Button up: the jeans test is best

Button up: the jeans test is best

Well here I am at the end of week one. As a little addition today I went to a circuits class with my fellow fitness fanatic Rachel Quigley and the pair of us were certainly red faced at the end of it. Whether this was down to the tough regime or the rather dishy instructor I will leave to your judgment.

So how do I feel after seven days of relatively hardcore training?

I have well and truly got the fitness bug back and I am now used to getting up first thing in the morning and heading straight out to the gym. In fact, I feel much more energtic and focused for the rest of the day when I’ve worked out, and on Wednesday when I had a rest day I was sluggish and lacking in motivation at work.

The combination of exercising and eating meals higher in protein has also left me feeling less bloated and as a result the study belly is on the way out already. Results after a week I hear you scoff, but I honestly think it’s true. There of course lies the secret: so much of exercise and looking and feeling fit is psychological.

How can we tell whether we are making real gains or purely imagined ones: the placebo effect if you like?

This is especially relevant for me since I don’t like to measure success through the number on the scales. As far as I’m concerned, weight is just a statistic and not a very good yardstick for improving fitness or shape. I would much rather weigh a few pounds more but have greater muscle mass and therefore appear slimmer and feel stronger.

So what am I using to keep track of my progress?

I’m writing down what I do each day in an exercise log, making sure to include details such as length of intervals, weight lifted and number of sets/repititions. This is good for two main reasons:

1. It allows you to look back at what you did yesterday or the day before and then you can aim to go a little faster, further or lift a bit more. Instead of just thinking you are pushing yourself, you actually will be.

2. It maintains your focus and stops your mind wondering from the task at hand. You know what you’ve got to do and so you will keep going rather than wandering aimlessly from machine to machine without really thinking about it. Think of those guys you see working out in pairs who spend more time talking about what they are going to do and looking in the mirror than doing any exercise, you don’t want to be one of those.

I am also resorting to the female favourite – the jeans test. Over the last couple of months, my favourite pair of jeans has gradually been getting tighter. You know it’s gone a stage too far when you have to unbutton them when driving. Of course I’ve used the age old excuse of “I must have put them on a hot wash by accident,” to make myself feel better. But deep down I know the machine has been set at 40 degrees since I moved in to my flat last September.

Placebo or no placebo, the day I feel comfortable sitting down in those Gap western bootcuts is the day I know my new routine is getting me somewhere. It may not be as scientfic as some would advocate but I’m a firm believer in having goals which are relevant to you and keep you motivated on those days when all you want to do is sit on the sofa and eat a Magnum Temptation (and no, eating one will not make you look like Eva Longoria).

And at the end of the day, who cares if it is all in your head. Anything that makes one feel better about oneself is fine by me.

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

For those of you who have asked for more detail on the interval training I’ve been doing here you go. As I’ve said before, it’s courtesy of Wesley at Men’s Health, and so far I’m loving it:

Interval Workout

5 minute easy warm up

5 minutes short intervals – break down into 15 secs high intensity, followed by 45 secs low intensity. This should be done on a machine you rarely use, I’ve been doing it on the rower since I hate the damn thing.

5 minutes rest – this seems like a long time but you have to make sure your heart rate returns to its natural resting level.

20-40 minutes regular cardio – do this on a machine you use a lot, and keep up a moderately high intensity throughout. I’ve been using the bike for this one.

5-10 minutes long intervals – break down into 30 secs high intensity followed by 30 secs low intensity and gradually work up to doing 1 minute high intensity 1 minute low intensity. Do this on whatever machine you like. I’ve been using the treadmill.

3 minute easy cool down

I’ve been adding some super sets of weight training on the end for some toning benefits. I’ll talk more about that soon. Let me know if you try the workout and what you think of it.

