Keeping fit may come naturally to sprinter Desirèe Henry, owner of an Olympic bronze medal and a World Championship silver, but when lockdown hit, she had to get creative with her training.
Cans of soup became a handy replacement for dumbells and she may have accidentally stumbled into a career in rugby — all in the name of staying at peak physical fitness.
Desirèe is also an ambassador for Solgar vitamins and supplements.
Does staying in shape come naturally to you?
When I was a kid, I used to run up and down and do loads of exercise. I had a load of energy. It’s just been great to channel all my energy into something specific, such as athletics.
What unique training do you do?
During the first lockdown I had to adapt my training pretty drastically just like everyone else. I had to bring a lot of creativity. I converted my garage into a gym and, instead of using dumbbells, I was using cans of soup.
Also, as I wasn’t able to use my training facilities, I had to start training on a rugby field.
Hanging up my running spikes for rugby boots was an interesting change, as I needed the grip.
That was something I’ve never had to do before but it was part of adapting to the circumstances. That was pretty wild and exciting. Perhaps I have a rugby career in me because my agility certainly went up.
Are you competitive?
Yeah, in everything I do. It doesn’t just switch off. If I’m going for a walk with the dog and there’s someone ahead of me, somehow my brain is saying ‘now race them and get to that tree before them.’
Even with my little nieces and nephews, I don’t think any of them have beaten me in a race yet. Is that bad? It’s something that I should definitely allow, but I can’t for the life of me help it.
How do you push yourself harder when needed?
There is a quote I always remember hearing — ‘training doesn’t begin until the pain arrives’ — so, when I’m feeling exhausted, that’s actually when I know I’m making that difference.
That’s the time for me to see how much I really want this and to be as great as I say I want to be. When I’m feeling tired, that’s when I say, ‘OK Desirèe, you’ve got to lock in, you’ve got to push even harder.’
How do you stay focused?
Music helps a lot. I tend to internalise and over think, which can mean thinking about the pains, starting to think about how tired I am or about what’s still left in the session.
That can be quite exhausting and demotivating. Whereas, if I have some upbeat music, that helps me keep my energy and focus on the words and the beat, and really helps me to get through the session without my mind wandering.
And even when it is raining, you’d be surprised to know how many songs there are that refer to the rain. Like the Missy Elliott song with the lyrics ‘I can’t stand the rain.’
All those little things just make it a little easier. I can maybe pretend that I’m in a music video or something. So music is a big motivator for me.
What is your approach to nutrition?
I’m very strict. As an athlete I’m aware that whatever I put inside my body is what fuels me, and is what will get me through some extremely hard running and gym sessions.
Because I do a lot of running, and therefore a lot of impact on my bones and joints, I have a little trick I do in the evening to make myself a turmeric tea.
So two tablespoons of turmeric and a mug of warm milk. I’m not going to lie, it’s not the best-tasting night-time drink, but turmeric has anti-inflammatories properties, so for someone pushing the limits, this is great.
What are the downsides to being a sports person?
You will most likely miss key dates when it comes to friends, family, and loved ones. Whether it’s making way for a competition, for training camp or even just a travel day, that’s hard.
You always want to be there to celebrate with them, just as you want them to be there to celebrate with you.
How about supplements?
I’ve had two knee surgeries, which is why taking Solgar’s Calcium Citrate with Vitamin D3 is so important for me.
It’s really great for supporting the health of bones and teeth. When it comes to my knees, they need more support than anything.
Best advice for anyone who wants to get fitter?
Set realistic goals and just don’t be too hard on yourself. So if you’re just starting exercise, set yourself a goal like a workout once a week.
That’s already a major difference in terms of what your regular routine is, so don’t see it as something that won’t make a big impact or isn’t a good deal.
What you’re doing is setting your foundation of consistency and discipline — you’re doing what you set out to do. Then, with time, you can progress to setting new goals and add in new exercises. Make it a lifestyle, there’s no need to rush.
Not many people talk about rest. What do you do for recovery?
When I’m not training I love to relax with my sausage dog. He’s called Henry and he’s just a lot a fun — very energetic. There’s never a dull moment with him.
When it comes to the later part of the evening, that’s where in terms of my routine (because I love a good routine), is when I take my Solgar Magnesium Citrate, because I’ve found that just helps me to relax and unwind completely.
When you push your body to exhaustion, day in and day out, you can sometimes get used to being alert or awake, so your body sometimes needs that help. So when I wake up, I feel refreshed, recharged, and ready to go again in the gym and on the track.
What are your guilty pleasures?
When it comes to guilty pleasures and treats, remember they’re a treat for a reason.
So chocolate digestive biscuits, this can definitely be my kryptonite to an extent.
Having those with a good hot cup of tea and dunking them is just one of the most amazing combinations ever. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out. But please do try it.
Healthy food treat? It’s got to be my dried mango.
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