Three simple exercises which could predict early death

IF you’ve had your eyes on the health news recently you might have noticed the new study which has revealed three everyday exercises, could be a predictor of early death.

According to the study published last week, grip strength, balance and squats are key indicators of early death.

And guess what? Squatting, balance and grip strength are all things that can be developed through regular (you’ve guessed it) Pilates and exercise, especially resistance training.

The study, by the Medical Research Centre, published the results of tests performed on 5000, 53 year olds but they also said that the exercise results on younger participants could also predict a reduced life expectancy.

So what are the exercises and how can you test yourself?

TEST ONE: Balance

Stand on one leg with your eyes closed. How long can you do this for?

The study found that men and women who were able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die early than those who could hold it for ten seconds of more.

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TEST TWO: Squats (the chair test)

Using a dining chair, sit down and stand up as many times as you can in one minute.

The study found that men who could stand up from a chair and sit down again less than 23 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in the following 13 years than those who could 37 or more.

Among women those who could stand up and sit down again less than 22 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in that time than those who could do the test 35 times or more.

TEST THREE: Grip strength

Participants gripped a special device, like a bike brake. Those who had the strongest grip had the longest life expectancy.

You can measure your own grip strength by your ability to hold on to monkey bars, hold a heavy weight or open and close a jar.

For the full story visit:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10795230/Standing-on-one-leg-may-predict-which-53-year-olds-at-risk-of-early-death.html

Headaches, push-ups and tennis elbow: The shoulder blade connection

THIS week, across all my classes, there’s a bit of a theme. Clue: They are behind you and you need them to move your arms. Anatomically speaking I’m referring to your scapulae, without the latin they are your shoulder blades.

Any arm or shoulder movement is dependent on your shoulder blades. From golf to gardening, running, or even drinking a cup of tea. Conditions like headaches, tennis elbow, rotator cuff injuries and even arthritis can all originate in dysfunctional shoulder blades. And the basic problem? They don’t move. This is why many Pilates exercises incorporate arm movements and why, during classes we spend a lot of time mobilising the upper body and taking care to position arms, elbows, shoulders and necks in a specific way.

Now to be honest, this is way too big a topic to unravel in one blog post and I don’t intend to. Instead, I’d like to offer you some food for thought to take into your classes and every day activities.

Even now, as you read this, how are you sitting or standing? Think about your little shoulder blades. Where are they right now? And where have they been for most of the day? If you spend a lot of time at your desk, they’ll have been fairly slack as your shoulders slope forwards and your wrists/fingers take the strain. If you sit up straight now and think about letting them drop away from your ears, how does that feel?

Inactivity and rigidity are enemies of your musculo-skeletal system so here are a few ideas for getting your shoulder blades moving:

THE IMAGINARY HAND SQUEEZE:

Stand up and imagine someone has placed their hand between your shoulder blades. Now try to squeeze the hand (you could of course find a willing volunteer).

 

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

THE DIVER:

From standing, place both hands above your head as if you were about to dive into water. Now raise your shoulders to your ears, without changing your hand/arm position and then lower your shoulders to create space under your ears. This exercise stimulates the natural winging in and out of your shoulder blades.

THE PUSH-UP PREP:

From your hands and knees (you can progress to toes) prepare for a push up. Now check your elbow joint position. Are they pointing out to the sides or back, towards your knees? If they are facing the sides, your shoulders aren’t in the right position and you’ll always struggle to do a push-up (plus you’ll get really sore wrists). Instead try drawing your shoulder blades away from your ears, squeeze them together just a little and ensure your elbow joint creases are facing forwards. Notice what happens now when you bend your elbows.

THE KNEELING TWIST:

From your hands and knees, thread one arm through your torso as if you were threading a needle, bending the other elbow to enable your shoulder blade to almost touch the floor, then go the other way, opening up your arm completely to the side.

 

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.

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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.

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ABOUT FIT SCHOOL:
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
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Taking the fun out of fitness

Personal training. Spinning. Bootcamps. HITT training. Weights or no weights. Running vs. jogging. Pilates vs. yoga. Zumba. Walking the dog. Nordic walking … the list is endless. As someone who is immersed the fitness industry on a daily basis, both as a service provider and a writer, I’m forever bemused by the internal wranglings of fitness professionals over what is best, what is optimum and what is just a waste of time. In their opinion.

