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Stop The Stress Competition

I reckon if we polled the country 99.99% would say that they are stressed. It’s become like a permanent state for many people. To be honest I feel like for many people it has become a bit of a badge of honour like if you aren’t stressed with too much to do surely that means you are lazy and not doing enough?

 

I have definitely been guilty of this in the past, and the thing is Stress is actually really bad for our health so why on earth would we celebrate that? It would be like being really pleased with yourself for drinking a lot of alcohol……..

 

So how does stress affect our bodies.

 

When we are stressed our bodies produce the hormone adrenaline. This switches on our fight or flight system as back in caveman times it was needed to help us run away from predators. Now we aren’t running away from something that might eat us,  that predator may be your boss, running late etc. Adrenaline is great in emergency situations it’s what responsible for those people that are able to lift cars off people or other crazy feats of humanity, it basically keeps us hyper alert to help us survive. In the short term adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure and speeds up the metabolism of glucose in the blood. This then returns to normal when the stressful situation ends.

 

However as we are now more and more constantly stressed our bodies are producing adrenaline all the time. We struggle to return to homeostasis. This means we are at risk of prolonged high heart rate (heart palpitations) and high blood pressure, dizziness, fainting and potentially diabetes due to the Glucose metabolism. An over production of adrenaline can also be a contributor to anxiety.

 

Now just because you aren’t at the heart palpitations and fainting position doesn’t mean you don’t need to take your stress levels seriously.

 

If we continually hold stress and tension in our bodies it can cause headaches, muscular pain and stiffness. The constant tension causes us to feel constantly tired and if we then can’t relax we struggle to sleep despite the tiredness-have you ever been so tired you can’t sleep-trust me it’s a thing.

 

So what can we do?

 

Well start prioritising your well being. Stop feeling guilty for turning things down to create more time to switch off.

 

Make an effort to get plenty of sleep-the mantra of I’ll sleep when I’m dead will actually only lead you to being dead quicker than if you’d got that sleep in.

 

Find things that switch your brain off, whether that’s meditation, reading a book or watching rubbish tv-Love Island anyone…….

 

Be kind to your body, for many people the gym, running etc is a stress reliever however they can in the short term increase adrenaline so if you’re already at the burnt out stage of things try walking, gentle yoga and massage to help you relax instead.

 

And finally let’s stop making how much stress we are under and how tired we are some sort of badge of honour. Instead make time to address the imbalance and then when someone asks how you are answer “I’m great” and avoid getting into the who’s busier competition.

 

Right I’m off for some herbal tea and to read my book, Eleanor Oliphant is completely Fine by Gail Honeyman if you’re interested.

Improve your performance

When I tell people that I train athletes ranging from Horse riders, Triathletes and Golfers they presume I’m training them in those specific sports-you know like a riding instructor, running, swimming, cycling and golf coach all into one………….

That would make me a serious jack of all trades and …………….

So, if I’m not training them in their sport what am I doing to improve their performance? Well with many of them I’m improving their specific flexibility and stability needs using Yoga.

I can look firstly at the specific demands of the sport on the body and use specific exercises to improve those areas. For example riders need a flexible front hip to achieve the correct alignment, but also incredibly stable hips to maintain control of their bodies whilst riding. Yoga can be used to both open up the hips and work on stability.

I can then look at the areas which may be over used in a certain posture, over time this could cause problems resulting in injury. For example cyclists spend a lot of time in a forward dominant position with a closed chest and hips. To maintain balance in the body I give exercises to open up the front of the body. They do not need to be overly flexible at the front but a balanced front to back should be an aim to hopefully prevent over use injury.

You do not need to be an athlete of a specific sport to benefit from adding yoga into your training. Even a regular gym goer, weightlifter etc. can benefit from some proper stretching and stability work to prevent imbalances and fingers crossed ward of injury.

It is also a really good way to relax the mind and body, releasing tension that leaves fresh and ready to attack your next session. So why not try adding a yoga session into your exercise routine and see how it can improve your performance.

If you would like some specific help in your yoga routine, or perhaps you are a member of a running, cycling, triathlon club etc. and would like your own class get in touch!

 

Fresh Start September

I’m pretty sure no matter how old you get September will always have a back to school vibe.

I actually find this feeling really useful as September is a great time to regroup and reflect on your goals this year. How have you done? Have your goals changed? Then, what do you want to achieve before the end of 2018.

I don’t want to alarm anyone but there are only 16 weeks of 2018 left!

So you can take this September reboot as either

  1. What do you want to achieve before the end of 2018?

Or

  1. What do you want to achieve in 2019 that you can get a head start on now?

Whichever option you want to take, the best way to ensure success is to spend some time making yourself a plan.

I imagine over summer with holidays and the sun actually came out etc. your exercise and nutrition routine looked a little different to how it’s going to look across September and onwards into winter.

How is that going to change your exercise method and routine? Are you going to keep up those evening runs around the block or are you going to have to find a winter alternative?

Your diet might also change; salads might be swapped for soup, you may be more inclined to seek out comfort foods etc.

So, get a pen ready, piece of paper, laptop, diary whatever it is you want to use.

  • Set your goal. What do you want to achieve before the end of the year?
  • What are the steps you are going to take to get there?
  • Plan your training schedules
  • Plan your nutrition

September is your fresh start, no matter what has occurred in the previous 8 months of 2018 if there are still things you wish you had achieved you’ve still got time to get cracking, and if you’re well on your way with 2018 goals-why not get a head start for 2019!

If you want some help with your training over winter I have spots available at the studio for 1 2 1 training, and I am also available for one off goal setting and planning sessions so hit reply if you would like my help.

