Roundup: My Training Equipment Recommendations

Versatile training equipment doesn’t need to be costly or take up tonnes of space

Recently I’ve been asked a lot to give recommendations for the equipment that I use in my training and with clients. I try to keep extra equipment use to a minimum and prefer to improvise, so when I do buy things I really want them to be worth their price!

Below is a list of things that I use regularly and would recommend. Where possible I’ve linked to the exact product I purchased but where that’s not possible there is a link to a product which is a good substitute. I’ll keep this list updated with new purchases and would love to hear your recommendations too!

In order to be totally transparent with you, I’d like to let you know that where a link goes to Amazon it is an associate link. That means that I get a small amount of money for anything purchased through that link. I do not, however, receive anything from the company before I’ve bought it that might colour my recommendation to buy it in the first place.

Mini Resistance Band AKA Hip Circle

The true Hip Circle is only available from this website but it is a truly magnificent piece of kit. Although it isn’t cheap, I’ve had mine for over 3 years and it’s only now showing slight signs of wear and tear. Truly, your glutes will thank you 😛

Hip Circle Resistance Band Miniband recommendations
It’s super hard to take interesting pictures of these 😉

If the price of the original is a bit steep for you, there are many similar bands available on Amazon, including this one here. Though I haven’t purchased this one myself, the reviews are good and in terms of dimensions it is very similar to the Hip Circle. These bands are superb for glute work but are also amazingly good for other leg work, such as Psoas Marches. They make even the simplest exercise MUCH harder. In a good way 😉

My one bit of advice would be to stay away from the thin latex bands which tend to roll up and dig in to your skin. Stick with the thicker ones.

Longer Resistance bands

Longer resistance bands are amazing for working out away from home. They’re also superb for assisting with things like pull-ups and triceps dips, or providing an extra challenge on exercises like hip thrusts.

resistance band assisted pullup
How to look cool in playgrounds…

The bands I use are from Valhalla Fitness and they’ve served me well for over two years now. As well as their excellent name, they come in a wide range of resistances so you can find something ideal for your level of fitness. I have used mine a lot and there are no signs of wear or tear whatsoever yet.

long resistance bands valkyrie valhalla fitness
Workout like a Viking 😛

You can buy a single band from the link above, two bands here (for different exercises or for helping you to progress), and three bands here.

If you also want to dazzle in a F*it t-shirt or vest while you’re busting out some overhead pulling work, head on over to my clothing store 😛

Squat pad

iron bull squat pad hip thrust
Your hips will thank you, I promise 🙂

 

A good squat pad is absolutely essential if you do a lot of hip thrusting. They become a much more tempting exercise when you know you won’t have sore hips the next day! I have a truly superb Iron Bull squat pad which is absolutely perfect for hip thrusts and incredibly comfortable. Although it isn’t cheap, it’s great quality and much better than other squat pads I’ve seen in gyms.

Gymnastics Rings

Gymnastics rings are one of my favourite pieces of training equipment, even though at the moment I can only use them for the basics. They only get more challenging and fun as your strength develops! Even if you’re not about to start doing any serious gymnastics moves on them, using them for TRX-type exercises will add variety and difficulty to your workouts. They also make things like pullups and planks much, MUCH harder. Again, in a good way 🙂

I have wooden rings like those above and also the plastic ones in the picture below. I love taking them on holiday and stringing them up from climbing frames or trees to work on some inverted rows or pull ups. My son loves playing on them too!

Pull Up Bars

Absolutely vital for a home gym set up, a pull up bar will do serious things for your upper body strength. You can also use it as a suspension point for your gymnastics rings, and add assistance with your long resistance bands.

There are two types; one which hooks on a standard doorframe and another which uses pressure to attach to the frame. The pressure type can leave marks on the frame and is more prone to failure than the former. Either type will provide you with some seriously challenging exercises and I personally find it useful to have both.

At the moment I only have bars which have been gifted to me and so have no buying experience. If you can recommend good pull up bars to me then I would love to hear from you!

Do you have any recommendations to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below 🙂

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Earning The Right: Wearing What We Want, Just Because We Want To

Have you ever found yourself thinking “I couldn’t wear that!”? Or complimenting a friend for wearing something that you think looks amazing on them but that for a bunch of reasons you think you could never wear yourself. Perhaps you think you’re too big, too small, too pale. Perhaps it’s your cellulite, your varicose veins, your age. There is always, always something.

Unfortunately our culture has a lot to say on the matter of who can wear what. Whether it’s by describing clothes in certain ways, aiming the advertising of them at certain people, or by using insidious phrases like ‘bikini body’, the messages coming at us about what is acceptable and what isn’t are strong and firmly ingrained.

