Back pain: A long term project

Here’s a post from our Fit School pages, written by Fit School co-director Chris Laing.

Most people will experience back pain in their lives. It can vary from an ache, to full on debilitating agony. Long term pain of any kind can lead to depression and many people feel their lives are adversely affected by back pain.

According to the British Pain Society, around 10 million people in the UK suffer from back pain on a daily basis which affects their lives. And this can be expensive to UK businesses, with the TUC reporting that British businesses lose an estimated 4.9 million days a year due to employee absenteeism due to work related back pain. It’s a big deal!

Known factors that cause back pain are bad posture both sitting and lying down; lifting something incorrectly; and general stiffness and tightness in the muscles above and below the painful site (however it can be as far away as your big toe). There are also many unknown factors that can cause back pain, it isn’t an exact science.

It can be a terrifying thing to experience, but you mustn’t lose hope when it comes to pain management. Once you experience pain, you need come terms with it. This is the hardest thing. You need to accecpt that it is a part of you and will be for some time. Until you get to this point, you will be constantly looking for that one good crack or stretch to sort it out. Quick fixes rarely work with back pain.


Here is our guide to back pain management:

Any back pain requires a long-term management programme. Take it on a month by month basis and see if things are improving.

Get your situation assessed by a professional. Only they will have an idea about what could be causing the pain and how to manage it better.

Assess everything that could be contributing to your pain and do what you can to manage it.  The main culprits are: posture; your driving position; your sitting postion; your working position (maybe get stand up desk); and your sleeping position.

You need to put aside some money to pay for treatments or ergonomic aids to assist with the pain. You might eventually want to get a new bed to help with the pain. A good mattress doesn’t cost the earth but it isn’t cheap either.

Know and understand which exercises to do on a regular basis. Having a few physiotherapy sessions will not solve your back issues. People often stop doing their exercises once the pain has stopped. If you stop feeling pain, the issue isn’t fixed. You just don’t feel the pain anymore and it can come back at any time.

Let go of what you think you should or shouldn’t be doing. I used to scoff at people doing Pilates or Yoga. However, since experiencing back pain, I incorporate Pilates exercises into my daily routine. One thing that your back needs is regular movement. This is why Pilates and yoga are a great way to help manage back pain. However, you need to ensure that you address other factors too.

We often get asked questions about this, so we are creating a daily exercise routine to help people who are mainly sedentary but experience back pain. It will help manage back pain better and stop back pain ruining your life. If you are interested, get in touch and we’ll contact you when the programme is up and running. Ignoring back pain, taking pain killers or resting it for a bit is not the answer. Nor is doing bootcamps (this is another topic for another day)! So before you try any of these, try addressing some of the factors we have mentioned above.


Fit School is run by Chris and Karen Laing. Chris has been Personal Training since 2002. He re-trained after he completed his degree in Business Studies as he was fascinated with the human body and how your health is affected by diet. 

Chris was always fascinated with body transformations and fat loss and was about to learn more about it as In 2008, he was hired to train and present a celebrity fitness DVD for Claire Richards. Claire was also getting married so he had 3 jobs in one! 

For years, Chris and Karen were saying that gyms need to focus on creating programmes for people that deliver results, but gyms weren’t interested. Chris and Karen came up with Fit School, a system for people to get results through group exercise programmes which isn’t gym centred.
Fit School creates a structure for people, where they only need to turn up and enjoy themselves.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

Ken Heathcote, ‘Father of Fitness’ on creating fitness moments of magic.

55 YEARS after opening his first gym, the UK’s ‘Father of Fitness’, Ken Heathcote opens up in his autobiography about the personal challenges he faced forging a business out of the fitness industry.


I was fortunate enough to meet Ken on a recent trip to Bolton. My father-in-law used to attend classes with Ken, my husband’s best friend is now heading up the graphic design for Ken’s book and it was in a little back street in Bolton that he made the move from community classes to his first professional gym.

“I opened my doors on that first day from 10 ‘til 5 and no customers came,” says Ken, “then my dad walked in and put his money down on the counter. It was then I knew this was my profession and my livelihood.”

That gym would become the first multi-purpose fitness club in the UK.

Ken has published books before, The Gym Business sold in excess of ten thousand copies but this is the first time he has laid his soul bare – and he’s understandably nervous.

For fitness industry professionals, Ken laid the foundations of modern fitness qualifications and programming. He wrote, created and delivered the first National weight training course and helped for the NVQ for sport and recreation. He was co-founder and Chairman of the FIA (Fitness Industry Association) and his Lifetime Achievement Awards include: Life Fitness – Distinguished Service Award; The Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Outstanding Contribution to Physical Culture; and National Fitness Awards – Lifetime Achievement Award.


