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The 3 R’s of Recovery

After a challenging training session or race, how you recover is key to overall performance. If we recover better, we train harder!

Providing your body with the correct nutrients at the correct time can affect the rate we recover. Dehydration, glycogen depletion (when our carb stores have been used) and muscle soreness can all be tackled by a consistent nutrition strategy. 

If you follow the rule “3 R’s of recovery” after every hard session and race, you can be sure recovery will be training harder with more consistency. 

Rehydrate – Refuel – Rebuild

Rehydrate

Take in water or/and electrolyte drinks. At the end of a race or hard session drink 500ml fluid. Afterwards, drink little and often. Cramping and muscle fatigue can often be a barrier to stop someone from sticking to their workout plan. By rehydrating and replenishing sodium, you’ll be able to reduce post-workout symptoms. 

Refuel

Current data indicates that after a workout the muscle cells’ ability to begin rebuilding and replenishment peaks at about 15 minutes and declines by as much as 40% within 60 minutes. Carbohydrates provide our bodies and brains with fuel needed to recover and ultimately adapt to the training session. Refuel with carbohydrates but make sure it’s an amount that fits in with your level of activity. For example, if you have 24 hours between your sessions then follow your daily carb needs for your level of activity and aim for a well-balanced meal.

Rebuild

Rebuild with protein. Protein plays an important part in the long term recovery and adaptation of training. In general, getting around 20 grams of protein after a strenuous workout is ideal. Consuming a ratio of 3:1 carbs to protein post-workout is a good rule of thumb to increase recovery, repair muscles and refuel after an endurance or high intensity workout. As always, this can vary depending on your needs, goals, gender etc. 

The British Nutrition Foundation recommends for the general population around 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. If you’re consuming more than this it’s unlikely you’ll need extra protein if your activity is within the guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. If you train more regularly then your protein requirements may be slightly higher. 

Some examples of what this could look like:

  • Smashed avocado, one piece of whole-grain toast and an egg
  • Greek yogurt with berries 
  • High protein smoothie 
  • Hummus with rice cakes
  • Apple and almond butter

When planning your post-workout meal, it’s important to look at a 24 hour picture and decide the amount you need. Your needs will differ based on your body size, what you ate before and during your workout. Consider all the elements and listen to your body. 

Need help in planning your nutrition strategy? drop me a note via the contact me page.

*British Nutrition Foundation

*Trainerize

*Science alert

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Stress

If I’ve grabbed your attention with this diagram*, then please take some time to look at it in detail. It’s a brilliantly simplified way of illustrating how your body is perceiving stressor(s).

The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management

Broken down into the following categories:

Perceived Stress: How you perceive an event, rather than the event intrinsic capacity to harm you

Circadian Disruptions: Rhythms entrained by the light and dark cycles of day and night 

Glycemic Dysregulation: What we eat, how and when is key for our metabolic health. 

Inflammatory Signals: Acute or chronic inflammation increases cortisol availability within inflamed tissues

What can we do about it?

Create strategies to modify the stress-signals coming from one or more of these categories. This will result in improvement within the stress response system. 

A few changes to your daily choices and habits can make a difference:

  • Managing your emotional support. Reduce or get rid of things that don’t serve you anymore. Add in coping mechanismssuch as mindfulness, meditation, calling a friend
  • Sleep is one of the most important ways to rebuild metabolic reserve. By managing your daytime activities such as having at least 1 hour of no screen time before bed, making sure you get 7-9 hours per night, creating an environment in your bedroom that supports a deep sleep, putting in place coping mechanisms for stressful situations 
  • Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle by ensuring you get enough physical activity but also enough recovery. Over training can also have a detrimental impact on your metabolic health. 
  • Proactively looking at ways to manage stress in your life 

It’s important to remember that some of these are choices we make on a regular basis and/or habits we have built over the years. Our daily demands have increased, digital engagement is far higher and we are programmed to accept we need to be a certain way to fit in with the ‘norm’ when actually a lot of these changes can be made with self-awareness followed by small, consistent daily adjustments.  

What to do next? Look at this diagram and write down for each section areas which increase stress in your life, then look strategies you can put in place to reduce those stresses. 

