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The art of warming up and down

The art of warming up and downAge teaches many valuable lessons. But one of the most important for athletes is how the increasing vulnerability of our bodies underlines just how important it is to warm up and cool down when we exercise.

Don’t get us wrong – it is important to warm up and cool down at any age, and regardless of your fitness levels. You’ll never see a 20 year old sprinter just wandering out of the changing rooms at the Olympics and straight into a race. Whatever our age, we need to prepare properly for what we are about to do. The issue as we get older is that we have less and less margin for error – the things we can get away with when we’re 25 just don’t work when we’re 45.

So, the bottom line is that warming up and down is important – but what might not be quite so clear is exactly why we need to do it. The basic principles are these.

A double benefit

By warming up before we exercise, we’re doing a couple of things. The first is that we’re getting our heart pumping just a little faster. That’s preparing it for the activity to come, but it is also starting the process of getting more blood pumping around  your body. As your circulation increases in around your joints and muscles, you become more flexible and your muscles are getting ready to move once you start exercising.

But when we warm up, we often also stretch our muscles – which also gets them in the right shape for the activity we’re about to do.

There’s another benefit to warming up properly too – and that’s on the mental side of things. When we take the time to warm up we’re also giving ourselves the space to transition into the activity, not just physically but also in terms of our focus. Anyone who has done any sport at all will understand just how important the mental side of it is, and warming up plays a key role in this.

Time to cool down

But what about cooling down?

Often, when we’re tired, it is the last thing we want to do. Most of us just want to grab a quick shower and get some food inside us – but warming down is just as important as warming up. Obviously, most of the benefits are simply the reverse of warming up – it returns our heartbeat to something like normal, and gives our muscles a chance to relax back into shape. But it’s also a chance for our muscles to get rid of some of the lactic acid that builds up when we exercise hard.

Again, warming down also serves as an important opportunity to bring our minds back into every day life. We can reflect on how we performed while we were exercising, and begin to reconnect with the world around us.

We’re often asked about what pre- and post exercise routines we recommend, and the one we always suggest is one of the very simplest. Our advice is simply to walk a little before you run, or on your way to working out at the gym. Walking is a great way to gently begin to raise your heart beat and warm up your muscles.

And of course, if you’re feeling really good (and you think no one is watching) you can always throw in a few dynamic lunges as you walk, just for good measure.

The world’s toughest trail running races - Jurg Widmer Probst

The world’s toughest trail running races

We all get tired of running on the roads sometimes. It can be monotonous dodging the crowds and the traffic, and the tarmac is punishing on our joints – particularly our knees.

So, what better than pulling on a pair of trail shoes and heading out into the wilderness for a while? Running off road has been around for as long as men and women have loved to run, but trail running is having a real boom at the moment. There are thousands of races and trail running challenges out there – but here, we’ve picked just a few of the very toughest on the planet to inspire you.

1. The UTMB, Switzerland

One of the most famous trail races on the planet, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is a single-stage mountain ultra marathon – which really is as gruelling as it sounds. It is as tough to get into as it is to run – you’ll need to have been competing in ultra marathons for a while, accumulating the necessary points (and endurance!) to enter. But if you do get in, you will enjoy a truly unique experience – a route that covers 171 kilometres (with nearly 33,000 ft of climb!) – over the Alps of France, Italy and Switzerland.

2. The Barkley Marathons, Tennessee

If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary on this infamous race, you might want to before you even think about trying to enter. This race is a true anomaly in the world of trail racing, and is the brainchild of one man, Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell. The race takes place in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee and is approximately 100 miles long. We say ‘approximately’ because the route changes every year and is notoriously fluid and hard to follow.

The race was inspired by the story of an escaped convicted who managed to cover just 8 miles in the woods over a period of 55 hours – the challenge for runners in the Barkley Marathons is to try and run the 100 mile route within a 60 hour cut off. Only 40 runners a year can enter – all you need to do is pay your fee, write an essay entitled ‘Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley’ and bring a license plate from your home country if you are (un)lucky enough to be chosen to race.

3. The Bob Graham Round, Cumbria

Actually more of a mountain running challenge than a set race, the Bob Graham Round is one of the toughest out there. The challenge is to run across 42 of the English Lake District’s mountains within 24 hours – something that guest house owner Bob Graham himself first achieved back in 1932.

