I’m going to jump off a cliff!

Did you catch the Gabby Logan interview this week with Carl Lewis and Ian Thorpe? It was about pain. Specifically, the pain an athlete has to endure in order to win a medal. Ian Thorpe described it like this:

“It’s so painful that your brain is telling you to stop but your heart is still telling you to go.

“It’s like doing a bungee jump. You look over the edge and everything in your whole being is telling you not to do it but you have to somehow push through and do it.”

What a brilliant metaphor.

Whenever we have challenges in life, be it career change, a fitness goal, a big move, our immediate response tends to be fear. Fear of change.  Changing behaviours.  Opening ourselves up to failure.  Going for it.

It happened to me last week, on two fronts. Firstly Chris and I have got the go ahead and financial backing to go ahead with our family fitness business.  It’s something we’ve dreamed of doing for a long time.  It’s an area where between us we have masses of experience and a vision we’ve been excited about for years but when the go ahead came I felt petrified and like I didn’t want to do it.

Why?  Because it means change.  Letting go of an old way of doing things and embracing change.  Taking ownership of a big risk and working hard to make a success.  It means moving out of my comfort zone.

Then I had a lovely chat with Sara from my Pilates class about moving forwards with journalism and writing.  Again, in order to move forwards I’m going to need to change behaviours.  Stop hiding behind my computer and actually pick up the phone and go out and find stories and contacts.

So here is my inspiration so far from the Olympics.  I’m going to brave jumping off the edge of a cliff with a bungee rope around my ankles . . . but metaphorically of course.

Is there anywhere in your life where you need  a little push?  Where you’re holding back. All we need to do is take that one step off the edge!

How to … train your pelvic floor muscles.

If you think I’m slightly obsessive about spreading the pelvic floor message to all of womankind (ambitious … me?) you’d be right.  If you’ve already done your exercises today then please tell me to give it up.

Still here? I thought so. So I’ve just been asked to write a brief how to guide for my forthcoming feature which does not mention the terms kegel or imagine you’re trying to stop yourself from peeing because, as we all know, neither goes far enough to work your bits in the right way.

Here’s what I came up with.  Please share with all of womankind!

Finding your pelvic floor muscles:
  • Sit on a firm chair, with your legs apart, and place a rolled up bath towel between your legs, running from your pubic bone to your coccyx.
  • Rock your pelvis back and forth. Your pelvic floor muscles will instinctively lift away from the towel.
  • Now hold your pelvis where the reaction seems strongest and continue to exercise (see below).
  • Your pelvic floor muscles start at your pubic bone and run to your coccyx. They control your urethra, vagina and anus so imagine all of these muscles lifting as you exercise.
SLOW SQUEEZES: Start by slowly squeezing up away from the towel and then slowly releasing your muscles, imagine you are lifting a marble up and down (aim for ten repetitions).
HOLDS: Hold a strong contraction in your pelvic floor muscles. Aim for ten seconds at a time, ten times.
QUICK SQUEEZES: Finally work your fast twitch (sneeze) muscles by doing ten, quick, strong squeezes.
Try to make a habit of fitting in a set every time you do a routine task, such as checking emails, commuting to work, preparing meals or watching TV.
My thanks to Sandra’s indignity for this brilliant illustration and to her gorgeous daughter Sam (babysitter extraordinaire) for taking the photo. x

Finding your core without pushing through your floor

If you know you’ve got pelvic floor issues, it can be a bit daunting to start training your tummy muscles again, or indeed to start exercising at all.  Good abdominal tone goes hand in hand with pelvic floor muscle tone so it’s vital to find your core again after pregnancy or obstetric surgery.

Whilst actually getting to a Pilates class or booking one to one training is ideal, I understand that it can be difficult to chat about a baggy vagina in the middle of a class, so I’ve penned some simple steps to training your abdominals whilst avoiding pushing out on your lady parts.

I’m talking about general weakness here, issues like stress incontinence or just generally feeling not quite right down below. For a full on prolapse you absolutely need to see a specialist.

My general advice is always to avoid crunches, or anything where you are restricting space in your torso, until you’re really confident in your core. Crunches may cause you to push out rather than draw up. Similarly look out for tense shoulders or holding your breath, another sign that you’re bearing down.  And if you attend a gym, avoid classes like ‘abs blast’ or ‘ab attack’ for a while – you need to work at your own pace.