This man is a legend! We met over coffee, at the Bolton Arena, just opposite the Reebok Stadium. Fitting for our meeting since footballer Nat Lofthouse, whose statue stands proud between the two buildings, used to train in Ken’s first gym with the rest of his Bolton Wanderers team mates.

And Ken’s who’s who of contacts does not end there. He counts the ‘World’s Best Built Man of the Century’ Bill Pearl as his friend, having judged the Mr Universe Contest for 15 years, and then there’s squash champion Jonah Barrington, footballers Roger Hunt MBE and Gordon Taylor OBE, the world’s strongest man Geoff Capes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Darth Vader!

So how did he go from an empty gym to a thriving, decades spanning fitness business? What can today’s fitness professionals learn from this pioneer? “It’s all about creating a social structure,” says Ken, “create moments of magic. We always focused on customer service first.” As a fitness professional, with my own community business, this is the message that has rung through my head since meeting Ken. That the fitness industry has grown in the past 50 years but hasn’t moved on.That our customers don’t really want fitness gadgets or trends, they are transitory. If we want customers for life then we need to re-discover the social side of the fitness industry. Take our customers on holidays, don’t just train them for them. Become a part of our communities, rather than just taking from them.

Ken Heathcote’s Autobiography, The Father of Fitness was published in the UK on 27th September and is available on Amazon.

For more information visit:

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

Just move: Is it time to stop fretting about neutral spine and posture?

NOW this title might sound very strange coming from someone who runs a Pilates business. However, you know me, I like to be a little different and I love a challenge. So when, at a recent Pilates convention (yes – they exist and they’re fun thank you JPilates) I sat in on a lecture by physiotherapist Mark Leyland (a physio who refreshingly was more interested in sharing knowledge and debate than asserting his superior knowledge of anatomical language) who share information such as:

  • There is no such thing as neutral spine;
  • There is no evidence to suggest good posture is good for you;
  • Postural alignment alone does little to heal the body; and
  • Having a bad back does not automatically mean you have a weak core

In the midst of a group of experienced and fairly outspoken Pilates instructors (few of us are meek and shy) my ears pricked up! What does this mean?

It challenged me as an instructor. I love to practise with great technique. I love to correct technique to make sure my participants are getting the most out of Pilates. I can spot a lordotic curve at 20 paces. I know which exercises will be challenging for which groups of participants. I can spot a Body Pump addict in the warm up! As an instructor you can get smug and complacent. So it got the old grey matter chugging.

There is no doubt that Pilates is beneficial. That said (and is is where I veer from many Pilates purists) it’s important to keep the body moving and do Pilates as part of a bigger package of movement. Within my classes we move through all planes of movement. We stand up. We free joints  and spines. But how could this information help me to give my participants more?

So here is what I’ve processed so far:

The most important thing for a pain free life is movement. Free, un-impinged movement across all joints. This, for most people, means finding an equilibrium, a place where they can re-balance muscles and find some alignment before progressing onto free-er movement.

My ultimate Pilates method would be in a studio. We’d incorporate big, primal, movement patterns like deadlifts, squats and pull-ups with Pilates. We’d also get your heart rate up.

But before that happens and because it is my mantra: just move! If something has got stuck, you need to find ways to free it. Since, after all, life is not all about being able to do the perfect plank well into your 80’s, it’s about playing and moving , pain free with your family or grandchildren.

Fit School: Ladies only training camps. Are you ready?

Fit School is looking for willing recruits who want to get in shape. Here’s how it’s going to work:


Fit School’s ladies only training camps. We don’t do bootcamps like you know bootcamps!



I’ve been getting lots of enquiries about bootcamps, the ‘guaranteed to beast you’ workout that’s taken over the outdoor fitness market. They are fun and can create a great post workout ‘endorphin’ high.


For the last 12 years in fitness, Karen and I have focused on results. From our knowledge, the results obtained from the majority of bootcamps aren’t in the same league as the results we have achieved. Especially if you’re only attending them just once a week. Of course there are some fantastic bootcamps out there which do deliver a fun experience and results. The main feature of these great bootcamps is multiple training sessions per week and a nutrition plan. But there are also lots of bootcamps which don’t.


We like to safeguard our results. That’s why Fit School won’t be offering a weekly bootcamp. Instead, we are starting our ladies only training camps. We are going to guide a group of ladies through a fitness experience which is shaped around what bootcamps were designed for: RESULTS! We can’t take on lots of people and we don’t want to run them every week throughout the year. Instead we will have three camps each year and they will be our premier product.