It has been a jewel in the crown for trail and fell runners ever since, with professional trail runner Killian Jornet holding the current record. If you can beat his incredible time of 12hr 52m, then your place in trail running history is all but assured.

We hope these races inspire you to try running off road for yourself. While these incredibly tough races might be out of reach for most of us, taking the time to leave the tarmac behind and enjoy the wilderness is something we can all enjoy.

Jurg Widmer Probst

Jurg Widmer Probst

tips for rest days and recovery runs

TIt is one of the strangest sights in sport. Right in the middle of the toughest cycle race on the planet, the riders in the Tour de France have a rest day.

Now, there are plenty of things that we can imagine doing on a rest day after a few thousand kilometres of hard cycling (if we ever got that far) – a spot of sightseeing maybe, a gentle walk or maybe just lying down in a dark room for a few hours. But pretty much the last thing we would want to do is get on a bike again: which is why it is always so odd to see so many of the pro cyclists either out on a ‘short’ training ride or grinding away on a spin bike. But this is what they do – and like every other aspect of their training and racing it is all a part of a carefully planned out system to keep them in the very peak of condition.

Now, we’re not suggesting that any of you are going to be taking part in one of cycling’s Grand Tours any time soon – but the professional riders’ example does offer an interesting angle on the importance of rest and recovery days as we all try to get fitter and perform at our best. So, here are a few quick tips on making the most of those rest and recovery days.

Take them, don’t skip them

It is very easy to give rest and recovery days a miss when you are feeling great. It is particularly hard when you have just taken up a new sport or activity – it feels good, it makes you feel better, and you just want to keep doing it. But it is incredibly important to take a break from time to time – we would suggest at least one day a week off if you can, and maybe even more frequently if you’re just starting out at running.

You don’t always have to put your feet up

There is a difference between rest days (which are pretty much what they sound like) and recovery days, which usually include a ‘recovery run’ of some sort. The principle behind these – a little like the rides that the Tour de France riders do – is to give your body time to repair itself while keeping it moving. The idea here is to run at around half your normal speed, and by keeping the muscles moving and the blood pumping you should actually be recovering even more quickly than you would on a day on the sofa. 

Mix it up

When you are running, don’t run at your limit all the time. While it is good to push yourself, we really don’t recommend that you do it every day. Depending on how many days each week that you are heading out, we suggest that you make at least three of your weekly runs at ‘recovery’ pace. It is all about building some variation into your routine – not only does a change of pace help your body to repair itself, but it also keeps things more interesting.

Don’t just rest on your rest days

‘Rest’ in this context doesn’t just mean sitting in front of the TV all day. Even if you don’t do a recovery run, we still recommend that you try to get out and do some form of gentle exercise. We’re huge fans of walking here – it is a great way to warm up and cool down before and after a run, but it is also a perfect way to keep moving without too much of that damaging impact you get when running.

Listen to what your body is trying to tell you

Our final tip is just learn how to listen to your body when you’re not on a rest day, in order to make sure that you take the breaks you need, when you need them.

We always recommend running without headphones – not only is it safer, but it is also a way for you to focus solely on your body, how it is moving and how it feels as you run, without any distractions. While you hopefully won’t literally hear your body cracking and groaning under the pressure of running, you should certainly feel more in tune with it – so listen honestly to the feedback it is giving you, and do the right thing.

Jurg Widmer Probst
SQUATTING

The secret power of squatting

We all already know how to squat comfortably. It’s one of those ancient, in-built behaviours that we all still have within us – but the chances are that most of don’t do it anywhere near as much as we should. Just to be clear – we’re not talking here about ‘squats’ – the energetic workout that many of us will be familiar with from our time in the gym. Rather, we’re talking about the less vigorous kind of squatting that we can all do more of as an alternative to sitting conventionally.

Because squatting is actually incredibly good for us, in many different ways. In many areas of the world, it is still a natural part of daily life – but today it is a skill that has been largely forgotten in the west. So, here is our guide to rediscovering the secret art of squatting – and why it is has such an important role to play in keep us strong and healthy.

We are born to do it

Long before we moved into towns and cities, and started sitting on uncomfortable chairs, driving cars and working and eating at tables, we squatted. We would spend a good proportion of our day squatting, and so our bodies really are born to do it. Today, we spend so much of our working lives in chairs, in positions that are incredibly bad for our bodies, so squatting is a very simple, very human thing to do – and a wonderful natural skill to rediscover.

