Overcoming an Injury

It’s been six years since I suffered a serious sports injury. It was completely self-inflicted – in my quest to lose weight, I was exercising 10 to 12 days straight without a break and doing minimal yoga or stretching. I was typically doing two gym classes a day, running 10 kilometres weekly and walking anywhere I could to burn extra calories. My body was constantly sore which I took as a sign I was working hard. 

It’s little surprise that after increasingly upping the intensity and frequency of my workouts, my body began to protest. I rolled my ankle in a boxing class, I was waking during the night with restless legs and eventually, my right knee buckled. You can read the full story in The Dangers of Overtraining, but essentially I was left limping, depressed and completely depleted. I finally accepted I needed help. 

The months that followed were painful, frustrating and expensive. I was in such denial about my injury, it took two attempts to address the problem as I rushed my recovery. The second time round however, I was determined to get stronger and rebuild my fitness. There were several things during my recovery that helped me progress and stay positive. Here’s how I overcame my injury: 

Initial assessment

The first step was booking a physiotherapist appointment. She identified my knee pain as coming from a tight ilitibiol band. The ‘IT band’ runs along the outside of the thigh, connecting your butt to your knee. IT Band Syndrome is a common injury among runners, especially from overuse. I was actually relieved to get a diagnosis. I had private health cover, so appointments only cost me around $40 or so after rebate. I got massages on my leg every few days and felt relief almost immediately. I also learnt to use a foam roller to loosen my IT band, and the physio even did some acupuncture. She told me to take it easy at the gym, so I kept going daily but just used lighter weights.

Changing footwear

I also saw a podiatrist based in the physiotherapy complex, who, identified I had flat feet and overpronated my foot – meaning it rolled inward when I walked and put additional stress on my knee when running. I got custom-made orthotics, which set me back around $400-500. Thankfully, I again got a part rebate through private health insurance. On the podiatrist’s recommendation, I also changed my sneakers to Asics’ Nimbus range, which is designed for runners and has a neutral sole (so would fit my orthotics). While orthotics felt strange at first, my feet quickly adapted to the new support and cushioning. I even started running again, although I did one minute of jogging and one minute of walking which I could sustain for 7km. Believing I was cured after new shoes and a few weeks of physiotherapy, I quickly increased intensity on everything. 

Don’t rush recovery

My symptoms rapidly returned. I tried running after work one day and couldn’t even do 2km before I limped home. The outside of my knee again felt like it had a burning gumball inside it. I was upset, angry and refused to do anything that involved eating or drink because I had no way to burn off the calories. Apart from my morning oatmeal, I wasn’t eating any carbs for fear of weight gain. I’d invested so much time and money in trying to fix the issue which made my failure all the more frustrating. At this point, I knew my injury was serious and needed more than massages. 

Second assessment

I saw a different physiotherapist, recommended by a friend of my boyfriend’s who’d also had knee problems. My new physio (Phil at Energise Physiotherapy) said if he couldn’t fix my knee after three appointments, he’d refer me to a specialist. I appreciated the honest and upfront approach. I had more massages, was given some stretches and exercises to try strengthen supporting muscles and felt optimistic but ultimately, I didn’t recover as much as either of us would’ve liked. True to his word, Phil referred me to a specialist sports doctor. 

Seeing a specialist

The sports doctor didn’t mess around. He did a quick assessment, poking my knee and asking how painful it was. He recommended I stop all exercise immediately apart from brisk walking – he was the first professional to ask how I felt about that. I was petrified. If I didn’t cry during that appointment, my eyes certainly filled up with tears. He then recommended I get a cortisone injection to help reduce the inflammation and kickstart recovery.

Cortisone injections

I was warned that cortisone is a semi-serious treatment, with injections limited to three per year. I did research online about the procedure – there was a lot of discussion about side effects, how effective the treatment was and the risks. But I trusted my doctor and having had little results with less invasive options, I went ahead. From memory, it cost around $300 which was almost as painful as the actual injection.

Getting a cortisone injection is like shooting adrenaline directly into your body. I hate needles and having one go into the side of my knee was awful. I was told to limit movement for 24 hours to maximise the drug’s effectiveness but I should otherwise feel an improvement within a few days. I went to work, I went to an end-of-year function, I went out for Chinese food after the function and then rested later that night. 

Guess what? The injection didn’t work. My knee was in agony (a cortisone ‘flare up’ I later learnt) and when that subsided, the same old pain remained. I had a follow-up appointment with the specialist who arranged for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to pinpoint the exact problem area.

MRI scan

If you haven’t had an MRI, it resembles something from a 1950s sci-fi movie. Think a tiled room with a tunnel-like machine in the middle of it. You’ll lay on a bed, be given headphones and the body part being scanned will be wedged into place with cushions or foam. You’ll be gently slid into the machine and then everyone leaves the room. For the next 30 minutes, you’ll hear loud, unsettling sounds akin to an electronic jackhammer, but with varying pitches. You absolutely cannot move or the scan will need to be redone. My experience was uncomfortable but overall, not too bad apart from the $700 price tag. I got about half back from Medicare. 

Just three weeks after my first cortisone injection, I had a second one. I began crying as soon as I walked into the room, knowing how vital it was this one worked. If not, would surgery help me? The man administering the injection saw how upset I was and asked if I had a competition or event coming up. “No,” I told him. “I just really want to exercise again.” He was puzzled. The injection was extremely painful and all I could do was wipe away tears. 

I was determined this second injection would be the last. I’d stocked my fridge, my sister drove me to and from the appointment, and for the next 48 hours I didn’t move. When I did get up from the couch to go to the bathroom or make some food, I winced. At the time, I described my knee as feeling like a burning hot chopstick had been driven into the side of it. Every time I moved, it burned. I discovered insomnia was a side effect of cortisone too. But eventually, the pain subsided and even better – my knee finally felt relief.  

Support & strengthen

I wasn’t going to mess up my recovery the second time. I followed everything the doctor recommended and returned to physio, diligently doing every exercise he’d prescribed to strengthen supporting muscles. I’d been so worried about gaining weight by not exercising – but I actually found I wasn’t constantly hungry like I was when training. I was surprised how little food my body needed when I was only going to the bus stop and my desk job. 

I’d already changed my footwear and gotten custom made orthotics which had made a huge difference. I bought a foam roller and used it almost daily to massage my IT band at home, which was extremely painful but effective. I hadn’t worn heels in months, but I bought some semi-wedge shoes I hoped to wear for special occasions. 

Gentle exercise

My permitted exercises were walking and light activities that didn’t involve my knee. That didn’t leave me with a lot of options, but I developed a newfound love for power-walking on flat ground. In my supportive sneakers, I’d walk as fast as I could around a lake for an hour. Just months before, I would’ve deemed the exercise wasn’t worth my time – burning a measly 200 calories. But now, it felt like liberation and victory. I was out of the house, I could wear my gym gear and I could get my heart rate up without pain. I was also doing basic exercises such as clam shells and squats against a wall to try strengthen my glutes. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. 

Personal trainer 

While I was grateful to be pain-free, my newfound passion for walking and at-home exercises quickly waned. I wanted to do more and felt my body could handle it – but I was too afraid to try anything else on my own. By chance, I met a personal trainer who’d had the same injury as me (although her’s wasn’t from overtraining). I had PT sessions with Sharon from Uplifting Wellness once a week, and I was surprised how much I could do at a gym without using my knee. She showed me low-impact options such as the cross-trainer (elliptical machine) and seated leg press machine, which would help strengthen my glutes. I did body weight exercises, used free weights and other equipment like kettlebells, fitballs and TRX suspension. 

I really encourage anyone with an injury to consider a personal trainer. On top of the physical benefits, having a positive, qualified professional guide my recovery was invaluable. Sharon helped me focus on what I could do, referring to my ‘stronger leg’ rather than my ‘injured’ leg. It was empowering to learn new things at the gym and while my lower body activity was limited, my upper body became the strongest it had ever been! Having a coach truly helped me develop and maintain a positive mindset. 

