How’s Your Flexibility?

After last week’s discussion about feeling fitter let’s start with addressing your flexibility.

We will look at some key areas and I will take you through some self-tests that you can do to find out where you maybe need to do some work.

Remember these are just starting points, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get great results, I’m here to help you improve them. We just need an idea of where you are starting so that will be able to measure how much you have improved.

Here goes then. Obviously this would be ideal if you could get a friend to help with the readings and take pictures but doing them alone is fine and just writing notes on how things felt etc. will be equally beneficial.

Upper Back/Shoulders.

Lying on your back, knees bent feet flat on the floor. Find your neutral spine and have your hands down by your side. Now raise one arm above your head whilst maintaining neutral spine.

  • If you can touch the floor behind you-Great work you have excellent upper back and shoulder mobility.
  • If your back begins to arch before you touch the floor then your upper back and shoulders need some work.

 

Hips-

You will need a sturdy table for this, or you could stack up some bales of hay or shavings. Anything that you can safely lie on without your feet touching the floor. A friend to help and validate the results is useful is possible but if not you will get a good idea of how you score on your own.

Sit yourself with your seat bones on the edge of the table. Bring one knee into your chest and lie back with the other leg still hanging off the edge.

There are three things to look for in this test.

  1. Is the hanging leg lifting off the table, staying level with the table or does the knee drop lower than the table? If it does not drop below the table your Psoas needs work.
  2. Is shin hanging less 90⁰? Hanging at 90⁰ or is it feely swinging past 90⁰? If it does not swing past 90⁰ your Quads require work.
  3. Is the thigh rolling in or out or has it stayed straight? If the thigh rolls in your adductors need work, if it rolls out your abductors need work.

Ankles-Stand about 10cm away from a wall. Feet flat on the floor. Bend one knee towards the wall keeping the heel down and ensuring that the ankle does not roll in or out.

  • If you can touch the wall-Great you have excellent ankle mobility!
  • If you were nowhere near the wall-You need some work on your ankle mobility!

 

I want to feel fitter

When I am speaking to new clients at this time of year and I ask what their goals are, I often get “I want to feel fitter.” That’s great but what exactly constitutes fitter? In reality this answer would be different for everyone. If you led a very sedentary lifestyle this could mean being able to climb the stairs at home without being out of breath, whereas if you were already fairly active it could mean being able to run a better 5k or 10k time or many other things, as I said it comes down to the individual as to what that means.

However, I think most people would agree they would like to move more freely, ache less and generally feel like day to life tasks were a bit easier. This comes down to having better all over movement and function.

In order to achieve this we need better flexibility, mobility and stability.

I think most people are aware of what flexibility is; the range of movement at muscles. Mobility is the range of movement at joints, however I tend to class flexibility as both muscles and joints so I will just refer to flexibility from hereon.

Stability I think is less considered by most people. So, what is stability? Well firstly it is what helps you to stay upright!

It is certainly not stiff, restricted movement.

There are several variations of the meaning of stability. The most relevant are.

  • The strength to stand or endure
  • The property of a body that causes it when disturbed of equilibrium or steady motion to develop forces or movements that restore the original condition
  • Movement specialist Gray Cook describes stability as “The ability to demonstrate our flexibility under load.”

I particularly like Gray Cooks’ definition as I think it highlights that flexibility and stability are aligned.

If we have true stability we will have good movement patterns overall  from a good squat and deadlift pattern to then carry over to everyday tasks like picking things up off the floor, carrying bags of shopping etc. It is these daily activities that we often do in a less than ideal pattern that contribute to our aches, pains and injuries.

As part of your “new year new you” goals perhaps we should all address our flexibility and stability and begin to fix any areas in which we fall short.

You can ponder that idea for a week and then next week I will take you through some self tests for flexibility.

 

Just 4 spaces left for 1 2 1 training at the Studio so get in touch if you want some help to achieve your goals this year.

Dieting Mind Tricks

Following on from last week’s mindset newsletter, I’m going to stick with the theme but this week more closely related to how our mind works around diet and weight loss.

I read an interesting study in which one group of participants were given a 380 Calorie milkshake and told it was either a 640 calorie milkshake or a 140 calorie milkshake. The levels of Ghrelin (the hormone that tells you when you are hungry) were tested – Before whilst reading (the misleading) label, whilst drinking and after drinking the milkshake.

