In this episode of Decathlon’s Power of Ten podcast series Graham Bell meets fitness expert, Alice Living.
She’s been described as a ‘Pint-sized personal trainer with a passion for health and fitness’ and she’s a best-selling author who recently outsold Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson in the cookbook charts, a podcast host and an Instagram influencer with more that 700,000 followers on Social Media. She’s also behind a range of best-selling fitness wear AND she’s an ambassador for Women’s Aid.
They discuss Alice’s health challenges as she manages to maintain full fitness whilst managing PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and how health and well-being has helped her overcome difficult times in her personal life.
Graham [00:00:04] Welcome to the power of Ten, brought to you by Decathlon, the power of ten is a mix of one to one interviews, plus some positive health tips. It's all about providing advice on how to improve your wellbeing, both in body and in mind. We've got an impressive selection of talented guests lined up for the podcast series, all ready to impart their knowledge, advice and secrets for improving your fitness. On Brembo, five time Olympic skier turned reporter and presenter, I've been to a total of 10 Winter Olympic Games. Today, I'm joined by someone described as a pint sized personal trainer with a passion for health and fitness, although I'm not sure how she feels about being described as that.
Graham [00:00:48] She's a personal trainer, a best selling author who recently outsold Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson in the cookbook charts, a podcast host and Instagram influencer with more than 700000 followers on social media. She's also behind a range of best selling fitness wear, and she's an ambassador for Women's Aid. It's a pleasure to be joined by Alice Living. Alice, how you doing? Welcome to The Power of Tanni.
Alice [00:01:15] Thank you so much for having me. That was a lovely introduction. Thank you so much.
Graham [00:01:20] Let's get straight into it. We're going to start with your general fitness. How is your general fitness right now?
Alice [00:01:25] Well, I think as many people are experiencing, it's a little bit worse than pre lockdown. You know, like my general style of training is resistance training, weight lifting.
Alice [00:01:36] And that's the thing that I would have done, pre lockdown. And then going into that stage, I definitely had to switch, as everyone did to home workouts.
Graham [00:01:45] Were you able to smuggle some kind of training aides back home for for the lockdown period?
Alice [00:01:51] You know, I was really lucky. I mean, it's crazy the price of training care. So like catabolic and Dumbo's just skyrocketed. It was like daylight robbery over lockdown. But thankfully, we did have quite a few Kate Gerbeau, some dumbbells, resistance bands or that kind of stuff. So I did feel very lucky because I had lots of people messaging me, saying that they could barely even afford one dumbbell, let alone a set. So, yes, I did feel very lucky to have that. And that did mean that I was able to incorporate some kind of resistance training into my routine, but it was just very different to what I would have done previously. And it's interesting as well, because it really challenged me as a trainer to think about how to programme and how to coach from home as well, that I never normally would train from home. In fact, I'd never done a home workout in my life until lockdown. So it was really interesting in terms of me having to learn and experience how to how to really challenge myself when training from home. So that was the nice part of it. And it's always good to try and look at it with a positive spin.
Graham [00:02:49] Did you find yourself using some peculiar things, particularly as household objects, as weights that you would normally have in the gym?
Alice [00:02:56] I mean, I didn't because thankfully we had stuff. But I mean, I had people joining my classes who used all sorts of things. I think the best was someone who used Petrak or something she was using. I mean, I had people send me the most crazy things, but I think it's great. I mean, people were definitely resourceful. So I think it's only to be celebrated.
Graham [00:03:14] Yeah. I hasten to add, the decathlon didn't hike the prices up of any of their training equipment overlooked, although I did. I think that as with everything, you know, things were selling out really fast and having to restock because people just went out and bought weights. So tell me about when you were at your fittest.
Alice [00:03:32] Well, my background is in musical theatre, so I actually trained as a professional dancer for three years. I play school, but college. And I mean, I would say that that was probably when I was like at my most fair I mean, I was doing up to eight hours of dancing a day. I was also going to the gym to do my strength training. And then on top of that, we might have rehearsals and stuff outside of training hours. So it was intense. And it's really interesting because, like, I think your body adapts to whatever situation you're in.
