Things are beginning to open up... Here in Scotland, our 'Stay at Home' order gets lifted in a couple of days time, and in England & Wales, people can already travel a little more than they could just a short while ago.
I for one will be getting on the water this weekend, for the first time in what feels like an age. When we went through this process the first time around, I was decidedly nervous: would I be able to recover from the skill fade of months off the water...? The answer, for me, was yes: I could. And it didn't take as long, or feel as difficult as I feared it would.
So I now have a process to follow, learned from last year's experiences, and I intend to follow it, roughly speaking, again over the coming weeks. I thought I'd share that process with you, along with some tips for getting yourself, and your friends or club members, back on the water safely and happily.
Check your kit
Before you throw the boat on the roof and kit in the car, and dash off for that first paddle... Does it all still work? Go through your kit: is it mildew free, and in tact? How's the joint on your split paddles? Are you hatch covers still in good condition, VHF not showing any signs of corrosion? There are many things that may have just degraded a little in storage: take your first aid kit & tow line out of their bags, unpack your PFD pockets if you haven't already... Make sure everything still works.
If, like me, it's been a few weeks or months since you were on the water last, start small, and start easy. Begin with a gentle paddle somewhere that's well within your comfort zone. You're likely to feel excited but just a little less confident than you might have done after a consistent period on the water. Don't put pressure on yourself to feel like you need to head out for a big or adventurous paddle at the start. It might take you a while to work up to doing the same kind of paddling you've been used to: that's ok, we're all in the same place.
Lower your expectations
Expect to fail, to begin with. Try going out with a 'give it a go' mindset, but without consequences. Practice moves on easy water, practice rolling, rescuing, self rescuing... all in places where it doesn't matter at all if it doesn't work. Go out with the intention of failing, of trying to make yourself fail to roll, or fail to make a move. Play. Have fun. But don't expect that you'll paddle at the same standard you do when you're in a consistent period on the water. Have a look at this blog post of mine from last summer.
Be kind to yourself
We've all had a thoroughly weird year. It's affected everyone in different ways, and some more than others, but Covid has had an impact on all of us in some way. You may feel reticent to travel around, to meet with other people, to do things you think you would normally do. That's ok. Give yourself time to readjust to whatever normal is going to look like for a while for you.
Pack a sense of humour
Paddling is fun. If it doesn't feel like that today, maybe it's a day to do something else. Go out, enjoy it, go easy, and play.
Do it with friends
Surrounding yourself with (within the local guidelines) a group of people who you trust, and who trust you, will make the process of returning to the water so much easier. Talk about how you feel about being back; about what you're struggling with, and about what you want to work on today, to get yourself back into the swing of things. It's always better with friends.
Build up gradually
Give yourself and those around you time to build up: think like an athlete training for a marathon. You've had some time away, so don't expect you'll jump from your first few paddles up to a mega-day out. Build up slowly, and enjoy the process of doing so. Your body will take time to adjust back into what were familiar movement patterns. What can you learn or improve on along the way?
Appreciate every moment...
And finally: if you've missed being on the water as much as I have, you'll know how much it means to you to be back. Savour those moments, and store them away. Precious moments, every one.
Many of us have put on weight during lockdown. Some of us may have started lockdown heavier than we’d like to be. But is changing the number on the bathroom scales really what you're looking to achieve?
These days we're told constantly that we live in an obese world. During the Covid-19 pandemic we've been continually told that obesity or being overweight are correlated with worse health outcomes. The health & fitness industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry mainly founded on trying to get people to lose weight.
But here's the thing: repeated dieting is actually an indicator for predicting weight gain instead of weight loss. Yup, there it is: that million dollar industry is, fairly regularly, selling people diets that get them to gain weight in the long term. In the short term of course, they often work. Restricting your calorie intake (which is what all diets do, in one way or another) means you lose weight initially. But in the long term, they're unsustainable: you put the weight back on, and a little bit more. You do it again, and the same happens longer term... and so the cycle continues.
And just because two things have a correlation doesn't necessarily indicate causation. Being overweight is not necessarily connected with poor health outcomes. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Now, don't get me wrong: there are some very, very good reasons why you might want to reduce the number on the scales. But often we assume that will solve lots of problems for us, whereas that may not always be the case.
So let me ask you a question: if you're reading this, the chances are (as you've clicked on the title) you'd like to lose a little weight. But why? What is it you'd really like to do? Perhaps you'd like to run faster, or you'd like to be able to paddle or cycle with greater ease: be more mobile in your boat, or ride up hills faster. Maybe you'd like to fit into those favourite jeans that feel just a little too tight? Or perhaps you just want to feel a little more confident about your body?
Will the number on the scales change any of those things?
What we're really talking about here is the amount of body fat you have, or the ability of your body to achieve the things you want it to. One of the main things that determines the amount of body fat you have is how many calories you eat. But your body's ability to do the thing you want it to do? At the end of the day, that comes down to health, physical fitness and strength. In the modern world, many of us simply eat more calories than our bodies need, and move less - and in less varied ways- than our bodies need us to. But how can we change that without dieting, without restricting our food intake and feeling hungry all the time? That's where food quality comes in.
