Fitting in Fitness as a Trainee Teacher

Joe Trippett is training to teach maths at Ashton on Mersey SCITT, supported by Transition to Teach. Before training to teach, Joe worked as a personal trainer helping clients achieve their health and fitness goals. Here, he shares his top tips to help trainee teachers prioritise their physical and mental health while juggling a busy schedule.

I have always been passionate about fitness and nutrition. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean I’m a health bore who is going to advise you to cut out all the treats and spend your days eating broccoli and running for miles! However, I do want to highlight the importance of looking after yourself while training to teach.

Prior to teacher training, I spent six years working as a personal trainer. I started personal training relatively late, having spent thirteen years before this as a police officer. During my time in the police, I saw first-hand how stressful work roles can cause people to neglect their health. I saw poor eating, drinking, and sleeping habits creeping into my colleagues’ lives. I also heard people come up with countless excuses as to why they couldn’t exercise or devote any time to looking after themselves. These factors compounded their stress issues and often led to people having to take time off work.

The more I heard, the more I wanted to help – hence why I made the move into personal training. I know how easy it is to slip into bad habits, but I also know how much better you feel when you make improvements. It’s easy to make the mistake of focusing too much on short-term pleasure and comfort rather than long-term health and wellbeing. After slipping into comfortable practices, we can sometimes find the idea of healthy lifestyle changes overwhelming. Knowing this, when working with clients, I often worked on changing mindsets and smaller habits, rather than setting strict regimes and extreme goals.

Keeping fit while training to teach

I’ll admit that during teacher training I have often found it hard to maintain my usual activity level. I’m still doing some evening personal training sessions with clients and I have a very lively five year old at home! Add school work into the mix and I’m left with very little time to even prepare meals, let alone exercise. I realised that the only way to fit exercise into my regime was by doing it first thing in the morning and I now get up at 6am and either go to the gym or head out for a run before school. While it may not be my preferred time to exercise, I know how much better I feel for keeping exercise in my life and how important it is for both my physical and mental welfare.

Teaching is tough and it’s vital that we take time to look after ourselves. No matter how busy I have been, I always ensure that I keep exercise and nutrition as priorities. If I don’t have time for the gym then I’ll go for a run, if I don’t have time for a run then I’ll do a short HIIT session at home. Exercise doesn’t have to be a big deal; start with something that you enjoy, or if there is nothing that you enjoy then start with something you find easy.

Making exercise a habit

Make the act of exercising a habit and routine – once you’re used to it, then you can start to build and challenge yourself further. The same goes for nutrition – healthy changes don’t have to be hard. You could make food in batches and store it in the fridge. While this initially sounds like a hassle, it’s far more convenient than trying to think last minute about what to eat. Most poor choices are made through lack of planning which causes us to make decisions about food when we are tired, stressed or pushed for time. When you make evening meals, you could keep extra portions to eat the next day. Take small snacks to school; fruit, vegetable sticks, hummus, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. There are many options that can help prevent the temptation of staff room biscuits and cakes! It’s also important to stay hydrated by always keeping a bottle of water with you. Ultimately, I’d encourage you to stick to small simple steps rather than striving to make a number of huge changes at once. This will help you persevere, and you’ll start to see how much difference even a small change can make.

Mindfulness is key

Health is not just about exercise and nutrition. As teachers we need to think about other ways to combat stress and improve our sleep. This is where activities such as yoga, breathing practices and meditation can be beneficial. I am guilty of working until quite late in the evening on a regular basis and I’m often using technology which can have a negative impact on my sleep patterns, so I’ll do what I can to combat these negative effects.

Once I have finished work each evening, I’ll spend about 20-30 minutes completely winding down. I do some gentle stretching followed by deep relaxing breathing. This takes me from a sympathetic (stressed) state to a parasympathetic (relaxed) state which helps me avoid going to bed in a heightened state of mind and having a disrupted sleep. Excess technology, caffeine and alcohol can all affect sleep quality and the best way to judge how well you slept is to take note of how you feel when you wake up. Unless you feel energised every morning it is worth looking into your routines before bed.

A simple breathing exercise to try is the ‘box breath’. Sit or lie in a quiet room and, once you are comfortable, start to relax your breathing. Whilst focusing on the breath, inhale for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold the exhale for a count of 4. Continue this for a minimum of 5 minutes, preferably a lot longer. Your mind might initially try to sabotage the relaxation but be patient and, rather than fighting the thoughts that enter the mind, accept any thoughts and then let them go.

I hear many people say they haven’t got time for exercises like this or think they are boring but it’s no coincidence that most people who make such comments are those who are stressed! We have become so accustomed to remaining in the sympathetic state that being truly relaxed can be an alien feeling. However, as with all healthy practices, once you experience the benefits you will wish that you had made the effort sooner.

Prioritise your health

If you are currently struggling with your health the best advice that I can give is to make a start with small steps. Think about the processes rather than comparing yourself to others or waiting for dramatic changes. We are all very different and face our own challenges, but there are likely some small changes you could make which may have a dramatic impact on your overall health. This may just be committing to walking 10 minutes per day, getting to bed slightly earlier, or even reducing alcohol by a few units per week. Think about your routines and habits and see how you can start to prioritise your health. Once you start looking after your health then all the other aspects of your life will become easier and more enjoyable. I promise you will experience the benefit – and so will the children you teach!