Pilates. What’s all the fuss about? Why bother?

We do this move every week in class!

 

Is it like yoga? Will I break a sweat? Will it make me thin? Will it fix my back? Will it be able to make me touch my toes? Will it give me a bottom like Pippa Middleton? What if I don’t like it? What if I fart? What’s with all those machines? Will I need a pedicure? What shall I wear? Why bother?

Pilates. Popular with dancers, pregnant ladies and physiotherapists.  But for some, a complete step into the unknown. Many women arrive at a class with trepidation, fearful of beautiful people with long bendy legs. Fewer men arrive, motivated by pain or their physiotherapist or wife telling them to try it!

So what’s all the fuss about?

HISTORY

In the early part of the 20th Century, with a little help from his wife Clara, Hr. Joseph Pilates (he was German) developed the physical exercise system we now know as Pilates. Originally called ‘Contrology’, controlling the body through the mind, it became popularly known as the Pilates method.

Hr. Joseph Pilates

Our Joe had been brought up a bit of a hippy. His mum was a naturopath, so a bit ‘alternative’ and his dad was an award winning gymnast.

A sickly child – Joe suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever – he devoted his life to studying ways to get back to health. He lived in an era of ‘medical gymnastics’, or exercise as medicine. He studied gymnasts, yoga, Qigong and became a gymnast, diver and body builder. All big influences on his exercise system.

On moving to the UK in 1912 he became a professional boxer and taught self-defense for Scotland Yard.

As a german, the onset of WW1 led to his confinement in an internment camp. He used the time to learn and train his fellow inmates and to develop his system, apparently using the bed springs to create his own equipment.

After the war he worked in New York with dancers (including the notable Laban) and developed his system into the exercises we know today.

Fundamentally, Joseph Pilates believed the key hindrances to health were modern lifestyle, poor breathing technique and bad posture! And perhaps it’s these parallels with our lives today which have made it so popular.

SO WHAT IS PILATES?

Pilates is a system of exercises designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles. It’s focus is on the spine and the core muscles which support it. It is resistance training using either body weight alone in mat work classes, or small equipment like balls. As well as using your muscles, you’ll be stretching and moving around a bit and breathing deeply – so it can also be pretty relaxing.

Pilates can also be practised on various larger pieces of equipment like the Reformer (a system of pulleys and springs).

If that’s still a little confusing perhaps it would help to share a few of the questions I ask of all my classes and class plans – a little insight into my mind:

  • How is my class feeling today – do they want progression or do they need to chill out?
  • Have I got my participants’ joints and spines moving so they’ll feel better when they leave?
  • Have I worked my class all over – abdominals, backs, bottoms, shoulders, pelvic floor?
  • Has my class REALLY understood the concept of core abdominals, pelvic floor and shoulder stability today?
  • Has my class tried something new today?
  • Has my class really connected today in some way – through laughter, focus, or a furrowed, concentrated brow?
  • Have my participants stretched their bodies today – do they feel a little more supple?
  • Are my participants walking out with better posture than when they arrived?

There’s nothing snooty about Pilates but it does take time to practise and understand the key concepts, so it’s not the sort of class you can dip in and out of.

Of course, the best way of finding out what all the fuss is about is to try it for yourself. Go on, we won’t bite!

To my class participants past and present, I’d love to hear your comments on what Pilates is all about.

If you’d like to read more about our man Joe, here’s a great blog post from Pilates guru Joanne Cobbe http://www.jpilates.co.uk/lates-blog/2012/7/30/joseph-pilates-a-man-of-mystery.html

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Ease back to health: Getting bootylicious

So the sugar fast is holding for me, with the help of green tea, raspberries and pears.  And I’m already feeling better for eating well. It reminded me that great food, good moods and exercise all go hand in hand.  As soon as I made the decision to eat better, I remembered to take my supplements, like vitamins, probiotics and omega oils regularly and I suddenly had the urge to get strong again.

So I’m starting with the booty.  I’ve always had one but it disappeared after Isaac. Lots of sitting on it and not enough deadlifts mean my bottom has lost its former glory.  In the past 24 hours I’ve seen three images that have inspired me to get squatting again.  I’ll share them.

