Tom Fosdick is a software architect whose experience ranges from low level coding through to product management, delivery and customer relationships.
For nearly 20 years Tom has specialised in providing advanced technology to front line Emergency Services both in the UK and internationally.
If there’s one industry that’s pale, male and stale, it’s the automotive industry. That’s why I was impressed to see Gareth Thomas at the Ford Motors stand at Goodwood Festival of Speed talking about the prejudices that still exist in the industry and how it can move forward.
Sure, there may be an element of rainbow capitalism going on with Ford and the #verygayraptor, but the fact that Ford is pushing this message into the pick-up market is an indication that we really are making progress.
In motor sport however, we seem to be going backwards. In the past few weeks we’ve had a driver using homophobic and grossly racist terminology on a game stream, a former driver being racially derogative about a current one and spectators at the Austrian and Hungarian Grands Prix being reported for homophobic, misogynistic and racist behaviour.
In the past few years, Formula 1 and motor sport in general has spoken strong words, but it’s now starting to sound like it’s all talk.
With someone whose first language isn’t English there are always some who leap to the defence that the person may not have understood the impact of their words. Sure, when the term itself is considered offensive, but there’s more to it than that. It doesn’t matter that much how offensive the terms are, it’s the fact that you are using race and sexual preference in a derogatory context that are the real problem.
It also emerged, over that same weekend, that former F1 driver Nelson Piquet (Snr) had been racially derogatory toward Lewis Hamilton. In response Piquet issued a statement which essentially said that the word he used isn’t considered offensive in Portuguese, so we should all get over it and move on.
Again this misses the point. Let me make 3 statements:
Paul Smith is an overly aggressive racing driver.
Paul Smith is a white racing driver.
Paul Smith is an overly aggressive white racing driver.
Spot the problem?
There are plenty of contexts where it would be valid to talk about his driving style or his race. The contexts where it would be valid to bring both to the fore at the same time are very limited. So why has someone deliberately chosen to mention Smith’s race, in what is clearly a criticism of his driving style?
It might seem pernickety, but this is something people of colour have to deal with all the time. Positive contexts rarely include their race, whereas negative ones do. It’s racist propaganda, but because nothing offensive or incorrect is said the significance of the bias can be easily missed.
It’s even a tactic explicitly used by racist groups, deliberately trying to associate negative images and negative stories with particular races. A few years ago there was a rash of new “news” web sites and social media pages which largely carried celebrity gossip and negative stories about people of colour.
Because nothing directly derogatory is ever said about someone’s race, the operators claim they’re not racist. The reality is that they’re operating at a more subtle level, applying a bias to what they choose to report in order to portray people of colour in a negative light.
This is why Piquet’s defence plain doesn’t work and why Vips is in such deep water. Regardless of the language used, they both demonstrated prejudices.
Hamilton’s response is as it generally is these days; he’s a mature, thoughtful and eloquent man.
For too many years there has been a kind of standard procedure in motor sport; if you’re caught saying something bigoted, you issue an apology, state that your “unfortunate” choice of words doesn’t represent your true values… blah, blah, blah and everyone nods quietly and moves on.
But we’ve been giving the message long enough now and loudly enough that nobody can pretend they haven’t heard it. So when, if not now, are we going to move from “that’s naughty don’t do it again” to “here’s a 5 year ban from attending any F1 event in any capacity”?
In Piquet’s case it’s hardly his first offence. He knew exactly what he was doing, appealing to a certain demographic who might have a racially based preference, in particular, for the driver who is current dating his daughter.
Vips is a little different. Young people do say stupid things, things they know are stupid, things which genuinely don’t represent their principles, for a variety of reasons. I’m open minded on this; his language (sadly) wasn’t atypical of Call of Duty streams in general, so I could believe that he meant nothing other than to vent frustration. However, other drivers also play Call of Duty and they’ve avoided crossing the line.
This means the burden of proof now has to fall to Vips. In his cut-and-paste, obviously written by someone in marketing statement he assures us that the sentiments he expressed do not represent his true values. Fine, if that’s the case then he’ll understand the seriousness of the issue and be prepared to take meaningful steps to demonstrate what his true values are. He has the platform to do that. In fact he has a great opportunity to take ownership of the issue and to demonstrate real leadership on it. However, right now it looks like he’s just trying to keep his head down and is hoping it’ll all blow over. We just can’t continue allowing people to do that. We have to face these issues, not let people keep sweeping them under the carpet.
Just as I was doing what was supposed to be the final edit of this article, ugly events were reported at the Austrian Grand Prix. It was good to hear Naomi Schiff, in this weekend’s pre-race show, call it out directly for what it was, racism, misogyny and homophobia. We need more people prepared to tackle these issues head on and not just talk in general terms about “unfortunate behaviour” and sweep it under the carpet again.
It now transpires that there has been another clutch of incidents reported at the Hungarian Grand Prix and senior figures are reporting a sharp rise in online bigotry – and there does seem to be a pattern forming. It does seem to all be centred around one particular team and coming from the supporters of one particular driver.
Yes, it’s good to see Mercedes and Hamilton take such a positive lead, but when they’re the ultimate target of most of the bigotry we can’t expect that to be effective. Most of the teams and many of the drivers have, in fact, issued strong statements. The response from some has been notably weak, which doesn’t help.
Yes, it’s good to see media organisations like Sky TV being stronger than they previously have.
Yes, it’s good to see the new “Drive it Out” campaign from the FIA and F1 management.
Words do have a lot of power, but they only get you so far.
It looks like we’re facing a new wave of bigotry in motor sport. We need to put it down immediately; we cannot afford for it to take hold. That means more than just words. As Hamilton says “Time has come for action”.
Truthiness is a concept most of us heard about associated with Trump’s first presidential campaign.
The concept is simple, whether you tell the truth doesn’t actually matter that much; what matters is how believable what you say is. People in general don’t check facts, especially when those facts confirm their pre-existing biases.
This forces us to face up to something rather uncomfortable: in a debate, telling the truth only matters if your audience is well informed. If the audience is not well informed, it’s often possible to construct a false narrative that sounds more convincing than the actual truth.
We know this, we’ve seen it in action.
I want to introduce a new concept: the truthiness horizon.
It’s when someone is faced with a level of detail on a subject that’s so far removed from their own knowledge that they can’t even tell if it’s plausible, let alone true – so they reject it.
Sounds crazy, right? It is, but if the person has a pre-existing bias it can happen really easily.
Nobody Knows How a Smartphone Works
One example from personal experience: a friend of a friend asserted that nobody understood how a smartphone worked. I’ve worked in digital electronics, optoelectronics, radio and software so I do know, reasonably well.
“Go on then”, he asked, “how does the display work?” I started explaining how an AMOLED display worked. He asked some very odd questions. After a while he just folded his arms and said “Nah, you’re making it up, nobody knows this stuff”.
At first I thought he was joking, but he got quite angry and abusive, maintaining the theme that I didn’t really know and I was just making stuff up to sound clever. This is an extreme (and irrational) example, but it demonstrates the point very well.
