From the cobbles of Corrie to playing fiery Erin in Brassic (season 5 is out on 28th September, FYI!), Michelle Keegan is every bit the icon. A national treasure to many, shes’s been enchanting us on- and off-screen for decades, what with her endless acting talent and down-to-earth energy.
Her skincare routine gets daily hits on Google, as fans desperately seek the secret to her glowing skin, and so too does her exercise routine, with fitness enthusiasts keen to get clear on how she builds strength to sustain a career that’s quite physically demanding.
The two-time Women’s Health cover star and Going for Goal podcast guest, we know, makes sure to prioritise her health. But, she remains fairly private where the details of her workouts are concerned – the odd weight training session captured for Instagram notwithstanding. However, with all the digging I’ve done over the years, I’ve finally managed to form a reasonably solid interpretation of Keegan's exercise roster, which I’ve since given a go myself.
My incentive was two-fold: to ascertain how Mich sustains her strong physique—not for aesthetics sake (we are all unique and no two of us will ever look the same, after all), but to identify any particular workout habits of hers that might help me increase my strength.
And, secondly, to pinpoint what she does that gives her so much energy. If she’s not filming, she’s travelling, designing her own fashion line or attending red carpet events, and there’s never an eye bag in sight. I, meanwhile, am perennially tired, despite racking up around nine hours of sleep a night. Could this be owing to my usual workouts? Here’s what I found out.
Michelle Keegan’s workout routine
As I’ve mentioned, Our Girl (see what I did there?) Mich hasn’t shared too much on her exercise routine in the past, but these are the principles she’s previously mentioned that helped me plan my two-week routine.
1. She does HIIT in the morning, following a 20 min YouTube video
Speaking to WH Editor-in-Chief Claire Sanderson, Michelle said it was her husband Mark Wright who got her into HIIT workouts during lockdown. 'The fact that he [Mark] would roll out of bed, go into the garden, and I could hear him setting up live outside and I thought "I’ve literally got no excuse, I’m in the bedroom",' she admitted. 'I literally did it there and then – got my gym mat on the floor and I did half an hour HIIT in the bedroom, and it just set me up for the day and made me feel a lot more positive with what was going on at that time.'
In an interview with Cosmopolitan UK, she revealed that the HIIT classes she follows are ones she finds on YouTube. ‘I put different HIIT workouts on YouTube for about 20 minutes and I really enjoy them,’ she said.
2. She follows HIIT up with weight training, inspired by fitness influencers such as Amanda Finnie
In the same interview with Cosmopolitan, she added: ‘I’ve started doing HIIT exercises before I do any weights now, and I actually really enjoy [it] because I feel like I’ve done something. I’ve sweated before I’ve even got onto the weights.’
3. She uses workout splits to plan her weight training sessions
When structuring her strength training seshs, Michelle adheres to a workout split: dedicating each day to a different muscle group. She told Cosmopolitan that one day she’ll focus on arms, the next on legs. As for the exact exercises she does, she previously shared this video on IG, showing her doing front-racked dumbbell squats, seated cable rows and bicycle crunches.
She’s also shared a few snaps on her IG Stories surrounded by barbells, kettlebells and dumbbells, after finishing training with them.
4. She enjoys cycling
When the unpredictable British weather permits, Mich likes to get out on her bike - a hobby she made during lockdown. 'I got into cycling, and I’ve never been into cycling in my life,' she told us. 'I didn’t even know what cleats were. I really got into it, and I really, really enjoyed it.
'So hopefully, when it gets a bit warmer, I’m going to start cycling again…sometimes I used to do it on my own [without Mark] and do 14 miles.'
5. She doesn’t enjoy intense cardio
Caveat: this may confuse you considering I’ve just told you Mich likes cycling i.e. a kind of cardio, but judging by what she said back in 2018, it’s more that she doesn’t like going too hard in cardio. ‘I just hate that feeling of not being able to breathe,’ she told Cosmopolitan. Good news for me, then.
Disclaimer: one thing Mich hasn’t divulged is exactly how often she works out per week. For the purpose of this article, I did three workouts and one cycle per week, with the thinking that Mich’s busy lifestyle probably doesn’t permit her much more.
Sunday: 40-min outdoor cycle
1.HIIT is easier in the morning
Like myself, Mich loves a morning workout. While I'm not a big HIIT fan (more on that to come), when I did do it according to Mich's AM schedule, I found it easier than when I used to post-work, in the evenings. My muscles felt less tired from lugging a laptop around during the day, and my brain was generally more energised from having just recharged overnight. I also found it easier to get going, while my motivation often wanes after a day of work. All of this worked in favour of me getting up and onto my mat without so much as a single moan.
Gede Foster, Head of Fitness at FIIT says there are pros and cons to doing HIIT in the morning vs the evening. 'Getting it done in the AM can boost cognitive function, help with better decision-making throughout the day and increase focus and productivity. On the flip side, your body hasn’t had much time to warm-up and move, so warming up is key.