Eat Balanced Meals
A balanced meal consists of, very roughly speaking, half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of a plate of protein, and a quarter of a plate of carbohydrates. In the western world, most of us skew the balance of our meals much more towards carbohydrates... but the thing that fills you up the fastest, and keeps you full for longest, is protein, and fibre from veggies. How balanced is the meal on your plate?
If you're eating balanced meals, you're eating to be healthy. You're eating to provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to get through the day. Many people find that simply by keeping an eagle eye on how balanced their meals are, they begin to lose a little body fat.
Ask yourself a question... Are you hungry?
When did you last stop before you ate something, and ask yourself if you're truly hungry? Or whether you're eating for a different reason entirely: maybe you're putting off a job you really don't want to do (hoovering, anyone?), maybe you're having a rough day (Hello, Coronacoaster!), or perhaps you're just a bit bored. We all eat for reasons other than hunger sometimes. And sometimes, those are good reasons: celebrating a birthday with loved ones, or going for coffee with a friend you haven't caught up with in ages. It's when it becomes a daily habit that it begins to cause us problems.
Create healthy habits
So how can you break that cycle? Many people try to rely on willpower or motivation. But if we really think about it, we all know that neither of those things actually cuts the mustard. Willpower runs out after a while, and none of us have enough of it to really make long term changes. And motivation comes and goes, it ebbs and flows in cycles depending on what's going on in our lives. What we really need to change, the thing that will stick around long term, are our daily habits. If we can make changes to those, and commit to doing so for the long term by doing things or eating things we enjoy (and I don't mean a week or two, I mean months or years...) then we're onto a winner. Genuine, long term lifestyle change.
Move your body... But not just for weight loss.
'If I do loads of exercise, I'll lose weight'... right? Well, not necessarily. That may be the case in the short to medium term, but in the long term, for most people, two things will happen. First, your body will figure out its daily energy expenditure, including all that exercise, and adapt to it. It will then stop burning as many calories, and your weight on the scales will stabilise. Second, many people find that doing hours of exercise over the long term just isn't sustainable, and their appetite will also increase: our bodies look for equilbrium, and so weight change doesn't happen.
Exercise should be fun! Moving your body keeps it strong and supple, gives your muscles, joints and tendons the chance to move around, build and maintain the strength & stability they need to keep you alive and keep you well. If the activity or movement you're doing feels like punishment for something you ate, try a different activity, and find something that makes you feel alive. The most effective form of exercise is the one you're most likely to do.
Get good sleep
Many of us get less sleep than we actually need, and being tired is a common cause of weight gain. Think about it: when you're tired, do you crave carbohydrates or sugar? You're not actually hungry, but your brain is telling you it needs something to keep it awake. So you eat excess calories when your body doesn't actually need them. People who are trying to lose weight and get enough sleep have been shown to lose significantly more weight than those whose sleep is inadequate.
Commit for the long term
"You are probably overestimating the number of changes you need to make, but underestimating the time you need to make them for". Simply making a few dietary changes - but making them for life - can significantly improve your health... and as a result, you may very well see the number on the scale come down.
Health is not about a number
At the end of the day, that number on the bathroom scale is a combination of many things: body fat, and lean mass being two of them. But it will also fluctuate for a number of reasons, not necessarily connected with what you ate recently. If you are losing body fat but gaining muscle from exercise, you may well see your weight increase. Scale weight is often not the best indicator of health: it's just as possible to be thin and unhealthy as it is to be 'overweight' and healthy. In modern life many of us have come to believe that that little number tells us all we need to know: it doesn't.
This is not a skinny person telling you you don't need to worry about losing weight. Those who know me, know that I have battled with my weight for my entire adult life, ever since being an overweight teenager. I'm still heavier than I'd like to be, but I'm healthy, fit, and strong, and in the last few years I've learned to develop a healthy relationship with food, and with my body. And there's the thing: I can achieve many of the things I'd like to be able to, and I'm always working on getting better... because it's fun, and I enjoy it. Wanting to lose a little more body fat is ok; just as wanting to run faster, be more mobile in your kayak, cycle up hills easier or lift heavier weights are ok. My challenge is this: is weight loss your actual goal, or is your goal really about something else?
If you'd like to explore any of the subjects above in more depth, or would like to improve your health & nutrition, and perhaps lose a little body fat along the way, check out some of my coaching programmes. The following include Nutrition coaching:
Nutrition Jump Start, commencing the first Monday in May, July and September
AdventureFit Coaching Programme
Individual Fitness & Nutrition Coaching
And if you have any questions or would like to discuss coaching with me, send me an email.