People get emotionally invested in their opinions, when you make a challenge you’re starting on the back foot. People’s first reaction is to preserve ego, to look for ways they can discount your challenge. We all do this, but we hope that professional people override that initial emotional reaction and consider the wider argument objectively. Not everyone is professional, however.
The person here started with the premise that nobody knew how a smartphone worked and was always looking to maintain that state. The questions he asked weren’t intended to get more information, they were intended to find gaps in my knowledge and prove that I didn’t know how a smartphone works.
His problem was that I do.
My problem was that at some point I crossed the truthiness horizon. I sounded too authoritative to be credible and an alternative narrative popped into his head. He reasoned that the chances of meeting a friend of a friend who genuinely had such in-depth knowledge were vanishingly small, therefore he could safely conclude that I was making it all up to try to sound impressive.
There was only one teensie-tiny problem with this line of reasoning: it was bollocks.
At the time I didn’t really understand it, I just laughed it off and told him that one day not listening to people who knew what they were talking about would get him into trouble.
On reflection, however, I don’t think this is really all that rare.
Bullshit Baffles Brains
There’s an old army saying, “bullshit baffles brains”, or to put it another way, if you need to convince someone of something but you don’t have a good argument, just make up a load of complex stuff that you know they won’t understand. There’s a good chance they won’t want to lose face by admitting they don’t know what you’re talking about, they’re not in a position to argue against it, so their only option is to go along with it.
Data overload is another, related technique. You dump a huge load of correct raw facts on someone you know hasn’t the time or the expertise to interpret them. Then you tell them it means something it doesn’t. They’re in full possession of the facts, they presume that you wouldn’t lie to them because they could find out the truth – if they tried.
My proposal of a truthiness horizon is based on the hypothesis that these and similar techniques are now so engrained in our society that people are basically wary of any situation that appears opaquely complex. Such a stance might well help them in daily life, not being sucked in by bogus investment schemes, etc. A side effect, however, is to make them vulnerable to manipulation through truthiness.
There’s a balance to be found here and I don’t believe we’ve found it.
Right now, if you are an expert or significantly knowledgeable in a particular area it’s good to keep this in the back of your mind: people might disengage not because they don’t understand, but because they don’t believe.
Somewhere, etched into the very fabric of the universe, it says “your boiler will only fail if it’s subzero outside”.
Somewhere else it also says “if you start a blog about software development, your most popular articles will be about home maintenance”. Nevertheless, I figure I must be doing something right, so when my boiler went weird again it was time to put a colander on my head and pray once again that it was something simple and cheap.
This house has a Baxi Solo 3 (mains gas) system boiler. The advantage of these old system boilers is that they’re as simple as a boiler can be. You put cold water in one side, it does fire and contributes to global heating, you get hot water out of the other. All the rest is just making sure it doesn’t blow up or fill your house full of gas or emissions.
My boiler was being extra safe. It did fire up, but it also did an awful lot of sitting around doing nothing whilst the demand light beamed longingly at me.
The Solo 3 follows a pretty basic sequence:
If there’s demand, it checks the thermistor on the output pipe.
If the thermistor temperature is less than the configured position on the heat adjuster knob, it checks the air pressure (via the air pressure switch) in the flue.
If the air pressure is good, it tries to start the fan.
If the fan starts, it will cause a change in the air pressure in the flue. If the air pressure switch changes, it will try to operate the gas valve.
If the gas vale operates and all else is well, it will fire the boiler.
If you’ve popped over to the Baxi website and have downloaded the manual this might surprise you, because it differs from the “Fault Finding” flow chart in section 11. The flow chart omits the fact that it checks the air pressure switch before it attempts to start the fan.
If any of the conditions change whilst it’s running, it shuts down the burner and returns to stage 1. This is quite normal with the thermistor, it heats the water until it hits the configured temperature, then it shuts down. The water in the system cools as it goes through the radiators, when it drops (significantly) below the configured temperate, the boiler starts again, moving to stage 2.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is an overheat detector which can also shut everything down. It has its own light on the left hand side of the control panel. That can be eliminated from enquiries very easily.
My boiler had demand for heat, but the fan wasn’t starting – or at least it wasn’t starting reliably.
The first thing to eliminate is the thermistor. The manual tells you how to test it with a multimeter, but that means removing the cover and you can get a good indication without doing that:
Set the temperature control knob to minimum
When the boiler does fire up, wait until it stops again
Turn the temperature control knob up
If the boiler fires up again, it’s a relatively sure sign that the thermistor is working. It’s not 100%, but it’s a good indication. I was lucky, the test worked, so I could be fairly confident it wasn’t the thermistor.
I knew the fan could work, but was there a fault with it? The first thing I needed to know is if it was getting power. That did mean opening the boiler up.
At this point I have to mention two things.
In the UK there are regulations about working on gas installations. There’s certain work can only be carried out by Registered Gas Installers.
I’m not a Registered Gas Installer, but I am an trained and apprenticed electronic technician with experience in working on mains power control circuits.
I asked a friend of mine, who is a Registered Gas Installer, what his opinion on the regulations was. This is rather a tricky area, not only do opinions between Registered Gas Installers genuinely differ, they are also professionals and have to consider their professional responsibilities. There are Registered Gas Installers who will tell you that you can’t even take the outer cover off a boiler. I can see some justification for this; a little carelessness with a screwdriver can have fatal consequences.
In my friend’s opinion what I did complied with the regulations, because I didn’t change the installation or touch anything to do with the gas or control of the gas. Basically this is the disclaimer: if you’re following what I did from here, don’t blame me if you end up getting dragged in front of the beak and I’m certainly not accepting any responsibility if you gas yourself or anyone else or cause any explosions.
This is gas, it’s poisonous on the way in, poisonous on the way out and if you get it wrong it goes bang and can take out your whole house and a neighbour or too with it. Always err on the side of caution and if you’re unsure about anything call a Registered Gas Installer.
To test the fan I needed to take the covers off. The procedure is laid out quite clearly in the manual.
Baxi Heat Solo 3PF Installation & Service Manual
What the manual doesn’t make clear is that to remove the outer case you have to hitch it up a bit to get the rear flange out of two slots at either side of the top. Be very careful removing the outer case, it’s cheaply produced, there are gaps between folds and potentially sharp flanges that could snag and damage cables, etc.
The fan is obvious and easy enough to test with a multimeter. I made sure everything was clear and there were no trailing cables or exposed contacts that I was likely to touch or get caught up in, then turned the power back on – permanent live first then switched live. The demand light came on, but the fan wasn’t getting any volts. Since I knew it worked sometimes, that made it rather unlikely it was a fault with the fan itself.
I then turned the power off. It’s only my cats that are likely to get electrocuted, but that’s not the point, exposed mains connectors are a bad idea.
The next thing to consider was the air pressure switch. That’s obvious too. On its left, staring me in the face with 3 wires attached, was a microswitch. It had 3 terminals, meaning it was probably a SPDT type – a common terminal would be connected to one of the other two depending if the plunger was depressed.
The problem was that I didn’t know which terminals should be connected or not connected in either state. There’s a general stereotype for these, but you can never be 100% sure without either the manufacturer’s data sheet or testing it. Fortunately it had quite a lot of information printed on it and after digging through a few online archives of Chinese data sheets I was able to find the information I needed.