Alice [00:04:01] So right now, if I look back to that and I think, oh, my God, I'd never be able to do that now, by the time you just kind of you do adapt and adjust, I'm sure you'll you'll know when you're in your hardest phase of training, you just sort of adjust and get used to it, even though looking back, it feels like, oh, my God, how do I ever do that? But I think as well, my my probably my fitness. I left college early because I got a job in an Indonesian and I taught the UK for a year in that show.
Alice [00:04:27] And so I was doing like eight to ten shows a week, basically travelling to a different city every week, lugging my suitcase around and also going to the gym on top of that.
Alice [00:04:37] So I think definitely that period of my life, I look back and think, oh my God, I must have just been so physically fit. But, you know, I think each stage of my training journey as such, I've enjoyed it. Even if I'm not at my perceived physical peak fitness, I still think I get stuff from my training regardless of that. Even now, I'm not on my fitness.
Alice [00:04:59] No way. But I probably get more for my training because of that, because I know that I can do better and it challenges me to do more. So I just try and look at my training is a real journey and not trying to always be at peak physical fitness because that's not really sustainable. So it's nice to have those peaks and troughs. And I think I look back and think, oh, that was amazing that I did that because I'm kind of happy that I have a bit more of a balance now.
Graham [00:05:22] Yeah, it's kind of similar to me. When I when I was professionally ski racing, you know, I was going to the gym, know, four, five times a week. And I know that I. I could lift back then and, you know, I can't lift anywhere near the same amount, but, you know, that was, you know, 25 years ago. But, you know, in those days, I wouldn't have been able to go out and run the, you know, the marathon disable or compete in a in an Iron Man. I think my my endurance has got better as I've got older, but I definitely don't have the muscle mass that I had when I was ski racing. How important is fitness for your mind and what role does it play and distressing?
Alice [00:05:55] Well, I think definitely over the last couple of years, the fitness industry on the whole has really woken up to the idea that exercise isn't just for weight loss, which I think was what people really perceived it to be for such a long time, and actually that it was so beneficial for our mental wellbeing, too. And I think actually what's really highlighted that is locked down this period of stress and anxiety for a lot of people. Exercise has become a thing. They've really wanted to help their mental well-being just as much as their physical health. So if you look at things like, you know, all time being limited to one hour outside the house a day, people really come on to getting outside and getting some fresh air and moving their bodies, whether that was cycling or running or walking. You really saw people value that time. And I think it's definitely caused a shift in terms of people's motivation to exercise so much more. Now we're hearing the conversations around moving to make yourself feel good.
Alice [00:06:46] We know the exercise is directly linked to reducing anxiety, depression. And, you know, it's it's the kind of thing that it's sort of it hasn't had as much air time as it should have done because it actually is a really crucial part of the benefits of exercise. So for me personally, I definitely exercise for physical health. Absolutely. But also as a as an amazing benefit of that, I get the mental boost, too. And that comes from a multitude of things, one being the mental challenge that I find exercises, but also that kind of endorphin boost, that feeling of like just feeling good in my body really helps to kind of get the most from my session. So I definitely think exercise is hugely important for mental wellbeing.
Graham [00:07:30] One thing you haven't touched on is how it helps you maintain looking good is a motivating factor for you at all, or is that just a by-product of having a healthy lifestyle?
Alice [00:07:41] The thing that I would say to that is, you know, it's so interesting that you mention that because for so long, I think many, many people just exercise to look good and exercise can make you look good, but it shouldn't be the be all and end all. Anyone can move that body. You don't have to look a certain way to be fit. And there's no one type of body that is superior to others. You know, anyone can exercise and anyone can get up and move their bodies. And that is fitness. There's no kind of club that you're not and if you don't have a low body fat. So I just think it's really important that whilst yes, you're absolutely right, looking good can be a positive benefit of of exercising. It also shouldn't be the whole focus because it's a short term and unsustainable goal. That was my journey. You know, I started exercising to lose weight. I got to my go away and I looked great. And then I was like, well, what now? I feel so unmotivated and uninspired. So I kind of got here and I, I don't really know where else to go from here. And that's why I really pivoted and was like, OK, I really have an interest in fitness, so how can I challenge my body in different ways and how can I take the focus away from losing weight in the way that I can actually really focus instead on the challenge that that brings for me, for my body, and kind of just reframe exercise because then I had a much healthier relationship with it. If your only motivation to get up out of bed is so that you look good, I just don't think that's sustainable. There's got to be other things in there. So, yes, you're absolutely right. Exercise can help with body composition and fat loss, but the ME that falls quite low down on the list of reasons to get up and move.
