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Weight Training and my Mental Health

I have struggled with my mental health for years. For a long time I have battled anxiety and extremely low moods, impacting my confidence, motivation and social life. I gave up any hobby I had a long time ago and so I found myself with a lot of time to sit around by myself. I was on a downward spiral. What with this and University work, I found my self-esteem at an all time low and my stress levels at an all time high. I began weight training about 5 months ago. I had been on and off going to the gym for years but struggled with motivation and found it difficult to go on my own. With a lot of support and persuasion I gave it a go. It had often been recommended to me to try as a supplement to other treatment I was receiving. I didn’t have a lot of faith. I associated the gym with pain, failure and a lot of sweat. Not exactly what I’d call a helpful combination. I decided to give it a go. It took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to start but people were really supportive and if something was going to make me feel even the tiniest bit better, it was worth pushing myself out of my comfort zone to give it a go. I’ll be honest, I really hated it at first. It was just another thing for me to be anxious about and, when I couldn’t lift what I wanted to or I struggled with form, I felt like I had failed. Without support from friends I met in the gym, I would have given up, but I stuck with it. It was a challenge but the more I went the better and more confident I was getting. I was starting to feel stronger and seeing results. I was more motivated and had more energy to get through the day, something that I’d really been struggling with since starting at University. I was sleeping better at night and I had made new friends.

I decided to start an Instagram dedicated to tracking my fitness journey. It was mainly just for me at first and I kept it a secret from everyone. Slowly, I started to tell more people and found myself part of an incredibly active and support fitness community. People laughed and judged me, but most have been support and encouraged me on my journey. I never really had much good to say about social media when it came to my mental health, but now I feel supported and have something to focus on that is mine. I am honest, I don’t want to be something that I am not and I talk about the bad as well as the good.

There are lots of scientific reasons why exercise is supposed to improve your mental wellbeing but it has been so much more than that for me. The opportunity to meet new people and get out of the house is a benefit that I never anticipated

Exercise has certainly not solved my struggle with mental health entirely and it has not been the only factor. Alongside exercise, I have been receiving a lot of professional support in order to deal with my mental health problems. Many times I have simply being told to ‘go for a walk’ or ‘get some fresh air’ to help me to feel better and so I know how patronising and dangerous undermining or even trivialising mental health issues can be and therefore this is not an attempt at saying exercise can cure any mental health problem. However, I truly believe that, since starting weight training, I have seen some improvements. I am more focused, motivated and confident in myself. It gives me a few hours a day where I am something to focus on for me, allowing me to take my mind off my anxieties, even if only for a short while. I hope that one day I will not need a distraction and that I will no longer struggle with anxiety and low moods, however, for now, the gym is giving me a bit of time each day where I am not my mental health issues. I am strong, I am capable and I am confident. And for that, I am very grateful.

Jamie x

My Fitness Wishlist!

As a student, my budget can sometimes be a little tight, which means I have a huge fitness wish list accumulating full of things I have been eyeing up but haven’t had the chance yet to buy. I did recently order my first Gymshark outfit the other day ready for Body Power (any of you guys going?) so I am slowly but surely starting to tick things off! I thought I would share my wish list with you guys – would love to know if you’ve got any of these products and what is on your wish list.

