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When’s the right time to get back to the gym?

The leisure industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with gyms and leisure centres across the country forced into closure to prevent the spread of COVID.
And with Government guidance about who we can mix with and what facilities can open changing almost daily, it’s no wonder people are feeling a little nervous about returning to their leisure facilities.

On the flip side, many of us want to get back to it. For both the physical and mental benefits …just a bit of that ‘feel good’ spirit! Where I work, we’ve actually moved some group exercise classes to larger halls for social distancing because participation numbers have increased!

That’s why I thought it might be useful to provide a run-down of the kinds of practices and measures gyms and leisure centres currently have in place to ensure the safety of all members. Each facility or sports centre will of course be subject to different regulations depending where they are geographically and their size, so these are just some guidelines to give you an idea of what to expect.

Make space
One of the most important regulations when it comes to COVID is for people to keep two metres away from others.

This means that there will be markings on the floor and fewer pieces of equipment available on the gym floor, with items such as bikes, cross trainers and treadmills removed or blocked off in order to allow space between each user.

It also means that classes will be smaller or, as I mentioned earlier, moved to larger studios and halls to accommodate numbers. Generally, you will be required to book in advance.

Clean team
It’s always been important that gyms and leisure centres maintain a high standard of cleanliness. However, due to the highly contagious nature of COVID, increased measures have been brought in to ensure there is no possible cross contamination between users, so if cleanliness is your concern you can be confident these shared spaces are now cleaner than ever.
Throughout the day and between every group session, staff will also carry out touchpoint cleaning, targeting areas such as doors and toilets to ensure high traffic areas are kept thoroughly clean.

Take control
Just as we are now encouraged to wash our hands as often as possible, your local facility will also be asking members to take control of their own cleanliness when using equipment. Cleaning products should be made available to you to clean equipment before AND after use. It’s also likely you will be encouraged to wear masks in communal areas, although this will not be necessary for children or while exercising.

Leisure facilities will also be advising visitors to bring their own equipment where possible, such as water bottles and mats for floor exercises. Most of us do this anyway, but giving your children easily identifiable water bottles will help ensure they don’t risk picking up the wrong ones during an activity!

No ball games
Fortunately, under 18s and those with a disability are not restricted when it comes to indoor activity, so these specific activity sessions can continue. As a parent it’s important to limit social interaction before and after the sessions to avoid any transmission at the school or sports hall gates!

Unfortunately for adults, in many areas indoor activities of more than six continue to be limited, which means indoor ball games such as five-a-side football, basketball and hockey are not permitted. However, many racket sports can continue.

Stay outdoors
If in doubt – and while weather permits – you can of course keep your activity outdoors. And you might be surprised to find out what’s on offer. Many outdoor fitness sessions, running clubs and team sports are operating, so be sure to check out what your local community groups and fitness clubs are doing.

Sink or swim
As there is no evidence that COVID 19 can spread through the use of pools, swimming pools are deemed safe and allowed to reopen.

As well as being kept clean, swimming pool providers will ensure that pools are properly chlorinated and social distancing adhered to in and out of the pool.
If you have a child who attends swimming lessons it is most likely these will go ahead, but parents should again be careful about transmission.

Do keep in mind though, rules regarding changing facilities may vary so make sure you check with your local provider.

Have confidence
While the numbers we can mix in safely is subject to change depending where you live and the facilities available, you can be confident that your gym, club or sporting group, will all be up to speed on specific guidance for their facility or sport. Just be sure to check which classes are running and book in advance.

Of course, returning to any of these activities is a hugely personal decision depending on your own health and personal safety, and if it doesn’t feel right for you, there will continue to be plenty of online and outdoor options to keep you active and stimulated.

But if you’re itching to get back in the saddle and need a little encouragement, be confident that all facilities open right now have yours and your family’s health and safety at the top of their priority list.

Rate your plate: understanding the foods which fuel our fitness

The British Nutrition Foundation hosts its ‘Healthy Eating Week’ this month which is dedicated to promoting good habits when it comes to feeding ourselves and our families.

I mention this NOT to suggest you go on a diet or make you feel bad about your family’s eating habits, but to use it as an opportunity to talk about food and nutrition.

We all know we should try and eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day and avoid foods high in sugar and fat, but why exactly and is there any more to it?

The Eatwell Guide is a great place to start, it divides the foods we eat and drink into five main food groups – fruit and veg, starchy carbohydrates, proteins, dairy and oils – in order to help us understand what foods will give us the right nutrition and vitamins to keep our bodies healthy and well fuelled.