The common terminal is the one on its own, on the bottom of the switch (left in the picture above). Depending on the position of the plunger, it’s connected to one of the other terminals, referred to as “Normally Closed” (connected when the plunger is out) and “Normally Open” (connected when the plunger is pushed in).
There was another problem, however. Was the plunger pressed or not? Visually, it was difficult to tell. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt to know what state the switch was in, so I checked the contacts. It was “NC”, normally closed.
This is where a little experience comes in useful. It’s a harsh environment and the switch was clearly old. Sometimes the contacts wear, sometimes the switch action gets a bit sticky. I gave the switch a few smart taps with the back of an electrical screwdriver and tested it again. It had changed to “NO”, normally open.
I popped the inner cover back on, turned the power back on and the boiler fired up right away. I repeated this experiment a few times and got exactly the same result every time.
It was probably the microswitch, but I couldn’t rule out the diaphragm, not without taking the whole air pressure switch apart. The most sensible thing to do was to order a complete new pressure switch and replace it.
There’s a note of caution here, the manual lists the part as 246054 but you’ll find that difficult to get hold of. Baxi has discontinued that part. I was able to find an updated part number from the Baxi web site and get it ordered from a major (and reputable) parts supplier. The manual has enough information in it to make replacing the air pressure switch a straightforward job. I don’t have anything to add, other than the fact that – on my boiler – someone had stuck the tray that contains the fan and the air pressure switch in place with a blob of silicone sealant so it was tricky to move.
I now have a properly working boiler and I certainly saved upwards of £60, maybe even over £100, that calling out a plumber would have cost.
It annoyed me though, with VAT and delivery the air pressure switch still cost me nearly £65 and I know the microswitch alone would have been less than £5. I hate unanswered questions. If I didn’t find out, it was going to nag at me. Could I really have fixed the boiler for less than £5?
The microswitch was held in by a plastic rivets. If you’re careful, you can gently heat an old pair of pliers and squash the rivet heads inwards, then extract the microswitch.
Um… yeah, that will have been the problem; the switch was so old and worn that when I got it separated from the mount the plunger simply fell out.
It seems that Toneluck don’t produce that exact microswitch any more, but you can get switches with the same form factor, similar operating force, the same temperature range and electrical ratings for about £2.50.
In conclusion, yes I could have fixed my boiler for less than £5. I’m not unhappy with the outcome, however. There are two reasons for this.
The first is simple, I now have a brand new, updated part in my boiler. I shouldn’t have to worry about the air pressure switch for some years to come.
The second is a little more subjective, it’s opportunity cost. Let’s assume that a Registered Gas Installer would correctly identify the problem and fix it for £100 in labour (plus £65 for the part). Instead, I spent a few hours (all in all) getting to the bottom of it, ordering the part and very carefully making the replacement, with lots of reading of manuals and double-checking because, you know, gas go boom. If I’d spent that time working, I would have made more than £100.
I could say that I did it because I enjoy the challenge and there’s a little bit of truth to that. The greater truth is that I did it because of instinct. I grew up in a world with very different economics, where spending an entire weekend saving a call out charge would be considered time well spent.
I’m very conscious that I came from that world: it actually means a lot to me. I’m also conscious that there are an awful lot of people still in that world and that, right now, that number is growing every day – as Jack Monroe’s now infamous twitter thread so adeptly explains:
If my experience helps a few people not have to make the choice between heat and food, then all of my time, including the time it took me to write the article, was – without question – worth it.
Up until very recently I hated Yoga. I did it through gritted teeth. Then I discovered this one weird tip that could change your life forever.
I know, I should give up trying to write clickbait and stick to what I’m good at – but the weird tip thing is true.
The tip is to accept that you’re a beginner.
That was a hard pill for me to swallow, because I’m one of those super-annoying people who seems to pick stuff like Yoga up. I can feel people rolling their eyes as, 5 minutes after trying something new, it seems like I’ve been doing it for years.
Yoga wasn’t like that. It took a hell of a lot of effort and just basically hurt. It was not the relaxing, fulfilling experience that was pictured on the packaging.
I did not find myself magically transported to an empty beach in the tropics. It did not spark joy.
Two weeks ago I bit the bullet and signed up for a beginner programme, 20 minutes a day, a gentle introduction. There’s been a lightbulb moment in pretty much every class so far. If there was something I could do wrong, I pretty much was.
Suddenly now I get it. I understand it. It works for me and I actually look forward to the next class.
This article isn’t about me, though. It’s about pride. It’s about assumptions. It’s about having the fortitude to swallow that pill and accept where you really, truly are and that the road to where you want to get to might be longer than you’d want.
It’s even about having the humility to accept that, at some point, you might have been further forward than you are today.
I know every cheesy self-help book or blog says it, but it is true; even a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
We need to have the courage to make that step, to understand what it means, to consolidate that position – even if it is a way back from where we wanted to be – and to be prepared to take the next step and the next step.
We need to learn that it doesn’t really matter where we’re starting from. The only thing that matters is that today we can smile, knowing that we are a step forward from where we were yesterday.
I was listening to him talk a few years back; he was explaining that he didn’t think he drank a lot until he and his doctor worked it out. Turns out it was a lot.
A few weeks back I wondered what effect COVID had had on the amount of alcohol I was drinking. I knew the answer, I just didn’t want to hear it.
James Bond would tell me to lay off the sauce.
When you live in a rural area you get used to the fact that pretty much everything requires travel. Not drinking becomes the norm when you go out because the chances are you’re driving.
On the flip side, if you’re home of a dark evening there’s often not that much to do, so you open an improving book and pour yourself a glass of something degenerating.
Then COVID comes along and suddenly the few things that were open are shut. For lockdown #1 it didn’t matter; we got to laugh at people fighting over toilet roll in the supermarket and everyone knew COVID would all be over by the summer.
If the entire world had coordinated and shared responsibility, it might have, but that was never going to happen. So here we are two years later staring down the barrel at Omicron. Life never did get properly back to normal and it certainly isn’t going to for a while yet.
The NHS recommends that you don’t drink more than 14 standard units of alcohol per week.
A small glass of wine, a standard shot of spirit or half a pint (284ml) of average beer is a unit. Your modest Claret with dinner, followed by a diminutive glass of port as you retire to your wing backed chair by the fire will see the NHS smile warmly upon you.
Trouble is, a small glass really is quite small and my pouring arm is awfully twitchy. Very few people ever pour themselves a small anything.
Then there’s the night you’re staying in and having a few drinks with your partner and the other night when your friends pop round for a few quiet beers quite a few beers…
Now, the NHS isn’t daft, the doctors know that few people are going to stick to 14 – it’s really just a bit of psychology to give people a sense of proportion. Nobody really knows what a safe limit is anyway. Opinions and recommendations across the world differ. Everyone is sure of one thing, however: even a small amount can be dangerous. Less is better.
Having assured concerned friends and relatives that the economy of the Douro Valley is not, in fact, dependent on my patronage, I’m doing Dry January this year. For me it’s a bit of a cultural experiment. By going a month without drinking at all I’m hoping I can find some new ways, ones that don’t rely on a side order of sauce.
