A look back at fitness failures and successes

Once again many of you will have begun the New Year vowing that you will stick to an exercise regime. To give you some motivation Life Matters relives some of the fitness successes and failures over the past year as members of the Life Matters team and readers attempted to get fit.

Fitness is a goal you need to work at to achieve. Over the past 18 months the Life Matters team and our readers have pumped, jumped and crunched their way to fitness with differing levels of success.

We have tried out the many different ways to improve our fitness levels from the traditional gym regime to trying out the latest gadgets designed to get you in shape.

But the question is: have we stuck to our exercise plans or have we fallen off the fitness wagon?

Case 1: Pilates

Back in October 2009 Norwich Evening News' Sarah Brealey found herself in a gym for the first time in years. It wasn't the run of the mill cardio machines and weights that she was working out with but a stretching and balancing exercise designed to keep you fit.

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Says Sarah: 'When Life Matters ran its fitness special last year, I volunteered – recklessly as I thought at the time – to try out Pilates. It was my first exercise class in more than 10 years. So far, and much to my surprise, it has also been the only one I have ever kept up.

'I can see the difference. Thanks to my hamstring stretches, I have progressed from being able to bend over and only just touch the floor with my fingertips, to being able to lay my hands flat on the floor while still keeping my legs straight (on a good day, anyway). I can do moves like the open-leg rocker that I would not have contemplated a year ago. At the time I wrote: 'I avoid exercise classes because I find it hard to co-ordinate different parts of my body at the same time, and coordinating my breathing, my stomach muscles and also turning myself into a bridge shape on the mat is verging on the challenging for me.' These days I don't even have to think twice about the bridge exercise, and I even enjoy doing a slightly harder version of it. That is one of the good things about Pilates – there are different versions of many of the exercises, so you can start at the beginner's level and move up as you are ready.

'Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in Germany in the early 20th century. Its principles are proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement. there are some similarities to yoga (which I have never tried) and you can even try combined yoga and Pilates sessions.

There is specialist Pilates equipment designed for specific exercises, but I do matwork, which has the advantage that you do not need any equipment, although a mat to lie on, a stretchy band or hoop and weighted balls can be useful.

'Pilates helps you develop long, toned muscles, gives you a flatter stomach, stronger pelvic floor muscles and keeps you flexible. All these things seem worth the investment in time and energy. I also find it calming, especially if you do some relaxation exercises at the end to help wind down. It is a little oasis of 'me time' in the day. But Pilates is not really intense enough to help you lose weight or to give your heart a workout, so it is best to do some aerobic exercise as well, like jogging or cycling.

'I go to a weekly class with Sheryl Prendergast, the same teacher I had at Green's gym for my trial session – although not being one for gyms, I go for the cheaper option of an evening class at Sewell Park College sports centre on Constitution Hill.

'Much as I enjoy the weekly class, I have realised that an hour a week is not enough to make a real difference, and so I try to practise at home several times a week. Although not much of an early bird, I find first thing in the morning is the easiest time to fit it in, and I even set my alarm half an hour earlier accordingly. It feels like my morning stretches get my body going and I seem to have a bit more energy to face the day.

'I know I still have a long way to go with Pilates – my breathing technique needs improving, and I sometimes struggle to hold my stomach muscles in on the most challenging moves. I am still attending the beginner's class, but I am seriously considering moving up to the intermediate one.

The Life Matters feature was something that has improved my life. I gave something new a try and I haven't looked back since.'

Case 2: The personal trainer

At the beginning of last year Life Matters writer Emma Harrowing did more than break out in a sweat when she was given a personal trainer for a month.

Emma says: 'The only exercise I did was walk to and from work so when I was given a fitness test by personal trainer James Robinson it was no surprise that my fitness levels were below average.

'After four weeks of intense exercise where James would put me through my paces at running, cycling, boxing and those excruciating stomach crunches my fitness had improved a lot. In fact my body fat had reduced by 3.3pc, my stomach, waist and hips were smaller than when I had started the four week fitness regime, and my fitness levels had gone from below average to a respectable average.

'Unfortunately I didn't keep going with the exercise.

'I could make a barrage of excuses as to why I didn't keep up with the three mile runs and toning exercises – I don't have enough time, running hurts my knees, I just feel too tired after work to exercise – but the simple truth is that I cannot be bothered. Exercising to keep fit is not an easy task to stick to.

'However, since having a personal trainer I am more aware of the impact that keeping active and eating the right size portions have on my energy levels and appearance. Although I haven't stuck to the long runs, the intensive aerobic exercise and the endless sit-ups that left me aching with exhaustion, I have become more active than I was.

'I have taken to incorporating exercise into my everyday routine; walking quicker to and from work so that I feel slightly out of breath, talking long walks at weekends and going for a walk around the city in my lunch breaks.

'I have also discovered that I am motivated to exercise when the fitness regime is new to me. As soon as it becomes a routine I quickly become bored and exercising falls down on my list of priorities.

'Therefore I regularly try out new exercises in order to keep my fitness levels ticking along. Over the past year I have joined the gym, taken up yoga and body combat classes, tried the latest fitness gadgets such as the iJoyride from John Lewis which simulates horseriding, the Wobbleboard from Heroes on Bridewell Alley which improves strength and posture and the Nike+ Sportsband which I use to see how many miles and calories I have burnt when out walking.

'I haven't turned into an egotistical exerciser nor am I in tip top condition when it comes to fitness, instead I try and keep myself active by doing a little bit of exercise everyday. After all little and often is better than not at all.'

Case 3: Reader fitness makeover – Jackie Gooch

Last Spring Life Matters reader Jackie Gooch from West Earlham won the Norwich Evening News competition to win a three month membership at Sportspark.

Says Jackie: 'This time last year I longed to improve her fitness but didn't have the motivation to get moving.

'I would make excuses as to why I couldn't go to the gym or take up a sport such as I didn't have enough time or I needed to look after my two children. The comforting thought that I could always exercise tomorrow pushed my fitness goal further away.'

'Winning the competition forced me to go to the gym and I managed to workout twice a week mainly in the morning when Connor was at school and Lara was at nursery.

'There were times when I missed a gym session due to summer trips, PTA events and school concerts, but I managed to keep going back when I could.'

'When I first started my fitness makeover my fitness levels were not the best, but just by working out twice a week I feel a lot stronger and I have more energy. I even managed to lift some furniture at home when decorating – that is something that I would have never managed to do before.

'I also have a lot more energy to keep up with my children!

'But my greatest achievement was doing the Starlight Walk to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Since then I have started walking a lot more.

'I have taken a break from the gym but I'm planning to return this month. Going to the gym never felt like a chore and I certainly felt a lot fitter when I was working out!'