Twitter can land you in the most unexpected places. I was contacted recently through twitter by Georgia, whose partner Albert runs a personal training and nutrition advice service, Plymouth PT and Nutrition, with his friend Ali. I was asked if I would like to take a trip down to Plymouth to try one of their training sessions (for free, full disclosure and all that) and that was how I found myself driving south one day last week, ready for some personal training.
Plymouth PT and Nutrition can be found in an industrial unit near to Royal William Yard. Whilst this may sound a little spartan, it is actually a very practical space for the type of training that they are passionate about. If you find rows and rows of exercise machines a complete turn-off, then you are going to like the Plymouth PT approach to training. Instead of treadmills, rowing machines and cross trainers, you will find a big area of matting, a selection of kettle bells, a pull-up bar, ropes and a couple of giant tyres the guys managed to wangle for free. Their approach is much more about learning a set of basic exercises, and learning to do them really well, rather than just pounding away on a machine for an hour.
For my visit, I joined a group session run by Albert, an ex-Marine. Reading up beforehand I had stumbled upon this fact and was suddenly assailed by images of gruff military types shouting at me as I tried to do a pull-up. Too much time spent watching Full Metal Jacket perhaps. I need not have worried though, as he was a welcoming presence and a long way from the mustachioed Sergeant Major of my imagination. With the group all together (so as to give everyone the space and attention they need, groups are kept to eight or fewer and, on this occasion, there were just five of us) Albert made sure to check that we had all eaten properly that day and were properly hydrated. It is really important, he explained, to take in enough energy throughout the day to fuel your exercise; if you turn up and try to do a workout on just a Ryvita and several cups of coffee it is not going to end well. I was very glad of that afternoon’s banana.
After a set of warm-up stretches, we got underway with the main workout. Our session jettisoned all of the equipment and concentrated on a set of five exercises that use your own body weight: the core moves that they would like everybody to master. We were asked to do one minute of each exercise (so, five minutes of exercise) followed by a one minute recovery period, then another five minutes, one minute recovery and a final five minutes. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not. But it is good fun.
We started with ‘ins and outs’, lying on your back and bringing your elbows and knees together and then extending out flat again, arms above your head, but without grounding your arms or legs. This went straight into a minute of squats, then a minute of press-ups. A minute of sit-ups led into the final minute of ‘burpees’. We were encouraged to keep count of the total number of reps over the five exercises, but not so much to compare with one another, more to act as a marker for ourselves. And don’t worry if you aren’t au fait with all of the exercises (I wasn’t!) as we walked through all of them first, to make sure that we all had the correct technique. We were also offered encouragement and suggestions if there was something not quite right in the technique as we went along.
After a minute to catch our breath and drink some water we were back on the matting and starting the second round of exercises. Unsurprisingly, my second five minutes were nowhere near as good as my first. My lack of upper body strength hadn’t hampered me too much in the first set, but this time around I was really feeling it, particularly with the press-ups. I tried to push ahead with the other exercises, such as the squats where I could use my legs a lot more and give my arms a rest, but I still only managed about two-thirds of the number of reps I had managed the first time around. I was very glad when the minute of rest came round again.
Third time around I really felt the benefit of counting the number of reps. Knowing it was the final set, I was determined to beat my count from the second set and this, together with encouragement meted out by Albert, spurred me on to pass the previous round’s total with a minute to spare. I didn’t quite hit the heights of the first round, but I was chuffed to have finished with a better score than the second round.
Discounting the warm-up and warm-down, we had only done 17 minutes of exercise, but it was an intensive workout and much more interesting than sitting on an exercise machine for the same amount of time. It’s also fair to say that I was pretty cream crackered at the end of it, sweating heavily and probably a nice shade of puce (there are a refreshing lack of mirrors). Under the guise of gathering material for this post, I leaned nonchalantly on something solid and had a chat with Albert and Georgia, whilst also regaining my breath and trying not to drip too large a puddle of sweat onto their floor. Of the two sides of Plymouth PT and Nutrition, they see the PT part contributing only 20% to someone’s overall fitness. The other 80% is dictated by the food someone eats and the water they drink and this is why every member gets a nutritional assessment when they sign up. As well as giving them a way of measuring progress, they also see it as a way of influencing behaviour away from the training studio. It leads back to Albert checking what we had all eaten that day; if we are not properly fuelled then all of the exercise in the world will not give the outcomes we desire.
Plymouth PT and Nutrition was set up in October 2013 and is growing, adding new accessories and now offering sessions seven days a week, on a one-to-one and group basis. They also offer a nutritional assessment service, even if you don’t do a personal training session with them.
Although I run, swim and play football this is a very different kind of workout for me and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel it afterwards. But that’s not really surprising; I remember my legs aching and feeling stiff in the days after my first few runs. I’m sure that if I did this more regularly, I would loosen up and my arms and shoulders would not feel quite so stiff. As long as you don’t schedule anything for the day after your first session that requires you to raise your arms above your head (putting on a jumper, say) then you will be fine.
I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t have a good time: it was hard work but really enjoyable. So thank you twitter, it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to try something new.
All photos courtesy of, and ©, Plymouth PT and Nutrition.