Exercise Snacking

Well stuff is about to start getting busy, and I imagine you’re already thinking of giving up entirely on your exercise routine because you aren’t going to have time.

 

Well I heard a new phrase the other day “exercise snacking” and no it doesn’t mean snacking whilst out for a run….

 

It actually refers to adding in really short bursts of exercise throughout the day rather than doing one long workout.

 

This makes it more achievable and it doesn’t have to be made up of “proper exercise “. It is more like that 10 min walk to the train station, doing some squats whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, skipping during the ad breaks of your favourite tv show, taking the stairs every chance you get. It also applies very well to gym goers in that if you can’t fit in your usual full routine, just nip in and do a quick 5k on the treadmill (roughly 30mins) and then go home, or pick 4 strength exercises do 3 sets of 10 and then call it a day. Then try to add as much activity into the rest of your day as mentioned above.

 

So basically don’t give up on exercise altogether just try to add 2-3 10 min active sessions across your day and at least call it damage limitation on the mince pie front.

Shoulder Tension

As promised this week I’m going to help you deal with those aching shoulders.

Of course remember that the tension itself may not be caused by the shoulders but in fact coming from your chest or neck, but I know it can still feel great to relieve the tension in the sore bits too in the mean time. Just don’t forget to keep up the work on your chest and neck in order to solve the problem long term.

The first thing I like to do is to get some movement in the shoulders. You can hunch them up to your ears then roll them back and down, make big circles with them ensuring you open your chest as you do and my favourite is to draw a figure of 8-Make a circle in front of your body then take your arm behind you and draw a circle there.

Shoulder Drops.

Lying on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor; take your arms up in the air palms facing each other. Reach one arm up to the ceiling and just let it drop back down, and then repeat with the other arm.

 

Again with those cheeky spikey balls (or a smooth ball if you prefer) lie on the floor or you can do this standing against a wall; place the ball between your shoulder blade and spine and put some pressure on-have a wiggle around do whatever feels good. Then move the ball down a little and repeat the process until you reach the bottom of your rib cage and then change sides.

Un-Roll Your Shoulders

Last week we looked at releasing neck tension but before we go further down the posterior chain I want to look at a really important and often missed issue when dealing with upper back pain and that is the chest muscles.

When we sit hunched forward and cause this pain in our upper backs, we have also caused shortening at the front of our chest. If we do not release this shortening no amount of massage, release work will fix the pain in the shoulders as they are still being pulled forward by the chest muscles.

So, if you are suffering with upper back and neck pain try opening up your chest first and allow your shoulders to be drawn back together.

I like to just lie over a gym ball and let my arms hangs with the weight of gravity gradually opening my chest further.

You can also try hanging out of a doorway, but ensure you really roll your shoulders back with your palms facing out.

I also like to get a ball in there to really work on the tension, which can be done just sat up using your other hand or you can lie face down and use your bodyweight to push in to the ball and roll it around to where you feel you need to release tension.

Throughout your day try and remember to un-hunch from your desk and really open up your chest, roll your shoulders back when you drive and you should find it takes the pressure off your tense upper back. But if you still need some work there we will look at that next week.

A Pain In The Neck

One area I see a lot of people struggle with is neck tension.

It’s no surprise really as firstly it has to carry your head around all day, which can be in the region of 4.5-5kg, and we often spend a lot of time hunched forward. This means constant pulling on these muscles.

It is also uncommon for people to train their necks meaning the neck muscles are often quite weak.

Neck tension in itself is uncomfortable but it can also be a major cause of headaches, and even manifest as elbow and wrist pain. This is because many of the nerves originate in the neck and travel either over the skull or down the arms to the hands. Any pulling or pressing in the neck area can then refer pain to these areas.

So, what can you do about neck tension?

Firstly have a look at your posture throughout the day. How is your head lined up over the top of your spine? It should feel like it is set directly on top, and your ears should roughly line up with your shoulders and your chin should be coming out of your neck at a straight line rather than tipped up or down. Just making this your most common posture when at your desk or driving the car will make a massive difference.

However to release the tension I don’t recommend stretching per se as the problem has come from already being in a stretched position. Instead I like to put a little pressure on the tension and just move it through its regular range of motion. This helps to release the tension and re set you back to a neutral position.

 

How do you do this?

I want you to find the two indents at the back of your head at the base of your skull. There should be a little dip and the muscle itself-which probably feels quite hard. Put your fingers in the indent and apply a little pressure. Now visualising your head sat directly on top of your spine start to tilt your head gently forward and back over the top of your spine. Start small and always keep the movement slow.  You should start to feel the tension release slightly and when you stop like you have repositioned your head on top of your spine again.

