The Immense Power Of Human Movement
One of the foundational laws of science states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. I believe this principal applies to almost all walks if life; every pro has its con, every cloud has its silver lining, and every action we do as humans may serve an antithetical purpose dependent on the manner in which it is used.
Take a soldier’s assault rifle, which has the power to protect the vulnerable and the helpless, whilst simultaneously bestowing the ability to take an innocent life of someone caught in its crossfire. In my 21 years on this planet, I have learnt that the same is indeed true of physical activity and fitness…
As a PT, I am always asked by my clients about where it all started: the origins of my mad passion for the gym and a love of all things active. I usually reply with something about my childhood, which was largely spent playing rugby, cricket, and the odd game of (very dubious…) 5-a-side in the park. Having been notorious for being a bit of a sports addict at school, it’s not really surprising that I ended out working in the fitness industry!
However, I usually fail to explain the deeper, more personal reason behind my career choice. As for the most recent 5 years of my life, it would be no understatement to say that exercise has saved my life on more than one occasion…
Since I struggle to articulate this side of my story in the flesh, I figured I would write about it instead! My only hope is that, after reading my story, you can use the lessons I have learnt during my turbulent relationship with fitness to help you in your lives!
This isn’t intended in any way, shape, or form to be some sort of plea for pity or sympathy. It is merely an insight into the more personal side of my journey in relation to fitness, and how the mistakes I have made can prevent you from falling into similar traps in your lives.
I am a huge advocate of openness, and I hope that reading this article will inspire you to be open about your past, even if it is just to yourself. Be proud of where you have been, what you have been through, and use that to propel you ever-closer towards a prosperous and successful future.
The Rugby Pitch – Where It All Started
As I previously mentioned, sport and exercise has been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember.
My parents (thankfully) encouraged me to get into rugby, cricket, and hockey from a young age; meaning that, by the time I was 13, being active and healthy had become second nature to me.
When I moved to secondary school, rugby in particular played a key role in my development as a person alongside my physical health.
Maybe it was the sense of camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, or maybe it was the accountability of staying committed to training for the sake of the team; either way, being part of a sports-based collective as strong as the Skinners’ rugby team facilitated my development of discipline, persistence, and commitment to fitness.
If you ever struggle to give yourself a kick up the ass and get moving, then trying a team sport is one of your best bets. It removes the negative associations you may have towards exercise (i.e. “I really should go running, but I pure f**king hate it”), and nurtures a positive and long-lasting attitude towards exercise that will no-doubt help you in other walks of life.
Lesson #1 – Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
The Start Of The Spiral
In Autumn 2016, my ‘Goldilocks’ exercise routine of old began to slip into the Realm of The Unhealthy…
The turning point, I think, was an ever-increasing fascination with performance metrics; having bought a fitness tracker, as I was interested in being a bit more accurate in recording and logging my progress, I slowly developed a narrow-minded approach to my exercise programme whereby every session was governed by what the FitBit said.
It started with a brief glance at average speeds on the odd run here and there, only to spiral into an obsession over every single figure churned out each session. Before I knew it, the way in which I went about my daily exercise became solely dictated by the speeds, distances, and (*shudder*) calories burned. Not good…
After a mere month of this way of thinking, I lost the love of running; instead, I began to loathe it. Every morning before school, I would battle through another 10k on the treadmill, regardless of my body screaming at me to give it a rest.
This was a worrying seed that was soon to grow in more serious problems not too far down the line…
Long-story short, NEVER let the metrics your fitness tracker gives you on a daily basis become the sole dictator of your exercise routine.
They should be used as a secondary indicator of progress you are making on a weekly basis; otherwise, it may result in sliding down the slippery slope that replaces passion for obsession…
Lesson #2 – Don’t Let Numbers Rule The Roost
Too Much Of A Good Thing…
The latter parts of 2016, going into 2017 marked the start of my long old battle with mental health issues. You have probably figured out by now that, unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) at this stage of my life.
Excessive exercise is a textbook symptom of AN. Anyone who has experienced the condition, either themselves or a close friend/family member, will testify to the lengths sufferers will go to in order to maximise their levels of daily activity.
For some, this can even involve a refusal to sit down during the day due to the perception that ‘it burns more calories’.
Luckily, I didn’t experience this form of the behavioural symptom; however, in 2017 I most definitely succumbed to the dangers of compulsive exercise. My fitness routine had become nothing but a weapon of personal destruction.
Running, in particular, had become a daily, sometimes twice-daily, habit that had the primary purpose of caning it on the calories. Blatantly, this ended out doing MUCH MORE BAD THAN GOOD…
The main lesson I learnt from this mistake can still be applied to those not suffering from AN; being mindful of how your body feels prior to, during, and after a training session is essential for finding the perfect balance. Failure to do so may result in overreaching and, in some more sever cases, acute overtraining syndrome.
Lesson #3 – Always Listen To What Your Body Tells You
The Ultimate Antidote
After losing some serious weight, and becoming incredibly unwell towards the back-end of 2017, things started moving in the right direction as the new year of 2018 dawned.