Firstly, this is possibly the worst picture of a squat I have seen in a very long time.  It was featured in a Marie Claire gallery about how to get toned legs. Never squat like this (this model clearly doesn’t) and do not bother with this teensy weights.  I will NOT be doing any of these:

Instead I will be doing lots of these. Babies know how to squat. They do it all the time and their technique is perfect.

And very hopefully, all these squats will make my booty look like this:

But until that happens, I’ll at least be able to run better, walk safer and improve hip and lower back stability so I can be pain free with a nice booty 😉

Ease back to health: Clear out the junk

So I’m going to admit it. My diet for the past month or so has got pretty rubbish. I like to think that I operate on an 80/20 rule, where 80% of my diet is good quality protein, fruit, vegetables and oils and 20% is enough of the naughty stuff to make me normal.  However, the past few months have seen lots more toast, biscuits and crisps on the diet plan than is good for me.  And whilst I’ve not got fat, my mood, my energy levels, my skin and my digestive system have suffered.

Hopefully you don’t think I’m some awful fitness fraudster for admitting this. Just a working mum who has been putting her own wellbeing last for a little too long.

So day one (which accidentally started with marmalade on home made toasted buttermilk bread) is about cutting out the junk.  No drastic fasting or dieting but an absolute ban on rubbish.  I’ve already noticed that usually, after getting back from my morning class with Isaac, starving hungry (me, not him) that I would grab a digestive biscuit and then forget lunch. So today we lunched together on scrambled eggs, toast, olive oil and tomatoes.

Anything shop bought or processed is bound to be full of sugars and trans fats that clog up the system, so they have to be the first things to go.  And as soon as you decide to eat better you quickly notice what triggers you to reach for processed snacks.

My triggers are:

  • Not planning my meals;
  • Skipping meals;
  • Not eating enough good quality protein;
  • Sugar;
  • Tiredness; and
  • Lack of structured exercise.

Do these ring any bells with you?

Tomorrow we’ll hit the activity trail but for now I’ll leave you to enjoy your lunch and some Vitamin D time!

Sticky chicken thighs with roasted veggies and cherry tomatoes.

I’ve always been a fan of the humble chicken thigh. They’re full of flavour which lends them perfectly to curries and strong flavours; they’re great in the slow cooker; they’re deliciously juicy simply roasted – and to my mind far superior to the humble drumstick which can be a bit sinewy; they are toddler friendly because they become so soft after slow cooking; and, in these budget conscious times they are way cheaper than breast meat.

Hubby, Isaac and I do our best to eat together where possible, especially our evening meal. This one pot meal (an adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe) suits all our tastes. Isaac can nibble away at all the things he likes and of course, it’s totally adaptable to what you like or indeed what you have in the fridge! Think of it like a nutritious box of Quality Street. Everyone has their favourite bits.

Boost the nutrients in this dish by including lots of sweet potato, beetroot, carrots and tomatoes.

Sticky chicken thighs with root vegetables and cherry tomatoes (baby and toddler friendly).

Serves 2 and a bit with leftovers for lunch the next day (depending how hungry you are)

Handful of new potatoes, scrubbed

1 large or two small sweet potatoes, peeled or scrubbed and cut into chunks

2 or 3 cooked beetroot in natural juices, cut into wedges

A packet of cherry tomatoes, preferably skinned

Oregano (fresh or dried)

Olive oil

Red wine vinegar (balsamic works too)

6-8 chicken thigh fillets (chopped into finger sized pieces – you can use whole thighs too)

Salt and pepper to taste (you can add salt later if you have little mouths to feed)

Method:

Boil the potatoes for around 10 minutes, if you’re using sweet potatoes too you can add these to the spuds.

Put the chicken thigh fillets in an ovenproof/hobproof casserole and cook them over a medium heat until they’re sealed and nearly cooked.

Add all the remaining vegetables and potatoes to the pan and toss around in the chicken juices.

Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a good splash of the vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper. Then give all the ingredients another mix.

Put the casserole dish (lid off) in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees, Gas Mark 6) for 40 minutes until cooked through and golden.

Serve with a big bunch of watercress on the side x

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Move over men, the weights room is for girlies

According to Sabi Phagura, writing in the Huffington Post yesterday, entering the weights room (TWR) is like entering the lion’s den, full of testosterone fuelled men grunting and staring at totty?