Hopefully I can then take those forward from February and get back to something more like how it was before COVID-19.
Lockdown load? It’s one of the topics of the moment; people talking about their weight. Sure, weight is the most practical way we can measure body fat – but I hear people comparing one day’s figure to the next. That’s pointless, I mean it’s good for conversation, but really nothing else.
About ten years ago I saw something worse: people were weighing themselves before and after a gym session. There’s a good reason to do that, but it’s got nothing to do with fat. So I tried it.
Yesterday I repeated that experiment. I grabbed a bottle of water and jumped on the scales. My water and I were 77.5Kg (12st 2, 170lbs) before I started.
At the end, my empty water bottle and I were 75.75Kg (11st 13, 167lbs). Over an hour’s workout 1.75Kg (around 3.5lbs) simply vanished. Miracle weight loss programme!
That echoed the results from ten years ago when I recorded losing 1.5Kg in an hour.
What happened? Annoyingly, calculating fat burn is next to impossible. My spin bike reckons I burnt 1661kcal, but it’s lying. Also, fat is also not the only source of energy when you exercise, so to use the bike’s calorie figure for a calculation would produce a massive overestimate. That massive overestimate would be 184g of fat. We know that’s a massive overestimate (did I mention that enough?) meaning that the amount of fat burnt is way, way under 10% of the weight I lost. I’d be surprised if it was even 2.5% (44g).
Almost all of that missing weight was either in the puddle under the bike or in the atmosphere around me. I lost it in sweat. The only useful information weighing yourself before and after a gym session gives you is a guide to how much water you need to drink to rehydrate properly.
To further prove the point, I rehydrated then cooked some dinner and weighed myself after eating. I was 78Kg (12st 4, 172lbs). In the course of 2 hours I had lost 1.75Kg and gained 2.25Kg, or lost about 3lbs and gained about 4lbs.
There are simply too many variables involved in your weight for it to give any short term indication of your body fat, even if you weigh yourself at precisely the same time every day. If you want to use weight as a measure, you have to look at the trend over several weeks.
I want to make a larger point, however. Us humans have evolved to operate over a pretty wide range of body fat. If you get outside that range, in either direction, it causes problems. We all know this. Built on top of this however is a huge industry constantly pumping out messaging that pressures everyone toward the lowest edge of that healthy range and even beyond it.
The slimmer the accepted, fashionable image of health is, the more people the health and fitness industry can sell their products to. This isn’t a coincidence.
The media also loves this particular train. It’s always full of stories about how this celebrity or that celebrity has gained or lost weight. This idea that people should be way toward the smaller side of the healthy range constantly provides the media with content.
Now, let me show you Steve Backshall‘s Instagram. If you don’t know who he is, he’s a British TV presenter and adventurer with a reputation for fitness. Read what he has to say under the post.
First let me draw attention to the fact that he does have some visible body fat. Not a lot, but if you take a look around his waist it is there. Now let me draw attention to the fact that he trained and dieted for six weeks specifically for this shoot. Yes, that’s really him – but it’s not how he usually looks.
This isn’t real life.
Humans evolved to be able to cope with different and changing circumstances; storing fat in the good times and burning it in the bad. Today’s society where few of us have to worry about where the next meal is coming from is something we didn’t evolve for. If we don’t pay some attention then we can easily end up storing more and more fat for a bad time that’s never going to come.
At the other end, though, it’s still good to have a small amount of fat. It helps us when we’re ill or when we have to deal with other unexpected circumstances. Skinny does not mean healthy.
Being between these extremes matters. The soap opera that is your weight day-to-day does not. The health and fitness industry, the fashion and beauty industries and the media are all trying to manipulate you into feeling that you have a need for their products. Recognise that and always follow your own compass.
It’s not that you shouldn’t lose weight, or that you shouldn’t join a gym, or that you shouldn’t buy the really expensive concealer, but it’s your prerogative; you do it on your terms. Don’t let yourself be defined by people who are trying to take your money.
Having been a Peloton botherer for 6 months and an Internet user for 30 years you’d think I’d be all over the Peloton socials. Nope – it’s something I’m only getting to grips with now.
There’s very little direct interaction within the Peloton app, on the bike, the web or mobile. It’s not like online gaming, there’s no side-channel of banter. That’s a good thing, actually.
Peloton has been cunning here, they have a strong presence on most traditional social media platforms, as do most of the instructors. They’ve outsourced their social media and by doing so they’ve ducked responsibility, but also added a layer of abstraction. If you want to take social media relationships back to the bike, you can. But it’s your call. That’s handy, because the people on the socials, they aren’t necessarily the people you might expect…
Before I actually set foot in a commercial gym I had kind of assumed it’d be just like a more grown up version of the after school sports club: full of people like me. That worried me, because I was really, really annoying at school.
The reality was different. Yes, some of the after school sports club were there, but so were some of the maths club. This is because it doesn’t matter whether you were the captain of the sportsball team or the captain of acid comedowns, if you spend your adult life just changing the chair you sit in, at some point that’s going to become a problem. We’re apes, we need to move a bit.
Commercial gyms have done really well in positioning themselves as the answer; but gyms aren’t the only answer at all. Peloton has many advantages. One of those is your ability to be anonymous. How much you interact with the platform is entirely down to you. If you want you can pick a random username, lock your account and nobody ever need know you have a subscription, let alone who you are.
It doesn’t matter what your past or even what your present is. Remember in my last article I mentioned one of the instructors, Christine D’Ercole?
Remember that girl with the black lipstick and her half-shaved head, covered in safety pins buying cigarettes at the 7-11 at age 15? Yeah, that was me.
And here I am. Everything I went through was worth it and taught me to be true to myself.
Whether or not you were that kid too, you saw us. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the marching band geeks( I was also that geek), the theatre geeks (and I was this geek too), the goths, the skaters, the metal heads, the nerds (@therealbrianhicks ), there was a lot of overlap, wasn’t there?
Whatever you were into and whatever music spoke to you, we were all 15 at some point. And at some point, you got on this bike. And tomorrow we ride together!
Peloton is a great place to leave your preconceptions behind. You might be a sports geek; you might be a world class athlete; you might be an ultra-runner in training. There again, you might also be a grandparent who just wants to be able to play half an hour of football with the grandchildren. Or you might be the arty kid with the blue-black hair, or the singer in a really famous rock band…
You might also think that Peloton is all muesli, protein shakes, my body is a temple and smashed avocado salads.
Yes, you can do that if you want. But there’s a lot us there who have another outlook. See, if you’re spending every night you can Bezzed out on the dancefloor of Europe’s most disreputable nightclubs, you can demolish as many doughnuts and cans of Red Stripe as you like.
But it’s kind of hard to Monday when you haven’t slept since Thursday night.
Some people seem to be able to maintain that lifestyle. For us mere mortals, however – especially as we get older – having the odd weekend off slowly morphs into only going out on the odd weekend. That’s when it starts to become obvious, what you do to one side of the equation you must also do to the other. You can’t just lush your way through life without unwanted side-effects.
You need to find the balance.
Of course you can go some way toward that by ordering a starter instead of a main, refusing dessert and only drinking one glass of wine, but I’d rather eat my own earwax.
