Eight weeks ago I stepped into the boxing ring for the first time in a bid to banish the blues and knock the stress out of my busy life.
Would the intense and personalised course devised by champion boxer Cathy Brown at The Third Space Gym help me beat my unexpected insomnia, tone my body and make me a happier boss and mother? The answer is a resounding yes and what a joy it's been.
Who knew that hitting pads, lifting weights and learning to do full press-ups (the sort 'men do' as my husband said early on – he's regretting that now I've perfected my left hook) would be such an efficient method of making life feel less overwhelming? I've gone from worrier to warrior.
If you're looking for a new form of exercise to keep you motivated in the gym then give boxing a try. It makes you focused, strong, confident and it gives you an unexpected sense of calm.
You can start from any level of fitness and you'll see impressive results quickly. But while this sport is a great release for anyone with so-called anger issues (OK, I qualify on this front) it's much more complex than that.
It's a precise technical skill and learning it requires commitment and mental energy, which I didn't realise at first but gradually relished as I became more proficient under Cathy's careful one-to-one tutelage.
Lorraine Candy and Cathy Brown in the ring
For a woman who's avoided gyms and classes for most of her exercising life, I was surprised by how much I looked forward to putting on my boxing wraps and gloves three times a week.
No two lessons are the same and if you combine it with weight training it gives you some pretty solid abs and defined arm muscles, a gift for a woman who sits at a desk most days. It's also great for keeping your bones strong as you age.
And you don't have to approach this kind of life-improvement regime with a martyr mindset. Sure, cutting back on caffeine and booze helps – I really noticed how tired alcohol makes you if you drink the night before training – but you don't need to banish the good stuff for good. Moderation is the key if you want to see results.
In January, I first entered the gym exhausted and grappling with a mild form of stress-induced anxiety. I was overwhelmed by work and family demands, permanently tired and on the verge of a cold all the time.
It happens to us all once in a while but by using boxing, strength training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Cathy reset my mind and body.
For details on the full programme I refer you to the previous blog posts and the tips and tricks below, but the conclusion of this journey has been that boxing is perfect for anyone with a full-time job who every now and again hits a wall of mental or physical exhaustion.
After a full-body MOT by Third Space Dr Eric Asher and a supply of Pharma Nord vitamins including magnesium and vitamin D, I managed to get myself into the gym four to five times a week, driven by the motivation of regaining a full night's sleep, the reason I started this adventure in the first place. After four weeks I started to get my sleep back and my body was beginning to take shape.
Using Cathy's CBT forms I started to unpick the small problems that had become big problems in my head. Just writing them down and talking them through in specific detail dissolved the stress they were causing.
I then sailed through three non-stop weeks of fashion shows and various complicated family issues by sticking to this programme. It did mean a few 6am starts and weekends avoiding the booze but by gosh was it worth it. I'm in a much happier, calmer place today.
Everything is back to normal now and I would highly recommend it. I'm especially proud of being able to do 20 full press-ups today – when I started I could only do one!
One of the most important things to do before you start anything is to ask yourself: • Why am I doing this? • How am I going to do it? • What resources can I use? • What markers can I make so I have small goals to reach along the way to keep me motivated? • How can I measure that I'm on the right road to what I want to achieve?
The first question is the most important one. If you have a reason to do something then you're more than likely to stick to it.
Write your answers down so you have something to refer to in times of trouble; they'll become a commitment to yourself and a great reminder for why you're doing this. If you keep it in your head, it'll get lost and mixed up with all the other thoughts and to-do lists you have swirling around.
Writing down goals, thoughts, feelings and changes you want to make is a brilliant way to keep you on track. I can't remember what I said I was going to do last week, never mind last month or last year. But by keeping it in my notes on my phone, I can quickly remind myself of how far I've come and how I need to adjust what I'm doing to reach where I want to be.
So, I asked Lorraine to list what she wanted to achieve from the eight weeks of training. This way we could monitor what adaptations we needed to make, measure the progress she'd made at the end and find out what she struggled with or found easy with the resources she had. It made it easy for me to know what Lorraine needed and how we could fit the training into her life so it wasn't a chore.
Having a 'why' in place was especially great when she was travelling during fashion week as she simply reminded herself of this when she felt unmotivated to go to the gym. The changes we made – I say 'we' rather than 'I' as you should make a plan together – meant she would stick to the plan and decide on a road forward.
Lorraine was very hesitant to stop running but she needed to mix it up with a variety of other training; firstly to stop her mind from solving all the world's problems (as this is what she did when running) and, secondly, to save her from more injuries.
I wanted her to train so she could block off from the world for a while and just enjoy it, but to also strengthen her bones, muscle and joints with weights.
She overcame the reluctance and she slowly started to feel the physical and mental benefits so I'm extremely pleased she loved it and has reaped amazing rewards.
Lorraine stuck to the training like glue and was actually tremendously easy to train (even though she was adamant she couldn't do any press-ups when we first started) and was a very willing candidate at the end to do almost everything.
She worked extremely hard and I'm overjoyed she's changed things in her life to make herself calmer in stressful situations. Stress will always be in our lives (well, for most of us) and it's not about blocking the stress out; it's about managing it effectively. Accept, acknowledge and move on.
One of the things that let me know it was working was when Lotte, Lorraine's Deputy Editor, came to me concerned about Lorraine's calmness. I almost threw my hands in the air and shouted, 'Yes!'
TEAM ELLE HAVE THEIR SAY
Lotte Jeffs, Lorraine's Deputy Editor
Sometimes Lorraine is so calm I worry she may have fallen into a catatonic state. I've also been getting very confused because she's started saying she's going 'out for lunch' instead of eating a LEON salad at her desk. It's unprecedented. Twice now I've come across her in the staff kitchen sitting and chatting with colleagues on a lunch break (obviously the staff find this terrifying, but she seems to be enjoying herself).
I'm also endlessly impressed by how patient Lorraine is when on the phone to her army of small children. A conversation with one child about what they could safely make themselves for dinner in her absence was enough to drive the Dalai Lama to a nervous breakdown, but she seemed to take a deep breath and handle it all very calmly.
The new Lorraine frightens me a bit because she seems so well-balanced and yet so capable of knocking me out with her mean left hook, but I like her.
Gillian Brett, Lorraine's PA
Every time Lorraine came into the office after a boxing session she was very serene. Even when I'd tell her that a big meeting had snuck into the diary, she was unflappable.
I was also very impressed by her willpower to turn down afternoon flat whites – I never thought I'd see the day that Lorraine Candy would agree to a green tea.
I noticed she always really looked forward to the sessions. She did with running training in the past too, but boxing seemed to be something she enjoyed beyond the endorphin rush and the promise of an overall physical change.
Having my boss and my boyfriend oddly both take up the sport at exactly the same time – and with the same gusto – I expected to lose my mind over the non-stop boxing talk, but seeing the positive impact it had on them both mentally and physically gave me boxing FOMO and I'm really keen to try it myself now!
Sophie Beresiner, Lorraine's friend and ELLE Beauty Director
Well, we don't need to stage a 'sadness intervention' anymore. She seems much bouncier and lighter. Her familiar loud laugh is back in the office and she's much calmer.
The main thing is I don't need to worry about her anymore!
James Candy, Lorraine's Husband
I wouldn't say you float like a butterfly but that was always a long shot.
It definitely seems to have given you the head space you need as much as the exercise though - clearly a lot to concentrate on so its been both a good mental and physical outlet.
From my side it was quite unnerving when 'manning the pads'; nothing new in having you issuing instructions of course, but they're not normally directions on where to stand so you can hit me.
10 USEFUL TIPS TO BOX YOUR WAY TO A FITTER DAY
1. Drink two litres of water a day. It's a boring but effective exercise truth. It helps brain and gut function.2. Take 10 phone-free minutes out of your day.3. Never eat lunch at your desk.4. Try a meditation app before bed and never take your phone into the bedroom.5. Cut back on caffeine. If you do drink it, make sure it's before 1pm. 6. Cut back on the booze; it slows you down.7. Go for 'all brown everything' on the food front but don't deny life's little pleasures or you will dread the workout.8. Hold on to how you feel at the end of a gym/boxing session when motivation becomes a challenge. No one ever feels worse after a workout!9. Write down why you're doing it; make the goal real and that will keep you going.10. Learn to 'dig deep': this is the moment when you start to find it tough to breathe or your muscles start to ache. That moment you want to give up is the moment you push a little harder, the moment you give it 30 seconds more. It's a good motto for life, actually.