You’ll probably fall over the first time you try and do it

For most westerners, when we squat we try to still stick with what we know. People who are used to spending a large proportion of their daily lives in a chair will usually squat down, but keep their heels off the ground. In this position the legs are bent at around 90º – relatively similar to the position we sit in. The original, more natural squatting position for humans however is with heels down – it will feel odd to begin with (and you’ll probably topple backwards) but try it until you are comfortable. In this position we stretch our backs out more and put less pressure on our feet.

It is a fantastic work out for your core

Try it again, now. How long can you hold the position for? Even in a simple, natural squat, we are really working those core muscles. Compare it to your usual seated position – sat at a desk, our core muscles aren’t engaged at all, but when we squat our obliques, lower back and abs are all working together. And a strong core of course is the secret to better posture, and the correct alignment of most of the major muscle groups in our bodies. So, ditch the plank, and give squatting for a few minutes every day a go instead.

It makes us stronger and more flexible

When we squat, we improve the way our glutes, hips and ankles stretch and move together. When we are sat for long periods in a chair, our muscles relax, and even our bones aren’t worked in the way that they are when we lead a more active lifestyle. Squatting regularly every day counters this, and stretches everything back out again. Our joints are freed up and we are simply stronger and more mobile, particularly in our hips, which can be a big problem area for some people.

It gets the blood pumping

While it might not feel particularly vigorous, squatting is actually a great way of boosting your circulation. When we squat, we encourage our organs to move back into the right positions, and we stimulate our glands and our blood flow to move more freely. By assuming such a natural position, we are essentially making it easier for our bodies to circulate all the most important things it needs to where it needs them most. 

It makes us happier

This one might be harder to prove, but in our experience it really does. For us, this is simply the logical outcome of all of the other benefits of squatting: we are happier because we are more flexible and stronger, we’re getting fewer injuries and we’re pumping our blood into places where it was previously restricted.

But squatting also just feels great – and it is a very simple, natural change that we can all make a part of our daily lives.

Jurg Widmer Probst

Jurg Widmer Probst

How to avoid injury

We’ve all been there. We take up a new sport or exercise, or set ourselves a challenging goal, like running a marathon. We throw ourselves into our new passion 110% and give it everything we’ve got. We feel good the first few times we do it, we start to improve and we try and do more, doing it harder and doing it for longer. And then: it all goes wrong. That little twinge in our hamstring that we felt on our last run has blown up into something far more serious, or the strain in our shoulders when we lift weights has suddenly got a whole lot worse. The end result is we have to take time off to recover properly to prevent the injury becoming chronic.

It’s a common enough experience, but one that really doesn’t have to happen. So, how do we go about avoiding injury? Here are a few tips.

1. Take your rest days

Those blocked out days in your training plan with a big letter ‘R’ next to them are there for a reason – so don’t ignore them. Rest days work in the same way that a good night’s sleep does – they are an opportunity for the body to recover itself in between the days when you are stretching your muscles and ligaments as you exercise. When we exercise hard – for example lifting weights repetitively – we are actually causing lots of tiny micro tears in our muscles. The rest days are when your body takes the chance to repair these tears, by adding more muscle on top. So, when we rest, we’re not just taking a break – we’re actually giving our bodies the time to build up the added muscle we want.

2. Build it up slowly.

Of course, this much easier said than done, especially when you are just starting out, full of enthusiasm for a new sport. But it really does pay to build up slowly – it’s one reason why having  an end goal like a specific race or a target weight in mind is great. Why? Because it forces you to follow a plan – whether it is specific weights, exercises, running distances or a certain pace, you will approach your new passion in a far more gradual and methodical way. Too much, too soon, and you will almost certainly injure yourself. Taking a gradual approach is therefore also a great way to stay motivated – you’ll see yourself making steady progress over a much more sustained period.

3. Get the right gear, and learn how to use it.

This is actually an incredibly important point, because it goes to the heart of what many people find most enjoyable about exercise. Browsing for and buying the right gear (whether it a new pair of trail shoes or gym equipment to use at home) is fun – there’s no getting away from it. But is also important to remember why you are buying it – your end goal always has to be because it improves your performance.

