Jürg Widmer Probst Fitness health podcasts

Health and fitness podcasts

We love podcasts. They’re convenient and easy to listen to anywhere. Our favourite player is Pocket Casts, but Stitcher and even Spotify also offer great services. Try them all out, and pick the best one for you.

If you haven’t already joined the podcast revolution, now is the time to start. Why? Well, if you’re into health and fitness then you’re going to find lots of great podcasts out there to enjoy. Here is our pick of just some of the best health and fitness podcasts we’ve been listening to.

1. The best podcast to listen to on your run

Personally, we prefer to not listen to anything when we run – we’re all for listening to the world around us. But we get it: sometimes you just want to  plug in and zone out as you eat up the miles. Strava are probably best known for their all-conquering route-logging app. But they also do an excellent podcast series to keep you company on those long runs.

Athletes Unfiltered is exactly that – the stories of normal runners and athletes, just like you, doing some extraordinary things. A sample episode follows Ricky Gates. He decided to run over a thousand miles following every (and we do mean every) street in San Francisco. Compelling and inspiring stuff.

2. The best podcast about diet

We are what we eat. And of course, exercising gives you some leeway in terms of what you eat – to a degree. But how many of us actually know exactly what we should be eating to get the ultimate performance when we work out?

Sound Bites from nutritionist Melissa Joy Dobbins gives you all the advice you need to eat well, all the time. It’s not just for those of us who exercise a lot. But it is a fascinating, well-informed podcast that’s packed with science-based advice and plenty of nutritional goodness. Tuck in.

3. The best podcast for mental wellbeing

We all know that mental wellbeing is as important as physical health, and that the two are inextricably linked. But too often we put all of our energy into working out, and neglect our inner health too.

So, we love the 10 Percent Happier podcast from US journalist and self-confessed sceptic Dan Harris. If you’re looking for an honest discussion around the benefits of meditation, then this is the podcast for you. Harris gets different guests in all the time, and is always an interesting interviewer. A great place to begin an exploration of the world inside your head.

4. The best podcast to help you warm down and unwind

After some serious exercise, we all need to relax a little. To help you unwind, our favourite podcast is The Dumbbells. It’s hosted by a couple of comedians who chat about the journey we’re all on to get fitter.

None of this banter is particularly high brow – watch out for some adult language too, if you’re not a fan. You’re not necessarily going to get nutrition tips, kit reviews or help with your running technique here.

But that isn’t really the point of The Dumbbells. It’s silly, and it’s entertaining – and the perfect way to chill out after a hard work out.

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.

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.

Jürg Widmer Probst

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 - 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

How to work out with out weights

Your first response to the idea of working out without weights might be: why on earth would you bother? Gyms have lots of specialist equipment designed specifically to help you to build muscle and exercise different parts of your body – so why would you not use it?

We can see that for many people, exercising with out using gym equipment might seem a little bit of a fad – albeit one that has been around for quite a while now. Well, we really do believe that there are very good reasons for ditching the equipment for a while and giving working out without weights a go. Continue reading “How to work out with out weights”

Jurg Widmer Probst

How to set good fitness goals and achieve them

We have all been there, whatever our levels of fitness or commitment to getting healthier. We set a goal – for example losing a certain amount of weight, or maybe running a 5k or even a marathon.

We commit to it for a few days, or a few weeks even, before something goes wrong and we give up. It might be that we get injured, or just disheartened with the progress we are making and don’t feel motivated any more.

Then, we stop, feel bad about ourselves, and fail to make any progress until we feel motivated to start again. And all too often, the process repeats itself. So, how do we break out of this? Is there a way to set fitness goals that are testing, but achievable, and that we will stick to until we beat them? We believe there are – so here are out tips.

Willpower really is all down to you.

There have been varying theories on what exactly willpower is, with some researchers suggesting that it is something that is directly linked to rest. And while it is clear that rest (in the form of enough sleep and healthy food at regular intervals) is a fundamental part of helping us to feel in better shape, it isn’t the whole story.

Newer research suggests that willpower is actually only as limited as you think it is – so, for example, if you tell yourself that you don’t have enough willpower to get up and go for a run or hit the gym, that will be the case. This has big implications because it really hands back the power to get fitter to you – whether you have the will to do something really comes down to your own attitude, and nothing else.

Just do it for yourself.

This might seem counter intuitive – after all, having a goal such as raising money for charity, or even just telling lots of people what you’re trying to achieve can all have a motivating effect on you. But the opposite can also be true. By setting a goal that is motivated internally, you can often make much more progress.

What do we mean by this? Well, for example, if you commit to go to go out for a run every day because you are trying to raise money for a charity, it is likely that you are going to feel fairly  motivated. You’ll keep going because you’re thinking about the money you’re raising and the good thing you’re doing for others.

But it will be tough, and there is a good chance that you will be much less motivated to go for a run than someone who actually just loves going running. If you get a big personal buzz out of pulling on your trainers and hitting the road, then you are more likely to stick at than someone who is doing it for purely altruistic reasons. So, find a fitness goal that fits with things you love to do, and it will be far easier to keep to it.

Keep it interesting.

No one enjoys running the same route every day, or working the same muscles on the same equipment at the gym. It is boring and demotivating – but is remarkable how many people make this very basic mistake when they are setting their fitness goals and creating a programme to achieve them. To return to our previous point again – the key to setting and achieving fitness goals is to find activities that you enjoy, and nothing kills enjoyment like endless repetition.

So, mix it up. Pick a different route, or head out on a trail to build a bit of variety into your runs. Or, if you’re creating a programme of gym workouts, make sure that you are focusing on a wide range of muscle groups, or mixing up the equipment you use. For example, if you’re used to just using the gym’s machines, then try using free weights too for a bit of variation.

A final thought on this. So much of setting and achieving our fitness goals is really about being good to ourselves. Too often, people see getting fit almost as a form of punishment – and while it does need to be tough, we also need to try and find something we feel passionate about.

So find an activity you love. Set goals that will test you but that you can achieve, and don’t be too hard on yourself. However you get on, know that you can always begin again: focus on the start that you have made, not on the failures you have had along the way.

 

Jurg Widmer

Why less is sometimes more when it comes to workouts

The many excuses we come up with for not going to the gym are often longer than the queues for the most popular equipment. We are great at telling ourselves that we either have too much work, we’re too tired, or we simply just don’t have time to go and work out. So is there a way to get more out of the workouts we are able to squeeze in? Is it possible to do shorter workouts, but get the same benefits? We believe it is, so here are our top tips for getting more out of shorter gym sessions. Continue reading “Why less is sometimes more when it comes to workouts”