Wellness: Beat Exercise Anxiety

Beat exercise anxiety with these 6 do’s & don’ts

In the first instalment of our Wellbeing series Lomax Bespoke Health co-founder, Jonathan Lomax introduced the concept of wellbeing in relation to exercise, and began to ask what it really means. Here he shares his six ‘Do’s & Don’ts’ to help you achieve ‘physical wellbeing’.

Stepping away from the big thinking philosophical and or psychological debate about happiness and the subjective concepts around what a ‘balanced’ life is, there are some very basic strategies that I use and I advise my clients to use. These seem to work in keeping what Churchill referred to as ‘The Black Dog’ of depression and anxiety, from nodding disappointedly at our 10k times.

This is NOT the same as me guaranteeing you will achieve your goals (whatever they might be) they are simply useful ways of keeping you as free as possible from the negative, anxiety creating pitfalls – whether you are just starting or have been a long term fitness person.

What do we mean when we say we exercise?

There is a very large distinction that needs to be made before we proceed that highlights a very important and hugely overlooked point. Training is almost always exercise based, whereas exercise is mostly not training based.

What does this mean?

In sports you come first, second, third – win or lose. Your success is determined in a very linear way in terms of the reality of your skill and the expectation defined by your hopes and ambition.

Most of us, including myself, do not go to the gym or a fitness class or whatever it is we do to sweat, in order to train for anything. I.e. for most of us gym visits are not preparatory to an event that requires physical prowess and fitness. Most of us, even the marathon runners and crossfitters, pilates, barre and yoga bunnies, Hell Weekers and #HIITers are going to feel better about the way we look.

This is not a negative thing, it just means that you need to be very clear on what it means to actually look good, who asses’ it and what you are comparing it to. Having a body you are happy with is a metaphorical minefield, and changes any given day depending on what side of the bed you got up from, who did or didn’t like your social media post, who didn’t swipe right or whoever is on the cover of your monthly fitness magazine.

This leads many to measure their success only by what they see in the mirror, training harder, for longer, believing this will help them achieve their goals. It’s a very slippery slope that I’ve found more people succumbing to since the rise of the #fitspo and #HIIT culture. People are actually exercising themselves into a dark hole of anxiety and fake smiles, alongside injury, hormone deficiency, a host of stress related illnesses and ultimately ‘failing’ to achieve their goals.

Here are my six do’s and don’ts to approaching exercise with your wellbeing in mind…

1. DO get to know your body – collect as much physical data as you can about your body composition, your fitness and your general health (heart, lungs, digestive system, hormones levels, vitamin and mineral levels, stress markers etc) as this will allow you to set some measurable targets with a clear starting point and a clear end point which you can track.

2. DO go and see a good personal trainer who can help you understand what these numbers mean and create a picture of what your body would look like and perform like if you were to hit these. Your PT will then use this information to plot out how you will achieve the numbers you need to look or perform the way you want to.
This will often be in the form of a macro cycle – a 90 day plan, with a series of smaller ‘meso’ cycles or a 30 day plans, and some even more tangible ‘micro’ cycles – the 7 day plans (as explained here in my 80/20 guide to building a fitness plan). Each cycle will have its own beginning middle and end with a measurable objective. Failing to hit these doesn’t prevent success at achieving your goal, but it will allow you to understand how to tweak your approach, do more of this, less of that – or try something new.
Beware of buying an online program, even if it is based on your stats. Nothing beats in person ‘training’ because how you move is personal to you. A back squat is not the same on any two people and therefore might not be the best thing for you to do – even if the numbers indicate why you should squat – using those numbers to design the ideal programme for you will require an assessment of your biomechanics.

3. DON’T program creep when you are given a new plan. Meaning, don’t take elements you thought worked from previous programs you’ve tried and add them to the new program you’ve been given. All that happens is that you end up doing too much exercise with gym sessions lasting hours, or ‘training’ twice a day to fit it all in, as well as skipping all important rest or recovery days. Furthermore, if you have taken time to speak to a professional, do what they say, so they are accountable not you. If you follow their advice to the letter, you can blame them if things aren’t working. If you are sneaking off and doing extra stuff, you only have yourself to blame!

4. DO incorporate active recovery (rest, recovery, mobility and flexibility) into your plan. Sweat and DOMS (that next day muscle soreness) are not effective markers of success – certainly not in terms of aesthetics. Without recovery the body can’t repair so you simply can’t get stronger and your body will almost certainly hold onto body fat. Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the burn, but you have to give it time to recover, so you can push yourself further the following session. This adaptation response to exercise is the single most important factor in developing performance and aesthetic improvements. Its why a good personal trainer will also keep variation in your plan at the forefront of his programming. You are an individual – your body will respond in different ways to other peoples – it will need to be surprised and pushed in different ways in order to avoid plateauing (another reason not to program creep). Click here to read more on my thoughts regarding active recovery as featured on the Huffington Post.

5. DO see a physiotherapist, a soft tissue therapist or a movement specialist as recommended by your trainer or a trainer you know, to anaylse your body as you exercise. Imbalances are not only bad for posture, but they are almost certainly going to prevent you from hitting the numbers you need to achieve your goals and worse still will almost always lead to injury. Resulting in missed training sessions and the anxiety that goes along with that.

6. DON’T start a ‘diet’ at the same time as you start a new fitness regime. But do use the information you obtained in my first DO to better understand your nutritional needs in relation to your goals. When you know what combination of micronutrients you need, start sticking to that rather than trying the latest diet fad. A good personal trainer will either help with this or recommend a nutritionist or an App such as Myfitnesspal, to help you construct a ‘way of eating’ that will support your training plan.However, if you are keen to go vegan or Paleo etc,make sure it fits into the energy requirements your goals require.

Lomax’s next instalment will delve into our modern diet culture, and its effects – offering insight into how to achieve nutritional wellbeing.

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