Making Time to Workout

As a fitness professional, I’m certainly not new to the phrase ‘I don’t have time to exercise’; it’s something I hear all of the time. I get it, absolutely. If you have a full time job, or a family (or both… superheroes right there), then it can be difficult to take a little time out and focus on yourself. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not important to do so… In fact, it becomes all the more vital.

Here are a few handy tips to help you find those extra minutes in the day, so you can smash a workout and feel great afterwards!

1) Get organised.

Buy yourself a diary, write out your plans and make a schedule. If you organise a specific time in the day for a workout, it’s much more likely that you’ll make it happen. I would recommend doing a session in the morning, because very few things can get in the way, such as having to work late, or last minute arrangements to see your pals. You don’t want to miss out on that!

2) Go to bed earlier.

A lack of sleep will leave you feeling lethargic and de-energised. If you want to have the motivation to workout and feel your best, optimum snooze time is 7-8 hours. Just think, an early night means that you can also wake up a little early, and fit in that much-needed workout to start your day.

3) Don’t train for hours.

A workout need not be excessively long. 20-30 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is plenty. It’ll boost your metabolism and aid in fat burning throughout the course of the day! Not sure what HIIT is? Head over to YouTube, where there are plenty of real-time examples for you to try.

4) A workout doesn’t have to be in the gym.

When we think of exercise, we tend to think of a gym. For some, this thought alone is enough to avoid working out. In which case, try training at home. It’ll save you time and money. All you need is enough space for a yoga mat, as this is sufficient to perform a whole array of tough, fat-burning bodyweight exercises. Another top tip is to make use of your furniture… A dining chair alone is plenty of equipment – use your imagination!

Now, time for some tough love…

When it comes down to it, there are 24 hours in the day, and that’s the same for everyone. Admittedly, some people have more to squeeze into that period than others, but it’s all about organisation. If you want it, you have to make time. And I know as well as anyone that if you want it enough, you’ll make it happen.

Five Simple Steps Towards Achieving ‘Balance’

Balance seems to be the it word of the fitness industry right now. It’s everywhere. You’ve undoubtedly heard it tossed around; hey, perhaps you even use the word yourself. In this post, I want to address what ‘balance’ means to me, and suggest five simple steps to help you achieve it.

Here we go:

1) Don’t deprive yourself.

In my opinion, this is without doubt the most important factor. We’ve all been there, dabbling with (sometimes very bizarre) fad diets, without a legitimate understanding of them – usually because the logic behind them is somewhat constructed. Five cups of green tea a day and complete avoidance of anything mildly indulgent just isn’t sustainable. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be exactly the same for everyone, but in my experience, this approach towards ‘health’ just doesn’t work. I’m now in a very content place, where I eat chocolate on a daily basis and enjoy every damn bite. Eat the good stuff – treat yourself. Just do so in moderation.

2) Get to know your body.

This very much leads on from the last point. A solid nutritional foundation is vital in enabling a sustainable lifestyle. I’ve come to understand how best to fuel my body – what works and what doesn’t. I know that eating regularly is essential in order to avoid hanger-related mood swings, along with the desire to eat everything I see all in one sitting. Do your research, experiment a little, and find what works for YOU – after all, every individual body is different.

3) Stop focusing solely on aesthetics.

Constantly studying your appearance is a torturous process, and it can become obsessive. Instead, focus on the way you feel. Eat nutritious food (around 80% of the time) because you gain enjoyment from knowing that you’re fuelling your body correctly. Exercise because you love to challenge your body’s capabilities, not because you ate too much junk last night. The point at which we are able to adjust our mentality towards ‘health’, is the moment that we can establish a genuine sense of balance.

4) Stop comparing yourself to others.

There’s no denying that this is a tough one to hack. Consider it this way: how can you achieve the slightest sense of contentment in yourself, if you insist on comparing yourself to others? Rather than scrolling through your Instagram homepage thinking, ‘I wish I looked like that’, be encouraged by another person’s strength, and allow them to be inspired by yours. It’s time we stop critiquing one another, and learn to work together. Be the source of someone else’s inspiration.