Now remember everyone has had the same milkshake it is just their perception of the calorie content that is different.

Those that thought it was a 140 calorie milkshake showed a fairly flat Ghrelin response, whereas those that thought it was the more indulgent 640 calorie milkshake showed a steeper decline in Ghrelin-meaning they were more satiated and not hungry. Interesting……

“The study therefore concluded that the effect of food consumption on ghrelin may be psychologically mediated, and mind-set meaningfully affects physiological responses to food.”http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21574706

So, in the real world obviously it would be quite difficult to lie to yourself about that “indulgent lettuce” and I’m sure you have all had that feeling when you’ve eaten a low calorie cake and still had a cake craving afterwards………………………..so you eat more of them……………….

Whereas if you have the full fat cake and really enjoy it, you still say in your head “ooh I could eat that again” but you tend not to because you’ve already subconsciously told yourself that you’ve had enough cake (like Enough cake is a thing…..sniggers). Or think of it this way, when you drink really good wine, you tend to savour it, enjoy the flavour and therefore drink less whereas if your cracking open the Blossom Hill (c’mon I know you’ve all done it) well let’s just say you don’t really savour that so much.

So once again it appears I’m telling you to eat all the cake, drink all the wine………………….but what I’m actually saying is eat food you are going to be really satisfied with and enjoy eating. If you force yourself to eat “diet” food that you don’t enjoy your head will keep telling you to seek out more food until it eats something you enjoy and is therefore satisfied.

So Eat less of More Taste, not Eat more of Less Taste. Your brain knows what you’re up to and it isn’t fooled.

 

Whether You Think You can or You Can’t You are Right – Henry Ford

Whether you think you can or you can’t – You are right. Henry Ford

This really is true in health and fitness. What your mind tells you has a huge impact on your actions and therefore the outcome of your goal. I think this is seen most in Endurance events, no matter how much you train for a marathon, triathlon, iron man etc. at some point during that race even the elites are going to feel like their legs won’t carry them any further. It’s at this point their mind tells them they can and will finish. If their mind tells them they won’t finish there is a good chance they are going to stop and call it a day.

So on your weight loss journey what are you telling yourself? If you start with a negative mind-set telling yourself that you will always be overweight, you will never fit into your skinny jeans then your actions will reflect that.

What is Mind-set and can you control it?

Your Mindset is the beliefs you hold about yourself.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, wrote in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, that there are two different types of mindsets: fixed and growth-oriented.

  • People with a fixed mindset think talent alone creates success. When faced with a challenge, they tend to take the easy way out to avoid failure and embarrassment. This is a psychological principle known as self-handicapping.
  • People with a growth mindset believe they can improve their abilities and create successes by working hard, practicing, and learning. They take on challenges even at the risk of failing. They embrace failure because they know they’ll learn valuable lessons from it.

So which Mindset are you?

If you are growth mindset then I imagine you are already telling yourself you will succeed, you can lose that extra half stone and you will keep it off. Your right, you can and will!

If you are a fixed mindset don’t worry. The mind is like a muscle, the more your work it and feed it the more it will grow.

First, start to acknowledge your negative thoughts. Then start to reframe them, if you hear yourself say “I can’t lose weight I will slip up eating out” say to yourself “There will be obstacles along the way but as long as I keep getting back on track I will succeed”. The more you practice talking positively to yourself the easier it will become.

I also find surrounding myself with positive images/examples helps me to believe my dreams are possible. I have read autobiographies of successful people; I listen to podcasts showcasing ordinary people who achieved incredible things. I have no time for listening to studies and statistics that say according to the numbers the odds are against me, so what if out of 100 people only 2 people succeeded at………………….what if I’m one of those 2? What if you ran the study again and nurtured all 100 on their mindset of achieving? How many would succeed then?

So whatever your goal, have a look at your mindset on the chances of your success? If your mind isn’t telling you that you are absolutely going to smash it, work on your mindset first and the road to success will follow.

Exercise Habit

Well I think the little bit of sunshine at the weekend reminded us all that summer is on its way (well I sincerely hope it is!) Suddenly everyone has started upping the exercise routine, jumping on new programmes, new diets and planning their summer bodies.