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FULL BODY WORKOUT – You’ll need dumbbells or kettlebells for this one!

A1. FFE (front foot elevated) split squat –  8-10 on each side 

The hip flexor muscles become chronically shortened in population who sit for a living. This adaptive shortening leads to lower back pain due to dysfunction in the knees and hips. This exercise improves the strength of the quadriceps, medial hamstrings, and adductors. It also helps to re-establish normative flexibility of the hip flexors. 

Coaching tips:

  • Maintain a heel up position in the rear leg. Doing so will improve your pivot point
  • Maintain a heel down position on the front leg. Ankle flexibility is crucial in this exercise
  • Do not be afraid of driving the front knee forward of the toes if you don’t have a knee injury. It’s a natural position of the lower limb that becomes lost to us as muscles of the ankle, knee and hip adaptively shorten through inactivity
  • You can add load by holding dumbbells with each hand, kettlebells or add in a controlled quarter at the end range for increased intensity

A2. Shoulder taps – 8-10 on each side 

Great for working the abdominals and core, as well as shoulders. It’s harder than the straight arm plank because of the switching between single arms for support. 

Coaching tips:

  • Don’t rush the movement, hold 2 seconds on one shoulder, 2 seconds at a high plank position and then 2 seconds on the opposite shoulder 
  • Try to keep your hips as static as possible 

B1. Dumbbells Bent Over Row – 12 reps 

This is a great exercise to master before advancing to other rowing exercise variations as it helps you lock down the proper form. The starting position for this move is similar to a deadlift, with a hinged hips and flat back. 

Coaching tips:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, slight bend in the knees
  • Hinge the hips until your chest is parallel with the floor whilst maintaining a flat back 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, brace your core. 
  • Keep your elbows tight next to your body

B2. Dumbbell Floor Press  – 12 reps 

This exercise is a great option to anyone with shoulder issues. It’s better tolerated than a traditional bench press as it uses a neutral grip and pressing on the floor limits the range of motion slightly. 

Coaching tips:

You can advance the movement by pressing one arm at a time to increase the core demands of the exercise. You’ll need to brace your core to keep yourself steady and be ready to feel it the next day after you try it for the first time.

C1. Mountain climbers – 8 on each side 

A great way to increase your heart rate and even if you can’t maintain the pace the motion alone will target your core muscles. Your legs also work on this exercises whilst the upper body support means it’s working your arms too. 

Coaching tips:

  • Keep your core braced and your shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line throughout 
  • You can advance this movement by doing it elevated, on a gym ball, cross body or spider-man options. 

C2. Side plank hold – 30 seconds on each side 

Often an ignored exercise that is well worth adding as it works weakened muscles called the quadratus lumborum, part of the posterior abdominal wall that plays a vital role in averting back pain. 

Coaching tips:

  • Make sure your elbow is perpendicular to your shoulder 
  • Squeeze your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line
  • Keep your head neutral to avoid neck pain 
  • Hold this position without letting your hips drop 

D1. Single Dumbbell front raise 10 – 12

I love working shoulders! The single-dumbbell front raise is an isolation movement that targets your shoulders. It focuses on the anterior or front head of the deltoid muscles. 

Coaching tips:

  • Raise your arms until shoulder height
  • Brace your core throughout 
  • To advance the movement perform it with one arm at a time, you can then focus on each shoulder muscle independently and try address any muscular imbalances between shoulders

Do these exercises in pairs, in this order (A1+A2, then rest 45 seconds and repeat 2-4 times before moving on to the B section and so forth). 

The announcement of the extended lockdown is frustrating, but we have to keep moving. Maintaining health and supporting our immune is key. Please drop your questions below or DM me if you need support with your fitness training and nutrition habits. 

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Menstrual Cycle, Nutrition & Training

Is it me or does it feel like with every year you get older, PMS symptoms get worse?! Days leading up to it, I can easily cry, sleep feels more disturbed and my concentration decreases. I’m sure my partner would add snappy to that list but hey we can’t be positive all the time 😉 

What is PMS? 

