Put your back into it!

Last week we talked about opening up the front of your body to help undo all the time we spend slouched over a desk. This week let’s look at activating some of the muscles that spend their time lengthened in desk posture.

These muscles tend to be the glutes and the back muscles. Back pain is now costing the economy millions of pounds in lost days work yet the back of our bodies are very rarely worked. Oftentimes people have back pain not because they have used their back too much but in fact because they use it too little. The area becomes weak, the glutes are not able to support it and then slowly even day to day life becomes hard work for that area. This is why the advice to rest bad backs  is no longer relevant-use it or lose it people!

So, here is a little posterior chain exercise circuit you can do to wake up those sleepy behinds.

Clam-Lying on your side, heels in line with your hips. Stack your hips directly on top of one another and ensure throughout the movement that the top hip does not roll back. Keeping your feet together open and close the top knee. Do 2 x 10 each side.

Back Extension with pull down-Lying on your front, arms overhead in front if you. Lift your upper body from the floor and then pull your arms down, bending your elbow into a wing position, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Take your arms back out in front of you and return to the start position. 3 x 10.

Hyper extensions-Lying on your front, squeeze your glutes together and lift both feet off the floor a few inches, then place back down. 3 x 10.

Undo Desk Posture

How did you get on with neutral spine last week?

Did you notice how much or how little you moved away from it?

The thing is, the aim is not to be in some perceived perfect posture at all times as in reality any posture can cause restrictions and imbalances over time. The key is to keep moving so that your body keeps it normal range of motion.

Unfortunately many of us spend our day in static positions, hunched over desks and keyboards. This causes shortening of the entire front chain of the body, and in turn over lengthening of the back.

The shoulders round, shortening the chest muscles, the rib cage and abs are rolled forward, the hip flexors and quads are in a fixed shortened position.

The hamstrings and glutes are fixed lengthened, the back, shoulders and neck are rounded and stretched.

Whilst in the short term none of this is harmful, it is the constant daily repetition of this posture for 8-10 hours that creates weakness and imbalance to our bodies.

In order to address this when planning our exercise routines we need to look at ways to take our bodies in the opposite range from which they have spent most of their day.

If you have a desk job that means opening up your chest and hips and switching on the back, glutes and hamstrings.

Camel pose is a great exercise for this.

Kneeling you can have feet flat or flexed, with your fingers facing your back, hands on the floor or the back of your feet to open your chest, push your hips up, contract your glutes to hold you there and really feel the front of your body open up.

You can also do this with your hands on a bench or chair behind you.

Let’s begin with Neutral

Last week we talked about stability of hips and shoulders and creating balance front and back.

Another element to this you may have heard mentioned is Neutral Spine. Neutral Spine is mentioned often in Pilates and any other study of posture.

So what is neutral spine and why is it so important?

Neutral spine is when the spines curves flow gently into one another without postural extremes of being very rounded or arched in appearance.

If you were to draw a line from the top of the spine to the base of the spine that line would be vertical with only the slight curves away in between.

Neutral spine allows the whole skeleton to be a really effective shock absorber so your day to day movements are transferred straight through the centre of your joints.

If you move away from neutral you do not absorb the movement as effectively and the strain can be passed to the soft tissue structures (ligaments, tendons, muscles) surrounding the joints. Over time this causes aches and pains.

It would be impossible to spend your whole life in neutral spine and indeed it would have some downsides anyway. However taking notice of your posture throughout the day and aiming to be neutral for a good proportion of it is a good way to help to ward off general aches and pains and potentially injury.

How do we find neutral spine?

Standing up or sitting, put your hands on your hip bones. Tilt your pelvis forward so you arch your back, and then tilt it back so that you round your back. Then find the mid-point between these two where your pelvis is level. Some people find it helps to imagine that your pelvis is a bowl of water and you tip water out of the front, and then tip water out of the back. At the point at which the bowl of water feels stable –that is your neutral pelvis.

Then you need to line up your rib cage. This time arch the upper back, and then round the upper back and then find the mid-point. This should be where your rib cage sits directly over your pelvis-Or I like to line up my sternum over my pubic bone. If you were to draw a straight line down the middle would it meet both points?

And finally your head. I find the easiest way to line your head up is to line your ears up directly over your shoulders and your eyes straight ahead-ta dah! Neutral Spine!