Graham [00:09:17] Yeah, it certainly does. I mean, it does give you a little bit of a confidence boost when you see your body changing. But I think doing it purely to change your body to how you look to other people, I think that puts a lot of mental stress on you. And I probably do the reverse effect. One of the things that we're talking about with all of our guests is the idea that, you know, circumstances and and lifestyles change and it can be quite difficult to maintain physical fitness and mental fitness through big life changes. The biggest life change for me was when I retired from ski racing and I had a choice to make. Do I continue to exercise because I've been doing it for my job, for, you know, for the best part of 20 years. And my relationship with exercise changed from being have to do it because it's my job to wanting to do it. What about you? What changes have you been through in your life that you've had to kind of go through? And how is your fitness levels coped with that?
Alice [00:10:11] Well, I think it's really important that we all understand that motivation to exercise isn't a linear thing. It's not a permanent state of, you know, once you get there, it's like I'm always amazed. But even I myself, I love exercising. But there are some days where I wake up and I just can't be bothered, and that's OK. And I think it's really important that we all understand that. And absolutely as well, when you're going through big life changes, exercise might fall quite low down on the priority list. And I have this with my clients. You know, I've had clients who've gone through really life changing stuff. And we just have a really honest, honest conversation and talk about the fact that exercise isn't always going to be able to be high up on that priority list. Sometimes all the things have to take precedent, and that's OK. And it's it's really about taking the pressure off and removing that guilt and just getting it, but getting back to it when you feel in a good place, mentally or physically. So that's the first thing. And then me personally, I've definitely been through some life changing things. The reason why I started exercising and I actually got so much in strength training was because I was a victim of domestic abuse and I was in an abusive relationship for a year. I ended up having to go to court. You know, it was all so traumatic and I was basically a shell of the person that I am now. And actually what exercise did for me was to help me rebuild myself back up. And in a weird way, building physical strength was actually me almost like building the mental strength I needed as well to get back on with my life and to really refined myself. So I think exercise is such a powerful thing. And actually on my podcast, one of the things we cover is really how exercise can be so crucial to people's recovery from big life changing events. And, you know, I remember interviewing a woman called Martine, right. Who lost both her legs in the seven seven bombings. And she then went on to compete in the Paralympic Games in the seated volleyball team. An exercise for her was like the number one thing that got her through some really dark times. And I just look at that and I think is so powerful and it's so amazing and I kind of wish everyone could get something from it. So, yeah, I really think, you know, looking at life changing times and things that can really rock your world, exercise can be a constant and a thing that you really cling onto to get you through.
Graham [00:12:24] And you've also had some some health challenges as well. You've spoken in the past about PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome. How have you learnt to to deal with that and how does that affect the way that you train in the way that you eat?
Alice [00:12:37] So PCOS actually affects thousands and thousands of women in the UK. It's actually about a common condition, but the things that come along with it for me personally were like incredibly painful periods. I also have something called adenomyosis, which if you want to go into detail about the thickening of a womb lining, which means that when you have period cramps are so painful and I would just feel physically sick, I couldn't really exercise, couldn't work. So, you know, for me, I had to really learn to push and pull when I was able to. And actually something that I've talked about recently on my Instagram is just on a wider level. Women really understanding their menstrual cycle and knowing that their menstrual cycle can really affect how they train. And so it's really crucial that women understand where they are in their cycle. So there are different stages of the cycle at which different hormones are at play. And it's really understanding what you can get the most from your body at different times of your cycle. So for me, that was really empowering and not quite that comes down to things that tracking a cycle and also just knowing when to rest and knowing when to push, basically. But yeah, I think, look, it's not something that's completely debilitating. It's just something that I have learnt to live with. And I find that it can challenge me some months worse than others. But it's just one of those things where exercise can be and has been something that does really help me. We know that movement is directly linked to alleviating symptoms and it just helps with in terms of helping your your student track, basically, and to stop painful cramps. So even if it's just a little walk, it can be something that does really help. So, yeah, it's just something that I've kind of learnt to manage.