Slowly increase intensity 

It felt agonisingly slow, but in coming months I increased the intensity of my workouts. For example, I returned to BodyPump but did the squat and lunge tracks without any weights. I didn’t care I wasn’t working out as hard before – I was simply grateful to be back in group fitness classes. Around this time, I rediscovered my passion for the indoor cycling class RPM. I was able to get a cardio fix with far less impact than running. 

I started doing one of my all time favourite classes BodyAttack again, although initially I marched instead of jogging and I did slow, body-weight lunges instead of the plyometric kind. I even returned to running, but with extreme caution. I would alternate between jogging and walking, and slowly increased the distance I ran. My first non-stop, one-kilometre jog felt like a bigger achievement than the 12K City to Surf I’d done two years prior. My boyfriend was extremely patient and supportive throughout this time, and I recall how happy I was when we ran 4K non-stop together (of course, he could’ve run much further). Little by little, I slowly returned to where I’d been been when I was forced to stop exercising. It probably took me around 18 months to fully recover from my injury, whereby I could comfortably run 7K – although this probably would’ve been quicker if I could’ve afforded more coaching. 

Ongoing management

Six years on, I still see my physio every couple of months – not because I’m in pain, but to prevent it. I’ve fully returned to my fitness routine and feel even stronger than before. I lift heavier weights, incorporate functional training like CXWorx, and I do a lot more yoga to loosen my muscles – especially my hips. I force myself to rest one day a week (even though I still don’t usually want to). I still hate walking downstairs as this one of the main triggers of pain when I had my injury. This is still true of recent hiking trips in Italy and China, when despite the exertion, I preferred going upstairs! 

New mindset

I still push myself physically almost daily but the difference is I no longer work through pain. If I set off for a 10K run and feel a tinge in my knee at 6K, I’ll stretch, try again, but stop if the pain persists. Particularly if I’m tired, my form slackens and my IT band inevitably gets a little tight. I massage it, stretch it and most importantly – I don’t push it. I’ve accepted there’ll be times in my life where I won’t be in peak form (illness, holidays or shiftwork) and that’s okay.

The lessons learnt from my injury will be particularly relevant in about two months’ time when I have surgery on my little finger. I’m told recovery should only take two weeks – and while the prospect of a fortnight without the gym would’ve previously been petrifying, I now know to focus on the movements I can do and show my body some sympathy. My attitude now days? When I’m at my best, I’ll give my best – and when I’m not, I’ll give it what I’ve got.

QUESTION: What did you do to manage an injury?

Your First CXWorx Class

When I first heard there was an intense 30 minute abs class coming to my gym, I was excited! I’m always looking for ways to work out more efficiently and who doesn’t aspire to have a six-pack? I took my first CXWorx class in 2012 and while it was extremely challenging, I loved it. Usually just called ‘CX,’ it was the latest offering from fitness juggernaut Les Mills promising increased core strength, a toned butt, legs and abs, and as a nice sweetener – better posture.

I kept going back and after just one month, I noticed how much stronger my core was. I could plank for longer, do bicycle crunches with confidence, and also built my lower abdominal strength. While I’m yet to get that six-pack, I have definition in my abs that I entirely credit to CXWorx (in conjunction with a good diet). Five years on – I still love CX! I usually do two classes a week, mostly after RPM or BodyPump. Nothing feels as good as strong abs. Bonus? You can do it on your lunch break! 

Class Overview

CXWorx involves six tracks, each about five minutes. As with all Les Mills classes, there are four new workouts each year called ‘releases.’ Instructors will typically do the new release for a month before mixing new and old tracks. You’ll find a mix of pop, hip hop and dance cover music including my favourites PNAU’s Chameleon, David Guetta’s Titanium and DJ Snack & Lil Jon’s Turn Down for What. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each track: 

  • Track 1: Warm up – crunches, bicycle crunches and some glute bridges.
  • Track 2: Abs – The hardest track! A combination of planks and crunches, alternating between the two for a few rounds. There are variations of each exercise such as walking planks, planking while tapping or raising one leg, C crunches, and leg drops. See terminology below. 
  • Track 3: Back/spine – you’ll be on your feet using the resistance band and/ or weights, likely doing regular or side lunges with arms raised, woodchoppers and squats. 
  • Track 4: Glutes – One of my favourite tracks because you’ll 100% feel your butt working! You’ll again likely use a resistance band to do lunges, squats, single-leg squats and even just walking/tapping your foot with the band. Expect some glute bridges too. 
  • Track 5: Obliques – in my opinion, the second hardest track. Moves include mountain climbers, oblique crunches, side hovers, rotating hovers and bicycle crunches.
  • Track 6: Posture/cool down – this track typically has a Pilates vibe: swimming on your stomach, back extensions and glute bridges, but also potentially some upper back and shoulder work with the resistance band such as lat pull downs or seated rows. A quick stretch at the end and you’re done! 

It’s worth noting CXWorx is not recommended if you’re pregnant, and you should also avoid doing weight training afterwards as your core will be fatigued. But cardio or yoga is fine! 

Before you leave home

CXWorx is great because you don’t have to prepare a thing. Put on your active gear, grab a water bottle and a towel and you’re set! Ladies, you’ll likely be planking for an extended period so skip low-cut tops and sport bras unless you want to blind your neighbour. I also try to avoid wearing shorts to CX as your groin area can feel exposed at times, for example, when crunching your top leg during a side hover. As for eating and drinking before class, remember it’s only 30 minutes. You’ll be using your ab muscles a lot but not jumping around – I can eat a raw ball or guzzle half a bottle of water before class if I need without any issues.

On arrival

As with every time you take a new class, get there 5-10 minutes early and introduce yourself to the instructor. They should point you to what equipment you need (more on that below) and also give tips for beginners during the class. You’ll be moving around a lot so keep your area clear by putting any belongings (apart from your towel and water) away in a locker or cubby, if provided. While it’s tempting to set up in the back row, aim for the middle so you can see the instructor and watch others around you if needed. If your gym has mirrors, even better! 

Equipment

The three main items you’ll need are a mat, resistance band and possibly weights. The resistance bands come in different levels (indicated by different colours), so it’s important to get the beginner band. If in doubt, just grab the colour most people in the class have. Weights are mostly used in CX to make crunches, squats, lunges and occasionally side planks more challenging. If you’re new to exercising or recovering from injury, you could skip them entirely. If you already do weight training, grab a few different ones. Instructors should say at the beginning of the class what weights they recommend.

Terminology

Here are some of the most common words you’ll hear in a CX class, although most will be familiar if you already exercise. You don’t need to memorise this list as the instructor will be demonstrating the moves as well. 

  • Bicycle crunch: alternating between left and right oblique crunches while simultaneously extending a single leg, similar to riding a bike. 
  • Crunch: the most basic ab move. YouTube if you need. 
  • C crunch: a basic crunch where you also raise your feet off the ground with knees bent, stopping directly above your hips – forming a “C” shape.
  • Glute bridge: lay on your back with your knees pointing up, but feet flat on the ground. Lift your butt off the ground by squeezing your glutes. 
  • Mountain climbers: like a plank, but with your arms extended under your shoulders. Bring one knee to the same elbow, return, and do the same with the other. Increase speed and repeat.
  • Plank/hover: with only your forearms and toes on the ground, brace your body like it’s a plank of wood. Your butt will try rise like a teepee as you fatigue, but keep it in line with your shoulders. You can plank with your knees down too for an easier option. 
  • Pulse: doing any exercise as a micro-move and faster. Common in crunches, glute raises and lunges. 

During the class

The warm up will give you a crash course in the basic moves, while track two is the hardest. I find track five quite challenging too, but I also really enjoy oblique workouts so look forward to it. Track six is a breeze in a Pilates kind of way. 

Remember to keep your core switched on at all times. When doing crunches, that means your lower back is pushing down on the ground. If it feels much harder exercising that way, you’re doing it right! Also watch for your butt sticking up when planking. I remind myself constantly to keep my shoulders and hips in line, and use mirrors to check if they’re available. 