So, don’t just buy the running shoes that look the coolest or that have the most five star reviews – go to a proper running shop, try a few different pairs on, and talk to the experts there about what you need your shoes for. Or if you are heading to the gym, desperate to use the latest piece of equipment, just take the time to talk to the trainers about exactly the right way to use it before you do.

4. Warm up, and cool down.

When you’re desperate to just get out there and get on with it, it can be very easy to skip the warm up. You might jump up and down on the spot and do a few half hearted stretches, but that’s not warming up. Equally, when you’ve been outside in the freezing cold for an hour, or working out hard on a gym machine, the last thing you want to do is spend another ten minutes cooling down. But it really is essential. There are plenty of quick warm up and cool down routines out there, but if you can’t face anything too elaborate, our advice is simply this – if you are going to go for a run, just walk or lightly jog for five minutes before you start in earnest – and do the same at end. The same goes for the gym – instead of driving there and back, just walk to warm up and cool down.

5. Don’t exercise when you’re injured.

The best way to avoid a serious injury is not to compound any minor ones you might already have. No one knows your body like you do, so trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right – if you are pushing yourself to run a kilometre too far on that aching ankle, or you think your sore shoulder might just hold out for one more bench press – just stop.

All of the tips above will go some way towards preventing you from injuring yourself, but if you do start to feel a problem, then always take a break and make sure it doesn’t become a chronic one.

[ENDS]

Jurg Widmer Probst

Choosing the right workout plan for you

For those of us just starting out in the world of weight training (and even for those who have been doing it for a while, if we’re honest), choosing the right workout can be a tough call. There is a huge amount of choice out there, whether you are taking your advice from your friends down at the gym, a personal trainer, or the thousands of blogs and websites out there. Each one has their own take on what works for them, or they have a new fitness product, technique, book or app to push.

So how on earth do you go about deciding what workout is right for you? Is there a straightforward strategy – and a simple set of steps – that you can go through to try and identify a workout that really works? We think there is – so here is our take.

Work out why you want to work out

It sounds obvious, and it is. But that doesn’t mean that it still shouldn’t be the very first thing that anyone who is looking to choose a workout should do: ask yourself, what do you actually want to achieve with your workout? Are you looking to lose weight, get an impressive physique or just to feel stronger?

This is an essential element of getting better at any sport or physical exercise. With clearly defined goals, you give yourself a motivational target. On those days when the workout is getting tough, a longer term goal can give you just that little bit of extra focus and perspective that is often enough to get you though the hard times. Knowing why you are doing something can help you to motivate yourself.

But of course beyond that, having a clear goal also allows you to make a more focused decision about what you need to do to achieve it. When you know where you want to get to, you can work out a step by step way of getting there. So, pick your goal, and then find the best workout plan that will help you to achieve it.

Be realistic

The big thing we’ve learned about fitness goals over the years is that you need to pitch them just right – they need to be realistic and achievable, but they need to push you too.

Taking this approach is actually a really important way of deciding on the right workout for you, because it encourages you to think honestly about what you can commit to every week. If you pick a weight training goal that requires you to be in the gym six times a week, and you have a young family and a full time job, neither the goal nor the weight training plan required to meet it are realistic.

So, as well as your goals, it is really important to think about what you can actually do, both physically and in terms of the time you have available. By not giving yourself time to do what you need to do, you will doom your workout to failure before it even starts.

Make sure you choose a workout that you actually enjoy

Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t take your weight training workout seriously. Or that every moment of it should be enjoyable. Of course, it’s going to be tough, and weight training, by its very nature, needs to push you so that your body will extend its physical limits as you get into shape. Instead, we’re just saying that actually enjoying the workout or weight training you are doing is a fundamentally important part of achieving those workout goals that you have set yourself.

There are a few good reasons for this. The most obvious is that as human beings we generally find that we stick to things that we enjoy and avoid those things that we don’t. Even in a gym culture of ‘no pain, no gain’, at heart we’re still more motivated to do things we like doing. And then, looking at the bigger picture of how we go about choosing a workout programme that actually works for us, motivation and staying the distance are absolutely crucial. All workouts, without exception, work through progressive repetition and if you don’t feel happy about seeing the programme all of the way through then it is unlikely that you will feel the full benefit.

