It’s time we stopped ‘using’ Pilates and just did it?

In the world of Pilates we’ve got accustomed to ‘using’ Pilates exercises to help participants back to health following an injury, illness or pregnancy.  But by doing so, have we lost some of the flavour of what Pilates is really about? A workout.

Physiotherapists often refer patients to me to ‘improve core strength’ (that term in itself is fodder for another post).Pilates is fantastic for back health but contrary to popular belief it’s not physiotherapy. It is a workout first and foremost and many of my participants require extra homework dependent on their specific needs. We work through a range of both strengthening and mobility work from a variety of interesting angles! Tight muscles and immobility are greater enemies of back health than muscle weakness. This is something I too am constantly learning about. I’m not saying this to put anyone off. My participants range from early 20s to mid 80s and there are always adaptations or props which make it suitable to all.


All my classes are programmed, so we work through a programme over a 6-8 week period with the aim of improving not only strength and mobility but understanding of Pilates and ability to do the moves. I’m doing this myself a lot at the moment since I’m just returning after having my second child, now 4 months!

In my opinion, fitness professionals (myself included) can get so caught up in what’s best for us that we’re in danger of losing sight of the things in life that make us happy. Like chocolate cake! Plus pain can make us afraid of doing certain exercises for fear of making it worse.

One hour of Pilates once a week will not break your back, it’s the remaining hours you spend slumped in a chair, tight with anxiety or sleeping at funny angles that do that for you. So stop being afraid of exercises that seem a little more challenging.

There is a place for Pilates exercises to help get you back to fitness if you begin a little broken and if you just love feeling the burn in your abdominals then abs away but remember your poor old back needs some love too. Let’s just not lose sight of Pilates, the workout. Perhaps it’s time we brought our bodies up to Joseph Pilates’ high standards rather than water Pilates down to suit our broken bodies.

With thanks to Joanne Cobbe of JPilates for inspiring some of the above concepts through ‘The Moves’ Workshop. If you liked this post, check out Jo’s take on the subject:

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


Want a flat tummy? My top 5 dos and don’ts.


DON’T EAT SUGARS OR REFINED CARBS. This one’s simple. Cut it out for a week and then tell me you haven’t lost fat on your tummy.

DON’T EAT PROCESSED FOODS. Yes even and especially diet ones. Flat tummies start in the kitchen.  No amount of exercise can out do a poor diet.  The cleaner your diet (this means no chemical nasties, unknown salts or sugars) the leaner your belly!

DON’T GIVE IN TO STRESS. It’s hard but stress, especially long-term, low level stress is a trigger for storing fat around your tummy. It can also be a trigger for comfort eating. Minimizing stress could mean letting go of commitments that aren’t serving you, booking in a weekly yoga or exercise session, or just taking time out to unwind but consider it as important to your health as cleaning your teeth (stress arguably causes more disease than bad dental care).



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Why can’t I stop eating sugar?

Especially for Harriet


I know. It’s hard. Without decisive action I can quickly slip into a sweet and sugary space. Going cold turkey seems like the hardest thing to do. We are programmed with a sweet tooth (mother’s milk is slightly sweet) it gives us energy. In fact studies consistently show that sugar is a harder addiction to crack than cocaine. So why is it that we get so obsessed by the white stuff?


Years of low fat diets have a lot to answer for. We used to think reducing fat in our food would reduce the fat on our thighs and consequently make us healthy. Research is consistently proving that this is absolutely not the case and far from making us healthy, removing the naturally occurring fats from food has led to a rise in the amount of rubbish taking its place. Including…

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25 things you may not know about me.