I like the way you breathe

We breathe all day every day without even thinking about it. It’s obviously an incredibly important job for your body as it keeps you alive.

 

However there are also a lot of other benefits to breathing but only if you are breathing correctly. Yes really there is a “correct “ way to breathe.

 

I bet you don’t even give it a second thought-surely if you are still alive you’re doing it right? Kind of but there’s other health benefits to be had if you give your breathing a little more time and effort.

 

The Diaphragm is a major player in good breathing. It sits under your rib cage kind of like a jelly fish with attachments on the ribs and spine. It contracts and drops down when you breathe to allow more oxygen in. Of course more Oxygen means more energy to your muscles, organs and cells to continually renew and regenerate. This is why better breathing is in its basic form just really good for your health.

 

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in Yoga and other relaxation programmes as a way to help us relax.

 

This is because the Vagus Nerve runs from the brain to the diaphragm and activating this nerve taps into our rest and digest system. That is in simple terms activating the Vagus Nerve tells your brain and therefore your body to relax. Tapping into this can be incredibly useful in times of stress.

 

The Diaphragm is also a key player in hip and back pain. This is because it attaches on the spine in the Lumbar region. Of course this is also where the hip flexors and many of the back muscles meet. Therefore any restriction and pull on the Diaphragm can cause restriction in the hips and back.

 

It has been shown that practicing Diaphragmatic breathing has a positive impact on back and hip pain.

 

Due to the links between inflammation and stress, Diaphragmatic breathing can also have a positive effect on other pain conditions. Whether this is due to the release on the muscular chain or because of the positive impact on the brain is up to you to decide-there’s no right or wrong answer just see if it works for you.

 

So how do we do this magical breathing?

 

Take a breath in and as you do let your  rib cage and belly expand. This activates the Diaphragm and therefore the relaxation button on that Vagus Nerve. As you breathe out, let your belly fall back down again, before starting again. Try doing 10-20 breaths like this throughout the day.

 

Shoulders, Elbows, Wrists

You would not believe the amount of people I see with elbow and wrist injuries that have no known cause, or they are given the age old “tennis elbow” etc. And told to rest. The rest doesn’t fix it so they then get told it’s arthritis…….

 

Yet I’ve seen many wrist and elbow injuries helped massively by addressing the function of the shoulder.

 

It’s simple anatomy and biomechanics application…………….

 

There are 3 nerves from the neck that run down the arm. The Median, Radial and Ulnar nerve. Any impingement of these nerves at the neck and shoulders can cause pain, numbness, tingling or loss of strength down the arm and hand as it travels down the nerve;  so why would we only look at the point of pain? As the saying goes “the victim screams louder than the perpetrator”

 

So what can you do if you’re struggling with shoulder, elbow or wrist pain?

 

Here are a couple of Nerve Mobilisation techniques that can help to free up any tethering.

Be warned sometimes it can bring on tingling, numbness, pins and needles as the nerve gets upset that you’ve moved it! It’s nothing to be worried about though just build up slowly at first if this happens.

 

First take your arm out to the side and either free hand or against a wall hyper extend your wrist so that your fingers are facing up as far as they will go. If you want to increase this, take your other hand and stretch your neck away from the arm you are nerve mobilising.

Now we are going to turn the hand over and face the fingers down, still with the wrist hyper extended. Again to increase the tension stretch the neck away.

As mentioned do this gently at first if it brings on symptoms, but try it daily for a week and see if your elbow and wrist pain improves…………..

Not another Knee Excuse

In my job I get lots of excuses as to why people can’t exercise. Often I haven’t actually suggested that they should………….which suggests the people giving said excuses know that they are just that-excuses!

Anyway, one of the most common ones I hear is bad knees. Seriously, from the “I can’t run, cycle, do a Zumba class” to the “I can’t do yoga……..” but you’re able to negotiate a McDonalds drive through………….

I’m not suggesting people don’t legitimately suffer from knee pain, however knee pain does not mean any amount of exercise will cause the knee to smash like glass leaving you unable to walk-in fact it’s quite the opposite!

There are also lots of reasons why someone has knee pain, and often people assume it is an old age thing and its arthritis and they should now stop using it to stop it getting worse.

Firstly, yes it may well be a little stiffer due to arthritic changes as you get older, however one of the best remedies to help deal with the pain, stiffness and inflammation of arthritis is ……………………..exercise! Dammit there goes that excuse!

I have also dealt with over my years as a trainer many clients who have thought they had knee problems due to arthritis etc. and yet after some soft tissue work (massage, foam rolling) and some strength work the knee problem lessens significantly and has often actually disappeared!

You see knee pain can also be caused by tightness, tension or weakness in the muscles surrounding it. The quads and hamstrings all attach above and below the knee and any restriction in those insertions by the knee will undoubtably cause pain in the knee area.

There is also the balance and strength of the hips and feet to take into account. If either of these areas is not functioning as it should it can place extra pressure on the knee giving it essentially a repetitive strain injury.

So, if you have a knee problem of course get it checked out by a Physio, but be suspicious of anyone who tells you to stop using it (literally no science to support this!) and instead find a form of exercise that you can do fairly comfortably and as it gets stronger you will find it is capable of much more with less pain.

A good start if it is really painful is swimming (even walking in a pool), cycling (although make sure the seat is around hip height) and in fact trampolining! These are all fairly low impact that can help you get start moving more pain free.

You should also incorporate some strength work with the guidance of a physio or rehab specialist (I’m one of those!) as the stronger the muscles the better able it is to support the joints.

We are all in this to stay as mobile as possible well in to old age and the saying “use it or lose it” absolutely relates to your body and movement. So, don’t let knee pain become your excuse for shirking exercise-science doesn’t support your excuses.

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.