The funny thing is, we often apply those rules much more harshly to ourselves than to those around us, setting the criteria based on whatever will exclude us. Think how often we encourage friends to wear things we think they look beautiful in, and how often we disagree with them when they try to encourage us. I’ve heard so many people recently expressing the opinion that there are clothing lines that they just cannot cross: that they somehow have not earned the right to wear a particular item.

What if we didn’t have to earn that right? What if our bodies were ours to adorn however we wanted or needed to at the time? And what has all this got to do with fitness?

Hot and Bothered

Recently I went on a long bike ride on a very sunny day. I got hot, I removed a layer. I got even hotter, I removed another layer. In the end I was only wearing cycling shorts and a sports bra. Now I have been trying to break down the negative messages in my brain around body image for a long time, ever since a girlfriend introduced me to feminism at the age of 17. After all that, I still wondered if it was permissible for me to be wearing so little, even if not doing so would make me incredibly hot and uncomfortable. After 20 years of gently chipping away at the cultural conditioning in my head, I still found myself thinking “am I fit enough to have earned the right yet?”

In the gym recently there’s been a marked increase in women working out in just leggings and a sports bra. It’s hot outside, we have big windows and there’s been an intermittent problem with the air conditioning. It makes perfect sense. Yet I’ve spoken to multiple people who feel that they haven’t earned the right to do the same – and in all honesty, I somehow feel that I haven’t earned the right.

I know I’m not alone. Whether it’s size, age, or a certain body part that we find entirely unacceptable, we’ve been trained into putting these invisible constraints on ourselves even at the price of practicality and our own comfort.

Woman resting by a bike on a sunny day
I do not need to earn the right to be comfortable

Because You’re Already Worth It

I describe myself as a body positive trainer and I think this clothing issue is a great example of why that’s needed. I also think that the most important thing about it is that it’s really nothing to do with clothes. Body positivity is a movement that encourages people to value their bodies just as they are. By learning to value ourselves without judgment, we’re automatically in a better place to take care of ourselves in whatever way seems right to us.

That might be by practicing yoga, it might be by competing as a powerlifter, it might be working to improve our diet – the details don’t matter. What’s important is that we are working on ourselves because we understand that we have value just as we are, and not only when we fit X, Y or Z criteria. I want to encourage people to look after their health and wellbeing because they know they are worth it, and not because they will be worth it when they reach a certain size or look a certain way.

Working Out In My Pants (Again)

As part of this, I consciously post pictures of me working out in the things I actually work out in – and yes, it is usually bra and pants. It’s hard for me not to try to choose pictures where you can’t see the parts of my body that I’m self-conscious about, but I firmly believe that we all benefit from seeing all sorts of bodies doing all sorts of things. All of those bodies, without exception, have the right to be wearing what is comfortable to them at the time. That right does not have to be earned.

Posting pictures of me working out in my pants is my contribution towards normalising all sorts of bodies doing all sorts of things – and that’s what we all need to see.

When I say comfortable, do I mean physical comfort or mental comfort? I’m physically comfy working out in my underwear, but mentally it’s a challenging thing for me at times. We all have our own limits when it comes to how we portray ourselves to the world. Suggesting that everyone should start appearing on the internet in their undies would be just as unacceptable as insisting that only certain people were allowed to do it.

Examining Our Limits

The important thing here is to question whether those limits are self-imposed or not. Finding yourself wishing you could wear a certain thing is often a sign that this restriction has come from elsewhere. Take a little moment to work it out. If it did come from elsewhere, you might find yourself feeling comfortable pushing that boundary and you might not. Some days it takes more bravery than others. Just as it’s not your duty to be physically uncomfortable because of what others might think, it is not your job to make yourself mentally uncomfortable in order to challenge their perceptions either.

But when you do push the edge of your comfort zone a little, please remember that this isn’t just a victory for you. Every time we non-model bodies step out onto the street, onto the beach or into the gym wearing whatever the hell we like, it’s a small blow against an incredibly pervasive – and damaging – cultural ideal. That victory belongs to, and benefits, all of us.

The Real Before and After: Shifting Our Perspective on Weight Loss

Everybody loves a story

We all love stories, and the neater and more instantly gratifying they are, the better. When it comes to fitness, the simplest, most satisfying story is the classic ‘Before and After’. Almost exclusively, this is how the story goes: “Once Upon a Time I was bigger. Now I’m smaller and that means I’m a better, happier person. The End.”

The internet is awash with these stories. Instagram, the perfect format for simple, visual messages, is a particularly well-stocked library.* The hashtag #beforeandafterweightloss alone brings up nearly 200,000 results. There are countless variations on it that add to that number.