The next day & beyond 

CX will make you hurt in the most weird and wonderful places! My lower abs and glutes usually feel it the most, and after a long break it can hurt to laugh the next day. Gentle stretching, yoga or a simple walk can help reduce some of the pain. But I guarantee after a month or so of classes, you’ll notice how much stronger your core is. You’ll plank for longer, use or increase weights and take the more advanced options. I particularly like CX for targetting glute muscles to support my running. At only 30 minutes, everyone has time to get a strong core!  

QUESTION: What’s your favourite part of the body to train? 

Five Beauty Essentials for Busy People

My daily goals are to eat well, work, exercise and get seven hours sleep. Sometimes it feels like mission impossible, and I’ll race from place to place leaving a tornado of clothing, kitchen utensils and gym gear in my wake. My boyfriend deserves a medal for all the times he’s cleaned our Vitamix after I’ve made a smoothie on the run. He’s also brought socks, hair ties and shirts to the gym when I’ve flown out the door without them. He’s amazing. 

Needless to say, I don’t spend a lot of time on beauty. I do the basics and cleanse, tone and moisturise each night. But I envy those women who always look glamorous, with styled hair, flawless makeup and manicured nails. I tell myself they probably don’t run 10K before work but if I’m honest, these creatures exist at the gym too. They’re catwalk ready at 6am while I’ve still got pillow creases on my face. I silently congratulate myself on at least brushing my teeth.

This post therefore isn’t about the latest beauty trends or techniques. Rather, it’s my lifesaving, time-saving beauty essentials that help me race from a workout to workplace or event and meet basic presentation standards. I’ve also included products that let you postpone beauty appointments or skip them entirely – saving you not only time, but money. Hooray! 

1. MAC Powder + Foundation

This two-in-one compact is unreal. The formula glides on smoothly, giving excellent matte coverage while being completely weightless and breathable. It takes just 30 seconds to apply a full face – ideal for getting ready at the gym or doing touch ups after a lunchtime or evening workout. I have dark pigmentation so I can’t wear this as my daily foundation, but it’s perfect for casual catch ups and travelling. M.A.C. Studio Fix would be adequate coverage for anyone with even tones. Bonus: it comes with a mirror and sponge, so it’s easy to apply on the go.

M.A.C. Studio Fix Powder + Foundation, AU $50 | website

 MAC: super portable powder & foundation formula
MAC: super portable powder & foundation formula

 MAC: A mirror and a sponge to easily apply on the run
MAC: A mirror and a sponge to easily apply on the run

2. OPI Nail Strengthener

I originally bought this product to strengthen my nails but I discovered it’s much more than that. OPI’s Nail Envy also acts as a clear polish that dries within seconds. Literally, your left hand will be dry before you’ve finished your right hand. With a quick file, this polish is glossy enough to instantly give your nails a groomed look. You’ll often find me doing an express manicure while waiting for my bus! Because it’s clear, it’s easy to apply in a rush and you won’t notice if any chips off – saving you maintenance time too. Yay!

OPI Nail Envy, AU $34.95 | website

3. Palmer’s bronze body lotion

Between the gym, my job and a blog, it’s a nightmare trying to book appointments. Skip the beautician and buy Palmer’s Natural Bronzer instead. It works in 6 to 8 hours, and while it’s designed for daily use it’s actually strong enough to use just once a week. I apply it before bed and wake up a shade or two darker. You can be a little more careless when applying this tanner too because the result isn’t as dramatic as others (although still wash your hands thoroughly afterwards!). The smell isn’t too strong either and the fornula feels really hydrating thanks to the cocoa butter. For special events, I apply three days in a row to get maximum glow. It’s so much cheaper and convenient than booking a spray tan. 

Palmer’s Natural Bronze Body Lotion, from AU $9.99 for 250ml | website

 Beauty essentials: basic but they'll save you time and possibly cash too
Beauty essentials: basic but they’ll save you time and possibly cash too

4. batiste Dry Shampoo

I was a few years late to the dry shampoo party but now I’m hooked. A few sprays, gently rub your scalp and you’ve scored another 12 hours of clean hair. It saves time on both washing your hair and drying and styling it. It’s perfect for a post-gym refresh or if you need to mask an oil slick before a class. I use Bastiste Dry Shampoo in Original scent and despite plenty of other brands on the market, I don’t see any need to switch. This is another product I swear by when travelling. 

Batiste Dry Shampoo, from AU $4.95 for 50ml | website

5. Dyson Supersonic 

 Dyson Supersonic: a daily time-saver, albeit at a cost 
Dyson Supersonic: a daily time-saver, albeit at a cost 

This is more of a beauty appliance than a product, but it’s a lifesaver. My old hairdryer blew up a year ago (sparks literally came out of the wall socket) so I invested in a Dyson. What appealed most was it being less noisy – I wanted to be able to blow dry my hair in the apartment without waking my boyfriend. It’s not exactly silent, but more akin to a fan with a low piercing noise like the Dyson vacuum cleaner. I can still talk to people while drying my hair and with the bathroom and bedroom door closed, you can barely hear it.

The Dyson hairdryer is also extremely efficient. I have short, fine hair and it’s completely dry within 3 to 5 minutes. I’d forgotten how fast it was until I used regular hairdryers while travelling earlier this year. The Dyson also avoids that burning hair smell, as it checks its air temperature 20 times a second. It’s not cheap, but this hairdryer saves me at least 10 minutes every day and in my books – that’s worth it. Especially with all the cash I’ve saved on spray tans!

Dyson Supersonic Hairdryer, AU $499 | website

QUESTION: What are your time-saving beauty tricks?

Your First RPM Class

My first indoor cycling experience was horrible. Lured by the promise of a toned butt and legs (and a 45 minute workout), I jumped on a bike in a dimly lit room and followed the teacher’s commands. The music boomed but I felt doomed. I was uncoordinated, even on a stationary machine, and I couldn’t keep up with anyone else in the class. It was years before I gave indoor cycling a second chance.

It was actually my boyfriend who motivated me to try cycling again. He occasionally did a class called RPM at our gym and couples who workout together, stay together right? This time the bike was much more comfortable and I found myself able to sprint and stand at the appropriate times. I did another class the following week and my endurance way much better. That was five years ago. Now, I do RPM once or twice a week depending on my schedule. I like the fact I can target my legs, the workout takes minimal coordination (great if you’re tired!) and it’s only 45 minutes.

Different gyms may offer similar cycling classes, such as Spin, Pace or “freestyle” riding where the instructor determines the workout. The general tips below still apply to these classes, although the format and fitness goals can differ. 

If you’re thinking of taking an RPM class, here are my tips for before, during and after your workout: 

Class Overview

RPM is part of the Les Mills group fitness offerings, which also includes BodyPump, BodyAttack and CXWorx. You’ll find the RPM format is similar around the world as the workout is pre-choreographed to music. You’ll be mostly listening to cover music, with anything from Fat Boy Slim, Rudimental and David Guetta to Justin Bieber. Different releases come out every quarter, but instructors will usually mix the tracks up after a month (and they usually take requests!).

The format is 45 minutes although you’ll find 30 minute RPM Express classes. Don’t assume they’re easier than the longer ones – the tracks are all high intensity with minimal recovery time. The track names below are unofficial, but used by most instructors I know: 

  • Track 1: Warm up
  • Track 2: Mixed terrain – you’ll be sitting and occasionally standing
  • Track 3: Hills – mostly standing, heavy resistance
  • Track 4: Sprint – (slight recovery first) mostly sitting, lower resistance but speed-focused
  • Track 5: HIIT (high intensity interval training) – bursts of energy, alternating between sitting and standing
  • Track 6: Sprint – (usually recovery first) mostly sitting, with sprints of up to 90 seconds
  • Track 7: Final track – often the most challenging, up to 7 minutes long with heavy resistance
  • Track 8: Cool down & stretch

Depending on whether you’re better at speed or strength, you’ll find different tracks more challenging. I push myself most in Tracks 5 and 7 as I love cranking the resistance up, while the sprint tracks are hard too but I find they’re more manageable because of the recovery time at the start. You can do a “smart start” and leave after Track 5 if you need – just tell the instructor.

