How to stay healthy while travelling

As many of you might be aware, I have recently moved back to Melbourne from London. I spent 4 years in London and did lots of travel. Early in my travels,  I struggled at times with staying fit and healthy.  Often when travelling we are trying new foods and drinking more than usual and out of our normal exercise routine and habits. As I traveled more and more,  I began to get into a better groove with staying healthy while travelling and started to compile a list of tips. Things that I could do that were easy to fit into my day to improve fitness and health. 

1) Walk

Instead of taking public transport, use the opportunity and the fact you have time on your side to walk between attractions, take a walk along the river or around a lake. Often when walking around a city, we tend to stumble across shops, cafes or a pop up exhibition we may not have seen if we were on a train. 

2) Try a walking tour

Free walking tours are offered in nearly every city I have been to around Europe. It's an active way to learn about the history of a city and to also fit in some exercise. One of the best walking tours I did in Europe was in Berlin. 

3) Try a city bike tour or Hire a Bike

In Madrid a couple of years ago, I did a city bike tour and learnt all about the history of Madrid while on a bike. It got my heart rate up at times and was my way of fitting exercise into my day plus a quicker way to get around, which meant we were able to see more of the city. 

In London, there are Boris bikes, you can hire for 2 pounds for 24 hours, you can ride around the city. You will need to dock your bike every 30 minutes to avoid paying extra, but it's the perfect way to explore and exercise at the same time. 

Melbourne also has a bike share option where you can hire a bike and ride round the city from $3 a day with unlimited 30 minute rides. 

4) Take the stairs

Try and take the stairs whenever you get the opportunity. It's awesome cardiovascular exercise as well as a good way to get your butt muscles working. Squeeze your glutes every time you take a step.

5) Drink lots of water

Buy a 1.5-2 kg bottle of water at the start of each day and aim to finish it by the end of the day. You can add some slices of lemon or lime to your water which adds a bit more excitement and the lemon helps with cleansing your gut. 

6) Herbal tea

Herbal tea is great for improving digestion, especially if you are eating foods that might be new to your body. A cup of lemon and ginger or peppermint tea can really help. Try this first thing in the morning and in the evening before bed. My friends will vouch for this, but when ever I travel, I take an array of different flavours of tea with me, herbal, black and of course my favourite, chai. This saves you money and if you carry a small thermal insulated cup with you, you can take it with you when exploring to save money on buying cups of tea.  My favourite brand is Pukka

7) Outdoors activities

There are many outdoor activities you can try whether you are in a city or a country town. Some ideas include; day trips to national parks, rafting, canoeing, hiking, skiing, stand up paddle boarding, indoor rock climbing and ice skating in the winter. I'm sure there are many more, but think about using this time to try something new! I remember in Switzerland, I went paragliding and it was such an amazing experience, As someone who is scared of heights, I conquered my fear and did it.

So, I hope you have been inspired to stay active while travelling!

I would love to hear some of your tips and ideas too! Comment Below.

Samantha 

 

How to do a cat stretch properly

The cat stretch is a common exercise performed in nearly ever pilates and yoga class as a way to improve your spinal mobility/movement. It's a great exercise to increase awareness of your spinal movements and aims to improve disassociation between the thoracic ( upper ) and lumbar ( lower )  spine.

I often see people doing it incorrectly and moving too much through their bendy parts of the spine that ultimately need more control and not enough through their stiff parts of their spine that need more movement.

Usually we see people with stiff thoracic spines from sitting all day and bendy segments in their lumbar spine. This is a generalisation but one that speaks true to many people.

I am going to talk you through how to do a cat stretch with the aim of loosening your thoracic spine and stabilising/gently stretching your lumbar spine.

THE CAT STRETCH

Starting position:

Position yourself on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and knees under the hips. Your head should look down between the hands. 

Action:

Step 1- The Curl

  • Inhale to prepare, exhale and start to round the lower back. Tuck your bottom in and work your way up the spine, flexing the mid back and then upper back.
  • Press up through the hands and tuck your chin. Gaze between the knees.
  • Gently engage the lower abdominal muscle to achieve a greater tuck of the bottom. 
  • Relax the shoulders from the ears. 
  • Inhale at the top.
THE CURL

THE CURL

Step 2: The Arch

  • As you exhale, slowly roll the hips forwards, stick your bottom out and feel each joint of your lumbar and then thoracic spine arch.
  • Your head will lift and will gaze just in front of the finger tips
THE ARCH

THE ARCH

IMPORTANT TIPS:

  • Control the arch of your lower back so you don't sink right down
  • Increase the arch in the upper back by sliding the shoulder blades gently down and together.
  • As your head lifts, make sure to stop half way, rather then lifting the head all the way.

You can repeat 10-15 times in the morning and evening.

It is totally normal to feel stiffness and tightness in the back and along the back muscles (Erector spinae and Latissimus Dorsi) . This should improve as you start to work on your spinal mobility. However, If you experience any sharper pains, please stop and consult your physiotherapist :)

 

 

My Class pass Experience- A brilliant way to explore the exercise venues in your city.

What is Class Pass?

Class pass is an online network of fitness studios that offer a variety of classes from yoga, pilates and barre to Hiit and spin. Monthly memberships are offered and they often have great sign up deals. Class Pass is available in the USA, UK and from late last year Australia!!

I stumbled on an ad on Facebook which gave me unlimited classes usually work £110 for £30. I decided to give it a go and set myself a challenge of doing a class a day for a month. These classes are usually £20 each so this was a massive saving. 