No, I’m more for wrecking it for an hour on the Peloton, taking the mental and physical health benefits that brings and not worrying for one second about ordering the Wellington, the Sticky Toffee Pudding and making a palpable dent in the wine cellar.
#pelo4wine is one of the most popular hashtags in the Peloton system. There are a lot of people who are not there for all the free courgette and Gojira berry smoothies.
I do not advise using Gojira in a smoothie. The results are quite heavy…
#pelo4wine is a philosophy that you’ll find repeated across Peloton in subtly different ways. We are people who are prepared to put the effort in so that we don’t have to compromise the good things in life any more than is strictly necessary.
I’m happy with that. My philosophy has always been about balance and since I like to be quite far out one way I have to go quite far the other way too. Peloton facilitates that very well and so far, after 5 months of pretty heavy use, I can’t fault it. The bike is spot on, the classes are great, the philosophy is laudable.
Ask me in another 5 months and I might have changed my opinion. For now, though, that’s all I have to say.
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
Four months, 67 hours, 2,000km and 55,000kcal after my first article, how am I finding Peloton? Well, the stats are a good hint.
Let’s cover the boring material stuff first;
The bike hasn’t missed a beat.
The pedals aren’t that annoying, actually.
I do want to get a better sound option, but that’s because music has become a big part of the experience.
I have used the wired Ethernet port, but that might just be my Wi-Fi.
That’s it for the bike. It’s a simple machine, built solidly. Most of the moving parts are either standard cycling components or common industrial ones, so it should be easy to fix if I ever did break it.
The tablet is basic, but works fine. There have been a few glitches. I have had to reboot it maybe 3 times since I’ve had it – pretty good for consumer tech. There have been a few quirks, but the updates are frequent and they’re usually fixed quickly.
This isn’t really the point though, is it?
We Ride As One
One of the key concepts that I missed is that it’s “One Peloton”. If you’re happy to ride (or do any of the other classes) side-by-side with others, regardless of their sex, religion, race or any other factor, you’re welcome in Peloton.
The result is that the people who turn out to train with everyone from everywhere are the people you’d expect to want to train with everyone from everywhere. You’re not going to feel like anyone is sneering at you, especially not the instructors.
It doesn’t matter if you’re smashing out 300W averages or if just getting to the end of a ride is a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re fully fit or recovering from an injury, or an illness or if you have a disability. None of the things that might make people nervous about going to a gym or a fitness class matter. You clip in, you ride.
Live Classes and That Leaderboard
You can get misled by the advertising. Yes, there is a leaderboard, both for live rides and recorded classes. You can filter it by age, sex, hashtags, just your friends, etc. if that helps, or you can just dismiss it. At the start of many of the rides the instructors tell you “the leaderboard is on your right, if it helps you, use it, if not, get rid of it”.
It’s not a competition unless you want to make it one.
That might be why I haven’t found live classes as useful as I thought I would. The flip side of that is that I’ve found the recorded classes way more useful. There’s always a constant supply, and the “here now” function of the leaderboard means that if you want to compete, you can.
What might be a key factor for many is the social aspect of live rides. You can sign up for a live ride in advance, which is a powerful psychological tool for helping you onto the bike. I’ve also heard of people using hashtags and creating social groups. If you commit to ride with a bunch of other people, again you’re more likely to clip in than if it’s just you.
I’ve always been a lone wolf cyclist however, which is possibly why my biases toward the classes are the way they are.
Some of the Peloton imagery is still rather stereotypical for the health and fitness industry. To me it comes across a bit like those car adverts; you know the ones that don’t tell you about the product but do imply that if you buy one you’ll suddenly start attending posh dinners at swanky hotels with lots of people who appear to have stepped straight off the front page of “Good Looking & Loaded” magazine.
For some people I’m sure that advertising works, but if it doesn’t connect with you, it can have entirely the reverse effect. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I was worried at the start, turns out that Peloton is pretty much the most accessible and least scary fitness thing I’ve ever signed up to.
It’s Not Just Spinning
Yoga, Pilates, Barre, floor cardio, running, strength, meditation; Peloton offers a lot of different classes, all with the same ethos.
For me the driving force is the bike, but cycling has been a constant in my life since I was 3. I do use the other classes, but I kind of view them as the bonus section. That said, if you are a person who likes floor classes, then taking the bike out of the equation the maths of a Peloton subscription still work. For me, without the bike, I’m not so sure it would.
If you’re already a cyclist with a turbo trainer or other home setup, you can hook your own bike up to Peloton (Google will tell you how). You don’t get all the features of the bike, but if you want to add some variety over Zwift, that might be another reason to take a look at Peloton.
Echelon & The Competition
This is starting to sound like an advert, so it’s a good time to mention that Peloton is not the only player in this market. When my partner and I looked at it over summer 2020, we thought it was best for us. Really, I’ve become a huge fan of the model and I can only speak from experience – which means Peloton.
I know Echelon are offering a similar model of operation; bike, spin & other classes. It might have a similar ethos; the classes might be as good. If you were thinking about Peloton it’d be silly not to devote some time looking into Echelon.
Similarly, if you’re a already a cyclist and you weren’t previously aware of Zwift, you should look into that and the other, similar platforms.
Another option for cyclists is Sufferfest. Appealing name, I know, but it gets good reports.
Don’t get too hung up on the idea of cycling however, Peloton isn’t really a cycle training system – it’s a gym replacement based around spin training.
You’d think that Peloton would have scoured all the best gyms and personal trainers, trying to tempt away the top instructors.
Certainly there is that, Christine D’Ercole, for instance, is a global track cycling champion. What might surprise you, however, is that you’ll also find her over at IMDB. That’s her on the left, in Dead Poet’s Society.
The Peloton instructors are a mix, some directly from the fitness industry but many from the world of entertainment – dancers and other physical performers that rely on their fitness.
Unlike a local gym instructor, the Peloton team don’t have to keep grinding out class after class. They can take time to really think about the music, what they’re going to say and do, how they’re going to put together a show that will not just help you achieve your fitness goals but keep you entertained whilst doing it.
Sure, if you want a pure fitness instructor experience you can find that, and maybe those classes might be very slightly more effective. You can certainly follow a climbs track or HIIT or Power Zones or pure Tabata if you want.
Or you can take a music ride or a live DJ ride or a themed ride…
This is what surprised me, because, considering my history, I’d rather assumed that I’d be HIITing myself into a gibbering wreck 5 times a week.
That’s not what’s happened. Music has always been a big part of my life – and Peloton has quite a range, from Jamaican Dancehall to Blues, from 1980s to EDM. I don’t need a plan when I clip in, I know there’s always going to be something; that is if I don’t fancy embracing the express route to oblivion via the medium of Tabata.
Or, of course, there’s always the option of a Metal class with Kendall Toole, which qualifies as both a music ride and an express route to oblivion.
That, of course, is why I want to install a proper sound system; because if you want it to be, Peloton is a form of entertainment.
But Does It, You Know, Work?
It’s difficult to say whether something works or not if you’re not sure what you were trying to achieve.
I know a lot of people are interested in their weight, but I’ve never bothered to weigh myself so I can’t tell you. I do now need a belt for a lot of trousers that in October I didn’t – and that I haven’t exactly been dieting between then and now.