Was this alignment difficult for you? If it was perhaps that’s a clue as to how much (or actually how little) time you spend in neutral…………..

Start with the Foundation

To those of you that know me I harp on A LOT about stability, and particular hip and shoulder stability.

Now, it could be that I just have peculiar fetish or it could be that I think that are important….

Starting with the pelvis. It is essentially the centre of the body upon which the rest of the skeleton moves from. It is the base of the spine, which holds your arms and head and it is also the top of your legs so it’s part of your standing up ability. Any instability here will cause problems for your knees and ankles

The shoulders are the control point of your arms, and due to the connecting muscles are a huge stabiliser for your back, neck and head.

So, as you can see any issues at the pelvis or shoulders can cause problems further along the chain. They are the foundation of the body.

Unfortunately day to day we actually spend a lot of time not using these muscles correctly.

When we sit down either at desks, driving etc. we stretch out the muscles at the back of our pelvis and shorten up the muscles at the front.

Then we hunch over lengthening the back and shoulder muscles and shortening the chest muscles.

In order to have good functional capacity and therefore less potential for injury in our bodies we should have equal muscle length and strength front and back. Which as you can see from the description of most of our lives above it is unlikely that this is the case.

So, think about the repetitive patterns that inhabit your lifestyle and how this may be causing imbalance in your front and back muscles, and maybe start to look at ways you can address them.

Make it Easy

I’ve been talking a lot lately about making good habits, making them lifestyle changes and therefore making them as easy as possible for them to stick to.


You see this can often be the biggest barrier for people-how difficult some thing is to implement.

This is why any new habit should be made as convenient as possible.

If it is going to take you an hour out of your way to get to the gym are you really going to commit to it 5 mornings a week?

If your new healthy breakfast requires 14 ingredients and 30 mins every morning to prepare are you going to do it?

So, don’t make life hard for yourself.

  • Unless you are absolutely dedicated to going, join a gym or class near to you that is convenient for you to get to.
  • Always have a gym bag ready to go. Either lay out for the early morning session or in your car for that lunch time or after work session.
  • Buy an absolute ton of Tupperware, big pans and bowls and bulk prepare meals for the week. They don’t need to be gourmet recipes just simple tasty food like chillies, curries, lasagne, and their many variants. Once you’ve done it a couple of times you will get into a routine and it will take no time at all.
  • If you have to travel with food, buy a cool bag! Trust me nothing can put you off what was a healthy lunch more than it wilting in the heat.
  • Be a little bit lazy. There is nothing wrong with making life easier for youself by buying pre chopped or frozen vegetables, microwave rice etc. If it makes you more likely to make that healthy meal etc. it’s really worth the corner cutting.
  • Plan your meals for the week BEFORE you do your food shopping. I can’t stress this enough, plan your meals, write your shopping to cater for it and then keep the meal plan on the fridge. That way when you get home you won’t need to think about what to have it will actually be more inconvenient to eat something else.

What little hacks do you do to make healthy living more convenient?

Summer Hacks

Well it turns out this sunshine is sticking around. Which is weird for us brits and loads of us are finding it’s kind of throwing us off kilter.

Suddenly all those habits we had that worked really well when it was cold, wet and windy i.e. in the usual weather have gone out of the window.

I know plenty of people have definitely spent more time in the beer garden, or indeed their own gardens drinking more alcohol than usual. Then that sweaty workout class or after work run doesn’t seem so appealing when you’re worried you will pass out in the heat.

The thing is this is also probably the time you are feeling most body conscious-all those summer bodies are made in the winter posts are coming home to roost huh?

All the more reason to not let the hot weather derail you into full holiday mode and instead use it as a chance to just do things a little differently.


First step is staying Hydrated! This is even more important than usual and can make or break your entire day. Headaches, heatstroke and swollen ankles and fingers can be kept at bay with good hydration. You may find if you are outside a lot in the heat or particularly active you need to add an electrolyte or just a little bit of salt to your water to help you replace lost salts from sweating.


If it’s really too hot for you to do your usual workout, change it up a bit. Most gyms have air conditioning, or you could go for a swim (my gym has an outdoor pool!); maybe do a slower paced class like yoga or Pilates instead of your usual high impact. Or maybe just change the time of day you work out. I’m finding it cooler in the mornings so that’s when I’m doing any riding etc. so that maybe the best time to do your run, and it doesn’t seem quite as hard to get up when it’s sunny!