  1. I play the trumpet.  Most people remember me from school as ‘blond, glasses, plays the trumpet.’ One of my happiest memories is playing the A-Train solo in the middle of a packed out square on a school music tour in Limono, Italy (and getting a free gelato for my efforts).
  2. I was a bit of a square at school.  And a goody two shoes.  I liked school.  Got on with my teachers. Did three thousand extra curricular activities. I was that girl.
  3. I used to be a management consultant. I spent four years working for PwC Consulting. During that time I ran graduate training programmes in Tampa, Florida, learned to code (and teach to code) computer programmes and partied (and drank), a lot.
  4. I can down a pint in about 6 seconds (see above).
  5. I love baking. I wooed my husband with a lemon drizzle cake. Still my signature cake.
  6. I’m petrified of spiders, mice and anything that moves fast. Occasionally my own shadow.
  7. I got straight A’s for all my GCSEs and A-Levels and a First class honours degree.  It seemed important at the time!
  8. I’m very creative. I love to paint, do crafts, sew and decorate cakes, homes, anything.
  9. I was selected to be an international Girl Guide.
  10. My favourite drink is a gin and tonic.  Bombay Sapphire, ice (about 5 small cubes – not too cold), a large chunk of lemon, with a little juice squeezed into the glass and Schweppes tonic.  A short drink if it’s a summer garden party.  Gin and tonics always taste best when my dad makes them!
  11. My big sister, Sue, taught me to read before I went to school so I spent most of my primary school teaching other kids how to read Roger Red Hat or sitting on my own reading from a very small selection of ‘clever kids’ books (I remember most of them were pretty dull).
  12. I’m obsessed by stage musicals. Perhaps it’s the escapeism, perhaps it’s the fairy tale romance, perhaps it’s the music and spectacle but I love them and will defend them to the death. Much of my life is spent in an internal stage musical.
  13. I once won an award for choreographing our University production of Guys and Dolls which we performed at the National Student Drama Festival.
  14. My roles in theatre productions have included, courtesan (in the Comedy of Errors), Shy (a young whore in the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and Mona (killed her husband due to artistic differences in Chicago).
  15. For as long as I can remember I’ve fiddled with my hands.  I used to bite my nails until they were sore. I hate that I do it.
  16. I once played the part of a ‘mourner’ at Lord Byron’s funeral in a BBC adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (I was a runner for the programme).
  17. My grandfather is racist. A month before my wedding he sent me a letter explaining how he thought my marriage would offend many people and how he had no desire to meet my future husband.  He has never acknowledged the existence of my son, Isaac. I have learned an awful lot about different kinds of racism since knowing and loving Chris. I have learned through asking questions – if you don’t think racism exists anymore, I’d suggest you start asking questions too.
  18. I’m a Christian. It’s brilliant. I can’t imagine life without my faith.
  19. I’m a sobber. I cry at happy films. I wail at tragic films.  I cry when people tell me sad things. I well up when I remember moving bits in books. The Color Purple nearly destroyed me and War Horse was a traumatic event in my life.
  20. When I walked down the aisle to marry Chris, I’m convinced I saw a glimpse of heaven.  It was the most on track, on purpose, spiritual moment of my life.
  21. I used to work in McDonalds.  I had all five stars on my badge.
  22. I have ridiculously thick hair.  Having a full blow dry generally takes so long that I end up with a migraine.  My hair is like a rope.
  23. I’m a dreadful procrastinator.  I put things off.  I don’t think I used to as a child but somehow the dreaded put-it-off demon got stuck in my head (I wrote this post a very long time ago but have only just been brave enough to publish it).
  24. I was pretty rubbish at sports at school (see my blog post about P.E.). I tried really hard but to only thing I could really do was dance.
  25. I genuinely often wonder why people would want to spend any time with me! But then when I look at all my beautiful friends, from different stages of my life, I realise I can’t be that bad!



LOTC is proving so popular we’re hoping to run an Epping one too.


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…

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Biscuit SOS – how to beat the mid-afternoon munchies.

Fesh Chocolate Chip Cookies with Rapsberries and Hot Chocolate

Peckish? Is your 3 o’clock appointment with the biscuit barrel ruining your good intentions? If so, you’re not alone. From lack of protein, to sleep deprivation, dehydration or just your body’s own clever chemical hunger warfare sending your brain ‘feed me’ signals, the mid-afternoon munchies are sabotaging svelte waistlines everywhere. It’s time we did something about it. Here’s my how, why and emergency guide to the mid-afternoon munchies.


Think of your body like a finely tuned eco-system. It fights for equilibrium. You get thirsty or feel sleepy, that’s just your clever body looking after itself.

The same goes for hunger. Our tummies produce hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin makes us feel full but the ghrelin gremlin is all about hunger. Like most of our hormones, they regulate themselves during our restorative sleep hours. So a lack thereof can wreak havoc with our hunger signals.

Scientists know that sleep deprivation will increase ghrelin levels in the body. The 2008 study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that just one night of sleep deprivation can lower leptin levels and raise ghrelin levels.

The ghrelin gremlin peaks in the afternoon and signals the brain to eat, and to eat high calorie foods. Hence our visits to the vending machine or corner shop.

Scientists have also discovered that ghrelin is not good for waistlines. A study published in 2009, in the International Journal of Obesity, found that ghrelin favours an accumulation of fats around the tummy and also in the fatty tissues around our organs, especially the liver. Specifically those areas that put us at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So if the gremlins strike, aim for healthy, happy fats which are much easier for your body to use as fuel and help prevent the unhealthy fat gain around your tummy.


If you are finding yourself hungry in the afternoons it’s also worth analysing your morning food intake. Did you skip breakfast? Did you nip out of the door with little more than a slice of toast and jam? In order to regulate your appetite and blood sugar levels, the best thing you can do is have protein with every meal. A boiled egg, nuts with your yoghurt or a tuna sandwich will all serve your dietary needs better than a teensy rice cake!

You may also be genuinely hungry? Sometimes a craving for high calorie food is just your body’s way of saying ‘EAT’ – so rather than reaching for a cake, eat something more substantial instead.


