Category Archives: Exercise & Fitness

September; A good month to join a gym

Today I did my first early morning, pre-work swim of 2014.

I haven’t been too hard on myself up to this point.  The dark, cold mornings are difficult enough to deal at the best of times.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the long relaxing Christmas break, getting up for work has been enough of a shock to the system without trying to get to the pool.  I therefore gave myself a little time to ease back into the routine.  Given most of December was spent trying to fight off colds and sniffles, it’s been a while since an early morning swim was part of the routine.

The pool was very busy.  Some say it’s a myth that January is the busiest month at gyms, but I put the new faces down to New Year Resolutions that are yet to fall by the wayside.

If you are planning a “get fit” campaign, I would strongly recommend you do not start in January.  No wonder people find it difficult to stick with their Resolutions… everywhere is crowded, it’s really not pleasant!

Now, if you could just find yourself a space…

Apparently Gyms rely on over-subscription and a significant drop off in attendance as the month / year goes on,   If people only experience a gym or swimming pool in January, I can completely understand why they don’t enjoy it.

Wouldn’t it be great if, rather than doing New Year Membership Promotions, your gym focused on its existing members.  They could re-open admissions in February.  I know New Memberships are 50% higher in January, but it would send a good message. 

To existing members it would say:  “We care about you.  We want you to have access to the facilities you have paid for,”

To Prospective members it would say:  “We want you to take your membership seriously.  We know that if you join in January, chances are that we won’t see you again.  Wait a bit.  Think about it.  If you’re serious then we’ll welcome you with open arms…  Oh, and when you are a Member, we will look after you too!” *

Of course, (in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in Scotland) the issue is exacerbated by the winter weather… heading outside isn’t exactly the most appealing of propositions.  The weather is made for a onesie, a roaring fire, a box-set and a glass / mug of something to warm the insides.

Instead of January, I’d suggest you start your fitness campaign in September.  Get the Summer holiday out the way and then get yourself fit.  The gyms will be quiet, the weather temperate, the days long.  You’ll have a natural head start, you’ll feel great and you should be in the swing of things by the time January and the winter blues come around.

Anyway, I managed to fight my way through the crowds for a reasonable swim.  With a Turbo Trainer session this evening I’m feeling tired but satisfied.  Time to kick back in my onesie!

Onesie

How can a man look so cool and so cosy at the same time?!

***

*  I recognise this is selfish and elitist.  It is also largely irrelevant for me and the many thousands people that use Public Facilities.  We just have to suck it up and make the most of it.

Milestones along the way

Today I visited the British Heart Foundation website about 15 minutes before registration for the London to Brighton Bike Ride opened.  To be honest, it was a complete coincidence.  I was actually going to read the latest news on Heart Research, but found myself in a “Waiting Room”, approximately 650th in the queue.  So I waited.

London to Brighton is an annual event.  I have watched it from afar but never participated – For a few years I lived just off Clapham Common where it starts.  It attracts thousands of people (27,000 last year) so the atmosphere looks amazing.  I always fancied it, my non-participation was mostly due to laziness.  Given I was already in the queue , I figured “Why not?”.

This is the 3rd event I have lined up for the Summer.  I’m really excited about them all.  Each will act as a mini-milestone, something to focus on and build up to.  Each has a slightly different motivation too…

The Euro City Cycle is really for me.  It’s over four days, and was the challenge I set myself back in August when I really didn’t have any idea what I’d be capable of.  I guess in a way it was two fingers to the Heart Attack and putting the Rehabilitation I was undergoing into some context.

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but many of the anxieties still exist, just not to the same degree.  I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I finish the event in Brussels (other than a bit sore of course!).

eurocitycycle_imm-banner

London to Brighton will be a community event.  it’s the British Heart Foundation’s flagship fundraising event so there’ll be a big team there.  I would imagine there will also be a number of people other than myself doing both events.

