Running is an important part of my life. It helps hold me together as a person. I underestimated its power when I developed schizophrenia at the age of 29, as anti-psychotic drugs caused tremendous weight gain, impeding my ability and desire to continue running. As I have previously mentioned, this season I have been competing in the YMCA 10k Summer Series held in the Auckland Domain. The YMCA is Auckland’s premier marathon running club, but runs a series of weekly 10k races between September (when daylight savings begin) until April (when daylight savings ends) every year. There is a 5k option too and walkers are welcome. The entry fee is $5, payable on the day. The course is difficult, much more so than the Sri Chinmoy series also held in the Domain during winter. The series is divided into two parts. Part I took place between 4 October and 20 December 2018. There is a short break over the Christmas and New Year’s period. Part II takes place between 10 January and 4 April 2019 and kicks off again tonight. I can’t wait to get back into it!
I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the series so far and provide a snapshot of my progress throughout the season. The YMCA 10k series has been an important part of my weight loss journey. I need to run in order to lose weight, but I also need to lose weight in order to improve my running. It is all very circular! When I first started competing in the series in early October, I was 76 kg. Half way through, I’m currently sitting at 69.1 kg. My weight is approximately 10 kg heavier than my optimum running weight, so I certainly don’t expect to achieve my best 10k times. A part of me does wish that I was at goal weight at the start of the series and could run a perfect series without any injuries or interruptions, but I don’t know what world I was living in as this is completely unrealistic. The reasons I chose to compete in the events were the same as the reasons that I outlined for entering the swim and run held at Takapuna Beach next week, which I covered in my previous blog post.
The runs are all officially timed by marshalls from the YMCA and runners are ranked, but I like to think that I’m competing against myself, striving to better my PB, rather than out to beat anyone else. For me, the other runners are there for motivation and support. Racing has the added advantage of really pushing you. My times for races are almost always better than those for training runs. It’s a nice little community which unites people with a passion for running. I finally feel that I have found my people. Anyone is welcome, but the majority of participants are marathon runners who have been part of the YMCA for years. The people are so lovely that I would ordinarily be tempted to join the club and run with them on Sunday mornings, but the YMCA is a marathon running club. Their Sunday runs vary in distance, but are typically geared towards long-distance runners. Those days are long over for me. As regular readers of my blog will be aware, I consider myself a 10k runner these days. It’s a shame, as there are some incredibly inspiring people who are part of the YMCA who I might never have the chance to meet. On their Facebook page, I noticed that they were looking for someone to run with a blind man who is training for the New York Marathon, which made me take a hard look at my attitude towards my health issues and life generally. I actually feel quite ashamed for making a mountain of my problems when in fact there are others out there who are worse off than I am. Having completed one marathon myself (London 2008), I know just how difficult they are, even if you can see. Also, he’s going to New York. Most people would probably think “what’s the point of going to New York, it’s not like I can see anything there!”
There were 11 races in the first half of the series. Here is a little summary of my times for each race:
As you can see, over the course of Part I, I have generally improved and gotten faster. My goal is to bring my time below an hour by the end of Part II. I’ll follow up with a further post in April which summarises my progress and thoughts for the second half of the series.
Some people are very forward-thinking. I’m one of them. I’m always thinking ahead to what events I might like to compete in next summer, so I can use the winter more effectively to steer my training in the right direction. As you might be aware from my previous blog posts, I am a keen road runner. I’m currently participating in the YMCA 10k Summer Series, which I am really enjoying. I also swim seasonally, in summer when the 50m local outdoor swimming pool opens. For most of my childhood I was a competitive swimmer and part of the Whangarei Swimming Club. For many years, I’ve been aware of Stroke N’ Stride, a series of events held annually in Auckland, comprising an ocean swim followed by a short run. I didn’t plan to get into multi-sport; my interest evolved organically and I can sort of see how this happened. However, this wasn’t something I was in a place to do in recent years. For most of my 30s, I battled obesity and ill health due to taking the anti-psychotic drugs I was prescribed when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It’s only in the past six months that I have had a breakthrough in both my mental and physical health. As mentioned in a previous post, I came up with the idea of running a course of meds for a fortnight at six monthly intervals, to see if I could pre-empt the onset of psychosis rather than taking meds all the time, which I fortunately don’t have to do as I only suffer from mild schizophrenia. I did this last year in June and again in mid-December. It might be too soon to say whether this works in the long run but it seems promising. I haven’t had a psychotic episode since February last year, which was before I thought of this strategy. Normally they’re spaced together more closely than that. Thanks to my trainer Alice Jackson at Les Mills in Howick, I managed to lose 25 kg. This has opened up a lot of opportunities for me, including participating in an event like swim and run as I wouldn’t have previously been fit enough to complete the course.