So, the bottom line is this. If you can find a workout that helps you to realise your fitness goals, that is tough but achievable, and that most of all is enjoyable – then that is the right workout for you.

Jurg Widmer Probst

Best bits of winter running kit

Getting out for a run over the long winter months can be incredibly tough. Those short, dark days and the bitter cold offer plenty of excuses for putting off your regular run until the days warm up a little. But in our experience, running in the winter can actually be just as fun (if not better) than your summer runs. The key to enjoying it – as with so many outdoor activities – is about making sure that you have got the right gear for the conditions. So, with that it in mind, here is our pick of just some of the best bits of winter running kit out there.

  1. Trail shoes

Running shoes are yet another area of outdoor equipment where Gore-Tex and breathable, water resistant materials have made all the difference. In the old days, running in the snow, ice and mud could quickly become a matter of worrying about the growing pain from the cold you felt in your toes – followed swiftly by the even greater worry of not being able to feel anything at all after a while. The winter is a great time to hit the trail and get muddy, and with a pair of running shoes like the Salomon Sense Ride GTX® Invisible Fit your feet will stay warm and dry in even the toughest conditions.

  1. Running tights

A good pair of running tights can make all the difference, keeping your legs warm and your muscles flexible. The best ones won’t restrict your movement in any way and should actually help to keep your muscles in good shape by compressing them slightly. Get yourself a pair of windproof and water repellent ones like the R3 Partial Windstoppers from Gore and you won’t look back – they are super comfortable, they move with you, they’re breathable and they even have a little zip pocket for your keys. Just don’t try and put anything too bulky in there.

  1. Base layer

What on earth did we do before we had base layers? An extra vest or a t-shirt probably just about did the job, but thermal layer technology has taken things to a whole new layer. These layers keep you warm of course but because they are breathable you also don’t start to feel uncomfortably sweaty. Most base layers will also ‘wick’ any moisture away from your skin too, and they are flexible and fitted so that they don’t rub uncomfortably. As with all of these things we recommend shopping around a little to find the one that suits you, but we are big fans of the old mountain runner’s favourite – the classic Helly Hansen striped base layer.

  1. Gloves

Forgetting your gloves on a winter run can be a horrible experience – we’ve probably all done it, where you reach that point of no return, decide to forge on and eventually get home with two blocks of ice for hands. Of course, a standard pair of warm gloves will do the job (providing they’re nice and light), but we really like this pair from Pearl Izumi. They’ve got a nice little pouch to put your front door key in, they’re wind proof and there is an additional mit that fits over the fingers if things get really chilly. The fingers and thumbs also have a special conductive coating so that you can fiddle with your Strava app or choose your next song while you’re running without having to expose your fingers.

  1. A Buff ®

Seriously – if you haven’t got one of these handy neck-scarf-sweatband-bandana hybrids, we urge you to get one. They are ingeniously constructed so that there is no seam (which can rub your neck and cause soreness) and they stretch without getting baggy. They are easy to rinse out and wash, and dry almost instantly. We’ve also found that we wear ours all year around: in the winter months a Buff will do a great job of keeping your neck warm while you run, and for those really bitter days you can pull it up over your face to protect you from the wind. At the other extreme, the material is light and breathable enough that it also keeps you cool in the summer, but wicks any moisture away from your skin so that you don’t feel uncomfortable while you run. Ingenious.

 

Jurg Widmer - yoga and Pilates

How yoga and Pilates can complement your fitness routine

Many of us, a one time or another, have probably signed up to a yoga or a Pilates class. How many of us are still doing them? It can often come as a surprise to people just how tough these disciplines are – many people will take them up, expecting them to be just a straightforward way of ‘chilling out’ after exercise, and quickly realise that if you do them properly, both can actually be very strenuous and testing in their own way. Sadly, this is the point where a lot of people drop out or decide that yoga and Pilates aren’t for them – which we think is a real shame. Here’s why.

The perfect partners

Both practices can really complement the other exercise routines you are doing, improving your performance and helping you to stay fit and, crucially, injury free. Take the combination of yoga and lifting weights. So much of exercising in the right way comes down to getting the best balance between the hard work you do in the gym and the other exercise you do beyond lifting weights. Finding the right yoga routine can be the perfect way to give your body a different challenge when you’re between lifting sessions, working on flexibility and core strength that you can then carry into your weight training. But why is yoga specifically a great complement to working with weights?