5) Find your thing.

I’ve used this phrase a lot recently, but it’s something I’m so passionate about. Exercise is a critical part of your journey towards a balanced lifestyle, however, it’s difficult to attain a sense of fulfilment doing something you don’t enjoy. For me, running on a treadmill is the most boring thing in the world, so I find alternative ways to get in a cardio workout. Try a new class with a friend, go hiking at the weekend, revisit a childhood activity. Don’t limit yourself, get out there and find something you love – that way, you’re far more likely to stick at it.

Working Out When Sick

Exercise is fab; there’s no denying it. We all know that by now (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade). However, in this post, I want to address the flip side of the coin, and identify why exercise isn’t always the right thing to do… Specifically, when you’re ill.

For a regular gym-goer, like myself, it’s hard to avoid the media-driven ‘no-excuses’ mentality towards fitness. It’s more than likely that your home page on Instagram is riddled with inspirational quotes, workout videos, and a whole load of perfectly formed bodies (not that you should be comparing yourself to those anyway…). The struggle is very much real: trust me, I get it.

But despite what we are conditioned to believe, it’s important to realise that exercise isn’t always the solution. Yep, I really did just say that – shocker, I know. Now, I want to make sure my message here is very clear: I am not, in any way, trying to discourage you from working out. My point is that there is no shame in skipping a workout if you are feeling genuinely unwell.

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Rest may just be exactly what the Doctor ordered… Here’s why:

During strenuous exercise, the body undergoes hormonal changes, and is placed under significant stress. Blood pressure is elevated, heart rate will increase, and breathing becomes quicker and deeper. These adjustments place a physical strain upon the throat and lungs, pushing the body outside of its comfort zone.

In usual circumstances, these reactions contribute to improving our overall fitness. However, when you’re unwell, your immune system becomes weakened whilst fighting to overcome the illness. Therefore, the excess stress that exercise places upon the body will only operate to inhibit, and thereby elongate, the recovery process.

So there we have it: it’s critical that you allow your body the time it needs to recover, before engaging in anything arduous.

I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: please don’t read this post selectively and assume that I’m promoting a reduction in activity levels… In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Exercise is the most incredible, uplifting activity, and I can’t recommend it enough. Your task as an individual is to determine those times when you are genuinely unwell, and then allow your body the rest it needs. If it’s just a little sniffle teamed with a lack of motivation, get up, get out, and smash a workout… I promise you’ll feel better after!

My Shopping List Staples

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, especially when you’re trying to make healthy choices. I receive a lot of questions regarding nutrition, and I’ve already put together a rough food diary, which you can view here. I thought it would also be useful to create a list of my cupboard/fridge staples, to perhaps make your trip around the supermarket a little less faff. Here we go:

Fruit:

  • Bananas: I am quite literally bananas about bananas. I use them for everything – smoothies, baking, topping rice cakes and peanut butter. You name it, a banana can do it. Plus, they’re rich in potassium, and a source of quality carbohydrate, ideal either pre or post workout
  • Frozen Berries: buying your berries frozen means that you get a lot more bang for your buck… In more ways than one. When berries are frozen, their nutrients are sealed in, thus they maintain a higher nutritional value than their fresh counterparts, which have been bumped about during the journey from field to fridge. They’re also a lot less expensive, and last for ages in the freezer. Great for adding to smoothies, or topping your porridge
  • Avocado: you may be inclined to call it a vegetable because of its savoury taste. Butttt, avo is a fruit packed full of monounsaturated (healthy) fats, potassium and fibre. I start almost every day with the amusingly basic breakfast of eggs and avo, and I’m not bored of it yet

Veggies:

  • Sweet Potato: dense in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron, sweet potato is a quality source of carbohydrate, with a valuable nutritional profile. Added bonus: it makes everything taste better
  • Cucumber: chop into sticks and munch alongside a fresh pot of hummus – you have the perfect snack! Did you know that cucumbers contain silica, the mineral responsible for promoting good nail-health? Well, you do now
  • Spinach Leaves: phytonutrient central, with anti-inflammatory properties. Spinach helps to maintain healthy eyesight, and its an absolute overall winner