I want a little taster to see if it’s for me or not, so I know whether it’s something I might like to commit to in the future. So, to test the waters (swimming pun intended), I’ve decided to head over to Takapuna Beach next Wednesday 16th January and participate in the North Harbour Triathlon Club’s Swim and Run series event, comprising a 500m ocean swim followed by a 4k beach run. It’s not very far away at all (the date of the event, that is, not Takapuna, which is on the other side of Auckland) so I’ve been flat out over the past week bringing myself up to speed with what the event will entail and organising appropriate gear. To help others who are also considering competing in swim and run events, I thought I’d write a blog post about things to consider before competing in such an event and follow it up with a further post afterwards to report back on my experience.
What is it?
A swim and run is, like the name suggests, a swim immediately followed by a run. Note that “Swim and Run” should not be confused with “Swimrun”, which is quite different. The latter refers to an intrepid event with a mixture of swimming and running intermittently. You run wearing shoes (even during the swimming parts!) and usually compete with a partner as it’s largely an exercise in teamwork. Breca is an example of Swimrun.
Why am I doing this?
What you’ll need
In multi-sport, you need to allow time for the transition. In this case, when you finish the ocean swim you’ll need to remove your wetsuit (if you’re wearing one) and put on your running shoes for the beach run (if you choose to wear them).
Some useful links
Swim T3 (Auckland’s leading swimming retailer, to cover all your gear needs for both pool and ocean swimming): https://www.swimt3.co.nz/
Rick Wells Swimming squad (trains at the Newmarket Olympic Pool): https://www.rickwells.co.nz/
Takapuna beach series (beach run and ocean swim events held at Takapuna Beach): https://beachseries.co.nz/home/
Summer Swim (weekly ocean swims in Kohimarama on Thursdays from November until March): https://www.summerswim.co.nz/
Stroke N’ Stride (a series of swim and run events which take normally place in Mission bay during summer but are not being held this season): http://swimrun.org/
Splash and Dash (Swim and Run events that take place in Wellington): https://splashanddash.co.nz/
Ocean swim squad weekly clinics on Saturdays: https://www.oceanclinics.co.nz/
Ocean swimming guide: https://beachseries.co.nz/ocean-swim-guide/
When I (re)joined Les Mills (New Zealand’s leading gym) in July this year, I was 93.3 kg. Over the past four months, I have lost over 20 kg. My goal was to be able to participate in the YMCA 10k summer series in the Auckland Domain every Thursday, which I have achieved thanks to support from my PT, a young girl called Alice at Les Mills in Howick. I also benefitted from some training sessions with Alice’s brother Dan, who is also a trainer at the gym, while she was on holiday.
I have Type 2 diabetes, but I have been able to get my condition under control through diet and exercise. Losing weight has made it easier to manage my blood sugars and my last HbA1c test was very good. My GP didn’t recognise me when I last saw him and was so happy with my progress. He said I definitely don’t need to be on medication for diabetes, which made me very happy.
Recently, I hit a bit of a plateau and progress has somewhat slowed down, but since embarking on this journey, I have never actually gained weight. I have fitted training around two injuries (neck/tight trapezius and a sore wrist/tight forearms) and being busy around the garden (which hasn’t helped my injuries). I would like to lose another 10 kg but haven’t set a time frame. I managed to get myself out of the danger zone for diabetes and my overall health quite quickly, so I’m content to continue to chip away at my weight at my own pace, no matter how long it takes. Now that it’s spring, I have been doing a lot more in the garden. The extra activity has made me hungrier. As a consequence, I have been consuming more food. With my current injuries, I don’t want to exercise more as it will make things worse. I just need to be careful that calories consumed don’t exceed what I expend, so I can continue to lose weight.
A lot of people have asked how I managed to lose so much weight in a relatively short time frame. The truth is that there was no fad dieting or excessive exercise involved. I generally do an hour of exercise every day, which also helps me control diabetes. My injuries restrict what I can do. At the moment, I do one 10k run (the race) and one PT session per week; the other days I just go for a walk. There are a few revelations I have had along the way that I would like to share, which might be useful to others who are struggling to lose weight.