Am I fitter? Definitely and Peloton is very good at supplying metrics for that. Here’s the output from a bunch of 30 minute rides from October to now. It’s exactly the curve you’d expect.
Am I stronger? Very noticeably. What’s more it’s useful strength, as I said in my article on staying healthy during COVID, “there’s no point having iron biceps if you’re all wobbly in the middle”. Mixing up pure strength training with cardio and something like Yoga makes a big difference.
None of these are the real question though. It’s easy to look at yourself and think you’d be happier if you lost a few kilogrammes, or you were a size smaller, or if you knocked 10 seconds off your best time. Perhaps, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes achieving those goals doesn’t make you happy and sometimes you can be happy without achieving those goals.
Someone at Peloton has been reading their text books, because the entire system is littered with behaviour change techniques to promote a healthier lifestyle. We can be cynical, of course, and say that this is just good business; the healthier your lifestyle the more you’re likely to (continue to) consume their products. We can go further, some supposedly reputable corporations in the gambling industry have been caught using algorithms that identify their most vulnerable customers and actively encourage them to gamble more.
We are right to be wary of behaviour change techniques, but everything I’ve seen in Peloton appears straightforward: it’s giving you the tools to better achieve your own fitness and lifestyle goals.
All of which leaves us with a relatively simple conclusion: mechanically it works. By that I mean that I’m stronger, fitter, I have better posture and I prefer the way I look now. I also don’t resent putting the hours in. It’s tough, but it’s not a slog – in fact a lot of the time it’s the reverse, I actually look forward to getting on the bike.
Am I happier? And if so, can I attribute that to Peloton? That’s a really difficult question for someone with a scientific outlook. None of us are immune to our environment and living on the Coronacoaster can throw us all over the place. I can say that life seems easier now than it did in October, and with restrictions being tighter, Peloton has to be a strong candidate for why.
All things considered then, giving the matter all due consideration, I think the answer is yes; it, you know, works.
Next time I’ll talk more about the socials and Peloton culture.
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
A few weeks into the first COVID-19 lockdown my friend shared this.
We all laughed, because even back then we knew that a lot of truth was being said in jest.
Now it’s a new year, and with COVID-19 vaccinations being rolled out there is a new hope that 2021 won’t be quite as miserable as 2020. With that new mood of optimism a lot of people are looking to make changes to their lifestyle – but right now COVID-19 is no less of a problem.
Ten years ago I moved from a city back to a rural area. I went from having a university gym next door to where I worked and a shop literally across the road to the nearest gym and the nearest large supermarket being a 20 minute drive away.
I had to find a way to make that work – and the upshot is that COVID-19 hasn’t changed those aspects of my life a whole lot. I figured now might be a good time to share some of the things I’ve learnt.
Firstly, Accept Yourself
I really, really don’t want to sound like a self-help book, but it’s important for me to say this before I go any further. I’m a swinging from the chandeliers type of person. Being active is a strong, defining characteristic of my personality. Some day I won’t be able to swing from chandeliers any more, but I do not plan on going gently into that particular good night (to paraphrase Dylan Thomas).
There are strong pressures in our society telling you that you have to be slim and fit, driving you towards the health and fitness industry. But you may not be a swinging from chandeliers type of person. You may not have the same motivations as me.
There is nothing wrong with this.
Humans have evolved to operate within a pretty wide tolerance. A lot of the “slim & fit” pressure is just the health and fitness industry trying to drum up business. If that’s the only reason that you’re unhappy with your body or your level of fitness then accept the commercial reality and accept the fact that you just don’t conform to that model.
Also remember to act proportionately. If you’re not happy, but really you’re just a bit miffed that you can’t walk up the local hill without getting out of breath then going on a crash diet and joining a gym is probably not the best course of action. Try, for a start, taking a walk up that hill as part of your regular routine. You’ll soon find it gets a lot easier.
The key is to understand who you are and what your true, underlying motivations are.
Do Not Yo-Yo Diet
If you were entirely happy with your lifestyle and your body before the first lockdown, but you’re not now, then maybe a strict diet regime could work for you. The problem for most of us is that we follow the programme for a while, we lose weight, then we let old habits creep in and before we know it we’re wanting to go back on a strict diet.
The result is our weight, our body image and dieting are constantly in our minds. We’re either enjoying ourselves, knowing we’re going to have to go back on a diet at some point, or we’re grumbling about being on a diet and not being able to enjoy ourselves.
It’s a recipe for bad mental health, as well as bad physical health.
Make Small, Permanent Changes
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Sometimes that’s not true, but in this case it is perhaps the single most effective piece of advice I can give.
The process is simple, whether in diet or fitness; make a small change, consolidate it. Make another small change, consolidate that. It’s a process that we’re used to already, because we’re constantly changing and adapting as the world around us changes. We’re just adding a few conscious threads to that mechanism.
Every change we make and consolidate takes us another step forward. If we keep taking steps then we keep making progress.
You Are Not “On a Diet”
I don’t like bananas. You could say I’m on a no-banana diet.
Your diet is just the food you eat. If it’s not delivering what you need then you change it. It’s still your diet.
One of the most effective things I’ve ever done was to go through the existing food I was eating, count the calories and work out what I needed to change. It turned out that I didn’t need actually need to change too much.
Learn To Cook
This is a big one. If you can’t cook, then start learning. You don’t have to start big, there are plenty of very easy and healthy recipes you can make. The key is that if you’re not preparing your own food then you’re dependent on the pre-prepared food sector to provide you with suitable products – and it’s not a one size fits all situation.
There are loads of resources out there on how to learn to cook and how to make simple meals. Personally, I find Nat’s what I Reckon rather amusing (he does employ Australian strength swearing, mind).
Your Portion Size is Too Large
I’ll make a bet with you. If you do go through your meals, count up the calories and think about what you’re putting on the plate, there will be a lot of occasions where you can simply cook and serve less and still get all the calories and nutrients you need.
Literally overfeeding yourself is a very common problem. Food packaging often doesn’t help and a lot of recipe books have strange ideas about what will feed one person.
Also, if you’re using a calorie counter like MyFitnessPal, don’t assume that the default servings are what you’re actually eating. One of the key rules of looking at any data is not to make any assumptions. I found, for instance, that I was serving way too much breakfast cereal.
A cunning psychological trick is to use smaller plates. For some reason we like to have full plates, but our brains don’t understand the relationship properly. A 23cm plate is 77% of the width of a 30cm plate, but you can only put 59% of the food on it. What’s more, if you look back in history, you find that dinner plates were smaller. The large plates we tend to use today are a very much a modern thing.
You Don’t Have to Eat Rabbit Food
Our food culture in the UK is improving, but it’s still a little toxic. The meat and two veg concept is still rather strong within us. Go to any building site in the country and you’ll find a portion of the people there complaining that they’re “on a diet” and having to eat “rabbit food”.
The meat isn’t the problem. OK, let me put that differently, eating meat isn’t the problem. It’s the quantity of poor quality, often heavily processed meat, the quantity of carbs that accompany it and the tendency to count tomato sauce as “two veg”.