Handlebars: you’ll put your hands in different positions for standing, sitting and tucking into “aero.”

Before you leave home

Try to have fresh legs for your first class, i.e. don’t attempt a personal best run beforehand or do squats. Because there’s minimal impact and jumping around, I find I can eat before class without feeling sick (unlike BodyAttack or a run). Don’t apply hand moisturiser, but you can do you legs if you need. 

What to wear

Fitted, stretchy pants that are at least knee-length are ideal. Long baggy shorts can restrict leg movement while short shorts might creep up when you stand up and sit down quickly. A shirt with some length at the back is good too, as you’ll be leaning over and may feel self-conscious if your lower back is exposed. Regular sneakers are fine too – you can upgrade to shoes with “cleats” (studs) later if you get hooked. 

Several gyms have UV lights in their cycle rooms, so anything white will glow while other gyms will just dim the lights. Occasionally, I’ve done a class with full lighting so make sure you check how sheer your pants are check before you leave home. As always, bring a towel and water bottle. Your towel will be over handlebars so bring a small one (rather than a bulky beach towel). 

On arrival

Aim to be at least five minutes early so the instructor can help you setup your bike. If you arrive late, you may find yourself setting up in the dark! Each gym will likely have different bikes so I allow extra time when I visit new venues too. 

If you have to set up your bike up yourself, start by adjusting the saddle to hip height. When you’re seated, spin your legs a few times. Your knees should be slightly bent when your feet are at the bottom. You can move the seat forward and back, along with the handlebars. If needed, you can adjust the bike between tracks throughout the class. 

Equipment

Obviously, there’s a bike. As mentioned, the models will differ between gyms but essentially you can adjust the following:

  • Seat height: aim for your hip
  • Handlebar height: personal preference, but lower will work your abs more
  • Handlebars horizontally: move closer or further from your body 
  • Seat horizontally: move closer or further from the handlebars
  • Resistance: a dial that dictates how hard or easy your legs spin
  • Brake: usually a push-style button, in case of emergency
  • Pedals: you may be able to secure your sneakers in the cage by tightening straps

 Stationary bike: use dials to adjust the seat and handlebars vertically and horizontally, along with the resistance.
Stationary bike: use dials to adjust the seat and handlebars vertically and horizontally, along with the resistance.

Terminology

Thankfully most of the lingo is self explanatory. Here are the the most common terms:

  • Aero: Short for aerodynamic position, simply lean down, move your hands to the “D” or upside down “V” shape in the middle the handlebars and bend your elbows so you’re “tucked” in.
  • Racing load: Instructors will refer to this a lot. It’s a resistance level you’ll find in the first or second track, where you can spin your legs with moderate pressure. It should be slightly challenging but manageable. 
  • Resistance (also load, gear): Make the workout easier or harder by adding or reducing resistance.
  • Ride easy: A time to catch your breath but don’t “free spin”. 
  • Seated climb: Sit in the seat with resistance cranked so it feels like you’re cycling uphill.
  • Sprint: Spin your legs as fast as you can with “racing load,” i.e. keep some pressure. 
  • Stand: Turn the resistance up and stand while keeping your hands on the handlebar. 

during the workout

Drink water. Adjust your seat or handlebar position between tracks if you’re uncomfortable or if your lower back hurts. Watch how fast or slow others are spinning their legs as a guide, and listen to cues about adding or reducing resistance. Be sure to sit up and stretch your upper body by putting your hands behind the saddle a few times too (one of my favourite stretches!). 

The next day & beyond

You’ll probably have jelly legs when you get off the bike, and you may feel stiff or wobbly as you walk out the gym. That’s normal. I guarantee you will have a sore crotch the next day, and you might even feel like it’s bruised. Rest assured, the pain will subside and over time your groin will get used to cycling. If you’re really struggling, you can buy padded pants for future class. Once, I was in such agony when returning from an extended holiday that I had to put a towel over the seat for cushioning. 

Like every workout, you’ll get more comfortable over time as you become familiar with the moves and learn to push your limits. I love seeing how heavy I can take the resistance in climbing tracks and challenging my legs to get stronger. It’s also given me the confidence to try a triathlon one day, although I’ll need to practise swimming first! Les Mills recommends doing two to three classes per week for best results. 

QUESTION: Do you prefer indoor or outdoor cycling? 

The Dangers of Overtraining

Whether you hit the gym, play sports, dance or run, exercise a good thing. But is it possible to do too much? Absolutely. I’m not talking about a spontaneous 10K charity run or being sore after an extra long bike ride. Rather, I’m focusing on continuously exercising too much over a long time period. While there’s no consensus on the exact definition of overtraining, it generally refers to increased exercise with inadequate rest. It can be with or without psychological symptoms. 

I shared last week How I Lost 30kg, essentially by moving more, drinking less alcohol and making healthier food choices. But after five years of progress, my weight loss had stalled at 66kg (145 lbs). I was determined to get below 65kg. I drew a table with the next six months on it and wrote my fortnightly weight loss targets next to each one so I could track my progress. I wanted to be 60kg by Christmas. Where did I get the numbers and timeline from? Just my head. But I was completely committed. 

Increased Exercise

Going to the gym had helped me lose weight up to this point, so I increased how much I was exercising. My weekly routine became:

  • Monday: Body Attack & BodyPump (60 mins cardio, 60 mins weights)
  • Tuesday: BodyCombat & BodyBalance (60 mins boxing, 60 mins stretching)
  • Wednesday: Run (up to 10km)
  • Thursday: Yoga (60 minutes – my “rest” day)
  • Friday: BodyAttack (60 mins cardio)
  • Saturday: BodyPump & BodyBalance (60 mins weights, 60 mins stretching)
  • Sunday: BodyCombat (60 mins boxing) or run (up to 10km)

I realise there are plenty of fitness enthusiasts who workout 10 hours or more each week. The difference was my attitude towards exercise. If I had an unavoidable commitment one night such as a birthday or a late meeting, I believed I “owed” myself a workout and had to make it up the next day. I had strict weekly quotas for each class (BodyAttack x2, Body Pump x2 and so on) and if I couldn’t reach my target because of events or bad weather, I felt like the week had been a failure. The irony is I wasn’t satisfied even when I did meet my goals – I told myself I could do more exercise, run further or lift heavier weights and so I adjusted my targets accordingly. I was never happy. 

Inadequate recovery

I knew it was important to rest, so I did yoga once a week. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it much. I wanted to work my abs, sweat and feel like I’d had a workout. So I pushed myself, challenging my legs during warrior poses and focusing on upper body strength during sun salutations. While I did BodyBalance as well as yoga, I didn’t do any stretching specifically for running. This would haunt me later. 

Notably, the biggest problem with my exercise regime was I didn’t have a true rest day. I was occasionally hungover on a Sunday so I’d skip that class or drag myself to a later session. It was years before I learnt exercise causes micro-tears in your muscles, and they can’t repair and grow unless you rest. 

restricting food

What I recall most about this time was how hungry I was. I didn’t count calories but I did restrict my intake of carbohydrates like bread, rice and potatoes. I had oats for breakfast as my naturopath had recommended, a vegetable soup or salad for lunch and dinner was usually a stir-fry or curry (without rice). I snacked on fruit or plain crackers and I only ate bread on weekends, but eventually I cut that out too. Going low-carb wasn’t based on any science, but a false instinct gained from magazines, the media, and chatting with colleagues. 

The truth was I didn’t know much about nutrition. I assumed I got enough protein from soy milk, tofu, beans and nuts. In hindsight, I was probably getting less than 50 grams a day – far below the recommended protein intake for moderate intensity exercise. I ate lots of big salads that were full of vegetables, vitamins and nutrients, but they didn’t give me enough energy (calories) to fuel my workouts. 

limiting Social Activities

Working full-time and spending an hour or two at gym every day didn’t leave much time for socialising. I started to get angry when I received a last minute dinner or weekend brunch invitation, especially if it conflicted with a gym class. I’d often say no, turn up late, or reluctantly attend if it was a special occasion like a birthday. But I’d make up for my skipped workout by exercising twice as much the next day. 

