Estimated read time: 2 minutes.
Anxiety around the gym and exercise in general is our content theme for the first part of 2022. For people as deep in the fitness world as we are, we have fully forgotten everything it was like being new, or having not even started yet. However we fully believe that no one should find the gym or pursuing their health and fitness journey intimidating. It’s the onus of coaches and veterans of the gym life to make the environment is as open and welcoming as possible.
With that in mind, here are 9 tips for dealing with gym/fitness anxiety.
If you’re worried about the amount of people there, especially given recent events, a lot of people aren’t keen on crowded spaces. Try to go in off peak hours to start out.
Misery loves company! That’s one reason why crossfit is so popular. Bring a friend, not only is it good to have company when trying something new, it’s also great for accountability.
Have a plan. Knowing what your session entails before you go to the gym will help you focus on the task at hand, and less on those anxious thoughts.
Get yourself some gym clothes that you feel confident and comfortable in. That’s different for everyone, some people enjoy leggings and crop tops, some people like a baggy crew neck.
Consider choosing a private facility, they’ll be less busy and you're far more likely to find a friendly welcoming community.
Remember everyone is at different points in their journey, you’re just starting out. Everyone who looks super confident and super strong also once had their first nervous steps into a gym that they didn’t know what to do with.
If you’re able to, hire a coach or PT to help you get started and teach you some fundamentals. You’ll have a confident base knowledge of things to do, and you’ll have a plan to stick to even if you’re on your own.
Remember fitness and health is a lifelong pursuit, there is no ‘completion’. You never complete playing an instrument, or learning a language. There’s always more to learn and more to do, and none of it happens fast.
Research the gym you plan to go to, and it’s equipment ahead of time. Then research some exercises you can do with it will mean you are better prepared ahead of your visit.
Hopefully some of these were of use. If you are considering starting your health and fitness journey but are feeling anxious about it, please get in touch! We’d love to have a chat and see if we can help you out.
Just like the pillars that hold up the great Parthenon in Greece, a set of core principles underpinning your performance is nothing new. Neither are the set I'm about to cover.
However, they are the first set that are transferable in their application. You could apply these to your training, your university work, your business, and they all hold up pretty well. Whether that makes them practical, or starsign levels of vague I’ll let you decide.
As is tradition, here’s the takeaway right at the start.
Now that’s out of the way it’s time to deep dive into each of the pillars and how they could be applied to training, and one other example for each. I’ll try to keep the alternatives varied, but as this is a training/exercise based blog, I’ll also be including some practical takeaway exercises/drills for each of them.
First up we have preparation. This is the one most people know, and the one most people think of when things go wrong. Some people go as far as to think this is the only thing that supports performance, but I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Cast your mind back to school days - you do badly on a test/exam, what’s the first thing you think and everyone else says? ‘You didn’t revise enough!’ In sports you frequently hear about teams/athletes preparations going into a competition, however where most folks hit the snag is that more isn’t always better.
If you didn’t hit your lifts in a competition and trained 3 times a week in the lead up to that competition, training 4 or 5 times a week from then on isn’t the solution. Mindless practice won't lead to anything, quality over quantity pays out so much more. How often in the school days did you just mindlessly read paragraphs about people leaving on trains at X time and someone else’s train arriving at Y ,and all of it just falls out of your head instantly? Were you just bad at physics? No, you probably just didn’t have the right preparation approach to fit you.
So, what is the right preparation approach? Firstly consider specificity to the task - in lifting and sports it is whatever you’re looking to compete at. Consider the training style you use, how often you train, how progressive your training is. In our studying example, firstly consider that tests and exams are almost always about information retention i.e. your ability to regurgitate key phrases or points about a certain thing.
Next thing is to list the things you are good at, and things that are bad at with regards to preparation. Then sit and consider why you are good at those things, and why you are bad at the other things. Do you miss certain sessions more often? Why is that? What can you do to not miss those sessions?
