How to choose a gym

Friday, April 19, 2019

We are quite lucky living in London that there are hundreds of gym and fitness studios to choose from.  It is always a bit tricky though, deciding which one to commit to.  Class Pass gives people with a fear of monogamy a chance to try out lots of different studios and classes, but I think it also limits how often you can visit some studios (please correct me if I am wrong.  I have never tried it).  There are also a few apps out there of a similar nature, and the Move GB membership.  But for me, I don't have time to travel all over London and book a different class each day.

My preference is to streamline my efforts and spend my time efficiently.  Until I was training for the Ultra X Co Jordan Ultra, I didn't have a need to join a gym.  If I was teaching group exercise classes, I would get a free workout.  Plus, most gyms I worked at would allow me to use the facilities for free.

But now I need to focus on my strength training, especially if I want to maintain some fitness while being injured.  Here are a few of the things I considered when I was choosing a gym to join.
  • Location and hours- Julie Creffield, blogger and owner of Fat Girls' Guide to Running, goes to a local Crossfit Gym because it is literally across the road from her flat.  She can also bring her daughter, who will sit and read or color, which makes it a win-win for Creffield.  I knew location would be important to me too as I am always pressed for time.  If the gym wasn't somewhere between work and home, I wasn't going to be able to get there.

  • Price- This will probably be the most important factor for many people.  I know it was for me, but mostly because I have been lucky so far in London and not had this as a regular expense.  Be mindful that you will get what you pay for.  In my experience, large budget chains are not very tidy, have staff that are not engaged, and equipment that needs repair.  On the flip side, boutique studios tend to give you more 1-2-1 attention, have lush toiletries and little perks, such as free towels.  For example, 360 Athletic (near Victoria station in London) offers tailored personal training for their members by incorporating physiotherapy into training plans.  If you train for a specific sport or have strength imbalance, this will help you train more effectively.
  • Amenities- Do you want a pool, a variety of group exercise classes, or access to a personal trainer?  Ask to look at class timetables before you sign on the dotted line in case you were planning on going to yoga class and later find out that the classes are at 6am (which is when you are normally sleeping).  I didn't check the fitness schedule too closely before joining my gym and am not able to attend many classes.

  • Equipment- Does the equipment look new and taken care of?  Or is it laying about and rusty?  Do they have the free weights you want or the right kind of indoor rower?  This aspect will be more important if you are training for something specific, such as a mountainous trail ultra or Trans-Atlantic rowing expedition.
  • Staff- When you ask a member of staff a question, what is the response that you get?  Are they friendly?  Helpful? Dismissive? Do they go the extra mile?  Or is there no staff in the middle of the  night because it is a 24 hour facility? You will need to decide how important the presence of staff and their attitude is to you.  Being American, I like prompt and effective customer service and struggle to find it in the UK.

The one other thing you may want o consider before you join a gym is if any of your friends or co-workers are members too.  The accountability of meeting someone will help ensure you turn up at the gym when you agree on it.  If the gym still seems expensive, ask if they have an introductory deal.  Many gyms and studios (such as 360 Athletic and Fierce Grace Yoga's City Studio) will offer a 30 day trial at a reduced rate.

How did you choose your gym?  Did I miss anything important in my criteria?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

Injury and life update

Monday, April 15, 2019

My last run was on 8th March on a roof top track in Central London with Advent Running.  That day I went to Function360 (gifted) and saw my osteopath, Emma.  She hadn't examined my Achilles before and was concerned at how swollen and tender they both were (particularly my left).  She gave me orders to rest for a week and ice every day until I saw her again the following week.  Unfortunately, the following week brought even worse news.  No high impact activities for at least four more weeks, and continue with the daily icing.  I was able to continue teaching indoor cycling, which was a Godsend.  Without an endorphin release, I started to go a little bit crazy by week 3.

You may be wondering why I didn't try swimming or some other form of no impact exercise?  I started to get a cold about the same time.  I stayed home one day to try to recover from it, yet it still lingers on.  Along with the running nose, sinus pain, and now phlemy cough, I feel tired.  The silver lining is that my injury and cold are aligned.  At least my body is efficient!

Every week, I see Emma and she examines my Achilles and decides if I need soft tissue therapy, acupuncture, and/or taping.  When I saw her last week, she said this week we can talk about starting to run again.  Then she gave the caveat of one minute on, one minute off to start with.  But I will take it!

Even though I am not allowed to run, I still need to do my strengthening and stretching exercises.  I have been doing my full physiotherapy program two to three times a week.  On my tea breaks, I pop over to the gym and do my eccentric calf raises and isometric holds.  I hope by sticking to my program that when I am able to run again, I will not have lost too much speed.  My cardiovascular system will need to catch up with my legs but I am hoping once my cold is gone, I can get into a pool (if only my hair wouldn't get wet).