This is all great but unfortunately many people will give it everything they’ve got for a couple of months and then fall off the wagon just as the sun comes out.

Usually this is because they don’t make a plan that is sustainable in their lifestyle. Sure in 6 weeks going hell for leather you can make some drastic changes, but then you hit burn out or boredom and you can’t maintain it; and as one of my very wise clients once said “why would you want to borrow your ideal body to then hand it back?”

So how can we create an effective exercise programme that will get the results we are after but we can also stick to long term?

  • Pick exercise that you enjoy! I say this all the time there is no point forcing yourself to take up running or heavy weight lifting if you hate it. Of course if you want a bodybuilders body then you have to train like one, but that’s for you to decide. If you’re just after fitting in your jeans a bit better or feeling less harpooned whale in a bikini on the beach then doing something you enjoy 3-4 times per week will make a huge difference. A bigger difference than those 2 visits to that HIIT gym class that you hate.
  • Don’t overdo it. I know, I know you have all of this new found enthusiasm and want to go to the gym and lift heavy stuff every day but in a few weeks you will feel tired, drained and potentially injured. So make sure you also take time to rest and recover properly from your new routine, especially if you are new to exercise. You could treat yourself to a massage, get friendly with a foam roller or some gentle yoga, this will all help to keep you in tip top condition to keep that summer body in sight.
  • Consider what you want to achieve long term. This follows on from point one. If you want to look like a bodybuilder or get on stage in a fitness competition then Zumba ain’t gonna cut it. Do you want all round strength and cardio fitness or do you want to be more flexible – (I’m still hoping to get in the splits one day!)Think about this when you decide what kind of programme you are going to start. Does it fit with your long term goals?
  • Following on from that. Be realistic and consider whether you goals conflict and may need to be split. For example it is quite difficult to build serious muscle and lose body fat at the same time. Sure training more and losing body fat will help to make you look more muscular ( or “toned” ladies) but if you want to get seriously stacked and have a couple of stone to lose, you will need to shift the fat first and then move on to bulking.
  • Nail your Nutrition! I’m sorry no matter what your wiry friend who eats crisps for breakfast says, for us mere mortals you can’t out train a bad diet! So clean up your diet and eat right to support your training and results will come.
  • Consistency is key, so get a programme and stick to it. I don’t care if its Joe Wicks lean in 15 or bodybuilding.com get hench on your bench. Get a programme to match your goals or get a trainer to write one for you and follow it. Don’t mix it up with 3 different programmes or just wing it round the gym. To get results you need a structure and progression and most importantly you need to stick to it!

So off you go and join the summer panic pumping…………………………..

Forming Good Habits

The key to successful weight loss and long term health is establishing healthy habits. That is things to aid your health and/or weight loss that you do every day as part of your ongoing lifestyle.

Unfortunately maintaining these healthy habits can be the toughest part of our journey.

So how do we make them stick?

Firstly don’t take on 10 new habits all at once. Pick one new healthy habit just a small one and achieve it daily. This could be anything from aiming to drink 2 litres of water, eating protein at every meal or doing something active every day. 

Plan how you will achieve this new habit. Will there be a trigger to perform it like waking up, leaving work etc. Or will you need to set a reminder on your phone, leave a note out etc. To make it a habit you need to have a trigger to make you perform it.

Plan how you will overcome obstacles, who will support you and what is your motivation for this habit. It can sometimes be useful to have someone hold you accountable, whether that be a friend or family member or a coach. There are also some great forums and online groups that you can share your journey with other people with similar goals. This can give you a sense of accountability but also support.

How will you log this habit? You could use an app on your phone (there is literally an app for everything including how much water you drink) or you could print out a chart on your wall.

Stick to this new habit for 30 days. Hopefully after that it will actually be a habit! This is when you can add in another habit

Reward yourself for achieving your new habit every day for a month. However make sure the reward doesn’t counteract the habit i.e. don’t reward yourself for staying off chocolate for 30 days with a big bar of chocolate! I rewarded myself with new workout/work clothes for losing a stone on my weight loss journey, and I also have rewards planned for the next half stone mark and the next full stone mark. None of the rewards are food related though!

Be open to adjusting your habit if you feel it isn’t sustainable long term. There is no failure in deciding that 20 mins exercise every day is more manageable than an hour. It has to work for you long term. Just tweak the goal and keep sticking to it day in day out for 30 days.

So in 30 days’ time you could have a whole new healthy habit…………………………what is yours going to be? Let me know!

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Exercise Equivalent Labelling

So last week a new initiative was discussed in that food manufacturers should put exercise equivalent to burn of the calories in their products. Apparently this will make us all do more exercise and solve our weight problems…………………….

It has become more common on recent years for restaurants to put the calorie content next to menu items so I guess this is just upping the ante.

Like would you like a chocolate muffin and 500 burpees? Would it make you think twice? I’ll be honest it probably would for most people. I know I definitely look at calorie content on certain foods but I do have concerns with this new scheme.

You see at the end of the day we do need to eat, we need food for fuel for all of body systems, organs, cell renewal alongside moving round and using our brains so we don’t have to burn off all of our food! There is also the fact that the nutrient density of food will determine how many of those calories your body actually uses for cell repair and/or energy and how many it will deem useless and store as fat. That big calorie Avocado will be burnt much easier than that small calorie low fat (read pointless) yoghurt.

Yes in its basic form calories in and calories out does determine whether we lose or gain weight, but how long it takes us to burn off a mars bar is actually going to be different in all of us.

Firstly because of our current weight and metabolism, my rate of burning calories is not the same as say Mr A’s-he is bigger and more muscular and therefore will burn it faster than me. Secondly, say the suggestion of 20mins on a bike, how fast is it? What does my heart rate need to be? What is the resistance, uphill or flat? Do you see what I mean? I could burn 200 calories in a very short of long space of time.

I know this from personal experience of my riding lessons. I wear my Fitbit and sometimes will look how many calories I burn from start to finish in the 45 minute lesson. Despite them being pretty similar in terms of content the calorie burn is actually going down each week. As my body has got back into the swing of it I’m not working as hard, it also hasn’t been as cold, nor has it been particularly hot so this may also influence it. I have had readings from 300 to 600 calories so quite a big difference! That’s from the same person, doing the same activity on the same horse! The Fitbit itself is not 100% but most studies have shown up to 20% variants so although still not 100% it’s as close as I’m going to get without a sports science lab following me around.

I think what worries me is the unhealthy relationship this could cause with food. It essentially gives us the mind-set that is common in people with eating disorders-food is bad and you must be punished for eating it! Food is not bad, in fact chocolate and prosecco are not “BAD” foods, are they nutritionally optimal-no but including small amounts of them in your diet should not mean you also have to run a marathon that week-unless you really want to!

It also puts me in the mind-set of what is predominantly women (sorry ladies) who will go to the gym spend half an hour dawdling on a cross trainer watching the kardashians and then have a piece of cake afterwards because they “earned” it. Said women then wonders why she does not lose weight despite all these hours spent on the cross trainer.

So I get what they are trying to do here and maybe it will make people think twice before eating higher calorie foods if they do not currently have a disposition to exercise. But I think most people know they shouldn’t be eating fast food and cake every day the reason they do it runs much deeper than lack of knowledge or laziness and continuing along the trend of eating food should be punished I think will only compound those behaviours further.

I’d like to be completely proved wrong on this

and suddenly see people shunning junk food but …………………………….

Treat the Cause not the Problem

In my job I see and speak to a lot of people who have various injuries and health issues. I also see a lot of people who take a concoction of pills daily to “deal” with these ailments.

Problem solved you think!

But in reality most prescribed medicines are just masking the problem not actually treating the cause.

Think of your body like a car. Your car will signal a warning light when something is wrong. If your oil tank is leaking you can duct tape over the hole and it will solve the problem for a while (don’t actually do this!) but this doesn’t make the problem go away it just masks it for a while. In order to fix the problem you have to locate and deal with it-i.e. you’ve got to fix the hole!

So, if you have symptoms of something wrong in your body that could be anything from high blood pressure, back pain or something less identifiable like fatigue look for the cause of the problem not the mask to cover it.