The beauty of Class Pass is that you can try out different studios and types of classes without being locked into one studio. I managed to do a class everyday and really saw a transformation in my strength and body. 

Here are a list of the classes I went to:

1. Swift fitness  - Clapham Common- Outdoor bootcamp session

HIIT style, 1 hour. This class focused on abs, upper body and sprints. This was an intermediate level and awareness of your own technique is helpful. Really enjoyable and definitely got my sweat on! ( 5 in my class)

2. Evolve 353 - Fulham

Sculpt class

55 minute HIIT class with dumbbells, kettlebells and TRX, run by Ashton. Lots of cues given re: technique and personalised assistance. ( 7 in my class)

Ignite Class

55 minute class  which focused on plyometrics, bike sprints, row sprints,  battle ropes and abdominals.  

Ashton and David at Evolve 353 are great at the warm up and cool down, working on hip mobility and gluteal activation exercises. They are also great at correcting technique. This is one of my favourite personal training studios in London. 

3. Barrecore MIXED - Kensington and Chelsea

This was an hour class which works on toning the gluteals, upper body and abdominals. This class uses a few props and the ballet bar. I really enjoyed this class it was challenging but also achievable. The teacher was great and came round and made corrections in spinal alignment and positioning. This was an intermediate level and I would recommend to people without injuries. This was the first time I had tried barre and it became one of my favourite exercise classes. 

Battersea Yoga- Battersea- Dynamic Hatha Yoga 

I woke up very early for this class and made it to the 8am class on a Sunday morning. The Battersea yoga studio is down a little alley way really close to the sun gate of Battersea park. It is a very relaxing studio, with a big floor space and has a calming feel! The instructor Ben was great and the class was a medium paced flowing yoga class. The class had a focus on hip mobility and endurance. I also enjoyed the abdominal component which I feel is missed from most yoga classes.  We performed abdominal work in V, tabletop and 4 point kneel. It was such a great start to a Sunday and I would definitely recommend- intermediate level with previous yoga experience is beneficial. 

Lomax- Chelsea- Blast class ( Theodora)

One of the first HIIT strength classes I went to was at Lomax on a Monday morning. It was an hour long and consisted of 4 circuits with 2 exercises in each 1 min each round ( 3 rounds per circuit). We used dumbells, TRX, medicine ball and BOSU and the emphasis was on strength and high intensity. I definitely built up a sweat in this class and would recommend to anyone who wants to push themselves further. A Great space with great facilities, although only 2 showers. The instructor was great and came round to encourage and push you to your limit

 Lomax - Chelsea- Fight club ( Will)

A one hour class incorporated boxing technique and practice in addition to lower limb and abdominal strength. Great for an intermediate level. The instructor was great with injuries and gave other options. 

Bootcamp Pilates - Fulham- Express 45 (Sam)

I did  this class on another Monday morning and it was an express 45 minute class. We did a whole session on abdominals which was ideal for me,  as i was heading to Croatia the week after so wanted  to work lots on abs. There were just two of us in the class. We worked at an intermediate to advanced level- lots of plank work and balance. Less technique specific and more of a great/tough workout. The name says it all at this pilates studio. 

Absolute Pilates- Parsons Green- intermediate pilates (Kate)

This was an hour session, we focused lots on technique. It was a great choice as a lunch time class, as it was technique driven and didn't build up a big sweat. My only grievance was that we only worked in a few positions and I thought this class could have been more varied, but I still enjoyed it. Great for beginner level. 

Boom Cycle ( Holborn )

I found myself one afternoon in Holborn as I had a hair appointment in the afternoon, so I decided to take a spin class. I chose Boom cycle. They have many studios around London. I did the 30 minute class. It was a very uplifting and fast paced class. We also stopped half way and did some upper limb weights.. This class is for anyone that wants to work hard, it is not technique specific nor rpm focused but was a great class for stress relief and to just go for it!

Paola's Body Barre- TRX core

This was a 1 hour TRX and core class at the boutique studio in Fulham. It included a warm up, TRX strength exercises and Core and glute strengthening with therabands. I really enjoyed this class but thought the TRX could have been used more during the class. Great studio with a vibrant and energetic feel. I would definitely return to try one of there Barre classes. 

1Rebel  (Liverpool St)

This was the last class I did as part of my challenge and by far the hardest class I have ever been to. It was a mix of treadmill sprints, weighted exercise and plyometrics. It was fast paced and pushed up to our max. I would say to anyone that wants to challenge themselves to try 1Rebel.  Really great shower and changing facilities with a juice bar upstairs. 

 

My Recommendations:

Lomax (Chelsea)- Great if you want to work hard, small classes and can take at your own pace

Barrecore (High St kensington and Chelsea)- Amazing for toning and isolating muscles- good for low energy/ "rest" days 

Evolve353- Technique focused, small classes and small studios so feels very comfortable 

Battersea Yoga- Worth a visit if you live close by- beautiful studio

1Rebel - you must try this place if you want to work at your max. 

Class Pass was an amazing experience and I think totally worth the price, especially if you are able to go 4-5 times a week.  

I surprised myself and went about 6 times a week! It's a great way to build strength and improve fitness and mental health due to the increase in happy hormones/endorphins.

The other bonus is that it allows you to try out all the exercise studios around your area and work out which are your favourite. You then have the choice of continuing with Class Pass for the variety or joining your favourite studio.

Check out the website for more information. 

 

The importance of a SHRUG and why down and back is not the answer

Many of you might be thinking what this title is related to. For those that have had a shoulder injury or pain this may be more familiar. What I am referring to is the position of your shoulder blades/ scapulae. 