Since I am injured, I have been volunteering at parkrun.  Today, I learned there is a Boston marathon in Lincolnshire that is the same weekend as THE Boston Marathon.  As the ever optimist, I am going to put it on my list for next year (even though it will be not too long after Tokyo Marathon).

I have also joined a virtual run club, as I haven't been running with my Advent Running crew as of late.  If you are looking to meet other runners from around the world, why not check out the Run Things Virtual Running Club (scroll down this page for all the info)?  These are the people behind Run Up to Christmas for Mind Charity, which tons of people in the UK do every year.  For a one-time payment of £25, you get a t-shirt and online support in a Facebook group and Strava club.  They offer additional virtual races throughout the year, so if you are motivated by race bling, definitely check them out.

Good luck to everyone running the 123rd Boston Marathon today and congrats to everyone who ran Brighton yesterday.  I hope I can stand in a starting pen for Boston in 2021 as my last WMM.  If all goes well, I will be running Tokyo in 2020.

If you are struggling with an injury, niggle, or need a sports massage (and live or work in London), give Function360 a call. Their team can handle it all and give you continuity of care.  You can get 15% off your first appointment with code #F360MM15. 

New online program: 30 Days To Happy

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Big things are happening over at PT Mollie HQ this year.  I started off with publishing a book, now I am launching a new online program, and I am working on obtaining sponsorship for my next challenge (more on that later).  Being injured has allowed me to focus time I would have normally spent training on developing something that everyone can benefit from.  I would love for you to join me.

My new program is called '30 Days To Happy' and will be held over email and Facebook from 29 April - 28 May 2019.  Over four weeks, we will touch upon attributes of fitness, food, fun and fortitude, learning healthy ways to incorporate each into our daily lives.  You'll get a introductory webinar to learn more about the program and meet others in the group; a weekly challenge video and worksheet to complete via email; and community support in a private Facebook group.  You can also join me on Sunday nights for #happyhour over on Twitter.

Everyone deserves to be happy.  As a personal trainer and health coach, I have the tools to guide you through small changes that can add up to make a big difference.  I will be there to hold your hand, cheer you on, and guide you through some of your roadblocks.

Are you in?  As this is a pilot program, I am offering 30 days of my coaching for only £30.  That is only £1/day to learn skills that will last a lifetime.

The price will go up for the next round, so why not give it a try?  Registration closes 24 April 2019.  Sign up via the button below. Limited to 30 people so don't wait. :)

My first mamogram

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Pink ribbons raise breast cancer awareness
Did you know that one in eight women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer?  It is something that touches the lives of so many people, I felt it was important to write a blog post about my experience with the screening process.  You can also perform breast self-exams on a monthly basis to become familiar with your breast tissue.  That way, if anything changes you will recognize the difference (Follow me on Twitter to see my monthly reminders to preform your self-exam on the first of every month.).

This year I turned 40.  In the USA, this is the age where you can start receiving annual mamograms (I would imagine this depends on your private health insurance policy).  However, in the UK, the procedure is not provided until you reach the age of 50 (every three years and up to age of 71) if treatment is provided on the NHS (they are looking to extending this from 47-73).  If you have a family history of breast cancer, screening may be provided earlier.

Warnings on the door where I had my mamogram
One of my best friend's from university was born four days after me.  Her mom is a breast cancer survivor.  Because of this, I decided to get a mamogram this year.  It is available on private health insurance for £122 (and my friend's mom even offered to pay for it). So I contacted Simplyhealth UK to see if the mamogram would qualify under the diagnostic scans benefit, for which I am allowed a maximum of £500 on my plan.  And yes it is!  I spoke to my mom about what to expect during the procedure (of course) and she said there can be some discomfort during the process.  A mamogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue, which means that the breast is squeezed between two plates.  My breasts are not huge but they did get a really good squeeze for about 15 seconds while the nurse set up the proper angle and moved behind the lead screen and take the x-ray.  The receptionist I booked with appointment with said it would take 15 minutes but mine took about eight.

The x-ray machine which takes the mamogram.
My mom told me that she has dense breast tissue and needs to have an ultrasound after her mamogram as part of her annual appointment.  I was worried this would be the case for me but the nurse who performed my mamogram didn't think this would be the case based on my images.  My friend who's mom had breast cancer informed me that in the US, patients are often called back for another mamogram  after their initial one as there is no baseline to compare the x-ray to.  I haven't heard of this happening in the UK though.

The only picture of my boobs on the internet to date.
My nurse told me my results would be sent via the post within two weeks.  One week later, I received a letter saying my results were considered to be normal.  I didn't expect to have a scare, but it was still a relief to read that letter.