I think there is something magical about large crowds.  I’ve always got a buzz from attending big sporting events, or concerts.  On a couple of occasions I’ve had the privilege of being in  the middle as a competitor.  I think London to Brighton will be a bit of both:  Spectator and Participant at the same time.

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It happens that London to Brighton takes place on the anniversary of my Heart Attack.  That will make it a little bit more special.  It will be a really nice way of closing out the year and looking forward to the future.

Finally, I have the Ride the North event in late August:  Inverness to Aberdeen over two days.  This is probably the most challenging (a bit more bumpy than Belgium and Holland!), so lucky it’s last!  I’m going to participate in with some friends, so it’ll have a different feel to the others.

Of course, the plan is to raise money for the British Heart Foundation over the course of the year too (You can help by donating here), but selfishly there’s a lot more to it for me.

***

I’ve never done anything like this before.  In a way it’s strange that it took a Heart Attack to prompt me into action.  At the same time it had to be something fairly drastic to break the habits of the past.

Either way, I’m excited about the summer’s plans and passing some memorable milestones on my journey!

Seeing the light

My swimming kit is simple (isn’t everyones?): Trunks, Goggles.

I upgraded my trunks some time ago. Since I started swimming seriously regularly I decided that beach shorts probably weren’t performance enhancing… they were literally a drag.  As I lost weight, they became a liability… literally a threat to common decency!

So I upgraded to something a bit sportier and a bit snugger. Job done!

My goggles were fine. I acquired them while we were in the Middle East. I remember being presented with a very limited selection at the local sports shop and selecting the best of a bad lot.  They had orange lenses.  I presumed they were light enhancing, but in reality they were just orange.

These aren’t an exact match, but you get the idea!

On Sunday I discovered my goggles were missing.  I had obviously left them in the changing room.  Being such a fine pair, I assume they had been “re-homed” rather than being handed in to lost property. Of course, their new home could be a rubbish dump!

Last night was my first outing with my new goggles.  I had gone for a simple pair with clear lenses.  When I tried them on, I discovered the lenses were slightly larger than I’m used to.  They looked a bit like googles goggles that you’d wear if you were Wing-Walking, or Driving a Vintage Car.  However, they looked like they’d do the trick.

My new goggles look like they could be multi-purpose!

When I got in the pool… WOW!!!  What a difference they made!

It seems fairly obvious in retrospect, but I had no idea how different the under-water experience would be with clear lenses.  There was light!!! I could see!!! (Actually I could see a little more than is required for an enjoyable swim!).

The environment was exactly the same as I’d experienced in the past, but the way I engaged with it completely changed that experience.  It was a real eye-opener!

I appreciate that in itself this is not a life changer… but it’s got me thinking about whether there are other things I do that could be similarly enhanced by small, simple changes.  I’ve got my eyes peeled!

The thought doesn’t count enough

Today was to be a swimming day.  Having been on the bike the past couple of days I was looking forward to a swim with no time pressure.  It was an opportunity to enjoy being in the pool, to get some lengths under my belt.  There was the added bonus of being back home before anyone else in the family got out of bed.

I have been tired so I didn’t set my alarm.  I’m still getting back into the normal routine having enjoyed the relaxation of the festive period a little too much.  My internal body clock has always been fairly reliable so I was confident that would wake up naturally in time to make the early morning session at the pool.

As planned, I woke up at around 7.30.  It took me a few minutes to summon up the energy and the courage to look at the clock.  7.35… still plenty of time.  I then had the inevitable dilemma… stay in my warm bed for a long Sunday lie, or move (fast) to swim.

The decision wasn’t straightforward.  I had made the mistake of thinking about it.  I should have just been up and out.

Two thoughts finally got me out of bed (1) I reminded myself why I was doing it in the first place and (2) that the exercise counts twice as much when you don’t want to do it! (See “Twice the satisfaction“)

After a very light breakfast, I headed to the pool…

The car park was surprisingly quiet.  I allowed myself a self-satisfied thought to myself:  “So, the New Year Resolutions don’t apply so much on a Sunday morning!”.