 

Losing weight or getting fit?

I often spot a little pattern with peoples training and weight loss journeys.

In particular weight loss. We’ll call him Sam. Sam decides he wants to lose weight and improve his fitness and decides the best way to go about this is to eat fewer calories and do lots of exercise.

So, he starts to eat say 1400 per day and then start training with long runs, hiit training and heavy weights for about an hour 6 days per week. According to his Fitbit he’s burning around 3500kcal per day. Sam thinks “great I’m smashing this calorie deficit lark!” For around 4-5 weeks he keeps up this regime and of course he losing weight-Well Done Sam! However Sam is starting to feel increasingly run down and lethargic and he seems to be aching constantly. He starting to struggle in his training and the weights aren’t going up any more and his run times aren’t progressing. Then he gets the flu and its game over.

It’s such a shame as Sam was doing so well.

Unfortunately what Sam didn’t consider when he began this weight loss journey was that in order to train that hard you need fuel.

Which can be a confusing message when you’re trying to lose weight and are quite rightly basing this weight loss on achieving a calorie deficit.

However training for weight loss and training for performance are two different things.

If you ask any Athlete who competes at a weight based sport –Bodybuilding or boxing for example; they will tell you that the serious weight cutting weeks are really tough as the drop in calories combined with a tough training schedule makes them exhausted. These guys also make time to properly relax and recover rather than cracking on with a full time job and a social life.

At its basic function food is fuel. We need it to power our brain, organs etc. along with physical activity. If we restrict calories our bodies decide to try and conserve the fuel for important things like our organs so we don’t have the fuel to be more active. If we push through that’s fine for a few weeks as yes we can burn some fat but continual training like this eventually just leads to burn out.

Now this is not to say you shouldn’t restrict calories if you want to exercise, in fact you absolutely do need a calorie deficit but it is to get you to consider exactly which of your goals is more important and fuel accordingly and therefore train accordingly.

Personally I only ask clients to create a calorie deficit of around 20-30% from their maintenance calories with regards to food. Then if they exercise and find themselves increasingly hungry or more tired add in an extra snack of around 100-200 cals and work from there.

With regards to training it makes sense that Bodybuilders in particular tend to do long slow cardio such as walking, as this is much less taxing on the body than HIIT training but can be done for an hour or so to create a calorie deficit of a couple of hundred calories per day on top of the calorie restriction.

If you’re focus is to improve your physical strength and performance then I’m not saying you can’t also lose weight at the same time, but you will have to make your deficit from food much smaller in order to fuel your exercise performance.

You have to really listen to what your body is telling you. If you are training hard on fewer calories and start to feel sluggish, sore and run down you might want to take 1-2 training sessions out per week or focus more on your nutrition and recovery.

If your primary goal is weight loss, then of course move around more, take up some exercise but there is no need to start the training diary of an athlete.

 

Boost Your Immune System

It is now officially cold!

With Winter now in full swing your body is put under extra stress coping with the temperature change meaning your immune system may be struggling to cope. Add that with being surrounded by people sneezing and sniffling their way through coughs and colds means we need to work extra hard to ensure we don’t get struck down with the dreaded winter flu and associated bugs ourselves.

Here are my top tips for a healthy immune system.

 

The first two really simple things that we often forget are getting plenty of sleep and managing your stress levels. These two things on their own can have a huge impact on your immune system so I would start with nailing these two first. During Sleep your body releases Cytokines which are needed to fight infection and inflammation and also help your body combat stress. We also renew our cells and antibodies during sleep which again help our bodies to ward off and combat infection. A lack of sleep therefore means less Cytokines, antibodies and cell renewal to help your body fight infection.

Eat plenty of leafy greens. Dark Green vegetables i.e. kale, spinach and broccoli are rich in iron which helps our body to absorb vitamin C, which most of us know is vital for a strong immune system. So we need to stock up on iron to ensure our body can absorb the nutrients it requires. Also scientists have found that eating leafy greens stimulates the production of an immune cell called innate lymphoid cell. This cell helps in protecting the body from invading pathogens and help with the balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestine.

Oats. Oats are rich in selenium and beta glucans which are nutrients that support your immune system. Oats also help to control healthy bacteria in the intestine which again supports your immune system. And I don’t think there is a better way to start a cold, wintery day than with a bowl of hot porridge and some berries-yum! And I will let you in to a secret……..Ready Brek is totally fine-ssshhh!

