Plan for a Healthy Christmas

December is here which means it’s officially Christmas. 

I know plenty of people that will have decided they may as well scrap any sense of healthy eating and exercise now and start again in January. You’re not those people though are you? 

I know you’ve got loads of socialising to do, there’s mince pies and quality street in every office up and down the land so it feels impossible to have any semblance of a healthy lifestyle.

I’m not suggesting you avoid the whole thing in a bid to stay healthy but I am suggesting you at least try and add an element of balance into negotiating the festive period.

Firstly, stick to an exercise habit. It doesn’t have to be your full regular training schedule if some of it clashes with social events; but trying to maintain at least a couple of gym sessions or a short morning run or lunch time walk will actually help to keep your energy levels up for the extra partying you’ve got to do-as well as helping to keep you in shape for those sparkly outfits lads….

Get your diary out now and put in your exercise sessions, taking into account social events, hangovers the next day etc and you might be surprised at how easy it is to fit in 2-3 sessions across the week with a bit of planning, even if it’s just a walk.

Ok, whilst I can’t banish all those treats from your office I can help you plan how to manage them. Back in my office days I got around this by insisting my secretary did all of the coffee making so I didn’t have to go near the treats,  Obviously this showed no regard for my secretary’s health but it s every woman for herself! This of course is not a viable solution…….

Firstly make sure you have your own healthy meals and snacks with you so you aren’t reaching for the chocolate because you’re hungry. Secondly be realistic, you aren’t going to abstain completely but you can limit yourself to one treat per day. So maybe one mince pie or a couple of celebrations instead of your usual afternoon snack is a good way of a having a treat without it being a month long blow out.

Then there’s the alcohol conundrum. Now this stuff appears to be the only advice anyone ever takes on board from me so here goes!

Unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that alcohol has a high calorie content. You can switch to light beer, low alcohol wine but let’s be honest it doesn’t usually taste as good! So, just try not to have a month long drinking session, have some days off and save your drinking for your socialising not just for your regular Tuesday.

Here’s a couple of top picks though if you do want to watch your calories.

 

Champagne-90 cals a glass = winner! Basically fizzy wine tends to be lower calories than other wine so that’s essentially permission to pop corks.

 

Spirts such as Gin, Vodka and Whisky have a calorie content of around 100 calories, it’s the mixers that add calories so stick to diet mixers or soda water and you’re saving hundreds of calories. The supermodels current drink of choice is Vodka, lime and Soda so of its good enough for them…..

 

I’m imagining you’ve all stopped reading now as you’re already on route to the bar…..

 

Save your Shoulders

I often get people coming to see me with shoulder pain.

Sometimes just the upper back tension kind-usually as a result of being in a hunched position all day. This can cause muscles to become weak and unable to do their job properly. It can also cause overuse injuries of some of the shoulder muscles in particular the upper trapezius. 

I also deal with more mechanical problems with shoulder pain such as only pain when lifting over head or to the side. 

Firstly there are a couple of nerves in this region that if being pinched can cause pain. Median nerve and Ulna Nerve originate in the neck and run down the arm -so they can also be responsible for elbow and wrist pain. Nerves can get pinched by muscle tension, being in a static position for lengths of time or overuse and underuse injuries.

There is also the problem of the small space under the Acromial Clavicular joint. This joint is the bony bit on the tip of your shoulder just above your arm. The Shoulder muscles and a tendon bursa pass under here and if they get inflamed they can struggle for space trying to pass under here.

The risk of these common issues can be minimised by doing some “pre hab” to keep your shoulders moving well.

Here a couple of simple exercises, one no equipment at all; the others just a resistance band.

Firstly release the shoulders with scapula retraction.

Then open the chest and shoulders with up and overs.

Activate the chest and shoulders with band pull aparts.

Finally switch on the scapula stabiliser muscles with dumb waiters.

Yoga for Sports

Last week I talked about the benefits of Pilates so this week I want to look at Yoga, Many people assume they are the same but they are in fact very different. 

