Updated: Sep 25
A no BS guide to exercise
It’s the eternal question that has plagued us all: whether we have a holiday booked, a wedding planned or even a half-marathon we signed up for last year and half-heartedly committed to before realising it’s now just weeks away.
How can I get fit fast...when I just CBA?
As much as we all know how good exercise is for us, when it comes down to actually having to do it, it’s a whole different story. Some of us are still mentally hiding in the toilets to avoid PE lessons. And speaking as someone that often can’t be arsed, there’s always an excuse to swerve getting sweaty. It’s too cold to run outside, too hot to run outside, too windy to run outside, or you can't afford a gym membership.
That just about covers all seasons.
And to cut ourselves some slack – life is busy! If you’ve just worked a long day and are juggling other commitments, the last thing you want to do is put some leggings on and run about.
However, much like a smear test, exercise is a necessary discomfort if we want to keep ourselves healthy, and everyone has to start somewhere.
When you're just starting off your pursuit to being fit, your stamina doesn't tend to be tip top. It takes some getting there.
So we caught up with personal trainer and founder of Ladies Who Crunch, Nancy Best, on how even the laziest of girls can get fit from square one.
Why do we struggle with motivation to exercise?
We’ve got our cute two piece on, we’ve tied the laces on our running shoes, we’ve filled up our bottle of water – so why are we back sat on the sofa, staring into space and not in the gym?
Best points towards the diet culture ingrained into society, as well as the pressure to ‘go hard or go home’ when starting a new regime.
“We’ve seen slogans such as ‘sweat is your fat crying’, ‘no pain no gain’, which adds to societal expectations of what exercise needs to be. It can be pretty off-putting, especially if you’re someone who’s gotten out of your rhythm with exercise,” she explains.
“There isn’t enough of a conversation about exercise being a gentle process. It doesn’t have to be extreme from day one.
“Lots of gyms offer intense 12 week plans, which may be motivating for some, but a lot of us need more of a softer approach. A lot of the time, a more methodical, less extreme approach is a lot more effective.”
Can a 20 minute exercise programme be effective? Is there an optimum time?
Something that might be holding you back from getting started on your fitness journey is dedicating large chunks of time to getting your sweat on. We read of huge, complicated exercise routines made up of burpees, sprints and crunches and it’s enough to make anyone want to give up and order a pizza.
However, Best asserts that long days down the gym aren’t necessary, particularly if you’re looking to build a new routine.
“Going from nothing to signing up to hour long classes can be overwhelming, and people can struggle to keep up with that pace and just burn out,” she says.
“To start with regular 20 minutes sessions is a brilliant first step and that will help you find some sort of consistent routine.”
It doesn’t have to be 20 minute HIIT sesh either, especially when you’re getting started.
“It can be a quick yoga class or pilates class on your laptop at home,” Best continues. “It could even be a walk down the high street to get a coffee and back.
“Once you start doing those regular 20 minutes and handling them okay, those longer exercise classes won’t seem so daunting.”
What are the best exercises for beginners?
There’s plenty of fitness regimes out there to flirt with – to the point it might even feel overwhelming just picking one to start with.
But many of us may be overlooking one of the simplest, but most important, factors of exercise – walking.
“Walking is huge, “ Best says. “It’s such a powerful way to get away from your screens, getting you out and about in nature, getting you moving. There’s a lot of research in just how impactful your steps are for your longer health just as much as doing intense exercise. Do not underestimate the power of steps.”
If you’re not into doing heavy weights or getting particularly sweaty, Best suggests simple yoga or pilates classes that can be done by following YouTube tutorials at home.
“It’s something that can be calm and help mindfulness, especially if you’re conscious about doing this in public.
“There’s brilliant resources online as well, just as long as they’re from a qualified professional – check their credentials and make sure it’s safe, robust advice.”
How can you make your fitness routine a habit?
Right. You’ve picked the regime, you’ve done some burpees and you’re now treating yourself to a celebratory lie down on the sofa. It’s fine for a one off – but how can we ensure we stick to it for more than about two weeks?
According to Best, it’s about being strict with assigning when you do exercise, aiming for a little and often approach.
“Regular exercise doesn’t happen by accident,” Best says. “Assign yourself training days and stick to them.
“Create a formality around it when you’re planning your social calendar. Eventually, it can become baked in and you stick to it.”
Teaming up with pals is another great way to ensure you keep exercising, as you can hold each other accountable.
“Even if it’s something small, like going on a walk with a friend,” Best says. “It can stop exercising from being so isolating and relentless.”
We don’t have to think purely about when we can cram classes in either – a more holistic approach to our health with keep us inspired.
“Making sure we’re not tired by getting enough sleep, making healthier choices when it comes to food, cutting back on alcohol consumption – all these small decisions can ladder up to consistency and help you build a habit,” Best says.
What are sociable ways to exercise?
Best encourages us lazy girls to look into our interests and pick classes that best resemble them. Love a Saturday night boogie to Beyonce in the club? Try a diva-themed dance class.
Prefer a more mindful approach and some quiet time? Consider a small early morning, or late night, yoga.
“Focus on what brings you joy, and start seeing exercise in terms of movement, rather than aesthetics,” Best says. “People go on autopilot and think they must do legs bums and tums or aesthetic labelled classes. Don’t think about exercise in those terms.”
“Think of it as connecting with like-minded people who will share their passions – and then guess what? You’re more likely to stay going and enjoy yourself.”
What are the benefits to staying fit?
It seems like a stupid question, and there are plenty of obvious answers. Keeping yourself physically active helps improve brain health, reduces the risk of disease, strengthens your bones and muscles and improves your ability to do everyday activities – among numerous other health benefits.
However, Best is keen to stress how regular exercise can improve your mental health too.
“Exercise releases feel good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin,” she explains, “You can really help manage your mental health by having some sort of regular exercise routine.
“It’s also vital that in the long-term, you can build a body that keeps supporting you throughout later chapters of your life.
“You feel like that later chapter of life is a million miles away, but it’s the choices you make now that means it makes such a difference when you’re older and your body starts to change. It’s vital you’ve got a good baseline of fitness in place.”
Sample exercise routines
Still have no idea where to start? We’ve got your back.
Here’s a simple routine, courtesy of Best, that you can replicate at home. It’s all body weight-based, but as you progress with your fitness, you’re free to add more resistance at your own pace.
Lower Body Workout
Complete 10 - 12 repetitions of each of the below movements. Rest and repeat the entire circuit for 3-4 times, depending on your fitness levels.
Push/Pull Superset 1
A. Bodyweight Squat
B. Bodyweight Good Mornings
Push/Pull Superset 2
A. Bodyweight Alternating Forward Lunges
B. Bodyweight Hip Thrust
Upper Body Workout
Push/Pull Superset 1
A. Bodyweight Press Ups (full plank or kneeling)
B. Bodyweight Superwomen
Push/Pull Superset 2
A. Bodyweight Tricep Dips
B. Bodyweight Plank Shoulder Taps