Techniques to get the most out of your favourite exercises

With most of us quarantined inside our homes, everybody is turning to home workouts. So I thought I would give you some tips to make sure that you’re getting the most out of the exercises you’re doing. I love home workouts and have been doing them for months and months now instead of going to the gym. I find that I work better at home, in my own space. And while a lot of us will be trying to do the same, it’s really important that when you’re completing these exercises at home, you’re still getting the most out of them. There are no machines to help you with your form at home – unless you’re super lucky and have some sort of home gym. So below I have listed just a few of my top tips.

Use a supporting mat.
I find it really important to exercise on a mat. You can pick one up from Amazon or Sports Direct and these will really help to support your body with any exercises that you’re doing. Make sure to get one that’s nice and wide and one that has a good thickness to it to provide padding.

Wear trainers instead of socks.
You might think you don’t need to wear trainers when working out at home but I really like to put mine on if I can be bothered. Firstly, they add that tiny little bit of extra weight to your feet. This is great for any core or ab exercises. Secondly, they provide your feet with the support needed for any bodyweight exercises such as squats.

Press your lower back into the floor.
When you’re doing any core/ab floor exercises, it’s really important that you focus on pressing your lower back into the floor. Improper form with these exercises will cause a gap to form between the floor and your lower back. This makes the exercises ineffective. Focus on tucking your hips under and pressing them to the floor. This is especially important for any lower ab exercises that you do. You’ll definitely notice the difference!

Perform exercises at a controlled pace.
If you’re following a workout video, then you’ll be tempted to try and match the pace of the person you’re watching. This isn’t always going to be possible and often you’ll end up performing your exercises incorrectly because of this. If you’re flailing your arms or not sinking down low enough into your exercises because you’re trying to keep up, then you’re not getting the most out of them. Thus, the workout becomes ineffective. Instead of trying to match anybody else’s pace, work on performing the exercises at a pace that allows you to do them properly. You’ll still be doing them for 40 seconds or a minute. If you do less reps then that’s fine, as long as you have done them properly!

Move slower.
Slowing down your movements builds endurance and actually makes your muscles work harder. This is why pilates movements are often quite challenging and require a lot of concentration. I recommended pilates in my last post for this reason. It teaches you to control your movements and to think about what your muscles are doing. This is a great way to learn how to do certain exercises that you might be struggling with. Just slow them down.

Don’t drink water too regularly throughout the workout.
If you keep drinking water in every rest, then your body is filling up whilst you’re working out and it’s going to become more sluggish. Save your water for a halfway break or the end of the workout. This gives you something to work towards and teaches you to remain disciplined.

Invest in some weights or a resistance band.
Home workouts are great but at some point, you’re going to need to up the stakes so that you keep pushing your body to do more. Invest in some dumbbells, ankle weights or a resistance band so that you can vary your movements. This will help you to keep challenging your body.

What are your tips for working out at home?

Staying active during the Coronavirus pandemic

A fifth of the world’s population is currently on lockdown, attempting to battle the deadly Coronavirus. This is a really crazy time that we are living in. Everything that is a reality right now feels like the sort of thing you learn about in A-Level Sociology or read about in dystopian novels. It’s crazy how quickly things can change and I think that we’ve all realised that over the past few weeks.

Thankfully in the UK, we are still being allowed to leave our houses. This means that we can keep active by going for walks or runs once a day. I know that for a lot of people, me included, this is one of the only things keeping me mentally sane. It hasn’t even been a week since this happened and I’m already going a bit loopy. I hate to be one of those people complaining that they’re bored but there are so many things that I already miss.

There is the mentality that lockdown is going to make us all put on extra weight. Surprise, surprise I don’t think this should be the case! Being aware of what you’re eating is probably even more important now. Eating out of boredom is one of the easiest ways to put on weight and we do need to be mindful of this.

Weight aside, it’s important to keep your body moving! I don’t think that any of us really want to become couch potatoes during this time. We need to keep moving, exercising and staying fit to keep our energy levels up and fuel our minds so that they can be properly stimulated. If you’re thinking of learning something new during this period, then that’s great! Working out is a great way to exercise your mind and your body.