Becoming more aware of your shoulder blade position is important to reduce risk of cervical, thoracic and shoulder pain and to improve upper body posture. We are all told 'to stand up straight' but what does this mean and how do we do it,  are often questions I get asked all the time. Setting the shoulder blades correctly and strengthening your trapezius muscle is the first step to achieving great upper body posture. 

If you have ever done a Pilates class, you may have been cued to slide your shoulder blades down and back along the rib cage. We now know that forcing the shoulder blades down can do more harm than good. Why is this? 

Anatomically, forcing downward rotation reduces the subacrominal space, that the rotator cuff tendons pass through and can cause traction of the neurovascular bundle, as it comes out of the thoracic outlet. Forcing shoulder depression can increase inferior instability and lead to traction of your nerves in particular the brachial plexus.

The picture below shows the scapula in downward rotation. Note the gap between the Acromion and the Humeral head is reduced. 

So what should we do instead?...I say while shrugging.

The two main shoulder blade positions that most people need to work on are:

Upward rotation and posterior tilt.

These two movements should naturally happen when you elevate your arm. If these two movements do not occur, it can lead to shoulder pain. 

The picture below shows a larger gap between the acromion and the humeral head allowing more room for the rotator cuff tendons to pass through. This is the ideal alignment. 

So how do we achieve this improved position?

To work on UPWARD ROTATION: 

One of my favourite exercises is a SHRUG. I first learnt about the shoulder shrug from Lyn Watson, a Physiotherapist who specialises in shoulders from Melbourne, Australia. 

Starting position: Stand up tall with your arms by your side, thumbs pointing forwards or out to the sides. 

Action: Lift the shoulder blade gently up and back on a diagonal. You should feel the muscle at the top of the shoulder, your upper trapezius activate. 

Progressions:

  • Add a small weight, start with 500g,  this can be progressed up to about 2-3 kg.
  • Progress to holding the arm at 30 degrees out to the side and your palm facing forwards. This helps to isolate the upper trapezius due to the orientation of the fibers. 
  • Your upper trapezius muscle is an endurance muscle, so we want to use endurance reps, 3 x 12-15 reps is sufficient once- twice a day. 

HOT TIP: As you perform a shrug, make sure your shoulder blade is moving diagonally back and not coming forwards. You can put your hand on the muscle, feeling the upper trapezius turn on between the base of the neck and the shoulder. 

 

To work on the POSTERIOR TILT:

Starting position: In standing with the arm by your side.

Action:  Think of an opening of the collar bone or a separation of the collar bone at the front. You should feel the shoulder blades sliding back against the rib cage, without drawing down. 

These exercises are perfect for anyone who has rounded shoulders and shoulders that point downward. Anyone who has one shoulder that sits lower than the other or to generally improve shoulder function. 

Please feel free to comment on your experiences and any of your favourite exercises. 

Happy Shrugging 

Sam 

A hike in Mount Fløyen- Bergen, Norway

After finding cheap flights through sky scanner to Bergen in Norway, a group of eight of us decided to take the plunge and go visit this beautiful part of the world. It's not a popular destination for most backpackers but one that should definitely be on everyone's list.

Bergen is a large town but with a small town vibe, surrounded by 7 mountains and the wharf, its a beautiful place to visit.  The food market is to die for! They have everything from fresh berries to delicious salmon. 

We arrived on Friday night and after a late arrival at 3am due to a 3 hour delay, we settled into our airbnb apartment.  We woke up earlyish at about 9am and walked into town and to the tourist information centre. They were really helpful and gave us a booklet of all the walks on Mount Fløyen. Mount Fløyen is the closest mountain to Bergen and is a great idea for a day trip. There are walks ranging from 1.5 hours to 6 hours and graded from easy to hard. 

We took the Fløibanen/ Funicular up the mountain. This was a 2 minute ride and was the starting point for all walks. 

We chose Tour 8 in the booklet, a 7 km hike which would take us about 4 hours and was graded as Moderate. 

We started the walk following the signs to Brushytten. This was a steep walk for about an hour, which definitely got our hearts pumping and warmed us all up. It was initially quite foggy, but slowly started to clear as the day went on. 

We then started to head down hill finally and approached a beautiful lake where we had a lunch stop passing the remains of a second world war battery. 

We continued, walking along side a massive dam. On our way down, the directions then recommended a detour to one of the most magnificent view points in the area. It told us to reach a sign called "Kobbelvedt" and to follow the red way marks through the forest for around 5 minutes where we would see a view of Svartediket lake and South Bergen. 

Somewhere along this path we took the long route and ended up hiking up a mountian for approximately 30 minutes, knowing we had taken a wrong turn at some point, we all kept encouraging each other and felt if we got to the top we would have to start heading down at some point. We finally made it to what we thought was the top and had a food stop with bananas and chocolate bars for energy.

Luckily, a local girl passed us who was hiking this mountain and told us that we were nearly at the top and to keep going up. After our stop, we continued for another 20 minutes and found ourselves in this beautiful forest....the one that was only meant to be 5 minutes away. This was totally worth it.

We finally made it back to the path and finished our hike. 

It was a great day out and I would highly recommend Bergen to anyone who has not been and likes adventure! 