· A lot of it is in the mind. In order to lose weight, you have to develop the right mind set. It took me awhile to get to this place
· It mostly comes down to food. As the saying goes, you can’t out train a bad diet!
· You need to be disciplined with exercise and have self-control with food
· You need a calorie deficit in order to lose weight (logging my food intake and exercise with My Fitness Pal has helped me achieve this)
· Gym staff are very willing to help you, but first you have to want to be helped and you have to be prepared to help yourself
· PT has helped me tremendously but what matters most is what you’re doing and eating outside that time. While some trainers may be a better fit than others (personality, specialisation etc), everyone at a gym like Les Mills is highly qualified and deserves respect. If people are not making progress, they can’t blame someone they see for only an hour each week!
Remember that you’re a person, not a machine. Your fitness journey doesn’t operate in a vacuum. You have to live in this world, go about daily life and have relationships with others. It’s not quite as simple as energy in, energy out. People have feelings. External factors such as stress and sleep can affect your weight. Travel can disrupt your routine. Injuries can inhibit movement. But by developing sound eating and training principles, it really is possible to shift excess weight. If I managed to, so can you.
Over the past three weeks, I have been doing a new Les Mills class called Tone once a week. I usually go to the gym at 6am weekdays and Tone is offered on a Wednesday at this time at my local Les Mills club. It’s also the day and time when I have PT, so up until recently I wasn’t able to do Tone. However, my trainer went on a holiday, freeing up my Wednesdays for a few weeks, so I have been able to try this class for the first time.
Tone is a mixture of cardio, resistance and core (in that order) in a 45 minute group fitness class. It’s a really good use of time as you get a complete work out, unlike other Les Mills programmes. At first I was sceptical about whether Tone would be similar to Body Vive which I didn’t find very challenging, but I quickly realised that Tone is definitely not a soft option! The cardio tracks are similar to what you would do in Body Attack. For the resistance work, you use light plates and sometimes the band, which is needed again for the core work. There are a lot of burpees and sometimes running is involved. I’m usually sweating heavily after a couple of cardio tracks and by the end of the class, I feel knackered.
I’ve been enjoying the class so much that I’m going to try and change the day I do PT so it frees up my Wednesdays for Tone! I highly recommend Tone if you want a varied workout in a relatively short space of time. In just three weeks, I have seen a vast improvement in my fitness and I’m excited to see what new releases are in store for us in the future.
Today is my birthday. To celebrate, I decided to try a new class at the gym called The Trip which I’ve been wanting to do for some time, but never managed to fit into my schedule. Les Mills recently created a 3-D virtual indoor cycling experience. My local gym is in Howick and the class is offered on a big screen without an instructor. However, it is possible to take the class with an instructor at the Newmarket branch, which I hope to do in the future. Apparently, this makes for an even better ride!
As the name indicates, The Trip takes you on a journey through some futuristic towns and a number of challenges in “chambers”. The graphics are amazing. You really do feel as though you’re on the cycle track displayed on the screen. As the road twists and turns, you find yourself veering sideways. As you see hills approaching, you naturally feel inclined to add more resistance and stand, even before the cues. When it’s downhill, you automatically release resistance and speed up. There’s music playing in the background and a voice-over gives you instructions and encouragement from time to time. The Trip lasts for 40 minutes. I found it much more challenging than a regular RPM class. By the end, I was absolutely exhausted.
I really enjoyed The Trip. Apparently, there are currently eight different versions of The Trip at the moment, which ensures a different experience if you take the class regularly. My only slight criticism is that it can leave you feeling a little nauseous. From time to time I found myself looking away from the screen and then I felt better. I highly recommend The Trip and can’t wait until my next experience.
It has been awhile since I’ve blogged about my fitness journey so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you all up to date with what I have been doing recently. You may recall me mentioning in this post that I managed to make quite a bit of progress in terms of weight loss last summer, bringing my weight down from 93kg to 78kg. Unfortunately, I was unable to maintain that weight as I had a relapse. Having to take medication again increased my weight but I cannot blame that alone. I felt depressed by the weight gain and compounded to the problem by eating badly, and before I knew it my weight had risen to 94kg! I dread winter. I hate cold weather and found it difficult to be motivated enough to run outdoors. In addition, I also hated the gym that I had joined back in January, and as a result, hardly went there. While it is fairly close to home, if you don’t like it, you simply won’t go there, even if it’s next door. Period.