There is an uncomfortable similarity to many of these posts. ‘Before’ is an unflattering photo of someone looking shy and unhappy. ‘After’ involves a nicer outfit, better lighting and a big smile. The explicit message is positive. It celebrates success, happiness and pride. The subliminal message, however, perpetuates the idea that being smaller brings happiness, attractiveness and acceptance.

What’s the problem?

My uneasiness with these pictures is in no way a slight on the effort put in by the person in the photograph. I recognise the hard work that’s gone into any such transformation, but I also recognise the toll it may have taken. It’s worth bearing in mind that there are plenty of ways to get smaller which are detrimental both physically and psychologically. By encouraging us to judge the book by its cover, Before and Afters also encourage smallness by any means possible.

Not only that, but an ‘After’ isn’t necessarily a Happily Ever After. Although studies have struggled to pin down exactly what percentage of dieters will regain the weight that they have lost, it’s certainly a significant amount.** By framing success purely as weightloss, and weightloss as a short, well-defined period of out-of-the-ordinary behaviour, this cycle becomes harder to escape. If we could build a culture of seeing managing our health as an ongoing journey – one that starts at birth and ends in death – we’d build an environment in which people could be free of a vicious cycle which does good for neither mind nor body. Removing the guilt and self-hatred from the equation would allow us all to build better relationships with our bodies.

I’m not a shrink

So, the story is convenient, bite-sized, but it is only a fraction of the tale. By ignoring the less visual but more life-changing elements of increased health and fitness, ‘Before and Afters’ reduce the cultural conversation around our bodies to nothing more than the physical space we occupy.

For these reasons, there are no typical Before and After photos on my website, my Instagram or my Facebook page. I do not believe that my success as a personal trainer is primarily defined by shrinking my clients. I rate success in other ways: clients having increased confidence, finding day-to-day life easier, and above all setting goals which seem impossible and then smashing right through them. These things take time and are more keenly felt from the inside. Most importantly, they often don’t show up well in photos.

The real before and after

I have personally lost a lot of weight and have many pictures from the past I could make into readily shareable posts, but I don’t believe they would tell a story as interesting as the ones below. When I think of the real improvements to my life since I embarked on my journey into health, this is what I value.

real before and after fit swansea personal training
A Tale of Two Towers

Before: I gazed up at the Duo Torres in Bologna while my partner climbed up. I was scared of heights – still am – but didn’t trust myself to manage the stairs and basically preferred not to try.

After: I’ve had the chance to enjoy the views from Torre dos Clérigos twice after happily managing the 79m climb. I’m still terrified of heights, but I’m an experienced hand at setting myself challenges and smashing through them. I also climbed the Eiffel Tower recently too 🙂

real before and after fit swansea personal training
Taking Care of Business

Before: I hurt my back really badly not long before this but soldiered on in a lot of pain for months with no idea how to help myself.

After: Even through two wrist breaks and numerous other smaller injuries, I have managed to train, eat well and take care of myself.

real before and after fit swansea personal training
Strike A Pose

Before: This was the first full-length photo I’d liked  of myself in a very long time. I had to stand in a very specific way and have my bag in front of me to feel comfortable being photographed.

After: I just messed about on the beach while the photographer took photos. I love every jiggly, hairy, glorious moment of them.

Being the change

Take a moment to think about your health and fitness successes. What has mattered the most to you? How did it make you feel? How many of the things you really value were only about how much space you take up in the world? Sharing these stories in all their variety is a vital contribution to changing the narrative around size, health and body-image.

If this feels as important to you as it does to me, take the time this week to share some of your real Before and Afters. Let’s make this a story with a wide and wonderful cast of characters, a more complex but rewarding narrative, and a Happier Ever After for all of us.


To read more about face-to-face or online personal training with F*it Swansea, visit here.

 


*I haven’t included examples as I don’t think it’s cool to single out strangers on the internet.

**Finding a clear answer on this was extremely difficult. Even looking for a meta-analysis didn’t prove fruitful, so if you know of one then please do get in touch. In the studies I could find, the lowest estimate was that one third of dieters regain at least the weight they have lost. There also appears to be long-term physiological consequences for repetitive bouts of weight loss and weight gain that we’re only just beginning to understand. I’m going to try to put together a blog post on this in the future.

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Fit Enough: Why I Can’t Be Arsed to Chase Perfection

If I asked you to picture someone fit, what would they be like? Chances are they’d have low body fat, visible muscle and be impeccably well-groomed.