Graham [00:14:13] You created the tag Clean Eating Alice, although you dropped a couple of years ago. How do you feel about that tag now?
Alice [00:14:20] I liken it to when you choose your first email address. Mine was something horrific that my mum would go to if she knew what it was awful. But when I first started my Instagram, I didn't think that I was ever going to have followers. It was kind of my way of of creating a bit of a food diary to have a bit of an accountability with the weight loss journey that I was going on. And I never in my life imagined that I would be where I am now. So I created this name and I started posting these meals. And, you know, slowly I started to gain a bit of a following and people were engaging with what I was doing. And it was only when I really started to get to quite a big level that I recognised that there were people using the phrase clean eating that I didn't necessarily align with. And I also very much came to recognise along that journey that I've been on, which definitely had dark periods and periods where I was doing things that weren't necessarily healthy, such as, you know, underrating and overtrading. That clean eating was actually not necessarily a good thing. And I came to learn more about the fact that, you know, it's not great for us to label foods as clean and unclean.
Alice [00:15:22] It's not good for us to look at foods as good or bad, because what that does is create a really disordered relationship with food that we suddenly see some. Foods is good, some foods is bad, and we can never have those ones, we feel guilty if we have those ones and these ones are really good for us. So I think I just slowly starts to understand that they were probably better ways of describing the approach that I wanted to have to health and wellbeing, and that using that phrase and that terminology and all that came alongside it was not something I wanted to be associated with, nor was it something that I really believed in. So I think I look back and, you know, something that's been really important along my entire journey is I'm always willing to put my hands up and say I made a mistake. And I think that's been really important because that level of accountability and transparency is so important when you have an audience that are so engaged with everything you do. So for me, it was just about coming out and saying, look, this is what I call myself, then this is why I don't necessarily agree with that name now, and this is why I'm changing it to just my name.
Alice [00:16:17] And thankfully, everyone was really supportive of that. And it was a really positive change. And I'm so glad that I did it. But it's not something that I regret. I don't look back and think, oh, God, I wish I'd never called myself that, because actually I learnt a lot from making that mistake. So it's just one of those things where even still now I get stopped in the street and people are like, oh my God, are you clean is your health. But, you know, it's just one of those things I know. I'm not ashamed of it. I just think it's an important milestone in my journey to where I am today.
Graham [00:16:44] You work hard enough that you can exactly have those foods that aren't exactly deemed healthy. I did a heavy session yesterday and I definitely had a dirty, dirty pork pie after that. But I was just like out of the other question is how healthy do you want to go? And once you start going to vegetarianism, to veganism, to all of that kind of stuff, you know, how clean can can eating be? You know, eating is eating, isn't it? And you've got to find your own relationship with food. We touched on lockdown and you know, the effect that it's had on all of us. What were the hardest things for you with maintaining fitness over lockdown?
Alice [00:17:21] For me, going to the gym is such a process of getting off, getting a coffee at my local coffee shop, arriving at the gym like it's such a routine for me. And then suddenly I was having to motivate myself to get up out of bed and go to my living room and then have the motivation to workout it. Just I found that really hard and all I longed for was a bit of a change of scenery. And we don't have a garden. So I couldn't get outside and a lot of the time. So I found that the most challenging thing, you know, even near me, I have to walk probably 20 minutes to half an hour to get to any open green space that was challenging in its ways. But, you know, at the same time as I was also really grateful that I had the equipment available to be able to train, that was a good thing. And also that I knew what I was doing. You know, for a lot of people, home workouts were such an unknown that they didn't really know how to train from home. So thankfully, obviously, I'm a trainer, so I was able to programme for myself and my boyfriend. And we also have a coach who writes us programmes. So that was great. But yeah, definitely having to get up and go to a living room and then be like, right, I'm ready to train. That was hard for me.