As I grew bigger and lost more and more fitness, I became increasingly depressed. I have Type 2 diabetes, which I am meant to control with diet and exercise. As my eating fell to the wayside, I stopped testing my blood sugar, choosing to live in oblivion. I knew something had to change, but I felt stuck in a cycle of losing weight, only to gain it all back every time I had a relapse and had to go on medication. It then became hard for me to start my fitness journey all over again as I felt so disappointed by having gained weight. However, this is the reality of my life, and probably much better than having to take medication all the time, which only caused my weight to continue to climb. I thought about my problem very deeply and realised that the thing that frustrated me most was that my base weight was so high, and it was very hard for me to bring it down due to fluctuations every time I had a relapse and had to take risperidone. The reason for this is because when I worked as a lawyer at Bell Gully a couple of years ago, I had to take my medication continuously in order to hold down the job. This pushed my base weight from 70 kg to 93 kg, and I have never been able to bring my weight down to this level ever since. My ideal or goal weight is actually 60 kg, but I’ve allowed a 10kg buffer because of my condition and the effect medication has on my weight. So in an ideal world I’d be 60kg, and allow a buffer of 10kg for weight gain caused by relapses and the medication.
I was pleased that I was able to lose 15 kg on my own last summer, without a gym or PT, but realised that if I were to try to push past the barrier and bring my weight down to 70kg or below that level, I would not be able to do it on my own. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t getting enough support from the community gym which I was going to, but linked to that was also the fact that I was not forthcoming about my situation because I didn’t feel comfortable confiding in the instructors there. However I cannot solely blame them. I needed to want to be helped, if that makes sense. It took some time for me to reach that point.
A few years ago, I trained at Les Mills and used the Howick branch a lot, as it is close to home. I met a wonderful young trainer called Laetitia. I confided in her about my condition and the problems it presented in terms of my weight and she was wonderfully supportive. However, after a particularly bad depressive episode I left the gym, which was probably one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my life, as my health and weight have deteriorated ever since.
I was determined to pick myself up again, but this time around, I knew I could not do it alone as I had done last summer. I constantly thought back to Les Mills Howick and how much I enjoyed going there. The trainers and fitness instructors were all so wonderful to me and I felt happy to go to the gym, which wasn’t the way I felt about the community gym. One of the instructors at the community gym always put me down in the Combat class, getting off the stage to come over to correct me on my movements. I always felt self-conscious infront of the other gym goers, which was one of the reasons I went to the gym less and less over the course of my membership. I couldn’t complain to the manager about him as he was the manager!
I had to accept that this time, I needed to see a personal trainer, which was hard for me as I’m a self-starter and believe firmly in helping myself in order to get ahead in life. Over the years though, I’ve learnt that there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it, and it’s certainly better than struggling on your own or giving up. Deep down, I desperately wanted to do the YMCA 10k summer series in the Auckland Domain, which starts in October and I knew I’d never get there if I continued to go it alone. Last summer, I just did a couple of the runs, this summer, I’d like to do the entire series, which starts when daylight saving commences in October and runs until April, when daylight saving ends. To run with the pack, I need to be able to complete the course in no more than an hour and a half (the course is quite difficult and contains a lot of hills, so this needed to be taken into account).
The more I thought about Les Mills the more I realised that it was the right gym for me, if ever there was one. I simply had to put aside my insecurities about being an ‘older’ member if I was to improve my health and fitness. I picked up the phone and asked if I could go into Les Mills Howick and talk to someone about rejoining the gym. The next day, I started going to the gym and working out on a trial membership thanks to a consultant called Autumn and before I knew it, I had rejoined the gym. There were some familiar faces and a lot of new ones as well. Since I had last been a member, they had upgraded the facilities so the gym was even better than I had remembered it! Unfortunately, Laetitia didn’t work there anymore (but she does work out there and it was lovely to see her again). Funnily enough, I ended up picking a lovely young PT called Alice that is really good friends with her. Her manner reminded me so much of Laetitia’s and that’s why I chose her. Since I started going to Les Mills, I have lost 4.5 kg in just three weeks. I have also gotten back into running 10ks, my most recent race being the Sri Chinmoy in the Auckland Domain last Sunday. I managed to complete the race in 1 hour 29 minutes (but the course is much easier than the YMCA 10k run which has more hills so I have quite a bit of work to do!). Initially, I was reluctant to enter into races when my times were so slow, but one of the fitness instructors called Maureen who also does 10k races encouraged me to enter in order to improve my fitness. There is another Sri Chinmoy race on the 16th September, which I’ll enter as well. I loved how supportive the other runners were during the race and afterwards. Considering how many times I have fallen down (one time quite literally, during a run along the waterfront), I need all the support I can get to pick myself up again and carry on.