I see a lot of people with back pain who are given various pain relief methods by their doctors, yet these never work long term-in fact you’re lucky if they work at all! Why are we not treating the thing that’s causing the back pain?

This also happens with things like blood pressure and diabetes. Instead of having a proper look at our nutrition and lifestyle we just take the pills that essentially just delay the onset of the more serious symptoms like macular degeneration and loss of blood supply to the feet. Why is that seen as the easier option?

Being blind or losing a foot doesn’t sound easy?

Nor does living with continually crippling back pain becoming more immobile seem like an easier option than some daily exercise.

Part of me wants to say that our health system is to blame and that Dr’s should be giving this advice instead of pills but really WE are in charge of our health.

So many people do not want to invest in their own health.

But you are not those people!

So if you have a movement problem, go and see a specialist physio, biomechanics coach, osteopath chiropractor etc. Try different kinds of exercise. Swimming is great if you struggle to weight bear as just walking in water can help to get you moving back on dry land. Try yoga, Pilates, Thai chai or walking and try it more than once! You won’t be healed overnight and it might feel uncomfortable at first. But I promise you even the regular exercisers find new stuff makes them sore the first time.

If you have issues with blood pressure, fatigue, acid reflux ……whatever it may be first sort out your diet fill it with fresh, real food. Look for patterns as to whether symptoms are better or worse after certain foods (Dairy, Gluten, Grains and members of the nightshade family are potentially inflammatory foods in some people).

If you are still struggling look for nutrition professional that deals with these issues on a regular basis.

I’m not saying never go to the Doctors but think twice before you start accepting the pills whether you could actually improve your lifestyle and regain your health rather than sticking a patch over that hole in your oil tank.

Take responsibility and invest in your own health, take control of your diet, stay active and treat the cause of the problem instead of putting tablets over the symptoms.

If you need some help to point you in the right direction then just drop me an email.

 

Toxins

Following a conversation I had with someone last week I have been thinking about all of the external toxins we surround ourselves with on a day to day basis.

Now I’m not going to turn this into an ‘avoid all toxins’ blog as in reality that is impossible and not really necessary. However I do think it is important to at least limit our exposure. Although none of the things mentioned are harmful in any way on their own, when you consider the constant drip feeding of chemicals we are actually exposed to quite a lot. Many of these chemicals when we are exposed to them at a low dose consistently have been shown to upset many peoples endocrine systems i.e hormone balance.

So what kinds of toxins am I talking about?

Firstly there is air pollution and in reality unless you move to the Outer Hebrides you’re kinda stuck with that. Although not taking your daily run down the side of the M6 might be something to consider!

Then there are the chemical pollutions we expose ourselves to all day. We use a variety of products from the moment we get up -toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, face wash, moisturiser, deodorant, make up…………….then to the products we use to clean our homes- bleach, washing up liquid, washing powder and air freshener……….

Now I just don’t think it is practical to go pure and organic on all of these things unless you really want to. But as you run out of say face wash why not replace it with an organic brand. I use Organic Surge which is fairly competitive with most high street brands. Sanex is also pretty good in terms of ingredients.  Pick just one or two things you will go less chemical/ more organic with otherwise it will become overwhelming – and probably really expensive.

For cleaning products ECover are available in most supermarkets although I use a Hemp based product from Dr Bronner (I buy it in TK Maxx) that has a huge list of uses from soap, to toilet cleaner and I use it in our bathroom and it is genuinely better than the standard bathroom cleaner. And as you dilute it, it is really cost effective -or maybe I just don’t clean that much……..

If you have one of those plug in air fresheners, maybe have a look what’s in it and see if you can find a purer version.

Water bottles are a bit of a bug bear of mine. Bottled water more often than not comes in bottles that have BPAs. BPAs can leach from the plastic and essentially disrupt our endocrine system particularly in women. The best way to prevent this is to avoid re-using these bottles and instead buy a water bottle that is either stainless steel or glass, or BPA free.

Also avoiding microwaving things in plastic tubs – I am so guilty of this!

As I have mentioned before our food can potentially contain a myriad of chemicals. The thing is it isn’t just packaged food that can contain chemicals. Our fruit, veg and grains will have been sprayed whilst growing to prevent pests from destroying them. Our meat, dairy and eggs will have been fed food that may contain chemicals (organic livestock food is extremely rare trust me I’ve looked,) Unfortunately this means we may also be getting a dose. Not necessarily a high dose but a very low one over and over again. For most people the cost of organic food is out of the question and that’s fine.