Next up is adaptation. Outside of the specific training context, what we’re talking about here is more broad. It’s more about how you adapt to things on the fly. Things will always come up that put a spanner in the works or hamper your plans. Work meetings run over and eat into your lunch break, or you forget your pre workout or knee sleeves, you’re moving house.
You can’t prepare and plan for all of those things, they are going to happen, you just need to be able to deal with them when they do. You need to be like water, adapt to your surroundings.
One big practical tip I can give on how to do this, is to try your best to keep an open mind, and to keep an eye out for anytime you claim a negative identity or rule yourself out wholesale from doing something. A classic example a lot of us will be familiar with is ‘I’m bad at maths’. You likely aren’t actually bad at maths, and even if you aren’t confident in mental arithmetic you have a phone with a calculator, or even better access to the internet. Lots of people however put themselves in these boxes which makes them feel good because then they don’t have to try. The biggest part of learning to be adaptable is opening yourself up to the possibility of failure.
To take it back to our training examples, if in our failure to prepare we forget our pre workout or knee sleeves if you immediately resign yourself to a bad session because ‘I can’t squat heavy without my knee sleeves’ or ‘I’m going to have bad session, I’m so tired without my pre workout’ then you need to catch yourself. These are not absolutes, you’re just trying to give yourself an out before you’ve even tried
Think how many businesses had to adapt to the Covid-19 restrictions. I imagine plenty of people were saying things like ‘our service can’t work online’, ‘people won't buy our bagels/pizza/steaks just to cook it themselves’. Yet look how many brand new innovations came out from those adaptations? They adapted to the change in environment.
Thirdly we have communication. This is often overlooked, or at the very least under practiced in a training context, or any situation where you are attempting to learn or improve the emphasis is on you, the learner, to confirm understanding. I think we’ve all at some point experienced the fear of not wanting to appear stupid by not understanding something, so we just nod and say yes and carry on.
The quickest way to learn stuff is to admit you don’t know stuff. Generally people in a position of teaching are there of their own free will, and usually because they actively like imparting information or skills. They know you’re there to learn stuff (because you’re there), so help them help you. People are usually more than happy to explain things differently or go over things or answer questions you might have, and even if you’re still cringing at the prospect of asking a question I have a one size fits all solution for you.
If you’re ever struggling or want to make sure you understand what someone has just explained Just say something like ‘So, as I understand it you mean *repeat what they’ve just said*’. If you have misunderstood something about it this will help them clarify, and it also buys you some time to think about if you do fully understand it.
Another big hurdle especially in the coach/athlete relationship that is challenging to communicate is that a lot of the time you’re trying to convey how things ‘feel’. How difficult did that set feel? Do you feel your lats when you do that? How fatigued do you feel in training this week out of 10? I personally find the more you communicate on any particular issue, the more refined your understanding and word choice regarding it becomes.
Last up we have mindset, the established set of attitudes held by someone, in this case someone being you. What is in your mind when you set out to do a task, drastically alters how successful you are.
I imagine a lot of you have experience with seemingly permanently negative people. If they behave similarly to the Dementors in Harry Potter and suck all joy and fun out of things, those are the people I’m talking about. You can’t recall when they last had fun, and having fun is important. These people have the wrong mindset - they’re focussed on the potential shortcomings of things, they don’t want to try new things because they’re unlikely to like them (based on nothing), they don’t want to try because they can’t win, so what’s the point of trying?
To avoid ending up hired by Azkaban, try to keep your mind open and free of expectation, try to enjoy the doing of the task not the outcome. We’ve spoken before about process orientation and this is a huge part of keeping a positive or open mindset, this and not tying your identity to the outcome of any given task. Just because you fail at something doesn’t make you a failure.
The big practical tip I have for improving mindset, especially in relation to tasks, is rather than think about possible outcomes (good or bad), think about how you could grow, what will the doing of this task give you? If you actively pursue growth and learning throughout your process you’ll almost certainly run into much more favourable results!
If you are new to lifting this may be something new, however once you’ve been involved with training for a small to moderate amount of time, especially true if also competing in sports, the topic of creatine will likely arise.