I now exercise every day (which I didn’t do from February through to June). I do three 10k runs per week, sometimes going to the Newmarket branch of Les Mills so I can run in the Auckland Domain. I see Alice for PT once a week for an hour, and do another hour of weight training on my own during the week. For the other two days, I do classes. At the moment, I’ve been doing RPM with Kate and Pump with Stacy, who are both really lovely instructors who remember me from the last time I went to Les Mills Howick, and also from other gyms before that. The Saturday before last, Alice and I did George’s boxing class together, which I really enjoyed. Who knew exercising could be so much fun!
In parallel with exercise, I also keep a record of everything I consume on an app called My Fitness Pal. It’s been around for a long time, but I didn’t use it as I used to do Weight Watchers in order to control my weight. Unfortunately, Weight Watchers doesn’t work for me anymore. I have diabetes, so fruit most definitely isn’t free as per Weight Watchers, because it contains quite a bit of sugar. They have changed the programme so much over the years and added lots more zero points foods, especially those which are high in protein such as chicken, fish, tofu and eggs. I don't really agree with this. To me, nothing is free. Everything has some kind of value in terms of calories and macros, and therefore has an effect on your body. In saying that, I have developed a lot of good habits from doing Weight Watchers over the years, including weighing food to ensure I am not overeating. There are certainly some similarities between the two programmes, one being that you must record everything that you eat. What I like about MFP is that you record calories, rather than points, which to me seem rather artificial. I think counting calories is a more accurate way of measuring what you’re consuming. MFP also places an emphasis on macros, so if you enter the foods you’ve been eating across the day and corresponding quantities, it will give you the content of protein, carbs, fats, sugars and so on. Unlike Weight Watchers, I find this very useful, especially for controlling my blood sugar levels. I have been testing my blood sugar regularly and my levels have never been better! Although it sounds quite tedious to have to log everything you eat and all the activity you’ve done for the day, it actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. Once you enter items, they will automatically be stored in the system, making it easy to add them next time. The app (or I’ll often just use the website and work on my laptop) is very easy to use and MFP is a very supportive community of members, a lot like Weight Watchers. You can become friends with other members, see their food diaries and interact with others on the forum. I’ve had some queries about MFP and other members were most helpful in answering my questions.
It is early days yet but I am determined to make this work long term. That’s why I’m not following fad diets such as Keto or doing intermittent fasting which to me is just a form of starvation. Hopefully, with the help of a PT, I’ll be able to get back on the horse after relapses occur. I do hope they won’t – I’m trialling something new where I take my medication pre-emptively for a period of two weeks every six months or so to try and prevent the onset of psychosis – but it will be awhile until I determine whether that method works or not. In any event, losing some weight, improving my fitness level and being back with old friends at the gym has certainly made me happier and lifted my spirits. Given my battle with depression, this reason alone, nevermind diabetes, is enough incentive for me to continue on my journey.
Once you set a fitness goal and are working towards it, whether it be to lose weight or run a half marathon, you can get into the zone and make rapid progress. However, problems can arise during your fitness journey. Unfortunately, it’s never quite smooth sailing. In a previous blog post, I have covered the dreaded fitness plateau. I have also talked a bit about some of the injuries I have had which impaired my ability to train. In this post, I would like to cover how you can redeem yourself when you fall off the fitness wagon. This happened to me recently. By opening up about why I derailed and how I managed to get myself back on track I hope to reach out to others who have been in the same situation.