Green goodness
Fruit and veg should make up more than a third of the food we eat each day – which, when you lay it out, is actually quite a lot! But there’s a reason for that, they’re a great source of vitamins and minerals to help your body work properly, and full of fibre, which can help maintain a healthy gut.

The good news is they are super easy to cook – you can buy them fresh, canned or frozen, and they are also low in fat and calories – unless you deep fry them or roast them in lots of oil of course. All you need to do is make sure you mix it up to ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients in your diet.

Of course, getting kids to eat their vegetables is easier said than done. Choose brightly coloured, sweet veggies such as sweetcorn, carrots and peas, and if you’re really struggling, try disguising the vegetables by grating them into a sauce. Other easy wins are making sure there are always sweet portions of fruit on offer such as an orange or blueberries, or making homemade pizza where they can choose which veggies they want to add.

‘Yes’ to carbs
We’ve heard of many ‘diets’ limiting the amount of carbohydrates we intake, but the truth is, they are also very good for us and again, should make up about a third of our day’s food intake.

Potatoes, pasta, rice and bread are a good source of energy and will make you feel fuller for longer so removing them from your diet completely could make you feel hungrier with less energy.

Of course, you can over-do it, so be careful not to eat more than is advised, and where possible opt for wholegrain or high fibre varieties such as brown rice.

Dairy queen
Dairy products – or alternatives such as soya if you are vegan or intolerant – are also an important part of your diet, particularly because they are fantastic sources of calcium which helps us keep our bones strong.

Not only is this important for kids as they grow, but also for adults as they age, strong bones make them less likely to break through falls, and will also help prevent you from losing strength as you get older.

Milk with your cereal, a daily yoghurt, or using cheese a couple of times a week should be enough. It’s important to be aware that dairy is a rich source of saturated fat, so again the key is not ‘elimination’ but ‘moderation’. And be aware, so-called low-fat options are not always healthier – many are actually higher in sugar than their full fat counterparts. So, keep an eye on the labels when choosing.

Protein power
Protein is essential for the body to grow and repair itself, and so an important part of a balanced diet.

Traditionally a stereotypical meal consisted of ‘meat and two veg’, but today we know that you can get your protein fix from a whole range of different foodstuffs, including pulses, beans, eggs, fish and lentils, so it’s an easy one to incorporate no matter what your personal requirements.

Around 15% percent of your daily intake should be protein, so enjoying a lentil curry, a lean cut of meat, beans on toast or a piece of fish a couple of times a week is going to be doing you good. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are particularly good because they are lower in fat and high in fibre.

Choose lean cuts of meat and mince, and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages where possible as these are higher in fat.

Oil be fine
Oil is an important part of the cooking process, whether it’s for frying or drizzling on salads.
The good news is small amount of fat derived from oil is good for you.
The fatty acids that you get will help the body absorb vitamins A, D and E, which help support the body’s functions.

Unfortunately, while it is good for you, it’s important to be aware of how little you need.
Choose unsaturated oils and spreads such as vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils and limit use to a splash or two per meal.

The Eatwell Guide applies to most of us, no matter what our age or weight.
So, next time you’re wondering what to put on the table, think about what nutrients your body might need rather than what you fancy!

Battling the COVID blues

According to the Opinion and Lifestyle Survey, one in eight adults developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms in June this year- twice as many recorded during the same period in 2019.

Of course, this doesn’t come as a surprise, a global pandemic where millions of lives are being turned upside down has a good chance of making most of us feel more anxious or depressed than usual.

Now, while I can’t wave a magic wand and make COVID go away, or even give you an idea of when it’s all going to end, what I can do is give you some tools to help you and your family cope when the anxiety and low mood, and the good news is – it won’t cost you a penny!

Healthy body, healthy mind.
As the saying goes, ‘healthy body, healthy mind’, and it’s true!

We know that exercise is good for the body, it keeps your heart healthy and your bones strong, and reduces the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes.
But it’s also a fantastic way to keep your brain positive, releasing endorphins that can enhance your sense of well-being.

Endorphins are chemicals which are released through increasing your heart rate with cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming or walking. The effort you put in doesn’t have to be particularly strenuous, as long as your heart starts pumping and your breathing gets heavier, the endorphins will rush to reduce the brain’s perception of pain and give you a feel-good feeling in return.

That goes for kids and adults, so if you find that your children are losing concentration easily or getting more emotional than usual, pull on your trainers and get your bodies moving for half an hour – those natural chemicals will be bursting to get out!

Mind over matter
Another huge advantage of doing exercise is that everything else in your life seems to float away in an instant.