Further reading & listening:
The Dr John Berardi Show
Emma Storey-Gordon Fitness
Harvard School of Public Health: the Nutrition Source
Lean and Strong by Josh Hillis, published by On Target Publications, April 2020
Understanding Your Eating by Julia Buckroyd, published by Open University Press
Covid has changed the world. But for many of us, not only has it changed the world, it’s also changed our world. There have been many changes in my world since that day last year when we first heard the words “You must stay at home”, and I wanted to tell you, my clients, a little about those changes, what I’ve learned from them, and how they are going to change they way Zoe Newsam Coaching works.
It seems incredible somehow that it's almost a year since, having realised that providing sea kayak coaching was untenable for the foreseeable future, I walked into my nearest Tesco store and asked for a job. I'd sworn after leaving NATS in 2013 that I wouldn't work for a large company again; but needs must. I had no other means of paying the bills. I picked up a job as a delivery driver, and have been grateful for that one little piece of foresight ever since.
Lockdown was tough, as I grappled with the feeling of having the rug pulled from under me: identity and my sense of purpose pulled with it. But it, and the many other not-so-restricted stages of 2020 brought other benefits too: my life began to follow something of a routine for the first time in years, and I enjoyed spending time at home. We live in a beautiful place, and like many of us I spent time exploring every inch of footpaths, tracks & roads close to home. Unlike a lot of people though, we have a vast area of wild land on our doorstep, and again I'm incredibly grateful for that gift: for the ability to get outdoors, escape the stress and trauma of Covid, and enjoy moving through the environment around me, on foot or by bike, and when we were allowed, by sea kayak. We were unable to paddle during the UK's first lockdown, and that played on my mind... how would I cope with returning to the water? As it turned out, I needn't have worried.
But 2020 turned into 2021, and another Lockdown, with cases on the rise even here in the Highlands. The experience made me reflect on what is important to me, and why I work; how much I need to earn to get by, why I coach, why I run a business, and why, now, I deliver people's shopping. Most potently possibly, it made me consider what I can do to help people live healthier lives.
I coach because I love making a real difference to people. One of my own greatest loves is mastery, getting better at things; I also love the feeling of moving well, of feeling healthy and as though my body is able to do stuff, and take me places that give me that feeling. Seeing other people achieve that, and helping them to get there - whether that's through getting better at a particular skill in a boat, understanding the environment better on the sea, improving strength & power so that you can run, ride, or chase your kids more easily, or to lose a wee bit of weight so you feel better about yourself- that's what makes me feel good.
The outdoor industry can be a peculiar place, and I've long had a feeling that, somehow, I just didn't quite fit in. Since I started working in the outdoors in 2013, I've felt like an outsider: the wrong gender, the wrong shape & size, the wrong background. I've spent plenty of time trying to fit in... but as a friend recently put it (very perceptively, as always) to me: I'm fed up with trying to fit in. The last year has shown me that trying to fit in doesn't pay the bills. It also probably doesn't deliver the best service I can, to my clients. I'm not in this job for the other people in the same job: I'm in it for you guys, my clients, and to live the kind of life I love. So I'm going to stop trying to fit in, stop trying to deliver the courses we're 'supposed' to, and just do what works, and what I love.
It can also be incredibly hard to make a decent living in the outdoor industry: the last year has brought that into stark relief.
So reflecting on all of that made me realise that I needed to make some changes. I want to make a real difference, and one way I can do that is to help people get fitter, get healthier, and get out doing the stuff they enjoy. I can help people do that in a boat, or in the gym. I can also make a real difference to my own life, help myself to do all of that, by being at home more.
How will all of that look, in practice?
You'll see a greater emphasis on Fitness & Nutrition Coaching: mostly delivered online, but still with the personal touch that (I hope) you would expect from me as a coach. That will be focussed on helping people who enjoy the outdoors to achieve their goals: people who I connect with and understand. You'll also see a select number of Sea Kayak Coaching courses, sometimes delivered alongside other coaches with whom I have a close working relationship; and you'll see bespoke sea kayak coaching opportunities, to help you achieve what you really want. If you have a particular thing you'd like to work on, then please do get in touch.
What you won't see is 'identikit' sea kayak qualification or syllabus-based courses, or 'bog standard' personal training. Everything I do will be tailored to delivering the best quality coaching I'm capable of, to my clients, while allowing me the time and space to live the life that keeps me mentally & physically healthy.
And alongside that, I will keep delivering shopping. It's become an essential service up here, I've found it rewarding, and there's a lot to be said for having a small, steady income each month.
Who knows where we will all be in a few months, or a year or so's time? Covid has been an enormous rollercoaster ride, but I hope the lessons I've learned will help me to come out of it stronger, better at my job, and more able to live a healthy, happy life, whatever it might throw at us all.
I hope to catch up with you all on the water, on the hill, or in the gym in the coming months, and if you'd like to talk about coaching, please do get in touch.
Sea Kayak Coach & Personal Trainer based in the Scottish Highlands. I love paddling, running, lifting weights, cycling, and moving well- and I love helping other people to do the same. I have to work really hard to build and maintain my skills on the water and my fitness, and I hope that helps me to understand how hard my clients also have to work!