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 - 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- 3 keys to perform better at sports by taking the right mental approach mental health

The mental techniques you need to improve physical performance

We often hear professional athletes, from world champion boxers to marathon runners, talking about the ‘mental side’ of sport and competition. But what is it, and how can normal, everyday athletes like us use mental health it to improve their own performance? Here are my thoughts.

Positive visualisation

This is a technique that actually works in almost any situation. We might be waiting to go into a difficult interview for a job. Or we might be about to run 1500m. But by thinking clearly and consciously about successfully doing the activity before we do it we are actually preparing our minds and our bodies for that success.

Here’s how it works in practice. Whatever the activity, when we visualise a positive outcome in our minds we actually create new neural pathways in our minds. This is just as we would do for a real life action. And it means that when we actually do the thing in real life, our brains are ready to succeed.

Mindfulness

One of the other key mental health strategies that can benefit athletes is mindfulness training. There are lots of different meditation techniques out there, as well as apps like Headspace and Calm which help to improve our mindful attention.

The key here is that this isn’t just about increased focus (which is also a benefit of mindfulness techniques). It is also about enjoyment of the experience of an activity. When we are fully engaged and in the moment with our bodies, our minds and our environment, we are also enjoying all the benefits of that activity too.

Improving resilience and confidence for mental health

The ability to bounce back and get back to winning ways after a defeat is a key skill for athletes. It’s what sets the best apart and helps them to be consistently successful.

And it is one of the most important areas of focus when it comes to the mental side of sports. So how do we improve resilience and self confidence?

Well, techniques like positive visualisation and mindfulness can help us to be more successful on one level. But resilience and confidence also don’t just come from winning.

They are also a product of how we react to defeat. These qualities grow when we see setbacks as learning opportunities and as a way of contributing to, rather than diminishing, our sense of our own abilities.

So, go easy on yourself. Push yourself physically, but when you come up short sometimes, learn to cope with that mentally too. Learn from your mistakes and bring these lessons into your next session.

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

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.