Here’s a fundamental Pilates move broken down, it’s a great place to start.

1.DEFY GRAVITY – LIFT UP

The most important thing to remember is to always feel like you are lifting up, even if it means the occasional raised eyebrow.

FIND NEUTRAL

Your abdominals and pelvic floor won’t work effectively if your lower back and pelvis have swung out of neutral. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and gently rock your pelvis back and forth feeling for that ‘in between’ position. Your lower back shouldn’t be pressing in to the floor but there also shouldn’t be a big gap. To start off with you may find it useful to have your bottom on a small cushion.

FIND YOUR CORE

From this position, find the big, sticky outy bits of your pelvis and firmly press your fingertips between your hips and your tummy button. Breathe out strongly feeling your deep tummy muscles tighten towards your spine. You want to feel everything is tightening up like a corset.

LIFT UP

As you draw in, it’s useful also to feel that you slide your tummy muscles up and away from your pelvis. As you do this you’ll feel your pelvic floor muscles react so lift them too. Remember, draw up! This technique is also useful if you’ve got diastasis recti (split abs) since you effectively flatten your six-pack to your body, training it from the inside.

RAISE YOUR LEGS

Once you’re ready, lift your knees one at a time over your hips. Ensure your back stays in that neutral position and your tummy doesn’t pop out. Keep drawing in and lifting up. It really does help to practise this with a stacking cup or beaker on your tummy.

REPEAT

You really do need to pay attention to technique here. Always feel the connection between your hips and your ribs.  A little goes a long way, doing this a couple of times a day will help to give you that awareness of your core and begin to get those muscles fired up again.

AND . . . BREATHE.

Why do we get fat when we get pregnant?

Celebrity bounce-back-into-shape culture could have us all believing that during pregnancy we should all put on the standard (according to the NHS) eight to 14 kilos of additional ‘baby’ weight, and that six weeks after that almighty ring-of-fire-and-brimstone push we’ll be merrily slipping into our pre pregnancy skinny jeans.

Well, think again lady. One of my missions for the sanity of womankind is to demonstrate, through science and fact that this is neither normal nor healthy.

Now of course there are some women, generally naturally slim women, who will plop their delicate selves onto their non-scary weighing scales after their six-week check and discover that they are back to their pre pregnancy weight. Great. Whoop whoop. Good for you. But you’re not making us feel any better.

During pregnancy, nature conspires to make us fat. Our hormones do weird stuff to protect our babies and prepare our bodies for motherhood. Some studies have suggested pregnant women become slightly diabetic in order to store fat quickly.

That extra weight that you’re carrying around includes your baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, extra blood, bigger breasts, extra fluid (water retention), heavier organs (especially uterus) and fat.

Far from being awkward lumps of lard, fat is a clever storage facility for all sorts of hormones and nutrients.  At times of famine – like puking, illness or even sleep – that fat is there for your baby, like a nutritional insurance policy.  And fat around your tummy is the most easily accessible source of energy for your body (we lay tummy fat down at times of stress for the same reasons).

Roll on to those joyous breast feeding days and as well as a less than glamourous wardrobe full of clippy-whop-out-your-baps-friendly, puke stained vests, you are still in your maternity jeans, or if you’re really lucky, those fat day jeans.  When’s the less than yummy mummy tummy going to go?

Again, in your post natal days, your body is clinging on to fat for milk production and for survival. And three of the worst enemies of fat burning are sleep deprivation, hormone imbalance and sugar. For at least the first six months of your baby’s life, events are conspiring to cling on to the chub.

So what’s the answer?  Don’t fight it.  The last thing your body wants is to cut calories, that will just make you crazy. If you want to get a little control back, eat well for you and your baby and accept the stretchy clothing for just a little bit longer or at least until you’re getting a little more sleep.

Pilates ruined my life

Every few months an article is published that says something along the lines of Pilates is bad for you, Pilates will give you a bad back or, core training is a waste of time.