Your diet may well have infiltrated a few extra ice creams and gin & tonics this past week or so and I’m not going to say you should knock them on the head, however maybe to offset the extra indulgence you could eat a little lighter elsewhere? Sunny mornings don’t need a bowl of porridge to heat you up for the day so maybe you could just have some fruit and a little yoghurt. Scorching lunch and dinners are the perfect opportunity to have plenty of salad instead of bread and potatoes, and surely chocolate in only melting in this heat? So, that should save you a few calories for that ice cream & G&T!

Fresh Start Tuesdays

The concept of a fresh start is usually most notable at new year, maybe September when the kids go back to school or for the constant yo yo dieters every Monday!

When it comes to building new habits in order to make them become part of our lives we have to make a fresh start as they become part of our new daily routine. In the book I am currently reading “better than before “ by Gretchen Rubin she talks about new habits being best kept to when people have had new starts such as house moves,  ew jobs etc. She uses an example of someone who starts a new job and wants to go the gym before work every morning. Initially this person thought that they might not go on the first day at their new job, but Gretchen said that they should as this immediately establishes this new routine and immediately makes the gym visit a part of the whole new experience of the working week- get up go to gym, go to new job. They did go on the first day and the gym became an immediate part of their routine.

She talks about people who found it easier to stick to new diet rules whilst they were away from home I.e. change of normal routine.

The thing is, you might not actually have a fresh start event coming up.


However that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fresh start any time you like. Y’know like Monday! Although honestly I think a saturday or sunday when you have time to plan, deal with any issues that might arise and potentially derail you are actually a better option. In reality though a fresh start can be made mid afternoon on a tuesday it’s really up to you.


The key is doing something to make it a completely new routine, and make it as convenient as possible.


For example, if you plan to make the gym a new morning activity the night before pack all the things you will need to get ready for work at the gym-so it’s all packed away. Then leave out only your gym clothes, that way when you wake up you just get up and put on the gym clothes-you’d have to unpack to get to your work things. The packing of all your things the night before is the creation of the new routine.


If you have decided to overhaul your diet, but you get derailed in the supermarket-do your shopping online. This creates a new routine and therefore the fresh start.has been created.


Yes of course some will power and a dedication to consistently carrying out these things will still be needed-but just commit yourself for a week, then for another another week, and then challenge yourself for another week……………………….


Gym Fitness Without The Gym

After last weeks talk about challenges I was reading an article by a guy called Ash Dykes who is an adventurer. He basically does crazy endurance type challenges in ridiculous places in ridiculous conditions like trekking solo carrying his own kit across 2400km of Mongolia. Anyway, fairly extreme but his challenges are not the point of this email.


What I found interesting is that this guy does all of his training without a gym membership. Now as someone who trains clients without the use of a fully purposed gym this is no great shock to me that it’s possible to get insanely fit this way. However I meet lots of people who say the reason they don’t exercise is because they either don’t want to or don’t have time to go to the gym.


Well, no excuses you don’t need a gym. There are loads of different ways to get fit without ever lifting a barbell.


You can of course take this guys route and just do standard exercise using whatever you have around you. Park bench for push ups, dips etc, hills for sprints, stairs for steps ups.

You can add equipment such as Kettlebells, Tyres, Ropes etc.


You can follow one of the many bodyweight workouts on youtube. You can do anything from 5 minutes to an hour this way and you can do it in your PJ’s if you want too!


Or you can just make your day to day stuff more active.


Gardening, Carrying the shopping, Cleaning can all be done more briskly to raise your heart rate and burn some calories. Think about it, these jobs still have to be done, but if you do them a little faster not only will you have more free time at the end but you will have made yourself a little fitter to boot.


Walk the dog a little faster -I hate seeing dog walkers let their dogs off the lead and bimble behind them barely walking. That is prime time to be getting some exercise in yourself! Even if you like to let your dog off the lead keep your walking pace up, maybe run around with them, encourage them to chase you, throw their toys and just move around interacting with them. That way it’s good for you and your dog!