Carbohydrates:

  • Oats: rich in beta-glucan – a dietary fibre known to reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the body. I eat oats cold, soaked in water or Rude Health Brown Rice Milk
  • Rice Cakes: the ultimate versatile snack. Top with peanut butter and banana, cream cheese and veggies, tuna and mashed avocado… The possibilities are endless
  • Uncle Ben’s Wholegrain Rice: these microwaveable pouches are easy to cook, and oh so tasty. Great for when you’re in a hurry, and available in a variety of yummy flavours

Protein:

  • Salmon Fillet: rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B12, selenium, niacin – the list goes on. The perfect protein-packed addition to any meal
  • Cod Fillet: a low calorie source of lean protein, dense in vitamins B6 and B12. Pair with sweet potato wedges, vinegar and homemade mushy peas to make your very own healthy fish and chips. Don’t mind if I do…
  • Eggs: the nutritional powerhouse, containing 13 essential vitamins and minerals, alongside a high nutrient and healthy fat content. I eat so many eggs that one day I may actually become one
  • Tinned Tuna in Spring Water: a readily available, affordable source of protein, and a great option for when you’re on-the-go. I opt for tuna in spring water, as opposed to oil, as this reduces calorie content

Snacks:

  • Fage 0% Fat Yoghurt: high in protein, low in fat. The ideal addition to a post workout smoothie, when fats should be kept to a minimum, to ensure rapid absorption of carbohydrates and protein into the body
  • Full Fat Greek Yoghurt: I buy both full and 0% fat yoghurt, to eat at different times of day. Mix 200g full fat Greek yoghurt with a handful of frozen berries, to create a tasty and filling snack
  • Meridian Peanut/Almond Butter: 100% nuts, enough said
  • Dark Chocolate: the darker, the more delicious… We’re talking 90% cocoa. If you can find raw cacao chocolate, that’s even better

This is by no means a fool proof, all-inclusive list, but I hope that it’s helpful nonetheless!

Review: Fit-Pharm UK

I have two questions to ask, the second of which is particularly important. So listen up.

  • Do you take any form of supplement, such as protein powder, pre workout or Branched Chain Amino Acids?
  • If so, have you any idea what these individual products contain?

If you haven’t already (tut tut), take a look at the ingredients. It’s more than likely that the list is extensive, and hellllla hard to pronounce. Guess what? Those substances are equally as alien to your body as they are to your eyes. We’re talking thickeners, artificial flavours/sweeteners and a whole load of other chemicals. It’s just plain nasty. The truth is, our bodies aren’t meant to take in such densely processed products; it simply won’t recognise them. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

I’m a supplement girl myself. There’s no denying that it’s a quick, easy and convenient way to assist you in achieving your goals. But I’m just not down with the idea of filling my body with the unnatural substances listed above. After all, what’s the point in eating clean, and purposefully avoiding anything artificial, to then consume a whole load of chemicals in the form of a shake? It doesn’t make sense.

I was fortunate enough to stumble across the perfect solution, thanks to my lovely friend Lauren (check out her page here). Praise the Lord – there’s no reason to ditch the supps all together. You can still stumble out of the gym, muscles trembling and a protein shake in hand. The gainzzz are here to stay.

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What is this miraculous solution, I hear you ask? The answer: Fit-Pharm. This is an independent, UK-based fitness supplement and clothing brand. Their ethos is to create clean, natural products, free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. They taste incredible: Fit-Pharm is just a whole different level when compared to mainstream alternatives. The best part? Your body loves these products just as much as your taste buds.

My personal favourite is Vanilla. I’m a sucker for Vanilla ice cream generally, so I use Fit-Pharm Epic Whey Protein to make my very own ‘Nice Cream’ (keep your eyes peeled for the recipe at some stage). The chocolate and strawberry flavours are also deeeeelicious.