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a series of symptoms commonly experienced by females 1-2 weeks before menstruation (luteal phase). Symptoms can vary, but include mood swings, irritability, headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, and increased appetite, carbohydrate and alcohol craving. 

Here is a visual of the process.

As a trainer and coach, it’s important for me to know when my client’s menstrual cycle is as it will impact weight fluctuation (which is completely normal) of up to 2.5kg due to hormonal changes and fluid retention.

Core temperature increases in the days leading up to menstruation so increasing extra fluid intake is needed to ensure they’re hydrated enough. 

What you should consider during your menstrual cycle?

Some women find Vitamin D, Magnesium or Calcium supplements alleviates some of the symptoms. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest the benefits of supplements on PMS. Here are some suggestions you could try:

  • Eat small, frequent meals based on complex carbs, high in fibre and easy to digest e.g., opt for wholemeal, wholegrains, brown rice, potatoes with skin on. Slow energy release foods to keep your energy levels up. 
  • Reduce salty foods to help prevent bloating
  • Make sure your diet has sufficient calcium and vitamin DNHS guidelines suggest adults aged 19-64 need 700mg of calcium a day and recommend taking 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March. 
  • Increase magnesium rich foods such as green vegetables and wholegrain breakfast cereals. Magnesium turns the food we eat into energy and makes sure the parathyroid glands, that produce hormones important for bone health, work normally. 
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Higher intake of alcohol has been linked to increasing symptoms. 
  • Stay hydrated to help eliminate bloating sensation. Drinking enough water will also speed up your digestion, give you more energy and prevent water retention. 
  • Plan ahead. Planning ahead will help support you in including nutrient rich foods rather than reaching for caffeine, overeating high sugar snacks which can destabilise your blood sugar and mood.  
  • Eat chocolate but look for high cacao levels (70% or more) which you find in dark chocolate. A dark chocolate bar tends to have half the sugar of milk and contains less or no milk. It has more fibre, minerals and antioxidants. 
  • Keep active. Exercise helps improve symptoms of PMS, such as depression and fatigue. However, don’t ignore how you feel and adapt the exercise you are doing. 

Try and adjust your nutrition around your cycle and monitor how much of a difference it makes. If you are using a coach or personal trainer who creates your training plan, then speak to them about adjusting your training during your cycle. 

Resources:

www.nhs.co.uk

www.nutrition.org.uk

www.precisionnutrition.com

www.optimumnutrition.com

www.nutritionist-resources.co.uk

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Seasonal Fatigue

With the clock’s changing, temperature dropping and the mornings getting darker it might feel noticeably harder to get out of bed. Many people feel tired and sluggish during winter.

The American Journal of Medicine found that patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) show a significant increase in irritability, depressed mood, anxiety and in turn of seasonal mood, energy levels, sleep duration, amount eaten, and weight change showed to worsen*. 

If you are self-aware that this might impact you then here are some energy-giving ideas that might help.

Expose yourself to as much light as possible

Lack of sunlight triggers your brain to produce more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes us sleepier. As soon as you are up open your blinds and let natural sunlight into your home. 

Continue or increase your activity outdoors

Get outdoors as much as possible. Stimulate your circulation by taking a walk in the fresh air. Making sure you get sunlight in winter will release serotonin in our bodies and prevent Vitamin D deficiency. Try to take breaks for lunchtime walks, make your working space light and airy. 

Stay hydrated

In the hotter months we pay more attention to staying hydrated. Remember to drink plenty of fluids when the weather is cooler. Not drinking enough water can slow down your metabolism and make you feel tired. The central heating also dries out your skin. 

Get a good night sleep but don’t snooze for longer 

Sleeping too much will enhance feeling sluggish during the day. We need the same amount of sleep all year round so aiming for 8 hours of undisturbed (sorry parents) sleep is usually adequate. Trying to get up at the same time every day also helps with energy levels. Make sure your bedrooms is a relaxed space, no clutter or blue light. 

Get regular exercise

It’s harder to motivate yourself to exercise during the colder months. Exercising in the late afternoon can help reduce early evening fatigue and also improves your sleep. There are so many exercises available online and a great chance to try something new. Most important make sure it’s something you enjoy otherwise you won’t stay consistent with it! 