Tips for Hiking

  • Bring a sturdy back pack
  • Pack lots of snacks- bananas, apples, nuts, sandwiches
  • Bring more water then you would expect to drink-2-3 litres is sufficient, depending on the level of your hike and how long you are walking for. 
  • Wear good trainers with good arch support or hiking boots
  • Wear light and breathable clothing ( a couple of my friends got bitten by mosquitoes due to not being covered up) I had long leggings and a light rain coat which was ideal, but still got bitten on my hands and ankles, so insect repellent is not a bad idea. 
  • Stay confident and go with a group. Make sure you have a map and full charge on your phone. 
  • Say hi to everyone you pass. Everyone in Bergen is very friendly.
  • Don't get put off by "crazy" people that are running up the mountain as you are walking up feeling out of breathe. These people live here and must do this everyday ..... that's what I kept telling myself. 

After a long day hiking, you will be in desperate need of a drink! Bergen has some great nightlife which only gets busy at about midnight. This is perfect timing for you to have dinner and some drinks before heading out for a boogie.

Bergen was one of my favourite places for a weekend trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves adventure and is looking for the best fresh salmon they have ever had.

 

 

 

 

The Kings Cross fresh water pond- A great outdoor swim in London

King's Cross Pond Club is a natural bathing pond in London. Its UK's first man-made public bathing pond and is part of the Kings Cross art's programme.  The water is natural and chemical free making it a great place for an outdoor swim in the heart of the city.

I booked a visit for my friend Fiona's Birthday. After all she's from Perth and a previously keen surfer so I thought this would be a great idea. Taking a big risk on London's weather, I booked for Saturday morning. We were booked in for the morning session which is 8-11:30. We arrived early expecting it to be busy, but to our surprise we had the whole pond to ourselves. This may have been due to the weather which was a little cold at about 16 degrees but luckily wasn't raining. The temperature of the water was 19 degrees so rather warm I thought... 

The most amazing part of the pond is that it sits on a slight hill, one part of it is filled with Lillie pads and water plants and the other area is for swimming. The juxtaposition of this fresh water pond surrounded by construction work and buildings was quite funny and we found ourselves laughing at the irony, hoping the construction workers were short sighted and wouldn't be able to see us....

We swam a few laps of the pond and definitely got used to the temperature. We swam for about 45 minutes and then were content to leave. Just in good time for other visitors to join. 

The showers are outside but we were told the shower on the far left was the one with the hottest water. We had a quick hot shower and got changed in the cubicles.  The changing facilities are nothing fancy but they do the job. We brought our own towel which was essential. 

My one recommendation is to wear a swim suit as this gave me more warmth, rather then a bikini. 

There are some great brunch spots around King's Cross, such as Dishoom, Grain Store, Caravan  and The Lighterman, which makes for a perfect morning. 

We went to Grain Store and it was fabulous. Of course being Aussies we both ordered the avocado with eggs and Dukkah on toast which was great.

In summary, it's a great experience but not for the faint hearted. Great to do when its warmer but then it might be a bit busier.. I will definitely be making a return visit possibly when my sister arrives from Melbourne.... Get ready Alanna!  

The King's Cross Pond Club describes the pond as a " beautiful, relaxing and natural space in the centre of an urban environment" and I would definitely agree. 

The Best Thoracic spine stretch for Tennis and Golf

The Wimbledon tennis tournament is fast approaching and as London gears up to watch the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams play at their best, we are motivated to maybe have a hit of tennis ourselves! 

We need to make sure our spines are flexible and ready for the demands of tennis or golf which involve lots of Thoracic extension and rotation. If you're like most people in London or for that matter anywhere in the world, you sit lots through the day and may have lost these two movements... after all... " If you don't use it,  you lose it." so, not only is it important for athletes but also for anyone who sits all day in a flexed posture or who generally has a slouched posture when standing. 

Firstly, Where is your Thoracic spine? 

Your upper back is your Thoracic spine, It is from the base of the neck T1 all the way down to approximately the bottom of the rib cage T12. The Thoracic spine can flex and extend, rotate side to side and laterally flex (side bend). Often when we lose this range of movement, it can affect the joints above or below leading to compensations in the Cervical spine, Glenohumeral (shoulder) joint or Lumbar spine. There is a common phrase that says your body will always take the path of LEAST resistance, so if your upper back is stiff, then you will often have to get movement from another joint. Depending on your job, sport or recreational activities, this is usually  the shoulder, neck or lumbar spine that can be overloaded. 

How can your Thoracic spine lose movement?

Sitting is a big problem as the Thoracic spine is usually in flexion or rounded and therefore as we sit for longer periods, we start to lose Thoracic extension. Cycling is a common sport that can lead to stiffness into extension and we often have cyclists present to our clinic with neck pain due to this restriction.  

Not only is it common to lose thoracic extension, but this is often accompanied by a loss of thoracic rotation. Most people if right handed will tend to slightly rotate there body to the right when sitting. So usually we see a loss of rotation to the left. This is the opposite for lefties. 

Why not test yourself... in sitting, cross the arms over the chest and rotate to each side. Which side is stiffer for you? 

How can you correct this difference....? 

My favourite Thoracic extension/ rotation stretch is ARM OPENINGS

LEVEL 1:

Starting position: Lie on your side, head supported by a pillow or head rest, arms out in front at shoulder height, shoulder blades relaxed back on the rib cage. Knees stacked and bottom back so that it is behind the level of the shoulders.

 

 

 

 

Action: Inhale, lift the top arm up keeping it straight till it is vertical. Exhale, slide the shoulder blade back against the rib cage and rotate, feeling the rib cage twist round

 

 

 

 

 

LEVEL 2:  Put your top knee on the foam roller 

Action: Keep the knee heavy on the foam roller as you twist round.