 

Yoga tends to focus more on relaxation and lengthening of muscles however there are so many different kinds of yoga and not all of them strictly follow this brief.

 

I teach Sports Yoga which is essentially adapting yoga to assist and complement the demands of any particular sport.

 

This means it will focus on lengthening muscles that may get tight/shortened and strengthening muscles that will aid performance.

 

Yoga is great for improving general movement and balance throughout the body whether geared towards your sport or not. A common theme of most sports is they will follow a repetitive pattern which over time causes over use of some muscles and in turn under use of others. Unfortunately this is bad news for the overall function of your body, so it is really important to try and re address the balance to give yourself the best chance of avoiding injury.

 

You don’t need to spend hours doing yoga for it to be effective, just doing a few minutes a couple of times per week is enough to iron out all those kinks.

 

Here’s a short flow you can do in less than 10 minutes keep you in tip top balance.

Pilates for Athletes

Now you’re probably taking more of your training sessions indoors it might be time to change things up a little. As I’ve previously mentioned now is a good time to address injury niggles, muscle imbalances etc. So they that are not going to stop you hitting your PB in 2020.

Enter Pilates.

Joseph Pilates developed his method of exercise after working in hospital rehabilitating soldiers during the war. The system was then taken on by dancers to reduce injuries and thus followed studios and the gaining popularity that it has today. 

So why Pilates? In short Pilates builds balanced bodies.

It can be used to correct postural imbalances and/or poor posture which in turn can help to prevent injury. That’s why athletes have been using it for years, most famously Andy Murray uses it as part of his training regime.

It can be used to address overuse of certain patterns by encouraging you to perform more rounded movement patterns that create balance throughout the body. For example if you’re sport is one side dominant like racquet sports spending some time moving the body symmetrically can undo any potential repetitive strain injury.

It can be used to address your particular injury issues such as hip and back pain, shoulder tension or foot pain.

It can be used to compliment your existing training as a lower impact option whilst still training muscles required for your sport.

For example Pilates works a lot of the deep core muscles which provide a solid base from which to emit power such as throwing a ball, swinging a golf club etc or to remain stable whilst other limbs work which is vital for runners,swimmers , horse riders.

It can also Increase flexibility which in turn can aid in injury prevention.

Many of the exercises require coordination and body awareness which will improve aspects of most sports.

Pilates also works on breathing technique, which can be useful for weight training sessions, during long training sessions and in downtime to help calm the mind.

So here are a couple of exercises to work breathing, coordination and your core. Remember technique is key-5 good ones is better than 10 rubbish ones.

 

Toe Drop and Dead Bug

Teaser

Bridge March

 

Boost your Immunity

I’ve already started to become surrounded by coughs and colds. Everywhere I go someone is complaining of sneezing, coughing etc usually stating it’s that time of year…..

 

According to statistics most of us get between 4 and 6 colds a year! 

 

This is not helped by the trend of presenteeism in the office I.e. people turning up to cough and splutter their way through the day kindly sharing their germs with you, then there’s air conditioning, usually extra heating and the windows closed to really help lock those germs in and circulate them.

 

If you did not spend your youth building a robust immune system (read:being covered in mud and horse p&&) like I did then you’re going to need some extra help to make it through sniffle free. 

 

  • Firstly eating a balanced diet full of varied vegetables and fruit can ensure your body is getting a good range of nutrients. It has been shown that diets high in Salt, Sugar and Fat reduce white blood cells. Your white blood cells are basically your bug fighters so it’s extra important to keep 80% of your diet as Fruit, Vegetables and Lean protein at this time of year. It is also a good idea to back this up with a multivitamin.
  • Vitamin D is vital for immunity but we get less at this time of year due to the lack of sunlight, so to give your immune system a boost as well as maintain bone health a Vitamin D supplement should be a winter staple.

