In every ad for exercise gear, everyone looks so impossibly beautiful. Sure, sometimes they’re ‘sweating’, but somehow that only makes them look even more striking and perfectly put together. There’s not a blotchy red face or camel toe in sight, just slightly damp people wearing loads of lycra. If someone tried to put a camera in my face after I went for a run, I would smash the camera to pieces and eat the shards of it just for good measure.

We all know exercise is good for you. It makes you healthy and fit, it’s great for your brain too, and exercise can even be fun – especially when you reflect on how wonderful it is that exercise gets people dancing, bouncing, skating or actually meeting in parks to play Quidditch, despite the fact that, well, erm… they can’t fly.

But exercise only becomes fun once you get over the fact that it’s also sometimes awkward and embarrassing, and occasionally gross. So in the spirit of sharing, here are some of those lol-worthy times.

“My mum once gave herself concussion by sitting on a stomach cruncher – she had no idea you were supposed to lie down to use it!!”

“Two weeks ago my best friend decided she’d give yoga a go and within minutes of doing a pose she farted. She apologised and we all tried to ignore it, only for her to then fart again within 30 seconds! The session turned into ‘laughter yoga’ at that point.”

“Not so long ago I had fallen asleep on a train, and was dreaming I was at the gym doing power presses (I wonder about myself sometimes). I awoke as I pushed both arms into the air in true weightlifting fashion. Everyone was looking at me. God knows what I was doing before I woke up. Then had to sit there sheepishly for the rest of the journey – half an hour has never felt so long…”

“There I was in the gym, many years ago, doing a very unflattering move where I lay on my back and opened and closed my legs repeatedly. I heard someone say hello, looked through the gap in my spread legs and there was the lad I had a monster crush on from school. Grinning at me. Excellent.”

“I regularly swum at my women-only gym, and after a two week holiday, I was keen to get in the water. So I went to the gym, got changed into my cossie and left the changing room. I flung open the door to the pool… and stepped into a weights room filled with muscly men grunting away. They all stopped what they were doing to look at me – I was horrified and hastily retreated back into the changing room. I went to the front desk to demand what had happened to the pool – I’d only been gone for two weeks!!! – only to be told: “It kept leaking so we filled it in and made it a weights room. Oh and by the way the the gym is co-ed now, so you might see some guys wandering around.” Really?? You tell me now??!!”

“I went to an Advanced Step class by mistake when I’m very much a beginner, and couldn’t keep up with the moves as it moved so fast. I did an embarrassed moonwalk out of the studio. It was not a pretty sight, all gangly and uncoordinated. It felt like a scene from Miranda.”

“When I was 12, I took up ballet. This was a terrible idea. I cannot fully emphasise to you the extent to which this was an awful idea. Remember when Lady Gaga wore a dress made of literal meat to the Met Gala? This idea was worse than that. I am clumsy and awkward and I struggle to follow even simple instructions, three things that are quite crucial to ballet. Once we had to do this weird jumpy exercise that everyone aside from me knew, I ended up crashing into three people and falling on the floor. I was always put in the back corner after that…”

“I once went to a Zumba class after eating a pretty huge burrito for lunch. “It’s fine, I’ll work it off!” I thought. Fast forward an hour and I’ve had to run out of the class in front of everybody to throw up. The lesson? Salsa and salsa don’t mix.”

Image: Amber Griffin

Most of us know what we need to do to get fit. Choose a workout, like running or swimming. Do it a lot. Keep up the habit. Try and improve each time. It’s obvious, isn’t it? But the problem is it gets boring. We don’t go as often as we should, we come up with excuses and next thing we know we’re five episodes into a new Netflix show and our gym gear never left the shelf.

So what’s the answer? Well, now we’re well and truly into 2017, it’s time to shake things up. You don’t have to do the same old gym classes or the same dull workout routines. We’ve explored some of the top fitness trends we think will be big this year, as well as how to get into them and start moving – like, right now.

Fitbit: Turn Your Steps Into a Game

Before we start delving into the top new sports and classes you can try out to turn yourself into a sporting superhero, let’s talk about technology. Sure fitness trackers, like the Fitbit, have been around for years now, but this will be the year they step up a level – and anyone who’s anyone will be working out with a device strapped to their wrist. (Or arm! Or ankle!)

Ever said you’d run more or go to the gym all the time if you won a medal for your efforts? Well, that’s the great thing about using tech to get fit. You can use it to make fitness fun. You earn badges for hitting your goals, can compete with friends and get little notifications when you workout too.

Where do you start? With an app like Sworkit for stretching or Nike+ Run Club for running. Or if you like seeing graphs about how you’re doing, invest in a gadget like the Fitbit Flex 2.

Parkour: who run the world?

Gone are the days of parkour only being reserved for boys in baggy trousers and branded t-shirts. The great thing about parkour, which you can also call ‘free running’ if you think it sounds less ridiculous, is you can do it anywhere. The aim is simply to gett from one point to another without any equipment. Think of it like making boring stuff, like steps, benches and parks into a fun obstacle course. Just be careful! You need to feel brave to give this one a shot, but don’t get too cocky about your abilities – follow expert guidance and always take a friend with you or you could end up hurting yourself. Obv.

Where do you start? Grab a friend and get outside. Look for things that you can climb onto and jump up (or down to). A park is a great place to begin. Start with jumping down steps a few at a time and you’ll get the hang of it.

Yoga: take a deep breath

Yoga has had a bit of a makeover in recent years. You don’t have to light incense or be on a hilltop in Thailand in a bikini to feel the benefits. Instead, it’s about becoming fitter, more flexible, super-charging your performance in other sports and most of all, learning to breathe properly. Most people don’t realise breathing is a HUGE part of yoga. We can all breathe already, right? Mm, not necessarily. Not only will yoga make you more bendy, but all the deep breathing will make you feel calmer and lighter when you’re doing everything else in life, too.

Where do you start? There are so many YouTube tutorials that’ll teach you yoga basics. Give a few a go to see how you feel, then find your nearest class. Start with one especially for beginners, it might seem slow at first but it’ll teach you the basics so you can become a head-standing superstar in no time. Or if you’re interested in the big benefits of breathing, try Googling mindfulness meditation and give it a whirl. 

Hiking: get fit with the trees, the breeze and the bees

Ok, ok. We’re not trying to claim walking outside is bang on-trend now. But what will be big this year is talking walking outside seriously; not just strolling around a park. We’re talking hiking, the LA way. Not only does it get you moving and keep you fit, but there are all kinds of happy mind-improving benefits to being around nature that’ll make sure your body AND your mind are happy.

Where do you start? Put on a good pair of trainers with decent grip. Find a forest, a hill or big local park and walk around it, taking in the scenery while keeping your pace up. The key is not be overwhelmed by muddy trails or daunted by little hills – take on the challenges and keep going until you’re good and tired.

Boxing: find your inner warrior

If you don’t fancy the idea of calming yoga or a nice walk to get you fit, then opt for something with a bit more ‘oomph’ instead. Boxing is a great place to start, you’ll be able to vent some of your anger from the day and get all sweaty at the same time. It’s also a fun one to try out with friends and you might even end up going head-to-head. All’s fair in love and sport.

Where do you start? Watch some YouTube tutorials and we bet you’ll be addicted to the energy of boxing in no time. If you’re going to take it seriously, you’ll need to find a local class, or head to a gym near you to find out if they have lessons to try.

Water Workouts: it’s time to make a splash

Rowing! Canoeing! Paddle boarding! There’s so much more to workouts in the water than just the front crawl. A lot of water sports are great because you get a real sense of achievement when you travel from A to B. Row down that river! Canoe across the lake! You’ll feel like a badass action hero and you’re getting fit too.

Where do you start? Google local sports centres or clubs that’ll give you a taster session of paddle boarding and canoeing to see if you’ll like it. From there, you could rent out your own equipment, join a club or get a few friends together and meet up to splash around once every few weeks.

Group Workouts: get fit with your mates

Whether you’re boxing, doing the downward-facing dog or just hitting the treadmill, we all know working out is a tonne more fun if you’re not doing it alone. And 2017 is going to be the year that fitness stops being a boring chore you slog away at on your own.

Where do you start? Create a Facebook group for your mates to suggest group workouts. You could do the same thing every week or nominate someone each week to come up with what you could all do.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Getty

We caught up with Alexandra Heminsley aka @Hemmo, the author of Running Like A Girl and Leap In, to talk about the benefits of exercise and why you should force yourself to go for a run on your period.

Growing up I used every excuse under the sun to get out of exercise. From worrying about the way my body looked to complaining I wasn’t any good at sport, I wiggled my way out of PE, after school clubs and even walking to the corner shop (“muuuum, can you give me a lift?”).

But now? Now, nothing will stop me trying out new gym classes and pushing myself until I’ve sweat so much I look like I’ve jumped in a swimming pool. Gross. But kind of amazing.

So what’s changed? In short, my attitude. I have the same body, of course, but it’s stronger, fitter and more adventurous – I’ve just changed my mindset. And I’m not the only one. According to recent figures from Sport England, more than 7.2 million women now play sport and do regular physical activity. Female sports participation has never been so high.

Sport England’s ground-breaking ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is partly responsible for that, as the numbers have increased by more than 250,000 since the advert first aired.

The adverts – which showed all different shapes and sizes, huffing and puffing – spoke directly to a nation of women and girls who have been brainwashed into worrying incessantly about what their bodies look like, forgetting that it’s what their bodies can do that really matters.

Too many women and girls associate exercise with burning calories to attain a certain body type. This, I think, is unhealthy. Then exercise becomes a chore or punishment, rather than a way to make yourself feel good both inside and out. In January we’re bombarded with negative messages about weight loss, diets and fitness, when really you should work out because you love your body, not because you hate it.

So, as a once-upon-a-time lazy girl, here are my top tips to help you learn to love exercise…

1. Find the right exercise for you

Whether that’s gym classes, joining a sports team or taking up hobbies you had when you were a child. The key is to enjoy what you’re doing. Remember: everyone is different, so just because your bestie loves being on the hockey team, it doesn’t mean you will. Don’t be afraid to try new things, or revisit old passions. Did you love climbing trees as a kid? Try rock climbing. Always cartwheeling in the playground? Yoga might be for you. Pummelling your little brother until your mum had to separate you? Boxing might be your calling! No but seriously. And if you were amazing at running away from your parents when you got into trouble, a free 5km race with Park Run is the grown-up equivalent…

2. Don’t count calories

Exercise should be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, not a diet or workout plan that restricts you or punishes you. Also, not all calories are created equal – a few biscuits and an avocado might have the same amount of calories, but their nutritional value couldn’t be more different. Follow this pro nutritional advice instead and exercise a few times a week, but hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Eat the pizza and ice cream, but also make sure you don’t forget your greens.

3. Don’t try to run before you can walk

Literally, take baby steps. Set yourself realistic goals and alter them as you go along to keep challenging yourself. There is no point signing up for a 5km race if you haven’t run an inch since that time you you nearly missed the last train home. You’ll get there, you just need to pace yourself. If you’ve got a dog, take it for a brisk walk in the evenings. Don’t have a dog? This is a perfect time to beg your parents for one (which might also work up a sweat, depending how much drama you can muster).

4. Stretch

Make sure you stretch thoroughly after working out to avoid injury or aches and pains. I’d recommend stretching for about 30 seconds with each stretch. It might feel like a long time, but your body will thank you for it. (Top tip: do it in front of the TV as a distraction if you’re bored.)

5. Get to know your body

Get to know what feels good (and what feels bad) for your own body. Shock horror, exercise needn’t be torture. Of course, no one likes rainy PE lessons doing cross-country, but when you call the shots there’s no need to make it unenjoyable or, even worse, dangerous. If something hurts, stop. If you’re tired, just wait and exercise the next day. Be kind and go easy on yourself, but also push yourself when you feel able – and one of these days, you might just realise you’re loving it.

@Brogan_Driscoll

Image: Hailey Hamilton

We’ve all been there. The good intentions, the 12 minutes of exercise and then… the sweat.

Whether it’s the telltale drip-drip-drip down the small of your back that you know is about to go full touch-and-reveal on your new t-shirt, or whether it’s just getting up from some equipment in the gym and seeing your own butt imprint left in sweat, the wet stuff can really be a buzzkill.

Kat Jennings sweat patches

Whether you’re trying to exercise, dancing like a maniac at the weekend or simply… enjoying a sunny day, sweat can feel like a sneaky shaming pal, dobbing you in just when you thought you were going to have a good time. Except it isn’t a false friend. It’s actually clever, useful and kind of amazing – it’s just that we have convinced ourselves it’s the stuff of evil.

Ok, so no one wants to be wandering around looking like they’ve just been hosed down by a fireman, and no one wants to stink all afternoon just because they took their bike to the shops, but to know sweat is – if not to love it – then at least to fear it a little bit less.

So what’s the (g)lowdown on sweat?

Basically, sweating is our body’s way of regulating temperature. We each have 2-5 million sweat glands dotted around our bodies, and they release the damp mixture of proteins, salt and water onto our skin. The process of this liquid evaporating is what cools us down – as you’ll know if you’ve ever got off a crowded bus and felt your top clinging to you like an ice sheath as you hit the cold outdoors.

Despite what we think, there aren’t more sweat glands in, um, ‘moist’ places like our armpits or our groin – it’s just that those areas are harder to get air circulating around to evaporate the liquid. And not all sweat glands are the same, either. Most are ‘eccrine’ sweat glands, which are kicked into action by excess heat, but some are ‘apocrine’ ones, which are stimulated by emotional responses like stress or excitement. Weirdly, that sweat actually smells a little different from the stuff prompted by eccrine glands.

sweating yoga

But the weirdest fact is that sweat itself doesn’t actually smell at all. Ok maybe if you had 10 garlic cloves in your dinner you might smell a bit like a French bistro in the morning, but the smell we associate with sweat is actually the bacteria on our skin breaking down the acids in our sweat. Its medical term is bromhidrosis and it’s totally normal. But if you want to get rid of the sweaty pong, the simplest way is to get in the shower: if you’ve got the post-sport sweat off your skin within an hour or so of exercising, that bromhidrosis isn’t going to be wafting around after you all day. If you wait till bedtime to get clean, it just might.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

What else can we do to master this soggy mistress? Well, not that much, but perhaps that is because we need sweat.

And we really do. Why else do we feel so great after a good run, a dance-off in our bedroom or even a chance to sit in the sauna at the gym? Because sweating flushes out loads of the crud on our skin’s surface, cools us down so we don’t pass out at the gym or on the bus, as well as letting us know if something serious is up in terms of illness.

So while we needn’t commit to a lifetime of honking up every small room we enter, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the odd bit of sweat either. After all, look at how many advertising images have artfully sprayed ‘sexy’ sweat onto both men and women, how proud athletes look at their sweat as they finish an event – or even how nice it feels to know that our body, without even being asked, is doing exactly what it needs to.

Now if only we could do the same for our feelings, we’d be sorted.

@Hemmo

This is a love story about myself and yoga. If you knew me in my teens, you’d think it an unlikely love story, as I was lazy and regularly tried to get out of PE at school by ‘forgetting’ my kit. But in my mid-20s I did a full 180 on exercise and fell in truly, madly, deeply in love with yoga.

The reason I love yoga is simple: its benefits are both physical and mental. After a few months of practice, I grew not only stronger and more flexible in my body, but also in my mind.

Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d got into it sooner. I’ve long suffered from anxiety, fretting incessantly about exams, homework, friends (you name it, I’ve probably hyperventilated about it). But yoga gives me some headspace. It doesn’t solve my problems or make them disappear, but it pushes my anxiety to the edge of my mind for an hour or so – meaning I leave with fresh perspective.

You may have heard about meditation, which is where you switch off your worries by focusing on the here and now (the present), usually through deep breathing. Well, yoga is basically moving meditation. You’re encouraged by the instructor to think so precisely about different postures (positions) that you put your body in – how your feet are placed on the mat or whether your shoulders are tense – that you can’t help but switch off from your day’s worries.

Most yoga classes start off slow, building up to a more challenging standing or balancing posture and then winding down again to more relaxing postures, ending in ‘shavasana, where you lay outstretched on the floor with your eyes closed. Sometimes you can lay there for five minutes and it’s so relaxing after all that exertion that I’ve even fallen asleep and, ahem… definitely snored. This part of the class is really important, instructors say, because it allows you some downtime to reflect on the class and face the world with a calmer, more balanced approach.

Spending an hour on the yoga mat focusing on myself has helped me through some really tough days when I’ve felt stressed, lost and inadequate for a multitude of reasons. I wish I’d tried it sooner so I could have used it at school, and coped better with the pressure I was feeling.

Intrigued? Here are five things you need to know about yoga before you get started:

1. You don’t need to be able to get your leg behind your head to do yoga

It’s a common misconception that you need to be super flexible to do yoga. You don’t. Our bodies are all different and we will all have different strengths and weaknesses. Yoga is all about learning about your body and working with what you’ve got. It will help with flexibility – to open your hips and shoulders – but it will also help you to become stronger and develop better balance.

2. Not all yogis are chilled-out hippies.

If you think all yogis are sat under a tree meditating somewhere you’re mistaken –loads of us are sat on the sofa eating pizza. People who practise yoga come from all walks of life: from Premier League footballers to the elderly woman sat next to you on the bus. There’s no ‘right way’ to be a yogi; all types of people practise for different reasons.

3. It doesn’t matter how good you are.

Yoga is a non-competitive practise, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t contort like the yogis on Instagram. All that matters is what you do on the mat. Trust me, you’ll be so preoccupied with whether your feet are in the right place or trying not to topple over completely, that you won’t even notice other people.

4. You don’t have to spend a fortune.

Yes, some yoga classes cost a bomb, but you needn’t splash the cash. Just buy a yoga mat and pair of cheap leggings (look at the activewear range from Primark, Forever 21 or H&M) and watch a video on YouTube for FREE (try Yoga with Adrienne). Note: If you plan to practise yoga in a class rather than at home, yoga mats will usually be provided – but always check ahead.

5. There are lots of different types of yoga.

Do your research and try a few YouTube videos out to find out which is best for you. My advice is start Hatha yoga (good for beginners as it teaches postures) and then try out something like Vinyasa Flow (which is based on fluid movements from one posture to another) or Restorative (which involves staying in very relaxed and nourishing postures for an extended period of time and is great for stress relief).

See – aren’t you feeling more chilled already?

@Brogan_Driscoll

Image: Amber Griffin  – @ambergwins

Oh balls! Ed Balls has finally been voted off Strictly Come Dancing, and I for one am DEVASTATED.

Not just because he was the best bad dancer they’ve probably ever had (his Gangnam Style will go down in SCD history as one of the bravest and most memorable pieces of choreography ever conceived), but also because I think he set a great example to us all.

Here’s what we can learn from Ed Balls’ time on Strictly

It really is the taking part that counts

Ed was never going to be the best dancer on the show (that award goes to Danny ‘SNAKE HIPS’ Mac, obvs), but from the first episode – when he nervously took to the floor to perform a genteel waltz – he was dedicated to learning, improving and generally putting his best foot forward (literally). And I think it really paid off. Yes, there are better dancers in the show, but I doubt many of them have made as many happy memories as Mr Balls.

Practice really does make (something sort of close to) perfect

OK, let’s be honest, none of Ed’s performances were what you’d call ‘perfect,’ BUT you can’t deny his dancing technique did improve as the series progressed. So no, none of us will be able to master absolutely everything we turn our hands to (I, for one, am still an abysmal violin player despite EIGHT YEARS of lessons – sorry mum!), but if you keep at it, you will at least improve. A bit. Probably.

Dad dancing is underrated

As I watched Ed enthusiastically fling Katya round the dancefloor, I was reminded of the many times I’ve hit the dancefloor with my own dad (usually at family weddings or Bar Mitzvahs), and realised that those are some of my fondest dancing memories. The lesson? Never ever pass on an opportunity to two-step with your pa. Yes, you’ll probably both look slightly ridiculous, but it’s a small price to pay for the #mems.

Laugh (at yourself) and the whole world will laugh WITH you

As the former Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls could have easily refused to go with the flow (‘the flow’ being making a complete plonker of himself on national TV), but he didn’t. He embraced every silly second of his time on SCD, and in the process, totally won over his haters. Remember this next time you walk out of a public loo with your skirt tucked in your knickers.

Dancing like no one’s watching is as good as all those inspirational posters make out

It might be a massive cliché, but if Ed proved one thing, it’s that we should all dance like nobody’s watching more often. He may have been a nervous wreck for the first few weeks, but by the end of his time on the show, Ed’s confidence had grown to the point where he was 100% in the zone and having THE BEST TIME EVER, despite the fact 10million people were tuned in. If he can do that, you can definitely let go on the dancefloor of your next school disco.

Thanks for everything, Ed.

@MissSisiG

Look, not everyone is a natural-born exercise lover.

Some of us can bound out the front door at the crack of dawn with a song in our hearts and rhythm in our blood and boss a workout like it’s NBD – while some of us have to be dragged from the sofa by our feet, screaming. Some of us, like your surrogate celebrity godmother and all-round Shero Mindy Kaling.

The writer, actress and all-round wonder human has her own special method for coaxing herself out for a run.

She told Conan O’Brien:

“I have to pretend, when I run, that I’m avenging the murder of my husband. I have to have these elaborate fantasies to motivate myself… I can’t just be motivated by, like, oh this is good for my health, I should be trim because I’m an actress in Los Angeles. That won’t work for me. I’ll just stay in bed. So, I have to be like, ok, what am I doing? Ok! Michael Fassbender is my husband and then we were in Central Park one day and someone stabbed him because they hated interracial couples and they got away with it and now I have to go down to Brazil and find this Nazi who killed my husband who is Michael Fassbender.”

Inspired by Mindy, here are a few more amazing imaginary reasons to get moving…

1. A really big wasp.

2. Zombies. There’s even an app for that.

3. Relatives who want to talk about the time you were five and peed yourself in a public forum.

4. There is a helicopter 10 streets away, showering down free burritos.

5. Donald Trump.

6. Really big zombie wasps.

7. That teacher who forgot to ask for your history essay has just remembered, a minute after the bell rang.

8. Somebody just WhatsApped to say they saw Solange in Tesco.

9. A dog ran off with your phone and you had just reached level 278 on Candy Crush.

10. A dog ran off with your phone while you were in the middle of an incredibly banterous Snapchat exchange and you’d just thought of the perfect reply.

11. A dog ran off with your phone. Full stop.

12. Your mother, waving a colour-coded revision timetable.

13. You are a kickass tribute in the Hunger Games, except the hunger games are you running round the block five times and then eating a cheese toastie.

14. Daleks.

Can you remember what your first bike looked like?

Mine was sky blue, a hand-me-down from Melanie, our glamorous neighbour who was leaving Reading for a sunshine-glazed life in America. I kicked those stabilisers off pretty early.

There’s video evidence of that first, giddy two-wheeled ride during a holiday in France, and my father still talks about this achievement more fondly than anything I’ve done since. These days I navigate around buses, motorcycles and dreaded white vans on London’s potholed roads.

The good rides are those through Mayfair or Kensington on a warm summer’s night, under the glowing boughs of Chelsea Bridge, feeling like the leading lady in a rom-com. The bad ones are soggy, knuckle-numbingly cold, around ugly urban roundabouts. But I still feel better when I get there than if I had taken the train.

It wasn’t always this way, though. I’d estimate between the age of 11 and 19, when I got a bike to puff myself around my university city, I rode approximately two miles a year. When I was a teenager I had a fancy bike, and I lived in the countryside, the kind of place which inspires middle-aged men to don lycra and go out on a bike on a weekend, but somehow cycling wasn’t cool or appealing or just done, really. It took effort, there was nowhere to go, and I was, in essence, quite lazy.

Which is a giant shame because cycling is brilliant. It will give you independence and a means of transport. It will allow you the time and space to think and feel and not stare at a screen. You will reach the top of hills, gleefully short of breath, feeling the pure euphoria that comes from making your body do something to get you somewhere.

And, when you grow up and maybe move somewhere different, you will have the confidence to take your bike there – and let me tell you, it is the very best way to discover a new place.

So don’t wait! Here are the five best ways to get involved with cycling now. You’ll be Laura Trott before you know it.

Learn how to ride safely

Do you still cycle on the pavement? Then you need to learn how to get off it. When I encounter idiot boys on bikes on the pavement I tend to shout at them, something along the lines of, “real men cycle on the roads”. You are way cooler than those boys.

Roads can be daunting but they are far less scary when you know how to tackle them. The Highway Code is actually very kind to cyclists – it says we can cycle as slowly as we like down the middle of a road, if we fancy, and cars just have to stick it.

But you don’t need to sit reading books of rules, either. The government offers free cycling safety courses, and there’s a good chance your school can help you find one. Check out the Bikeability website, where you can find a course near you. You’ll be grateful for it when you’re whizzing past those losers on the pavement like a total badass.

Choose an awesome bike

Chances are that you might not be cycling much because you’re between bikes. Maybe you’ve grown out of the one you had when you were younger, or perhaps you want to upgrade to a zippier version.

Start off by heading to your local bike shop; have a chat to them there and get them to measure you for the right size of bike. You can DIY this with a measuring tape, but it’s probably better to get a professional to help. Take a parent or a friend if you’re feeling a bit shy.

bikeOnce you know what size bike you need, don’t feel you need to stick to the ones available in the shop. Perhaps you fancy a vintage model, or a second-hand fancier kind of bike if you plan to do lots of long journeys. This fixie bike is £179.99 from Halfords. Set some searches on sites such as eBay and Gumtree, with terms such as “small ladies vintage bike” or “raleigh working bike frame”, depending on what you want.

Keep an eye on local adverts in newspapers and newsagents, too. I discovered the first bike I fell in love with in the back of a local paper, and it only cost me £35.

Pick some amazing kit

If you just want to do some casual bike rides, you don’t have to join the dad lycra brigade just yet – just some normal leggings, sweat pants or jeans and a light waterproof jacket will do you fine. But you will need a helmet, no arguments.

Don’t get me wrong – helmets are neither cool nor sexy, but you know what’s considerably less cool and sexy? Head injuries. As someone who has ended up in A&E three times from bike accidents, I can tell you that helmet hair is worth every single ounce of well, not being dead.

Jazzy gold helmetThere are also some really lovely helmets out there, too. Bern pretty much have the monopoly on making chic and safe helmets, but Bobbin makes amazing shiny gold ones and Lazer Armour have a huge range that won’t make you look like a fool. Yes, they cost quite a lot of money, but consider it the cost of your safety. Make sure you fit it properly, and, if you do get a fancy one, take it with you once you lock your bike up.

 Don’t forget about lights and locks

More bike admin, but these are the essentials. Locks make sure nobody runs off with your lovely new bike. Different cyclists prefer different combinations of security – some like a cable and a heavy metal D-lock, others just go one or the other. I recommend the dainty but tough Kryptonite Evolution Mini, which can be attached to your bike frame and is relatively lightweight. I’ve trussed up my bike in the most chaotic of ways with that thing and nobody’s pinched it yet.

Lights are a must if you’re cycling at night. You can get them in a huge range, but I’ve always preferred Cateye. A basic front-and-back set will cost you around £20 and they’re reliable. Make sure you keep a couple of spare batteries in your purse.

Go out and have fun!

The trick to really getting on your bike is knowing where to go. Search online for suggested cycle paths nearby and plan an amazing day out with your mates. Take a picnic – it’s always more fun when you know there are snacks in store.

Cycling regularly will help you fall in love with being on a bike, I promise. You’ll quickly realise how speedy you can be on two wheels, so if you wind up learning how to cycle to school in the morning you can guarantee at least an extra 30 minutes in bed. You’ll also find your fitness improves – and your mind, too. It’s incredible the difference even a 10-minute bike ride can make to your levels of happiness.

So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike.

@alice_emily

It’s 9.30am, Saturday morning, and I am standing bare-legged in a muddy field: hard, cold rain pelting my t-shirted shoulders, icy wind blowing a gale up my skirt.

In one hand, I carry a long stick with a net on the end, while the other is in the grim clasp of the opponent I’ve been instructed to shake hands with. “Hi! I’m Clare,” I introduce myself, brightly. “I’m pretty rubbish at this; in fact, the chances are strongly in your favour.” She looks at me warily, like this is some kind of distraction technique – but by the end of the game, I’ll have managed to convince her. Though I loved playing, turned up to practice religiously and enter into every game with gusto, I was – and still am, I suspect – genuinely bad at lacrosse.

I can’t run very fast – being by nature more of a long distance girl – and the art of running, holding a ball in my stick and cradling it (a strange motion in which you wiggle the stick from side to side) at the same time eluded me. I could almost catch the ball – but when it comes to ball games, almost-catching doesn’t get many goals.

Fortunately for the school, I was in the B team – which in some schools would be an esteemed position but at St Helen’s meant losing most games and winning, by total fluke, just a handful. On one memorable occasion we lost three games at a tournament just because we forgot which pitch we were on.

We were, in short, a shambles – but man, did we have fun with it. Pressure off (if we turned up, we’d exceeded the school’s expectations) we were free to enjoy the game for what it was: a means of meeting mates, getting some fresh air and exercising with a common goal loosely in mind. If the goal was reached, it was a bonus: if not, we’d still worked out, mucked in and had a laugh in the process.

Free of the pre-match nerves, we enjoyed both the coach journey there, with its banter and colourful energy bars; and the ride back, where our ‘post match analysis’ consisted of raucous re-enactments punctuated with laughter. We enjoyed ourselves: a feeling which those who are good at team sports can often miss out on because the pressure’s on and if they mess up, their team mates point the finger, shout angrily, or talk about them behind their back.

Taylor ball

These are the joys to be found in a team sport when you stop worrying about how well you’re playing, and start asking why you’re playing. Yes, you’re playing to win – but unless there are lives or great prizes at stake, aren’t you playing for something more?

Of course, it is not just ‘the taking part that counts’, as with all things you get out what you put in, and there’s honour as well as more exercise in trying hard. But stop (not on the pitch, obvs) and look at the game as a whole and you will reap rewards so much more more satisfying than cups, trophy shields and goals.

You’ll be stronger: not just physically (though being able to stand up to your brother’s pretty great) but mentally too. Exercise and fresh air works wonders for the brain as much as for the bod, releasing chemicals which make you feel good (endorphins) and improving memory and performance. Besides, it is character building, persisting in something you find challenging – even if (in fact, especially if) you are used to being top of the class in everything else.

Most people give up activities they aren’t very good at. But the funny thing is, it’s often in doing the stuff you’re not good at that you find other strengths. One B-team mate’s insistence on hitting the ball round the field rather than carrying it in the stick brought her to hockey; my flat inability to reach any speed higher than steady jog is what lead me to cross-country running; and of course, there is always the possibility that you might get better at the sport itself. Many of our B team ended up in the As.

I didn’t. Even now ball games elude me. But the memories of our floundering on the pitch, and the fits of giggles afterwards – they’re still strong. Honed by hilarious defeats, our team’s sense of humour equipped us with one of the most invaluable life skills: the ability to laugh at ourselves.

@finney_clare

Image: Getty

Ahh ‘running’. It’s a word that might strike fear into the hearts of some of you because it reminds you of cross country, muddy knees and so much sweating. We’ve all been there.

But maybe for others it gives you a short, sharp blast of excitement at the thought of getting outside and getting moving? Maybe?

During school hours, exercise was always the first one for me. A pain in the neck. A way to send my face a shocking shade of tomato red. A necessary evil I had to endure to make it to art class after.

But outside of school, I found my secret exercising superpower: running. It helped me to feel more positive, get my body moving, stay fit and give me some time to think. Just me, the beach or the road, my music, my battered old trainers. And nothing else.

Sure you might never get into running — some of my best friends much prefer swimming and even skating — but today we’ve collected together five key things to think about to get you started. Who knows, you might find running makes you feel like a superhero too!

So, my little runner bean, here’s how to go from feeling “URGhhhh” to “AHHHH!” about running in no time.

1. Get some decent kit to keep your feet and your boobs happy

Anyone can start running right now. You can run in bare feet (this is a thing), you can run in battered old trainers (sometimes I still do) and some people can even run quite successfully in heels (although we wouldn’t recommend it).

But you’ll feel better if you have some proper kit. We’re not telling you to spend a bomb in the Nike shop or get your parents to shell out a fortune to have you looking like an Olympian. There are just a few key things you actually need. Then you can add to your kit over time.

The first one is running shoes. You can go to a special running store and have shoes fitted professionally. Oo-er, fancy pants! But if you’re just getting started, find some trainers in a sports shop that are created with running in mind. Look out for words like, obviously, ‘running’ and ‘support’ and ‘cushioned’.

If you start to get really good and run all the time, you can upgrade your shoes. But as a starter pair something that ticks at least one of those boxes above will be good. (Just ask the shop assistant if you need help.)

And it’s not just shoes that are important, but a good sports bra too. As your body is developing you want to take good care of the skin around your boobs. And yes, this is just as important if you’re an A cup or an E cup. If not, it’ll feel painful and could cause muscle ache over time.

2. Work to simple goals and challenges

Sometimes it’s easier to do something if you set yourself a goal. But the key when you’re getting started with running is to keep it small.

Some of our favourites are: Run 3 times a week. Run to the end of the street and back. Run for a whole song. Then, as you get better, you can increase these goals. If running to the end of the street and back gets easy, run around your whole neighbourhood once. If you can happily run for a whole song, try running for two. Then three, then even four!

The key to setting good goals and challenges is to keep it simple. You don’t have to be aiming for marathons. You’re not Paula Radcliffe (well, not yet).

There’s a saying, and we have no idea who said it first, that goes like this: “No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch.” What this means is, even by getting out and trying, you’re doing better than the lazy version of you who didn’t even try and is still watching Netflix. So don’t obsess about being the best, the fastest or the strongest. As Nike always tells us: just do it.

3. Treat yo’self: Warm up, stretch and cool down

Even if you can only run for one minute right now, you need to make sure you treat your body nicely before and after you move it. This means warming it up before you run, so you don’t injure your legs. A warm up can be as simple as 30 star jumps and a few stretches.

Afterwards, you’ll want to do the same thing, but in reverse. Do a few more jumping jacks then have a good ol’ stretch.

Once you get more and more into running, stretching will become your new BFF. It’ll stop your limbs from feeling like jelly or like rocks the next day. It’ll make you feel more nimble and you’ll be able to go faster and further next week if you’ve been good about your stretches all of this week.

If you don’t know where to get started with stretching, there are some great apps that’ll help you out. We love Sworkit’s stretching option. Just tell the app how long you’ve got and the kind of stretch you’re after and it’ll show you exactly what to do, step-by-step.

4. Stay safe – you’re in superhero training but you’re not Supergirl just yet

When you get into running, it can be tempting to go on big, running adventures. We’re not stopping you – exploring new places is one of the best bits about running. But always stay wary about where you are.

Avoid going to really isolated places, like maybe a secluded beach or a forest, on your own. And always tell your friends and family when and where you’re going for a run, just in case.

The same goes for roads. When you’re running along, feeling like Beyonce, it can be easy to slip into a state of excitement or get lost in a world of motivational images. You taking over the world! You running the 800m at the next Olympics! But you need to be careful when it comes to cars, bikes and other pedestrians. Always stay alert and don’t play music too loud, or you’ll never hear anything coming.

5. Have fun

If running stops feeling fun, get some better kit, try a different route, listen to more motivating music, stretch more. Try mixing things up before giving things up.

But if you still don’t like it, don’t sweat it! Literally! Try something else. Skating, trampolining and swimming are some of our firm faves for when running feels like too much hard work.

Bottom line: if it’s not fun, don’t do it. In fact, we could apply that to everything.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Getty

There are few things in life that will cheer you up more than dancing.

Sure, a huge pile of American-style pancakes, an unlimited shopping budget to blow on snazzy stationery or a flirty little smile from your crush might come close. Maybe. But we’d bet that dancing around like a loon is actually way better.

Why is that? Well, because science says so. Let’s look at the evidence:

1) You have an excuse to be really silly. The world is too serious. We need more silly. 2) You’re getting your body moving. So it’s essentially exercise plus fun. Two birds, one stone. 3) Music makes you happier. FACT. And 4) sure, you can have a pretty darn enjoyable solo dance party, but grabbing your mates and dancing with them until you all fall over makes it even better.

See? We’ve proved it. We should just all constantly be dancing.

There’s nothing to stop you putting on some music and having a dance party right now. But to get you in the mood, we recommend feasting your eyes on one of these rather epic, dance-related films. You can learn some moves, listen to some tunes and then you’ll have no excuse to not get up and dance right after.

1. Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect is about a girl who joins The Bellas, an all-female singing group (the best kind) that decide to take on their male rivals in a showdown.

Sure, it’s mainly about singing. But you know what usually happens when you start singing? Especially when you start singing an awesome mix of songs, from Like a Virgin to Price Tag? You start dancing too, that’s what.

pitchperfect

2. Footloose

A rebellious teen moves to a place where two of the best possible things ever are banned: dancing and music. OUCH. So you can probably guess what happens next. A dance revolution. A hip-swaying, sashaying army of teens descend on the town and get everyone moving. If this dance classic doesn’t start a party in the living room by the time it’s over, then nothing will.

footloose

3. Dirty Dancing

Here’s another classic all about dancing. In fact, as far as dancing films go, this is probably one of the most iconic. The most memorable. The most likely to send you into a frenzy of foot-tapping and arm-swinging and everything in-between. Although if you have a soft spot for romance, get the tissues at the ready, too.

dirtydancing

4. Step Up

Heart throb rebel Tyler vandalises a performing arts school. As punishment he has to become the caretaker of the school, which is where he meets Nora. They then become a hot, dancing sensation. Think: A modern take on Dirty Dancing. With lots of hip gyrating. Ooo-err.

step up

5. Save The Last Dance

Another love story filled with some great tunes and lots of dancing. A talented ballet dancer meets Derek, who teaches her some brand new hip-hop moves. But does she have what it takes?! Oh come on, of course she does!

save the last dance

6. Les Miserables

Whack on a good musical and you’re always guaranteed the rhythm will, at some point, get you. One of our favourites is Les Miserables. Sure it’ll tug at your heart strings as well as your vocal chords, but if you’re after a good sing AND a good cry, it can’t be beat.

les mis

7. Grease

Are you after some dancing? Some singing? Some cheesy American high school drama? Then you need to watch Grease and you need to watch it fast. Every single track is as sing-a-long-able as it is dance-a-long-able. And the best bit is you can use it as an excuse for a bit of fancy dress too. Just decide whether you’ll be sickly sweet Sandy or super saucy Sandy.

Grease Gif

8. Fame

Have you ever dreamed of being magically transported out of your current school and into a super exciting school dedicated to acting and singing and dancing and (the fun kind of) DRAMA? Well, you can live through the four main characters of Fame. This film documents their time at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts; fame-hungry, and paying in sweat.

fame

9. Flashdance

Meet Alex. She’s a steelworker by day (yes, the actual metal). But then she’s an exotic dancer by night. She has big dreams of dancing for a living, but doesn’t have the classical training a lot of others do. Of course, she doesn’t let that stop her. This is a movie about dancing, about courage and about one badass female lead. And if you can’t swing a 15 age certificate, just watch the film’s iconic dance audition scene on YouTube for now.

flashdance

10. Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia is the story of bride-to-be Sophie who is on a mission to find her real father. Which all sounds very sweet, but what makes it really awesome is it’s all told using classic songs from ABBA. You might be able to resist trying Meryl’s famous splits-leap, but you definitely won’t be able to stop yourself from singing along. Well, you could try. But you’d fail.

mammamia

In the words of ABBA: thank you for the music (and the moves).

@BeccaCaddy