So please, try to do at least 20 minutes of exercise a day. It’s not much but it really will make a difference. Here are my exercise tips:

Pilates has a number of great low impact moves that are perfect to do at home. Pilates focuses on movements that improve your core strength and stability. It’s about controlling your motions and moving at a steady pace through your exercises. So although it can be low impact, it requires a lot of concentration and discipline. It’s therefore a great choice for working out quietly at home.

HIIT workouts have recently become one of my favourites. The exercises are a lot more demanding but this means that you can do shorter workouts and still achieve really good results. HIIT workouts are also a great way to get your cardio in (my least favourite type of training) because the exercises usually incorporate fast repetitions and you can easily include weights like dumbbells.

Upper body workouts on YouTube are also perfect for building up your arms, core and abs. Lots of girls focus only on legs and abs. You ask a girl what day it was at the gym and she almost always replies with “leg day” or “ab day”. As I’ve said before, I like to workout to achieve overall fitness. At the moment, I’m working a lot more on my upper body in order to build strength that can help me to do exercises like press ups and pull ups. It’s not all about lower body training for me anymore. It’s about strengthening the weaker parts of my body so that my overall fitness levels are higher.

What’s your favourite type of quarantine workout?

How I maintain clear(ish) skin!

Having a skincare routine has been a really important part of my day-to-day routine for years. Cleansing morning and night, using a face scrub or exfoliator once a week and throwing a mask in here and there when I feel like I need to detox or am having a really bad skin week. I’ve tried all kinds of skincare – from Boots cucumber range (a cult favourite) to Tatcha dewy skin cream (maybe a little over-priced). But have you ever tried not having a routine at all?

I treat my skin intuitively. No one skincare regime works for me across the board, in every season, throughout every month. Your hormones can effect your skin, your mental health can effect your skin, the environment, the products that you use and the way that you use them. There are so many factors here and there that it would be next to impossible to say that this one specific routine is a sure way of achieving clear skin.

My skin is usually quite good. I don’t suffer from acne, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, blackheads or any kind of serious skin problems. Generally, it’s okay. To tell you a little bit about my skin type, I have naturally oily skin – especially on my cheeks and just between my eyebrows. However, I do feel that my skin requires deep moisturisers to keep it hydrated. Contrary to the belief that people with oily skin don’t need to use as much moisturiser, I actually double moisturise. Yes! Every morning I use two moisturisers. One to hydrate the skin and the other to soften it. The first is the Boots Cucumber Moisturising Cream. You can pick this up for about £2.00 in store and it lasts forever. It’s fast-absorbing but it really hydrates your skin. Because it sinks into my skin quite quickly, I then go in with a deep moisturising cream on top. The second one is Tatcha Dewy Skin Cream. This is an expensive product for sure, as it costs about £50-£60 and comes in a very small tub. But I have to say that it is absolutely beautiful. First of all it feels like silk. It smells amazing and a little goes a long way. I like this moisturiser because you can really see and feel the effects of it. Unlike the Boots cream, once you work this one into your skin, you can see how hydrated your skin is. It feels plump and it gives you this sort of sheen that completely alleviates any dryness – so I highly recommend the splurge for this one!

Something I have noticed that really keeps my spots at bay is drinking lots of water. I hardly ever drink juice. All I drink is peppermint tea, coffee (here and there) and water. Hot water and lemon is my absolute favourite. Not only does it taste refreshing but it’s a great natural detox for those days where you feel really unhealthy. And then there’s just plain and simple cold water. I feel like this tip is age old but drinking water is honestly the best thing you can do to keep your skin hydrated. Dry skin peels, is flaky and doesn’t look good with make-up on.

Speaking of make-up, my next tip is to give yourself some make-up free days! Before I started working full time, I was under the impression that I would have to wear make-up everyday to work. This is the biggest myth ever. First of all, I don’t have time to apply make-up every morning and if I do find the time, I’m usually late. Wearing make-up everyday means cleaning my brushes more regularly, which is what I should be doing right now but am too lazy to go and do. It means using more of my make-up remover in the evenings and consequently having to buy it more frequently. It means tapping my eyebrow when it’s itchy because I don’t want to scratch the make-up off and smudge them. But most importantly, not wearing make-up on some days means that you’re giving your skin that needed time to breathe. The key to no make-up days is having good skin and one of the keys to good skin is having no make-up days, so they really work hand in hand.