I was in a relationship at this time too, and my boyfriend and I would often meet friends for drinks on a Sunday afternoon. I loved seeing everyone and chatting over a wine or beer, but over time these catch ups became a dilemma. I knew the alcohol was undoing my gym work (even just a glass or two) but I didn’t want to seem anti-social by ordering water or soft drinks. I also didn’t want to be the person in the group who skipped dinner, despite wanting a healthy meal at home over a pub meal. My weight loss goals had begun to seriously impact how much I enjoyed seeing friends.  

Skipping Rest Day

After a few months of increased exercise and restricting certain foods, I finally got my weight below 65kg. I was ecstatic. The weight loss assured me my methods were working, and that I’d lose even more weight if I intensified my workouts. I wanted to reach 60kg, telling myself that’d be “the perfect weight” and it’d be the “final goal” in my weight loss journey. I stopped doing yoga on Thursdays and replaced it with cardio. I further restricted what I ate, scrutinising everything that went into my body. 

Because I could weigh myself, count gym classes and tally up consecutive days of exercise, I kept trying to beat my previous records. I would see how many days in a row I could workout, each week trying to go longer without a rest day than the week before. My record was 13 days. Often, it was a party or special occasion that prompted a rest day, because I was hungover. Although I was drinking far less than I used to, alcohol seemed to be the exception in my strict food regime.

My body once hurt so much after eight days of straight workouts that I heeded the ‘listen to your body’ message. I slept in until 9am on a Sunday and it was glorious. But then I felt guilty. I could’ve gone to the gym. I didn’t really need the rest. I was going to gain weight. My sister called and invited me to brunch, but I told her “I hadn’t earnt it”. I sat in bed and cried until lunchtime. 

Restless Legs Syndrome

It’s one thing to have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but another to wince each time you sit down, raise your arm or simply walk. I was exercising so much, my body constantly ached. Sometimes it was my quads or glutes, other times it was my shoulders. My hips were extremely tight from running.

I also craved the ache in my muscles and took it as a positive sign I was pushing myself. But I became worried when I started waking up during the night with my legs shaking. It happened a few times and I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. I didn’t see a doctor as it wasn’t painful, but my symptoms most closely matched “restless legs syndrome.” My quality of sleep was significantly affected because of it. 

Illness

With inadequate nutrition and rest, it’s little surprise I got sick. I had a cold for a month, I started having naps on the weekend, and I developed a painful stomach virus where even tomatoes made my tummy turn to knots. I had to take time off work and I was in immense pain anytime I ate anything other than toast or tea. I lay on the couch in tears one afternoon with my stomach twisting and wringing. 

I didn’t see a doctor as by chance, I had an annual check up booked with my naturopath. He identified I had an iron deficiency. As a female in my late 20s, who was vegetarian and exercising vigorously, I was in three high-risk groups. An iron deficiency explained why I’d been so sick and so tired. I began taking iron supplements which also had Vitamin B12 (a vitamin your body can’t make, so it needs to be obtained through animal sources, like meat or eggs, or fortified foods). Deficiency in Vitamin B12 can also lead to mood swings, which I thought explained my frequent crying. Soon after taking supplements, I stopped napping and my cold and stomach illness passed. It was a temporary improvement.

Ignoring injury 

I’d had some minor injuries from exercising like a rolled ankle, but I’d managed to escape anything serious. However, running had started to get tough. The outside of my right leg (iliotibial or “IT band”) would get really tight, and I’d have to stop and stretch before continuing. The problem didn’t go away and within a few weeks, my right knee started to hurt as well. I refused to get medical help, despite suggestions from friends and family. I was too afraid a doctor would tell me to stop exercising. 

I had to modify how I ran to manage the pain and tightness, and eventually I reduced my distance. Soon, BodyAttack became too painful and I stopped doing BodyCombat as well. I replaced the classes with lower impact indoor cycling classes. My running distance dropped from 10K to 7K, then 5K. But the reduction in exercise over a few wasn’t enough to let my injury heal. I reluctantly reduced the intensity of all my workouts, but kept doing as many classes as I could. 

breaking point

It was 2012 and I weighed 63kg. I should’ve been overjoyed as I was just 3kg (6.5 lbs) from my target weight. But my right leg felt like there was a crank between my knee and hip, growing ever tighter. I was going to the gym everyday but doing the lowest impact option possible. On one Saturday morning during BodyBalance, pain surged through my right knee and my eyes watered. I knew I was in trouble. 

I was about to leave for a trip to New York, so I decided to get help when I returned. I spent three glorious weeks with friends in my favourite place on earth, relaxing, shopping, eating, and doing light weights and yoga. It was wonderful! On one of my last days in NYC, I attempted a run believing I’d given my body “a break.” I was staying in Gramercy, and I jogged through Stuyvesant Town and along FDR Drive. But I couldn’t even hit 3K before pain struck through my knee one more. I limped back. I was defeated. 

I returned to Australia and finally made an appointment with a physiotherapist. I was so upset, and petrified an enforced rest period would result in weight gain. But part of me was also relieved that I didn’t have to keep pushing myself anymore. The funny thing is, the pressure was only coming from myself.

In coming weeks, I’ll share how I overcame my injury and found balance between working out and living. Sign up to my weekly newsletter to get notified when it’s posted.

QUESTION: When have you had too much of a good thing?

How I Lost 30kg

If you look at me in the street, you’ll see a 30-something year old blonde who’s around 163 centimetres tall (5′ 3″) and average build. I don’t look athletic, I’m not slim and my skin doesn’t glow despite regular exercise and a good diet. 

What most people don’t know is that in my 20s, I lost one-third of my body weight or about 30 kilograms (66 pounds). I was a chubby baby who grew into a healthy but chubby child, so it was little surprise I became an overweight teenager. It’s not that I ate badly – my mum always cooked healthy dinners for my sisters and I, and we only had junk food or take away on special occasions like birthdays. I just had a good appetite and I didn’t like exercise.

When I was in high school, I tried skipping lunch to lose weight. I became so hungry I felt nauseous, and the sense of guilt at throwing away my sandwiches was terrible. Another time I tried to make myself vomit like I’d read in magazines but it didn’t work. I was outgoing and had lots of friends, but I was self-conscious anytime there was a swimming carnival or pool party. I loved shopping, but I only wore dresses or skirts because regular jeans didn’t fit me. The boys at school didn’t talk to me either.

my heaviest weight

 2007: I'd lost some weight but still loved partying.
2007: I’d lost some weight but still loved partying.

I went backpacking for a year when I was 18 and the lifestyle of drinking beer, eating pasta and fast food exacerbated my weight. By the time I was 20, I weighed 93kg (205 lbs) and wore size 20 jeans. I had stretch marks on my stomach, sides and thighs and my skin was terrible too. I knew I was overweight but it was the sight of my ankles in the mirror one day that prompted a change. It was 2006 but I still vividly recall the moment I decided to take charge of my health.

Here’s my weight loss journey: 

increase activity

The first thing I did was to start walking. I didn’t have any sneakers so I just walked in casual pants and skate shoes. I was so self-conscious, I would walk around the block at night so less people would see me. But it was a start. I only walked for 30 minutes or so and used the time to call family or friends. It was an easy change to incorporate into my day and I always felt good afterwards.

limiting alcohol

I realised my backpacking habit of drinking beer almost daily wasn’t the best for my health. I liked having a drink while cooking dinner and I often had a second one with my meal. A beer felt like a good reward after a busy day at university, work or doing assignments. I decided to replace my drink with a diet, non-alcoholic ginger beer that came in a similar shaped bottle. I realised my habit had little to do with beer itself, but more about having something cold to drink while cooking. Over time, I phased out my weeknight dinnertime drink routine. Just by walking and reducing alcohol, my clothes got a little baggy and people started commenting that I’d lost weight.

regular exercise

I’d made some small lifestyle changes and felt an improvement, but the most profound change was joining a gym. A franchise gym had a stall at a university Open Day and I approached a staff member for some information. They didn’t take me very seriously, probably assuming an overweight person wasn’t serious about their health. But they took my phone number and arranged for someone to call me. 