The thing is, if you are exercising to train in the Commonwealth Games or to rehabilitate a broken back, then the type of training that you do is REALLY important. But if you start a personal training programme and your trainer insists you do X,Y and Z for optimum effect and you hate X,Y and Z, then no matter how clever your trainer is or how keen you are, you won’t stick to it. Would it not be better for you to do a bit of X and Y but then a whole lot more of the stuff you love?

Here’s what I think (for what it’s worth). Enjoyment, community, stress release and fun are THE most important factors when it comes to exercise for most people. Yes, if you have a specific goal in mind like marathon training or weight loss, then you might have to factor in a little more of the optimal training stuff but please not to the detriment of what makes exercise enjoyable for you. When I recently interviewed the man who pioneered fitness clubs in the UK. Ken Heathcote (who was also the founder of fitness industry qualifications) he said social HAD to come first, functional after.

So if someone tries to tell you otherwise … I’d suggest you tell them to optimise their opinions to someone who cares.

Now here are a few people who knew how to laugh at themselves: Acorn Antiques does health and fitness.

acornantiques
Ken Heathcote, Father of Fitness, on creating fitness moments of magic.
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 http://www.alittlefitter.com.
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
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Back Pain and Pilates

CHRONIC back pain is one of the most common reasons people come to Pilates. From over use injuries, to car accidents, muscle imbalance or just poor posture, Pilates can really help to alleviate pain and manage the condition long term. But just why is Pilates good for back pain and when pain strikes during or after a class what is your body telling you.

Let’s start with the whole ‘Pilates is good for backs’ thing. Well in my experience of teaching, yes it is, but perhaps not just for the most obvious reason Pilates is known for, core strength. And – forgive me for being outspoken here – but not all Pilates classes will work for you. If you’re attending a class expecting to come out with burning abs and nothing else, well then I’m afraid your instructor has done you something of a dis-service.

Core Strength

Have you ever been told that you have a bad back, therefore you have a weak core? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. For a start, for me, your core is the broad spectrum term I’d use to describe your entire torso and your butt. Shoulder girdle, pelvic girdle, spine, abdominals, pelvic floor, gluteals, hip flexors all have a major part to play in your core control. If you were weak in all these areas, you’d probably struggle to stand up! Also, I’ve seen many clients referred to me with back pain from a physio who have excellent core awareness. It is far more likely that you have an imbalance somewhere in your torso, which could have started anywhere (that car accident, wearing high heels, marathon running, a sprained ankle, pregnancy) and which is aggravating your back pain.

Movement

Before you run away, despondent, there are many good reasons why Pilates can help with a sore back. Yes, core activation and strength has a part to play but balance and movement are just as important. And this is where the type of class you attend is so important and why an ‘abs dominant’ class isn’t really going to do you any favours.

Whilst there is no evidence to support the assumption that good posture will alleviate back pain, there is plenty of evidence to support the notion that movement is key to long term health and pain management. If your joints and your spine can move freely, through all their designed ranges of motion,  it is unlikely that you will experience chronic pain. Not sure about this? When did you last twist your ankle, strain your neck or pull your back? Were you able to move that joint freely whilst in pain or during your recovery? Or did you find the pain was worse at a certain movement point? Injury along with poor posture, repetitive sports like running, chronic illnesses like asthma and pregnancy can all make your joints seize up – and if you don’t manage them with movement, this can become permanent.

In a Pilates class we move. In my Pilates classes we move your body through all its planes of movement and we move your joints through all their ranges of motion. Sometimes the ‘slow’ bits can feel a bit .. well slow! But they are all part of the process.

Balance

The other really important factor for back health is balance. If you have super tight hip flexors from years of triathlon training or years of wearing high heels (NOTE: if you are very comfortable in high heels this is probably you) you will probably have muscle weaknesses elsewhere which are pulling you out of ‘happy back’ posture. Again, your spine gets stuck and those dominant muscles will just keep screaming at you until you get a little action into those weak and weedy ones. This is why I am very particular about glutes and shoulder girdles in my classes. For me (and to most of the fitness industry), the ability to squat and do a push up with good form are fundamental to a strong, fit body, that moves well.