As you may recall from my earlier blog post, I was making excellent progress during my weight loss journey and managed to drop from 93 kg to 78 kg by running 10k three times a week. I even managed to do a couple of 10k runs in the YMCA’s summer series in the Auckland Domain. All was going well until I fell ill. As those of you that have been dipping into the “Mind” section of In the Circle may be aware, I suffer from schizophrenia. Medication didn’t work out for me because it caused excessive weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, so I control my condition naturally. But when relapses occur, I do go back on medication and that causes me to gain weight. While I’m unwell, I don’t exercise. In two months, I went from being able to handle running a flat 10k course in one hour and ten minutes to barely being able to walk the same distance. Every time I fall ill my eating also goes out the window and I start eating a lot of junk food. Thankfully, I wasn’t quite back to my starting weight but when I got weighed at the doctors, I discovered that I’m now 88kg. This is frustrating as it puts me forward 10kg.
For a long time, I felt so angry and depressed but I finally managed to get my act together thanks to the support of my cousin’s wife, who is a personal trainer. While she was a student at the fitness academy where she trained to become a personal trainer, she trained me and is familiar with my condition. Miriam’s advice was to start by walking the 10k course and alternate by doing weights at the gym every second day. She said to concentrate on how good it will feel to run again.
Try not to make the same mistake as me and fall into a downward spiral. It’s best to nip it in the bud and pick yourself back up as quickly as you can, otherwise it will mean even more work for you in the future!
For me, the key was not to ruminate on the past and how much progress I had previously made. Once I learnt to put the past behind me, I could concentrate on the journey back to a fitness level I was happy with. Indeed, I have learnt to actually embrace and enjoy my current journey back to health.
It helps if you can come up with an action plan going forwards. Even though the way forward to running again was very obvious (starting off by walking again), it took someone else (a personal trainer no less) to point out to me that that was what I should be doing. I’m a bit of a self-starter and enjoy exercising alone, but if you need extra support and motivation, it might be a good idea to see a personal trainer for awhile so you get back on track.
Focus on the end goal. If it’s weight loss, try not to become obsessed with a particular number but think of how good it will feel to be lighter and have more energy. In my case, the end result is being able to run which really is the best feeling in the world. As Miriam said, that should motivate me every time I am doing my 10k walks.
In summary, try not to feel too depressed or beat yourself up if you fell off the wagon. We’re all human and it happens even to the most dedicated athletes. Try to focus on getting back on track. Your body will thank you for it.
True, a women's gym I used to belong to, had the recipe for this fabulous green smoothie on their webpage. I love it so much that I simply had to share it on my own website!
-2 cups leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, bok choy, swiss chard, collards, dandelion)
-2 cups liquid base (water, coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk)
-2 cups ripe fruit (banana, mango, berries, orange, avocado, peach, pear, apple, pineapple, grapes)
1. Blend the leafy greens and liquid together.
2. Add the fruit then blend again.
3. Enjoy - makes 2 serves!
I have been going to the gym for the past 15 years. My first gym was the University of Auckland gym, which I went to while I was a university student. Since then, I have belonged to a number of different gyms – work gyms, women’s gyms, suburban gyms, corporate gyms and community leisure centres. Over the years, these facilities – and the people who attended them – have helped me tremendously on a physical and personal level. I have met some incredibly dedicated, inspiring people through fitness centres. I decided to write a blog post on belonging to a gym as I think that a gym membership can be extremely beneficial in terms of one’s health and overall well-being. Note that I have deliberately used the word ‘belonging’ rather than merely ‘being a gym member’ or another such expression. After you have been going to a gym for awhile, you will feel a sense of belonging, as though you are part of a community. You will get to know people and some will even be a bit like family. This is a really nice feeling.
If you’re wanting to exercise regularly for your health and overall well-being, a gym can be a great sports facility at which you can train. In saying that, it’s not for everyone. The only way to know for sure if it’s for you is to give it a try. Most gyms offer a free pass to guests for them to try the facility before committing to a membership. This is a good idea, especially if you’ve never used a gym before as it will give you a chance to see whether you actually like it.
What should you look for, if you are interested in joining a gym? For a start, consider whether you are actually a gym person. Not all active people train at the gym. A fitness instructor from the first gym I belonged to once told me that there are lots of perfectly healthy and active people out there who don’t exercise at the gym. Some people just don’t enjoy training in a gym environment. If you’re one of them, don’t be miserable. Good options if you prefer training outside the gym are running, swimming, boot camp and sports. Click here to read part 1, part 2 and part 3 in my series on running.