 

  • Over training. If you have a heavy training schedule it can take its toll, making it harder for your body to fend off illness. If you’re feeling a little run down or burnt out from your training it’s best to take a step back before you get ill and have to stop altogether. Basically adding in an extra rest day might just save you having to spend a week in bed further down the line.

 

  • Sleep. This is similar to the over training, your body needs adequate rest to repair and regenerate. If you aren’t getting adequate sleep it’s going to suffer. Try to prioritise sleep like you would training sessions or important work deadlines-make time to get 6-8 hours in as much as you can.

 

  • Manage your stress levels. When you are stressed you have raised levels of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol suppresses your immune system, which is fine on a very short term basis but when stress is prolonged this of course leaves you open to infection and being wiped out trying to fight it. I know life is kind of stressful by its nature but we should priories trying to minimise it’s effects. If you can, go out at lunchtime for some fresh air as this will re-oxyegnate your brain and help you feel refreshed. Try to spend some time winding down in the evening so that you sleep well and find ways to mentally recharge every day.

 

Plantar Problems

Heel pain or pain in the arch of the foot is very common amongst both active and sedentary individuals.

 

It is generally an irritation of the plantar fascia/tendon which connects from the Achilles under the heel right up to the toes. There are also potentially bone spurs or nerve entrapments but I’m not going to look at those here. 

 

So what causes the pain? 

It can be caused by various things such as Overuse, age,obesity, hard surfaces, flat feet, high arches, calf tightness. But also it can be multi factorial and there may be more than one issue. 

 

Identifying potential triggers is a good start, it does not necessarily mean you would need to eliminate these triggers just find ways to manage them. As obviously if you spend a lot of time at work standing and that is a trigger, not going to work is not an option! However changing shoes, perhaps doing some stretching throughout day and adding in some strength work could help you manage it.

 

So let’s look at those management options.

 

Firstly footwear. Experiment with different footwear to see which makes it better or worse. Usually footwear with good arch support helps but different types work for different people. 

 

If a change of footwear doesn’t help, Orthotic insoles fitted by a podiatrist can help.

 

Stretching. This can be done a couple of ways. 

 

Putting the foot across the knee, and flexing the ankle whilst pulling the toes toward you stretches the entire bottom of your foot.

 

You can also try rolling the foot on a ball to stretch it out.

 

Stretching the back of the calf both with the knee straight and then bent can help to release the Achilles and therefore the Plantar Fascia.

 

Strengthening exercises include.

 

Heel raises. 

 

Single Leg Deadlift 

 

Squats on toe tips. 

Fitness Testing

How do you know whether you are improving your fitness? 

 

If you do a particular sport you might base it on whether your competition results improve, but surely if you are looking to improve your results you want to know if you’ve improved before you get to the competition?

 

Do you ever assess what your strengths and weaknesses are? What you could have done better at that competition?

 

Why not have an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses and make a dedicated plan to improving on those weaknesses.

 

If you do a particular sport doing a specific fitness test could be a good measure.

 

For example.

 

As a runner you may do a Bleep test (I’m still psychologically scarred by this from school!) or a timed distance run such as 1 mile.

 

A Golfer may look at mobility and stability patterns, or your power output by looking at things such as a Vertical jump test and Seated Medicine Ball throws. 

 

It’s just a matter of looking at your particular sport and ways to test its main requirements.

 

Or maybe you want a look at your movement as a whole, in which case I offer Biomechanics and movement assessments that can do just that! We can have a look at restrictions, instability and “funky” movement patterns that may be hindering your performance. 

Perfect Programming

Now we are officially into “off season” for most people maybe you’re looking to spend more time in the gym but not sure what kind of training you should be doing. Or you have a standard routine you follow and aren’t sure how to take it up a level?

 

Programming follows some general principles.

 

The first step should always be  Muscular Endurance and Hypertrophy ( which is muscle building FYI). This will be a period of lifting moderately heavy weights for 10-12 reps x 3-4 rounds.