A competitive game of football or pounding the pavement for half an hour will take your mind off your worries for some much-needed respite. If you’ve been feeling low for some time or your children aren’t their usual happy selves, then getting outside for a kick about, a game of tennis or simply a run around the park will do you good. Anything you enjoy as a family will be enough to help get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety.

Lean on me
Another great benefit of exercise is that it can be a fun social event too. Getting active with pals – abiding to your local COVID restrictions – will not only enable you to put any worries or concerns to the back of your mind, but the social interaction will also help you and your kids build up confidence and enjoy some fun and laughter with friends.

If group sports aren’t your thing, a walk to the park with a mission to say ‘hello’ to all the dog walkers you encounter will be enough to give you that buzz. Approaching dog walkers is a fantastic way to get some social interaction as you can keep conversations as short as you want to!

Make a goal
Of course, if you are feeling low or depressed then just getting dressed could be a struggle, so start as small as you need to.

The idea of going for a 10k run sounds fantastic, but what’s the point setting that target if just getting your trainers on is a chore? Choose something that is achievable, whether that’s doing the vacuuming, walking the kids to school or going for a walk around the block. Anything that gets your heart beating will release those endorphins, and the more you do, the better you will feel.

Kids are alright
If you have a child who is struggling come up with a goal together and try to be their motivation for them.

Telling someone to exercise when they are feeling low is easier said than done, but offering to be by their side and giving them the choice of activity could be enough to lift their spirits enough to give it a try.

Of course, once you get them out and about the endorphins will take over and do their bit, so it’s just a case of persevering with the hard part!

The same goes with kids – start small. If they tend to spend a lot of time in their room and have no interest of joining a sports club or team, try and encourage them come and spend half an hour with the family before dinner and use that time to get moving. This can be as simple as going for a walk, encouraging them to have a wild dance around the kitchen or going on a bike ride.

Being depressed is not unusual, particularly under the current circumstances. It can also leave you feeling low in energy, which might put you off being more active.

But if you can find something you enjoy, something you can commit to regularly either as an individual or a family, you will soon find your mood lifts, it will become a little easier to get out and about each day, and you will have a happier, healthier family!

National Fitness Day 2020

As we reach the autumn of what’s been a difficult 2020 for all of us, remaining  physically active is more important now than it ever has been. For that reason, National Fitness Day 2020 is a wonderful chance for our communities to unite & stay active, together.

Sandwiched in the middle of The Great British Week of Sport , National Fitness Day is an annual celebration across the health & fitness industry, and is a fabulous opportunity to highlight the role that physical activity plays in maintaining mental & physical wellbeing across the UK.

Fitness day celebrates happiness & combines keeping fit with fun, engaging activities, and is widely recognised as one of the most enjoyable dates on the calendar. However, the day is underpinned by a serious message: The UK is currently battling an inactivity crisis, which has been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. Physical inactivity leads currently to more than 20 long-term health conditions such as type-2 diabetes, some cancers and osteoporosis & is a contributing factor for 1 in 6 deaths annually.

For this reason, we at Life Leisure are supporting the “Fitness Unites Us” message that underpins this years event. We are delighted to be able to announce a number of events & activities that we will be running on Wednesday September 23rd, across each of our centres. We are proud to announce that we are opening up our centres to non-members, enabling the public get involved & book onto our sessions.

All of the events running are free of charge, showcasing our desire to help get Britain moving & encourage as many local residents as possible to Join The Movement!

Across all of our open sites, staff, members & the general public are welcome to join us and participate in the exciting activities that we’ve got lined up!

Event Details!

ALL LIFE LEISURE CENTRES  BIKE CHALLENGE (7AM-9PM)

Each facility will have two stationary bikes set up, with the aim of keeping one bike moving throughout the day (The other will be used as a crossover bike, to allow for appropriate cleaning to take place!)

Centres will be going head to head to see who can cover the furthest distance across the day!  No additional booking is required.

Life Leisure Barrow Park

Our team at Barrow Park have set themselves a target of cycling the distance of the Cumbrian Coastal Way (Approximately 185 miles) as many times as possible throughout the day!    

Free to all staff & members on site, no additional booking is required!

Life Leisure Houldsworth Village Group Ex- Clubbercise Class (19:10- 19:50)

Book now! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-fitness-day-zumba-tickets-120967877177

Stockport Sports Village & Life Leisure Houldsworth Village- Bring a friend!

As part of #NationalFitnessDay we want as many people to #jointhemovement as possible!

