Strange Exercises

As a foreigner in China, I’m used to having people stare at me and look at me. But I’ve realised, that sometimes I’m just like the Chinese, in the fact that I stare at them too. Whether it’s because of the bad English scrawled across their t-shirts (my personal favourite at the moment is this ‘Lonely’ one)

Making a statement
Making a statement

, the crazy combination of clothes their wearing, or just to stare back for fun.

I made this realisation yesterday when I was out running in the morning. I went straight to the running track as there’s something quite nice about the feel of running on rubber rather than stones and rubble. There were two other men running around the track, like me and also three students trying to perfect their flag raising. There was no wind, but they wanted the flag to fly as it was being raised up the pole, so they’d throw it up into the air, before it limply flopped against the pole. They repeated this for about 20 minutes with no success.

Anyway, after a while, a Chinese woman came to work out. She was briskly walking up and down alongside the sand pit for long jump and each time she’d alternate different movements. These included:

  • walking backwards
  • holding her hands in fists and twisting her shoulders from side to side
  • putting her hands on her hips
  • putting her hands on her shoulders and rotating

and other things that I can’t remember now, but I remember staring at her and wondering, what is that movement going to achieve? I think the walking backwards was the strangest, as she might’ve missed her step and fell into the sand, but I guess if you think about it, walking backwards probably improves your balance and spatial awareness. It also prepares you for when you need to back out of an awkward situation I guess.

After my 5km run, I did some strength exercises, following a set I’d seen on Instagram.

Post run workout
Post run workout

As I did them, the lady above stared at me more than before, wondering what I was doing. Just as I’d never seen anyone walking backwards in the UK, I doubt she’d seen anyone doing jumping jacks in China. It was funny because when I was doing the wall sit, she compassionately looked at me as if to say “that’s nice, you’re having a rest”, but a wall sit isn’t a rest as those who’ve done them will know!

The exercises that we see as perfectly normal in our own routine and countries can be seen as totally alien in other countries and cultures. Have you experienced anything like this? Should I 入乡随俗 (when in Rome, do as Romans do) and incorporate backwards running and arm twisting into my fitness routine?


The Freedom of Cycling

Over the past month or so, I’ve started to really enjoy cycling. It’s so refreshing being out in the country roads and on two wheels. You’re always alert and looking out for potholes, listening for cars, watching out for flying insects and other cyclists. But at the same time, I find myself switching off from the world and not really thinking about anything in particular. It’s living in the moment and enjoying the minutes as they pass by.

Each ride is different. Even if you go out for a three lap circuit, on each lap there will be different drivers, obstacles, birds singing and smells in the air. Cycling through the British countryside may seem monotonous to some, but I’ve found it’s really got a lot to offer and racing against others through the Strava app really makes it fun as I compete to win the QOM (Queen of the Mountain) achievement on certain stretches of road.

When I started triathlon, I never thought I’d like cycling, as it was my weakest discipline. I’m still not as speedy as others are on two wheels, but I’m definitely improving and liking it more each week. Last week, I cycled 80km in one day, which would have made me cry at the beginning of the year, but I just got on and did it. And the best part of that day? It was FUN!

I’m trying to do longer rides in the build up to my upcoming triathlons but this week I’m doing school talks all around the West Midlands, so am not sure how much free time I’ll have, but I know when I get on my bike, I’ll enjoy going new places, seeing new things and building up strength to go further faster!

Motivational Posters

This quote has been coming up a lot on my instagram feed lately and it couldn’t be truer to me at the moment. In regards to my triathlon training, I now feel stronger and better than ever, I feel I’ve made progress in each of the three disciplines and my bike confidence has increased tenfold. Before, when a car would zoom past me, I’d tense up and panic, but now I’ve learnt to keep my cool and carry on.

The poster is true when it comes to endurance sports like triathlon because as you increase the distances, intensity and type of training, some parts get do get easier. For example, at the beginning of term, my CSS speed for swimming (the time I should be aiming to swim each 100m at – it’s a fast pace that should be maintained for a while) was 1.47/100m. A few months later, it’s decreased to 1.34/100m. In swimming, a 13 second difference is huge, so I can clearly see my gains there.

Sometimes, if I’m really not in the mood to listen to them, I can find motivational posters patronising. You know when you just don’t want somebody telling you how to act, feel or do? So I scroll past them and find pictures of food or great landscapes. Motivational posters can be really good at other times though, like above when they ring true, or like the ones our coach posts on a Tuesday night to encourage us to get up for the 6.30am swim on Wednesday.

Do you like motivational posters?

Communal Showering

After exercising, I like to take a shower. We all do right?

Usually, I swim for exercise, so just shower in my swimming costume at the pool, but this year I’ve started to go to the gym more, to run on the treadmill and use the exercise bikes. Although my house is quite close to the gym, its still an extra 15 minutes to walk there and back to take a shower so I prefer to take one there. There’s just one issue though.

The showers are communal.

The showers are communal.

Here are the three stages I’ve been through.

1. Refusal

At first, I refused to shower at the gym. There was no way I was stripping down to take a shower for the whole changing room to see. Instead, I’d go back home and shower there.

2. Clever cover-up

When I got tired of going home to shower after the gym, especially when I still had places to go after the gym, I decided to get clever. Along with the rest of my gym kit, I also packed some bikini bottoms. Wearing my bikini bottoms in the shower gives me some privacy but at the same time lets me shower effectively.