Should you? Shouldn’t you? How much? How often? Why? Do you need to load it? Should you put it in your socks?
As is tradition, and as my hatred for cooking recipes with a three part novella worth of text prior to the ACTUAL RECIPE smoulders on like a dying star, here are the takeaway answers right at the start.
If you are a human who cares to invest in their health (even if you aren’t training) you should probably be taking creatine monohydrate. 5 grams/day is fine for almost everyone, bump to 10g if you’re 100kg+. You do not need a loading phase (unless you’re vegan and have been for a fair time), and feel free to mix it into your favourite non fizzy beverage. Water, fruit juice, protein shakes, all great options. It’s one of the cheapest supplements out there, and well worth investing in, both for performance and more recently optimistic looking potential cognitive benefits.
If the tl;dr didn’t convince you, let's get into the nitty gritty of why you should reconsider. We’re going to briefly summarise what creatine is, what supplementing it would do for you, and then have a look at some of the newer things people are researching about it.
First up, what is creatine monohydrate? Creatine is a chemical found in your body - mainly in muscles, but also in your brain. Creatine monohydrate is a supplement derivative of that. There are others, such as creatine gluconate, and creatine ethyl ester, but monohydrate is the most heavily researched and pretty much the only one you need to worry about.
The main way you and your training benefit from taking creatine is the replenishment of the phosphocreatine system, an energy system used in periods of high energy demand, typically only lasting up to 10 seconds. If you picture any Fast and the Furious movie where they flip a switch and spurt NOs into the engine, that’s kind of what we’re talking about.
The fact that we really don’t get very much creatine naturally from food (beef for example only has 1g every 500g-1kg) and you’d need to eat 5 times that to get your little 5g scoop from your supplement pouch, almost everyone sees a significant benefit after a week or so of regular use. If you’ve been eating a diet sans meat for any length of time, you’ll benefit even more so since your baseline levels will be reduced further, though you will need to take it for slightly longer before potentially seeing those gains.
You will commonly hear people talking about a loading phase for creatine. Essentially if you want to top up your reserves as fast as possible you could technically do this, but there’s really no point, since you’ll get to the same level by an extra few days. It’s also one of the safest supplements on record. There have been several longer term studies following people taking it for years straight, looking at all kinds of health markers, and nothing has come back with any kind of red flags, or anything even close to one.
That pretty much covers everything you may wish to know regarding creatine and training, and if you’re still reading here’s where it gets interesting. You may remember I mentioned that you also have creatine stores in your brain, and there is a growing amount of research that is looking at how supplementing creatine benefits you in that capacity. Cognitive performance measures such as recognition,memory, and decreasing mental fatigue are all showing positive outcomes alongside creatine supplementation. It’s even being looked at in the potential benefit of treating traumatic brain injuries, and potentially decreasing risk and/or symptoms of neurological diseases such as Parksion’s and motor neurone disease.
Obviously none of this is as deep in the trenches as it’s research for sport training and supplementation, but I personally find the potential of something so simple being that huge very exciting, and I’m super keen to see where things go in that avenue of the research.
So what are you waiting for?
And you ain't got either!
Percussive massage devices; massage guns, vibrating rollers, vibro plates, vibrating spherical objects. What do they do and are they worth your money?
As with all my recent articles I’m going to front load the short answer for those who just want the juice with none of the squeeze. At their current price point most products aren’t worth your money since overall they don’t really do much, nor anything unique.
Photo by: Tom Hosking Wedding
Story time children, recently we were approached via email by Hyperice, a company that sells various recovery based products. Although upon immediate reading I was thrilled to hear about HypeRice and how they’d manage to change Uncle Ben’s favourite grain. Sadly they mainly sell percussive massage devices, and no ice either, I asked.