Well, in part it’s all about mixing things up – making sure that rather than just focusing on one set of muscles, and working them repeatedly, we build strength in more areas. This is crucial, because having stronger muscles around the areas we specifically want to focus on in our weight training can help to support the areas we’re putting under stress, and so help to reduce the chances of picking up and injury.

This idea of using yoga to introduce a bit of variety into our regular weight training routines also has powerful psychological benefits. On a basic level, taking up complementary practices such as yoga can simply keep us motivated and interested in exercising. But yoga in particular can also help us to increase our focus (especially in areas like controlling how we breath) that can also help us when we head back into the gym.

A flexible approach to running

How about Pilates? Well, we’re also big fans of using Pilates as a complementary exercise alongside running. Quite apart from the injection of some much needed variety that we’ve already mentioned with yoga, finding time for Pilates is also a great way to prevent some of the most common issues that runners face. For example, Pilates exercises can be the perfect way to ease a tight IT band – a common and crippling injury that can play havoc with your running routine. Pilates exercises can also be used to strengthen your ankles and the muscles around your knees – two areas that any runner will know are prone to damage and injury.

There is an important final point to make about both Pilates and yoga as complementary practices to go alongside your running or your weight training – and that is about the benefits you’ll see in your core strength. Having a strong core is absolutely crucial to both lifting weights and running, because it helps you with everything from posture and balance to technique.

Runners in particular can really benefit from both yoga and Pilates exercises that strengthen their core – the work you do on the mat can actually protect your body as you run. A strong core will hold your spine firm as you run and support the movement of your arms and legs, improving your technique and making you more efficient in your movements. Pilates also builds a strong core, and increases the strength and flexibility of your muscles – a crucial part of making sure that as you lift weights you are not putting undue strain on parts of your body that are unable to handle it.

So, if you have tried yoga or Pilates before, but gave them up, then we’d certainly recommend you give them another go – both disciplines can really complement the other fitness routines you do.

Jurg Widmer Probst - fitness

A minimalist approach to fitness

Every popular thing experiences ‘crazes’ – and of course the world of fitness and exercise is far from immune. In many ways it can feel like an industry that is built on fads – the latest nutritional plans to help you to lose weight or gain muscle, the newest technology to help you record your progress, the latest running shoes or highly advanced synthetic materials to help you perform that little bit better.

And yet we’re not going to say that all of this is rubbish, and should be ignored – not least because a lot of these changes are indicative of the great progress the industry has made over the years and the booming popularity of the sector. But also because a lot of this ‘stuff’ – the tech, the clothing, the shiny new theories – are all just a part of the fun of getting fitter. Most of us enjoy looking at the latest trends and trying out new things, and this continual evolution can be an important factor in keeping us fresh and engaged in whatever particular kind of exercise it is we enjoy.

All that being said, there is also a good argument for just stopping occasionally, and reassessing exactly where we are and why we’re doing it – it is a chance to think properly again about why we wanted to get fit in the first place. (Ironically, taking a more ‘minimal’ approach to fitness has become a kind of fad in its own right, and you could quite easily stop reading this post right now and spend the next couple of hours looking at which minimal running shoe is right for you). But, before you do, here are some thoughts on other ways in which you can shed just a few of the things that you maybe don’t actually need on this fitness journey you’re on.

Re-think about why you are really doing this

If you are going running or heading down to the gym every other day because you love buying running gear or losing yourself in the endless variety of new workout plans, then that’s great – but it is unlikely that these really were the original reasons why you started trying to get fitter. So, take some time to re-assess where you are right now.

Why did you originally start to do this? Are these still the same motivations you have now, or have they evolved? Looking at it from a slightly different angle, what is it that you really love most about the exercise you do? When do you feel at your best, truthfully? What is it that gives you the buzz – is it putting on that brand new digital fitness tracker, or is it the feeling you get when you lift more weights than you’ve ever done before, or run your PB for a 5k?

We’ve found that by taking another look at why you are exercising, and maybe revisiting and reminding yourself of those original motivations, you can begin to look at the things that are actually helping you to realise these goals, and the things that aren’t. Is that new running vest you’ve just bought yourself really going to make you run any faster? Or are you just buying it because it feels good to buy things now and then? Of course, there is nothing wrong with this – we all love buying stuff – but it is worth thinking about how necessary these extra things really are to helping us achieve our fitness goals.