It was also quiet inside the pool.  Too quiet.

Receptionist:  “We have a gala here this weekend.  All weekend.  The pool’s closed.”
Me:  “Aaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!”

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I guess it serves me right, but I’m not entirely sure why.

So, if you’re reading this over a leisurely breakfast, having had a long lazy lie, you can be satisfied that you have done exactly the same amount of exercise as I have so far today… without even thinking about it!  Sometimes the thought just doesn’t count enough!

Hanging around the pool

Nephew #3 was the highlight of our New Year gathering… just two year’s old, he’s a cheeky chappie and full of life.

Constantly on the move, he alternates between bouncing and running, vigorously waving “Hello” and “Goodbye” at each end of his frequent journeys.

He’s at that wonderful stage where he wakes up every morning with no idea what is going to happen during the day but confident that whatever it is it’s going to be great!

He’s almost talking, but not quite.  He can communicate with sound but with few words.  He makes himself understood… mostly… he makes himself heard… always!

He’s a real star and more than happy to be the centre of attention, selecting different members of the family to accompany him as he goes about his business of the day.

New Year really wouldn’t have been the same without him around!

Brother & Nephew, Father & Son

With the weather hampering plans to visit play parks, we decided to go swimming together – a favourite pastime of Nephew #3 and also a chance for me to get some proper exercise.

Abingdon Leisure Centre has a large Toddler’s swim area next to a wide, shallow main pool, all within one huge open area.  It was a bit different to the claustrophobic box (relatively) I normally swim in.  The width of the main pool accommodated 6 lanes with room left over for a recreational section next to the Toddler’s Pool.  Although there were a quite a few swimmers, there seemed to be ample space, it certainly didn’t feel crowded.

I was to arrive early, about 45 minutes before my Brother and Nephew, so I could have a “proper” swim first.  They were to join me for the fun bit at the end.

A simple plan.  What could possibly go wrong?

After 45 minutes I started looking out for them.  They hadn’t arrived yet, so I did a few more lengths.

50 minutes passed, then 60… more lengths.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I thought to myself again… this time actually looking for answers.

The lengths were becoming more challenging as I got increasingly tired.  The rest breaks became longer and more frequent… I was definitely now “waiting” rather than “swimming”.

It then struck me how difficult it is, as a middle-aged man in this day and age, to innocuously “hang around” a swimming pool…  I began to feel increasingly paranoid and self conscious.  Parents appeared to be getting uncomfortable too, at least one eye on me at all times.  I’m sure an extra Life Guard was drafted in specifically to watch me.

Time continued to pass…

Having considered my options (at length by this stage), the only two viable alternatives appeared to be (1) to continue to swim, doing lengths for as long as I possibly could or (2) to leave the pool, get changed and start again when the rest of the party arrived.  I really couldn’t see anything good coming from waiting in the Changing Area, the Toilets, or in the Showers.

So more lengths it was.

Eventually, after 80 minutes, Brother & Nephew #3 arrived, chirpy and raring to go, without a care in the world.  After an indeterminable further wait they emerged from the Changing Area… I could feel everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief as I joined them.  The additional Life Guard returned to do whatever member of the Life Guard SAS do when they’re on a break… Threat Level Green.

Abingdon Leisure Centre

After a few minutes of splashing, Nephew #3 started to cry.  Not being able to say exactly what was wrong some frantic pointing ensued.  It was not clear what the issue was.

I’m no expert, but I could sense he was not happy.  The crying continued…

Brother:  “He’s never usually like this.  He loves his swimming”

Not today!

And so, after about 7 minutes of fun family swim time we called it a day.

Eventually a packet of Quavers managed to quell the flow of tears.  The trauma receded, finally being laid to rest by a pre-lunch nap… and Nephew #3 got over it eventually as well!

Little Questions

untitled (64)Life has posed me many new questions over the past seven months.  Despite major “life” events, there been surprisingly few significant questions with real long term implications.

