It’s crazy to think that a year ago this March, we all retreated to our homes and watched our beloved gyms and fitness spaces close for the foreseeable future. For some, that meant putting their fitness plans on pause to cope with the fallout of the pandemic and for others, it meant following live workouts from trainers like the Body Coach, Alice Liveing, Courtney Black, or even your favourite local PTs. Or it may even have been a combination of the two as you found your way and navigated the ‘new normal’ as many of us not so fondly called it. But today I wanted to tell my pandemic fitness story, and what I’ve learnt over the last 12 months.
During the initial lockdown in March 2020, the message was pretty clear – stay home and save lives. None of us wanted to leave our safe havens so for me, this meant updating my fitness plans to stay accountable and maintain my routine. I worked to adapt my existing gym-based plan to my home environment thanks to my investment in some very handy kettlebells. And for a while, this kept me pretty motivated and I was feeling a little smug about it all. But all good things come to an end, and I ended up running out of gas on this one. So instead, I turned to live Alice Liveing’s workouts for a refreshed approach to my fitness.
While this worked for a little while, I then fell into the trap of overtraining partly because I enjoyed what I was doing and partly because well, there was nothing else to do. I was working out a minimum of two times a day and wasn’t reaping the full benefits of exercise anymore. I was always tired, my body wasn’t recovering and for that reason, it wasn’t changing either. To help cope with feeling lethargic, I was eating more and after falling down a social media rabbit hole (something we’re all guilty of, I’m sure), I convinced myself I needed protein powder and protein bars to help boost my energy. But of course, that meant I was consuming more calories and was no longer in the calorie deficit I’d previously been enjoying when lifting heavy weights at the gym. So naturally, I put on weight. I know, there are far worse things that can happen – especially in a pandemic – but it left me feeling low, unmotivated and I was speaking unkindly to myself.
Enter, HIIT. After one Instagram Live, I quickly fell in love with the Train Wright movement. If you haven’t heard of this already, it’s been set up by Mark Wright and his brother, Josh Wright. The programme focuses on incredibly intense HIIT workouts that range from 35 minutes to 1 hour session, 5 times a week. For a few months, this was the fitness boost I needed. I was the fittest I’d been – maybe ever. I completed my fastest 5K, I was losing weight and I felt good. But after a few four week blocks of the programme, I knew I was spent and couldn’t keep up this volume of HIIT anymore. My joints were achy and I was getting very tired a lot of the time. Yet it had done something awesome for me – it had given me a real love of HIIT. So instead of giving up, I started the Body Coach YouTube workouts which were more balanced, sustainable, but equally challenging.
In September, when lockdown restrictions lifted for that brief period in Wales, I was more than happy to get back to the gym floor, especially after seeing the safety measures that PureGym had introduced. With social distancing, face masks and cleaning measures in place, avid gym goers were thrilled to get their fitness space back and were working to keep it as safe as possible.
I had a new strength training plan in place and I was so happy that I was able to lift heavy again. But I had to keep things flexible, especially as equipment and space was limited. But still, you learn to appreciate the things you’ve been without for so long.
Then of course came local lockdowns. As my gym was *technically* in another county, I had to put my gym routine on pause and take on home workouts again. Now with a mix of The Body Coach HIIT sessions and Alice Liveing strength classes under my belt, I had a great balance of strength and cardio that I had been missing. Although I was disappointed that I wasn’t lifting heavy again, instead I was focusing on form, reps and showing up for myself every day in a healthy way – not overtraining.
I also started to pay more attention to people like Tally Rye, who launched the Train Happy movement to encourage people to move because they enjoy it, not because diet culture tells them they have to exercise to ‘earn’ their food. Now, not everything Tally says matches my approach to health and wellbeing. But I’ve found that listening to different voices with diverse opinions helps me to put less pressure on myself to always be doing the *best* or hardest workout I possibly can.
Where I am now?
From a wider perspective, nothing has changed since local lockdowns were introduced. We’ve been in COVID limbo for a long time but luckily, I seem to have found a workout balance that works for me and I enjoy. Since January, I’ve signed up to the Body Coach app for a more structured approach to HIIT and my nutrition. I’ve also been completing the Alice Liveing monthly challenges too, and am patiently waiting for the release of her Give Me Strength app later this year. Yes, it’s still a lot of exercise in a week, but for me, it’s manageable, enjoyable and it’s my absolute downtime.
But what have I learnt, really?
- It’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits that were initially intended to be healthy ones. The key is to not be too hard on yourself. Sometimes you have to learn these lessons to come out the other side.
- More isn’t always better, especially when it comes to exercise. You need time to rest and recover (more on that later) in order to achieve the results you’re looking for. After all, exercise is still a stress on your body and going full pelt more than once a day, every day is not sustainable.
- Find a routine that you love, not one that burns the most calories. Life is too short and again, this approach isn’t sustainable.
- For all you need to know about staying in a healthy calorie deficit, James Smith’s Not a Diet Book is where it’s at.