Britain is fortunate enough to have some very good meat. If you want to eat meat, take advantage of that. Reduce the amount of cheap, processed meat you eat. Substitute vegetarian options, fish or seafood. When you do eat meat, invest in it, make it worthwhile. Buy good meat from a proper butcher or farm shop and enjoy it.
The same principle applies to other foods. For instance, I eat a lot of curry. There are thousands of recipes out there that don’t suffer at all for not being cooked in a pint of clarified butter and served with a double dose of carbohydrates. A similar thing is true of pizza. It doesn’t have to be soaked in olive oil and buried under a mountain of cheese. You can buy frozen pizza dough and then top it however you like. In fact, I’d argue that if you use good quality (preferably local) ingredients you can make a pizza at home that’s not only healthier but considerably tastier than any pre-prepared pizza you could buy.
Improve your ingredients, make better food and you will feel better for it.
Simple Changes Can Make Big Differences
One meal I analysed was 1500 calories per portion. I changed the sauce from being based on double cream to being milk and cornflour based and replaced the garlic bread with a healthier version. It actually made the dish taste better – oh, and it knocked out 600 calories, making it an everyday dish, not just a weekend treat.
I rather suspect the truth of the matter is that very few people need to “go on a diet”. What most people need to do is get control of their snacks, fizzy drinks and high sugar foods, regulate their portion sizes and make a few basic changes to some recipes and how often they eat some meals.
You don’t need to do all of it as one big batch either. You can keep chipping away at this, making small improvements, as long as you want. It’s an ongoing process, even for me, as I cook new recipes or find different products and integrate them into my diet.
There’s Calories in Booze
I know, it’s unfair.
Broadly speaking beer has a lot more calories than wine and spirits have less than either (but that does depend a lot on mixers).
There’s another problem with the sauce, as chef Tom Kerridge puts it “You pop out for a quiet pint and before you know it you’ve had 12 and you’re ordering chicken jalfrezi and double naan bread.”
You don’t need me to tell you this, though. I’m only doing it to remind you:
If you’re worried you might be drinking too much you almost certainly are.
Drink wine and spirits over beer and cider.
Like with meat, reduce quantity, increase quality and enjoy the experience.
Don’t Get Obsessed by Your Weight
There are two points I’d like to make here.
Firstly, you don’t care about your weight. How heavy you are doesn’t mean anything. How agile you are, how capable you are to do what you want to do, how susceptible you are to certain health complaints, how you look, these things can be important. Your actual weight, not so much.
Weight is just a relative measure of where you once were and where you are now and – my second point – it’s not even that accurate. When I was a proper gym-bunny I used to see people weigh themselves both before and after a gym session. One day I tried it, I was about 1.5Kg (3lbs) lighter when I came out. Almost all of that change was water that I’d lost in sweat, only a few grammes was fat burnt. Our weight can fluctuate naturally over a sufficient range to make it very difficult to measure fat loss this way.
Having said this, weight is a convenient measure, but to eliminate the natural fluctuations we need to look not at the value day-to-day, but the trend over several weeks. In the example below it’s clear that overall weight is dropping, but if you were to focus too much on the day-to-day you’d be putting yourself on rather an emotional roller-coaster.
Fitness Doesn’t Mean Gym
It’s an often repeated trope, “get to a gym” or “I need to go to a gym”. You don’t. Nobody does.
This is particularly true now, with schemes like Couch to 5K and apps such as Strava and MapMyFitness. You need no equipment and no (paid) subscription for these, you can just get out and walk, jog or run, track your progress and see how you’re improving.
If running isn’t your thing, then Strava and MapMyFitness both cover cycling, and cycling is a particularly good way of improving your fitness.
Don’t be afraid of local cycling clubs and running clubs. They’re not all full of super-fit Lycra clad loonies, most of them organise activities for people of all abilities – or will at least be happy to direct you to a club that does. Remember, this is their hobby, they want people to get involved. If you’re looking to get into cycling, I did a “Let’s Ride” a few years ago – then sponsored by Sky. I was impressed. There were some limited events still being run in the lower tiered areas, so hopefully they’ll return relatively soon.
Similarly you’ll find that the range of local sports clubs is far greater than you might have thought – often organised around municipal leisure centres, which are far cheaper than private gyms.
Clubs are great because they provide a social element – and I don’t mean drinks at the tennis club. You turn up to train with other people and that makes it easier to motivate yourself.
Obviously, at the moment, this option is rather limited, but remember it for when we do get back to a more normal life. In the meantime, make use of the social programmes, the clubs etc. on the likes of Strava. Being in it with other people really does make a big difference.
Whatever you take up, realise that you’re not going to be very good at it to start with. It only takes a few runs, a few rides, a few games however before you feel you’re getting into the swing of things. Never, ever give something up after the first session. Give it at least 5 if not 10 before you decide it’s not for you.
Lastly in this section, fitness magazines will tell you, at length, why this form of exercise is better than that. They need to sell magazines, so they have to fill them with something. When it comes down to it though, some exercise is better then no exercise. Even lawn bowls is better than sitting in front of the telly. Do something.
Your Personal Best Doesn’t Matter
It seems that, at some point in our society, we decided that if you had a hobby then you had to be good at it. This is plainly ridiculous. The only thing that matters about a hobby is that you enjoy it; well, I mean, unless you’re a terrible violinist in a shared house, but I’m sure you get my point.
Whatever activities you choose, it’s entirely up to you whether to pay any attention to anyone else’s performance or even to your own. It doesn’t really matter if you beat your personal best, or if someone else beats your time. What actually matters is that you went and did the activity. Your performance is always secondary to that.
Or, to put it another way, don’t spoil a pleasant summer evening run by wearing a GPS watch. Just get out, run and enjoy the sunshine.
You Do Not Need a Lycra Licence
I get self-conscious wearing Lycra. I suspect most people do, because Lycra barely qualifies as clothing. In our society, particularly in the UK, we’re a bit funny about wandering around naked – and Lycra comes uncomfortably close to that.
Thankfully you don’t have to. I rarely venture outside in just Lycra. The above photo was part of an organised event and it was the uniform and – if I’m honest – I wasn’t terribly happy about it.
I often ride in cargo style shorts and a normal t-shirt. If I’m going on a long ride, I’ll put cycling shorts under my normal shorts. I run in general purpose sports shorts and a lightweight polo shirt.
Don’t get hung up on having all the gear or looking the part. If you do take up cycling, running or any similar activity, don’t let the industry and the magazines influence you too much. Yes, a £5000 bike will allow you to go further and faster than a £300 bike, but really not that much – and what does it matter anyway? What matters is that you are fitter than you were yesterday.
Be Careful of Home Equipment
I’m a huge fan of Peloton, a system that allows you to stream fitness classes directly to a spin bike in your home. It is expensive, however. There’s another system, Echelon, which seems to be cheaper. If you’re already a cyclist, there’s Zwift – although that is more limited.
Before Peloton however, I had a string of home exercise equipment. The cheap stuff is mostly fine at just getting you moving. The problem is that as you get stronger and fitter, the equipment becomes less suitable.