I received my reimbursement from Simpyhealth UK within 24 hours of submitting my claim. I will continue to invest in my health by continuing a yearly private mamogram until the NHS will provide me year.  It might be surprising that I am worried about breast cancer at the age of 40 and without a family history of the disease.  Touch wood, I have been blessed not to have devastating cancer diagnoses within my immediate family.  And I would like to keep it that way.  Preventative medicine is something I 100% believe in.

Have you ever had a mamogram? What was your experience?

This post is sponsored by Simplyhealth UK.  Click here to learn more about their Active Health plan.

Seven tips on how to pack for a ski trip

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spring skiing season is here and many people are headed out for one more epic session on the slopes over Easter break.  It can be hard to know what to pack and how to maximize your luggage space, so I though I would share my tips on how and what to pack for a ski and/or snowboarding holiday.

Check airline regulations for baggage. I learned this the hard way on our recent trip to Switzerland.  Some airlines consider ski boots and skis to be one item, while others count them as two bags.  Be sure to read the 'sports equipment' policy of the airline you are flying with.  Snowboard bags can usually hold boots too so you just need to check your bag fall within the allowed oversized luggage dimensions.  I would also recommend checking how much an extra luggage bag is when booking flights, just in case it is cheaper to pay for a "more expensive" flight that includes one luggage bag.

Use clothes to pad equipment in luggage.  When I went on my trips this year, I was able to put all of my clothes (long underwear, ski socks, snow pants, change of clothes, and swim suit) into my ski bag.  My toiletries and sneakers went into my boot bag so I didn't need to check any bags at an additional cost.  By wrapping the clothes around my skis and poles, I knew my kit would be protected from being damaged in the hold. 

Wear snow boots and helmet (read my tips on how to choose one here) on plane.  You probably know this, but wear your bulky clothes on the plane to save room in your luggage.  This means if you have big boots for the snow, you should wear these on the plane.  Also, it is best practice to carry your helmet on the plane with you.  Checking it in the hold puts it at risk for damage from being crushed or banged up from other bags which means it will be less effective or need to be replaced earlier.
WED'ZE jacket and trousers
Dress for the weather. My ski jacket is a WED'ZE AM580 All Mountain from Decathlon* (now on offer) and my snow pants (also from Decathlon) are the WED'ZE Piste Skiing 580 Slim trousers*.  The jacket I have been wearing all winter in London and it has always kept me warm.  On both my ski trips this year, the weather was warm and my jacket kept me at the right temperature on and off the slopes.  The trousers fit well while allowing me a good range of motion even with a layer of long underwear underneath.  I would have liked them to be a little warmer though after I got covered in snow after a fall.  But when I was able to stand standing on my way down, they were perfect insulation.

Icebreaker Bodyfit
As I am always cold, I was excited to test the Ice Breaker Bodyfit zone 200 leggings and long sleeve top base layers. I am probably merino wool's #1 fan.  It keeps your body temperature in check, doesn't smell (which means you don't have to wash it after every use), and it is super soft.  The Bodyfit line also has mesh panels to help you release heat from key areas, while other panels help keep the heat in.  I wore my set in Italy and Switzerland this year, as well as a few chilly nights here in London and have never been disappointed.  Icebreaker merino wool comes in different thicknesses which you can mix and match based on your destination and activity.

Snacks and packed lunch.  We make GORP (equal parts peanuts, raisins, M&Ms and granola) to eat on the mountain and pack protein bars too.  Food and drinks on the mountain can be very expensive and take a long time to queue for.  I prefer having portable snacks I can eat on the chair lift to maximize my time on the slopes. A big breakfast and proper dinner balance me out.  The trails and lift lines tend to be empty while everyone is getting lunch, so try to plan your day around that.  What you pack for snacks is up to you and your budget constraints.

Invest in a Trixski* to carry your kit.  This simple strap is really handy if you have small kids and need to carry their kit. Or if you are clumsy like me and can't carry your skis without them falling out of your arms.  You can also get an additional strap to carry a snowboard.  It is easy to store off the slopes and fits into your jacket pocket while you on piste.

Little things you should not forget.  Don't forget tissues, sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, a water bottle that doesn't leak, hand and/or foot warmers, and sunglasses.  I also like to wear a small rucksack to hold these things, and my snacks.  It is also handy to hold your hat, gloves, and goggles when walking to and from lift.

These are my top seven tips for packing for a ski trip.  If your accommodation has a washing machine, you can do laundry and pack even less.  I prefer to bring two changes of long underwear and regular clothes in case something gets wet. 

Did I forget anything?  What do you always pack when you are headed towards the slopes?

Items marked with a * were given to me for review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Today I was on BBC Radio 5 Live

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

So excited to share that Emma Barnett invited me to the BBC studios in London today to talk about a recent study that says 70,000 deaths a year are caused by inactivity (if anyone has the original paper, I would love to read it).

Here is the recording of our chat.