My final tip for you is to try just washing your face with good old water. There are so many products on the market now that will claim to do all sorts of things – anti-blemish, anti-ageing, removes blackheads, reduces the appearance of pores, targets redness, evens skin tone. Honestly, having a look at the ingredients on the back will make it easy to see that sometimes these products are doing more harm than good. Just like we love a low-manipulation hairstyle, I also love a low-manipulation skincare routine. Sometimes that just means washing my face with water and moisturising with my favourite creams. Keeping it simple and not layering my skin with product after product, which can almost feel the same as putting on a full face of make-up sometimes!

What are your skincare tips?

Tan’s 2020 Fitness Goals

Hello! Here we are in 2020, at that time of the month when everybody is thinking about how to keep those new year’s resolutions. Save more? Commit to dry Jan? Hit the gym? That last one is always my favourite – I love the fact that people are so motivated to work out at the start of year but hate that so often, many of us fail to keep up with it.

I feel like I say this all the time but working out is really important to me. Over the past two years, I would say, of consistent exercise, I’ve picked up on very noticeable differences in the way I feel and in the way I feel about myself. It’s definitely been a journey.

I started working out because I wanted to lose weight. There was a time when I looked in the mirror and honestly hated my body. I would find a list as long as a lamppost detailing how fat my legs were. I think as girls, regardless of whether we love our bodies or not, we all have that one part that we have never been satisfied with. So, when I first started working out, I pretty much only trained lower body.

Then, I started to notice that my legs were getting bigger because I was building up muscle. I scrapped the weights and started training cardio only. But even then I wasn’t happy.

It took me about a year and a half to get to the point I’m at now, where the way that I look has moved down the list of reasons why I work out. When I started working out, I wanted slimmer legs. Period. Now, I work out because it makes me feel energised, it gives me something to work towards, it gives me the opportunity to train new parts of my body and see how they progress over time, it stops me from getting bored, feeling sluggish and lazy. There are lots of different reasons why I continue to workout.

Over the Winter months, my workouts have changed to home workouts. I still have a gym membership but I haven’t used it in about two months. I’ve been trialling how much more successful it is to workout at home, rather than at the gym. I think that for me, it all depends on the season. I really don’t want to get dressed and go out into the cold to workout – I just don’t. So I roll out my exercise mat and I workout at home instead. At the moment, I’ve literally only been doing MadFit workouts on YouTube. I think they are amazing! They’re usually between 10 and 20 minutes so I would normally do two in a row, but the 10 minute ones give you the option to get some high intensity activity into your day even if you’re feeling sluggish or if you’re low on time.

The reason why I enjoy home workouts so much at the moment, is because I can target my workouts and train in a guided way for free and without anybody around me. The one thing I always struggled with at the gym was finding space. At home, I have my own little space and I can train in exactly the way that I want to. I also sometimes film my workouts. No, not because I’m a narcissist! Simply because it’s good to watch them back and see where I need to improve my form in order to get the most out of the different exercises. Again, this is something that I couldn’t do at the gym.

This year, my main fitness goal is to be able to do a press up. Easy for some, hard for the rest of us who have very minimal upper body strength. All those lower body workouts two years ago meant that I completely neglected my arms! I have been doing a lot of ab workouts recently and many of the exercises involve having good upper body strength. So this year, (well, really towards the end of last year) I have started incorporating upper body exercises into my routines. I’m really excited to see how far I can go with this. After we nail the press up, it’s on to pull-ups!

I love the feeling of setting yourself goals and achieving them. It’s honestly the best feeling when you think about something that you’ve said you want to do and then realise that you’ve managed to do it. Fitness achievements are probably up there on my list of most gratifying successes. Again, I say this a lot but there was a time when I couldn’t do lying leg drops or planks and here we are doing them as part of 3-4 part ab sets.

If you are on a fitness journey this year, then I urge you to do two things:

1. Set small and achievable goals for yourself rather than saying “I want to lost a stone by Summer”. I really think you will feel so much better and stronger if you break that down into achievable little parts and work even harder to hit those mini goals before the big one.

