Interview with an Athlete (Part 1): Nicole Tsiontsis
Nicole Tsiontsis has been a favourite client and friend of Fibre Tense for years, and she has a very interesting story to share when it comes to her varied & impressive training work and athletic achievements.
So we asked for her permission to share some of the details about her life and work so far—and we’re delighted that she said yes.
We also wanted to know what advice she would give women of differing fitness levels to help them reach their goals.
Years of being an athlete with a meticulous dedication to her training & nutrition programmes has left Nicole with huge amounts of knowledge to share.
So read on to find out more about upper body strength gains for women, finding motivation when it seems to have run out, and her essential secret tactics for a stronger mind & body.
Hi, Nicole! Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some of our questions. Let’s start with your fitness background. What sports and fitness events have you participated in?
Fitness and sport have played a key role in all aspects of my life.
In detail, physical education and sport science have featured prominently in my life not only as parts of my academic background (BSc, MSc) and my work experience (coach, fitness instructor and personal trainer, university lecturer) but also as a daily reality both when I was a full-time athlete (triathlete, cyclist) and now that I am training for recreational and well-being purposes.
As part of my university studies, I participated in and experienced several sports since this was essential for the completion of my degree.
Then, as a triathlete, I competed mostly in 1.5km swim-40km bike-10km run events and as a cyclist I competed in road endurance events but my speciality was the 3km individual pursuit (track).
After the end of my athletic career, I participated in some 5km charity running events whereas in the future I aspire to learn how to cross country ski.
Along with these outdoor activities, the gym has been and will be an important part of my training; as an athlete, I used to go to the gym in order to supplement my sport-specific training whereas nowadays, as an ex-athlete, most of my training takes place in the gym as I believe it offers a practical, pleasant and safe environment which offers stable and controlled variables to one’s training (e.g. one does not need to worry about the wind resistance or about the traffic when spinning!).
Have you faced any fitness challenges?
As an athlete, my life was dominated by short, medium and long-term fitness and competitive challenges.
For example, I had to focus on the national championship as well as the races which lead to it and at the same time I also had to accomplish my daily and weekly goals in terms of training quality and quantity.
As an ex-athlete, my fitness challenge was to find ways to maintain an acceptable level of fitness while having only a small amount of free time due to the fact that I had a heavy study and work load.
However, I have to admit, that my biggest fitness challenge as an ex-athlete was regaining my fitness after a rather lengthy period of inactivity (or inconsistent training activity, depending on the viewpoint!).
While ‘keeping fit’ was easily achieved by the incorporation of smart training sessions into my busy daily routine, ‘becoming again fit’ was another story as not only I had to work physically harder in order to see the desired improvement but also I had to work mentally harder in order to motivate myself.
What are your fitness goals today?
After achieving my latest fitness goals (i.e. to improve my aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility, body composition) during the last months, my current target is to maintain my existing fitness level during the summer months.
From September onwards I will focus on endurance training (hopefully in cross country skiing, provided that I can grasp the technique!).
What does your current fitness plan look like? Please include any additional non-exercise tactics you’re using (nutrition, massage, mindfulness/meditation, etc) and why.
My current fitness plan includes smart training, healthy nutrition, sufficient recovery, massage sessions, mental training and a positive attitude.
Before I proceed, I believe I should explain why I focus on the above.
- The reason I train smart is practical; as I am not an athlete any more, I cannot devote 4 or 6 or 8 hours a day to training; I have neither the time nor the energy!
- As my body matters to me, I am trying to take care of its needs and as such, I pay attention to the quality and the quantity of food I consume as well as the amount of water I drink. As I do not put insufficient amount or the wrong type of fuel in my car, the same applies to my body. Of course, as I am not a competitive athlete any more, I can afford to deviate from my plan occasionally (e.g. at weekends) as long as I do not overdo it. So… no, my friends, those of you who have seen me eating that massive extra piece/s of cake when I am out… I can assure you that I do not eat like that at home.
- Recovery is a very important element of training and as such, I try not only to have one or two days of rest every week but also to sleep well every night (i.e. sufficient hours and at the same time every night).
- The reason I incorporate sport massage sessions in my training routine is that they aid muscle recovery, which means that not only they help in preventing the occurrence of overuse injuries but also they allow me to recover faster from hard training sessions.
- The reason I do not neglect mental training is that physical exercise needs both physical and mental devotion. In order to perform, both our body and our mind have to be willing.
- I find that a positive attitude helps us achieve all the aforementioned elements of our training.
As far as my actual current fitness plan is concerned, here it is how it looks like. Of course, please, be aware that this is neither the ideal plan nor a fit-all plan that can or should be followed by everyone.
I have designed this plan taking into consideration my current status, my fitness level, my injuries, my preferences and generally what I can do at the moment.
For example, I do 22 minutes on the treadmill when ideally I should be aiming for 25 or 30 but at the moment I am trying to minimising the impact on my lower legs.
So, here is what I am doing this week:
- Monday-Wednesday-Friday: 22 min treadmill (cardio), Legs (body weight and/or machines), a few arm exercises (TRX, press ups), Core body exercises and stretching
- Tuesday-Thursday: 22 min rowing (cardio), Arms (machines and/or free weights), 22min arm cycling machine, core body exercises and stretching
- Saturday: (rest + massage when I can)
- Sunday: (rest)
What advice would you give women (of any fitness level & background) for improving their overall fitness, and particularly their upper body strength & tone?
My general advice is:
- You can do it!
- Start and do not postpone it!
- Even a little is always better than nothing
But I also have some more specific advice.
For those who have not yet started training:
After you get confirmation that you are okay to exercise (you should always consult with a specialist in terms of general health and/or specific injuries/concerns/individual issues), just go to your nearest gym or sports club and ask advice.
Fitness and sport professionals are always happy to help and have the ability not only to advise you on fitness matters but also to motivate you!
For those who are already training:
Your training has to cover these aspects: aerobic capacity (i.e. cardio), strength, flexibility, body composition (through the right selection of training and of course, nutrition).
Review your training plan in terms of frequency, intensity and duration so as to know how many days a week you exercise, which are the intense days/workouts, what is the duration, etc.
When it comes to improving your current fitness level, you need to remember that you need to have in mind the principles of overload (e.g. more frequency, more intensity, more duration) and of progression in small increments (e.g. you should not add more than 10%).
Also, be realistic because unrealistic goals may lead to injury and surely lead to demotivation.
This means that you need to keep a diary of what you already do (yes, a training log!) in order to know what you have achieved and to have a clear idea of where you want to go in terms of fitness and how you will reach your goals.
Of course, you need to exercise your body harmoniously without neglecting certain muscles or body parts. For example, just running on the treadmill may be better than sitting on the sofa but running on the treadmill and also adding some arm work will provide even better results.
So, you need to focus on the body as a whole and not only on certain parts, which means you need to exercise the whole body and at the same time pay attention to what you eat.
For example, if I wish to lose fat from my abdominal area, I cannot just do abdominal exercises and nothing else.
Even if doing abdominal exercises is better than sitting on the sofa, it is still not enough. You need to combine cardio, core exercises, a good diet and, of course, you need to also exercise the rest of the body to achieve a balance!
Most importantly: You need to remember that bodies come in different sizes, shapes, compositions and this applies not only to non-athletes but also to athletes.
Undeniably, exercise vastly improves our bodies but the most important thing to have in mind is that we must love our body.
So, next time you start the negative thinking:
- do not focus on your ‘problem areas’ as these may be only in your mind and in fact, someone else may actually be thinking exactly the opposite!
- focus on all the amazing parts not only of your body but also of your personality and your life in general!