I have discovered that some big decisions are made from a series of small questions that are posed on a frequent basis.  I have to make decisions on what to eat and drink, for example, many times a day.  Decisions like this are easier because some of the big parameters have already been set… low fat, no alcohol, low salt,  no caffeine, low sugar… generally healthy I guess,

The same goes for exercise; I’ve already committed to doing it.  The question of “swim, cycle or gym?” is usually answered well in advance of the actual event.  I know I’m going to push myself, but not too hard.  So it’s all a bit of a “no brainer”.

Today I was posed a new question that I would not possibly have dreamed of before the Heart Attack…

untitled (65)I received a pair of underwater headphones for Christmas.  I’m still struggling to extend my swimming range, and I don’t imagine the ability to listen to music while swimming will help, however I am hoping it will help make the experience of trying more enjoyable.

So to the question… what music is best to swim to?

Today was my first attempt to answer it.  Overall it was a little less successful than I had hoped.  The “lunchtime swim” was a popular event, the pool was very busy.  Organised as ever, I only had time to upload a single album.

In retrospect I could have chosen more wisely… it turns out that some of Eminem’s lyrics are not entirely appropriate for a lunchtime swim in a community pool.  I am a big fan, but there’s definitely a time and a place.  This was neither.

Of course I was the only person that could hear the music but the imagery wasn’t “right” (or even close to being right!).  I found it difficult to look some of my fellow swimmers in the eye, and it’s not acceptable to look at them anywhere else!  As a result, the trial run with the headphones was successful, but it didn’t last long.

imagesUXL0IA3YNext I’m going to try a little Beethoven.  I hoping that if I can get the genre right I’ll take a huge step towards answering the question.

In the mean time, any guidance, advice or recommendations would be much appreciated!

The many benefits of swimming

Friday morning in North East of Scotland was cold; “Baltic” as we’d describe it.  Having braved the conditions to get to the swimming pool I was greeted by a large “Information” board.  Apparently there had been a problem with the heating at the pool, and the water temperature had been up to 34 degrees C…

“Don’t pay your entrance fee if you think the temperature will be too warm!”

…was the message.

I thought nothing of it and headed in to the changing room to get ready.  As usual, I was in the pool just before 7 am and started my swim.  Also as usual, just after 7.30 am the swimming club members started to leave and a number of “Silver Swimmers” (presumably retired members of a slightly older generation) entered to begin their slightly more relaxed session.

untitled (60)As he entered the pool, a gentleman sporting a well maintained, military-style moustache (let’s call him “the Colonel”) greeted me with the words…

“Lovely and warm isn’t it!”

To be fair, the pool was indeed lovely and warm.  In comparison with the temperature outside I think anything would have felt warm.  However, the Colonel’s comment, together with the satisfied look he had on his face got me thinking… what if the “Silver Swimmers” were also “Silver Surfers”?

Perhaps they had hacked into the Aberdeenshire Council computer systems and updated the temperature settings to create a warm haven, thereby saving money on the heating bill at home.  The Colonel was definitely on the inside and, recognising me as friend rather than foe, decided to share his delight!  You certainly shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

***

One of the reasons I was keen to get into swimming was that it’s exercise you can do for life.  It’s a low impact, cardiovascular workout that is great for mobility and fitness, which all bring additional health benefits.

Not everyone appreciated the super-heated water!

My interaction with the Colonel reminded me of some of the peripheral benefits of swimming too… access to warmth (the whole building tends to be warm, not just the pool), access to a hot shower (the best bit about a visit to the pool according to the Colonel) and, social interaction (the Colonel certainly wasn’t operating alone!).

The other thing is, it’s never too late to start.  So, no excuses really.

Whether it’s to get out of the cold or to get yourself fit, swimming has to be the way forward.  Just watch out for the organised crime!

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

Really not so cool…

images (15)Last week Michael Jamieson, the Scottish Olympic Silver Medallist Swimmer, announced that he had to have his heart re-started to get it back into rhythm after a particularly hard training session.

