5 failsafe ways to supersize your fitness levels in 2022
“Getting fit has a positive impact on so many areas of your life, from mood to sleep, decision-making and relationships,” says Nick Parkes, grid training activist for Virgin Active. “Whatever you want to achieve, exercise is often the key to a wave of changes in how you feel, and your attitude to life overall.”
So how to get started on this journey to a stronger, happier, more active you? Here are five golden rules for supersizing your exercise levels, with insight and tips from Nick – as built up over years of helping clients transform their personal fitness. Grab that workout towel and dive right in for a healthy New Year indeed.
Go in with the right mindset – find a reason and stick to it
If you’re thinking about supersizing your fitness, the first thing you need to consider is your why. “Exercise is hard, so you've got to have a really good reason why you’re doing it,” says Nick. “That’s your motivation that will nudge you on and give you that extra layer of motivation when you need it the most.”
One example that stays with Nick is his client who – sometime into training – admitted that his child had noticed he was a bit larger than other dads, and he wanted to lose weight to set a good example. “When he said that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you have your reason why now,’” says Nick. “Whether you’re aiming to get in shape so you can play football with your family, you’re training for a big event or you simply want to improve your mood, it’s good to set a clear goal that you genuinely believe in.”
At its best, exercise can be life-changing: it has a positive knock-on effect in all areas of life, from greater energy levels to improved cognitive skills, and looking and feeling at your best. But for that catalyst effect to kick in, it’s best if you are clear on your intentions from the start.
"It’s easy for people to just wander into the gym without any real reason why they're doing it – but more often than not, their routine ends up falling to the wayside because there’s nothing to prop it up,” Nick says. “Instead, you need to make sure there's intention when you work out: think about the reason behind it.”
This is true of your overall fitness ambition – and each individual workout, too. “Rather than going in lacklustre and a bit half-arsed, it’s good to keep your motivation front of mind,” Nick says. “An intense 10-minute training session is better than slowly stalling for an hour. Go in with the right attitude and be intentional about what it is that you want to achieve.”
Start small – prioritise what time you have
Not having enough time is perhaps the biggest barrier to working out these days: we’re all so busy juggling demands and deadlines. Nick’s answer to this dilemma is simply to make the most of whatever time you have.
“Everyone's life is different,” he says. “Parents of young children, for example, might only be able to work out for half an hour at a time. Maybe you only have 10 minutes and that’s OK, too – it’s just about trying to move. Find what time you can for fitness to begin with, then you'll naturally make room for it more and more – as it becomes a bigger part of your life.”
As part of this approach, it’s worth thinking about the small changes you can weave into your daily life. Are there ways you can move around more without putting time aside to specifically work out? For example, you might get off the bus at an earlier stop every morning, so you have a longer distance to walk to work. You may choose to adopt a dog – which means you’ll have to get out every day for walkies, for the sake of your four-legged friend.
“Small decisions lead to bigger change,” Nick explains. “So naturally if you're walking up the stairs every day rather than taking the lift, because in your head you’re thinking, ‘I'm trying to get healthier’ – that gets the ball rolling. And then that leads to ‘OK, what more can I do, can I cycle to work?’ and so on. That chain of events unfolds.”
The most important thing is not to stall simply because you think you can’t fully commit. “If you’ve only got 10 minutes for exercise during the day, then make it the best 10 minutes,” says Nick. “It’s better than nothing, especially if you’re just getting started in that routine of regular workouts.”
Find your community – the people who will cheer you on
If the events of the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that community is really important. We need other people to support us and cheer us on; in fitness as much as anything else.
“I've always been a fan of training with people, I love it,” says Nick. “Community is a huge part of what we do here at Virgin Active, too. In a group class, people are sharing the experience of doing the same workout; they’re feeling the same thing, and they bond in that connection. After the class, they’ll say, ‘Oh wow, how did you find that squat part?’ and share their progress.”
If you’re new to fitness, it’s a good idea to research local groups that you could sign up to, along with community events that are happening in your area, e.g. park runs. Similarly, if you’re taking your workouts to the next level, involving more people could be exactly what you need – whether that’s an online group session with its own WhatsApp chat, or a personal trainer to help keep you on track.