Bootcamps were originally designed for army recruits who were already fit. Therefore they  needed to be intense. However, people are now doing bootcamps who aren’t fit, at an intensity which probably isn’t ideal. Even more worrying is the number of women doing bootcamps to lose their baby weight. No pelvic floor exam and no inury screen. Now I’m not averse to an intense workout and in due time, you will probably experience some of these. However, I’m a big fan of buidling up your body and gradually building the intensity in a way that it can cope with. Think of this like a … School! Just like our name implies, we create a syllabus, not individual fitness sessions. So we want to take a group of ladies from the beginning, right the way up to a ‘bootcamp’ intensity.


We’ve already planned out some routes/hikes/treks which we will be taking you on. This isn’t going to be just a weekly exercise session. For this reason, we need to know if you are serious about getting into the best shape you have ever been in. That’s why we are going to run a free trial for six weeks.


With a free trial, we won’t have to pay any council fees for using public spaces (we’re a very above board business), so we can pass on this saving to you. If we have to use rooms or halls, there will only be the charge to cover the rooms. The prices we have been quoted are around £27 per hour, so if we need to use them, our volunteers just need to cover this. I hope we don’t need to use them, but it is a backup with all the bad weather we have been having.


We do like to support food banks, so all we ask is to make donation of your choice direct to the food bank in Harlow.


Also in return, all we need are video testimonals and some before and after pictures which we can use on our marketing information.


So if after reading all this, you feel that you can commit to two exercise sessions with us and two at home, and make nutritonal changes then send a brief e-mail to us at stating your reasons why you want a place.


Fit School with Chris

Fit School with Chris

Can coconut water make you more beautiful and cure your hangover?

Elixir of youth. Hangover cure. Labour and birthing aid. Sports drink. Drink of choice for the Hollywood starlet. Coconut water is fast gaining reputation as the ‘super drink’ of choice, with its many benefits now being backed up by scientific studies.

As a coconut water fan, I jumped at the chance to go to an event hosted by Vita Coco on Wednesday to learn more about the science behind it. I also got to sup on various delicious flavours of coconut water (although I have to confess my favourite is still straight up, natural).

1. Yes it could be considered something of a beauty elixir – amongst other Hollywood A-listers Madge, Gwinny, Ri-Ri and Sienna are huge fans. Coconut water is naturally rich in antioxidants, recently backed up by laboratory studies. It contains plant chemicals cytokinins, which have shown anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic effects, vitamins B and C and the minerals potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosporous and sodium.

2. Coconut water is naturally isotonic. To be considered isotonic, a drink needs to contain 5-6% sugars. Coconut water is 5% naturally occurring sugars. An isotonic drink is quickly absorbed by the body making it both thirst quenching and more importantly rehydrating. So at times of need, such as after sports or illness, during labour or in the post natal period (or a big night out), an isotonic drink can be more effective than plain water. A recent study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in December 2012, found coconut water to be as effective in rehydrating athletes as conventional sports drinks.

According to, coconut water is a universal donor and is identical to human blood plasma.  It has the same level of electrolytic balance that we have in our blood and apparently, during the Pacific War of 1941-45, coconut water was used to give emergency plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers. Coconut water was also reportedly used as an IV drip in WWII.

3. Coconut water is chemical and sugar free. Unlike conventional sports drinks which contain a cocktail of sugars, sweeteners, artificial flavourings and basically chemicals which can be very acid forming in the body, coconut water contains no nasties. Recent studies have shown runners who suffered with gastric issues from conventional sports drinks reacted much better to coconut water as a rehydration drink with fewer tummy complaints.

4. Coconut water is rich in potassium. Recent WHO guidelines state we should all consume 3500mg potassium, daily. It’s a vital mineral for controlling blood pressure and heart disease. One 350ml of pure coconut water contains 50% more potassium than a banana!

5. One 35oml portion of Vita Coco also contains your entire RDA of vitamin C!

6. Anecdotal mum research fact (on my test subject of one) – coconut water is much easier to get down a poorly baby/toddler than conventional rehydration salts!

You can buy Vita Coco (my favourite brand, since it’s ethically produced and not from concentrate) in Waitrose, larger supermarkets, Holland and Barrett and online via Amazon at

Sports Nutrition expert Anita Bean

Sports Nutrition expert Anita Bean

A HUGE Fit School Christmas thank you


Who ate all the pies?

It’s hard to believe that our first Fit School event was just three weeks ago. We had such a fun evening and can’t wait to share news of our next one which will be a Fit School circuit class, an hour long version of the taster session you all did on the night and an introduction to the programme, we’ll be holding this in January.

We raised £150 which we split between our chosen charities, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

We also collected a table full of vital foods and toiletries for Harlow Food Bank. I got a personal email from Gary, the director of the charity to say thank you.

So I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who came and got stuck in with the taster classes and who donated food and cash, everyone who came along and helped out on the night with talks and support, everyone who couldn’t come but who still donated and to all those messages of support we received for our first event.

It was great to see everyone turn up and just get stuck in. ‘Trainers on, sweaters off, let’s move,’ was definitely the motto for the night.