What are the benefits of training at a gym? They are great if you are pushed for time as you can do a workout in as little as 30 minutes. They are also a good training facility if the weather’s bad as you’ll be undercover. You also can’t beat the convenience of being able to train any time during opening hours, unlike sports which meet to train on a certain day or days at a specified time. Some gyms offer 24 hour access, which is great for shift workers or anyone wanting to train outside regular hours.
In joining a gym, here are some of the factors you might wish to consider.
Location is an important consideration in choosing a gym. In my experience, the gym has to be close to either home or work, or you’ll never end up going. If your gym is close to home, it makes going on the weekends easier if work is far from home. Some gyms are part of a franchise which enable you to use your membership at other branches. This may mean that you can train at a facility close to the office during the week and a different one close to home over the weekend.
Before you join a gym, make sure that you are happy with the facilities. Does the weights area have a good range of machine and free weights? Have a look at the timetable for fitness classes. Does the gym offer an interesting range of classes? Try one if you’re able to before you take out a membership, to test the vibe of the fitness studio. Are the instructors enthusiastic and passionate about teaching? Do the participants engage in the class? These are good signs that you’ll enjoy taking fitness classes at the gym. Some of the fancier gyms might have facilities such as a spa, sauna and even swimming pools.
Have a good look at the changing facilities, showers and toilets. Are they clean? Are they adequate for the number of members at the gym? Be warned that they can get very congested during peak periods, especially in the morning before work. Allow extra time to shower and get changed before heading to the office.
Price point is a major consideration. Obviously, the fancier the premises and the more facilities that the gym has to offer, the more expensive a gym membership will be. Rest assured that it is possible to stay perfectly fit and healthy at a very basic facility. I currently belong to a community recreation centre, which I decided to join for three reasons (i) the convenience of the location, which is quite close to home; (ii) the weights area, which was very good; and (iii) the fact that the gym offered a range of Les Mills fitness classes, which I really enjoy. As it had been a long time since I had last had a gym membership, I was eligible for a 50% discount, bringing the total cost of an annual membership down to just over $330. I felt that this was incredibly good value, as basic gym memberships start at around $750 per annum.
Finally, before you decide on a gym, make sure that you ask around at work. Chances are your colleagues may go to a gym and they’ll be able to recommend a suitable one to you.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of exercising consistently in order to maintain or improve your fitness and overall health. If you’ve been doing the same cardio and resistance training programme for awhile, you may find you stop making progress. If you’re on a weight loss journey like me, you might stop losing weight no matter how strictly you adhere to your training programme and diet. You need to change your programme every now and then because the body gets used to doing the same exercises and stops responding to them. Changing your exercises shocks the body. The longer you’ve been training, the more often you’ll need to vary your exercise programme. It’s also a good way to keep yourself stimulated as doing the same workouts week after week gets boring after awhile.
In this blog post, I’d like to offer some suggestions on what you can do when you plateau in order to kick start your training again. I’ve decided to open up about my fitness journey and draw from my own experiences in order to help others. This is a problem that every dedicated exerciser will face from time to time. I have received SO much support from fitness instructors from the many gyms I’ve been a member of over the years (including the wonderful Aseel Mohammad Al Baghdadi, whose wedding dress I featured recently in the Style section), other gym members as well as friends and colleagues who are also fitness focussed so this is just a very small way of paying it forward.
As discussed in a previous blog, from September until December last year, my training programme consisted of walking every day, building up to three outdoor 10k runs and walking on alternate days every week. When the local outdoor swimming pool opened in December, I substituted walking for 2km swims (40 laps of the 50m outdoor community swimming pool) on the days I didn’t run. This took me about an hour. I didn’t do any weight training because I just couldn’t bear to be in a closed in gym environment. I craved to be outdoors in the fresh air. Also, I was restricted in terms of what exercises I could do due to a lingering neck injury. The area underneath the back of my neck between the shoulders is always incredibly tight. I noticed that high intensity training, such as boot camp and crossfit, only served to aggravate the injury. Walking, running and swimming enabled me to work around the problem for awhile but I knew I had to get to the root of the problem sooner or later, otherwise it would remain unresolved and prevent me from doing boxfit classes, which I really enjoy. I’ve started seeing a chiropractor, which I’ll discuss in a separate post. This is the first time I have ever seen a chiro. It will be interesting to track my progress and I will offer my thoughts on whether the treatment has been helpful in addressing the problem.