1. Aim for at least seven hours sleep a night.

2. Eat breakfast – if you skip it then make sure your first meal contains a balance of proteins and good fats.

3. Eat protein with every meal and every snack – that might just be a few nuts (see below).

4. Drink at least two litres of fluid a day – if you feel hungry, try a drink first (you might just be thirsty).

5. Consider an omega oil supplement – it helps in the battle against unhappy fats.


If the hunger has already kicked in, here are a few suggestions for damage limitation:

1. Drink a herb or fruit tea, or a fresh vegetable juice – it can take away the sweet craving and quench your thirst.

2. Have a square of dark chocolate with a few nuts.

3. Eat oatcakes with nut butter or avocado.

4. Have an apple with a small piece of cheese.

5. Have some granola yoghurt.

Three steps to alkalise your body: Lean means greens.


IF the 80s was about hip and thigh diets and the 90s was all about low fat and the dreaded WW starvation style diets, I believe the future of health and nutrition lies in our acid versus alkali balance.

Did you know that certain foods, like sugars, dairy, meat and grains create a highly acidic state in your body? We’re not talking necessarily about the sorts of acids that rot your teeth but about the bi-product of digesting certain foods and the way it affects your body at a cellular level.

From cancer, to obesity, digestive complaints, thyroid and adrenal function, an acidic body is a toxic body, which, over time is literally rotten.

In the short term, an acidic body wants to store fat and has a slower metabolism. It’s a protective mechanism, a way of preventing acid damaging vital organs and tissues. An alkaline body on the other hand is a fat burning machine, with a stronger metabolism – an alkaline body is lean, mean and green!

So where do we start:

STEP ONE: Cut out the cr*p

Processed foods, sugars and highly refined foods are hugely acid forming and provide little nutritional benefit. Put simply, on a pros and cons scale these foods are B.A.D. Nasty. Just no need to go there foods. So scrap them. They will make you feel like garbage. End of discussion.

STEP TWO: Neutralize your vital food stuffs

Foods like meat, eggs, some dairy and grains are important for you to function but are also acid forming. So in order to neutralize their acidity, choose high quality protein sources and eat them with a plate full of (you know what’s coming) veggies! Yes. Yummy vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, watercress … mmmmmnnnn. And if the thought of green vegetables leaves (ha ha) you cold, never fear, my next blog will be all about interesting ways with vegetables.

STEP THREE: Start the day in an alkaline way

You may have heard those earthy, naturally slim types chattering about how they start each day with a mug of hot water and lemon. Well it works, one way of alkalising your body first thing is to go lemon tastic. Your body gets acidic over night so the first thing that crosses your lips needs to be alkali.

If lemon doesn’t float your boat then try a 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a glass of water. It’s cleansing and also a top tip for pepping you up if you ever have tummy troubles or gripes.

You could be really brave and try a greens drink. You can create your own in a juicer/blender by whizzing up spinach and watercress with apple juice, avocado and lemon or buy one. Now I’ll come clean, powder green drinks are pretty grim.  The best one I’ve found was created by a fitness colleague, Paul Mort:

And that’s it. If you only do two things to reduce your acidity I’d suggest green veggies with every meal and lemon and hot water first thing.

More posts on alkalising:

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!

I hated P.E. too

Forget about the misery of school P.E., fall back in love with sports just for fun and fitness.
The study published on Wednesday on behalf of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation confirmed what most of us have known since puberty, that school PE puts many girls off sport, for life!
I also wasn’t a fan of school sports. I could never see the ball in rounders due to long-sightedness. My shot would inevitably end the rally in tennis. My highest netball ranking was playing wing defense for the B team in primary school. My finest javelin throw was about six metres.  But I do remember always trying hard and once getting an A for effort on my school report.
I now run, lift weights, play golf and am getting better at tennis.  When I won a prize for longest drive at my first golf day I cried. When I miss a shot in tennis in spite of tremendous effort I laugh. Hard!
But what I’ve learned coming back to sports as a grown up is that I just need a little more coaching than some.  I can actually sprint pretty well but was never taught anything than just running fast at school.  In fact when hubby got me sprinting for the first time I felt like a gazelle, ‘so that’s what these solid legs are for,’ I thought.
I can’t throw, so it’s taken me forever to get to an acceptable (for me) golfing standard and my tennis serve is pretty special to behold but the key to all of this is that I love it!  I love being outside and I love playing sports, even though I’m not great at it.  I do it for fun and this, for me is something which was fundamentally lacking in my school sports experience.
I now encourage women to get active for a living.  I write about health and fitness, I teach fitness, predominantly Pilates and I married a fit husband. My motivation for doing this is not about massive fat loss, it’s about getting more people active and above all encouraging anyone that contacts me or steps through the class room door.
So forget about P.E.  No one is going to make you step outside in gym knickers and an under-sized T-shirt.  Try something new … you might just like it.