Transition your diet

It’s important to adjust your diet with the seasons. Focus on vitamin-rich and seasonal meals that strengthen your immune system and eat good mood boosting foods. These can include seasonal vegetables, fish, eggs, warm meals that nourish your body and mind. 

If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll find it tempting to increase your sugar intake. This might give you a short energy rush, but it will wear off quickly. Find some healthier alternative treats that will keep you fuller for longer but satisfy your sweet tooth. 

Listen to music

Music is a great way to boost your mood. Studies show music has a link with positive effect on your mental health and stimulates the production of the “feel good” hormone serotonin. 

*Note: if you feel you are suffering with SAD please consult your GP.

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What To Eat Before A Workout?

Before I get into this topic it’s key to remember that everyone is different, train at a different intensity and digest food differently. This is a guide as opposed to one set rule, I would suggest playing around with it to see what works for you.

The main nutritional goal for a pre-workout meal is to provide enough energy for our muscles and brain during training. This in turn makes carbohydrate consumption essential. If your workouts are fairly intense, therefore using up energy at a fast rate, the body won’t be able to supply enough oxygen to use fat as a fuel source. It looks to use glycogen (stored as carbohydrate), which doesn’t require oxygen to be broken down for energy. If you take in enough carbohydrates before a workout, you ensure that your body has enough glycogen stores. If you want to improve performance this is a key factor to consider in your pre workout meal. 

Another reason consuming carbohydrate is key is that training in a glycogen-depleted state blunts anabolism. Multiple studies show that protein synthesis slows to a crawl when glycogen stores are low (Churchley et al. 2007; Creer et al. 2005). 

Protein should also be consumed in a pre-workout meal. Consuming protein before a workout has an anabolic and anticatabolic effect. Protein provides a steady stream of amino acids at the onset of training; you maximise the delivery to working muscles and thereby attenuate the breakdown of the muscle tissue during your workout. 

Fat has been shown to not have any nutritional significance on pre-workout period. Due to the length of time it takes to digest you might want to consider avoiding it. 

What’s an ideal pre-workout meal?

An ideal pre-workout meal would include a nutrient-dense starch and low-fat protein. For example:

  • Eggs on multigrain bread
  • Chicken and rice 
  • Cottage cheese with oat cakes 
  • Wholemeal chicken pasta 
  • Turkey on multigrain bread
  • Chicken quinoa salad
  • Protein porridge 
  • Smoothie that includes oats, protein powder or Greek yogurt 

It’s also worth considering eating a piece of fruit within half an hour of training. Choosing fruits such as strawberries, apple, pears are low in GI (glycemic index) which means they won’t cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. The reason it’s significant is because insulin levels stay stable, therefore preventing the potential for a hypoglycemia – a condition that can result in light-headedness and fatigue. 

Try eating your pre-workout meal around 2-3 hours before you train to ensure digestion. 

Key points:

  • Aim to have a good balanced meal of nutrient-dense carbohydrates and low protein 2 hours before your workout 
  • Make sure you are well hydrated pre-training, during and post-training
  • Avoid high fat foods in the meal before your workout 
  • Plan to have a low GI fruit with you to eat half an hour after you train 

References:

*Schoenfeld, Brad. The M.A.X. Muscle Plan. Human Kinetics,Inc.

*https://www.acsm.org

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The Importance Of The Squat

There are various functional movements you can incorporate into your training with a squatting pattern being a fundamental human movement patter that involves nearly every muscle in the body. Squatting improves your fitness, performance, and mobility for daily-life tasks. 

Think about the movement next time you pick something off the floor, go to the bathroom, and sit down on your office chair. Thanks to scientific research, data shows that squats are excellent for building strength, power and mobility. They can help counteract chronic muscular-skeletal problems such as weak glutes, hunched back, weak core (torso). 

With all this in mind how do you squat properly?