I toured the gym a few weeks later and took a complimentary class. The workout I tried was BodyBalance, which is a mix of tai chi, yoga and Pilates. I immediately loved it, except for the sun salutation routines which were very challenging. I told a friend I almost felt high after the class! I was still reluctant to sign a contract as it was for 12 months, around $30 a fortnight and I was on a tight student budget. I asked my mum for her advice and she told me you can’t put a price on your health. 

I joined the gym and never looked back. I kept doing BodyBalance before exploring other classes like the weights focused BodyPump, and boxing class BodyCombat. I stayed in the back row and was terribly unfit, but determined. The group fitness format worked for me as there were regular, scheduled classes and you could have the expertise of a qualified professional without the personal trainer price tag. I also realised I didn’t hate exercise, I just disliked team sports. A big milestone was buying my first pair of sneakers.

vegetarian

After a year of regular exercise, I’d lost around 8kg or nearly 10% of my body weight. My clothes were looser and I loved the feeling of buying new ones in smaller sizes. Friends and family were so supportive and positive about my weight loss, it was a huge confidence boost. I still partied and drank a lot, but exercising a couple of times a week made a noticeable difference. 

I decided to go vegetarian, not to lose weight but for taste preferences. I already disliked chicken and pork, and when travelling I often went vegetarian to avoid mistakingly eating them. A vegetarian diet alone isn’t the answer to weight loss, however it can make you lose weight if you cut out convenience foods like burgers and pastries and instead increase your fruit and vegetable intake. For me, switching to a vegetarian diet sparked the beginning of my interest in health and nutrition. 

professional advice

After two years, my fitness levels had drastically improved. I was going to the gym three times a week and doing a mix of cardio, weights and flexibility training. My skin had less breakouts, and I felt stronger and much more confident. I hadn’t seen a doctor since a compulsory medical check up for travelling a few years earlier, so I decided to visit a naturopath a friend had recommended.

I was still overweight so I was nervous about seeing a health professional. However, my naturopath at Essential Health was welcoming, positive and provided lots of helpful nutrition tips. He suggested switching my regular breakfast of toast or a bagel to rolled oats, eating a square of 85% dark chocolate each day for iron and antioxidants, and gave me recipes for healthy snacks like zucchini fritters. I’d been raised in the low-fat diet era where nuts were forbidden, but my naturopath told me about the health benefits of nuts and seeds. He did some tests, including body composition analysis and a blood test. I got a print out of all the data and was fascinated by the numbers. I could track my progress! 

improving diet

Visiting a naturopath changed how I thought about food. It was 2008, and trends like #cleaneating and #rawdesserts weren’t around (neither was Instagram, in fact the first iPhone had only been released a year earlier). I was studying and working a few jobs, often finishing at midnight or later. I occasionally grabbed cheap takeaway when I finished late, but this became less and less as I discovered more meals on the go that didn’t need a refrigerator. I baked healthy banana muffins, often carried a small tin of baked beans and sometimes I just made a peanut butter sandwich. I made my own budget trail mix with sunflower seeds and raisins too. Eventually fast food was gone from my diet. I also cut out the teaspoon of sugar I’d been putting in tea each morning. I didn’t miss it.

running

By now, it was 2009 and I’d lost around 20kg (44 lbs) to weigh 72kg (158 lbs). The difference was extraordinary. I could buy regular sized clothes, and I’d often try something on to realise I could wear the next size down. At one point, I took a pile of my old clothes to a local alterations store and asked them to take everything in. They did the whole lot for $100. I finally felt normal, and it felt so good – especially when I went out to bars and clubs. But I wasn’t done yet. 

The more exercise I did, the more energy it gave me. I could lift heavier weights, kick higher and jog for longer. I tried some new classes to keep challenging myself. I tried a dance class and hated it. But I tried BodyAttack and loved it! Jumping jacks, sprints, grapevines, lunges and burpees – it was extremely difficult but I liked the new challenge. Around this time I started running too. You can read more in my post Learn to Run, but essentially I began by walking and jogging for small intervals before working up to a 3.5km (2.17mi) run. I now do 10K (6mi) weekly. 

 2006 to 2014: the difference between more than 90kg and approaching 60kg. 
2006 to 2014: the difference between more than 90kg and approaching 60kg. 

living in the USA

By the time I moved to the USA to study in 2010, exercise was a non-negotiable part of my life. I weighed just under 70kg (154 lbs) and was incredibly proud of what I’d achieved. My college had a mandatory meal plan for international students and I was determined not to sabotage my weight loss. The dining hall was surprisingly healthy, with plenty of salads, fruit and vegetables and a dedicated vegan section, and all foods had nutrition information next to them. I still loved bagels, but limited them to twice a week. 

I joined the college gym and made friends through the group fitness classes. I even signed up to do a 5K run for Thanksgiving, the longest distance I’d ever attempted! The school also had a dietician who I visited each month to track my progress. Incredibly, I lost weight while living in the USA despite eating pumpkin pie, a lot of Mexican food and partying hard. 

returning home

I returned to Australia in 2011 weighing 66kg (145 lbs). The fact I can remember this number six years on shows how seriously I was taking my weight loss. I should have been proud but I was determined to get below 65kg. What followed in was injury, isolation and illness. You can read the next post here: The Dangers of Overtraining

 2015: Loving cycling through New York City's Central Park.
2015: Loving cycling through New York City’s Central Park.

me today

For now, I’m a self-confessed gym junkie. Exercise is a crucial part of my life and I run, cycle, do weights, BodyAttack or yoga six days a week. I don’t have a car so I also walk at least 3km (1.8mi) daily. I love that I can run for the bus without losing my breath. 

My weight hovers around 60kg but it quickly creeps up if I don’t watch what I eat. I still love food, but I have wholegrains like rolled oats for breakfast, big salads or soups for lunch and my dinner is usually a stir fry, curry or healthy Mexican. I love making lasagne with layers of roasted eggplant and zucchini. It’s all about the vegetables! Take away and dining out is usually Japanese, Thai or Indian, and on the rare occasion I feel like sweets – it’s homemade healthy cookies, apple pie, chocolate pudding or luscious fresh fruit like berries or pineapple. I’m still a peanut butter addict and I continue to eat a square of dark chocolate every day. 

There are no shortcuts in losing weight. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or make drastic changes, but it does take discipline, commitment and a lot of work. For me, losing weight has given me the freedom to go to the beach or a pool party without feeling self-conscious. Everything from walking uphill to carrying groceries is so much easier. I didn’t realise what a burden my excess weight was until it was gone.

My weight loss journey isn’t over as I want to get leaner, but that means losing body fat and increasing muscle mass rather than reducing overall body weight. I also want to start trail running, do a half marathon and I’m tempted to try a triathlon too, although I haven’t swum laps since school! Good health doesn’t have an age limit and I’m proud to enter my 30s knowing I’m doing all I can for a healthy lifetime ahead.

QUESTION: What health or fitness achievement are you most proud of?

Your First BodyPump Class

A 100th birthday is a rare and special occasion. New Zealand fitness giant Les Mills recently celebrated 100 BodyPump releases, which translates to 20 years of weights, sweat and, in the early days at least, Lycra. In an era where fitness crazes come and go, it’s quite an achievement. 

Pump, as it’s more commonly known, is one of the first group fitness classes I tried. It was my first time using weights and I instantly liked how strong I felt. Combined with moves like squats, lunges and push ups, it was the start of my fitness transformation. Nearly a decade on, I’m leaner, lifting more and still loving it. Depending on my schedule, I try do two to three Pump classes a week.