Shed and unplug

This process of reassessment is all a part of drilling down to the basics – remembering why it is we’re exercising, and getting rid of anything that isn’t helping us to actually get fitter, or happier, (or both).

And once we’ve taken the time to think about our motivations, we then also need to start a process of getting rid of what we don’t need. This is the time to experiment – you might think that you need your headphones when you go for a run to stop yourself getting bored, but just try a short run without them for once, and see what happens. It might be that you find that the experience of hearing the world around you as you run is actually just as invigorating as the exercise itself. Or, if it isn’t, find someone else to run with, and use the time to have a proper conversation while you exercise. And if you love lifting weights, maybe try a bodyweight workout that you can do at home, rather than having to pay for a monthly gym membership. Or, save the money you spend on expensive gym equipment or membership and take up a cheaper, (but still tough) outdoor activity instead, like bouldering.

There are countless ways for you to exercise with less – whether it is less money spent on equipment, or fewer distractions while you’re doing it. Either way, it is a great way to reconnect with whatever it was that you loved about the activity in the first place.

Jurg Widmer Probst - fitness holiday

Is it possible to stay in shape over the holiday season?

We’ll address the big thing that everyone is probably thinking first: never mind if it is possible – is it actually even worth trying to stay in shape over Christmas and the New Year? It is a time when we all rest, relax and no doubt over-indulge a little too much – and so why should we even bother trying to keep fit and healthy over the holidays?

Well, it is a fair point, and in terms of exercise, even a couple of weeks off shouldn’t affect your fitness levels too much. In fact, in many ways the well earned rest could even do you some good, allowing you the chance to rest and repair those tired and damaged muscles. Get it right and a week or two’s break could actually leave you in as good a shape as you were before (if not slightly better).

Of course, all this is assuming that you look after yourself a little over the festive period. So what can we do to do this, at a time when it is so easy and tempting to over do it? Late nights, rich food and maybe even a bit too much alcohol can all take their toll. So, here are just a few tips for looking after yourself a little this holiday.

 

Don’t avoid meals

This might seem counter-intuitive, especially given the big meals that many people enjoy over Christmas. But actually it makes sense – trying to skip meals (particularly breakfast) because you are worried about your weight is rarely a good idea, at any time of year. Instead, doing this usually results in one of two things happening (or often both). You will either binge on your next meal, or you will pick at food in between meals to compensate. Unfortunately Christmas is ideally set up to make indulging these two bad habits very easy – so sit down and have regular meals with everyone else to keep yourself in a regular routine.

Get out of the house

Whether it is a family Boxing Day walk or even just a few turns around the block, getting outdoors is a really important part of staying in shape over the festive period. The combination of cold weather, supplies of food close to hand and lots to keep you entertained on the TV can make it all too easy to go into hibernation mode, but this is really not good for your body – or your mind for that matter. Even the closest families will find tempers starting to fray after a few days shut indoors, so heading out together is a great way to get the blood pumping and start feeling alive again. As with most things over Christmas, it is all about personal traditions – everyone develops their own, so make a fun outdoor activity one of yours.

Keep on lifting those weights

If you are in the middle of a weightlifting programme, don’t skip it during the festive break. It is actually a great way to burn calories, and rather than giving it a break and doing a bit of cardio, make sure you maintain your weight work. And even if you’re not a weightlifter, it’s still important to try and keep your regular fitness routines going over the holidays. So, get to the gym if you can – but if you really can’t then try and fit some other activity in to compensate.

Plan ahead and be realistic about your goals

It is a fact of life that you are likely to be enjoying some big meals and evenings out over Christmas and the new year. So, a important part of making sure you stay fit and healthy is to plan ahead. If you are likely to be eating a big Christmas meal one evening, try and go easier on the meals during the day – be kind to your body and just prepare sensibly so that you can enjoy those special treats fully.

 

Finally, just be kind to yourself, and be realistic with the fitness goals you set yourself over Christmas. It is going to be tough to avoid breaking a few healthy eating and drinking rules, so if you do, just enjoy it and don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s always the New Year for those healthy resolutions!