2. Find free ways to get fit. Go running, play a sport with your friends or honestly, just start doing YouTube workouts. As I said in my fitness influencers post (linked below), I really recommend MadFit workouts. They’re challenging, really well-paced and I have really seen and most importantly, felt results from them.

If you want to read any of my other fitness posts, then click on the tag below.

What are your fitness goals in 2020?

My favourite ab exercises

Home workouts are fast becoming my favourite way to exercise. The weather outside at the moment, is Arctic! Thinking about leaving to go to the gym or to join in a gym class used to excite me. Now? I couldn’t think of anything worse. It’s too cold, gym clothes aren’t particularly warm and I just don’t want to be shivering all the way there and back.

Just because I don’t want to leave the house, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to exercise. As I always say, it’s become as normal to me as washing my hair. You know when you haven’t washed your hair in about 3 days and you know you really should do it as soon as possible? That’s how I feel when I don’t exercise. It starts to niggle away at me and I actually start to feel very anxious.

I’m very body conscious. Not in the sense that I’m self conscious of my body but more in terms of being aware of what my body looks and feels like. It might sound strange but I can really see and feel the effects of a bad week of eating and no exercise on my body. My two favourite areas to train (like all girls) are my legs and abs. So, today I have put together a list of my favourite ab exercises for you to try at home. Beware, I don’t know the proper names for all of these exercises so I have named them as best as I can.

Lying leg drops with crunch
Keeping your lower back pressed to the floor is key to getting the most out of this exercise – and most of the other exercises I will mention. When you adopt and maintain this form, you target your lower abs, which is the main area that we all want to see those results in for a flatter stomach. With this exercise, you want to lie down on the floor and bring both your legs straight up above you. Then you want to crunch up (try and touch your toes with both hands) and then drop both your legs and arms at the same time. Legs go straight down (as far as you can go without lifting that lower back off the ground) and your arms go straight back behind your head. Your feet should never touch the floor. You can add a weight to make it more difficult if this is easy for you and remember to do everything in slow and controlled motions.

Dumbbell reverse crunch with leg extension
Once again, lower back stays firmly to the floor. You want to bring your knees into your chest and at the same time, you want to bring your dumbell in and over your head to meet your knees. Then you reverse this motion and you bring the dumbbell back over your head and extend your legs into a straight position above the floor. Again, don’t let those feet touch the floor.

Full sit-up
Again, using a weight you want to do a normal sit up, but come all the way up and lift the weight over your head before coming back down. Make sure you keep you feet on the floor and don’t be tempted to use any other muscle group to help get you up. You should only be using your core.

Single leg raises with crunch
This is definitely not the name of this exercise! Essentially, you start out on your back and you lift one leg up to the middle (straight up above your hips) whilst keeping the other leg flat on the floor. At the same time, you want to lift the opposite arm so that it meets your leg in the middle.

Plank with dumbell
Really simple exercise but quite difficult to do for a long period of time. You get into a plank position and you move the dumbell from side to side. You can either roll it or pick it up and place it on the opposite side – it’s up to you! Just be sure to keep your form nice and strong and not to raise your hips while you do it.

Plank walk-outs
Again, in a plank position you want to walk your legs out and then in. So left leg comes out to the side, then the right leg. Then the left leg comes back in followed by the right leg. Same as before, keep your hips nice and low to get the most out of this exercise. You can also jump your legs in and out if you want to make it more difficult.

I don’t have really heavy weights at home, so I use a big water bottle instead. Just improvise with what you have and tailor the exercises to suit your level and ability.

Hope you enjoyed!

Why I value exercise and my fitness journey

Over the last few years, exercise has become an essential part of my weekly routine. I am acutely aware of the differences in how I feel when I do and don’t exercise and I make the conscious effort to exercise outside of the house at least two times a week. Now this may not sound like much to some people, but as a minimum, I think it’s quite manageable for me. Finding a routine that is manageable for you is key when it comes to exercise, otherwise you won’t be consistent.