Thanks to the unparalleled support of my friends and family, the upstairs department was beginning to get sunnier, the fog of compulsive exercise and nutritional restriction began to clear, and my body-of-old was slowly making a welcomed return. By the time I was taking my A-levels, I was back to fighting-fitness!
It may sound completely counterintuitive, but exercise actually played a main role in my rapid recovery during this period.
What happened was a complete shift in my mindset. The way I used to approach exercise back when I was fit and healthy had anhiliated the anorexic thoughts, allowing me to enjoy running and working out the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.
Through a combination of cognitive reframing, and a more planned approach to my gym and running routine, I was able to harness the immense power that exercise can bestow upon its user in terms of stress management and anxiety reduction.
Within the space of 2 months, exercise had gone from dangerous, disorder-fuelling weapon to therapeutic stress-management strategy. I was running 3-4 times a week, and working out in the gym 2-4 times a week as part of a well-rounded exercise routine that helped me combat the immense anxieties surrounding the A-Level period.
And, as depression and anxiety continued thrive during the run-up to the exams, my exercise routine played an integral role in keeping it together upstairs so that I could actually sit the exams without having a complete breakdown.
Luckily, you don’t just have to rely on my anecdote; studies show that there is significant evidence to suggest that regular exercise plays a large role in reducing symptoms of both anxiety and depression, as well as stress management.
Lesson #4 – Harness The Power Of Exercise & Fight Fears With Fitness
A little side note: that summer following the exams was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most unforgettable on the record. I spent 99% of my time surfing, walking, running and paddleboarding; a melting-pot of incredibly demand, yet overwhelmingly uplifting activities that, 6 months prior, I would never have imagined myself being able to do
With the right fuel in the tank, physical activity was at the core of my most treasured memories road-tripping with my wonderful sister.
Lesson #5 – With the right fuel in the tank, anything’s possible!
Family events and worries about university, however, put a stealthy end to the good times. In Autumn 2018, I began to relapse into my old ways again; excessive exercise coupled with not enough stoking the boiler.
This was largely due to an immense struggle to fit in with any particular group in my new environment, resulting in a vicious cycle of crippling self-doubt. I started to berate myself in every walk of life, not least the way I looked, and hence fell victim to a rapid decline in self-confidence.
My weight plummeted, and by January 2019, I was forced home from Uni on medical grounds; exercise, as well as inadequate nutrition had forced me to the brink of being for the second time…
However, after hitting rock-bottom for the second time in my life, my attitude to exercise went through another complete overhaul, largely due to a 6 month course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT is a type of talking therapy that involves targeting negative thought patterns and behaviours through a series of practical exercises and psychological framing strategies. In theory, this aims to reduce the impacts of mental health conditions on one’s life.
A month after the relapse, I went for my first run after taking a well-needed, ‘Cold Turkey’ break from exercise so as to add a wee bit of meat on the bone.
Naturally, it was ridiculously slow, and my time was an absolute shade of my former self; however, the feeling I got following that first run was out-of-this-world; a revival of that incredible feeling of achievement and satisfaction typically understood as “Runner’s High“.
From that point onwards, I knew my mindset had reverted back to one of growth and positivity that made me fall in love with exercise in the first place.
Furthermore, I knew that the positive mindset here to stay. I approached every single exercise session with a positive attitude, and became atuned to my body’s inner signals with regards to thresholds and recovery.
I approached every single exercise session with a positive attitude, and became atuned to my body’s inner signals with regards to thresholds and recovery.
I can honestly say that, with the help of CBT, exercise helped me turn my sh*t around from what was all-too-close to the edge of life.
With proper planning, and autoregulation, my gym routine gave me structure, a sense of purpose, personal satisfaction, and ultimately drove me toward the amazing group of people I find myself working with to this day.
Lesson #6 – Mindset Maketh Man
The Rest, as they say, Is History…
Since Spring 2019, I have been on a rollercoaster of a ride to the destination at which I currently find myself. Fuelled by my experiences with fitness and its ability to transform lives, I got my qualifications and started my business as a Personal Trainer at (very possibly) the greatest gym in the UK!
My life now revolves around exercise; coaching it, writing about it, and revelling in all its glory during my own training sessions. I am humbled when I reflect on how stark the contrast is regarding my relationship with exercise is right now compared to when I was ill.
Working out and running continues to facilitate my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, and I am still in awe at a workout’s ability to blow away the cobwebs and reset the system!
Lesson #7 – Treasure The Process, And Make The Most Of it!
The Final Word
So you now know the whole truth as to exactly why I became a PT. Fitness has been one of the key factors that saved my life on two separate occasions, and has since been the most prolific coping mechanism with the funky business that rages from time to time in the brain!
Having been on both sides of the Exercise Spectrum, I believe it is my duty to use my experience to the benefit of others, and my only hope in starting my career in the fitness industry is that I can draw on the whirlwind of a relationship I have had with exercise and nutrition to help others solve their own problems.
Finally, I will come back to the quote at the beginning of the article: “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. Exercise is an incredible entity, and has the ability to empower anyone and everyone with confidence, satisfaction and self-esteem.
Yes, it very definitely has the power to break a life; but never forget its incredible power to make a life…