Book yourself onto a session & have friends book using the links below

Life Leisure Houldsworth Village  (10:00 – 13:15  & 14:30 – 17:45)

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-fitness-day-gym-session-tickets-121180471051

Stockport Sports Village (10:00 – 13:15 & 14:15 – 17:30)

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-fitness-day-gym-session-tickets-121177576393

Stockport Sports Village (18:45-19:30)

FREE H1VE Sculpt session at our award winning boutique fitness studio!

Join ex Team GB athlete & Commonwealth Games Gold medalist Andy Turner as he puts you through your paces at Stockport’s finest boutique fitness studio! 

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-fitness-day-h1ve-sculpt-tickets-121182446961

Book your space now!
Book your space now!

 

National Fitness Day is the perfect opportunity for you & your community to engage in sport/physical activity, whatever your goals may be! Whether it’s trying out a new activity, picking up something you used to love or simply challenging yourself & your friends, this is YOUR  DAY!

We’ll be active across our Life Leisure social media channels throughout the day & would love to see your workout pictures, videos & fitness stories!

We’ll be monitoring the #Fitness2Me hashtag across our platforms & would love to hear all about your inspiring fitness tales!

How do I follow #NationalFitnessDay? 

Life Leisure Facebook //  Life Leisure Twitter// Life Leisure Instagram// Fitness Day UK

Get involved. Join the movement. Celebrate fitness!

 

Socially distanced fun for ALL the family

Being active is important for both our health and wellbeing, no matter what our age.

It helps children grow up to be strong and healthy, ensures adults keep their blood pressure and cholesterol levels low, and helps older adults remain strong and sturdy – not to mention the huge mental health benefits for all.

With this in mind, finding activities that the whole family can take part in is a great idea to ensure all your loved ones are moving as much as they should, as well as having fun as a family together.

Of course, lockdown restrictions have had a huge effect on how we see our families and what we can do, with many grandparents still banned from being within two metres of their grandchildren. That’s why I’ve come up few ideas for activities for ALL where you can maintain the social distancing rules that apply to you!

Rounders
Kids should be doing around 60 minutes of activity a day while adults should do around 30 minutes – this goes for older adults too! So, games and activities which allow different levels of movement for everyone is a great way to ensure everyone is getting what they need.
With a variety of positions and the ability to slow down or speed up, rounders is a great all-rounder activity you can adapt to each player.

Ensure older adults or those with less mobility take on the roles of bowling and hitting, while the younger members are tasked with running on behalf of the adults.

As well as getting everyone pumping with adrenaline, it’s great to develop the kids’ hand eye coordination and also enable older adults to use muscles which might otherwise get forgotten.
If you have players who struggle with mobility, bring along a stool they can rest on, or slow the game to a walk when it’s their turn.

With social restrictions in place, this is a great activity which makes the whole family feel like they are a team, without getting in too close quarters!
If you don’t have a bat and ball, you can use a balled up sock and your open palm, which is also likely to be gentler on those with ageing bones!

Assault action!
The great thing about assault courses is that they can be built around all your abilities, and don’t just have to involve high energy activities like running up slides or swinging along monkey bars. One idea is to include challenge stations where participants have a challenge depending on their ability, with younger participants encouraged to do star jump or skip, and those with mobility issues challenged to throw bean bags through a hoop or stand on one leg.

When setting out the course, keep in mind that kids benefit from strengthening exercises, which will help them build strong bones and muscles. Including a weight bearing challenge such as monkey bars, performing a hand stand or lifting a heavy box onto a low wall are all great ways of getting their muscles working hard.

Remember, as long as your breathing gets a little heavier and you feel warmer, it will be doing you good. What may get auntie Jean out of breath could be a walk in the park for your teenage son, so adjust the activities to your audience!

Treasure trail
Walking is a great way to get the heart pumping and fill your lungs with fresh air, and is another great way to provide something for all the family – socially distanced of course!

If you have small children why not bring along their scooters so they can keep up with the rest of the gang, and try and pick a location where there’s a café or bench the less mobile adults can wait while the rest.

It’s often difficult to get everyone full on board with a ‘walking activity’ so it’s a good idea to come up with a good incentive for those who are a little despondent.

A treasure hunt is great because it challenges everyone mentally as well as physically. You can find lots of treasure hunts online, or you can sign up for an augmented reality game such a Pokemon Go, which challenges participants to ‘catch’ characters as they walk around.

If older adults aren’t keen, one idea could be to encourage them to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy a walk around a village or place they used to live or spent time. This is a great way to get the older adults to set the pace of the activity. Not only will the nostalgia encourage them to get their brains working harder, but they will also have more impetus to move more. Seeing their grandchildren play cricket in the same sports field or swing from the same trees they did in their childhood will be sure to get everyone’s hearts pumping and release those endorphins!

Finding an activity that will engage the whole family is a great way to spend time together, stay fit and healthy and keep your brains active! So don’t be put off by limitations of individuals within the group – there is always a great alternative to ensure everyone can join in the fun!

Don’t succumb to Lockdown guilt!

Social media has kept many of us sane during the COVID lockdown.

Whether it’s recreating dance moves for TikTok, following fitness classes on Facebook Live or scrolling through memes bemoaning lockdown life, it’s been a cause of entertainment at a time when we’ve definitely needed it the most.

The problem is, constant scrolling can also quickly turn into a guilt-fest as we see people showing off that they have become much fitter or documenting how many miles they have been running for charity.

This is the last thing you need when you’ve just about managed to get the kids up and dressed, juggling home schooling and working from home, let alone navigating a global pandemic.

So, as restrictions begin to be lifted and life returns to some kind of ‘normality’, maybe it’s time to ditch our old lockdown media pal and concentrate on the present?

Forgive yourself for a fitness dip
Lots of trainers wouldn’t allow their clients to come up with excuses as to why they haven’t kept up with fitness or missed a session.

But the fact of the matter is COVID has presented us with pretty exceptional circumstances. It is entirely justifiable that we have let our health and fitness drop, whether you are used to running around after the kids or you are a regular gym goer.

Don’t worry! This is completely normal considering the change in activity your body has experienced over the past six months. If we move less, then our muscles are going to get weaker and become tired more quickly.

Don’t feel guilty, feel motivated. Because you know you can get back on track. Start small, instead of going to the park for an hour’s kick about with the kids, keep it a little shorter at first and build exercise back up. Remember – if a marathon runner took a year off, they wouldn’t expect to run a PB on their first outing.

Don’t compare!
Instagram feeds during lockdown are filled with selfies of celebrities showing off their beach bodies by their pools or exceptional achievers who have run a marathon a week during lockdown.

But don’t beat yourself up, just because they are shouting about their achievements it doesn’t make yours any less. A cycle to the shops or a walk to the park with the kids may seem less ‘instagrammable’ but it’s still a worthwhile form of activity and will come with its own health benefits.

Government guidelines suggest adults should be doing about 30 minutes exercise a day, while kids should be doing an hour. It doesn’t have to be running or high intensity activity, as long as your heart begins to beat a little quicker and your breathing gets harder you are doing yourself good.

If you do fancy a challenge, it’s not too late to start. People used lockdown as an opportunity to do things they hadn’t had chance to do before, but now things are easing it simply gives you a wider choice when it comes to activities such as swimming or going to a new gym class.

Don’t get stressed, get moving!
Lockdown has been an incredibly stressful time, whether it’s been work, finances, childcare or the lack of freedom to do what you know and love. And as rules begin to be relaxed it’s entirely likely that you will begin to feel anxious about getting back into the ‘real world’ again.

Remember, exercise is a great stress reliever, and while you may feel a little worried about heading to a swimming pool or public gym, a long walk or run can help build your confidence and relieve some of the stress that has built up.

As well as helping you relax and unwind, you will also find that increasing your activity will ensure you sleep better and concentrate more, which of course is important for yourself and your kids if you are heading back into the office or school.

Any form of exercise is good for the brain and will be a good stress reliever. Being part of a team or taking part in a fitness class with friends, while respecting social distancing measures, is a great way to get you laughing and enjoying yourself, while running, swimming and walking have great meditative effects, helping relax you and keep you focussed, so it’s all doing you good.

And don’t forget – kids get stressed too and are also highly likely to be affected by what’s happening in the world, so be sure to include them in your activities too. A game of football, a walk up a hill or a game of hide and seek will do the whole family wonders!

Whether you have been on furlough, frantically juggling family life or the lockdown has affected your mental health, the return to ‘normality’ will come with its challenges.

If the social media feed that kept you going is now causing negative thoughts, leave it behind and concentrate on what’s to come!

A running engagement

Latest figures show that almost a million people in the UK have downloaded the Couch to 5k running app during lockdown – that’s more than double the downloads for the same period last year.

If you’re one of those people AND you completed the challenge, then well done! You should feel really great about your achievement. Perhaps you are now wondering ‘that next’? Or, if this isn’t you, it may well be that you are thinking of giving it a go – especially with lockdown restrictions now easing. Whichever camp you fall into, hopefully this will help.

I’m a real champion of running, it’s a great way to stay active, it’s fantastic at keeping your heart healthy and strong, and the whole family can do it together. All you need is a pair of trainers and comfy clothing – no gym memberships or specialist equipment required!
So, whether you’re new to running or looking to extend your challenge beyond the 5k, here are a few tips to make or keep running a regular part of your routine.

Couch to 5k

So, for those who are new to the concept, here’s a quick overview of what all the fuss is about.

The Couch to 5k is a running app for your mobile phone which aims to steadily increase your stamina with the end goal being to run for 30 minutes without stopping.

It sounds quite daunting, but each coaching session – divided into three sessions a week – steadily takes you from a mixture of walking and running, to running for longer periods until you can jog along for 30 minutes.

There are a few variations of the app so you can choose what appeals most to you. With the NHS version you can choose whose voice you hear as your mentor, from the calming tones of Sarah Millican encouraging you to keep going, to the no-nonsense encouragement and running tips from Michael Johnson.

The lockdown has been a great opportunity for people to take on the app while they are not doing their usual commutes etc. but it is available all year round – so it’s never too late to try!

Of course, you don’t have to use the app, there are plenty of running plans you can follow on line which you can complete it as a family or group – you just need someone keeping an eye on the time so you know how long you are running/walking for.

5k and beyond…

A common goal that follows the Couch to 5k is would be to join a running club or sign up for a fun run which the whole family can take part in without pressure.

But with mass gatherings and events banned for the foreseeable future, this is where you might need to be a little creative.

Why not map out a 5, 8 or 10k run in a location you haven’t run before? Mapping out a new route will make the run more interesting. A good starting point is to find a circular path that surrounds a field or lake so that you don’t have to worry about following directions. And if you are running with family members or with friends (maintaining social distancing) who are quicker/slower, you don’t have to worry about everyone staying together.

The advantage of a new route will also mean you are challenged in a different way. If you’ve stuck to road running why not find an alternative with some different terrain, or introduce some hills to your route which will also improve form, increase strength and boost your speed.

Go back to the beginning

The couch to 5k is great way to get you running and you can definitely call yourself a runner by the end. But if you want to continue to get fitter, then increasing your pace and distance will help.

If you have a smart phone that tracks your distance, you may even find that your 30 minute run doesn’t quite equate to 5k – or anywhere near! This is nothing to worry about, it all depends on your pace and even your leg length!

If you’ve never run before it’s likely you will have been concentrating on getting around without stopping without thinking about how fast you are going. Now you know you can do it you can look at refining your style and speed, and the simplest way of doing this is by resetting the app and using the intervals to switch between running speeds rather than walking and jogging. This way you can continue to increase your stamina and get faster.

Take inspiration!

The great thing about the Couch to 5k is that it’s accessible to everyone and designed for the beginner. Crucially, it’s also a great way of demonstrating how people can go from being a complete novice to achieving more than they might expect in quite a short time.

Which is why even if you try running and it isn’t for you…it isn’t for everyone…you can still take inspiration from the concept of starting small and building up. Why not set your own plan for you and the family to follow? This can be applied to walking, cycling, scooting or even playing a game of football with the kids.

You can increase time spent, or number of steps, repetitions etc. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are building up gradually to healthy habits that you’ll really benefit from today, tomorrow and well into the future.

A new era for cyling

There’s never been a better time to get out on your bike than during lockdown.

The lack of cars and commuters has meant cyclists of all abilities can ride on the normally busy roads with a new-found confidence. While gyms and outdoor sports have been out of action, it has proven to be a fantastic way for whole families to get active together safely.

Now, with lockdown rules relaxing and more people returning to work, you’d be forgiven for thinking your time on the bike could be coming to an end.

But don’t give up hope just yet! The public’s love of cycling hasn’t gone unnoticed, and massive investments are already being made to make Britain’s streets more cycle friendly.

Safer streets for the future

In May the Government announced a £2billion investment to boost greener, active transport. In some areas this has already led to the introduction of pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus only corridors.

It is hoped that this will not only encourage new cyclists to continue their love affair with cycling, but encourage people who have been anxious about the safety of roads to have a go too.

Dedicated cycle lanes mean you are kept within a safe space away from fast cars, you are less likely to encounter impatient drivers, and you have more space to negotiate obstacles in the road such as pot holes or people stepping out, so any investment is positive.

Health benefits

Cycling isn’t just a good way to stay out of contact with others while travelling during the ongoing pandemic, it’s also a healthy choice for your body and will significantly improve yours and your family’s fitness.

The Government recommends that adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, while children should be aiming for an hour.

Take into consideration your commute to work, a cycle to the shops or a family bike ride on a weekend and you are eating into a good chunk of this target with ease.

And that’s not all, cycling can also help keep your weight under control and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer.

Get in gear

The great thing about cycling is that there are bikes, helmets and other pieces of equipment to suit all abilities and budgets – especially when you get hunting online.

Many buy and sell sites in particular will enable you to pick up a second, third or even fourth hand bike that is still in great condition. Just remember, if you do pick up an older bike or uncover one in the back of your shed, be sure to get it serviced before you go out on a ride as you don’t want it failing on you mid-cycle!

There are also many bikes available for people with disabilities, so check out Wheels for All and Cycling UK if you or your family can’t use a traditional two wheeled bike.

Keep it up

If you’ve become a regular peddler during lockdown then you already know how quick and easy cycling is. But as routines change and roads become busier, it’s easy to find excuses to go back to the car or public transport.

Don’t! You’ve developed a really good habit that will be harder to get back into if you stop.

And remember, if you are a bit anxious about the roads getting busier there are plenty of other options – why not take advantage of local parks, canals and towpaths, for example.

If you do intend to stick to road cycling it’s also worth reminding yourself (and this goes for cyclists old and new) of the Highway Code so that you are confident and don’t make any risky manoeuvres.

Just do it!

With massive investments in greener transport there has never been a better time to get into cycling.

And it’s not just about getting healthy. Getting active before work, or as a family, will also do your, and your family’s, mental health the world of good – reducing your risk of stress and depression, and boosting mood, sleep quality and energy.

Safer streets will mean you and your kids can take to the roads with confidence, whether it’s cycling to school, commuting to work or heading out as a group.

So, what are you waiting for!? Get on yer bike!

Now you’ve found your fitness stride…

Spring is now Summer and with the warmer weather and longer days, our fitness habits during lockdown have changed too. Many of us have moved from kitchen Pilates, staircase climbing and living room lunges, to bike rides in the park, morning runs and afternoon rambles (all keeping our safe distance of course!).

While life has been more than a little limiting it has felt great to move a little more to keep our bodies and brains active. Being able to do it all outside? Even better!

The thing is, as and when restrictions are eased and we start to get back to a new normality, it will be easy to forget some of the good habits you’ve been developing. With that in mind, here are a few points to help you keep up the good work this summer.

Remember when walking became, fun?

In the past, many of us viewed walking as something functional (possible something to be avoided!). Just a way of getting from a to b.  But, thanks to lockdown, we’ve become reacquainted with the activity as an enjoyable experience in its own right.

It’s a gentle way the whole family can get moving, enjoy the fresh air and get your heart pumping without requiring special equipment. It also helps build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier, not to mention the mental health benefits.

So, if you’ve re-discovered the joy of walking, don’t let this good habit slip. Why not look up some new routes you and your family can enjoy once we can all walk a little further? There’s no reason why getting out for a walk can’t become a key part of your new normal.

Sun potion – get your vit hit

We’ve all been making the most of our gardens and outside spaces for exercise during lockdown. Why? Because it felt so good to get out for a bit of fresh air and natural light.

Well, this is another habit we shouldn’t let slip. Because in addition to benefiting from whatever exercises we’ve been doing, we’ve all been getting an important dose of Vitamin D in the process.

Vitamin D is actually essential for regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies, and, in turn, helps maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. What’s more, Vitamin D is wonderful for boosting our immune systems.

When life get a little more normal and more of our traditional freedoms return, that sofa might start to look pretty appealing again. If it does, just remember how fond you became of being active outside. No matter how dull the sky may seem, your body will benefit!

Just remember to slap on a minimum of factor 15 sunscreen if you’re outside in the summer (even in the UK!), and make that factor 30 and up for the kids.

Sleep tight

Getting a good night’s sleep has never been more important. It’s a time for our minds and bodies to recuperate from the day’s stresses.

It’s also another reason to keep up your outdoor exercise routine. Taking part in outdoor activities exposes your body to the elements and stimulates all your senses, adding a different layer of intensity to your workout and tiring you out for a good night’s sleep.

Our sleep cycles also rely on the sunlight to let our body know when it’s time to wind down or wake up, so you will also find that spending more time outdoors and less time in dark houses will help regulate your sleep pattern, which is essential when it comes to maximising your body’s recovery and repair!

Keep it up!

According to NHS guidelines adults need to get around 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, while children should be getting around an hour. Lockdown has actually prompted many of us to hit these targets…simply for something to do. Don’t stop! But also don’t forget that you can mix activity with all the benefits of being outside.

When lockdown lifts, perhaps continue to keep track of when you are getting outdoors and what you are doing – aiming to make sure you are doing one active thing outdoors each day.