Exercising is important to me because it makes me feel good inside and out. I’m more confident in the way I look when I exercise and I feel stronger, more motivated and I have lots of energy after I work out. When I’ve smashed a good session at the gym or in a gym class (which I have only recently started attending), I feel eager to push my body even further. I want to eat better, I want to try new exercises and I want to start seeing results.

I am the kind of person who finds something they can’t do and decides to learn how to do it. So recently, I’ve started going to classes on ClassPass, which you will know about already if you have read my previous fitness post. There are lots of challenging classes out there and there’s one that I have been going to on Wednesday nights for a couple of weeks now. It’s a lower body and core strength training class that really pushes me to my limits. Last week we had to do 3 circuits, with 3 different exercises and 3 sets of each. I can honestly say that I was dying by the end of the class. I felt physically sick – that’s how much it pushed me. But, as soon as I had gulped some water and taken a breather, I was fine and I walked home (in pain, yes) thinking about how eager I am to go back next week and do even better.

I think that’s the key thing I love about exercising – finding an exercise that you can’t do and practising over and over until you can do it. There was a point where I couldn’t do lying leg drops, I couldn’t plank, I couldn’t do v-sit pull ups, for example. Now, I can. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I haven’t eaten very well or I’m really tired and I struggle through my reps. But there is a huge difference between giving up and pushing through as you feel your body get stronger.

I am on a kind of progressive fitness journey. I just want to be toned, fit and healthy. I don’t want to have huge muscles or drop down to a specific size. I just want to feel fit, build a little bit of muscle and keep my body healthy. When you’re doing good things for your body, trust me, it becomes addictive. That’s why I continue to make the effort to exercise.

So if you haven’t started a fitness journey yet, then don’t bother waiting until 2020 – I can already hear the same old new years resolutions echoing in my head. Start now! Nothing is stopping you from going onto YouTube and following a workout – I have a list of my favourite fitness influencers in this blog post if you want to try out their workouts. I promise you won’t regret it!

ClassPass – A new way to exercise?

I have fallen out of love with the gym. Yes, I said it. The gym is just… it’s boring now. I’ve been going for about two years and I try to diversify my workouts as much as possible. But with a tiny, crowded space to work out in and not enough opportunity to utilise all of the equipment (well, what there is of it in my gym), I have just found myself completely de-motivated. £50 a month is a lot of money to spend on working out, especially if you’re not enjoying it and you’re not seeing any changes. So I sought out something different and exciting instead.

ClassPass is an app that gives you access to lots of different exercise classes around London. From weights training to yoga, to pilates, to rock climbing, there are so many different classes to choose from. So if you’re bored one day and thinking about trying something new, then having a ClassPass membership is a great way to do that.

I’ve really enjoyed each of the classes I have been to so far. The instructors are all very welcoming to newcomers and you can select classes based on ability level. So don’t worry if you’ve never tried something before, you can go to a beginners or an open level class and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a mix of different people. The instructors help you through the classes too. This gives the classes a group personal training feel, which is great for perfecting your form and increasing your ability. The classes absolutely fly by too! Nothing like when you’re forcing yourself to do that last set at the gym. During these classes, you will work so hard that you won’t even realise you’ve done an hour. The instructors motivate you, the other people in the class motivate you and I have left each of them feeling very sore afterwards.

I don’t know about you but I love that feeling. This is something that I was starting to miss out on at the gym. I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough and I felt like I didn’t really know how to anymore. Signing up to ClassPass has given me the opportunity to learn new exercises and to push my body in different ways. I have been to a weights training class, a beginners pilates class and a kettlebells class so far. Each have been very different and have tested my body in different ways.

You can choose classes based on distance, the number of credits they cost, the length of class and the time of class. This makes it super easy for you to find something that fits in with your schedule.

Just beware of a couple of little things. Booked classes have to be cancelled 12 hours in advance to avoid a cancellation fee. Missed classes also incur a charge. I think the charge for both is between £15 and £20 – so quite pricey! Instructors also will not let you into their classes if you are late. I repeat, they do not accept lateness. Classes start pretty much on the dot and even being 5 minutes late is risky. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has outright said that he won’t be letting anybody else in.

