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Mind over matter: how to conquer your fitness fears

March 10th 2016 / Anna Hunter


Ever considered sprinting the track or doing some reps for inner strength? You could be making quite the breakthrough...

How do you measure your workout progress? Do you take a selfie, slip into a pair of formerly skintight jeans or log your jogs with the likes of the Nike+ Running App? All of the above are failsafe methods to benchmark your success (no photoshopping), but how about monitoring shifts in your mindset? From the discreet fist pump when you lift an extra kg or two to the waning of work worries when you reach the 3k mark, getting in the fitness groove can do wonders for our mental state, whether you’re frazzled pre sweat session or not.

According to research published by Mintel earlier this month, 49% of 16-24 year olds in the UK turn to exercise first as a means to relieve stress, with 29% of the overall population ‘running away the sad’, as fitness mad Lily would say in the original new Nike series Margot vs Lily. Over the pond, Mintel found in January that 66% of Americans now base how healthy they are on how they feel, rather than on their appearance, with 70% reporting that ‘feeling good’ is the main incentive for living a healthy lifestyle, followed by ‘being happier’ in second place at 58%. Here’s why healthy happens in your head, along with a few pointers on blasting through mental blocks, whether they’re triggered by a particularly cruel circuits class or a nasty online troll, as is the case for Margot in Margot vs Lily Episode 4.

Embrace rush hour

If you’re yet to be intoxicated by the ‘runner’s high’, stick with it. Your neurotransmitters will throw a huge party at some point during your training, and impossible though it might seem, the natural lift can rival chocolate, cocktails and other much relied upon mood and energy enhancers (without the hangover or sugar crash). If you’re still skeptical, it was partly the endorphins that turned the following sporty lot into Nike Master Trainers (no mean feat). If you need convincing to come back for more on the gym floor, these maestros have the motivation:

“Being physically fit and active definitely makes you stronger mentally as well as physically. The release of endorphins after exercise leaves you with a positive mindset and setting yourself physical targets and achieving them helps to promote a healthy state of mind.” Anya Lahiri, Master Trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp and Nike Elite Trainer

“Fitness is not just about who can do the most burpees or who looks best in the latest training gear (these are bonuses!), it's about trying to be the best possible version of yourself. When you know that you are giving it your best shot, training can be an extremely powerful tool. You will experience the endorphin rush. You will start to feel empowered. You will believe in yourself more. You will tell yourself that you CAN achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, whether it be a fitness performance goal such as running a 10k, an aesthetic goal or even a life goal such as a promotion.” Rory Knight, Nike NTC Master Trainer

If the thought of 'run club' makes you freak a little, Nike's Ready Set Go Guide will set you on a path to greatness.

Training = therapy

There’s a reason that exercise is prescribed on the NHS as a treatment for mild and moderate depression; the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that people with mild to moderate depression take part in three sessions a week, with sessions ideally lasting from 45 minutes to an hour, completing a programme over 10 to 14 weeks. We say why stop there, but even just a week or so of training can reap more holistic rewards than you might imagine. Nike NTC Master Trainer Sonja Moses thinks that a bit of challenging exertion, balanced with R&R, can for many people (herself included) provide as much as an outlet as other more traditional therapy methods:

“It sounds so corny, but getting fit really can be quite the voyage of self-discovery. Focusing on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, can really help you to get your personal values sorted and achieve clarity. I find that this is especially true if you work out in nature; for me I find it easier to establish what serves me when I’m away from the daily grind of the city. I seem to be able to sort out my priorities almost effortlessly in a greener, more airy environment. I can get to the bottom of niggling feelings; is it work? Is it something at home? Whatever’s bothering me, I normally come away with some kind of solution after getting active away from the hustle and bustle. Just call me an urban hippy!”

It’s also important to recognise when you need to take a step back from the hardcore HIIT and engage your mind rather than all of your muscles at once, as Sonja emphasises,

“Resting isn’t about being lazy (...you’ll know if you’re being lazy), it’s about really allowing yourself to feel things and letting whatever’s going down in your life resonate. I’ve always found meditation pretty tricky, but ‘gong baths’ really work for me in terms of getting emotionally on the right track. I’m a dreamer and a creative, and staying in tune physically and mentally is what I’m all about.”

If gongs aren’t your bag but you’d like to take a break from dog eat dog fitness feats, Nike Elevated Yoga Trainer and ‘boss’ at Fat Buddha Yoga Jessica Skye may well have the solution…

“For those who aren’t a fan of competitive fitness, try yoga. It’s more of a mission than a competition, it about personal growth both physically and mentally. Yoga will teach you to observe yourself and notice that inner dialogue you have with yourself.”

“Yoga helps to train the fluctuations of the mind, meaning that you learn to observe yourself and your mental patterns. From there you can rise above your negative traits as you become aware of them. These are all tools gained from meditation, and you can see these principles across all types of eastern disciplines.”

“By practicing regularly, or when you know you really need to, you’ll see when you’re positive and when you’re negative, when you want to keep going and when you want to give up. You’ll learn to step back from yourself and see how you really are, and once you realise how you behave unconsciously you’ll be about to consciously steer your psyche to a more positive place. After all you can’t fight an enemy you can’t see.

Fewer fitness ‘enemies’ and more friends is clearly the way forward too (Lily’s working on this, btw)...

Watch Lily trying to make friends through fitness (and other means…) in the latest episode of the Margot vs Lily series


Smells like team spirit

Committing to fitness often starts with committing to people first. Sonja advocates finding someone to ‘report into’, work style, or alternatively joining or setting up a training crew. The free Nike+ Training Club app provides a great springboard if you’re not sure where to start or who to call, with expertise and motivation on tap at all times if that gets you going.