Today I faced my first real challenge. As I sat down last night to plan the following day I realised I would have to get up at 6.30am to fit in a work out, before heading into Bristol to do work experience with BBC customer publishing. I would like to think I’m an early riser but 6.30am is not a time I know well. I am especially unacquainted with the idea of jumping out of bed straight into my gym gear and making my way to the gym without so much as a banana to keep me going.

So I did what I have learned to do in situations where I feel out of my depth, I planned with military precision. My control freak streak took on a whole new level as I nailed down every last detail: I even put the green teabag into a mug, by the ready-filled kettle. Then I went to bed safe in the knowledge that if I managed to haul myself up at the right time in the morning everything else would smoothly follow.

Miraculously, I did in fact get up as soon as my radio alarm (turned up to a higher than usual volume) went off, and obediently supped my green tea before heading out the door dressed for whatever the interval training could throw at me. One thing I didn’t account for was that when I got to the gym and reached for the door I would be met with a resistance outside my control, opening hours. In all my planning, I had not once stopped to think that the gym wouldn’t accommodate my early hours routine.

The worst bit was I couldn’t afford to wait the 20 minutes til opening time. As I stood dumbstruck with the type of panic only a control freak will identify with, my mind grappled with what to do next. I knew my uni building had a shower, and was only five minutes away and also on the way to the train station. I was simply going to have to improvise and work out al fresco.

The car park outside the Bute Building at Cardiff University is hardly picturesque, but needs must. I started to jog round and then broke my time up into intervals of sprinting as fast as I could and slow jogging, building up until the jogging intervals were shorter than the sprinting ones. After 10 minutes of that I did various exercises: jumping jacks, scissors, knee-twists, lunges, squats – all fast paced and on a rotation. It was during a particularly frenzied bout of jumping jacks that I heard someone coming out of the door behind me. I looked round to see one of my tutors walking off hurriedly in an attempt to avoid eye contact with me.

Dear god, could this get any more cringeworthy? Apparently so. I finished my work out and headed inside to take a shower. After I had been in the cubicle for a couple of minutes (a surprisingly good power shower compared to those in the gym) the fire alarm went off. Are you kidding me? thought I. As the blaring noise continued it became clear that this was not a drill. Faced with a moral dilema – dutifully go outside wrapped in my towel or finish showering, dress and risk burning to death – I did what any law-abiding student wouuld do and finished showering, albeit a lot more speedily than I ordinarily would.

As I walked along the corridor, fearing I would be told off by a do-good caretaker, I saw that I was not the only one to have feigned ignorance at the alarm. A class of six were sitting merrily typing away on computers without a care in the world, is there a name for these sorts of people? On my way to the station I passed the tutor from earlier on in this tale, again he avoided eye contact as I smiled in what I hoped was an appropriately beguiling fashion (I probably just looked a bit manic).

On the plus side, I arrived for the train 15 minutes early and felt fully charged and ready for the day. Maybe working out in the morning wasn’t going to be easy, but it certainly helps me feel smug towards all those other poor, commuting sods who are barely even awake yet.

Challenging? Without a doubt. Rewarding? The jury’s still out on that one.

The bane of every bridesmaid's life

The bane of every bridesmaid's life

Today I am brimming with feel good endorphins, which can only mean one thing: Operation Bridesmaid (hereafter OB) has commenced.

OB is something I have been planning for a while. I am to be my sister’s bridesmaid in July and, as is typical of a lot of women, I am determined to look my best in the nipped-in-at-the-waist dress we settled on for myself and the other two bridesmaids.

Bought back in January, the dresses looked great (even if I do say so myself). But still, on getting back to Cardiff at the end of the Christmas break, I vowed to hit the gym to give myself plenty of time to get fit and toned for the big day (would you listen to me, I sound as if it’s my wedding).

But as is often the case, other things began to take precedence. I study the PG dip in magazine journalism and first there were exams, then there were two weeks of coursework deadlines, and before I knew it I was at the end of, an admittedly hardcore, term.