I’ve broken or just plain worn out a string of treadmills, exercise bikes and cross trainers. However, I’m not really the intended market. If you’re starting from somewhere near zero then these home gym machines will probably work just fine for you. Don’t expect them to stay with you long-term however, if you’re successful then you’re likely to outgrow them. I explain more in The Peloton Diaries: Doing the Maths.
The other common problem with home equipment is motivation. It’s a running joke about how quickly this stuff becomes no more than a clothes horse.
If you can, give it its own space, with its own (smart) telly. There are plenty of fitness classes on YouTube.
One alternative that really worked for me is to assign a TV series to workouts. The idea is that you’re not allowed to watch it unless you’re exercising. Sure, some days you just phone it in, but the point is that doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Establishing a routine is also important, especially in the early days. Exercise can’t be something you try to fit into spare time. It has to be something you plan, something you will move other things for, if you need to. Sure, people think you’re crazy if you’re late to Zoom drinks because it clashes with your workout time, but it’s important to set that precedent.
If You’re Stronger, You Can Burn Calories Faster
I’ve talked a lot about fitness, but what about strength? Being strong definitely makes my life easier, particularly core strength, because your core gets used in almost everything you do. There’s no point having iron biceps if you’re all wobbly in the middle.
Strength exercises also burn calories and, unsurprisingly, the stronger you are the faster you burn them. You also burn more calories in other places too – scrubbing the scrambled egg off the pan it seems to have got welded to, that’ll burn more calories. There’s another side effect as well, building and maintaining stronger, larger muscle also burns calories.
Personally, I do very little with weights. I find I don’t need to – I don’t have much use in my life for the kind of strength that gives. I don’t tend to need to dead-lift an engine block much, as long as I can wave a car battery about, I’m fine. So most of my work is core and bodyweight based.
Don’t underestimate Yoga. It might look like glorified contortionism, but getting into and maintaining the poses builds strength not just in the big power muscles, but also in the smaller control muscles. You need both if you want to be able to use your strength as well as look strong.
Remember, Small Steps
I’ve talked about a few different topics. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas.
If you take nothing else away from this, remember that huge attempts to completely change a lifestyle only work if they’re backed up by huge determination. If you’re not sure about that then the best way to approach it is to make a series of small changes.
If you do feel you have that huge motivation that then go for it, write yourself a new diet, sign yourself up for a fitness programme and have at it. It’s tough, but if you’re motivated enough it will work.
If you’re not quite feeling it at that level then start out small. You make a small change, you get used to it, you make it part of normal. Then you make another small change and then that becomes normal. You just have to make sure that you’re always moving forward.
All are simple changes, small changes that anyone can make. Small changes that you can make. If you want to you can make the first change today. It really is all about you and what you want to achieve.
A Final Note…
I’m very conscious that I’m not a medical professional, dietician or trainer and that some of the above is somewhat different to some of the professional messaging that we receive.
I think the medical profession may, unwittingly, have been responsible for the phenomenon of yo-yo dieting. If you feel you’re too fat and you go to the doctors, they’re likely to want you to lose weight, so they will prescribe a diet and exercise regime to fix your immediate problem. It’s almost like giving you a course of pills for that nasty rash…
You complete the course, just like you would the pills, then go back to doing what you did before, because you’re fixed.
The medical profession isn’t stupid, of course they’re telling you that you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle and they always did tell you this, but that message doesn’t seem to land with us as well as the idea that you get fat, you diet, repeat.
That messaging problem may be influenced by the health and fitness industry. There’s a galloping stampede of people and businesses pushing the latest diets and exercise regimes at you. There’s a lot of money in getting you signed up to the programme, then when you get bored of that, signed up to the next one.
There’s no money in you making small, permanent changes to your lifestyle.
When I lived in a city, the industry was on my doorstep. It was easier for me to consume from them than it was to beat out my own path. When I moved back to a rural area that reversed and it became abundantly apparent that I didn’t need to consume or subscribe to much at all. With any interaction with other people now being a risk, that’s significant.
I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’m a Peloton owner, but has my new toy been worth the money? Initial impressions are certainly good.
The First Ride
Climbing aboard for the first time, the bike suggests some beginner classes. In fact there’s a whole 6 week beginner programme you can take, if you want. I thought it worth starting with a beginner class just to make sure I wasn’t missing something vital. As a cyclist however, the advanced beginner would have been a perfectly adequate place to start. If you’re not a cyclist or haven’t ridden for a while, the beginner classes may be very useful.
The instructors are unforgivingly outgoing and positive. If you want drill sergeant style instruction, I don’t think you’ll find it on Peloton. They are all very encouraging and very welcoming, it can be a little irritating at times but it does make the whole thing much more accessible :- for many people the idea of going to a spin class is quite threatening, it has a reputation as a bit of a headbanger activity. Peloton busts that myth, you find your level. Nobody is going to judge you if this is your 200th beginner ride.
Every class has bands of cadence and bands of resistance, “increase by 3!” says the instructor, but that could be 40 to 43 or 55 to 58, depending on where your level is. The bands themselves are wide, the difference between 40 and 58 resistance is a lot – approximately double the power output. The upshot is that you can steadily work up each range. If you can get through a beginner class at the top of the difficulty, then you’ll be right in the middle of an Advanced Beginner and the same moving into the standard classes.
After One Week
OK, I love it, but that’s not surprising; it’s my new toy. I am slightly concerned that I may have joined a cult however. The instructors leave you in no doubt, no doubt at all that you’ve definitely “got this” without ever revealing what “this” is. Do I need to attain a higher level to find out?
The incessant positivity is a little saccharine to an overly sarcastic Brit like me, but I’d rather they erred that way than the other; “Work your butt off and you might die slightly less soon” is not effective motivation for most people.
One thing that does work is the high-five system. It’s actually quite encouraging to know that there are other people out there with you.
There really are classes for every variety of spin you could want to do. I’ve picked up a few. I’m not sure about the strength based stuff yet, I might give that a swerve for a few weeks, until I’m confident I have the core strength.
At the moment, to me at least, it seems as if there aren’t enough live classes. I don’t know; right now I don’t feel comfortable enough with the system to join one. That’s the target for next Wednesday.
I’m finding the scenic rides really useful at the moment. I can do a 20 minute or 30 minute class and still want more, but I don’t really know where my level is at, so I don’t want to join another class and then flake out half way through. A scenic ride is perfect because you’re in control. You can even replace the music with your own, if you want. I recommend DevilDriver(I do not recommend DevilDriver).
Is it doing any good, though? Yes, definitely. I can see from the numbers that I am fitter than I was 10 days ago, sure. I can also feel it in what I do; every morning I take a short walk to the local Baptist Chapel, not out of any religious devotion, it’s just that it’s up a hill and I like to make sure that I’ve done something active before I open the office. That hill doesn’t even register any more. I don’t even notice that it’s a hill.
What rather surprised me, though, was the improvement in core strength. Yesterday I was cutting a mortice slot in some studwork in a really tricky place. I was in a really awkward position, but unlike when I started this project a few weeks ago, I wasn’t looking for things to brace myself against, I just seemed a lot more stable and in control.
Is it worth the outlay? Will the subscription prove worthwhile? Right now I feel very positive. I’ll update in a couple of months and we’ll see…
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series: