Interview with an Athlete (Part 2): Nicole Tsiontsis
Here, we’re continuing from part 1 of our interview with ex-athlete and current fitness inspiration for many of us here at Fibre Tense, Nicole Tsiontis. She has so much knowledge to share, so make sure you catch up on part 1 first if you missed it.
Is there any general advice about fitness, motivation and commitment that you can share, based on your own experiences?
Fitness improves not only the quantity but also the quality of life both in the short and in the long term.
In the short term, when we exercise, we do look and feel better.
In the long term, when we are fit, we not only safeguard our health but also add years to our life and at the same time push our dependence threshold upwards.
How do you integrate your fitness goals with your current and upcoming domestic and international lifestyle goals?
Now that I am not an athlete, my fitness goals are not the centre of my life but just a supplement to my life. As such, I try to be flexible and adapt my fitness goals accordingly.
For example, when I travel for a short time, I try to stay in hotels which have gyms or go for a short run outside and then add some exercises to my workout when I return to my room.
When I move to a place for a longer period of time, I try to attend a nearby gym or sport club. However, when I live in a place where access to a gym or sport club is not possible (e.g. far away or inconvenient opening times), I try to establish a mini-gym at home (treadmill or other cardio machine and dumbbells).
Of course, apart from the proximity to a gym or sport club, I also take the weather (or the specific conditions in that country) into account as well as the amount of equipment I need for certain activities.
An ideal example would be my aspiring move to Ontario in Canada. Even though at the moment I am attending the gym regularly, I have to take into consideration not only the proximity of the nearest gym or sport club but also the winter weather as well as the amount of sports equipment I can take with me when travelling from Europe to Canada.
So, ideally, I would like to live near a gym and near a cross country ski facility so that I can both go to the gym and learn how to cross country ski, I would like to be able to reach the facilities early morning after a short drive and I would like to have all my kit with me.
However, logic dictates that probably I will not be able to live near both a gym and a ski location and drive whenever I want and experience amazing weather and have all my gear with me.
As such, I will aim to find a place reasonably near a gym, at a manageable distance from a ski location and I will carry with me only certain things.
Most importantly, I will have back-up plans.
If on one day there is a snowstorm and I cannot go out, I will stay at home and exercise there. If I live in a house or on a ground floor flat, I can buy a treadmill whereas if I live on a top floor flat, I will buy a cross trainer (as I obviously do not wish to be ‘the noisy neighbour living upstairs’) or even a rowing machine (if there is a carpet which will minimise the noise).
Even though all this sounds rather pedantic as it covers several ‘what if’ scenarios and many details, I personally find that planning ahead helps me achieve smooth transitions between different training environments.
On the contrary, if I do not think the ‘what ifs’ and I do not plan ahead, I just end up irritated, disappointed and of course, untrained!
An example of this was a short trip I had arranged where for some reason I had envisioned that I would train in the swimming pool and I would have ideal training sessions…. Needless to say that the hotel pool was for some reason not open and given the fact I had neither planned to run nor taken my running shoes with me, my training along with my motivation went down the hill.
However, nowadays I always carry my running shoes with me, which means that no matter where I go, I have a good chance to exercise on a treadmill, go for outdoor running sessions or long walks or even walk up and down the hotel stairs several times and then follow up with some exercises in my room (using my body weight).
When your motivation flounders, how do you keep striving forward?
Especially now that I am not an athlete, motivation often flounders. However, I do not let it ruin my training! There are ways of coping indeed.
Excluding times when I am physically ill or unwell (then I do not train), here is how I cope:
- I think about how good training is for my body and my mood and think about my goals and how great it is to be fit
- I put on the music that motivates me
- I prepare my bag for the gym and wear my gym clothes
- If I still feel unmotivated, I think that if I do not go, I will feel worse afterwards
- If even that fails to motivate me or even to make me get up and go to the gym, I just accept that I feel this way but I still have to go to the gym and start training and see how it goes (i.e. if I feel better, I stick to my training plan whereas if I do not, I take it easy or do different exercises)
In short, even if I am in a bad mood, I still exercise.
As I go to work or study when I am not motivated, the same I do for the gym. Indeed, it is great to be motivated when you do something but that does not mean that without motivation you cannot accomplish it.
Exercising is an essential part of my life and as such, it has to be done, irrespective of whether I feel like it or not. If I were to adopt a hedonistic approach to life, then not only I would not train (at the end of the day, of course, on most days I prefer to sit on my sofa and eat than go to the gym!) but also I would not accomplish much in life.
Discipline helps me achieve all my goals in life and exercise is one of them. However, apart from being a means to an end, discipline for me is also an end in itself as I gain pleasure from the fact that I know I am in control of my life.
Just imagine that even athletes feel like this… Do you really think I was ecstatic to wake up at 5am in the dark cold winters, take my clothes off, feel the snow and the cold chill on my skin and jump into a pool and train? Do you really think that on a rainy Saturday I had nothing else to do or I wanted nothing else to do than go on my bike and train for hours and hours and hours?
Of course not, but I had to do it because it was my job.
On rather similar grounds, nowadays even though it is not my job to train, I have to exercise as it is essential for my life. In short, even if you do not feel like training, just go and do it … See it as something that you must do, something which you indeed have the power to do.
We cannot do only what we like in life and as such, exercise is something which we must have in our lives, irrespective of whether we like it or not.
Nevertheless, here comes the good news… Whereas training without motivation feels initially almost impossible, you will find that the more you stick to it, the more it becomes a habit… Your body and your mind get used to it, which means even on days where you are not motivated, you will still turn up at the gym as you turn up at work.
If you see exercise as a mere hobby, you end up doing it only when you feel like it whereas if you see exercise as a must for your well-being and an integral part of your daily routine, you end up training even when your motivation is deflated.
And the same applies to your mood in general. At the end of the day, if you are angry/sad/stressed etc and you skip the gym, these feelings are not going to go away by avoiding exercise; on the contrary, you are more likely to go home and transfer your bad mood to everyone and everything around you; so, just go and exercise and things will even become better.
It is very simple: as long as you are not ill/injured, you just have to turn up at the gym and do your bit!
Tip: I find that training very early in the morning i.e. at 6:00 is easier as not only I have energy but also I do not have time to get bored. On the contrary, I find that after work I tend to feel tired and focus on what I wish to eat and how hungry I am and how much I wish to sit and relax.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I find that having a rough plan in relation to my commitments helps me organise my training and my life in general.
For example, here is how one of my plans for a specific week may look like:
- Monday to Friday: exercise, work, study (if applicable), family, chores (transportation, getting ready, cooking, tidying etc), free time (e.g. TV, books, music, internet, games)
- Weekend: family, friends, outdoor activities (excursions, sport, restaurants, cinema, massage, shopping), chores (food shopping, laundry, house chores, beauty)
- Monday, Wednesday & Friday: cardio (run) and weights (legs) and core and stretching
- Tuesday & Thursday: cardio (row) and weights (arms) and core and stretching
- Saturday amp; Sunday: rest
- morning: porridge, fruit
- snack: fruit
- lunch: oatcakes, salad, cheese, egg
- snack: fruit
- dinner: pasta, salad, chicken
- snack: yoghurt
Obviously this is a plan which is tailored according to my individual needs and preferences but the point is that planning helps you not only organise your life but also to save time in order to find time to train.
The more organised you are, the more you can accomplish in terms of both exercise and other goals.
Thank you, Nicole! Your dedication and attention to detail are so inspiring, and show that athletes and others who reach incredible goals don’t do so by chance, but by powerful focus.
Please leave any questions that you have for Nicole in the comments. And have a highly-motivated day!