I would never promote or recommend something that I didn’t believe in, because that’s just not me. But I honestly cannot recommend these products highly enough. Without Fit-Pharm, I would have stopped using supps a long time ago. Check out their website here, and make the change. You can thank me later.

When purchasing products, don’t forget to use my discount code: charshelley10

How to Ease the Pain of a Hangover

As I’m writing this post, I’m struggling with a very sore head. If I stand up too quickly, I feel dizzy and that awful hangover taste remains in my mouth no matter how many times I brush my teeth. My body hurts. Do you think I went out last night?

So I’m writing this post not only as an offering to you lovely lot, but also to myself. I want it to act as a bit of a reality check, that it’s okay to go out and have fun, drink a bit too much and act a little silly. The key is just not to make a habit of going too hard. You can’t live your life avoiding everything unhealthy, because you’ll end up missing out on loads of the fun stuff (that’s not to say that the gym isn’t fun… The gym is my favourite, but you get what I’m saying).

I purposefully didn’t name this post ‘How to Cure a Hangover’, because my honest opinion is that this horrendous feeling can’t be cured. So these are just a few handy tips that should help you feel a little better.

Water: I know, you’ve heard it before, but alcohol is a diuretic, which means it removes fluid from the body. Most of the symptoms of a hangover result from dehydration, so drink up. When I’m suffering from a sore head, I find plain water quite hard to drink. A great alternative is to add in a few slices of lemon/lime to spruce it up.

Get Outside: I appreciate that moving from your bed is probably the last thing you want to do, but getting outside into the fresh air will help you feel so much better. It’s the best way to clear your head, not to mention, it will take your mind off how rubbish you feel.

Avoid the Desire to Binge on Junk Food: I know it’s tempting, but if you’ve already put your body through a heavy night, you need to help it recuperate properly. Lots of fresh fruit and veggies. Bananas are a great option, because they’re full of potassium. They are also high in electrolytes, which your body will have lost as a result of consuming alcohol.

Don’t Have a Hair of the Dog: Whoever came up with this idea? Alcohol, the cause of your problems right now, as a potential solution? No thanks. Having more alcohol is always going to be a bad idea. It will only prolong that awful feeling your experiencing, so steer clear of this myth.

Sleep: Chances are, you’re probably already lacking on sleep from a late night. So if you’re feeling tired, have a nap. Just make sure you set your alarm, and don’t sleep through the whole day, otherwise it will be a nightmare getting to sleep when it’s actually time for bed.

I hope you find these tips useful!

The Importance of Rest Days

We all know the importance of working out and training hard. However, something that is so often overlooked is the importance of taking rest days. If you want to achieve maximum results from your strength training, you need to allow your body time to recuperate.

What many people don’t know is that lifting weights actually breaks down fibres in the working muscles. Increased strength and mass occur when these fibres heal and rebuild themselves. This is why rest and recovery (alongside a clean diet, high in protein) are so crucial if you want to see progression. Not giving your muscles adequate time to repair leads to increased risk of injury.

If you overtrain by not allowing your body sufficient recovery, performance will plateau. This is why it’s a good idea to split your workouts into muscles groups, targeting certain areas on specific days. This method enables you to train one area of your body whilst another is recovering.

The required amount of rest varies from person to person. The trick is to listen to your own body: if your muscles are sore/you feel fatigued, take a rest day. Just make sure you’re able to determine the difference between necessary recovery time and laziness.

I tend to take two rest days per week, although I’m not the sort of person who can sit around and do nothing all day. So if you’re anything like me, and get itchy feet if you’re not moving, here are some ideas of activities to perform on your rest day:

Cardio: walk, run, cycle, swim – whatever you fancy. Cardio is a great way to get fresh blood pumping around your body. Providing freshly oxygenated blood to the recovering muscles will aid in recovery and repair.

Yoga/stretching: this is a great way to de-stress and clear your mind. Not to mention, it aids in easing muscle tension. Increasing your flexibility greatly reduces the risk of injury, so it’s important to take some time to focus on this.