This helps to stabilise your lower back and isolate the twist to the upper back. 

 

 

LEVEL 3: Put your top knee on the ground.

Action: Keep the top knee on the ground as you rotate. You can put your bottom hand on top of the knee to push it down. This will maximise the stretch in your thoracic spine 

 

 

This is a a great exercise for any one who needs to improve there upper back posture, especially for those that sit for long periods, cyclists or for tennis and golfers who need that bit extra extension and rotation. As I said at the start, the body will move through the path of least resistance, so in order to stop rotating through the lumbar spine, you need to increase rotation through the thoracic spine to create a new path for the body to move through!

I would love to hear from you regarding any of your favourite thoracic stretches. 

Sam 

 

 

 

 

Five areas of the Body to align in pilates and when exercising

 

1. Head position

Your head position is important to think about when exercising as it dictates the strain that is going through your neck and helps you to use your deep neck flexors.  For people who suffer from neck or upper back pain this is a BIG one and should always be given consideration. If lying on your back, gently tuck the chin in to elongate the back of the neck. If in sitting or standing, open the rib cage and spread the collarbones, gently tucking the chin in to elongate the spine. 

In the head down generation that we live in with people constantly looking at their phones, this puts excess strain on the lower cervical spine. When stationary or moving, think about your head position, the ears should be directly over the shoulders, the back of the neck elongates and the chin tucks in.  

 

 

2. Scapula

The scapulae are your shoulder blades and should always sit in a degree of upward rotation and posterior tilt. Most people tend to round their shoulder blades, this forces the shoulder blades generally into downward rotation and anterior tilt. 

To set the shoulder blades, open the collar bones and feel the shoulder blades set back onto the rib cage. If your shoulders have dropped, think of a gentle lift as you do this. This will fire up your upper trapezius muscles. 

 

3.  Rib cage

Your rib cage is important as it dictates the load going through the spine. This is important for people who have thoraco-lumbar spinal pain ( lower thoracic pain) or generally to help with abdominal activation.  There are two main ways the rib cage can sit; depression and elevation.

People who have a "depressed " rib cage tend to have a thoracic kyphosis or curved upper back. In order to correct this, lift the rib cage up and open the collar bones.

People who have an elevated rib cage, tend to be in too much extension. In order to correct this, relax the rib cage down and then open the collarbones without changing your rib cage position. 

 

4. Pelvis

Your pelvis is a bony ring that sits at the centre of your body and the position of your pelvis dictates the load going through your lumbar spine and how active your abdominal muscles are. 

The pelvis can either sit in anterior or posterior tilt. To position your pelvis correctly, you must find its neutral position, In lying, sitting or standing, roll the hips forwards and backwards and then settle the pelvis in the middle position. You should feel your lower abdominal's gently turn on to hold this position. 

 

5. Feet

Often we tend to forget about our feet especially in London when they are always stuck in socks and shoes. 

In sitting, your feet should be on the floor, hip width apart and directly underneath your knees. You should feel even weight through both feet and sitting bones. 

When standing, a lot of people I see tend to stand with weight through one leg more than the other and/or with weight through there toes in a hip sway ( this is a big one).. 

The main points for standing: 

  • Both feet face forwards
  • Your weight distribution should be equal through both feet and through the mid foot rather than the toes. 
  • Think of a lift of the medial (inside) arches without lifting the big toe off the floor. 
  • Grow tall and engage the lower abdominal muscles. Stand with purpose and open the collar bones. 

Being aware of these five areas of your body is the start to preventing injury when exercising and encouraging your postural muscles to start turning on automatically. 

 

 

 

 

 

How to activate your Lower Abdominal Muscles

Transverse Abdominis or as some people say TA is one of your lower abdominal muscles. It is the fourth deepest layer, a postural muscle and essentially acts like a natural corset, which means it helps to stabilise your lumbar spine. The ability to isolate this muscle and then switch it on early and in conjunction with your other abdominal muscles ( Rectus Abdominis, Internal and External obliques) and pelvic floor is important if you suffer from lower back, pelvic or even hip pain. It's also great for people who generally want to improve their deep abdominal strength leading to improved lumbo/pelvic stability, great for sports such as running, cycling and dance. 

The best exercise to isolate your lower abdominal muscles is table top. If you have done a Pilates class you will have definitely done lots of work in this position and hopefully felt your abdominals working. The most common complaint I hear is feeling the lower back or hip flexors rather then the abdominals. I am going to talk you through how to find this position so that your abdominals are engaging and variations to this position to increase the difficulty of the exercise and challenge your core. 

How to begin? If you're at home reading this, feel free to try this as I talk you through step by step. 

Table Top

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Feet are hip width apart and arms are by your side.

  1. Find your neutral spine. This is the position of your spine where you have a very small arch in your lower back.  Put your hands on your pelvis and roll the pelvis forwards and backwards a few times. Settle the lower back in the middle position. Imagine you have a small marble under your lower back and you are gently pressing down on the marble without squashing it. Keep the rib cage relaxed and shoulder blades set back against the rib cage.
  2. Inhale, lift one knee towards your chest hovering the knee over the hip, this creates a 90 degree angle at your hip and knee.  Exhale and engage your lower abdominal muscle and lift the second leg up to 90 degrees. 
  3. Squeeze the knees together to engage your adductor ( inner thigh) muscles
  4. Hold and keep breathing for 20 seconds 

HOT TIP: To engage your lower abdominal's, think of a lift from your pubic bone up towards your belly button. You should feel a muscle in the lower part of your abdominal's engage between your two pelvic bones. 