It has been suggested that washing fruit and veg may help, particularly those without skins on -apples, berries, broccoli etc. Or maybe just pick one item you will buy organic like just your fruit?

Now you may have read this and just though OMG I’m off to cover myself in a protective suit and staying away from food, water, washing….

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a ‘avoid all chemicals’ rant, just to get you thinking about how you could limit them a little.

So maybe just pick one thing or one area.

Say your face products and change those. Or maybe you will just change your washing up liquid?

You could buy yourself a BPA free water bottle and switch to organic carrots.

Just do a little change and see how you go. 

Eat Well Plate

Well, Public Health England published a new Eat Well plate guideline last week. About time, the previous one was hugely out of date. The old version looks like this. Without even dissecting the rest it should definitely not have included sugar! No one NEEDS sugar in their diet!

eat well plate 2014

So new one looks like this.

eat well plate 2016

 

It sparked massive debate online with PT’s , I didn’t get involved there is far too much bi!*hing and d!*k measuring so it’s just amusing to spend 5 minutes reading the fall out and getting a feel for people’s opinions on it.

Then I just form my own opinion anyway.

To be fair, it is a whole lot better than the previous one. The removal of sugar for one but also the guideline booklet goes into much more detail about reading labels and looking out for added sugars and salt etc.

However……………………..I still think the protein content should be higher and the carb section smaller. I don’t agree that meals should be based around starch.  I think many people would be better basing meals around protein, adding more veg and then a small portion of starch. There is actually no mention of poultry (other than its picture). White fish is not in the least bit unhealthy even if you ate it most days but perhaps this has something to do with the over farming of the ocean?  I also think suggesting low fat dairy is a mistake. There is nothing unhealthy with the full fat version! And the spreads? Please just buy butter and use less of it I promise your body will thank you for it! It does suggest this in the guideline booklet but I don’t think most people will read that they will just see the plate with a margarine advert on it.

What I will say though, is Public Health England have a difficult job trying to convert the terrible eating habits of an increasingly overweight nation. They realistically have to make it easy to understand and manageable for people who may not be particularly interested in nutrition and are just trying to feed their families on a budget every week. What I think comes across in this plate is a way of lowering peoples calorie intake overall, which as mentioned is kinda the key factor in weight loss. So cutting out Fat at 9 calories per gram would have an effect, but Protein has 4 calories per gram the same as Carbohydrates. I can only think that the smaller protein suggestion is down to them being concerned that the general population if told that eating a lot of meat is ok would continue to eat a lot of processed meat which would only lead to higher fat and salt etc., so it’s best to say eat less? I don’t know, there is no explanation on this, but I think protein is an extremely important part of our diet as it is used for muscle and cell repair along with being our biggest source of B Vitamins – vegetarians in particular struggle with insufficient B12 which is a huge cause of fatigue.

Do I think its optimal nutrition? Not really but it has to be said that many people eat far worse than the eat well plate suggests, so if they used these guidelines they would be a whole lot better off.

Now you guys read this every week so you know better don’t you!

Take away points.

  • Eat some protein at every meal! Eggs, lean poultry, fish, beans whatever.
  • Unless you are eating a lot of dairy (milk in tea and coffee etc.) and it is therefore a total calorie issue just use full fat and benefit from the nutrition it provides!
  • Continue to eat all your vegetables and fruit of all colours-Eat a rainbow people!
  • You can still eat starch, I’m not saying don’t, but most people don’t need to base their diet on it.
  • Do include some saturated fat, just from healthy sources like coconut oil, avocado and unprocessed red meat (read eat the steak just not for every meal!)
  • Check your food labels for sugar content. You don’t actually need it at all!
  • And remember we are all different, what feels optimal for you and has you firing on all cylinders may not be optimal for the guy sat next to you-no matter what the government said! So eat to feel healthy and energetic whatever calorie or macronutrient breakdown that may be. I guarantee it will be when most of your diet comes from whole, unprocessed foods of various carbs, fats and proteins.