  1. Gymshark Cropped Hoodie.  A new release it had, of course, sold out by the time I decided that I could justify spending £30. Don’t worry, I’ve asked to be emailed as soon as it’s back in stock so hopefully the next time you see this item it will be on a haul and not on a wish list! I have been looking for a hoodie of some sort for ages just to wear to and from the gym, particularly when it’s chilly. I have my eye on the sapphire blue marl just to add a bit of colour to my predominantly black gym wardrobe.
  2. Gymshark High Waist seamless leggings.  Another Gymshark item, another disappointed Jamie when I missed out on these as well! I am yet to try any Gymshark leggings but I have heard some pretty good reviews. I’m a big fan of the fact these are high waisted because I like to feel like all my wobbly bits are nicely tugged up. I have my eye on the black ones because it’s super flattering and goes with everything.
  3. Grasp Pink Liquid Chalk.  I know, I know – pink chalk is completely unnecessary but it’s also PINK CHALK!! I first saw this on Lauren Tickner’s latest YouTube video and got overly excited about the prospect. Apart from being pink, it does serve a very practical purpose. As you will know if you follow my Instagram, I struggle a lot with my grip, so I would really like to give chalk a try. Basically, the chalk absorbs all the sweat, adding more friction and (in theory) helping you keep your grip for longer. I am yet to try any chalk but I will get a review up as soon as I do to let you guys know how it worked for me. I can’t promise it will be this pink chalk but, hey, a girl can dream I suppose.
  4. Knee Sleeves (obviously pink again). Another one inspired by Lauren Tickner is knee sleeves. The basic purpose of a knee sleeve is to keep your knees warmer and, in doing so, prevent any injuries occurring. Another bonus, as Lauren talks about in her video (give it a watch if you’re stuck with anything!), is that it can make you more aware of your knees during your workout. This is something I could really benefit from during my squat as I have a bad tendency of bringing my knees in during later reps. I’m hoping that knee sleeves will help me to rectify this, as well as protecting my knees from any injury.
  5. Grenade Carb Killa protein bars. This one is inspired by seeing a lot of breakfasts on Instagram with these melted on top. I’ve yet to find a protein bar that I actually like but people really rave about these. They have loads of flavours from Caramel Chaos to Banana Armour. I tend to have protein bars (or my protein balls!) just after my more intense workouts. They’re not always necessary as a lot of the time I get what I need from food but if you’re pushed for time or struggling to hit your macros, these might be a good idea to try. More to the point, I’ve heard they taste pretty good!

So there you have it, my current fitness wish list. A really important thing to remember is that these things are not all necessary and weight training does not have to be a ridiculously expensive past time. When scrolling through Instagram it can be pretty easy to think that if you don’t have the latest releases you’re not as good – this is not the case at all!! When I first starting weight training I had it in my head I needed everything from squat shoes to wrist straps and you really don’t. These things can help support you on your journey but don’t rush into buying everything just because you see other people with them. Take your time to research and figure out what will work for you and help you to progress. 

Would love to know what you guys have on your fitness wish lists!

Jamie x

 

Clean Eating Alice ‘Everyday Fitness’ Review.

I absolutely love Clean Eating Alice, so when I found out she was bringing a new book out, I had to get my hands on it. The book costs £14.99 but, so far, has been worth every penny. The book is great to dip in and out of, as well as sit and read if you’re looking for a bit of motivation.

clean eating alice

Starting with her own fitness journey, the book takes you through Alice’s favourite recipes, exercises (broken down into fat-burning HIIT workouts, weight training workout and home workouts), motivational quotes, recovery tips and FAQ. Each section is easy to follow with really helpful pictures and diagrams to help inspire your workout. Beyond simply just giving you different recipes and exercises, the book is full of information to geek out on and scrub up on your scientific understanding. I find this really valuable as it makes me feel more confident and informed before I give something a go. The book is really focused on encouraging education and Alice shares some of her favourite books and podcasts within if you want to expand your knowledge.

Without giving away too many spoilers, here are some of my personal highlights in the book!  Firstly, the book has a section all about maintaining yourself progress and practising self love on your journey to fitness (and just in life generally). This is a super important part of the journey I think a lot of guides seem to forget about a little bit. It’s okay having loads of focus on how to achieve your goals but you also need to know how to keep them.