Mushrooms.  Mushrooms contain immune boosting polysaccharides including previously mentioned beta glucans which support the immune system, they also have anti vital (again good for immunity) and anti cancer properties. Add them to soups, casseroles etc.

Yoghurt and Kefir. Your digestive tract contains around 60 percent of your immune systems cells. This makes it extra important to maintain a healthy gut. Including fermented foods in your diet like natural yoghurt (the plain stuff that doesn’t need an ingredients list!) and kefir can help to maintain a healthy bacteria which helps to decrease the number of harmful bacteria and stimulate immune cell production.  Try having some natural yoghurt and fruit for breakfast or as a dessert.

Orange fruit and vegetables. Butternut Squash, Sweet potato, Carrots, Oranges etc. Orange flesh fruit and vegetables are jam packed with carotenoids, vitamin A and C all essential for immune function. Vitamin A also has anti viral properties and is vital in supporting the cells of the skin, gastrointestinal tract and lungs – your main barriers against invaders.

Citrus Fruits. Citrus Fruits are packed with vitamin C, which makes immune cells stronger and helps the immune system identify and attack invaders. It also helps make interfon (please say this in a superhero style voice!) which is part of your bodys natural defence system enabling you to fight off infection. You should try to up your intake of these through winter as high levels can seriously help to prevent flu. Other good sources include berries, kiwi and red peppers.

Salmon and other Oily Fish. Oily fish contain essential fatty acids which among other things maintain the cells in your gut.  Also, research from the Michigan state university found that omega 3 docosahexaenoic (say that after a drink!) acid increases activity of immune cells specifically white blood cells (the important ones for immunity).  Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D which is again essential in maintaining optimum immunity.

 

Nuts and Seeds. These have many benefits but particularly relevant is the Vitamin E Content.  This anti oxidant protects our fatty tissues and cell membranes from damage whilst fighting infections. Add a handful of sunflower seeds to your porridge or snack on a handful of almonds mid afternoon.

Garlic. Garlic is anti bacterial, anti viral, anti fungal …..and anti social! For optimum immune boosting power garlic should be fresh and crushed  which helps to convert the active chemical allicin to its active form. Add it to soups, stir fries or anything else you fancy (garlic bread does not count-unless you make the entire thing including bread from scratch, in which case I guess we can let it slide)

Coconut Oil. Coconut Oil is a healthy saturated fat which contains monolaurin made from lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride which has been widely researched for its anti microbial and anti fungal properties. Anyone who knows me knows I pipe on about this stuff all the time stating that it is just magic! From my own experience when I worked in an office I used to come down with every cough and cold going until I started putting a spoon of this in my porridge. I became superhuman (well almost) and managed whole winters without a sniffle. It is also very rare for me these days to be struck down by flu considering the amount of training, time outdoors getting drenched, muddy and being surrounded by ill people I do. You can get it in health food shops  and quite often the supermarket these days.

 

And if you do get struck down, Research has also shown that taking Zinc within 24 hours of the onset of a cold can lessen the severity.

Also take 1000mg of vitamin C 4-5+ times per day and your symptoms will clear up much faster-trust me I’ve tried this and my cold ran screaming within a day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Training Through Injury

This issue has come up a few times over the last couple of weeks. Both in a podcast I was listening to from a Physio talking about runners and with a couple of clients.

 

Training with an injury is a common problem, particularly for people who train alot.

 

It is also an issue I discuss with people who have chronic pain injuries and those recovering from surgery.

 

Sometimes exercise hurts a bit and that’s ok.

 

To be honest if I didn’t train everytime a bit of me hurt I would never train!

 

There are of course some instances when your body needs to rest. If it is an acute injury i.e you have just fallen over and your ankle hurts and there is swelling then yes don’t go out for a 10 mile run on it-but you could still train your upper body!

 

If it is an acute injury, perhaps you’re already seeing a Physio for treatment then instead of becoming a couch potato for a few months, look at exercises you can do. Maybe you can switch to machines and non weight bearing, or just training other body parts than the affected area. This keeps up the exercise habit and also makes it easier to get going again when you are ready as the rest of your body is still capable of playing a supporting role.

 

Those little niggly aches, pains and tweaks, the ones that you notice but they don’t stop you in your tracks, in most instances it’s fine and most probably beneficial to at least do some gentle exercise. I tend to suggest starting and if after 20 mins the pain has gotten significantly worse then stop and get it looked at by a Physio.I reckon most of the time it will have gone away.