Challenges:

  1. Single leg extension: Inhale to prepare, exhale, straightening one knee out in front of you. The lower the leg is towards the ground the harder the abdominals have to work to keep neutral spine and stop your lower back from arching. Alternate 
  2. Toe taps: Inhale to prepare and exhale, tap one foot on the the ground.  Alternate

Aim for 30-40 reps with good technique. 

HOT TIP: Make sure to keep your rib cage down on the floor as you may feel it trying to lift!

Want to make it harder? Add a HEAD LIFT to both of these exercises: Start in table top, exhale and curl the upper back one joint at a time up towards your knees. 

You can do the above two exercises in this position or you can challenge by extending both legs. 

 

You can also perform Hundreds in this position: Lift the arms off the floor, keeping them straight and pulse them up and down. Breath in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 5, up to a count of 100. 

Other Variations; 

FOAM ROLLER:

 

REFORMER:

What to do if your back hurts?

Your lower back might get achy if you have low endurance of your abdominal muscles or if you have a back injury. 

If you have low endurance of your lower abdominal muscles, your lower back will have arched causing you to use your back muscles rather than abdominal muscles. 

  1. Try and maintain neutral in table top and hold for 20 seconds, only progress to the above variations, once able to hold this position
  2. You can start with single leg lifts.
  3. Put a small rolled up towel under your sacrum ( the base of your lower back)
  4. Put both feet on a fit ball 

Take home message: The goal of working in this position is to teach your body what neutral spine feels like. Make sure you are not pressing your back into the floor and rather you must keep a small arch in the lower back. This is how you will feel your abdominal muscle working and avoid using your back muscles. 

If you still have pain, you can trial a different exercise such as the knee hover as this is a little easier on the lower back.

For more information on which exercises are right for you, it is best to consult your Physiotherapist. 

Hope you have had success in feeling your abdominal muscles working and please feel free to share your favourite ab exercises!

 

 

 

 

 

How to use your Foam Roller

The Foam Roller is by far one of the best inventions within the fitness industry.  As a Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, it is the one and only piece of equipment I constantly recommend for home use. The Foam Roller is famous as a massage tool dating back to 1987 when it was used within the Feldenkrais method and began in New York with Broadway dancers using it to massage tight muscles.  However, the Foam Roller has come a long way since then and is now used in all sorts of ways; from strengthening your core, to challenging your balance and as a way to mobilise your thoracic spine.

Here are my FIVE favourite ways to use the Foam Roller:

1. MASSAGE

As we all know you can use the Foam Roller to release tight muscles. If you're feeling tightness in your leg muscles or experiencing pain around your hips and knees, massaging the surrounding muscles can help the pain and alleviate tension in the associated muscles. 

How? 

Position the Foam Roller over the painful muscle and gently roll up and down for 1-2 minutes. Make sure you are only rolling your muscles, do not roll onto your joints. If you find a particularly tight spot, apply direct pressure 20-30 seconds and then continue once pain settles.

Try rolling your....

CALVES

 This can help if you have shin splints or plantar fascia pain ( medial arch pain in the foot)

ILIOTIBIAL BAND/ ITB ( the outside of your thigh)

This can help if you are experiencing anterior (front) or lateral (side) knee pain or hip pain. 

2. IMPROVE YOUR UPPER BACK MOBILITY

This is the best way to loosen a stiff upper back. This is great for people with office jobs who spend extended periods of time hunched over a laptop or computer or cyclists who spend a lot of time on there tri bars.  The other reason you may try this is if you would like to generally improve your thoracic extension which is really important for swimmers, climbers and tennis players. 

Repeat 5-10 repetitions at different levels of the upper back 

3. CHALLENGE YOUR CORE

Challenge yourself in table top or with plank!

 

4. RELAXATION

Lie on the Foam Roller and release tension in the chest, take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, feel a stretch at the front of your chest (Pectoral muscles). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds-1 minute

5. CHALLENGE YOUR BALANCE

HOT TIP: If you have a choice, grab yourself the full length one as you then have the option of lying on it. 

IN CONCLUSION:

The Foam Roller is inexpensive and amazingly versatile. It's compact and very easy to use. So, what I am really saying is, if you don't have one, go out and get one.

Check out my favourite Foam Roller. We use these at our Physiotherapy Clinic and Pilates Centre in London and they are very durable. 

Thanks for checking out my Foam Roller workout. I would love to hear from you about your favourite Foam Roller exercises in the comments section below.

Happy Rolling

Sam

 

How to Perform the Perfect Plank

The plank is a popular and effective abdominal exercise for good reason. It's a great exercise to challenge your core and pelvic stability, it identifies any weaknesses in the kinetic chain "your musculoskeletal system" and it's extension based, meaning it's great for people that spend a lot of time in sitting/flexion. Perfecting your position will make your abdominal muscles work more efficiently and take the pressure off your lower back and shoulders. Most people work on how long they can hold planks for but what we really should be challenging is the task itself. So, let's take a look at the plank, i'll explain how to do it properly and give you ideas for progression! 

But firstly, What is a plank?

The plank is an isometric contraction of your abdominal muscles. It is extension based meaning your spine is straight and not flexed. 

Technique:

Starting position: Start on your hands and knees (with your hands in front of the shoulders). Find your neutral spine, this is a position where your back looks likes a table- you have a very small arch in your lower back and your shoulder blades are set back against the rib cage-make sure your upper back is flat and not rounded.

  1. Hover the knees off the floor engaging your lower abdominal muscles.
  2. Press forwards through the balls of the feet into a plank position.