Next up, recipes! I don’t usually by recipe books as I never really follow them. Since I have started tracking my macros, knowing what (and how much) stuff I am putting in my food has become super important and so these recipes have been fantastic. I will also readily admit that uni makes me a very boring cook and I tend to have the same meal every single day. These recipes have certainly helped add a bit of variation to my meals. My favourite breakfast would have to be the homemade guacamole on toast. I am a sucker for savoury in the morning and this was super easy to make and set me up nicely for the day. I haven’t tried any of the lunch recipes yet but at lot would be great for prepping in advance which works well for me! I think my first one will be the spicy chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and avocado wrap. Not only does the picture look really good but wraps are really easily transportable so will be great when I’m travelling in and out of uni. My easy snack favourite so far is, without a doubt, the energy balls. I hadn’t been able to find a recipe for energy balls without nuts in until these. They are super tasty and really easy to make. Again, dinner I haven’t tried yet but I was sold at the word ‘prawn’ in the warm king prawn, wild rice, sun-dried tomato and aubergine salad. This looks incredible and I am a sucker for seafood so this is definitely on my list of things to make!

In terms of exercises, the book has over 80 different things for you to try out! A lot of these I am already doing (it does seem to be tailored for beginners in some parts), however, a lot I have never heard of and I really appreciate the section on home work outs because it’s not always possible to hit the gym. So as not to waffle too much, I won’t go through my favourite exercises (you’ll have to take a look yourself) but I do want to talk about the introduction to the section. As previously mentioned, the book is great tool for educating yourself and has clear diagrams helping you to understand the body. Crucially, there is also a section on training safe, which is really important. I will admit, even after months and months of training, I do sometimes let this slip and so it’s great that this book has a reminder with clear guidelines.

The book ends with a super handy section, helping you to customise your own workout. Alice also highlights to importance of a positive mental attitude and reflects on mindfulness at the end of the book – a really important thing to remember. The focus on the mental and not just the physical is something I cannot praise this book for enough.

I would really recommend getting yourself a copy of this book, whether you’re a beginner or have been at it ages. Not every single page is going to be useful to you but there are so many tips and tricks that you’ll definitely learn something new. Fitness is different depending on each person so it is really important to make sure you’re informed and this book is a great tool to help you on your way.

Jamie x

Staying Positive

We all lose motivation from time to time and it can be hard to stay positive when you’re not seeing results all the time, it’s completely normal! Struggling with anxiety means sometimes it can be a struggle to do anything, never mind get up and go to the gym. We all have good days and bad days, it’s just important to stay focused and keeping positive. Here are my top tips for getting the motivation back and keeping positive about your workout.

1) Look at your before pictures to see how far you’ve come. 

It can be easy to forget how far you’ve come when you’re looking at yourself every day. I would really recommend taking some pictures of yourself throughout your journey. You don’t have to share these with anyone but it gives you something to look at when you’re feeling low and remind you how far you have come. I find this really motivates me to keep going.

2) Mix up your gym routine and try something a bit different.

When you’re doing the same thing everyday it can get a little bit tedious, particularly if you’re not seeing results. This isn’t to say give up on it, definitely stick with it and keep trying, but spicing things up a little bit can be a fab way to give you some ‘get up and go’. I like to watch YouTube videos or take a look at Instagram and see what different things people are doing. If you’re stuck, chat to the people who work in your gym and ask for advice. The staff in my gym at University have been great and shown me loads of ways I can mix up my routine and get my confidence back.

3) Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Everyone has bad days and you’re allowed to give yourself some time off to focus on your mental wellbeing. It’s all about taking baby steps, you are not going to see results over night. It’s a long process and you’re doing the best you can. If you’re really struggling remember it’s okay not to be okay and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. There are loads of different places you can get support from – don’t struggle on your own.

4) Use social media.

Social media has been an amazing way for me to stay motivated. The online fitness community are so inspiring and motivational. Most of these people I have never met, but I consider them my friends. You don’t have to share everything with everyone, just what you feel comfortable with, but documenting your journey is a great way to track progress and stay positive.

5) Train with a friend (or just talk to a friend!). 

Training with someone else can give you that push you need. You don’t want to be that friend that doesn’t turn up! If you haven’t got anyone to train with (which most of the time I don’t!), remember you can always talk to them about how you’re feeling. Not all of the people in my life have been supportive of my fitness journey and that is not what you need. I have some fantastic friends who, although don’t do it themselves, have supported and helped me.

6) Prepare your things the night before. 