Graham [00:18:26] Yeah, for me it was a godsend. I mean, I do a lot of road biking and when the initial lockdown started and I think Michael Gove had said, you can exercise as long as you can without stopping. For me, that's 100 kilometres and I can knock out 100 kilometres on my road bike, you know, a few bananas, maybe a sandwich energy bar in the back pockets, a couple of water bottles. And I was riding roads that normally you would never ride on them because the traffic was too bad and it was just this empty, empty road. So it was kind of it was it was good and bad in certain ways. But it's fantastic to be out on the road riding. I think that, you know, the sales of bikes went through the roof as well.
Alice [00:19:06] My parents are really keen cyclists, like they would go out and do cars. And I absolutely love that part. You know, where they are? They are like they were ringing every day. Oh, yeah. I just got back from a cycle and I was like, great. I just had to work out in my living room with no outdoor space at all.
Graham [00:19:23] Yeah. So it is different for everybody. Different for everybody. So let's bring things up to date and break it down into two clear sections, body and soul. Do you have a fitness regime right now? And can you tell me like a typical week for you, for your training?
Alice [00:19:38] I do have a routine now. I'm someone who thrives off routine anyway, so I need like a stat structure. So my weight training takes up four days of my week. So I will do to lower and to upper body sessions a week and they're or gym based. And then outside of that I am learning to box at the moment. That's my latest challenge.
Alice [00:19:58] So I have this amazing coach who is excellent and I do one session a week with him currently trying to get my head around footwork and punches and doing them both at the same time, which is really hard and my brain can't seem to get quite used to it. But anyway, it's good to do something that I'm a complete beginner at. And then apart from that, I do a lot of yoga from home to stretch as mobility staff and then I walk pretty much everywhere, particularly at the moment because of the current situation.
Alice [00:20:27] I don't necessarily want to get on the tube the. Much so I'm trying to walk as much as I can, so that's like a typical week. You know, I try and keep active a lot of the time, but that doesn't mean I don't, like, collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day and stay there for a few hours.
Graham [00:20:40] Do you find that learning something new, learning a new sport is important as well? Because that gets you mentally challenged and you get that you find that learning curve when you get to that certain point on the learning curve where you just you're learning something new every session.
Alice [00:20:54] One hundred percent, you know, and that's something that I found as a really nice new challenge for me. I think one way to keep yourself really motivated is to learn something new, because it's good to be a beginner. It's good to have that challenge of being really rubbish at something, because for me, that's like, oh, my God, I want to work really hard to get good at this now. And so I'm so motivated to practise and then to train every week. So I definitely think, yeah, trying something new, a new skill or new sport is a really good idea. You know, I've got clients that have joined netball teams. I've got clients that I've started tennis lessons. And I think picking up a skill like that is a really good idea to keep yourself motivated in terms of exercising.
Graham [00:21:31] Well, that leads neatly onto the second point is what do you do for your for your mind and soul? And what is it out there that you do to keep your mind healthy?
Alice [00:21:40] So there are many things. I think I've definitely taken a much bigger approach to my mental wellbeing than I ever have done before. You know, I realised that it makes up such a big part of being able to get through a week, you know, and I'm a better person for taking care of my mental health.
Alice [00:21:56] For me, it's really simple things like I find walking very meditative and I find that that's a good way for me to, like, decompress or if I'm feeling particularly anxious or stressed, I can go out for even like a 10 minute walk. And I do feel that that really helps. But also incorporating things like I love the app Calm, which is like a meditating, and that they do like stories on there as well. And there's all sorts of different things on there. One of the things that they have on there is like basically like an hour of just rain falling, which is so if you're feeling really stressed and you just listen to it is amazing. And sometimes if I'm on flights and stuff, I'll put it on because I get quite anxious when I'm flying and it's really helpful. But I also think the most important thing that I would say is is, is the way that I take care of my mental health is just talking. I think it's so important that we understand how valuable, just like sharing your feelings and saying what's you know, what's the matter or if you've had a bad day or a stressful day that you're able to share that with someone no matter who that is, because it just takes a little bit of that pressure off rather than allowing yourself to bubble over with stress and anxiety. If each time you feel something creeping up or there's an issue and you and you tell someone, you know, my mum always bought me up saying a problem shared is a problem. Half that I do believe in. So I try and talk about things as they come rather than saving everything up and then like blowing over basically. So that's that's a few things that I do.