Foam rolling: getting rid of those nasty niggles is crucial, and strangely satisfying (I always feel about a stone lighter, and a lot more bouncy once I’ve finished rolling my legs). Rolling out your muscles can help increase blood flow, and will also assist in improving mobility.

Review: 1Rebel

This week I visited 1Rebel for the first time, to try their 45 minute ‘Reshape Full Body’ class. Widely hailed ‘The King of Gyms’, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Did it live up to expectations? In one simple word… YES.

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It’s everything you could want a gym to be and more. Think high-end, chic and boutique. I mean, it’s worth trying a class just to experience their lavish changing rooms. We’re talking, Smeg fridge full of chilled aromatherapy towels, top of the range hairdryers and GHD straighteners. Oh, and there’s also no need to bring shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, make up remover, cotton wool pads, face cleanser, moisturiser, hair spray or even hair pins, because all of these are provided for you (yes, really). So before you’ve even arrived, 1Rebel have done you a huge favour in making your gym bag a whole lot lighter.

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I booked in for Reshape at 4.15pm on a Friday, which is seemingly a great time to visit, because there were only four people in the class. Alice was the trainer, and she was great: high energy and very accommodating for me as the only newbie.

The class itself features a mixture of high-intensity treadmill work, floor-based calisthenics (bodyweight training), and free weight exercises atop their patented 1Rebel workout platform. Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s hard. However, rest assured that after 45 physically enduring and mentally gruelling minutes, the pain will have been so worth it.

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The struggle is made somewhat easier by the party-vibe going on in the studio. The dim, disco-style lighting is great for concealing some of that excessive sweatiness (which, trust me, you will experience), and the playlists created by internationally renowned DJs are obviously top notch. When you think your body can’t take any more, there’s nothing more motivating than a bit of Eminem to help you blast through those last few reps.

So if you’re looking for a centrally located, no contract (pay-as-you-go), class-based gym, this could just be the place for you. When you decide to visit, be sure not to miss out on a post-workout protein shake from on site juice bar, ‘Roots and Bulbs’, and maybe even grab yourself some snazzy new sports gear from their luxe retail zones.

A Beginner’s Guide to Lifting Weights

After my blog post ‘Why You Need to Start Weight Training’, I’ve had a few questions about where to begin. So I’m writing this to give some very basic tips on how to get involved in strength-based training in the correct way.

Break it down into muscle groups: Rather than completing a full-body workout every time you’re at the gym, aim to break your sessions down into muscle groupings. These can be general, such as ‘upper body’ and ‘lower body’, or more specific such as ‘back and biceps’, and ‘shoulders and abs’. This way, you work the selected muscles to their full capacity. It also means that whilst one muscle group is recovering, you are still able to train another. Aim to work each muscle group once or twice per week, and always remember to arrive at the gym with a plan of the session ahead.

Selecting the appropriate weight: It’s a common mistake to lift heavy weights too soon, and this often leads to injury. Start at a lower weight, at which you are able to fatigue the muscle in 10-14 repetitions (reps). Begin by completing 4 or 5 sets of 10-15 reps at this weight. Once you have built up base strength and feel strong enough to progress, increase the weight slightly. As you advance further to use heavy weights, reduce the number of reps performed, to around 5-8 (at a heavy weight this should be enough to fatigue the working muscles).

Control every movement: This leads on from my previous point. Every motion performed should be carefully controlled; if you need to use momentum to complete the movement, the weight is probably too heavy. Rather than swinging the weights, train yourself to fully engage the working muscles, as this will make the exercise much more effective. Think of it as a mind-muscle connection. Don’t just flow through the movement thoughtlessly, ensure you activate the necessary muscle groups.

Form: Completing an exercise incorrectly is likely to cause muscular/joint problems, not to mention it will make the movement much less beneficial. I recommend visiting a reputable website (such as www.bodybuilding.com) where they break down each exercise, with a video and description detailing perfect form. It’s much easier to learn the correct form before you begin training, rather than having to correct bad habits later.