 

Chronic pain Science has shown time and time again the benefit of exercise, in particular strength training but if you aren’t up to that yet start with walking, Pilates etc and build up to it.

 

For those post surgery I’m going to be brutally honest-for a bit exercise is going to hurt a little bit at first. It’s the same thing as already being a good runner and then one day going for a cycle-it hurts because your muscles aren’t used to it. Post surgery there will be a lot of scar tissue and muscle atrophy (weakness) and it will therefore take a little time for your muscles to get back into the exercise game. Start steady but don’t be put off because it is uncomfortable, it’s completely normal but if you persist it will get easier-and probably quicker than you think.

 

Finally if you really think walking or Pilates is out of the question…..there are very few things that can stop you from Swimming or in fact walking in water so no excuses!

 

Glute Gains

Bums are seriously big news at the moment. It started with J Lo, then Beyonce and then it went crazy with Nikki Minaj and the Kardashians.

I think the celebration of a shapely derriere is a good thing-not just because of course they look great in those skinny jeans (lads) but because a strong set of glutes can help to ward off back, hip and knee pain and being the biggest muscle in the body burns a lot of calories when you train it.

The problem is of course that we tend to spend a lot of time just sitting on them and they don’t always get a huge amount of work just walking around.

So lets get to building that bum like Beyonce whether you want it for injury rehab/prevention reasons or just so the person behind you can bounce a ball off it.

My first super easy life hack to help is to always go up the stairs two at a time. I promise you just doing that a couple of times per day as and when you climb stairs will start to add up-and you get up the stairs faster.

For some serious reshaping though they are going to need some work.

10 reps x 4 sets.

 

Can be done with weights or without.

Bridge Half Lifts

Hyper extension

Kneeling Squat

Sumo Squat

 

Are You In A Funk?

Are you in a bit of a workout funk?

Maybe over the summer you spent more time exercising outside and now you are back in the gym you’ve kind of lost your enthusiasm.

Well, I like to tackle this a couple of ways.

  1. Keep your workouts short. If you only know you need to do 30mins then it doesn’t seem so daunting.
  2. Keep it really simple. There’s no need for a split body part, high days, low days 6 days per week if you really aren’t even feeling like turning up at all.

Short, doesn’t have to mean HIIT training. Just doing 30 mins gentle job or cycle or a simple circuit of exercises to target a couple of body parts just a couple of days a week will be enough to at least keep you in the habit and feeling fairly fit and hopefully help to bring back your motivation long term.

I particularly like to keep it simple. Although of course there is a place for some of the more adventurous workouts, I do find it really off putting to do a workout that requires setting up lots of equipment etc. when I’m short on time. So instead I pick a couple of more bang for your buck exercises using easy to access equipment such as machines, dumbbells or kettlebells.

Here’s a couple of workouts you could try to help you get back into your routine.

10 x 4

Squat (Bodyweight, Hold a Dumbbell/Kettlebell, Use a Barbell)

Lat Pull down-Machine

Reverse Lunge (off a box if you have one nearby)Hold a weight if you want to.

Chest Press-Dumbbell or Bar

Plank-1min

Side Plank Dips

 

2.

4 Turkish Get Ups (2 each side)

10 Kettlebell Swings

10 Mountain Climbers

X 5

Up Your Energy Levels

We all rely on Caffeine-me included and of course carbs and sugar (guilty again!) but is there a better to way to sustain our energy levels.

Not just in the get more sleep and exercise way, but day to day how can we remain bright and perky all day without resorting to quick fixes.

First up and in my opinion the most over looked and important one.

Stay hydrated. Tea and Coffee don’t count! Just plain old water but also herbal teas and sugar free squash count too. I am obsessed with Herbal tea! Peppermint and Liquorice, Chai and Spearmint are my current faves.

Take supplements.-Adaptagens such as Maca powder or Ginseng can help –You can have it as a tea or blend it into smoothies or porridge.

Magnesium, although commonly used to calm nerves and muscles can have an effect on energy levels as it has an effect on your circadian rhythm (body clock) meaning adequate Magnesium aids deep sleep quality. Magnesium is commonly depleted from high caffeine intakes so if you are a regular caffeine adding topping up your magnesium might help. It is available as a supplement in a spray, bath salt or it is found in dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach, kale) and in nuts.

Vitamin B6 and B12 are very often deficient in those with low energy levels. If you are really struggling taking a Vitamin containing both of these should help.

If you have got some serious tired, brain fog going on, I find either going outside if it’s possible even just for 10 mins or doing just 10 mins of mindfulness or meditation can help to clear your head to press back on with that to do list.