Weight training (also called resistance or strength training) is great for strengthening and toning muscles. It helps protect your joints from injury and aids weight management, as when you gain more muscle your body burns more calories when resting. Weight training improves bone density, increases stamina and I find it boosts my self esteem too. If you’re worried Pump will turn you into The Hulk – don’t be. The focus is on lots of repetitions with light weights, rather than short sets of heavy weights, to build lean muscle mass. 

Class Overview

Have an extra weight or two to use as free or “hand” weights.

BodyPump runs for 60 minutes, although there are 45 and 30 minute express versions too. You’ll do a warm up, then eight tracks of about five minutes each focussing on a specific muscle group before a cool down. The music is a mix of cover songs, usually pop, dance, some R&B and rock.

The tracks (in order) are squats, chest, back (clean and press), triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders and abs. Most of the work happens in the first half where you’ll work bigger muscle groups but at the three quarter mark, the lunges track is never easy!

Les Mills is built on pre-choreographed workouts and they’re taught worldwide. This means you can go to any gym offering BodyPump while the music and moves will differ slightly, the workout is essentially the same. You make it harder by increasing your weights and improving your technique, such as going lower in squats, engaging your core in crunches and so on. It’s great for anyone with injuries, as it’s low impact and you can modify the weights to suit your ability.

1. Before you leave home

This could well be a rule for every workout, but do NOT moisturise your hands! You’ll be lifting your arms a lot too, so have a peek at your underarms. There’s no need for any special food or hydration before a class unless that’s part of your routine. Pump is one of the few workouts I can actually eat up to 30 minutes beforehand and be okay (some fruit or crackers, not a burger!).

2. What to wear

The dress code is pretty relaxed. Pants are good if you’re self-conscious, as you’ll probably do wide-legged squats and crunches. My Pump shorts debut was unintentional on a laundry day years ago, and seeing my pale, unshaved thighs in the mirror for the entire five minute squat track was confronting. But I’m fine with shorts now! Wear sneakers but know that you won’t be jumping or running. Some people wear gloves for Pump, but it’s not necessary for your first class. 

3. On arrival

BodyPump is offered at thousands of gyms. If you already belong to a club, great! If you’re joining a friend or visiting the gym on a casual pass, allow 10 minutes for paperwork and putting your bag in a locker if you need.

Pump involves a bit of set up, so give yourself five minutes for this too. Start by introducing yourself to the instructor, who should give you some tips and point you to a bar, weights and step. If you’re running late or the instructor isn’t there, grab what people in the front rows have (because they’re the hardcore Pumpers). If you’ve never done weights, you can do an entire class with just the smallest plates. If you’re familiar with weight training, I’d suggest keeping it light as well because you’ll be doing a LOT of reps. 

Where should you set up? While it’s tempting to hide in the back row, you’ll struggle to see the instructor on stage and more importantly, it’s harder for them to see you. Again, stand behind those fit looking people in the front rows. 

4. Equipment

As mentioned, there’s a bit of gear in Pump. You’ll need:

  • A bar: with clips, to keep the weight plates on. The bars aren’t heavy, but you can use them without weights if needed too. 
  • Step/risers: you’ll lay on this for the chest track, possibly triceps and abs.
  • Weights: get a few different sized pairs, as you’ll likely used loose plates in your hands during triceps, shoulders and possible abs. 
  • Mat: put this on top of your step to lay on during the chest track, otherwise it’s handy for push ups on your knees or crunches. 

Like any workout, bring a towel and water bottle. You can find my favourites in My Must-Have Gym Gear

 My favourite gym gear: a Camelbak waterbottle, Lululemon hat, backpack & towel and a foam roller.
My favourite gym gear: a Camelbak waterbottle, Lululemon hat, backpack & towel and a foam roller.

5. Terminology

A new workout, a new language right? Here are some common phrases you’ll hear during a class. Remember to watch your instructor to get visual cues as well.

  • New release: this refers to a fresh quarterly mix from Les Mills. It’s a great time to start Pump as everyone else will be learning it too. 
  • “Mixing”: the instructor is using old and new tracks after teaching the new release for a month. 
  • There’s a whole dialect around timing, which is eight counts. Specifically:
    • Slow: lower the weight for four counts, then up for four counts.
    • 2 and 2: two counts down, two counts up.
    • Singles: one count each direction. 
    • Bottom-half: Single time as above, but reduced range. Think of doing a squat, only coming half way up and then doing another squat. Yes. ouch. 
    • Pulse/”double time”: Fast, intense, micro moves. Common in push-ups, biceps curls and triceps.

There’s lots of lingo around moves too, such as planks, hovers, kickbacks, flies, dips and power presses. Don’t worry about it for now. Watch the instructor and you’ll be fluent in no time! 

6. The day after Pump & beyond

 BodyPump: 1.25kg, 2.5kg & 5kg weights.
BodyPump: 1.25kg, 2.5kg & 5kg weights.

You WILL be sore. It might be your butt, maybe it’ll be your triceps. You might ache everywhere. The most common “OMG PUMP!” moment is when you sit down to go to the bathroom in the morning. Even if I’m away from Pump for a month because I’ve been travelling, I still feel that first class back! Go for a walk, stretch and you’ll survive. 

If you enjoyed Pump, go back that same week. It’ll be much easier as you’ll know what to expect and you can focus on technique, before gradually increasing your weights. You want to reach the end of each track feeling like one more rep would be impossible. Fatiguing those muscles makes them grow baby! 

Les Mills recommends doing no more than two to three Pump classes a week, which I think is a realistic target. Any more than that and the music and workouts could become repetitive. I love following Pump with yoga afterwards – the strength and stretch combination is heavenly! Once you’ve been doing Pump a few times each week for a month or so, give yourself a high five. You’re a Pumper! Increase those weights, buy those gloves if you want and go claim your place in the front row.

QUESTION: Do you prefer freestyle workouts or pre-choreographed ones? 

Your First Yoga Class

We’ve all been the new kid at school. You don’t know anyone, the room is unfamiliar and it’s just plain awkward. I can’t rewind the clock and be your classroom buddy, but I can spare you the terror of your first day at a fitness class. This is a post I’ll do on various classes over coming months, and I’m happy to take all requests and suggestions! 

I’m starting with yoga because it’s something everyone can benefit from and it’s widely available. I practice once or twice a week to stretch my body and relax my mind. There’s nothing holding a one-legged balance pose for 60 seconds to make you be in the moment! I used to treat yoga as a work out and push myself as far as physically I could, but I’ve changed my goals lately to identifying areas of tension and trying to release them. Yoga is also my go-to exercise on holidays, as it’s a perfect way to lengthen my body after a long-haul flight. Joining a class overseas is a unique and fun experience too! Am I selling it?

Class Overview

Most yoga classes are 60 minutes, with dimmed lighting and wooden floors. You’ll likely start laying down before warming up with sun salutations (see terminology below), various poses, and ending with five to 10 minutes of ‘shavasna’ (meditation). There are many styles of yoga, which may or may not be specified ahead of time. Gyms tend to have generic yoga which is then determined by the instructor. The main styles are:

 Yoga: do the 'sheer' test and you'll only expose your toes.
Yoga: do the ‘sheer’ test and you’ll only expose your toes.

  • Ashtanga & Vinyasa: the most vigorous styles. Prepare to get hot and sweaty, with faster moving sequences. 
  • Hatha: this refers to the physical practice of yoga (rather than mental) but typically indicates a classical, more gentle approach.
  • Yin & Restorative: these styles are becoming increasingly popular as people seek deep muscular release and mindfulness. Poses are held for longer, with emphasis on stretching and relaxation. 
  • Bikram: yoga with the heat cranked. 

In some classes, your teacher will perform ‘adjustments’ and gently guide you into place. If you’re not comfortable with that, just let them know. 

Ready to take a class? Here are my tips!

1. Before You Leave Home

DO NOT MOISTURISE. You need to grip the mat, not have a personal slip and slide! I’ve used a 24 hour moisturiser in the morning and still had my feet slide down my legs in an evening class. 