We received three free products from Hyperice:
The Hypervolt £249
The Vyper 2.0 £139
The Hypersphere £139
Prices listed are retail listings on their own website. It’s pretty clear we aren’t talking spare change kind of money here, this is some serious money for the average person. If you’ve read one of my previous articles on recovery you’ll know that the combination of info from people in the research field blendered up with my ~11 years of anecdotal experience that collaborates into the thick chunky smoothie that makes up my opinion, doesn’t rate many alternative recovery strategies very highly, especially when compared to eating and sleeping.
So, what do these products do? Not very much. So far the research I’ve found is very limited, which isn’t surprising given that they’re relatively new on the market. One study tested ankle range of movement (ROM) and max contraction after a 5 minute session with a massage gun, against a control group of folk who didn’t. The group who used the massage guns found a significant increase in ankle ROM and no increase in max contraction force. The acute increase in ROM wasn’t stacked up against any other protocol and my gut tells me that if they had a 3rd group that did a 2minute cv warm up followed by some knee to wall or other ankle mobility drill, I doubt there would be any difference, I’d be more surprised if the warmup/mob group didn’t have the biggest difference in both stats.
Is there ANY benefit to purchasing one of these devices? Sure, but it’s not very much for the money unless you have Scrooge McDuck cash. For one thing it’s much easier and more time efficient than traditional foam rolling/LAX ball rolling. You don’t have to lie on the floor at odd angles or go chasing after a ball that rolls out mid glute pass. You can just sit/lie there and blast your tissues at a selection of 3 different speeds, and it even has a pressure sensor built in so you can maintain the same pressure session to session. They even have an app that you can download on your phone which guides you through various pre-generated sessions and gives you some structure with how you use it. The Hypervolt comes with several different attachments for different levels of intensity or precision, including a padded one for areas like your neck. Speaking to a friend who works as a sports therapist, they bought one of these around 4 years ago and it’s still going, so the build quality seems legit. The Hypervolt itself is a very well made product with plenty of bells and whistles, alongside premium build quality and ergonomics.
Overall I can’t knock the products themselves, however I just don’t feel like they solve the problem they claim to solve. If you detest foam rolling but desire a more robust, efficient pre workout tissue modality, and are okay spending £250 to fulfil that need then pull the trigger. If you’re currently just doing a cardio warm up and some specific movement drills ahead of your training sessions you aren’t missing out on some golden ticket to the next level, if you’re on the fence why not come by the gym and try 'em out and see what you think?
If you have any questions, comment, dank memes, please hit me up in the comments or on our socials @atsapproved.
The journey is the goal
As I have done before, here are the front loaded practical takeaways from this post:
In this blog post, I’m going to outline why goal setting alone isn’t the complete puzzle and how identifying meaningful personal values will make those difficult choices easier. I think getting into this stuff can hugely benefit people of all training experiences, whether that be a few months or a few decades. I’ll get into a brief definition of what I mean by process orientation, why you should care about it, talk about how to identify and weaponise personal values to direct you on the path and some of the discomforts that come along with it.
Firstly let’s talk about the issue with goals. Goal setting is important. Having something to aim for not only facilitates structure but also gives our little monkey brains that sweet dopamine hit when accomplished. So yeah, goals are great - but what do you do when you get there? You’ve dropped the dress size, you’ve hit the PB lift, you’ve got the abs. Now what? This is where some people can struggle. They could go multiple different ways with their goals, all of which are appealing - so how do you choose?
I realise being so in shape that your next goal isn’t obvious seems like a humble brag, but hanging all your hopes on a goal and then getting there and realising it hasn’t made you as happy or fulfilled as you thought it would, could be quite jarring. It isn’t hard to imagine how extreme and ultimately detrimental behaviors regarding getting as lean as possible, or as much muscle as possible ,are proliferated in this kind of thinking.
Instead, we can move our thought process away from pure goals or target setting, and look more at the direction of travel, or process by which we achieve these goals. If we review the previous examples, it isn’t the goal itself that should bring about the sole reward, but the process itself. You drop the dress sizes, you feel great, you look amazing etc etc - all of the positive improvements gained were through the things you did in order to get to your goal. Exercising regularly, making healthier diet choices, making sure to get enough sleep where possible, drinking more water and less alcohol. Focusing on maintaining, or possibly still improving on these processes if there is room to, will get you even more of those positive outcomes.
