If Alex Galbinski keeps repeating the ‘no pain no gain’ mantra, perhaps even she will start to believe it…
My name is Alex and I am lazy. There, I’ve said it. I used to love exercise as a child but, as I’ve grown older, I’ve found more and more excuses not to do it and have let life – and a love of food – get in the way of a healthier lifestyle.
But I’m also not getting any younger – and summer holidays are just around the corner – so it is with some trepidation that I turn to Anne Larchy, who runs AI Fitness at The Finchley Weight Loss Centre in North Finchley. Her programme is called ‘Lose 21lb in 12 weeks’ but, while I don’t have that much to lose, I definitely need to tone up.
Eat properly but don’t calorie count
Anne advises me to eat ‘clean’ (she does not believe in diets). “Try to cook from scratch and eat proper food – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit,” she says. “You shouldn’t count calories because you can end up eating 1,500 calories of rubbish when you should be eating the nutritious food your body needs.”
Reviewing my food diary, Anne remarks: “You aren’t eating enough vegetables.” Her comments on my food intake surprise me as I had considered myself a fairly healthy eater (cake notwithstanding). “Imagine an empty plate: half of it should be filled with vegetables (which are also carbohydrates), two-thirds of the other half should be protein, with the remainder other carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta.”
So my dinner of spaghetti bolognese does not fit (too carby), nor does my vegetable lasagne (where’s the protein?). My breakfast serving sizes are too big (I measured) and I am also not drinking enough water or eating sufficient fruit. By following everything Anne says and attending her twice-weekly fitness sessions, David, one of her recent clients, has lost a whopping 2 ½ stone. Points taken.
(Women) don’t be scared of strength training
“Step into my torture chamber,” Anne might as well have said, as she shows me the fitness room and introduces me to Neil, an affable Australian personal trainer (one of two she works with), who uses a variety of strength training exercises. “This is easy,” I think of the tricep extensions, swinging the dumbbell above my head – the first couple of times. “Tuck your elbows in,” says Neil. Ouch. “Could we possibly use a lighter weight?” I whimper, but every time I try to slack off, Neil is there, encouraging. “It’s just your mind telling you that you can’t do it,” he says, counting me down.
“Women often worry that weights will make them bulk up,” explains Anne, “but it’s not true. Half an hour on a cross-trainer or a bike is not enough if you want to lose weight and tone up. If you lose weight, it won’t necessarily come from fat – it can come from muscle or water, which is not good.”
High intensity interval training burns fat best
“It’s all about high intensity interval training,” adds Anne, who is Jewish and was born in Belgium. “A certain amount of intense exercise – for example 40 seconds of sprinting or heavy weight lifting and then 20 seconds rest – gets your heart rate up, which is better for burning fat. Your body continues burning the fat even after you’ve finished exercising.”
Neil gets us doing mountain climbers. I start off very enthusiastically, but my thighs tire quickly. And who knew that you could sweat out of your neck?
To mix it up, Neil gets us doing butt kicks, shuttles and then Norwegian wrestlers. “You know the exercise is never going to be easy when it’s given a foreign name,” mutters Fergie, another victim – my gym partner.
At least I can somehow manage the abdominal plank – then Neil tells me the Guinness World Record for holding the position is more than five hours. Crazy people, I mutter (because I’m too tired to say it out loud). But I’m sort of pleased – no pain, no gain, as they say.
There’s always something you can do to improve your health
“There are so many things you can do,” says Anne, a former IT sales professional who became unhealthy and overweight until she reset her priorities, qualifying as a personal trainer in 2007.
“You can do five minutes’ exercise here and there – squats while you wait for the kettle to boil, press ups on the kitchen counter. You can lift weights while you watch TV and you can run up and down the stairs five times,” she tells me, as I resolve not to stand still on the Tube escalators on my commute.
Nothing in the fridge? Look in the freezer, says Anne, adding: “I keep cooked vegetables in mine – green beans, mashed carrots, spinach. That way, I know I always have some veg and I’m eating in the right proportions.”
As I write this, I’ve just finished week nine out of 12. I’m still huffing and puffing as I walk up the escalators and there’s still much I could improve on the food front, but I’m trying – and succeeding – to put into practice at least some of Anne’s instructions.