Spring had sprung and I was still sat on my backside

Spring had sprung and I was still sat on my backside

The spring daffodils were out and OB had been left languishing in the recesses of my mind, the area reserved for thoughts about deep-cleaning the bathroom and throwing out all the socks in my drawer which aren’t part of a pair. In short, the “I’ll get round to it soon” section, I’m sure you all have an equivalent.

Again, my plans were destined to be put on hold. I had three weeks away from Cardiff doing work experience and since I find it hard to maintain a exercise routine I am already commited to when away from home, the chances of me starting a new one were about as high as the Bank of England’s interest rates.

I was in despair, “I am never going to tone up and get rid of this study belly,” thought I. But every cloud has a silver lining: two weeks of my work experience were in the Men’s Health offices in London. A fortnight surrounded by buff men who eat, sleep and drink (literally, they are massively into their protein shakes) exercise. Surely that would leave me feeling even worse about my lack of fitness and nutritionally challenged diet?

Well, it did, but in a good way. As I scoured the forums on the website looking for article ideas, and subbed copy telling readers, “How to get a six-pack in six weeks,” the fitness furor began to permeate. A part of me which had lain dormant for too long shook itself awake. That’s right, my inner fitness fanatic.

I began to get ridiculously frustrated by the fact I could not workout and looked for small changes I could make while in London (the day I powered up the 193 steps at Covent Garden tube station will stick in my mind for a while, or rather the state of me when I reached the top of them will).

I spoke to the fitness editor, Wesley Doyle, about my plight, explaining that I had once been a lean, mean, fighting machine from hours spent punching and kicking (I was in combat classes and kickboxing, not a secret member of Fight Club).

He very kindly told me not to worry, informed me that muscles have good memories, and said he would email me a programme to get back in shape and shed those excess inches in no time. I had to refrain from kissing him then and there.

I’ve been back in Cardiff for two days now and I have done the routine twice. It is based on using interval training which means I am not suffering too much from my depleted stamina and the short, sharp bursts replicate the kind of exercise I am used to with boxing classes.

I have been adding some weight training to the end and went out yesterday to buy lots of high protein foods which Wesley says is crucial to success. The major difference between this work out and what I used to do before is that it is best done in the morning, on an empty stomach after consuming two cups of green tea (to give a caffeine kick).

This is my one concern. I am fine at the weekend when I can get up leisurely and mentally prepare myself for the onslaught but how will I fare during the week getting up at the crack of dawn to head to the gym before uni? I’m told the first few times are the worst and then my body will start to adjust, let’s hope so.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Oh that wonderful maze

Oh that wonderful maze

This morning my faith in humanity was restored. I’m not sure why I say restored, it never really went away, but when I told people two weeks ago I was going to London for the first time ever, I was cautioned and warned about how unfriendly the people were. This obviously followed the initial step back in amazement that at the age of 24 I had never been to the capital before. As I said at the time though, I’ve never needed to go.

Anyway, fast forward a fortnight and I am lugging my suitcase up the steps at Piccadilly Circus. I have already lost the novelty enthusiasm I had for the tube at the beginning of my stay and I am wondering why my suitcase always feels heavier on the way home, even though I categorically have not bought anything new (trust me, I don’t have the funds).

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Two steps up and I see someone to the side of me pause, take their music out their ears and ask, “Would you like some help with that?” Do I look suitably peeved off and say for the sake of feminism (the volunteer is a middle-aged man) “Not at all, I have two arms and two legs and can carry my own suitcase just fine!”? Do I heck. I smile sweetly and say “Thank you very much that would be lovely.”

With my assent the gentleman hoists the case up (with one arm) and strides to the top of the steps while I look on in awe. Job done, he replaces the earphones and smiles goodbye as I thank him again for his assistance.

Now, the cynics among you may say, “Well you’re young and pretty,” (why thank you) “and that’s the only reason he helped you.” And in fact, that is exactly what my colleague did say when I waltzed into the office, full of the joys of spring and a lot less out of breath than I otherwise would have been.