Graham [00:23:16] So how is diet? What would you eat post trading? If you've done a heavy session, would you eat anything in particular?
Alice [00:23:24] Oh, so my diet is massively varied, which is a good thing, by the way. We want variety and autobio. So if you're sitting here thinking, what am I going to have for dinner, I always try and look at my plate with every meal I have and make sure I've got different varieties of vegetables on there.
Alice [00:23:39] So, for example, at lunch I was making Amila and I thought, OK, perfect, I can throw in kale, red onion, tomatoes, but some cheese in there as well as some healthy fat. So it's always about just trying to make colourful meals. I will generally always have a protein source every meal that really helps in terms of my recovery, particularly with the training that I'm doing and also carbohydrate source as well as I try and go for like low GI clubs and things like Sweet Potato is a great one that I have a lot from rice. So those are kind of things that I would include as well. And then just loads of vegetables and trying to get some healthy fats in there as it went to. So post training. I'm very, very spoilt with this. If I'm at the gym, we have an amazing shake bar that do like basically any protein shake that you want and you can basically get any variation.
Alice [00:24:24] So I get coconut vegan protein, I get it with almond milk, a banana and some oats and then some ice. And it's like a big slushy and it's really nice. So that's my favourite thing if I've had a really heavy session, but I am a big fan as well. Have also food first. So whilst I do use protein shakes now and then for convenience, if I've just finished a session and I want to have something straight afterwards, but generally I'll try and base my day of eating around like three main meals and then some snacks in between food first.
Graham [00:24:55] Yes, that's definitely Higginbottom. So it's time to shift gears now and move on to the decathlon section of the podcast. It's one of the toughest athletic contests out there made famous by Daley Thompson, but hopefully these questions won't be quite as tough. So this is it, the decathlon brought to you by decathlon. So let's go for it.
Graham [00:25:17] Question one, what's your exercise of choice? Weight training? Do you workout alone or with friends alone? What time of day do you prefer to exercise? First thing in the morning? What's. The best thing about exercise. Oh, the physical challenge, how did you refuel after your workout?
Alice [00:25:37] Protein shake I just described.
Graham [00:25:40] How do you relax?
Alice [00:25:42] I'm reading.
Graham [00:25:44] What's the hardest thing about keeping fit?
Alice [00:25:47] I would say motivation, not for me, but for most people.
Graham [00:25:52] The question because what today? How would you maintain your motivation?
Alice [00:25:58] I think keep it varied. Make sure that you have goals, maybe to try a new challenge to try new skill and make a plan at the start of each week. I mean, there's so many things I could go on and on. And the number one thing actually, I would say with that, make sure you enjoy your choice of exercise. If you don't enjoy it, you're not going be able to get out of bed and get to the gym and do whatever it is that you want to do.
Alice [00:26:19] So enjoyment.
Graham [00:26:21] And top fitness secret.
Alice [00:26:23] Oh, God.
Alice [00:26:25] I would say actually my top fitness secret is walking is the key to success. Everyone thinks they need to run and they need to be low to cardio. For me, it's weight training and walking.
Graham [00:26:36] And final question, it's Saturday night kind. You kick back and relax.
Alice [00:26:41] Well, at the moment I am loving a series called Schitt's Creek. It's hilarious. And that's my Netflix obsession right now.
Graham [00:26:52] Well, thank you very much, a huge thank you to Alex Levine, but before we go as well, the things we've talked about is that one key message that you'd like to impart to our listeners, I think, is to get up and get moving in a way that you enjoy.
Alice [00:27:07] I think so many people worry that they're not doing exercise. Right, because they're not dripping with sweat or, you know, in the right gym or whatever. And I just want to impress on people that anyone can get into exercise. Absolutely anyone. And there is something out there for everyone. And it's just about finding something that you enjoy. Like I said, I'm just trying to slowly say build yourself up to a good exercise routine.
Graham [00:27:30] Thank you again for joining me. And thank you all for listening.
Graham [00:27:36] The power of Tanni was brought to you by decathlon, so be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out on these top exercise tips.