Rest: Maintaining optimum rest time between sets is crucial. Not resting for long enough means that muscles will quickly become fatigued, but rest for too long, and the muscles start to cool down. I also find that extensive rest periods lead me to lose focus. Ideal rest time is 30-90 seconds between sets, and 1-2 minutes when changing exercises. The key is to really listen to your body during your rest period. If possible, try and remain within these guidelines, starting a new set when you feel that your muscles are ready.

Use a personal trainer: I highly recommend using a trainer in the gym. They can put you on a programme and help you achieve your personal goals in the most efficient way possible. If, however, you don’t want to spend money on this, you can always find tailored programmes online (you know by now that it’s my favourite – www.bodybuilding.com). Remember that most gyms offer a free first personal training session, where you can ask your trainer to show you how to use the weights equipment properly.

Be consistent: Giving up will get you nowhere. If you want to progress, I suggest a minimum of three weights sessions per week. Motivation is the key to consistency, so find ways to keep yourself inspired, whether this may be through finding a great workout playlist or recruiting a gym buddy. You can also set yourself small, attainable weekly targets such as ‘complete 15 press ups’. Commitment means results.

I hope you’ve found this useful; now, let’s put it into practice!

Food Diary

I’ve had a few requests to write a blog post on my personal food diary. This is a difficult one, because every individual’s needs are very different when it comes to nutrition. Factors such as height, gender, age and activity levels hugely affect your body’s nutritional demands. With this in mind, I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting for anyone to follow these guidelines directly, because it’s more than likely that they aren’t tailored to your individual needs.

My body is incredibly consistent when it comes to food, and I know my metabolism well enough to expect hunger around every three hours. If I don’t eat, I quickly become hangry (something that my friends and family will definitely vouch for). As such, I generally eat three main meals a day, with two substantial snacks in between. This won’t be the same for everyone, it’s just the way my body functions. I eat a lot because I lead a very active lifestyle.

Below, I’ve drafted out two rough examples of what I may eat in a day.

Day One:

Breakfast: Two eggs, poached or scrambled, half an avocado and one slice of wholemeal/rye toast.

Mid-Morning Snack: Protein shake, consisting of one banana, one scoop of protein powder, a small serving of oats (same size as protein scoop), topped up with water and ice.

Lunch: Chickpea, mixed bean and red pepper stew, with plenty of kale, and a spoonful of houmous.

Mid-Afternoon Snack: One small pot of Fage 0% fat yoghurt, with a handful of mixed nuts, a handful of berries, and a drizzle of honey.

Dinner: Two grilled cod fillets, with one mashed sweet potato and a large serving of mixed veggies.

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Day Two:

Breakfast: Protein zoats, consisting of one grated zucchini, mixed with approximately 50 grams of oats. These are cooked in water, with one scoop of protein powder, topped with a spoonful of nut butter and a handful of berries.

Mid-Morning Snack: Protein shake, as above.

Lunch: Quinoa and spinach salad, dressed in balsamic vinegar, with one can of tuna, half a mashed avocado and fresh sweetcorn.

Mid-Afternoon Snack: Houmous with carrot, celery and apple sticks. If I’m really hungry, perhaps also half a wholemeal pitta bread.

Dinner: Two mixed bean veggie burgers (no bun), topped with one egg, and a large side of mixed veggies.

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If I get hungry at any other stage in the day, I usually snack on fresh fruit. I don’t count my macros, I just enjoy eating healthy food. That being said, if there is a day when I fancy something naughty, I’ll have it. It’s all about balance.

My diet varies a lot from day-to-day, depending on what I’m doing. One thing that’s certain for everyone is that if you want to maintain a clean diet, you have to be organised. My top tips are:

  • Always aim to eat breakfast before you leave the house
  • Prepare your own food whenever possible – those shop bought lunches are full of hidden nasties!
  • Try cooking extra dinner in the evening to pop in a tupperware for lunch the next day