What does the gym mean to you?
Is it just a place to sculpt a better body, or is it a sanctuary where you can work on your mental wellbeing, too?
Whether it’s to create a better version of you, or for headspace, a sense of community, or something else entirely, the gym is a lot of things to different people.
We all know the physical benefits of exercise, but it can also play a huge role in our mental health.
Recent research by PureGym found that 98% of its members believe their gym plays an important role in their mental wellbeing, while studies show even a brisk 10-minute walk increases our mental alertness and energy.
Regular physical exercise can increase self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, and plays an important role in preventing the development of mental health problems.
Exercise also has a positive impact on our mood with another study reporting participants feeling more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity.
In fact, the study found the effects of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.
The latest research from the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health in the Pandemic study shows that one year on, coronavirus has had a huge emotional impact on us.
Loneliness has become much more common and the number of people who said they are coping well with the stress of the pandemic has fallen steadily over the last year.
‘It is important to remember that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone,’ says Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation.
‘We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. The coronavirus vaccine brings hope. The warmer weather brings smiles. However, for many of us, the next few months – and even years – will remain tough, vulnerable and uncertain.’
During the pandemic, 230million people around the world were unable to attend their gym and more than 10million UK gym memberships were frozen when clubs closed in March last year, according to the Wellness Creative Co 2021 Fitness Industry report.
With gym doors having reopened in England yesterday – and with Scotland set to reopen on April 26, Wales on May 3 and Northern Ireland yet to be confirmed – finally having access to these facilities is going to make a huge difference to people, both physically and mentally.
But how do you return to your training sessions safely after such a long period of inactivity?
‘Although many of us will have adapted to make a home gym set-up during lockdown, it’s not the same as having use of the training equipment in a professional space and a personal trainer on hand,’ says Beth Trueman, a personal trainer and sports nutritionist at PureGym.
‘We’ve spent the last year in a global pandemic and it’s only normal to feel like your fitness has dropped. However, it won’t take long to get your fitness levels back up again with motivation and consistency.
‘The first thing you need to do is take your foot off the gas until you can gauge where your fitness level is now, not where it was before the pandemic. Going in too hard will just lead to exhaustion and potential injury. Signing up to a fitness plan takes the guesswork out of what to do when you return to the gym, and is a safe way to ease yourself back in.’
Fitness plans are effective for a number of reasons. Not only can they help create a balanced routine (highly beneficial post-lockdown), but they can help build activity back into your life.
The range of activities and exercises helps to alleviate the boredom of training and by working multiple muscle groups, it reduces your chance of injuring or overusing one specific muscle or joint.
And most importantly, a training plan will allow time for recovery – a vital factor in reaching your fitness goals.
If you’re tempted to return to a regular workout, personal trainer Harley shows you four exercises from week 1 of Metro and PureGym’s Back to Fit Plan.
‘The plan includes three weeks of at-home training, with workouts targeting cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, endurance, mobility and flexibility,’ says PureGym personal trainer Beth Trueman. ‘And then three weeks in-gym training, incorporating two equipment-based resistance workouts.’
If you’ve found yourself getting out of breath chasing after the kids recently, or even climbing the stairs, Beth stresses the importance of not jumping straight back in where you left off.
‘Most training plans use principles of progressive overload to ease you back into the gym and then increase the intensity as you work through the plan.
‘It might seem frustrating not to be as close to your goals as you once were, but the gym is a place to work on yourself, leave your problems at the door and be part of an incredible community of people.
‘It’s much more than just a place to get fit.’
A variation of the classic jumping jack exercise, stand with your feet slightly less than hip-width apart in a slight squat position.
Arms should be by your side. From here, drive up through the squat using your quads, hamstrings and glutes and bring the arms up into a star/jumping jack position while you jump your legs out – placing your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
Once you are fully extended, jump from the wide jack position back into the narrow squat position.
Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, rotated to approximately a 45-degree angle.
Hold one dumbbell with two hands at your chest. Sit back into the squat, while keeping the dumbbell close to your midline.
Keep your elbows in and avoid bringing the dumbbell away from your body. Make sure that your knees are tracking over your toes and keep your abs braced, chest nice and tall throughout.
Bent over row
Grab a dumbbell in each hand and hold them by your side. Stand tall, feet hip-width apart.
Slightly bend your knees and hinge at your hips bringing your upper body almost perpendicular to the floor.
Keeping your arms shoulder-width apart, pull the dumbbells up together, close to your chest and return back to the starting position. Remember to breathe and keep your back straight, neck neutral and core engaged throughout.
Plank shoulder taps
Start in a high plank position, with your hands under your shoulders and fingers spread wide to create a strong base. Aim for your body to be in a straight line from your ankles up to your shoulders – don’t let your hips sag or bend.
Hold this position and then alternate tapping each shoulder – raise one hand off the floor and across the body to tap the opposite shoulder and then repeat on the other side.
Engage your core and don’t let your hips rock from side to side.
Metro has teamed up with PureGym to help you get back in shape. There’s a six-week fitness plan – a selection of exercises from it are shown here – plus great recipes and more.
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