Whilst this preconception might be the case in some gyms, times have changed.  In my experience,TWR is far more social than the cardio gym or even classes.  There’s time and reason for interaction (even in London) and you tend to see the same folk at the same times.

Far from it being the domain of the alpha male, I believe girlies have a lot to offer TWR.

For example, around 90% of the men I’ve seen train in TWR have abysmal technique and need to be ashamed of themselves for grunting when they’re shifting teensy weights.  Girlies in TWR generally have great technique, otherwise they wouldn’t venture in. Weekends are the best time for comic weight antics, when men who rarely venture in to the gym feel they need to sweat it out whilst their partners do yoga.

Men do not stare at women in TWR. They stare at women all the time. In TWR, in the cardio gym, in class, in the car park.  It’s just when you’re looking out for it you’ll notice it more. And if you’ve trotted into TWR in see through pants of course they’ll stare. PS: Keep skimpy shorts and low cut tops for summer holidays, they are totally impractical for TWR.

Girlies are neat and tidy and smell nice. We clean our kit regularly. These are good things in confined spaces.

And a few Do’s and Don’ts:

DON’T wear a white top. When you train with weights you tend to get the smuggled peanut effect.

DO check the structure and modesty of your pants. Most running tights are see through when you bend over, never a good thing when doing a deadlift.

DON’T stand right next to or behind a squat rack if you can stand somewhere else. It’s dangerous and pretty stupid.

DO ask for help if a sweaty bloke has left his heavy weights on a rack.

DON’T wear headphones in the weights area. You need to listen out for someone asking you to move; someone asking if they can share your station; someone in trouble who needs a hand; someone about to vomit; or a heavy weight moving quickly in your direction.

DO clean up after yourself. Put stuff away, clean up your sweat, move benches back to where they belong.

AND FINALLY DON’T stand down wind of  men.  Protein shakes and a hard workout do nasty things to your guts.

Read Sabi’s original post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sabi-phagura/getting-fit-gym-walking-into-the-lions-den_b_1815791.html

Baked Chocolate Mousse Cake

Here’s definitely one for the weekend – one of my favourite desserts, which also happens to be packed with protein and lots of yummy dark chocolate. But is it a cake or a mousse? You decide.

What this hybrid mousse cake lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste. And although it’s not sugar free, the protein punch from the eggs means that a little goes a long way (take note hubby). It’s also gluten free.

It’s adapted from a James Martin recipe.

Ingredients

300g good quality dark chocolate (I use Green & Blacks cooks chocolate)

15og unsalted butter

5og unrefined caster sugar

6 large free-range eggs, separated.

1 tsp vanilla extract

(Grease and line a deep, 9″ round cake tin)

(Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4, 18o degrees)

Method

Slowly melt chocolate and butter together and then add the vanilla extract

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites with half the sugar until stiff.

In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar for 30 seconds.

Allow the melted chocolate mixture to cool slightly before mixing with the yolk mixture. You’ll need to work quickly now since the cooling chocolate will start to go stiff.

Mix 1/3 of the egg whites with the chocolate mixture to loosen it before carefully folding in the remaining egg white. Make sure you incorporate all the sticky chocolatey bits from the bottom of the bowl.

Pop the mixture in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Once cooked, allow to cool for a while in the tin before turning out to a cooling rack. Do not be alarmed. It will look beautifully cake like on removal from the oven but soon sinks in the middle.

Eat this cake at room temperature, just don’t put it in the fridge or it will go stiff. I tend to make it at lunchtime for an evening dinner.

Et voila! The resulting cake is heavenly with chantilly cream or some lightly sweetened mascarpone.

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Is exercise making you infertile?

I’m busy preparing for a meeting tomorrow with natural fertility expert Andrew Loosely www.naturalfertilityexpert.com. We’re exploring a potential partnership, since women’s health, fertility and exercise are very much, my thing.

In the midst of my research I’ve been collecting published articles. This one, published in BodyFit magazine last year  (www.bodyfitmagazine.co.uk) is all about exercise and fertility.  I interviewed Zita West in this feature (she was busy preparing for her daughter’s wedding), in the process finding out that Isaac’s Musical Minis teacher, Clare Wiggins used to nanny for Zita’s kids!  Small world.