Well, not exactly: “There must have been an ulterior motive,” says Ryan from Men’s Health when I recount my tale, “Humans are disgusting.” He has obviously lived in London for a lot longer than me. But I refuse my optimism to be dampened and endeavour to keep smiling for as long as possible.

Probably just as well I’m going back to Cardiff tonight then.


Alison sympathised and advised how to handle wood-burning stove

Alison sympathised and advised how to handle wood-burning stove



Day 5


Success! I don’t know why I wasn’t posting this first thing this morning… hang on, yes I do, I was snugly tucked up in my yurt and managed to sleep until 9.30am. Eat your hats cynics of mine.


So what did I do differently? Well, let’s be honest, none of it was rocket science, but it did take the sage advice of a year-round yurter to make my outdoor home more habitable. Enter Alison, who lives at the Cherry Wood Project in Bath and was kind enough to have a look at my humble abode yesterday afternoon.


Firstly, may I just say, I felt entirely vindicated by her astonishment that my yurt did not have insulation. “This is a summer camping yurt,” she exclaimed, “you’d be freezing at this time of year.”

“I was,” said I, “trust me I was.”

She also thought the fire rather small and the lack of ventilation a problem, “This is not good for you at all.” she tutted. Hallelujah, finally some sympathy and understanding.


So I asked her what I could do to make the best of a bad situation, obviously painting Nick as a Draconian boss in the process: she didn’t need to know that I had crawled into the house early Monday morning and refused to return to the yurt ever since.


Shockingly, her first piece of advice was to leave the door slightly ajar, “Are you mad?” I thought. But apparently not, the fire needs to draw oxygen in to keep it roaring and this also stops the yurt from becoming unbearably smokey.


Alison also suggested starting the fire much earlier in the day and keeping it burning throughout the evening. It seems I had not been tending my stove with the required dedication.


And I must admit, what a difference these small and seemingly innocuous measures made. While I would not say I was as comfortable as I would be indoors, and keeping in mind that I was wearing multiple layers again (although thankfully the hat and gloves were dropped), I did manage to sleep right through the night and upon waking at 7.20am thought it best to sleep for a couple more hours just to drive the point home to Nick and co. Late for work, my foot.


It makes me proud that I managed it but I don’t think I’ll be investing in a yurt (almost £3000 for a model like the one I’m staying in) any time soon.


Had an amazing 12hrs sleep last night!

Had an amazing 12hrs sleep last night!

Day 3


Ok, I admit it, I gave in and slept indoors last night. In my defence I was pretty ill and I think Nick and his wife (Tina) both took pity on me and thought it best if I didn’t sleep in the yurt.


Nick decided it would be an amusing twist if he slept in there instead, probably so he could prove the fact that I’m fast becoming a softened city girl. As I was moving my things up into the spare room I thought it would be a nice gesture to light the fire: we were all planning on toasting marshmallows after dinner.


And what a fire it was! An hour later we trooped out for some marshmallow dessert to find the yurt had turned into some kind of sauna. Needless to say, nobody believed how cold it had been the previous night and plenty of digs at the not-so-hardy Scottish girl ensued. Trust me, teasing from a 10 and 12 year old is not always easy to take!


The marshmallows were delicious and the yurt was positively toasty. But I was not going to be lured in, so headed upstairs to sleep in the spare room. 


12 hours later I woke having slept right through, just goes to show how much I needed the sleep (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). 


Apparently Nick found the yurt perfectly comfortable and warm. Bearing in mind he gets up at 5am usually anyway, he said when he woke up at 4.30am the fire was still going: an entirely different kettle of fish to my stone-cold fire the morning before.


Also, the outside temperatures did not dip nearly so low last night, honest! Nip over to Nick’s blog to see his version of the events. 


Something tells me, sympathy exhausted, I’ll be out on my ear tonight. Farewell comfy bed!