KNEE HOVER 

PLANK

 

Physio Advice:

Check your technique in the mirror. Your body should be a straight line. Often at the gym I see people making two different mistakes. Some people are over extenders and tend to let the back arch into the floor- creating a bowl shape ( Picture below). This puts pressure on your lower back . The other group of people find themselves in a pyramid shape, where the bottom is poking up towards the ceiling. These two types show weakness in the abdominals. If you can't hold the technique. The first step is to do a knee hover, check this out above. Work on your strength in a knee hover and then progress to plank.

In the picture below you can see the lower back is over extending essentially switching off the lower abdominal muscles, as they are put in a lengthened position. So please remember to keep the bottom up and tucked in. 

plank 4.jpg

HOT TIPS:

  •  Tuck your bottom/ tail bone in to maintain an activation of your lower abdominals.

  • Maintain pressure through the hands as if you are pushing the floor away from you. (This activates your serratus anterior muscles- the muscles that keep the shoulder blades on the rib cage) 

  • Keep a lift off your whole body- keep active through the thighs and your knees straight.

  • Check in with your body and make sure you have equal pressure through both hands and both feet.

 

Aim to hold 30 seconds and work your way up to 1 minute.

Don't sacrifice time for technique if you notice your lower back arching, stop and restart again. 

Use a mirror to check your alignment , your body should look like  a Plank of wood- very very straight with no divets. 

Progressions: 

Once you can hold plank for one minute, try these progressions

  1. Add a leg lift

  2. Add an arm lift

  3. Superman- opposite arm and leg lift

  4. Shoulder taps ( tap your hand to your opposite shoulder)

  5. Knee lifts - obliques- lift one knee towards your opposite shoulder/ lift one knee towards the shoulder on the same side. 

Technique: The aim is to stay very still without any rotation at the torso as you complete these movements.

LEG LIFT

KNEE LIFT- OBLIQUES

To challenge your plank- you can rise your feet on a bench or chair. 

 

Plank on the Reformer:

Plank on the Foam roller:

 

Hope you have been inspired to take on the plank and challenge your body! You should be well equipped to assess your plank position and perfect your technique! 

Happy Planking

Sam 

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Glute workout- Part 3

Let's combine what we have learnt in parts 1 and 2. We know the Gluteus Maximus muscle is our powerful hip extensor and our Gluteus Medius is our stabilizing muscle. As we already know in our bodies, muscles do not work in separation but rather in unison, with each other.This blog is going to describe three fantastic exercises for strengthening your Glutes as a whole unit. 

My two favourite exercises is the SQUAT and BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT. I will also touch on the lunge as a good interim exercise before your try a Bulgarian squat.  

It is really all about technique! I cannot stress this enough. Using a mirror is a great way to check your technique or you can get your friend to take a photo of you to check your alignment ( check out the pic below) 

SQUAT

Technique;

  1. Start in standing with your feet just wider than shoulder width apart, bend the knees gently to begin. 
  2. Bow forwards at the hips keeping a straight back
  3. Sit back into a squat- you should feel pressure through the heels 
  4. keep the chest upright- your torso should be at the same angle as your shins 
  5. Press up through the heels of the feet, squeezing your butt muscles together. 

Tight calves/ stiff ankles or a stiff thoracic spine are common issues that can stop one from squatting well. using the foam roller can be helpful to loosen your spine or tight muscles before you squat. I will talk about this in my next post!

 

Lunge

Technique:

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, Take a step backwards with one foot 
  2. Bend the back knee towards the ground as you sit back into your front hip
  3. Press up through your front heel, squeezing the butt muscle. 

 HOT TIP: Make sure to keep your hips level by putting your hands on your hips and feeling that the front hip bones are staying in straight horizontal line ( Imagine there is a rod going through your hips,  keep the rod parallel to the ground. ) 

 

Bulgarian Split Squat

This exercise loads the front leg.

Technique:

  1. Stand a few feet away from a box/ step. ( your front hip should be positioned behind your foot)
  2. Place your back foot onto a step
  3. Bend your front knee and hip as if you are sitting back into a chair
  4. Your back leg will bend towards the ground in a straight line. 

The three HOT tips are;

  • Keep the hips level (only go as far as you can control)
  • Keep the front knee in line with the middle of the foot 
  • At the end of the bend- look down and you should be able to see your toes.

Congratulations on getting through all three posts! You should be well equipped to start strengthening your glute muscles. 

Aim to do your glute activation exercises such as bridges and clams in posts 1 and 2 prior to the functional glute work. This will help you to feel your glutes switching on. 

Aim for 3 sets  of 12 of each exercise as a general guide, As a Physio I must make a point that if you do have any joint pain with these exercises, please chat to your Physio! I work in Parsons green at Six Physio as a Rehab and Pilates Physiotherapist. 

 

The Ultimate Glute Workout - Part 2

Let's keep talking about achieving that toned butt for summer! This series of exercises is going to tone your stabilizing Gluteus Medius muscle. It gives you stability on one leg and makes sure your knee stays in line with the rest of your body. This is important when walking, running or cycling in order to keep the knee tracking over the middle of the foot. 

Injuries that may benefit from this program:

1) Knee pain- especially Runners knee, Patellofemoral joint pain, Iliotibial band Friction sydrome ( ITBFS) 

2) Hip and lower back pain from walking and running

3) Biomechanical foot and ankle conditions from medial arch drop

The three exercises that are explained below are the best isolation exercises for Gluteus medius. These are the CLAM, SIDE PLANK and  CRAB WALK

The CLAM

Starting position: Lie on your side with your knees bent to 45 degrees hip flexion and 90 degrees knee flexion (right angle), move your bottom back so it is behind the shoulders and make sure to stack the hips one on top of the other.