Speaking of feet, yoga is a barefoot activity. There’s no need to get a pedicure but you may be less self conscious if your toenails aren’t setting Guinness World Records for length. If you’re prone to foot odour, bring some talcum powder. Do NOT try and hide in socks. You’ll probably slide and hurt yourself, and a good yoga instructor will ask you to remove them anyway. 

It’s best not to eat at least an hour before class, although I find I can have a raw ball 30 minutes prior without any problems if I’m starving. Bring water and a towel if you’re inclined to get sweaty.

2. What to Wear

Stretchy but fitted clothing is best. You can do yoga in a t-shirt and leggings, but remember you’ll be bending over and a loose shirt will slide right over your head. It’s easily solved by tucking your shirt in, unless you wear a cropped shirt like I did once on a laundry day. Never, never again. 

I recommend doing the ‘sheer’ test before leaving home. Put on your yoga pants, stand with your bottom to a mirror and bend over. Take a look behind you – if you can’t see anything, neither will anyone else in your class. Consider bringing an extra layer for meditation when your body temperature will cool right down. 

Half the reason I love yoga is because I can wear flip-flops to the gym! 

3. On arrival

Whether you do yoga at a studio, beachside or at the gym, chances are you’ll do some paperwork. Arrive 10 minutes early so you have time to put your belongings away and set up/collect your mat. Let the instructor know this is your first class and advise of any injuries or pregnancies, so they can give extra tips and modify any poses. Get a spot somewhere in the middle. Advanced yogis will probably be in the front row so you can follow them, while being close enough to see the instructor. 

 Yoga on holidays: The view when practicing on our balcony in Mexico! 
Yoga on holidays: The view when practicing on our balcony in Mexico! 

4. Equipment

A yoga mat is essential but most places will let you borrow or rent one. If you want to buy a mat, they start from about $30 but I’d wait until you’ve done a few classes. That way, you’ll have a better idea of the thickness and length you prefer.   

Some teachers will offer blocks to assist with some poses, along with straps for stretching. Grab them at the start, and then you can decide during the class whether to use them. As I’ve mentioned, bring water and a towel if you’re doing the more vigorous styles.

5. Terminology

Originating in India, most yoga pose names are in Sanskrit. Don’t worry, I’m not fluent either! Many pose names have been adapted for Western practice. Here are the most common terms you’re likely to hear during your class: 

  • Downward dog: One of the foundation poses in yoga. Hands and feet on the mat at least one metre apart, with your bottom in the air like an upside down “V.” Over time, your heels will touch the ground. 
  • Child’s pose: a resting pose with knees and toes on your mat, chest on your thighs and arms stretched in front. A great option to do anytime during the class. 
  • Sun salutations: a flowing sequence involving downward dog, lunges, some planking, upward dog and mountain poses. Usually repeated at least four times (twice on each leg). 
  • Warrior poses: a set of strengthening poses, with Warrior 1 facing frontwards, Warrior 2 your chest and hips face the side, and Warrior 3 a bit like a one-legged aeroplane. 
  • Shavasana or “corpse pose”: meditation. The cool five minutes at the end where you lay down and relax your mind, letting your body absorb the work you’ve just done. 

6. The next day & beyond

Prepare for hamstring hell. Your wrists might be a little sore too. But mostly, you should feel stretched, peaceful and inspired to return! What did you enjoy most? Or what did your body respond to? Google hamstring stretches if you need to. Otherwise, give yourself a high five yogi!

To find a class near you, check out the Mind Body app. Or to get comfortable in your own home first, give Pocket Yoga a go. 

QUESTION: What do you love most about yoga? 

My Must Have Gym Gear

I was so nervous when I first joined a gym. I was a 20 year old university student and had heard horror stories about people being ripped off or stuck in contracts for years. Even just committing to 12 months of paying $25 a fortnight was daunting. I sought the advice of my mother (who was also a fitness instructor). She told me to read the fine print but otherwise believed any money you spend on your health is a good investment. She was right.

I’ve had my gym membership for about 10 years and now go about five to six times a week. I love group fitness classes and do a mix of Les Mills including BodyPump, BodyAttack, RPM, BodyBalance, CXWorx and GRIT. My gym also offers BootyBarre, yoga and Pilates without any surcharges, which is brilliant. If these names mean nothing to you, it’s okay! I’ll be posting about them another time.

Honestly, a basic workout doesn’t require much gear – clothes, shoes and ideally a towel. But a few extra accessories can make life a lot easier and your sweat session a lot more comfortable. The five items below are things I use almost every day and can absolutely attest to their quality, durability and functionality.

1.    Camelbak Water Bottle – $29.95

This is hands down the best water bottle I’ve ever owned. I have two 750ml Eddy bottles in purple (“Acai”) and light blue (“Rain”). One stays at work while I use the other for the gym and at home. Mine are two years old but they’re indestructible and really practical. I love these water bottles so much, I’ve given them to family members at Christmas. My boyfriend has too! Everyone has been equally impressed.

WHY I LOVE IT: Wide range of colours and sizes. Exceptionally durable. Lifetime warranty, which I used once when a lid started leaking. A replacement arrived within a week, no questions asked. More info http://camelbak.com.au/

2.    Lululemon – Fast Paced Run Visor $35

Never has a hat been so practical and so versatile. The wide elastic strap is so comfortable, it’s a miracle. The visor part fits my head perfectly, and it’s  broader than most so you get extra sun protection. I would own this hat in every colour if I could! Mine is at least a year old and I wear it almost daily on my 20 minute walk to the gym, as well as for my weekly 10K. Occasionally I wear it to the beach too.

WHY I LOVE IT: Exceptionally comfortable, thanks to the elastic band. Easy to tighten or loosen on the run (hello windy days). Machine washable. Top knot friendly. Check it out on the Lululemon website

3.    Lululemon – The (Small) Towel $25

I hate microfibre towels, largely because they were my sole drying companion during a six week camping trip in Africa.  But I made an exception when I saw one with a gorgeous print at Lululemon. It’s compact, super absorbent and machine washable. This towel is so light the corners can fly up if fans are blasting during your BodyPump class. But a weight plate fixes that. 

WHY I LOVE IT: Absolutely perfect for RPM/Spin classes, when you don’t want a big towel crowding your handlebars. Also my go-to towel for BodyAttack, as it’s a real sweat soaker. Full info here.

 Run All Day Backpack: fits sneakers, has pockets for everything and minimal bounce. 
Run All Day Backpack: fits sneakers, has pockets for everything and minimal bounce. 

4.    Lululemon – Run All Day Backpack $119

Yes, I’m obsessed with Lululemon. But their stuff is so good! I used to carry my towel and water to the gym, then I had a drawstring backpack. When that broke, I decided to upgrade. I’ve dreamed of running from my house to the beach with a bikini in tow and WOW, this is the backpack to do it! I only run quarter marathons (10K, ha) and hate being weighed down. This bag is really light and thanks to all the straps, cords and bungees, doesn’t bounce. 

Disclosure: my first Run All Day Backpack rubbed on my shirt and made it “pill” around my stomach and hips. Lululemon recommended a different shirt, and then replaced my backpack (no questions asked). I suggest a test run! My sister has bought this backpack with no issues. 

WHY I LOVE IT: So light. Plenty of pockets. Fits my body perfectly. Check it out on the Lululemon website

5.    Bodyworx Eva Foam Roller 12″ (30cm) – $33

No one likes a foam roller. But anything that can emulate a deep tissue massage, work out knots and be done in your lounge room is a win, right? Most gyms should have a foam roller, but I like having my own at home for post-run relief. I bought mine from Jim Kidd Sports about four years ago and it’s as hard and unforgiving as ever.

WHY I LOVE IT: I don’t. I hate foam rolling. But it’s essential to stop my IT Band from getting too tight. It’s not on the Jim Kidd website but a company called Dynamo Fitness is selling it. 

On my wish list…

I’m still on the hunt for a good armband for my iPhone that won’t slide down. I also love the idea of wireless headphones but haven’t done any research yet. Any suggestions? Please post below! And yes, gym clothes are important too. I’ll post on that another time.

QUESTION: What’s your favourite gym accessory?