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HELP! I’ve had the baby, why am I still fat?

So you’ve had the baby, got through the first few months of new baby craziness and now it’s time to salvage something of your former glory. But the belly fat won’t shift, none of your clothes fit, you’re stuck in clippy bras and easy access tops, you’re suffering from super human sleep deprivation, and you just want to eat cakes and biscuits.

Sound familiar? Whilst the occasional high profile celeb is flaunting her pre pregnancy svelteness, the majority of womankind is in the same, post natal, flabtastic space as you.

It’s a subject that comes up so often in my post natal classes. So by way of a follow up to my previous blog about pregnancy and fat https://alittlefitter.com/2012/07/13/why-do-we-get-fat-when-we-get-pregnant/ and by way of offering the best advice possible to those women in need, here are the three most frequently asked questions and my advice.

WHY DO I WANT TO EAT CHOCOLATE/BISCUITS/CAKE?

Your body is very clever.  Pregnancy/breast feeding causes the body to want to store extra, easily accessible fat. Your body becomes more sensitive to sugar and will store fat from excess sugar around your tummy (this is more easily accessible energy for your body than say fat on the hips). Because you are more sensitive to sugars you’ll also crave it more. The more you eat, the more you want.

You are also sleep deprived.  When you sleep, your body balances out the ‘I’m hungry’ hormone ghrelin and the ‘I’m full’ hormone leptin.  When sleep is scarce you crave sweet, fatty things because your ghrelin hormone is on overdrive.

And finally, when you are hungry, you very often crave quick, high calorie foods. If you’re conscious of your weight and have been trying to cut back you’ve probably ended up bingeing on the high calorie stuff (because of the above hormone changes). Instead of reaching for a biscuit, try to have a sandwich, a boiled egg or a small meal instead. It will regulate your appetite and satisfy your cravings.

I’M BREASTFEEDING. SO WHY AM I NOT LOSING WEIGHT?

As well as sleep deprivation and hormonal changes that encourage your body to store fat, the whole breastfeeding makes you lose weight is, in my opinion and anecdotal experience, something of a red herring. Breast feeding creates calorie deficit but that doesn’t necessarily make you lose fat. Mainly because it makes you blooming starving!

I do however notice that post breast feeding, most women will lose seven to ten pounds of fat that your body has been holding on to.  More research needs to be done into how and why but in my experience, making the right choices about exercise and food whilst your breast feeding will pay dividends when you stop.

SO WHAT CAN I DO TO LOSE FAT?

  1. Do not cut calories, you’ll only wind up binge eating. Instead, plan and prepare healthier choices for your meals and snack.
  2. When you crave sweet or high calorie snack, reach for a small meal instead. Boiled eggs, humous, a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts are all great, energy boosting snacks that won’t send your insulin levels through the roof.
  3. Minimize the chocolate/cake fix. Sweet natural foods like coconut are a great sugar alternative and a cup of peppermint tea can often take away the craving.
  4. Make sure you’re eating plenty of dark green vegetables, like broccoli.
  5. Eat plenty of fibrous veggies like sweet potatoes, which will help keep you full and satisfy a sweet tooth.
  6. Have protein with every meal and every snack if you can.  This will satisfy your appetite and provide thick, protein rich milk if you are breastfeeding.
  7. Have lots of happy fats. Avocados, walnuts, oily fish and olive oil are great for satisfying that hunger hormone ghrelin and great for baby’s developing brain and immune system too.
  8. Accept that a temporarily larger you is a necessary blip in the wonder that is your beautiful new baby.

How to get abs like Jess Ennis

Since the end of all the fabulousness that has been the Olympics, my timelines and inboxes have been filled with stories about how to get a body like . . . (fill in the blank with any number of female athletes).

On the plus side, I’m loving the girl power of team GB and hoping that sporty girlies finally get a bit more coverage in the media.  I’m also a big fan of slogans like, ‘fit is the new it’ and ‘strong not skinny’.

BUT . . . and I’m afraid to break it to you sister . . . Ms Ennis’ abs have been grafted in the gym, on the track and in the kitchen.  And, contrary to what some publications might have you believe, a weekly set of crunches and planks ain’t gonna’ get you a six pack.  So what will?