The fabulously talented Zoe Panting took some photos on the night. Here are a selection of our favourites:


Pilates with Karen

Pilates with Karen

Pilates with Karen

Fit School with Chris

Fit School with Chris

Zumba Princess!

Zumba Princess!


Zumba with Rochele

Zumba with Rochele

NCT's Sandra getting stuck in to Coach Chris' Fit School class

NCT’s Sandra getting stuck in to Coach Chris’ Fit School class


Maxine for Neal's Yard

Maxine for Neal’s Yard


Nutritionist Julia Stone

Nutritionist Julia Stone


Women's health physiotherapist Melissa Millman

Women’s health physiotherapist Melissa Millman


Physiotherapist Carolyn explains back health

Physiotherapist Carolyn explains back health


Coach Chris

Coach Chris



A Fit School Christmas – after the party

What a night! After a lot of planning and preparation, our first health and fitness evening was a lot of fun and a real success.

I loved Rochele’s crazy Zumba party. Rochele ‘I had a baby eight weeks ago so need to take it easy,’ who proceeded to exude energy only slightly greater than that of our youngest participant, Maya (21 months) who had no intention of going to sleep so Zumba’d in her PJs.

It was also fantastic to meet some new faces and to see so much willing participation in our taster classes and talks.

I know a lot of you made a massive effort to get there last night. Taking annual leave; arriving direct from hospital visits; leaving five day old babies at home; bringing sleeping tots when babysitters weren’t available; bringing husbands to look after babies; and above all, just coming. Then there were those of you who couldn’t make it but still donated money and good wishes. The list goes on. I always endeavour to support new ventures and events, so support is something that means a great deal to me.

Now we’ve done one, it will be easier to do more. So watch out for Fit School roadshow 2013. We’re comin’ at ya’!




Multiple Sclerosis – What it means to me

When Chris and I first discussed what our fitness business would look like we knew we didn’t want to run just another gym, neither did we want the focus of our business to be sales. We’ve always believed that an ethical, customer service focused fitness business based on results, programming and community was key for us, both for the success of our clients and for our personal job satisfaction.

As part of this focus on community, we want Fit School to support charities. From offering our services, or funding other professionals to coach in local schools and clubs, to national charities, which mean a lot to us and to our clients.

Earlier this year my Aunty Brenda lost her battle with Multiple Sclerosis. She’d had it for over thirty years. I remember my Aunty fighting MS. She used to drag herself on her elbows around her kitchen rather than give in to a wheelchair. She refused being fed through a tube until her body couldn’t take anymore. And in the end, in May this year, she refused resuscitation.

I write this, very aware that my emotions are insignificant compared to those of my cousins Emma and Simon and my Uncle Ian. Their lives were so different to mine because of the constant support, help, care and above all love, they showed my Aunty. And whilst my experiences of Aunty Brenda’s MS were at a distance, the impact of the illness on her family is not lost on me.

I was privileged to visit her when she was finally admitted to hospital with pneumonia. The sense of acceptance from the whole family was immense and put life into perspective.

My Aunty was full of life, she was creative, alternative and even when she couldn’t really eat, still loved cake!

Around the time that Aunty Brenda got really poorly I found out that a good friend had just been diagnosed with MS. Treatments are different now but the uncertainty remains, not to mention pain, sickness and tiredness that go hand in hand with mega doses of drugs.

I didn’t want to call tomorrow Brenda’s evening because it’s still too raw for many people, but that’s essentially what the charity part is about – my Aunty Brenda, who was a bit alternative and loved cake. x

About MS

MS affects the nervous system and is more common in women than men. It usually strikes between the ages of 20 and 40. The causes of MS are still uncertain. It’s not a directly inherited condition but it’s thought that a combination of genes are responsible. More evidence now is pointing to a lack of Vitamin D (MS is virtually unheard of near the equator) and possibly a link to sweeteners like aspartame.

Harlow Food Bank – working to restore dignity and hope

Before Friday’s big event I thought it was important to say a little about each of the charities we’re supporting.

We aren’t asking for any entrance money but have asked for a contribution for the Harlow food bank. This means anything from a tin to a packet of pasta.

I found out about the food bank through this year’s Epping United Reformed Church toddler group, harvest collection. All the children brought tins, tea-bags, dried food and biscuits. The sorts of foods that might sustain a family or individal in crisis, in the time it takes for more permanent financial help to be put in place.

The Harlow food bank, organised through the Michael Roberts Charitable Trust, has fed over 6000 people since it started in 2009. Last year the charity reported a 35% increase in demand for support. It’s doing brilliant work, at a community level, to ensure help gets to the right place and the people who really need it.

Please give generously. Here’s a list of what is really needed

We’ll see you on Friday.