Restore and Reform weekend break

Monday, March 25, 2019

As you saw from  my post earlier this month, I have had a reoccurring injury with my Achilles (yup, both of them) and have tried various therapies to get better.  I have seen osteopaths, physiotherapists, sports rehabilitation specialists, and doctors and all of them have had different ideas on how to get better.  With these appointments, I would usually see the specialist and then come back a few weeks later to check in.  It was up to me to do my homework (strengthening exercises to sort out imbalances) or rest until my next appointment.  I might not see the same person at each appointment, which would make it hard to have a continuity of care.

When I heard about Restore and Reform's (R&R) concept, their program immediately appealed to me.  R&R is a medically accredited retreat offered in the UK, Portugal, and France.  Founded by Michelle Lewis and Lucy Nifontova, R&R offers three or six day programs while include reformer Pilates classes, soft tissue therapy, mat Pilates classes and physiotherapy assessments.  The holidays can offer treatment themes based on your needs- such as back pain, recovery, post natal, and more.

In January, I was invited to their first retreat at Fair Oak Farm, just outside London. My primary interest was sorting out my Achilles.  My injury wasn't as severe one as some of the others who were recovering from back injuries or hip replacements.  Former clients were at the retreat too and gave testimonials about how their week long experience in Portugal enabled them to touch their toes or sleep without pain.  I had high hopes that the weekend retreat might provide some relief for me too.

With only three days at Fair Oak Farm, I was able to fit in a 60 minute soft tissue therapy, a 60 minute assessment with Michelle, and six mat classes.  R&R offer their uniquely designed Stretch and Restore mat classes, which are used to educate clients on how they can continue to care for their bodies at home.  Both classes were relaxing and small.  With a maximum of nine people per class, each recipient received individual attention throughout the class.  We learned about foam rolling, pressure points and stretching to release tension and stiffness.

During our weekend, Lucy's mom prepared wonderful breakfast and lunches which clients would attend around their morning classes and sessions.  Dinners were catered by and included free-flowing wine and amazing cheese.  It was wonderful to enjoy a delicious meal with everyone around a large farm table.  The conversation never dulled and I think if the retreat has been longer, we would have had even more time to connect.  The week long programs have much more free time to spend with the others or relax on your own.

Fair Oak Farm offered a variety of accommodation, with many different outbuildings.  I stayed in the Cow Shed, which has a large double bed and bath.  It was also close to the farm house (which is where the kitchen and dining room are) and the Barn where the classes are held. The farm was so beautiful and quiet, and even has peacocks walking around.  Michelle had her physiotherapy assessments in the Beauty Bar, Abi gave her soft tissue therapy treatments in the Cinema Barn, and Lucy lead Reformer Pilates classes in the Hay Barn with the doors wide open to allow in the fresh air and sunshine.

The three day weekend program is a little intense.  In order to fit everything in, you have a mat-based class just before or after breakfast, then some free time before having a Reformer class.  There is a window to eat lunch before having another mat class in the afternoon.  Dinner was served around 7pm.  Also included in there are soft tissue therapy appointments and physiotherapy assessment.  I enjoyed the down time to nap, take a hot bath, read my book, work on my blog, and explore the farm.

Meeting with Michelle on Sunday for my physiotherapy assessment, she took me through a few different physical tests to look for imbalances, weaknesses, and possible causes for my Achilles inflammation.  Before the retreat, she obtained my medical records from Function360 to see what they had observed in the past and what my current treatment regime was.  Michelle also had feedback from Abi who gave me soft tissue therapy on Saturday.  The R&R team share their notes on each client every evening during the retreat to make sure the team is aware of any symptoms that need extra attention and/or any improvements.

Although the retreat didn't solve my Achilles issues, I did leave feeling stronger and stretched out.  Having time to relax and switch off was exactly what I needed.  Michelle sent notes back to Function360 about what R&R observed during my classes and treatments, as well as  recommendations on further treatments I may need to treat my Achilles.  In my particular case, both R&R and Function360 agreed on my condition and future treatment plans.  For previous clients, the intense treatment for a week's time allows R&R to tailor daily treatment plans to see significant improvements.  This gives attendees hope and motivation to keep working hard after the retreat.

While I am very lucky not to have an injury that impacts my life on a daily basis, many of the clients R&R treat do.  On the weekend of my retreat, several surgeons and nurses who have referred their own patients to the retreat spoke about the improvements made by their patients in the retreat's short time frame compared to care given by the NHS and private insurance.  The R&R team truly care about their clients and enjoy the challenge of getting their clients well enough to not need major corrective surgery.

If you have an injury that limits your movement or ability to live pain free, I highly recommend looking into R&R as an investment in your health and well-being.  It is a way to receive a second opinion on your condition, a personalized rehabilitation program, and a time away from life to focus on your own health.  If you want to give the weekend retreat a try, their 12-15th April retreat at Fair Oak Farm in East Sussex is now on offer from £550.