For another example, cause I know amateur athletes read these things. You win the championship, you lift the PB, you achieve your goal ranking. What did you do to get there? I imagine you and possibly your team made sure to make every practice, make every workout, adjust your diet and sleep to give the best performance outcomes you could fit into your schedule. The tale of the ‘One and Done’ is frequently told in sports. Athletes or teams that win it big once, then fade into mediocrity. The common thread you’ll find among those who consistently improve, and consistently win, is a focus on the process. I don’t know her personally, but I doubt Serena Williams does hardly any practice in between tournaments - I mean, she’s the best, why would she need to practice right?
So, how does one build a process orientated mindset? Well, one way is to establish some meaningful personal values, some prime directives, and use them to drive your behaviours and choices. Let’s dig into some previous examples, and break down how you can seek out your own values.
Firstly, let’s be our own annoying, introspective toddler.
I want to squat 100kg, pretty common goal among gym-goers of either sex.
Because I want to be stronger than I am now
Because I don’t want to be weak? [There is no set path to these, everyone’s answers will be unique to them]
Because I want to be self-reliant, I want to be healthy, and robust.
Because I want to live as long a life as possible, and be as helpful to my friends and loved ones as I can.
Because being able to help my family and friends when they need help makes me feel happy and valued.
A fair bit of a rollercoaster from just wanting to squat 100kgs in the gym, but it’s pretty easy to convince yourself to order another takeaway this week when the only thing you’ve got going is a number on a bar. Now you have something that means something to YOU, not to anyone else. It’s one intrinsic value that you yourself have defined, not your PT, not societal pressure, you. When you weigh up the small temporary pleasure from a takeaway, versus the bone-deep happiness and satisfaction of being able to help someone you love when they need it, it’s not even close anymore, is it? Again your values may differ.
Having self-serving values does not make you a bad person. Recognition, respect, status, all of those things feature in the hierarchy of needs, and for most of us lucky enough to live in a developed country we already have the basics in place. Your meaningful value can be ‘to be the best at X’ because I want to be recognised for what I’m capable of, for what I can do at X.
My last point regarding trying to manage your thinking around process orientation is that you’re going to experience discomfort if you do, and discomfort if you don’t. One key step is accepting this, and making room for that discomfort in your brain. In a fitness and sport context that could be things like:
If you’re new to exercise it will feel uncomfortable, and you’ll likely not be very capable to start with.
In conclusion, establishing meaningful personal values for how you want to live will not only revamp your health and fitness journey, but as you become more familiar with the process and discomfort, you’ll likely see the same idea incredibly applicable to all aspects of life. For further reading on the theory side, explore ACT therapy or training. As always please let me know if you have any questions in the comments, or hit us up on social media.
Keeping in trend from my previous blog posts I’m going to front load the practical takeaways, and if you want to read on and get the rundown you can.
Add a 5-minute cardio-based cool down and stretch after every lifting session, especially if you train in the late afternoon/evening.
Combine your training warm-up (if you aren’t doing one, start) with positive self-talk and positive mental framing to prime yourself for a good session.
‘I feel shitty’, ‘I’m still super fried from last time’, ‘Oh god it’s THIS session’.
‘I have a bunch of fatigue, but I’ve been training real hard, that’s expected’,
‘I still have fatigue from the last session, but repeated bouts of fatigue are normal in training. If I have concerns, I’m sure I can ask my coach.’,
‘This isn’t my favorite session, but that’s probably because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, or it’s things I need to work on the most.’
Allow yourself to feel good and proud when you talk yourself out of a negative or neutral choice into a positive one. Example, going to the gym even though you’re tired, and you’re busy, and you’re not feeling it. But you go anyway.
HYPE THAT SHIT.
