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?

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!

Gym Update: Playlist and Workouts

In recent months, the gym has quickly become one of my favourite places. I find that going to the gym makes me feel better about my health and my body image and also makes me a lot more aware of what I’m putting into my body. I also just love the feeling of finishing that final rep when squatting or doing a lunge and feeling like your legs are going to give way. When you get to the end of your workout and realise how much you’ve achieved it makes you motivated to go back and see how far you can push yourself the next time.
I’ll always do 30 minutes of cardio, whether that’s on one machine or a mixture of different ones. Sometimes I do twenty five on the cross trainer and five on the rowing machine. Recently, I’ve been absolutely loving the step machine; so at the moment I’ve been doing twenty minutes on the cross trainer and ten on the step machine on about level 5. I always have a playlist downloaded on my phone that I listen to on shuffle to help me get through. Currently, the top songs I’ve been listening to are:
Charli XCX – Boys

Martin Solveig, Ina Wroldsen – Places

Cash Cash, Conor Maynard, Sagan – All My Love

Halsey – Now or Never

Camila Cabello – Havana

Felix Jaehn, Hitimpulse – Cut The Cord

Dua Lipa – New Rules

The Chainsmokers – Roses

David Guetta, Justin Bieber – 2U

Louisa Johnson – Best Behaviour

Drake – KMT

Ella Vos, R3HAB – White Noise
I like to listen to a mixture of different tempos so that I can ease myself into my workout. If a song starts out and it’s too upbeat then I end up feeling really sluggish when I’m only about five minutes into my workout and I then don’t get the most out of my exercise. I’ve also found that when it comes to cardio, trying to go the fastest you can on the cross trainer or treadmill isn’t always the best way to burn calories. Sometimes I’m in a really energetic mood and can go quite fast on the cross trainer, which is great. However, I burn more calories by going at a pace that I can actually maintain for the whole twenty minutes. It’s definitely not slow as I do like to push myself, but it’s also not as fast as I could be going. This is what works for my body but it might be worth bearing in mind for yourself too.
I watch a lot of fitness videos on YouTube so I always go over to the mats after my cardio to do some floor exercises with my weights. As my gym doesn’t have many of the machines I like using, I have to think of a lot of exercises myself. For the first month or so of going, this was fine. I’d do two sets of 10 of 15kg squats with the bar, followed by 10 reps of squat pulses and a 20 second squat hold. I’d do some lunges. I’d do 30 sit ups and 30 Russian twists using a weighted ball and then I’d do a 30 second plank. But then I got bored.
I got told about an app by a colleague at work called the 30 day fitness challenge. Now I don’t use this as an actual 30 day fitness challenge because I think those kinds of things are just a little bit silly. What happens after the 30 days? Do you just pat yourself on the back and say well done? I don’t know. But I use the app because it gives me different exercises and different repetitions to do and it times it all for me. Each day gets harder and there are some rest days, but it has allowed me to introduce some exercises into my routine that I never would have thought of doing. Fire hydrants, donkey kicks, jump squats etc. The app also has little demonstrations of the exercise and really easy to follow instructions on how to do them. And best of all, it’s free!
So if you need some playlist inspiration or you want some more exercises to do at the gym, then there you go!
With the weather changing and the sky getting darker, it can be difficult to find the motivation to go to the gym. I’ve found that taking my gym gear to work and then going straight from work to the gym just doesn’t work for me anymore. I get to the gym feeling sluggish in all my work clothes as if I’m carrying the whole day with me. It’s much easier for me to go if I just go home and get changed first. I then walk to the gym which acts as a little warm up for me and by the time I’m there, I feel more energised and ready to go. I’ve also found that going after work when I finish at 6 o’clock isn’t always the best option for me as the gym is always so busy and I can never get on any of the machines I like. I much prefer going on the days when I finish slightly earlier or the days I have off, when the gym is emptier and has just been cleaned. It’s also quite nice going before work when I start just a little bit later as it makes me feel more awake for the day ahead.
With the gym I think it’s just important to find what works for you. The gym doesn’t have to be a place of dread. Trust me, I still love a chocolate bar, a double cheeseburger, a can of coke. Just because I go to the gym doesn’t mean I’m suddenly saying no! If you only go twice a week that’s better than nothing, so don’t bother listening to the people that tell you it’s not worth the money. Unless your membership costs something ridiculous like £90 a month, of course. And also, do the exercises that work for you. Just because the guy next to you is doing a two minute plank, doesn’t mean that’s what you need to be doing. You just need to make sure you feel the burn as you walk out and if you do, then you’ve done a fabulous job!