  1. Work on your balance stability and mobility – the prime movers in a squat pattern are the muscles around your hips and knees, but all joints below your belly button (hip, knee, ankle, foot) and most of the spine need to be stable and mobile to squat properly. One of the best ways to improve stability, strength and balance in a squat is with single leg work. 
  • Keep hips mobile – we all sit far too much which impacts hip mobility in two major ways: it weakens the glutes and it shortens the hip flexors. Both glutes and hip flexors support the activation of your hips so if they are weak or inactive your lower back takes over. You often see people leaning forward too much during a squat which puts stress on their spine. 
  • Knees follow toes – when squatting, keep knees stable, in line with the hips and feet. Don’t worry if your hips go over your toes, a study by Fry et al found that by limiting forward knee travel it shifts the stress from your knees to the hips/low back.  More important that your hips are back, behind your heels. 
  • Keep your ankles mobile and feet planted firmly –  ankle mobility is paramount in a squat. Dorsi-flexion of the ankle (i.e. lifting the ball of the foot with the heel in contact with the ground) is possibly the most important degrees of freedom for the ankle. Strong and mobile ankles help with support and power generation of a squat. Limited ankle mobility can lead to the heels coming off the floor, foot pronation (outside of the foot elevating) and knees caving in. 
  • Wear the right footwear – footwear that allows you to push through the mid-foot/heel. Your choice of footwear should be tailored to your personal goals. If you have any desire to squat heavy weights, purchasing weightlifting shoes is the one for you. Otherwise flat shoes such as cross trainers or even going barefoot is an option for strength training. Running shoes are the worst type to wear for squatting
  • Keep your spine neutral and chest proud – the angle of the torso should remain relatively constant during a squat (as upright as possible limiting forward lean). This doesn’t mean being straight up but keeping a natural arch in the spine, folding from the hips rather than hunching your back and keeping your chest proud. 
GOBLET SQUAT

The example in the video is a goblet squat. However there are a load of different variations from plate, barbell, zercher, front, overhead, split, pistol etc. I would suggest as a starting point to go with a bodyweight progression such as sitting down on a chair then aim for the full range of movement before starting to add in load.

You will need to try out different stances to really see which one is the best for you and your body shape. Focusing on your tempo, form and technique is key to getting it right.

Work on your mobility regularly. Without a mobile body you are likely to get injured at some point whilst squatting or any other activity.

Take your time but don’t over analyse it. Watch a toddler squat they have the best technique!

References:

https://www.precisionnutrition.com

https://www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/leg-exercises/193/squat-tips-for-perfect-form

www.mensjournal.com

https://www.physio-network.com

Are Rock Solid Abs Made In The Kitchen?

The first body parts that most people want to change and usually tone up are their abs. Six-pack trends in more than 11M posts. It is not uncommon to see people in the gym doing continuous crunches with the hope it will create definition. 

Photo by charles gaudreault 

Rather than aesthetics let’s quickly look at the functionality of our core. Think of your core muscles as the sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body.  No matter where your movement starts from walking, lifting, cleaning, climbing stairs it ripples upwards or downwards. A strong core is vital for balance and stability. 

Benefits of having a strong core:

  1. Helps with everyday tasks
  2. Supports on-the-job tasks: Jobs that involve lifting or twisting for example
  3. Aids in having a healthy back
  4. Improves sports activities
  5. Helps you do housework and gardening
  6. Promotes a good posture 

Having a weak or unbalanced core muscles can impact all of this. Whilst there is nothing wrong with wanting tight abs, overtraining those muscles whilst ignoring the muscles in your back and hips can set you up for injuries. 

If toned abs is what you want then losing body fat through a balanced diet, eating slowly until you are 80-90% full, some cardiovascular exercise and strength training will all contribute.  

I usually add a core circuit at the end of my cardiovascular session and or use it as active recovery in strength training. Some ideas to include in to your training:  

  • Hollow holds
  • Planking – progressing with variation 
  • Side Plank 
  • Cable Push Pull 
  • Wood Chop
  • Bicycle Crunch Twist
  • Russian Twists
  • Dead Bug

If you have any questions, drop me a comment below. I’d love to hear if you include any of these in your training.