Don’t fret if your prospective fitness buddy is outrunning you either. Anya assures us that results and impetus are all relative:

“I had an amazing mother/daughter combo at Barry's who committed to training five times a week for a month with me, and it was amazing to see their results. They both had completely different goals and different fitness levels but motivated each other to come to class and supported each other throughout the month.”

“We did fitness tests and body composition monitoring routinely throughout so that they could see their progression and the improvements in muscle mass and fat reduction, which was incredibly motivating for them and kept them on track. The physical results were astounding. Both of them managed to quadruple their plank time (30 seconds to two minutes and one minute to four minutes!) and shorten their mile time substantially on the treadmills, which was a massive achievement as they were terrified of running to begin with.”

Just heed Jessica’s counsel and don’t let a bit of healthy encouragement turn to full on combat (unless sparring is your workout of choice):

“Don’t compare yourself to others. They are on a different path and at a different point of their journey to you.”

Stick that on a fridge magnet is you’re prone to measuring yourself against other people’s yardsticks.

The turning point

Whether it’s leaving your trainers by the door in the morning, heading to the gym by default before work or feeling as though your PT does indeed actually know you personally, there comes a time when working out starts to feel ‘natural’ (honestly...we’re no smug sweat disciples). Jessica’s adamant that you’ll start to fall in love with the fitness thing:

“The defining moment in making fitness a habit is that you’re enjoying yourself. Your body is pretty awesome and will quickly adapt to your training, whether it’s strength, flexibility or cardio (usually all three). Once you get into the rhythm of training regularly and enjoying it, your body (and likely mind) will start to miss it when you skip a session. For this reason, it’s even more important to make sure you choose activities you genuinely like to keep you coming back.”


Still feeling the fear? Just sign on the dotted line. Anya advocates a little old fashioned diarising to make getting sweaty second nature:

“A lot of the most successful clients that I see commit themselves to a program or to a schedule every week, which means that they are either checking in with me personally or have signed up to an academy at Barry's, where you come to class five times a week at the same time everyday. By committing yourself to a schedule of exercise you very quickly make being active a habit and part of your routine rather than something intimidating and unknown.”

“Whether you are striving to run a faster race pace or whether you just want to learn to run on a treadmill, engage yourself in a structured fitness programme for a few weeks. Once you start seeing results, you’ll start wanting more, and that’s when the exercise addiction sets in.”

Rory acknowledges that such dedication isn’t always easy at first…

“The people who start to see results are the ones who make sacrifices. They are also the same people who after a month are looking and feeling great about themselves. Guess what happens then? They love how they now look and feel so much that training becomes a lifestyle; an important component of the identity of this strong and confident individual.”

If you’re not quite seeing abs of steel as yet, don’t fret. Even a small bicep is cause for celebration, as Margot demonstrates in the latest episode of Margot vs Lily.

When you hit a wall, use it

Be reasonable and treat yourself with compassion; guns don’t grow on trees, but the absence of a six pack thus far doesn’t mean that the effort isn't worth making. Pushing through boredom, ‘blah’ days, lacklustre lifting, skipped workouts and crisp binges (Margot can relate) can make all the difference when it comes to making headway. Just follow Jessica’s lead and pick yourself back up again instead of beating yourself up or retreating to the apparent safety of the sofa (it’s not really on your side):

“It’s frustrating if you feel as though you’re underachieving; not beating your PB, losing to someone else, or not being able to nail that headstand. Physical triumphs take time, and if you don’t stick at them you’ll never get there. Once you do get there you’ll enjoy a sense of satisfaction and remember that you’re a total badass. You’ll gain your confidence back and feel a lot more positive.”

“There’s so much of this in yoga; both the frustration and the triumph. It’s worth remembering that it’s really not about the poses; they’re just a vehicle for the other stuff.”

If it’s pace and PB’s rather than poses that are proving hard to attain, yoga could well up your game:

“Incorporating gentle yoga into intense training regimes can bring back some balance to strength and cardio training, improving your flexibility, encouraging you to learn to breathe efficiently as well as getting you using parts of the body you may not usually work or access. This can help you to stay on track longer, get some rest time, attain mental clarity and also help reduce injury when used properly in combination with other techniques.”

Rome wasn’t built in a day is also Anya’s vibe:

“By starting with small goals and finding you can achieve them you can slowly realise that the world is your oyster, not just in the gym but in life. I always tell clients not to overload themselves and to try and increase speeds, distances or weights slowly. This way you can see your achievements as they happen and let these results motivate you to push harder and challenge yourself more. The negative mindset of 'I can't' then very quickly transforms into 'I can' and more and more seems possible!”

Whatever your reasons for exercising, seeing improvements across the board, from your social life to your stress levels not only stops you going back to square one, but it makes all the sweat, soreness and loads of washing worth it (well ventilated fitness wear such as this Tech Knit Windrunner featured in Margot vs Lily Episode 5 will help on that front) . Also, endorphins are not miles away from morphine in terms of their painkilling, mood boosting effects. Just saying.


Are you team #MargotViking or team #LilyNinja? Watch the Margot vs Lily series here to decide which fitness camp you fall into. Tune in every Monday to catch the latest episode, see the looks and get inspired on nike.com/betterforit #BetterForIt.

For further inspiration, check out the @nikewomen Instagram account. Follow Anya @anyalahiri, Rory @roryknightfitness, Sonja @sonjamoses, Jessica @iamJessicaSkye and myself @annyhunter

Hungry for more? Watch episode 6 of Margot vs Lily here. In this latest episode Margot visits an old-flame, which has major ramifications for Lily. Let off steam like Lily by completing the latest NTC workout here, and if you're inspired by Lily's look, work up a sweat in the Nike Pro Hypercool Tight and Nike Air Huarache Ultra shoes.

This feature was written in partnership with Nike

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