I’m currently on a weight loss journey (and will be for some time) because my weight increased significantly over the past few years due to some health conditions I developed when I returned home from overseas in 2010. I fell off the wagon big time, but not because I lost all self-control or “let myself go”, as a lot of people unkindly commented to me. People shouldn’t judge as they don’t know all the facts (and even then, they probably still shouldn’t). But of course, most people make assumptions and are quick to jump to conclusions. Dealing with negative and hurtful comments like this isn’t exactly easy, but is the least of my problems in the grander scheme of things. For those of you who are interested, I offered some strategies for coping with situations like this in this previous blog post and, more recently, here.
My starting weight in September was 93 kg. By early December, I managed to bring my weight down to 78 kg, an overall loss of 15 kg over approximately 14 weeks. I exercised alone, without help from a trainer. A PT can be very helpful, especially when you plateau. I have had help from one at a time I needed some assistance to get back on my feet again after I first fell ill in 2010, but I knew I had to do tackle it alone this time around. Although I’m not a qualified fitness instructor, you tend to pick up a lot from going to the gym over the years and soon learn what works for your body. Also, motivation was not an issue. By mid-December, I had reached the end of the road with that programme. In order to continue making progress and remain motivated, it was time to change things a little. Having worked very hard to be able to run again after a two year period of not exercising while carrying a lot of extra weight compared with my fitter days, I was keen to keep running in my training programme. Besides, I know from experience that it’s the most effective way for me to lose or maintain my body weight.
When I started exercising again in September, I heard about the YMCA 10k summer series. Every Thursday evening from the start of daylight saving in September until it ends in April, the YMCA organises a 10k run (with a 5k option) in the Auckland Domain. While I was training independently from September until December, I kept that in the back of my mind. I wanted to start competing again but needed to do quite a bit of work on my own in order to (i) lose quite a bit of weight first; (ii) build up to running 10k again without stopping; and (iii) be able to run the distance in a respectable time so I could keep up with the rest of the YMCA runners, the vast majority of whom are incredibly fast (circa 40-50 mins for the 10k route in the Domain!).
While I was on holiday at our bach (holiday home) over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, I decided to take part in the YMCA 10k summer series upon my return to Auckland. The great thing is that it’s very flexible. You don’t have to do the entire series, nor do you have to register beforehand. You simply turn up on the day. The entry fee is just $5 and there are spot prizes that are drawn afterwards (I even won a bottle of wine!).
As you might recall from a post in my blog series about running, I used to do a lot of running in the Auckland Domain while I was a university student. In fact, it was where I started to run. I really liked the idea of returning to my running roots during what has been a very challenging weight loss journey. As discussed in a previous post, the Domain is a special place for me as I have fond memories of running there during happier times. Whenever I run in the Domain, it’s not just good for the body, it’s also incredibly good for the soul.
I did my first run last Thursday and wrote about my experience on my LinkedIn account to make other Auckland runners aware of the event. Here’s what I had to say:
For those of you in Auckland who, like me, (i) advocate work/life balance but believe in active relaxation (and using time constructively) and (ii) are a serious and passionate runner, I can't recommend the YMCA 10k summer series highly enough. It takes place on Thursdays at 6 pm in the Auckland Domain until daylight saving ends. I ran the 10k yesterday evening but there is a 5k option too. I haven't competed for several years and was very nervous given the high calibre of runners that are part of the YMCA running club AND the fact I'm not exactly in top form, but they were SO welcoming and supportive. I was going to just do 5k but they encouraged me to go all the way! The course is very challenging as there are lots of hills. Put it this way, if you average around an hour for a flat 10k course like me at the moment, you'll be absolutely fine running with this group of amazingly talented and lovely runners. You run at your own pace, not together. Still, being part of a (spread out) group is motivating and there is a real sense of community which I love. I'll be back next week.
The chiro fully endorses running as it isn’t putting too much strain on my neck. In fact it was swimming that had to be removed from my programme due to too much neck movement in freestyle as you turn to breathe). He recommended that I start doing some weight training to build strength and help prevent injuries in the future. A few days ago, I joined the community gym in my suburb. In addition to resistance training, I’m also looking forward to doing RPM classes on alternate days with running, to replace swimming until my injury improves and I am able to return to the pool. In the future, I’ll come up with some blog posts about my experiences returning to the gym after a number of years, examined from different angles.