The latest ‘Pilates ruined my life’ feature was published by (have you guessed it yet) the Daily Mail a few weeks ago and concerned a post natal lady with scoliosis who, after doing Pilates once a week for three months, claimed it caused her to slip a disc in her back. The article, then went on to quote a surgeon who said he was seeing an increasing number of patients with aggravated degeneration in their discs due to Pilates.

As a type of exercise which is often prescribed to help people with back issues, it’s sad that Pilates gets such bad press. There are good teachers and not so good but there are also participants who are super keen to learn and there are those that really already know what they’re doing thank you very much.  It works both ways.

Here’s the truth.  Pilates is rarely the cause for a back issue.  Most people do it for one hour a week, what of the remaining 167?  According to Dr Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Canada, it takes on average ten years of a continuous movement pattern (think golf, running or walking carrying additional weight) for your spinal discs to degenerate.

It’s also important to remember that your spinal discs degenerate faster than many other tissues in your body. Some teenagers have disc degeneration and according to a 2003 study, published in the Journal of Arthritis Research and Therapy, around 10% of 50-year-old discs and 60% of 70-year-old discs are severely degenerate [male subjects].

And perhaps the bigger issue here (which is rarely mentioned in anti-Pilates literature) is that two of the biggest enemies of back health are inactivity and excess weight.

So isn’t it time we stopped finding excuses to not exercise and stopped blaming others for our inactivity and physical weaknesses or injuries?  The woman featured in the article clearly needed a little more physiotherapy and one to one assistance before launching herself into a Pilates course. Yes your exercise instructor is there to help but it works best as a two way process. Ask questions, do your home work, say if it doesn’t feel right. But at the end of the day, doing a little light exercise is going to do you and your back more good than sitting on your tushy reading this blog.

Read the original article here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2161301/Pilates-make-bad-worse-Experts-agree-help-reduce-pain-improve-posture-hidden-dangers.html

Six weeks to OMG: Get skinnier than all your friends

This is the latest diet book to make it big.  Make it so big in fact that author Venice A Fulton (real name Paul Khanna) is set to make monster bucks as the paperback version of his book flies of the shelves.

Previously self-published on line, Six weeks to OMG is doing for the dieting literature what Fifty Shades is doing for mummy porn.

So what’s it all about?  Well looking into it, aside from the audacious claims and controversy it’s created – teenagers everywhere are apparently starving themselves and drinking nothing but black coffee in ice baths, says The Daily Mail – I think it’s genius.

Mr Fulton/Khanna has managed to re-package proper scientific research and facts in a way that lay persons can understand and he’s going to make a mint from doing it.  Good for him!

Through my line of work, I come across a lot of information about fat burning. I know fat burning experts. People who are making serious money through helping other people to shed fat. And they are making serious money because that’s what people really want.

I’ve made it pretty clear that fat stripping isn’t my bag. It’s harsh. I have no desire to be strict enough to enforce it and speedy fat stripping is pretty intense and not a long-term health strategy.  But if it’s what people want, then Mr Fulton/Khanna has got his facts straight and has spent a lot of time poring through research papers to get it right.

Here are a few of his OMG strategies:

Do not eat breakfast. Contrary to what cereal manufacturers will tell you a breakfast of black coffee will do more for fat burning than a bowl of processed corn.  Caffeine revs your engine, that’s why F1 drivers do all their fat stripping on an empty stomach.

Eat little, infrequently. Snack culture would have us eating regularly to keep out metabolism high. But nibbling on snacks gives your body a quick source of energy to burn.  When you want to target stubborn fat stores, fasting is key.

Take cold baths. When your body cools down, it needs energy to warm up. Fact. So an ice bath or simply exercising in the cold will help you to burn more calories.

If there’s one strategy I’d take from his book to pass on to you it’s this one.  Intermittent fasting. If you’ve had a big weekend, or a big night out and eaten/drunk too much, rather than starting the day with an uncomfortable breakfast you don’t really want or need, skip it.  Replace it with a black coffee (with a teensy bit of milk if you need it) and wait until late morning or early lunch for a good meal that’s high in protein, good fats and plenty of veggies.  Think of it as rebooting your system.  But it needs to be good foods and not a slab of cake!

Read more about Six weeks to OMG here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/05/health-six-weeks-to-omg-diet-really-works_n_1650323.html?utm_hp_ref=uk