The why - positive self talk
Now to begin in the middle! As a foreword, I believe sport psychology is a criminally underutilised avenue of resources. The way I choose to frame it [foreshadowing detected] is that compared to other things we do in aesthetics, health, or sporting pursuits, mere thought takes up very little time and very little of the resources that we use elsewhere. That being said...
I AM NOT A SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST!
These are just practical tips that have both anecdotal success with my clients, and have professional vindication from the smart people with the letters in front of their name.
Let’s dive into my practical examples. Everyone should have a warm-up in their training, it vastly reduces injury risk, and substantially increases performance output. One thing a lot of people don’t have is a cooldown. Especially if you train later in the day, the heightened alertness and sympathetic nervous system engagement can disrupt sleep and elevate cortisol, both of which impede recovery and subsequent training. Adding a 5 minute cardio based cooldown and/or stretch period where you deliberately focus on taking deep relaxing breaths will not only help you wind down from an intense lifting session, but will also hasten your recovery and adaptation to the training.
My second tip takes up even less time than the first and you can do it at the same time as plenty of other things: positive self talk, and positive reframing. This is one that everyone could do better with - you, me, your mum, your dentist, everyone. It is incredibly easy to allow negative emotion to creep into your mental loop when you are not obviously progressing,succeeding, or feeling good. This can develop into negative self talk, either internally or out loud:
‘I really hate this session, it’s my least favourite.’
All of you almost certainly thought about a recent leg day, am I right? Or possibly a heinous hill sprint, sled pushing, acid bath. Thinking about things in this way begins the feedback loop that leads people to have disappointing sessions, or even skip these kinds of sessions altogether.
To avoid this, try reframing your thoughts towards more positive or constructive language:
‘This is my least favourite session, it really pushes me out of my comfort zone. But I need to do it if I want to accomplish my goals.’
The same session, while still not a fun prospect, now presents as a necessary step to success. This is why objective targets like competitions, scale weights, and personal bests can be very motivating, as they can be used as a carrot to get you to reframe things towards what you want.
It’s hard to explain the ‘why’ without getting the water super muddy. Let’s try another example.
‘I’m super tired from the last session so maybe I’ll just skip the gym today.’
What we need to do here is acknowledge the facts that are underlying this feeling:
Fatigue from training is normal.
DOMS can be very uncomfortable, and pretty scary especially for new trainees.
Is skipping the gym objectively a good idea? Or is it just the easy choice?
We can now take a more pragmatic view of the same situation, and constructively rephrase.
‘I have some fatigue from the last session, I’ll make sure and tell my PT so they can change stuff if it’s appropriate.’
‘I’m pretty fatigued from last time, I’ll make sure to train a different body part or discipline this session so I have plenty of time to recover.’
I hope this illustrates that positive reframing of thoughts can really hard pivot how your session/day/week is going to turn out. I must add the caveat that it is not easy, and like anything takes focused practice to get better at - which leads me to my last tip.
I am proud of you.
Not to wax poetic, but I encourage you to bask in the satisfaction of good choices made. Any time you find yourself with your hand outstretched to the biscuit tin like Smeagol but manage to pull away and resist temptation you should be happy with yourself. You should hype yourself for those positive choices. People love to belittle and criticize these small victories because they seem insignificant, but considering that the world at large has an obesity problem, when any of us have a moment where self-discipline kicks the door in and you make the harder choices, it is a win worth hyping. Even if it’s only to yourself.
I’ve talked about it before, but those small wins can be built upon to create an upward spiral of good choices that can propel you through things that used to be challenging. You can use them as fuel to overcome harder and more challenging choices - even better, as you get more and more practice, and become more and more disciplined you’ll start crushing it.
What can get in the way of someone who will go out of their way to get their training in? Double shift at work? Doesn’t matter, they’ll get it done. Moving house? They put down a Kit Kat when they already had the foil off - compared to that, shifting boxes and furniture AND getting a lift session is child’s play. Build on those small wins, and let yourself feel awesome about it, then very little can stop you.