“Working out with others is just so good for your mental health and keeping that motivation up,” says Nick. “You’ll see that person next to you working really hard, and that will keep you accountable, too."
Virgin Active’s approach is very much about spreading that sense of shared inspiration so that everyone – no matter what their age, abilities, or what they’re going through personally – feels part of the community. “My attitude is, you're never on the outside of the circle, you're part of it,” Nick says. “You’re all sharing in this transformative experience together and everyone is welcome.”
Listen to your body to push your limits – but be kind, too
Since everyone is different, there’s no golden rule that will supersize your workout: it all depends on how you feel about different exercises, how your body responds and where your individual likes and limits come into play.
Nick’s approach, therefore, is to avoid being too prescriptive about workouts (“I must do 30 burpees every day”) and instead listen to your body at all times. “You just know when you're working hard,” he says. “When you’re training, you need to examine your body and find that limit of where you’re at, and just float with that line.”
That’s where the hard work comes in, because your body – being the brilliant instrument that it is – constantly adapts. And that means you can’t simply stick to the same training day in, day out as your fitness levels will plateau.
“If you always stay in your comfort zone, then you never change,” Nick says. “You’ll just get comfortable in whatever routine you have. The challenge is to break that cycle and test your ability, to see the changes that you want.”
For example, if you’re going for a jog every day, you’ll want to change up the route, the distance, the speed and whether or not you’re tackling hills en-route. The same goes for any kind of exercise. You know whether you’re a yoga person, or more of a HIIT individual, and whatever works best for you is great. At the same time, however, you need to be constantly stretching yourself a little within each new workout.
“By pushing yourself, you keep that motivation going – you’re always finding a new balance,” Nick says. “Eventually that approach becomes part of your life and you look forward to it; it gets you out of bed in the morning and fires you up.”
That said, part of the process is recognising that you won’t always be perfect: just like every area of life, your motivation for fitness will ebb and flow – and when it does, you should take that into account and be kind. “Not every day is a great day,” says Nick. “I'm super-lucky, obviously, working in the industry. But some days, even for me as a PT, I'm not feeling it and I just go through the motions. Then it’s a case of ‘well, let me get something done’. Or I may take a step back to rest, recover and get back to it tomorrow.”
Don’t wait to be ready – make a change to see more change
Us humans have a skill for procrastinating – it’s easy to put those fitness goals off until we feel better/ have less on/ can shop for better activewear. But Nick’s argument is that there’s no point waiting “until you’re ready”: some of these changes will only come about because you work out.
“Don't hold off on your exercise just because you think your sleep isn't right or your diet is poor,” says Nick. “Let's get going. Let's get you moving, because once you're moving, you'll start making better decisions. Everything will start to change as you get into the swing of exercise and all the endorphins are rushing through your body.
“You will start to feel better, which means you’ll naturally think, ‘I want to drink a bit more water or I want to eat my veggies’ or whatever it is. And when you’re exerting yourself, you’re going to sleep better naturally, too, because your body's tired. It all starts to fall in place.”
In other words, fitness isn’t some elite world that only naturally gifted people can access. Rather, it’s accessible to all – and the more you work at it, the more benefits you’ll see; leading to a feel-good circle of personal growth.
“Mo Farah didn’t just wake up and become this Olympic gold medallist; everyone has to start somewhere,” Nick says. “The first step of getting started is always the hardest. It’s easy to feel like you’re on the outside looking in at lots of fit people, which can be daunting. But you just need to throw yourself in and ask questions along the way. Remember, there are so many people who can help you define your path, too.”
So put in the effect first, and that ripple impact will kick in – bringing with it all the brilliant benefits of exercise, which in turn will keep you coming back for more. For Nick, the moment at which this happens, and clients see all their hard work pay off, is everything.
“The satisfaction of someone realising their own potential is overwhelming sometimes,” he says. “Clients come up to you and say thank you, but they’re the ones putting the effort in. We’re just the coaches: they’re the ones sweating it out and giving their time. You can just see that change in their body language, attitude and outlook on life – that’s the kind of amazing shift that makes me set the alarm for 5am and get to work.”
For more information on group workouts and memberships, visit Virgin Active.