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Andrew Gwynne

A modern-day fable

By Blog

Do you remember the old story about the race between the tortoise and the hare? The hare expects to win easily, so he stops for a nap halfway. The tortoise plods on and finally prevails. It teaches us the lesson that you can succeed by doing things slowly and surely. But it also reminds me that whatever you want to achieve, taking the first step is the most important. 

This ancient fable was repeated in the 1980s, and it’s a story I like to share with my clients. Its hero was a humble potato-farmer called Cliff Young, who became a legendary long-distance runner. He’d never been coached but he had a secret weapon. From boyhood, he’d herded sheep by foot on the family farm, often running for days with little sleep.

Now 61, Cliff turned up to a running race in Sydney, decked out in his overalls and work boots. Most folk thought he was there to watch. But he picked up his race number and joined the other competitors. He tried on his first-ever pair of running shoes, and cut holes in his trousers for ventilation. He also removed his dentures, as they rattled when he ran.

You need to know that this was no ordinary event. It was the very first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne race, an ‘ultra-’. That’s the name for events longer than a marathon. And this was much, much longer, at nearly 550 miles. Even the professionals would take five days to finish this gruelling challenge, and they had trained especially for it. People worried about Cliff’s safety, and no wonder. How was this old man going to cope?

As expected, Cliff trailed by a large margin at the end of the first day. The pros had quickly left him behind. But as the race went on, something unexpected happened. The Aussies were glued to the TV news as Cliff took the lead with a slow, shuffling running style. Like the tortoise, his pace was slower than everybody else’s. But he wasn’t sleeping six hours a day like the hares. So they had a lot of catching up to do. 

He ran almost non-stop, with only short breaks. Cliff didn’t know that you were supposed to run for eighteen hours a day and sleep the rest. He later told reporters that he imagined running after sheep, trying to outrun a storm. It worked, as he eventually won the race by ten hours. His time had cut the record for the distance by over two days. Famously, he then split the prize money among his fellow runners. According to Cliff, the A$10,000 prize would, “buy a lot of potatoes.” 

From nowhere, this out-of-the bush runner was now an Australian icon. The Cliff Young Shuffle soon became famous in the running world, copied by long-distance runners everywhere. Through courage and determination he showed us that small steps chained together become something powerful.

Cliff came to prominence again aged 76, when he raised money for homeless children on a 16,000km run around Australia. He got halfway, pulling out only because his crew member became ill. Exercising as he got older was natural for him, even with some arthritis in his joints: “It is like rust that gets into a vehicle. I reckon you have to keep your joints moving. No matter what you do, you have to keep moving. If you don’t wear out, you rust out, and you rust out quicker than you wear out.” He finally rusted out in 2003.

As long as you run, you’re a runner. It doesn’t matter if you feel slow, clumsy, or have a few pounds to shed. It doesn’t matter if you come last at parkrun. Keep at it. Inspired by people like Cliff Young, you’re still lapping the people on the sofa.

Remember that in life results take time. It’s truly a marathon not a sprint, as Cliff Young shows. Be patient, consistent and trust yourself. But know that if you change nothing, nothing will change.

How goals can change your life

By Blog

Why do my clients first get in touch with me? Because they have a challenge, or a problem to solve. This can be anything from wanting to lose a bit of weight to running their first marathon. I have the expertise to help. But I know that if someone wants to achieve things, they must understand and channel their motivation. 

In this article, I look into the importance of setting goals. There are some practical tips for making them work for you, and we dig into the psychology. I offer a framework for setting and defining good goals, showing how you can use them to make progress.

What do we mean by a ‘goal’? It’s something you hope to achieve. But the word implies that to get there, you’ll need to commit time and effort. You’ll have to make sacrifices. That won’t be easy, so you’d better make sure your motivation is strong, and backed up with a good plan.

Where positive emotions come from

Psychologists tell us that we get positive emotions when we’re moving towards a goal. These are feelings like joy, gratitude, hope and confidence. One of the reasons we love them is that they fend off negative emotions such as anxiety and fear. Improve your goal setting, and you’ll feel less pain, frustration and discomfort.

I think we all know this deep down. To have positive meaning in your life, you need a goal that you actually value and will keep working towards. And if you don’t give your mind something to chase, it will find things to fret about. Think of goal-setting as a tool we can use to become our own best friend. 

Two different kinds of goals

I help my clients think about both outcome and process goals. An outcome goal is ambitious. For example, you may want to complete a half-marathon after years of inactivity. Or convert your fast-food loving kids to your tasty, healthy weekday meals. 

Outcome goals won’t usually work on their own. They’re too distant, so don’t give you the goal-directed drive you’re looking for. We fill this gap with process goals, small steps on the journey. Every single step gets you closer to the bigger outcome goal. And every single one will give you a bit of dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical.

Let’s take the half-marathon example. The outcome goal must be achievable, otherwise you’re setting yourself up to fail. So perhaps we’d identify an event that’s nine months away. We’d then work back and fill the weeks with regular process goals. At first, they might be as simple as buying some running gear. Then one month in, getting up early to volunteer at a parkrun. Three months in, lining up on the start line yourself. Six months in, fast walking or running 20 miles in a week.

