The key to understanding core strength is realising that just about every exercise you do requires it. This means that you need to be careful about when you plan to do exercises which target your core muscles.

Do your dedicated core exercises at the end of a workout, because you run the risk of suffering an injury if you have tired core muscles when doing other exercises.

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Types of core exercises

You can train your core muscles in a number of ways, and the ones that work for you will depend on what you need and what you enjoy doing.

Pilates is one of the best known fitness systems and it places great emphasis on core strength through using body weight exercises.

Yoga is a similar approach, but it involves more elements of mindfulness, mental discipline and relaxation. A lot of people enjoy this, and it has some great upsides in terms of mental health.

You can also simply add individual exercises at the end of your existing routines, drawing on some of the aspects of Pilates, yoga and other approaches.

Most core exercises can be placed into one of two major groups: static and dynamic. The static exercises involve working your muscles without moving, by holding a certain position for a set time period, then resting. In contrast, dynamic exercises require you to move to work the muscles.

Static exercises

Static exercises, also known as isometric exercises, are an excellent way to build core strength.

One good example is the plank. To perform a simple plank you lie on your stomach, then rise up so you support your upper body with your fore arms and your lower body on your toes. Your body should be in a straight line, so your core muscles are supporting you.

You can then repeat this position and rest in patterns which best suit your needs. You can develop this basic approach into a number of variations to work slightly different parts of your core or to make the exercise more challenging.

Other static exercises include the bridge, dip hold and the banana. The latter is a great name for an exercise, and involves lying on your back, squeezing your tummy in then raising your straightened legs and arms off the ground for a set period and then resting and repeating.

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Dynamic exercises

Dynamic exercises are those where you move to work the muscles. You should always take care with these exercises and check with a personal trainer to ensure your technique is correct.

Crunches are a superb abdominal exercise, and if you do them well can quickly improve your core strength. You can also introduce different positions, or equipment like a Swiss ball, to work different parts of your abs.

Rollouts are another effective exercise, using a barbell on the floor in front of you with weight plate on each end. You kneel in front of the bar and hold it with both hands about shoulder-width apart. Tighten your tummy muscles, then slowly roll the barbell ahead of you until you are almost parallel to the floor, then roll backwards to the starting position.

One exercise to avoid is sit-ups, which most personal trainers will recommend that you avoid because they can cause back injuries.

Equipment

The beauty of core strength is that you can develop it without any special equipment by doing things like crunches and planks.

However, some simple and cheap pieces of equipment can dramatically expand your options.

A Swiss ball is a large, soft inflated ball which you can sit on or use to add new position options for crunches and planks.

A soft exercise mat can come in handy, just because they provide a non-slip, comfortable surface on which to work out at home. It’s not much fun lying or sitting on a hard wooden or concrete floor, and you don’t want to be slipping when you try to hold a plank position.

A set of light weights enables you to increase the resistance for exercises like crunches, and you can also buy cheap but durable ab wheels which let you do roll outs without a barbell.

Overall, core strength is a key part of your physical health even if you aren’t very active. You are less likely to suffer back and neck pain if you have a strong core, and it only takes a little effort to get good results.

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Jürg Widmer Probst explains how to prevent running injuries

Are you a keen runner? Do you find that you keep getting injured? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a common issue among runners – that, for whatever reason, the injuries just start piling up. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. To help you out, we’ve pulled together our top tips on how to prevent running injuries.

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Wondering how to prevent running injuries? Begin with warming up and cooling down properly

This is the big one. How many of us actually warm up and cool down properly? Not many, we’d guess. And yet it is absolutely fundamental to staying injury-free.

Forcing your muscles to go from sitting on a sofa to running even just 5k is a big step if you haven’t prepared them. Warming up gets the blood circulating, it stretches the muscle fibres and it also gets you mentally in the zone. Cooling down is equally important, transitioning you from intense activity to rest.

Find a warm up that suits you – dynamic lunges are great for stretching out your hips and your hamstrings. But we’d also just recommend a five-minute walk. It’s as good a way as any to prepare for a run.

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Don’t just focus on your legs

Imagine you’re training for a marathon. You’re putting in the miles and have even got up to a half marathon distance. You felt tired, but good – this is something you feel you can do, at a push.

There’s only one problem – you’re getting a nagging pain on the outside of your knee. You try to shake it off, but then, once marathon day comes around, you’re forced to pull out around half way.

The chances are, if it’s an injury like an IT band strain, that it’s not actually your legs that are too blame. Sure – you’ve been getting plenty of miles under your belt. But the fact is that an underlying mechanical problem – perhaps weak glutes or calves– is affecting your running form.

Once you get to runs over half marathon distance, that kind of weakness can really have an impact. You might feel fit enough to run the whole way. But if your legs aren’t working in the most efficient way because your body isn’t supporting their motion correctly, something is going to give. Remember running is a whole body exercise – so don’t neglect those crunches, hip flexes and core exercises too.

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Sort your running form out

There are lots of factors that go into developing the right running form. One of the most important is the point we’ve made above. It’s crucial to make sure you’re strong enough to support your body through the repeated impact of running.

It also comes down to footwear too, of course. It’s one of the most hotly-debated topics in running. Whether you’re a minimalist or maximalist when it comes to shoes, our advice is not to follow the crowd.

Go to a proper athletics shop and get them to look at your running form. Hit the treadmill and get them to do a gait analysis. It should go a long way toward you getting shoes that help you to run efficiently and in a way that isn’t damaging you.

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Learn to rest

We all love to run. So much, that it can become an addiction for some. This is particularly the case for new runners. You’re bitten by the bug and you just want to get out on the trails or the road as often as you can.

The problems arise when you forget to listen to your body (or your training plan). In our enthusiasm to run, it can be easy to think ‘I’ll just go for a short jog today’ when in actual fact we should be resting. It’s important even when we’re not feeling a niggling injury.

Rest days are as important as training days, because this is the time when you consolidate the progress you’ve made. Every run causes micro-tears in your muscles, and rest days are your body’s opportunity to rebuild them.

The theory is that they rebuild them stronger (increasing our strength), but if we don’t rest they don’t have a chance to do this.

So, don’t ignore that big red ‘R’ in your training plan calendar. It’s there for a reason.