So for my first blog post of 2021, I thought I would take a short break from the “Starter’s Guide to Exercise” series I’ve been releasing, in order to do a more personal blog reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to the next. Now while we all accept 2020 was certainly not the best year for any of us, I want to try to find some positives amongst all the negativity and think about "what I am grateful for?" Sure, I’ve never had to go so long without seeing some members of my family. I also had a lot of exciting travel plans that had to be cancelled and lost some potential income but what I gained in return was TIME. The time to focus on myself and do all of those things that I struggled to find the time for before. My year started off well with an exciting trip to India teaching children English as part of my involvement with the University while completing my PGCE in Education. It was an extremely humbling experience to work with people in such poverty and to see the extremes in which they live. This was made all the more poignant by the contrast presented by our quick stopover in Dubai, UAE one of the wealthiest, more extravagant cities in the world.
In a normal year this would have been just one of a few planned travel adventures, but in hindsight I have savoured the memory and experience more clearly. On the journey back we could sense something was clearly wrong and changing in the world just travelling through one of the worlds busiest airports at the outbreak of the pandemic. There was a sense of panic as people hurried to get home upon hearing different countries were locking down and closing their borders. It wasn’t long after returning to the UK that the first lockdown began here: the schools had closed, putting a halt to the sessions I ran within the educational sector, and many of my personal training clients were now unable to travel to our sessions. Some of my clients made the shift to doing our sessions remotely via video calls, but I definitely found myself with a lot more time on my hands. So what did I do with the time? Well I got around to doing many of the things I had procrastinated in the past. I started day 1 of the first lockdown with making a noticeboard of all the things I could think of to pass the time.
Among them was getting this website and blog up and running. I had always had plans for a website but I consisently got enough referrals and recommendations from former clients to keep me working that I hadn’t justified the massive task of actually building an online presence. I was initially reluctant to develop online coaching as I have always valued and prided myself with the one-to-one connection that I make with my clients during in person sessions but I was pleasantly surprised to find that using modern services like zoom actually improved the experience rather than detracting from it. The clients I train online now made more time for their training now that they weren’t wasting time either side of their session with travelling to a location. Training from both our homes allowed 100% of the allotted time to be used towards to goals and as a result clients developed more independence to do extra bits in their own time due to regularly being in their “Training Environment” (the living room or garage etc) it brought increased awareness to their goals by regularly being in a location they associated with the process. Another thing I got round to is really practicing what I preach. Over the years of working as a personal trainer I had found that as my client base grew, my commitment to my own training progress had faltered. I was too accommodating to fit people in and move around my schedule that I lacked the consistency that always preach is so essential to progress. It seemed hypocritical to complain of my unhappiness at being stuck on a plateau when my fitness levels were still significantly higher than many. It was a hard thing to confide in others when my career revolves around fitness, but it affected my motivation and happiness. I had also put on a little bit of body fat in my time in India due to overindulging in the local cuisine (taking advantage of being in a vegetarian-only state) so I set the goal of leaning up and optimising my diet. I am extremely grateful to have had the extra time this year to really stick to my training plan and schedule without changing it up too often. It can make the world of difference having little routines that come before and after a session, so that when it comes to pushing yourself in the moment, you know for sure that you are primed and ready to perform the very best you can, rather than feeling that you are just fitting it in between other commitments in your schedule. Small examples of this are making time for a morning mobility routine which is specific to the workout coming up later in the day. Devoting time to squat mobility drills and loosening my hips up early in the day, gave me the confidence to push myself to lift heavier doing Barbell squats that evening. Even little things like knowing I have the time after a session to be able to reward myself with a good meal and relax with some stretches, motivated me to push myself that much harder than in previous years when my schedule had been packed. This is the reason I always require a commitment of booking batches of sessions with my clients, it’s about getting them to make the commitment to make the time for me to help them. If you don’t make enough time for yourself then nobody can help you, no matter your targets. So as a result this year I made a 20% increase to my deadlift 1RM, a 17% Increase to my Barbell Front Squat 1RM and a 13% increase in my Overhead Press 1RM in the 9 months since march. After years of being stuck at a plateau that is progress I am extremely happy with and based on my recent progress it shows no signs of slowing down and will hopefully continue into 2021. I made noticeable progress at my flexibility, specifically in my hamstrings, hips and spinal mobility which has had a positive effect on the rest of my Calistenics and Parkour training. Other notable physical achievements this year included achieving the Ring Muscle Up and mastering Frogstands taking both my knees off the elbows.
I also managed to sucessfully shake the fat gain from my trip to India, getting my body fat down to a lifetime record in time for my birthday in the summer. The pandemic made me hyper aware about reinforcing my health and led to me massively increasing the percentage of my diet that comes from fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables in healthy homemade meals and completely removed the occasional temptation to pick up a processed snack or sandwich when in a hurry between work sessions. This definitely helped during my leaning up process but it has been a change in preferences that has continued long past then into the winter even though my initial fears regarding risks to my own health from the pandemic have long subsided as the situation has become clearer.
As we go into 2021, I aim to take lessons from this experience to try to maintain space and time in my schedule to really appreciate life and not hurry things even as society ramps up again. So what are you grateful for in 2020? What have you done with the time and what lessons have you learned to take forward with you into 2021?