FOOD

There’s a motto that does the rounds on the fitness circuit. Great abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. Why bother having tummy muscles if you hide them under a layer of flab?

To set them free, the first place to start is by stripping processed food from your diet. Swap sugar for fresh coconut and ditch the morning cereal or toast. Think fresh, good quality protein accompanied by lots of dark green veggies. Replace grains with vegetables like sweet potatoes and acquire an omega oil OCD.

DRINK

Water. Lots of it. At least two litres a day. End of discussion.

SPRINTING

Three of Jess’ events are on the track and the rest need a good, fast run up to gain power.  Sprinting is one of the best ways to get great abs.  Just look at any female sprinter for proof.

A great way to start out sprinting is with hill sprints. They are fantastic fat burners and make for a super speedy workout.  It’s pretty simple to do. Find a hill and run up it fast. Walk down it, then run up it again. Fast. Until your legs won’t move any more (it won’t take long). Think about picking up your knees and pumping with your arms.

WEIGHTS

Learn how to use them and enjoy them. Ditch the dull cross trainer for a cardio weights session. Gain muscle. Enjoy food. Shed fat. It works.

POSTURE

This is a biggie. Rounded, stooped shoulders give you a belly. Stand up tall.

FIND YOUR CORE

When your core works effectively, it pulls your tummy in and gives you that flat tummy look.  This is why many people find their waists get smaller when they start doing Pilates.  Here’s a modified, basic version of the Pilates One Hundred to get you started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCSDC5tAOEA

But of course, nothing beats getting to a class.

AND FINALLY . . . GET MOVING

Thinking or planning about how to get a fabulous body whilst sitting on your bum is a start but nothing beats actually getting up off it and walking out of the door in a pair of trainers.  SO GET MOVING!

Zzz … could sleep deprivation be making you fat?

In a recent BBC interview, performance director for GB cycling Dave Brailsford said that perfect pillows (as well as extra round wheels) were responsible for British domination in cycling.

The ‘sleep kits’, designed by leading sport sleep coach Nick Littlehales, can be transported from home, to training camps to the athlete’s village to ensure a consistent sleep environment for athletes. In a nutshell, the special pillows and bedlinen help athletes to recover after training and promote the best and most comfortable sleep position, which in turn can lead to marginal performance gains.  And when there are one hundredths of a second to play with, marginal gains can give athletes the edge.

So what of restful zzz’s for us mortals?  Well according to last year’s Great British Sleep Survey, more than 50% of brits struggle to nod off, with 75% of women reporting sleep issues. The survey, sponsored by sleep organisation Sleepio, also found a significant link between sleep issues and conditions like diabetes and depression.

But it’s not just insomnia that’s bad for our health, according to the Sleep Council a bad night’s sleep can also lead to digestive problems, headaches and of course, just a general grumpy fog.  And, scientists are revealing more and more about the link between sleep and hormones.  It’s during sleep that our melatonin (sleepy and restful) and serotonin (happy and alert) levels balance themselves out, but it’s also during sleep that our appetite hormones regulate.  Too little sleep and your full hormone, leptin doesn’t work as well as your hungry hormone, ghrelin.  So cut back on zzz’s and you’ll more than likely have a bad case of the munchies all day.

We might not all have access to gold medal winning pillows but we can all make small changes to optimise our time in the sack.

1. Routine.  If you struggle to drop off, establish a routine for yourself (just like you do for baby). This will send the right signals to your brain.

2. Cut out blue light. Blue light, from TVs, PDAs and phones can all interfere with our sleep signals (Kindles are ok because they don’t produce their own light) so keep lights low and switch everything off half an hour before bed.

3. Do something to switch off your brain.  Puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku are great for switching your brain off from the day’s stress.

4. Cut down on caffeine and stimulants.  Did you know caffeine has a seven hour half life? Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm to ensure restful slumbers.

5. Take gentle exercise during the day.  Too late at night and you could hype your system up. A brisk walk outside at lunchtime is ideal or a relaxing yoga or Pilates class in the evening.

Here’s an excerpt from a feature I wrote for Bodyfit magazine last year all about yoga and sleep