If you look back at the week and realised you have spent most of it cooped up inside, try and introduce an outdoor workout or a walk around the block? It doesn’t need to be strenuous, as long as your heart beats a little quicker and you get warmer.

Whether you’ve used the lockdown to form new habits, or you’ve desperately missed the gym and sports sessions, don’t underestimate the advantages of these changes – and don’t be too quick to dismiss them in the future!

How to keep active when you’re a fish out of water

Harry is a former champion swimmer who runs Life Leisure’s performance gym for the elite athletes and manages a Tri-Masters Swimming Programme.

Swimming is a fantastic exercise, it works all the muscle groups, doesn’t put any strain on your joints, and is a full cardiovascular workout – meaning your heart has to work hard to pump blood around your body. And that’s all while holding your breath!

Unfortunately, it relies on one very important thing – a swimming pool, which under current circumstances, very few of us have access to.

Just like any exercise, a prolonged break from the water will result in a loss of stamina, fitness and skill. We will also begin to lose our buoyancy in the water, making it harder to regain our confidence, efficiency and speed.

So, what can we do?

While we can’t replicate the resistance of water, we can mimic some of the movements our muscles make while swimming. This will not only help keep our bodies strong and our muscles lean, but help us dive in with confidence when we eventually get back to the pool.

Jump for joy

They are not as enjoyable as gliding through the water, but burpees are the closest you can get to replicate the full body workout you get from swimming.

Most swimming strokes will work all your major muscle groups at once, which means your heart is also working overtime to pump oxygen around your body.

A burpee – jumping between a plank, squat and explosive jump into the air – also does this, challenging your heart to move blood from your legs up to your arms in a short amount of time.

Tip: Your muscles will still benefit if you slow down the motions. Alternative options are to kneel down, step your legs back and forward individually, and stand up rather than jump.

Strong legs

Swimming requires strong legs as most strokes involve kicking to power your body through the water. The best way to stimulate these same muscle contractions on land is by running.

Running is a weight baring exercise, so not everyone can do it, but it is a great way to keep up your stamina and leg strength when you can’t get in the pool.

Tip: If running isn’t for you, try walking against a resistance such as a hill, or carry extra weight in a backpack.

Twist and shout

Swimming involves a lot of twisting, whether it’s to breathe as you are doing the front crawl, or turning around at the end of the lane, so it’s important that you do some movements that keep your oblique and abdominal muscles supple.

A great option is a squat jump with a half twist – that’s jumping up from a squat and rotating mid-air so your feet land in the opposite direct (or 90 degrees if you find this a little difficult).

Tip: If you find the jump a little difficult, try moving from a squat to a standing position, twisting 90 degrees as you stand, varying the directions.

Core stability

A good swimming technique relies on a strong core, which allows you to lengthen your body, keep high in the water and be efficient in the water.

It’s not a fun exercise, but the plank – where you hold yourself in a push up position  and tense your core – is a great one for this.

Tip: You can improve it by alternating each arm in a swimming motion, or ease off the strain by doing it on your side, resting on your elbow, with your feet wider apart.

Front crawl

Front crawl relies on strong arms to power you through the water.

Working our arms can be hard without any specific equipment, so the easiest way to keep our strength up is by doing press ups, with our pectorals, arms and shoulders taking our body weight.

There are lots of alternatives for press ups so everyone should be able to find a technique that works. Try using your  knees instead of your toes, or raise up your hands so they are higher than your feet. You could do push ups off a couch, a table, or even a wall, it’s all working the right muscles!

Tip: Tapping your shoulders in between each press ups will also recreate some of the movement in the pool.

Back to basics

Swimming engages all your back muscles, whether it’s arching through the butterfly or twisting through front crawl as you come up for breath.

A great land-based version is the back arch – lying on your stomach and raising your arms and legs at right angles, similar to a skydiver. Once here pulse up and down – this is a great way to work your glutes and back muscles.

Tip: This is also a great one for posture, especially those who are hunched over computers all day. By carrying out back arches you will reverse this muscle movement and encourage you to stand straighter!

Go for it!

These are great exercises for all swimmers, whether you race down the lanes or you enjoy a leisurely swim a couple of times a week.

A good guideline is for beginners to do around 30 seconds of each exercise with 30 seconds rest, intermediates should aim for 40 seconds on and 20 seconds rest, and those who are more advanced should do 50 seconds on and 10 second off before repeating a set.

Even with 24 hour access to a pool, elite swimmers still spend time in the gym, so think of these exercises as a natural accompaniment to improving your swimming technique and skill once you get back to doing what you love!

Click here to see Harry demonstrate these exercises or for more fitness tips.

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