3. Bare it all

Once I forgot my bikini bottoms and had to go to a meeting after the gym. I wasn’t going covered in sweat so just had to be brave and get naked (excluding flip flops of course!).

It actually wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be. We are all women in the changing rooms at the end of the day and people usually just get changed and go, so I’ve never actually had to shower with someone else showering at the same time (could be a future blog post, watch this space). It actually gave me a boost in confidence rather than feeling embarrassed. Body shaming is everywhere, so it felt liberating to have the confidence to be able to be naked in the shower, even if it was only for five minutes before I ran for my towel to get dressed again.

It was as fun as it looks, including the Aqualoop!

I’ll never forget the changing rooms at the indoor water park in one of the biggest malls in China (and the world), in Chengdu. The showers were in cubicles, but none of them had doors and were all facing each other. When the water park closed (of course we stayed until it closed) there were a lot of people using the showers, like hundreds. Naked bodies were everywhere as the Chinese shower naked in public, apparently. I had to look inside about 200 cubicles before finding a free one. Then the girl opposite me came over to my shower and started talking to me, she wanted to use some conditioner and as I turned around to pass it her from the shelf, she entered into my cubicle, so when I turned around, she was slap bang in my face! Nothing like this has happened at the gym as yet, if it does, I’ll be sure to share.

28 Day Squat Challenge – I Gave Up

You may have read my previous post about the 28 day squat challenge that me and Kanika were taking on and starting early in January. Well, less than half way through, we had both given up! I’m not usually a person to give up when I’ve set my mind to something and accepted a challenge, but on the 14th day when the reps shot up from 110 to 130, I couldn’t bring myself to do them.

The 770 squats I did as part of the challenge didn’t really make any positive change to my body or how I felt. After squatting, my thighs were exhausted for the rest of the evening and walking down stairs was just torture. I didn’t want to put myself through any more of that pain and I realised that there are other parts of my body that I want to focus on to give me more strength and flexibility. I’m going to stick to yoga and my usual fitness routine, rather than these challenges.

Me and several of my friends have made pledges to have abs by graduation (you know who you are!!), which is only a few months away. I don’t think the squat challenge is any good for achieving this but it’s still a fitness goal that I want to reach sooner rather than later.

When back home in Coventry, me and my friends who loved (and still love) JLS, like nothing more than to recreate Marvin’s cheeky shirt lift in the club, as seen in the video below (skip to 2.11). So having a good set of abs makes it look even better. Who knows, maybe JLS will see it online somewhere and come find us, marry us and make our teenage dreams come true.


Anyway, I think these exercise and fitness challenges are a good idea to get people moving and more concious of the exercise they’re doing, but I don’t judge anyone for starting one and quitting halfway through like I did. As I’m in the triathlon team, doing time trials last night and knowing my 200m and 400m times is much more important than me being able to do 200 squats which was the end goal of the challenge.

28 Day Squat Challenge – 6 Days In

Me and my friend signed up to a February 28 day squat challenge on Facebook. There are so many fitness challenges around these days, all you need to do is to google any type of exercise and add the word challenge and you’ll have many results – press up challenge, sit up challenge, lunge challenge, yoga challenge, burpees challenge etc. Although anyone attempting the latter one is absolutely crazy, going from 5 to 100 in 30 days is extreme!

I’ve been quite sceptical about all of these challenges that are out there, they put pressure on people to go beyond their normal fitness routines and I’m worried that people may go beyond their boundaries to finish the challenge, possibly putting their health at risk as there is not a lot of recovery time and each days more reps are added. So make sure you’re in good health and are comfortable with the exercise before you embark on one of the challenges. I’d love to do a 30 day yoga challenge, but looking at the diagrams I have no idea how to get myself into 80% of those positions and I wouldn’t want to risk hurting myself, so won’t do that one just yet. But I know I can squat and decided to take on the challenge to tone up my lower body.

Because me and my friend are hardcore and too excited to wait until February to start, we started it last Saturday so today is my 6th day. I started with 50 reps, adding 5 reps each day with a rest day every 3 or 4 days. The first day after those 50 reps I just wanted to crawl into my bed and never move again. I’d never done so many in a row and although it wasn’t painful whilst squatting, when I stopped and started to move around, my thighs were tight, but wobbly at the same time.

The following day, I did the 55 reps and stupidly, I went downstairs to go get a drink straight after. Wrong decision! Walking down the three flights of steps from my bedroom to the kitchen was so painful. I had to take tentative steps and it felt like last May when I was walking down who knows how many thousand steps from the summit of Taishan to the bottom. After the initial feeling of strength and power, I suddenly felt weak and helpless as I struggled down the stairs.

True story

Then I realised that after squatting, I should probably stretch my thighs and quads out longer than I had been, to prevent some of this pain. This has worked better over the last couple of days and going downstairs after squats hasn’t been too bad. Today I’ve got 70 reps to do and I’ll do them after a set of sun salutations, fitness gurus, let me know if this is the right or wrong way to do them as I have no idea. The challenge just tells you how many reps to do each day, it doesn’t specify when and where to do them which is a bit of a downside for inexperienced challengees.

I’ll post again when the challenge is coming to an end (the finish date is Valentine’s Day) and by that time I should be squatting 200 reps a day. Are you participating in any fitness challenges, do you recommend any for me? Leave a comment below!

Rhetorical question