Google image search for "fit people" 21/3/2017 - fit enough
Google image search for “fit people” 21/3/2017

The dominant imagery put forward by the fitness industry is of thin, white, tanned, beautiful people with well-defined muscles. Abs abound, despite being one of the hardest physical attributes to achieve for the majority of people. Though particular fashions change – the big booty movement being a notable recent example – the message is always clear: certain bodies are acceptable, the rest aren’t. If your body isn’t acceptable you aren’t doing enough. YOU are not enough.

Is it really all or nothing?

Working as a personal trainer, people for whom fitness is life surround me. Every day, every training session, every meal, is part of a devotion to fitness that often subsumes all other interests and activities. All we see is imagery of people who are at the top of their field, people for whom fitness is a full-time profession. It’s hard not to think that we should all be at their level.

Yet even these people don’t feel they’re doing enough. Always chasing the next goal, the next sign that their physique is improving, they are unbelievably hard on themselves in the quest to do enough. On the way, they develop a range of behaviours which run from healthy dedication to dangerous obsession. Disordered eating, drug use and overtraining are rife in gyms up and down the country, largely as a result of this culture of competition and comparison.*

And do you know what? I can’t be arsed.

I got into fitness because I love it and I’m dedicated to it – dedicated enough. It’s a huge and wonderful part of my life, but it’s just that – one part of a spectrum of activities which make my life richer.

fit person fit people personal training woman swansea
Right now I’m fit enough to mess around doing things I love, and that’s what matters**

A healthy balance

It’s common for me to meet people in the gym who are studying a degree, working, or parenting full-time. When we talk they often apologise for not coming to the gym more often. Where have they got the idea that they’re not doing enough? By comparing themselves to people for whom fitness is everything.

Yet seeing the people who work in my field, I too have moments of doubt. Am I really fit enough to be helping others with their fitness? Can I really look credible as a personal trainer if I’m wearing size 16 clothes? If I eat this biscuit does that mean I don’t want it – this mythical, indefinable it – enough?

No. If I eat this biscuit I’m just demonstrating that right now, I want a biscuit – and nothing about that demonstrates that I am not enough.

Consider the possibility that you are fit enough

In this moment, you and I are exactly as fit as we need to be. That doesn’t mean we can’t work towards being fitter tomorrow but it does mean we can stop being hard on ourselves today. Self-doubt and self-hatred may spur a brutal workout in the present, but what do they mean for how we treat ourselves in the future? If my self-image has to take a hit in order for me to work harder, something has gone seriously awry.

So I’d like to invite you to join me in congratulating yourself for being fit enough in this moment. Take time to thank yourself for anything and everything you do to look after your body. Celebrate the part that it plays in your varied and beautiful life. Think about what you want to do to work on your fitness in the future, but see it as a profound act of love for yourself and the people around you. Resolve, in this moment, to accept your body as a perfect expression of where you are now – without judgement, hatred or disdain.

And if you fancy, have that biscuit.


To read more about face-to-face or online personal training with F*it Swansea, visit here.

 


* There are many studies looking into aspects of this so it was hard to find a couple that really summed the situation up. The gist is that drug use, body/muscle dysmorphia and eating disorders are sharply rising amongst the gym community.

Some articles which begin to discuss the issues are included below.

One in Three Gym Users Take Drugs or Supplements to Lose Weight – Study | Society | The Guardian,” accessed March 23, 2017.

Warn Gym Users about Steroid Risks, Says Watchdog,” accessed March 23, 2017.

**My amazing pants and bra combo are from the superb Mardy Bum Boutique.

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Reinforcing Resolutions

I’m offering 6 weeks of Personal Fitness Training for a special price of £120 for the New Year. Learn more about how to make it past January and keep your fitness resolutions below.

Many people want to form a regular fitness habit in the New year and join a new gym to do so. However, often by February they terminate their membership. What’s happening to those great intentions and how can you avoid the same pitfall? Working with a personal trainer can help. Continue reading Reinforcing Resolutions

Preparing For Your First Gym Trip

OK, so you’ve got your gym membership sorted. Excellent! Now you actually need to get your foot in the door. If you’ve never been to a gym before this is undoubtedly the most nerve wracking bit of the whole experience. If you suffer from anxiety or have other mental healthy problems, it might put you off the idea altogether.

Here are some simple tips so you can be prepared and ready to get the most from your first trip. Continue reading Preparing For Your First Gym Trip

Choosing The Right Gym For You

Deciding to get fitter is one thing but what do you do next? There are lots of ways to improve your fitness but for many people their first thought is joining a gym.

Before settling on a membership, it’s good to ask yourself some questions about the gyms you’re considering. Your choice ideally needs to be somewhere you actively look forward to being, somewhere that becomes the place that you go to feel better.

To help you with choosing the right gym, here are some questions to ask yourself so you can find the right fit, first time. Continue reading Choosing The Right Gym For You