It’s a new year and a lot of people are talking about fitness. It’s been a focus for me for a few months now, so hopefully what follows might help motivate people. I’m not going to say this will work for you, but it does for me. Hopefully I can pass on a little of what I have learnt along the way.
It’s worth mentioning that theories change, new concepts come and go, so don’t take what I write as gospel, find what works for you.
Back in March I posted my report on the mini downhill race. My fitness let me down in the race and I hinted that I was going to be sorting it out. I had started swimming in my lunch hours at the end of 2009 and had lost a bit of weight, so my December 2009 FOD race went OK. But Leatherhead pool closed and I pretty much kept doing my usual, irregular commuting and Sunday rides after that.
As a result, the weight slowly crept back on; leading to my poor fitness at the race in March. I’m going to blame the addition of another child, travelling lots for work and general lack of motivation as at least some of the culprits.
I want to lose weight!
I can’t remember the exact date all this changed for me, but I remember the reason. I was chasing my eldest around Leatherhead soft play and I looked down at all the fat dads sitting drinking their coffee and reading their papers (sorry if that was any of you J ) and thought ”that’s not going to be me”. To add to this, a general clear out produced a diary from 1995 with a New Years resolution to lose weight.
So I thought to myself, “I have been thinking about this for a long time, I am either going to do this or not”.
I started by looking at my exercise routine. I cycled, that was it. A little bit of commuting on the weekdays, fun ride on the Sunday. Work was 4 miles away (each way) so the temptation was to go straight there and straight home with the pressures of home life dictating this is what happened more often than not.
Occasionally I would throw in a longer commute (7 miles) and rarely a much longer route (16 miles).
Cycling & swimming to lose weight
I love cycling, it’s my main passion, but it became clear to me that cycling alone was not going to work. I couldn’t do it when I travelled; logistically it required a shower at work, drying space, storage, locks, carrying all the kit etc. Cycle commuting requires effort, so it was easier to not do it.
Building the swimming back in was the obvious choice. Fortunately I happened to work with an elite level rider who now focuses on triathlons, so we teamed up. We started hitting Dorking pool in the lunch hour. It was just about doable in slightly over an hour. Swimming became a regular occurrence, twice a week. Get there; swim hard, back to the office.
Slowly but surely I got better, could swim further and swim harder. Having access to the pro network also bought with it some free swim coaching, and the odd bit of free kit.
Check your diet
I started looking at what I was eating. I thought I was eating ok; I had a sensible breakfast of cereal, small lunch, didn’t snack, didn’t eat crisps etc., but I still gained weight. So I started counting calories (yes, the guys at work took the p*ss) but I soon realised that I was eating way too much in the evenings.
I cut down on the amount of biscuits and chocolate I ate and I started measuring and weighing my food. Have a look at your breakfast, most cereal bowls hold 3 times the recommended amount, small changes can make a big difference. I still weigh my food as I find it easy to slip into adding a bit more to my meals.
Crash dieting doesn’t work long term, neither does eating onion soup for two weeks. Your body just craves all the stuff you really want and when you put that back into your body it stores it all because it’s been starved. So now I knew how much I should be eating, I ate the same things before as they were largely healthy choices, just less of them.
It’s worth mentioning that you need to balance this with the amount and type of exercise your doing. If you’re training hard you will need more calories to get you through, but most likely a different type of food than you ate before. So balance this with your objectives. I also added a multivitamin to my diet to make sure I had the right balance of nutrients.
Set targets to lose weight
So, what do I want to achieve? Weight loss obviously, getting up hills faster, getting fitter, faster etc. Setting targets is key to keeping yourself on track. Enter a race, set a weight target etc. Once you have that motivation you will find a way to fit in the training to get there.
For me, I am at a tough point, I want to lose more weight but I also want to go faster to do well in any races I enter. The two conflict somewhat and I have to balance everything with my home life and work, so I have had to make a conscious choice to keep focused on the weight loss for the next few months. I should get faster as I lose weight anyway and I can set new goals when I get to my target weight.
Adding in running
Chasing after my kids showed that I was getting fitter but I needed more. So after a few months of swimming and cycling I decided to add one more string to my bow; running. Now I know there will be a bunch of people who say running is not for them. Trust me, when I started, I couldn’t run round my block.
I did a bit of reading, and decided to give it a go. On the advice of several runners I went and got properly fitted for a pair of running shoes. Shops like Run to Live in Ashtead and Sweatshop offer proper analysis of your style and will advise on the right footwear. If like me you’re heavy, this is very important to save on long term injuries.
The beauty of running is that it requires minimal kit; set up and clear up time is minimal and you burn calories a lot faster than other forms of exercise.
So that’s three different sports I now do. What’s so good about this approach is that I can keep exercising whatever happens. Loads of snow? – switch to swimming more, run on a treadmill. Travelling? – take running/swimming kit and use the hotel gym.
Don’t forget to rest
Getting a schedule worked out is also a great aid. In the past I had always reached a point where I lost all my energy and so my motivation would disappear as well. When I started on losing the weight I trained nearly everyday, after about 6 weeks I started to get tired. So I did some research and found I was missing a key step. Rest.
You can’t train all the time, your body needs to rest and recover from the work you are doing to it. So now I have a schedule that is balanced for these needs.
If you pick up most magazines at the moment there will be a fitness schedule in there. Cycling Plus has several, but what I found was that these were geared solely for bike fitness and I can’t afford to spend 4 hours on a Saturday and Sunday training. The same for swimming schedules, the times I could get access to the pools ate into family time and I only have about half an hour at lunch to actually swim.
So my schedule is now basically a triathlon schedule so I have one day a week of rest, I try to follow a hard day of exercise with a lower level of exercise. I do that for three weeks and then I have a full week of rest.
When I say rest, what I mean is that I drop the exercise between 30 -50%. I might go for a run but it will be at a much slower pace, keeping my heart rate low, swim less lengths in different style, get on a turbo and spin slowly.
A heart rate monitor really helps here and I track what I do through my HR monitor and via Endomondo. You can also monitor your resting heart rate to look for signs of fatigue. It’s also great motivation to see what you have done over the last few months.
In the future I will plan my schedule backwards from a race, so that I am at my peak just before the race. Sounds a bit serious you may say, but it really does work and you will be surprised what you can fit into your day if you set your mind to it.
My schedule is balanced with my home life as well, so I do my cycling in my commute, I swim at lunch and twice a week I run in the evening. That makes sure there is time for kids and wife, and my weekends are kept largely free to focus on the family.
As I said at the start, this has worked for me. I’ve lost about 1.5 stone in weight in about 4 months, feel better than I have done in years and have set my sights on doing some racing in the future. The weight has come off gradually, my target has been 1 lb a week, but it’s stayed off and I don’t feel I have missed out on the odd takeaway.
I have also managed to change jobs, change my commute, be ill and still keep losing weight and improve my fitness.
The only downside is that none of my clothes fit any more!
Still, it gives me a chance to buy some new kit…