 

 Your previous training experience and long term goals will determine how long you spend in this phase. If you are new to training your endurance phase may last 8-12 weeks. If you want to focus on building bigger muscles your Hypertrophy phase may be extended.

 

If you are a more experienced exerciser the endurance/Hypertrophy phase may only last 4-6 weeks. 

 

Then once you’ve built a base of conditioning you move on to a pure Strength phase. This is when the weights get heavy, the reps get lower with longer rest periods between. For example you may squat heavy for 5 reps rest for 2-3 mins and repeat for 5 rounds. The last couple of reps of each round should feel really tough. Again depending on your long term goals this may be a short phase of 6 weeks or maybe 12 weeks or longer if getting seriously strong is a major goal of yours.

 

Then you move on to a Power phase -which is essentially strength at speed. Think weighted sled pulls/pushes, heavy weight quick fire exercises such as Kettlebell swings, Snatch, Clean and Press. The sets and reps are similar to the strength phase but the weights a little lighter as the aim is to move them faster. They should still be heavy so the last couple of reps are tough but you should be able to move them pretty quick without losing form.

 

Depending on your 2020 Goals you should find this takes you up to where you’ll want to get back into your sports specific training.

 

In terms of exercises there are obviously hundreds of them but sticking with the basic compound moves of Squat, Deadlift, Lunge, Bench Press/Press up, Pull up, Bent Over Row and Over Head Press is a good start. You can then vary from there depending on your needs such as single leg/single arm or add in accessory work for your own individual weaknesses such as glutes, hamstrings or arms etc.

 

I know this can sound a little daunting and yes there are loads of ways things can be varied and manipulated to mix things up, suit individual circumstances etc. But if you’re new to this and not working with a coach the best thing you can do is just keep it simple and keep it consistent. 

 

React Fast

If you play a team sport you may be familiar with reaction training. Basically it’s training to react to situations quickly and continue play. 

For example in hockey or football you need to be alert as to where the ball is going, other players etc which could mean you have to stop and change direction quickly and frequently at speed. Being able to do this firstly makes you a better player but also having trained your body to do this means it is less prone to injury in this situation.

I also had a think about whether reaction training would apply to more solitary sports such as running or cycling and I believe the answer is yes. If you run off road then you constantly need to adapt to the ground underneath you, and if you’re a cyclist the terrain, other cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles could be moving around you that you may need to react to.

There are various ways in which sports teams add this into their training.

Here are a couple of simple ways you can help train your fast reactions.

  • Reaction ball-These little bouncy balls are odd shaped and when you bounce them on the floor they fire off in any direction meaning you have to react fast to catch it! 
  • Using a timer set it for say 20/30 secs then put it somewhere you can hear it but not see it. Sprint as fast as you can, then when the buzzer goes stop dead and change direction.

 

Move Your Core

No matter what your sport in fact just for general day to day life a well functioning core will make things a lot easier.

A stable middle supports your spine so can help to prevent back pain, in terms of sports performance being able to maintain a good position whether that is running, cycling, golf etc. Makes you a more efficient athlete. This means you can spend more energy on power and speed rather than just holding yourself up. 

In terms of core training I imagine the first thing that comes to mind is Plank which is a great start but ask yourself how often you use your core in a completely static position? I’d say 9/10 you are also moving at least one limb.

So it makes sense to train your core whilst moving a limb too!

Here’s some variations of plank that require some limb movement too.

Mountain Climber.

Not the fast high bum ones often seen as bootcamp but maintaining a flat back, hips staying low bring alternate knees to the elbow. Done slow this is purely core, done fast maintaining form this is also a great running drill.

T Plank.

This also challenges your shoulder stability. The aim is to go from a solid plank to a straight diagonal line side plank dip all under control……

Opposite Arm and Leg lift.

This can be done either by lifting the arm and leg to the side or by lifting them straight up. You want your torso to stay as still as possible without too much tipping and of course keeping a flat back.