When your alarm goes off at 7am and you’ve got nothing ready, it can be really tempting to switch it off and go back to sleep. If you get everything sorted the night before it saves you a job in the morning and you’re already in the mindset that you are getting up and going. I also like to prepare my breakfast the night before (over night oats are the best for this!!), which saves time and gives me something to get up for.

Let me know if you use any of these tips and, if you need some motivation, pop me a comment and I’ll get back to you! Also, would love to hear your tips for staying positive on your weight loss journey.

Jamie x

Balancing University with Training

Now I’m back at University it can be difficult to juggle working and fitting in my training sessions, particularly in the dreaded term 3! With each session taking between 1 hour and a half and 2 hours, it can feel a bit like you’re wasting valuable revision/essay writing time but you’re not!! Exercise actually improves your productivity and gives you something different to focus on other than the text books. There are lots of ways it does this, through improving your mental health, physical health and keeping you alert. Basically, without getting too scientific (I am a history student after all!), when you exercise you are increasing blood flow to your brain, which results in you being more alert. It also gives you more energy, which I always think seems a little odd, but this will make you feel more awake and therefore you’ll be more productive. What I’m trying to say is that making sure you fit in a bit of exercise is super important, especially during the exam period. So here are my top tips for balancing University with training.

1. Set your alarm and pack your bags the night before so you have no excuse in the morning. Getting yourself up and hitting the gym early will prepare you for the day and gets your work out done and dusted so you can then focus on work. The gym is usually pretty quiet in the morning as well so it’s my favourite time to go. It can be pretty tough to motivate yourself to get out of bed but once you get into a routine your body will get used to it. If you’re really worried about missing working hours, set your alarm for a little earlier and use time when you’d usually be asleep to train.

2. Pre-Plan and make your meals. Eating well is the one thing find the hardest when I am at university, but making sure you are eating well and often is really important. Not eating or eating lots of rubbish is no good for your motivation and will leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Pre-planning is a great way to make sure you know what you’re eating and you always have the right ingredients in. If you’re counting your macros you’ll probably be used to this but it is a really helpful way to stay on track.

3. Find a work out program that works for you. You don’t need to be in the gym every single day of the week to be seeing results (plus, you should be taking rest days in between for recovery anyway). In order to be able to maintain training, it is important that it is realistic. Take a look at your timetable and revision plan and work out something that is going to be manageable and still allow you to achieve your goals. I go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week but this is not necessary on all programmes so do some research and see what will work best for you. This is not just time wise but also work out what you are going to enjoy the most. If you’re not enjoying your training then you’re not going to stay motivated. This is even more important when you’re busy with University work as your work out should be something you look forward to, not dread.

4. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. When you’re training and working hard, making sure you’re getting a good nights sleep is super important for your mental and physical health. Not only will it allow you to train to your full potential, it will also mean you can get more work done. Sometimes it might mean sacrificing a night out or heading home early but it is crucial for success in both your work out and your productivity. If I have had a late night or not slept well it really shows in my work out and, if my focus is not there, it can lead to injuries.

5. Treat yourself. Make sure you’re not constantly working and not allowing yourself any breaks. University can be a really stressful time and, whilst training has helped me a lot, I know that sometimes I need a bit of a break. Give yourself some time everyday to focus on yourself. I like to take an hour before bed to wind down and do something without any pressure. If you want to treat yourself food wise, that’s fine too! You’re not going to lose all your gains if you don’t stick to your food plan exactly. Your body will thank you for it and you’ll see greater results both in your work and in your training if you allow yourself to relax.

So there you have my 5 top tips. These are all well and good but essentially is does come down to a lot of self motivation and pre planning. If you’re struggling you might want to find yourself a gym buddy who can help you when you’re feeling a bit down with it all. Being part of a fitness society as well might also be an idea as it’s a social way to train, which can mean you stay more motivated. Finally, although social media isn’t for everyone, the fitness community is super supportive and so getting involved with that is a great way to chat to people who are in a similar position to you and share tips and advice. Let me know what your top tips would be!

Jamie x