'Meanwhile, trying to psych yourself up for an intense HIIT session at the end of your day can feel like a slog. HIIT also raises your cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline levels which could affect your ability to wind down and get a decent night's sleep. If you prefer a late night training session, make sure you do a 10-15 minute cool down to get your heart rate back to a stable level.'
2. HIIT isn’t for everyone
Once upon a time, I lived for HIIT. I'd get a rush from the high after pushing myself to the max, but nowadays I punt for slower workouts with a focus on mind-muscle connection, like reformer Pilates.
Why? I've experienced a fair few injuries in my time - notably, a pelvic stress fracture from too much impact - so even the idea of reintroducing this kind of movement was anxiety-inducing. I approached with caution (read: took practically every modification available and avoided jumping at all costs), but I noticed that I didn't feel the same afterwards. Wired and on edge is the best way to describe it. Like I needed to take deep breaths and calm myself down at several points throughout the rest of the day.
Turns out, science has an explanation. Several studies have shown that during HIIT, the brain senses stress and releases a flood of cortisol - the hormone that makes you feel stressed. This release of cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn switches on the fight-or-flight response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure and makes you feel tense. So, after week one, I decided to turn things down a notch and aimed for 15-minute HIIT sessions, rather than 20.
Remember that this is my experience and my experience only. It clearly works for Michelle, so HIIT may well work for you, too. Just remember to listen to your body and adapt.
Foster adds that while HIIT isn't always for me, this isn't the case for everyone. It becomes more of a problem when you're experiencing stress in other areas of your life, too, as it means cortisol is being released consistently, not just when you're exercising. 'We consciously create stress on the body to progress in our fitness. If you are dealing with high-stress levels in your work or personal life, high-intensity training could be adding to this and prohibiting your ability to return to homeostasis (the calm state of rest and digest).'
3. Weights felt harder after HIIT
Before now, I'd never done HIIT and strength training consecutively (although I have done workouts that incorporate the two, like Barry's Bootcamp classes). I assumed it would be slightly harder since HIIT obviously uses up some of your energy, but I was knackered, and studies show that there are lots of scientific reasons for this.
When researchers in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared three workout protocols—strength training alone, running followed by strength, and cycling followed by strength—they found that running or cycling before a strength workout limited the number of weight lifting reps participants could perform compared to strength training without hitting a treadmill or exercise bike beforehand. Granted, running and cycling aren't exactly the same as HIIT, but HIIT does raise your heart rate in a similar way.
Similarly, another study found that muscle power decreased when lifting weights after running on a treadmill, while heart rate and the rate of perceived exertion, or how hard the workout felt, increased. It's all about how tired your muscles are.
'Trying to do a weight session post HIIT session can be challenging because you have just demanded a lot from your nervous system meaning you are fatigued,' Foster tells us. 'You’re then asking your body to work with control and precision (i.e. the correct form) under load.'
So, if you're wanting to lift as heavy as you can or to hit a PB without any injuries, I'd recommend doing HIIT after weights (or on another day). Safe to say, I won't be doing them on the same day in the future.
4. Workout splits really work
In what might be the biggest revelation of the whole challenge for me, I learnt that workout splits are so worth their weight. I've dabbled in them before but never committed and after just two weeks, I can confidently say that sticking to a split structure meant my muscles were considerably less tired each time I came to train. For example, I had three days between my leg strength training session and my cycle, so once each one came around, my legs had had three whole days to recover and were raring to go.
Foster is a big fan: 'Following workout splits allows you to train more frequently without overstressing the body, while giving adequate time for muscle groups to repair and recover.'
5. Cycling outdoors is much more enjoyable
I'm no stranger to the occasional spin class, but I wouldn't say I loved them. Nor do I particularly enjoy sitting on an indoor bike in the gym for my own cycle. But Mich was right when she said taking your bike outdoors is a different ball game. There are probably a few factors in play here: having the outdoors to take in besides me just staring at the clock, people-watching to distract me (#guilty), and the benefits of sun exposure (a scientifically proven mood-booster).
What's more, a previous study showed that just five minutes of outdoor exercise can improve your mental health. The research found that compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy, and positive engagement. It was also shown to decrease tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Here. For. It.
To conclude, the takeaways here have been big’uns. For starters, using workout splits is something I’ll absolutely be taking forward in order to give my muscles time to recover so that they’re less tired - I can genuinely say my workouts felt considerably easier after doing this for just two weeks. Secondly, I’ll definitely be doing more outdoor exercise as and when the British weather plays ball. Not only did my outdoor cycles not feel like exercise whatsoever, they give me a similar feeling to what yoga does - lighter and clearer in the head. Cheers for the tips, Mich.
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