Action: Lift the top knee up and slowly lower it down 1/2 way

Aim  for 3x12 

HOT TIP: When lying on your side - you need to lift your waist off the floor to create a little tunnel between your waist and the floor. This engages the abdominal's and increases the firing of the glute. 

SIDE PLANK

The side plank is known for toning your obliques and lower abdominal's but it's also a great glute one.

Starting position: Lie on your side with your knees bent

Action: Press up on the elbow and bottom knee and lift the waist. Engage the lower abdominal's and gently squeeze the glute muscles. 

Aim to hold for 1 minute

Progressions: Add a clam( 3x10) or  add a leg lift ( 3x10) 

Increase resistance by tying a theraband just above the knees. 

 

The CRAB WALK:

When I give this exercise to my clients, they all look at me funny as if I am crazy, but this is actually one of the best exercises to activate your Gluteus Medius in standing, 

Loop theraband around the top of the knees 

Starting position: Stand with your knees slightly bent, lean forwards from the hips keeping the spine straight ( don't hunch)

Action: Push out on the band and maintain this pressure. Take 8-10 steps to the side maintaining the same distance between the knees and feet 

Repeat 1-2 minutes or until you feel the glute's fatiguing. 

HOT TIP: Lift the arches of the feet to increase glute activation

 

On the reformer:

glute ref.jpg

 

 

 

The Ultimate Glute Workout- Part 1

 

I want to share with you the secrets of how to turn on your glute muscles. In order to achieve a firm butt, you need to learn to activate the glute muscles and then improve their endurance and strength. The buttock muscles anatomically know as the Gluteal muscles are very important in your everyday life. They should be working when you are walking, running, squatting and even when getting up from a chair. 

The gluteal muscles consist of your big powerful Gluteus Maximus, your stabilising Gluteus Medius and your deeper Gluteus Minimus.

THE ROLES OF THE GLUTES

  • Extending the hip e.g: Rising from a squat / moving your leg behind you.

  • Abducting the hip: Moving the leg out to the side. 

  • Externally rotating the hip: Maintaining alignment when you're standing on one leg eg: When transferring your weight in walking and running

  • Positioning your pelvis in its neutral position.

One of the most common problems I see as a rehab Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor is dormant or inactive Gluteal muscles. I am going to explain to you the 3 best Gluteal activation and strengthening exercises over this 3 part series. The first exercise is the easiest and will fire up your Gluteus Maximus muscle. Your Gluteus Maximus while dormant in a lot of people, should be the strongest muscle in your body. At the gym, it should work when you are rising from a squat, when cycling, it should work as you push down on the pedal and in running when you push off your toes. The exercise that will turn on your Gluteus Maximus is the Pilates SHOULDER BRIDGE

The Bridge exercise is a lift of the bottom off the floor, it is performed on your back with your knees bent. Once mastered, it can be varied in many ways to challenge strength and pelvic control. 

HOW TO PERFORM A SHOULDER BRIDGE

Starting position: Lye on the floor with your knees bent and feet hip width apart, stretch your arms by your sides and shuffle your feet towards your finger tips.

Perform a pelvic tilt:  Imagine your pelvis is a bucket of water and you're tipping the water out the front to arch your back and out the back to flatten your back, you will feel your Gluteal muscles switch on as you flatten your back. 

Maintain this flat back position,  engage your lower abdominal's and squeeze your Glute's together as you curl your spine up off the floor.

Hold your bridge at the top for 10 seconds keeping the Glute's engaged.

Then roll down, think about the rib cage lowering down first and then feel each joint of your spine lower, let the back arch gently at the end. 

Repeat: Aim for x 10 repetitions

You can try the same thing now on one leg.

Make sure you feel your gluteal muscles staying on (your hamstrings should not be cramping) - If they are, don't progress to single leg and keep practicing double leg until you feel the glute's engaged.

HOT TIP: Keep the weight through the heels (back) of the feet. Make sure your knees are pointing up towards the sky and not rolling in towards each other. 

CHALLENGE YOURSELF!

  1. Perform with a Theraband around the thighs

  2. Perform with your feet on a BOSU

  3. Perform with your feet on a Foam Roller/ or to work on the your back mobility perform lying on the roller

Repeat three times a week

Just a quick note about your lower back, some people say they feel their lower back during bridging. This is often due to inactive glutes, once you activate the glutes, the back should stop hurting. However, if you still have back pain, this exercise may not be right for you. Don't stress as there are many many glute activation exercises and I will cover these in my next blog. So stay tuned. 

Here are some great tips if you do feel your lower back during a bridge,

  • Use a small pillow or folded towel underneath your head if you have a stiff upper back
  • Use the Theraband around the knees to increase gluteal activation
  • Roll the upper back on the foam roller  or do a few cat stretches prior to bridging to loosen the spine

Always remember, you can consult your Physiotherapist for an assessment of your spine or for advice on exercise. 

IN SUMMARY

The shoulder bridge is a great exercise to:

  • Isolate your gluteal muscles
  • Increase flexibility of the spine
  • Increase the firing rate /pattern of the glute : hamstring complex. 
  • Tone your butt :)
  • As a warm up to your leg workout

I hope you have fun practicing and challenging yourself with this exercise.

Please Stay Tuned for The Ultimate Glute Workout Parts 2 and 3!!