Combine it with your social life. Why not meet a friend for a walk, swim or exercise class rather than for a drink-ok you can still go for cake afterwards if you must!


Basically I just want to urge you to think outside the box. Fitness is not confined to pumping iron at the gym, just look at ways you can add a little more activity into your daily life and your long term health (and possibly your waist line) will thank you for it.


Challenge Yourself

Whenever we think of Fitness goals we always think of huge lifts or marathons or other crazy hardcore stuff. The thing is not everyone is really into that or perhaps if you are struggling with injuries, pain etc. Then the very idea of a fitness goal can seem ludicrous.


But what if you set just a little goal? Maybe just perfecting a single exercise that would either be very useful to you in terms of your other fitness, hobbies etc. Or just because you will feel super cool when you do it.


For example Crow pose in yoga is great for upper body strength and balance and you don’t need to super human to do it, just prepared to keep practicing


For me it is gym ball mastery, for others it’s headstands, handstands, full press ups, chin ups or pistol squats.


They don’t have to be even that extreme, maybe like when I was coming back from injuries just working towards a good form body weight squat is an achievable and incredibly useful goal.


Basically it’s up to you how big or how small you go and it doesn’t matter as long as achieving will make you feel good.


I’d love to know what goals you want to achieve or if you need a little inspiration let me know.

It hurts because you said it did

So I’ve been talking about injuries and pain a bit recently. The thing with pain is it’s actually an incredibly complex subject. There are many factors that influence it, not just the mechanics of any injury but also beliefs and mind-set.

I was once told that if a patient is told that something hurts it will hurt.  So, if I tell you your elbow has a problem and is potentially painful it might not hurt now but if I perhaps say “hmm that’s Interesting, I would expect that issue to give you pain in your elbow” I can almost guarantee soon after you will start to notice pain in your elbow……………..have you got a pain in your elbow yet?

The thing is there may not be anything wrong with your elbow but as soon as you focus on a perceived problem, the brain tells you there is a problem and that a problem means pain-simple version is you just told yourself you were in pain so you are now in pain.

What is pain?

Pain is your brains response to a perceived threat. If you break your leg, you experience pain to encourage you to rest it until it heals. Unfortunately these signals can sometimes get scrambled and this is what causes chronic pain.

We kind of need to press the reboot button (or switch it off and back on again like a pc) but it’s not really that simple with the brain.

Just because the brain is experiencing a threat that is not really there does not mean that the pain is actually imagined, it is to the person experiencing it very real. However we can help to “reboot” by dealing with the psychological and emotional factors surrounding pain.

Firstly I think knowledge is power, as is the language we ourselves and rather importantly the professionals treating us use. (I’m not going down that rant….) This refers back to the catastrophizing blog last week; in that if you believe that your joints and/or muscles are weak, damaged and vulnerable then you will protect them, and worry about them. Again back to the idea that if we believe we are in pain then we are indeed in pain. If we can just have a rational, logical chat with ourselves about what is happening it can help to switch off the alarm bells.

If you get a sharp twinge in your back, perhaps getting up off a chair I imagine the commentary goes like this.

“Oh s!*t that hurts, I’ve damaged something, I’ve slipped a disc, if I move any more I could be paralysed…..”

Now of course there are incredibly, rare and extreme circumstances that this may be the case, however you really aren’t that special. What should actually be the commentary is.

“Ouch, that was a twinge in the nervous system, well I’m still standing and functioning so I should just carry on moving gently and progressively and the pain disappear in a minute”

This can of course be a problem when there has previously been a problem area. I see this lot with back pain. If someone has been told they have “a slipped disc” or a “degenerating spine” they are envisaging their spine as weak, fragile and degrading like a rock face. Every creak or twinge tells their brain that a little more damage has been done. No wonder they struggle to get out of pain and on with their lives!

However if they were educated properly about the strength of the spine (it’s way more stable than we give it credit for), what a “slipped disc” actually is and the fact that all of our spines are degenerating along with the rest of our bodies and it is the equivalent of telling people with wrinkly faces they have “degenerative face disease”-completely normal part of the ageing process that yes is quicker in some than others but you cannot fix “degenerative face disease” by keeping it still and the same goes for your spine.

So, let me know if there are any pain issues you are dealing with that you would like a little reflection on and I will see what I can do.