We’ve all done it. Had a rough, or just exceptionally fun, weekend with a little less activity and a little more ‘cheats’ than we’d planned. It gets to Sunday night and we look at our forthcoming week and programme a completely punishing regime of exercise classes by way of compensation. We’re trying to make spinning, HIIT, a 10k, a PT session and TRX once, maybe even twice, a day.
On a daily basis, we’re getting up early and – if you’re on ClassPass – running around London to various venues before, during and after work and that’s on top of handling jobs, friends, family – and not letting your place get so messy it looks like you’ve been robbed.
So how do we keep a healthy balance between making sure we reap the benefits of being active, whilst not working ourselves to the point of exhaustion, or getting stuck in a cycle of self-recrimination? Well, none of us gets it right all of the time, but next time you’re facing Monday and making your weekly fitness plans, try to think about the following three things:
You’re working all hours on a project, things are tough on the home front, your worries are keeping you up at night – when this happens, we often turn to exercise to help reduce our stress. Given the endorphin rush it gives us, we usually pick high-intensity, cardiovascular activities.
The problem is it that if we do this too much, we can become trapped in a vicious circle. We’re stressed, so we plan an intensive exercise regime, only that puts our bodies under even more stress and although coming out of class we feel we can take on the world (or at least the office), by Wednesday we’re completely exhausted.
Take it down a notch and be a bit gentler with yourself. You’ll still reap the benefits of physical activity, but your nervous system won’t end up feeling like it’s fighting off an attack on two fronts.
After a period of hitting the gym too hard to fight stress and finding I was simply too tired, physically and emotionally, to feel those exercise ‘highs’, I substituted walking to work for an early morning gym session twice a week. It took about 50 minutes, so I still got some exercise, but I also got an extra hours sleep and the benefits of being outdoors: having space to think and to feel a little more connected to the natural world, something that is often a struggle living in the city.
Make sure that not all the classes you are doing are high intensity. When we repeatedly engage in an exercise our body finds challenging, it adapts to be able to meet these demands – hence how we are able to run faster, or lift heavier with training. The thing is, this adaptation only takes places when our bodies are at rest and recovering, not during the exercise. Equally, over-training can actually damage some muscle tissues and increases our risk of injury.
If you like to plan ahead, once you’ve scheduled your activities for the week, look them over and make sure that firstly you aren’t doing too many and secondly, that 30-40% of them are low impact or recovery-focused activities: a stretch session or a relaxing yoga class. A lot of places, particularly at this time of year, offer candlelit yoga which has the added benefit of slowing down your sensory system a little and really helping you to relax.
If you’re more into living dangerously i.e. without a schedule, take stock of what you’ve done halfway through the week to make sure you’re getting enough restorative sessions in there.
We’re always going to miss the odd session here or there – we live in a city where we’re all somewhat subject to the inconstancies of public transport and work, family, friends – life really, find a way of cropping up unexpectedly in the diaries of even the most strict schedules. And so it should. It happens – and it really doesn’t matter. You’re still doing pretty awesome and besides, total perfection or predictability would be a little dull now wouldn’t it?