In the third of our series, Ayesha Muttucumaru looks at how to stay fit in your busy, busy twenties
“Work hard, play hard” sums up twentysomethings as they try to juggle work, a social life and family demands. And with all that going on, it's hardly surprising that exercise tends to take a back seat. We asked some of the best fitness specialists around for their advice on how to keep motivated and focused at this super-busy stage.
"Men’s testosterone levels are at their peak now and their bodies are also in a good position to create muscle. It is important for men to capitalise on these advantages," says James Osborn, Head of Personal Training at Freedom2Train (www.freedom2train.com). “What’s done now will be a good investment for the future. As their basal metabolic rate decreases, they'll have a higher percentage of body fat and it'll become harder for them to lose weight."
Women tend to lose interest in fitness in their twenties and so to keep them motivated exercise needs to be stimulating. The primary aim according to Lee Mullins, Director of Personal Training at Bodyism (www.bodyism.com) is to combine cardio with exercises aimed at creating a stable body, improving posture and creating lean muscle in order to look long, trim and toned. Check out Nathalie Schyllert from Bodyism demonstrating the T exercise in this video http://tinyurl.com/bvg5fgf, a great way to improve posture so that you’re standing straighter, creating the illusion of a slimmer and leaner frame.
For men looking to build up lean muscle, Lee recommends starting by learning the basics at the gym and getting used to training and exercising a few times a week. He says: “Look for a training partner who will help keep you motivated to train. It’s much more fun when you train with a friend." He also suggests mixing it up: “Improve your fitness with lots of different varieties of exercise, perhaps interval training on a versaclimber or a spinning class.”
James recommends both sexes to focus on compound movements such as squats, dead lifts and lunges. A mixture of weight training and cardiovascular exercises are important to raise metabolic rates so that the body burns more calories throughout the day. Women who want an athletic but feminine silhouette, should combine light to medium weight training and cardio. If neither appeals Lee suggests trying flowing yoga.
Although it can seem a lot more appealing to have a night in with a movie after a stressful day, Steve Mellor, Head of Fitness and Nutrition at Freedom2Train points out that exercise actually helps you to relax and makes you better equipped to handle challenges. And it improves concentration levels as well as general performance at work. He recommends doing short bursts of high-intensity training as well as resistance training such as full circuit sessions to boost energy levels, release endorphins and reduce stress levels. Think of exercise as a way of gearing up or mentally preparing for a busy day rather than to just blow off steam at the end of it.
The main obstacle for men at this stage is lack of time. Lee suggests that the best way to overcome this is to incorporate fitness into as many of your daily activities as possible. Try and find something active to do every day: go to the gym before work a few times a week, walk to work or play football or rugby with friends.
Many women will be starting to think about motherhood and need to focus on developing stronger stomach and back muscles in preparation for pregnancy.
Lee suggests men challenge their bodies with different types of training to keep things interesting. He suggests using kettlebells and trying boxing, TRX training or a martial art such as jui-jitsu.
If an exercise is fun, you are much more likely to stick to it and one way to do so is to join a league, as suggested by Steve. Try touch rugby (www.in2touch.com), dodgeball (www.dodgeballuk.com), five or seven-a-side football (www.powerleague.co.uk) or if you're in London, netball (www.onenetball.com) or try www.gomammoth.co.uk for a number of other sports too.
For a long, lean and healthy physique, Lee suggests that women focus on strengthening the postural muscles to lift the bum and pull back the shoulder blades. For those looking to start a family, James recommends weight and resistance training, particularly focusing on the back and arms to prepare the body for pregnancy and to build strength for carrying a new baby around after the birth.
According to Steve Mellor, the types of exercise that a woman should do during pregnancy depends on how active she was beforehand. If she wasn't particularly active, it is important not to do new exercises now which will only stress the body. He advises women to consult a doctor before embarking on an exercise regime during pregnancy. High intensity exercises are best avoided as levels of the hormone relaxin increase during pregnancy, which makes joints less stable, increasing the risk of injury. It is important to listen to your body and be aware of your individual needs.
Lee advises: “As the pregnancy progresses, decrease the intensity at which you exercise. Listen to your body and what works for you. For some it might be a 30 min brisk walk or a yoga class. Still aim to be active most days but just remember that the nearer you get to your due date you probably shouldn't be training as if you are competing in an Iron Man competition. Be kind to yourself and baby and listen to your body.”
We are bombarded with images of celebrity mothers who are back to their pre-pregnancy weights within a month of giving birth. Such transformations should not be a measure of how quickly women should look to lose their baby weight. Patience is key to getting your figure back and it’s best to increase activity levels steadily. Lee warns against intense exercise so soon after labour as toxins released during exercise can be passed on to your baby. He advises: “Aim to be active without breaking into a big sweat. It’s important to be patient and to re-educate your tummy muscles to work again, as well as to strengthen the lower back.”
Steve recommends focusing on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles both before and after pregnancy. This helps improve bladder control and to boost core strength. James adds that levels of relaxin are still high in the body for several months following pregnancy and so caution should be exercised to prevent potential injury.
And the bottom line for staying fit as a twentysomething? Lee says: “Do something most days of the week, whether you go for a swim one day, a yoga session or hit the gym. Get outside, move and don't sit inside on Facebook!!" Not all the time anyway.