His Twitter announcement (@mj88live) included the comments:

“Not really sure the reasons behind it happening, but I went into an irregular beat after reaching 203 heart rate in a session (max is 193).”

“Specialist said he’s only seen this three times, all Olympic medallists – pretty cool!”

Apparently he’s made a full recovery, and returned to training after just 48 hours.  Personally, I think it’s fantastic news that he is fit and well!

I don’t however believe that it’s “pretty cool” to push yourself so hard during a training session that your heart gets knocked out of sync.  Any suggestion that it’s a good thing has to be nuts!

The fact that the Specialist has only seen it three times would suggest to me that perhaps others may have experienced the same issue, but not been so lucky.  Not cool!

imagesCA475PQPI guess I’m particularly sensitive to the story as I spend so much of my time trying to keep my Heart Rate within reasonable limits.  Personally, one of my biggest challenges is to make sure I spend enough time warming up and cooling down so I take care of my Heart.  Going “from rest to maximum effort as quickly as possible” definitely isn’t an option for me, and I would suggest shouldn’t feature in most people’s exercise regimes.

So, horses for courses… I’ll continue with the gentle build up to my Euro City Cycle.  I wish Michael all the best in his build up to next Summer’s Commonwealth Games!  For everyone else… go easy out there!

Make time to play

I think most of us spend much of the day being pushed for time.  As a result, exercise tends to get “fitted in” around the other commitments… a class in the lunch hour, or a run between dropping off / picking up the kids, a pre-work swim.  It’s admirable that so many people keep it up, but I’m sure it didn’t used to be that way.

The pressure’s generally on!

Personally, when I’m under time pressure I will tend to only do what I know.  I repeat exercise routines that have been tried and tested, that I know will get the job done and won’t take too much time.  I’m keen to get the work under my belt and move on.  The problem is, this approach doesn’t allow me to try new things, to practice new techniques, or to have “fun”.

When I was at university we occasionally used to get a day pass to a leisure centre.  The pass allowed us to do everything for the day.  We’d spend hours “playing”… squash, badminton, in the gym and in the pool (actually, not so much in the pool!).  We had mini-leagues and long running grudge matches to keep the interest levels up.  We didn’t ever have an exercise programme, when we were there we just played and the exercise came for free,

It was certainly a different way of approaching exercise than today.  I understand why; We have different levels of responsibility; Time is precious; It’s not all about us; Exercise is a means to an end.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

The pool I usually swim at is closed for the week for maintenance. As a result, I will spend a little more time at a gym where we’re family members.  Usually I would only visit once every couple of weeks to fit in a weights session around the more focused cycling and swimming routine.

Today I spent an hour in the gym and then hit the pool.  The pool is shorter than my usual one… not idea for swimming distances, but good for practicing turns.  It was also busy… again, not great for swimming long distances, so I also took the opportunity to practice some of the drills and strokes that I’ve been shown at my lessons.  For once I didn’t worry about the effort I was putting in or how my body was reacting – my heart rate wasn’t a concern.

Make time to play in the water!

I enjoyed trying some things out.  I practiced floating… still not close to cracking it, but the drills are getting easier!  I also went back to the breaststroke kick that I’ve been struggling with… I just couldn’t get any “oomph” into it without it twanging the tendons in my legs.  After some playing around, I think I may have discovered the missing ingredient.  It definitely felt like I was being propelled more effectively.  This definitely wouldn’t have happened in my normal pool during a pre-work swim.

I also enjoyed my time in the water.  I ended up being later than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent.  It’s not something I can afford to do every day, but once in a while it’s something I’ll throw into the routine.

I think “making time to play” is something everyone should do from time to time.  Try new exercises or a new class.  Think of it as an investment… learning new things that may become part of your future routine.  If you can, free yourself from your normal constraints and time pressures (even just for a few hours).  You may even enjoy it!