There are different types of membership. £15/month, £35/month, £60/month etc, so you can choose one that fits in with your budget and schedule. The more you pay, the more credits you get. Each class varies in terms of how many credits it costs. There are also credits for “gym time”, which just give you standard gym access.

ClassPass is a great way to challenge your body and to try a little bit of everything as and when you feel like it. Yoga one day, hardcore strength training the next. What more can you ask for?

My top 3 Instagram fitness influencers

Before I write a post about my fitness routine, I wanted to talk about where I got all of this inspiration from in the first place. Two years ago, I had probably gone to the gym about twice in my life. The only times I would work out were at home and even then it was very inconsistent. I tried everything – fitness DVDs in the living room with my mum, YouTube workouts in my room on my own, running along the River Thames. I even tried running around the park at university but nothing really worked for me.

I started going to the gym with my mum when I moved out of university. One thing I found was that I really struggle to workout with other people. My mum is such a chatterbox and wanted to talk every ten minutes. Working out for me is completely removing yourself from all of your everyday thoughts, shutting off from the world for an hour or so and just focusing on you. I was doing 30 minutes cardio and moving onto strength training, but I was getting distracted by being with somebody else.

The exercises I would do on the mats were exercises that I had picked up from YouTube videos – mainly FitnessBlender, which I have talked about before and highly recommend. Unfortunately, I don’t think they post that many videos anymore. But the old ones are still there and are still highly effective if you really want to feel the burn in your muscles and not your wallet.

After my mum quit the gym, I started going on my own. It was daunting at first but I realised that this was an opportunity for me to learn more about how to use different machines and to get better at doing different exercises. I started looking for accounts on Instagram to follow that would inspire me to work harder at the gym and teach me different exercises to do while I was there alone.

Following the right fitness influencers is honestly like having a free personal trainer. All of the workouts are ready made for you, you can save them into a Fitness folder on your Instagram like I do and when you’re at the gym, if you’re ever at a loss for exercises to do, then you can refer to them really easily. So below, I’ve listed my absolute favourites to get you started.

Natacha Oceane

Instagram: @natacha.oceane

Natacha’s fitness levels are unreal. When I think of my fitness goals, I think of Natacha. She works so hard and her endurance levels are sky high. When you watch her videos, you can see her struggling through her reps and really pushing through and I find that so inspiring. Great for really tough workouts that will improve your overall strength and build muscle. She’s always challenging herself so her page offers lots of different exercises and circuits, as well as fitness tests and clean eating tips!

Danielle Robertson

Instagram: @dannibelle

For targeted workouts, particularly abs, glutes and leg workouts, Danielle is my absolute favourite. Her workouts are really simple but very effective and she makes use of a lot of different equipment – dumbbells, ankle weights, barbells and lots of different machines. Which makes her workouts perfect for exercising at home, at the gym or both.

Maddie Lymburner

Instagram: @madfit.ig

Maddie’s workouts are so hard. But they’re great for taking your fitness to the next level. Whenever I’m getting bored of a routine or I feel like I’ve learned to do certain exercises really well, I head over to Maddie’s YouTube channel or Instagram and I have to really push through the workout. Which is great because as soon as you get comfortable with an exercise, you need to make it harder so that you’re constantly pushing your body to its limits.

The above accounts are ones that I visit time and time again. I used to follow a lot of Gymshark models. Although I respect their work as influencers and appreciate that there is a market for their workouts, I eventually found their accounts to be too heavily focused on getting that one Gymshark body – tiny waist and a big bum. All of their workouts would be focused on glutes and legs. There is definitely a huge market for that, there is no denying that. But, I wanted to follow pages that challenge your body overall. Pages that don’t just make money off promoting Gymshark leggings and taking photos of their bum. Sorry!

I hope that doesn’t sound horrible because these girls all have great bodies and they have built up really loyal fan bases. But I think that working out is more of an overall fitness goal for me, rather than striving to achieve this Instagram fitness model body.

If you’re looking for genuine workouts to get you started exercising at home or at the gym, then definitely check out these girls’ pages. I can hand on heart say that I do most of their workouts and that they constantly encourage me to challenge my body in new ways. If that’s something that you thrive on too then I’m sure you will like them as much as I do!