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu

https://www.precisionnutrition.com

https://shop.lww.com/Strength-and-Conditioning-Journal/p/1524-1602

Sleep & Recovery

Not sleeping enough, which is said to be less than seven hours of sleep per night can reduce the benefits of fitness and a healthy diet. This is according to research published in Annals of Internal Medicine

The better we recover, the more frequently and intensely we can train, feel more alert and do more day today tasks. During rest and recovery is actually the phase that improves your fitness. Only while we rest can our body adapt to compensate for the stress we’ve put on it, In other words, recover*. 

For anyone reading this that are shift workers, parents or people that travel to different time zones this can be an impossible task. So rather than focus on the impossible, let’s look at how sleep quality and recovery can be improved with small changes.  

Given how sedentary we are as a society, staying active on your rest day isn’t a bad thing. But please, don’t do it to burn calories do it for your body and mind to recover. 

Some ideas for recovery and improving sleep.

  1. Keep a regular schedule. Our bodies like regularity. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times. With a regular schedule, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed, and stimulating hormones to wake up. 
  2. Do a brain dump. Take a few minutes to write out a list of whatever is bugging you. Whatever is in your brain, get it out and on to paper
  3. Turn off electronics. Digital devices stimulate our brain. Unplug from all screens at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes television, computers, and smartphones. The screens release a blue light that prevents our brain from preparing for sleep
  4. Do a restorative yoga class.
  5. Take a bath or shower. A warm bath with epsom salts or even a cool shower (depending on personal preference) can promote restful sleep 
  6. Have a stress free clutter free room.
  7. Set limits on screen time: Yes, this means not constantly checking emails, texting, and reviewing social media
  8. Get some fresh air during the day. Either a mindful walk taking everything in or put on your favourite podcast 
  9. Meditate. Mindful apps such as ‘calm’ and ‘headspace’ are great tools to use pre sleep
  10. Mint tea & a book. My personal favourite

Sources: *Precision Nutrition https://www.precisionnutrition.com

Postpartum Sleep & Fitness

On average a new parent will get around four to five hours of sleep in an regular night during the first year of their baby’s life. For those who want to fit fitness into their day in the postpartum phase of motherhood it’s challenging to maintain a consistent program.

With sleep deprivation being one of the most common postpartum side effects as well as one of the most disruptive to a parent’s health, postpartum parents experience physical and mental issues because of lack of sleep. To illustrate the impact of lack of sleep, Roehrs, et al. (2003) forced 8-hour sleepers to only get 6 hours of sleep. They found that 6 hours of sleep slowed reaction time, decreased memory recall, and decreased self-rated quality of performance, same as drinking 2 – 3 beers, a level that equates to about .05% breath alcohol. Getting 4 hours of sleep impaired performance same as drinking 5 – 6 beers – a level that equates to about 0.10% breath alcohol *

Throughout this new journey of parenthood, I keep getting told the same thing, sleep when the baby sleeps but for me that feels impossible. I have never been an afternoon napper, I like mornings and usually have a huge amount of energy when I wake up. Anytime during my baby napping, which isn’t that consistent, I try and get things done to help with my mental health. To my detriment this has hugely impacted my fitness and my desire to get some sort of consistency is high on the agenda. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that I’ll be able to train as much as I use to now, so I’ve had to adjust my mindset.

Some things that have helped me so far:

  • You can’t out train a bad diet, I blogged about this before therefore nutrition is key to me. I still food prep on a Sunday for the week which sets me up and saves me time in the day
  • I’m trying to go to bed early twice a week to recoup for me that can be 8 or 9pm as I’m still night feeding my daughter
  • I have one evening a week without mindless TV, I burn Neal’s Yard oils, read a good book and soak in a bath
  • I fit in exercise in the day when I can by setting everything up ready, that includes kit such as dumbbells, TRX, a mat, skipping rope, resistance bands. I’ve written out 4 circuits which I repeat minimum of 3 times
  • I walk every single day, even if it’s for 10-20min I get out for some fresh air and a walk doesn’t even have to be fast it just makes me feel better
  • I use the FIIT App which I recently discovered, they have classes as short as 25min
  • I look to other parents for inspiration and ideas
  • I squat whilst holding my daughter, do a few press up’s next to her whilst she’s on her play mat and stretch when I’m prepping her feeds

If you have read this and can relate or have any ideas to add then please send me your comments and suggestions I’d love to hear them.