A framework for goal-setting

If you want to improve your goal-setting, try the following five-step approach. 

1. Write down your outcome goal

Use the SMART approach when you’re doing this – it’s old but gold. It gives us a way of judging how well thought-out your goal really is:

  • Specific – Is your end point clear? ‘Get fitter’ or ‘lose weight’ are too vague. It’s best to target one particular area for improvement. 
  • Measurable – Try to attach numbers to the goal. Here’s a good example, “I’d like to run 5k in under thirty minutes before my 50th birthday.”
  • Achievable – Based on experience and research, is it do-able? If you’re not sure, this is something I can help with. Our bodies will adapt over time, but it’s foolish to be over-ambitious.
  • Realistic – Thinking about family, work and other commitments, how much time and energy can you bring to your goal? It may be better to start smaller. 
  • Time-bound Have you said when the results will be achieved? At what point will you look back and judge? Your goals won’t work without a deadline. 

2. Your motivation

Add a paragraph or two on your motivation. Here are some things to cover:

  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • If you don’t attempt it now, how will you feel?
  • If you don’t attempt it now, how will you feel in five years’ time?
  • Who else wants to see you reach this goal, and why?
  • How will they feel when you succeed?
  • How will you feel when you succeed?

3. Making things better

Now write down how achieving this goal will change things for you and your loved ones. Think about the following:

  • Would achieving this goal change your view of yourself? Why?
  • How would it change the way that your partner, family and friends see you?
  • How would achieving this goal help or inspire other people? 

4. Write down your process goals

Remember that it may take some time before you reap rewards from your hard work. So this is where you convert your outcome goal into digestible chunks. You’ll use them to track how you’re getting on, giving you a sense of accomplishment. 

  • Break the goal down into action steps – ideally one for each day
  • Put them in your calendar, and protect them from other commitments
  • Try to pick out a weekly milestone – achieving this will fuel another wave of motivation.

5. Prepare for obstacles

Life has a habit of getting in the way of your process goals. So predict at least five common obstacles. Use your imagination to solve them right now, like this:

  • Obstacle – Early evening is the best time for my run, but I get distracted as soon as I’m home 
  • Solution – Get your running kit ready as part of your morning routine. Change into it as soon as you get through the door. 

By starting, you have already made a big step forward. Don’t panic if it’s not working for you straightaway. Things might need a little adjusting. If your obstacles are proving hard to overcome, ask for advice from others who have achieved similar goals.

Becoming unstoppable

You can revise your process goals as they’re bound to need adjusting. That’s OK. Their role is to provide urgency and keep you close to your milestones. Every little step is just an increment better, and that’s a great thing. It compounds, driving the kind of progress that’s unstoppable. On the way, it will deliver the positive emotions and meaning that makes a life worth living.

Why sleep matters

By Blog

It’s no wonder so many of us have trouble sleeping. The stressful commute, bright lights outside, or the noisy neighbours – our city lifestyles don’t make it easy. Then we add in our own bad habits, caffeine, and the late-night ‘ping’ from our smartphones. 

This is just modern life, right? The trouble is, being tired for a few days is only part of the story. Most of us don’t know that a lack of sleep has a big impact on the rest of our lives. Poor sleep means we’re at more risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease – and it plays havoc with our mental health. 

Good sleep means working in harmony with our natural circadian rhythm. This is the internal body-clock that drives sleepiness and wakefulness. It makes us sleep soundly in the early hours, then become more alert mid-morning. Darkness and daylight help make it work. 

In this article we find out more, and explore why sleeping is essential for a long and healthy life.

When you don’t sleep well

The odd night without much sleep means you’re irritable the next day. It won’t hurt your health. But after a few nights, the effects become serious. You’ll find it hard to make decisions, and you’ll feel low and sluggish. That’s because you’re not re-setting your body and brain each day, as nature intended.

Sleep protects your mental health

The science tells us that chronic sleep problems can lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety. One study shared by the NHS followed the sleeping habits of people with mental health problems. Most of them regularly slept for less than six hours a night, and that’s not enough. The hours you sleep are not like a bank account. You can’t go overdrawn for a few months and pay back the debt next year.

Sleeping helps you stay lean

There’s also lots of evidence that good sleep habits help you manage your weight. It looks as if there are two reasons for this. Firstly, sleep-deprived people have less leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. Second, they have more ghrelin, the hormone that makes you want to raid the fridge. 

This is a double-whammy that no-one wants. It makes it harder for you to control your impulses and cravings. That means you’ll find yourself both looking for high-calorie foods and feeling less satisfied afterwards. So if you want a lean body, sorting out your sleeping habits should be high on your list.

You need sleep for physical recovery

There are two main phases in a healthy night’s sleep. The first one regenerates and heals your body after the trials of the day – it’s called Slow Wave Sleep or SWS. If you’ve been training hard or just running for the bus, this is when your muscles are repaired. Your body releases growth hormones to keep them in good nick. So sleep makes your physical recovery faster and more complete.

Sleeping keeps your brain sharp

Everyone needs a rest after a day absorbing stuff – from the news and office gossip to your kids’ school reports. In the other phase of sleep (REM), we sort out and reset the activity that’s built up in our brain while we’ve been awake. Without the full forty winks, our neurons get muddled with electrical activity. This gets in the way of new memories being laid down. 

Good sleep is needed before learning, to get your brain ready for new memories. It’s also needed afterwards, to fix those memories and prevent you forgetting. If you don’t sleep the very first night after learning something, it may never come back. That’s not good, because memories help us adapt to the world around us. 

We also know that good REM sleep fuels creativity. That doesn’t mean you’ll master the piano or cake decoration overnight (although it would help). It’s more to do with the everyday creativity that helps us think clearly and solve problems. And we all face tricky challenges every day, making decisions about our health, careers, families and relationships.

Sleep fights off lifestyle diseases

By now, you won’t be surprised to hear that bad sleep also fuels the lifestyle diseases that strain our communities and health services. Those who usually sleep less than five hours a night increase their risk of diabetes. Sleep deprivation is also linked with increased heart rate and higher blood pressure, putting extra strain on your heart. Finally, prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.

Bad sleep plays havoc with the chemical substances and vital processes that occur inside your body. Consistent lack of sleep drives an increase in cortisol, a hormone whose release is associated with stress. It also means higher levels of blood sugar and premature ageing. That’s right – ‘beauty sleep’ is a real thing, and researchers have shown that just a little sleep-deprivation makes people less attractive to others.

What is Freestyle Functional Fitness?

By Blog

In my lifetime, the UK has seen a big growth in lifestyle diseases and mental health problems. It’s no coincidence that this has gone alongside a drop in physical activity. From the school playground to the modern workplace, we’ve become too sedentary. I wanted to do something about this, and was confident I could help. 

Joining the army reserves 25 years ago was the start of my self-guided fitness journey. The inspiration for my training was formed with 131 Commando, preparing for the Reserve Forces Commando Course. I followed this up by studying with experts in fitness, nutrition and physiology. 

This mix of study and technical skill blends well with my experience as an army physical instructor and personal trainer. It’s ensured I have stayed healthy, fit, injury-free and – even as I’ve aged – improved and adapted. It provides a robust and holistic system for safe and effective physical activity. I call it ‘freestyle functional fitness’.

A proven approach, tailored for you

Why do I use the words ‘freestyle’ and ‘functional’? ‘Freestyle’ means that I help my clients in a way that suits them best – it’s personal. The principles don’t change, but the approach does. It depends on your specific goals, taking into consideration your circumstances, your current health and previous physical activity. 

There’s no one size fits all. As a result, I’ve worked with a wide range of clients, across all ages and fitness levels. I’ve trained teenagers, including those with autism. I’ve trained whole families and elderly grandparents. I’ve also had the privilege of helping a group of visually-impaired adults improve their strength, flexibility and balance.

‘Freestyle’ also means that this isn’t just about physical fitness. It can’t be, because daily activity is simply one part of the mix. To fulfil your potential, you also need to become a healthy eater, manage stress and get a regular good night’s sleep. Each depends on the other. We look at all of them, and use goal-setting tools to make long-lasting, positive changes. 

Training for everyday life

I use the word ‘functional’ to describe something that’s practical and useful, not artificial or throwaway. I don’t believe in quick fixes, so I don’t offer them to my clients. Nor will I help you adopt the latest YouTube fitness craze. My advice and coaching is no-nonsense. But it’s tried-and-tested – and it works. 

‘Functional’ also describes the type of fitness programmes I put together. The exercises train your muscles as a team, preparing them for daily tasks. They simulate movements you might do at home, work or playing sports. By taking your joints through their full range of motion, we bring healthy movement back to your body. Using the muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, we also give you a strong core. 

Why is this so important? Functional fitness helps you move more comfortably in day-to-day life. And bodies that move comfortably burn more calories. You’ll feel happier climbing the stairs, carrying the shopping or getting off the sofa. Your posture will improve. By mimicking everyday movements, your body will learn to take daily stresses in its stride. We’re just helping it do its job.

In the longer-term, your exercise programme will help you fight off hypokinetic diseases. Hypokinetic means low movement, so these are conditions that come from a lack of physical activity. A good example is obesity and its consequences, including back pain, high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s important that we bring functional exercises into our routine, especially as we age. They will help us stay mobile and perform everyday activities for as long as we can.

Functional training is highly versatile as it can be done with limited space and little or no equipment. Most of the exercises use your body weight for resistance, so sessions can take place outdoors, at your home or place of work. If we can’t meet in person, I develop online session plans and offer live training through Zoom video communication.

If I can help inspire the beginning of your fitness journey, or work with you on a specific goal, just click the link below.

Let’s go!