This means (unfortunately) that those exercises you really hate are the ones you need to make your best friends and those you love, well it’s great to love them but pay heed to what your body is telling you.

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Pain During Class

So we’re back to pain during class. Firstly, never exercise through pain. It’s one of those absolutes. Pain is your body telling you something. It’s quite possible that in the context of a Pilates class is telling you that a) you’re working too hard or you’ve done enough of that exercises; b) you’ve lost form (or never had it); c) you’re not quite in the right position; or d) your tight and strong muscles are screaming at you and doing all the work you’re trying to undo!

So listen to the pain. Then stop. You might need to find a different position. You might find that on that day your body isn’t responding well (tiredness, time of the month or a bloated tummy can all affect core control and movement). Talk to your instructor. Stretch. Go gently and focus more on movement than keeping up with your neighbour. Remember, there are very few Pilates participants who are good at everything, we all have favourite exercises and tricky ones. Work at the level that suits you and your body.

The Princess. The bump. Your body. How long does it really take to recover after pregnancy and birth?

THERE has been much furore surrounding Princess Kate and her post baby body since she emerged, glowing, from the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital last week. In fact perhaps more media attention has focused on Kate’s body than on beautiful baby Prince George.

So newsflash, the female body takes time to recover after 9 months of growing a person and squeezing it out of a very small hole, or even out of the sun roof. But just how long? Weeks, months or years?

The doctor can sign you off as soon as six weeks post birth when initial recovery has taken place but a study published last year by Salford University, suggested it could take up to a year for women to recover both physically and mentally. Some experts suggest this may even be two years, since it takes this long for your abdominal muscles to fully return to their pre-pregnancy state. And then there’s breastfeeding – pregnancy hormones remain in your system for up to four months after you stop nursing your child.

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So here’s a little guidance on how long it really takes for beautiful female bodies to recover after birth:

Early days

In the early days after giving birth your body is in full recovery mode. You may have lost a lot of blood and fluids and you’ll definitely be short on sleep and energy. You’ll most likely be sore and swollen so now is the time to enjoy some confinement and TLC.

0-6 weeks

There’s a lot going on during the first six weeks of post natal recovery. Whilst your uterus is contracting (cause of the painful, cramping sensations you’ll be getting) the rest of your internal organs, which got squidged out of the way during pregnancy are returning to their rightful place. Your pelvis will be recovering and returning to it’s pre-labour state and your urethra, vagina and anus, which again will have moved slightly during pregnancy will be returning to their original homes. Any intense activity during this stage could hinder the healing process. Walking and gentle stretching is fine but definitely nothing bouncy.

You’ll also be bleeding heavily and may also be anaemic, so plenty of iron-rich foods and dark green vegetable to aid iron absorption are critical during this time.

You’ll be quite inflamed and possibly held together by stitches for a few weeks. You’ll need to keep them as clean as possible with salt baths and lavender or calendula compresses and drink plenty of fluids for breast milk and to flush out any nasties and minimize your risk of infection.

Some women get haemorrhoids, mastitis, back ache or other complications and all women will suffer with some degree of sleep deprivation so rest, recuperation and realism are the order of the day for the early weeks.

Up to 4 months post breastfeeding

Your pregnancy hormones, most noticeably relaxin stay in your body until up to four months after you finish breast feeding. This means any associated symptoms, such as reduced stability in your pelvis and joints, also linger for this amount of time. So high impact activities are best enjoyed with caution until you feel ready to go – experts disagree on this point but you know your body best and if you are at all at risk of or unsure of your pelvic floor stability, focus on this side of your training through Pilates or resistance training before you hit the tennis court.

You may also find that the extra ‘insurance’ fat that your body gained in the early days of pregnancy also sticks around until baby is weaned, this is because your clever body is still holding on fat stores vital for hormone and milk production. Fat is not just stubborn lumpy stuff with no purpose, it’s an organ in its own right, storing and generating hormones and of course energy.

Up to a year post birth

The University of Salford study, conducted by Dr Julie Wray, interviewed women during their first year post birth and concluded that women need a year to recover both physically and emotionally after child-birth. Her study found that women felt unsupported by medical services and very much left to get on with it. This is where social networks made through local health clinics or organisations such as the NCT offering Bumps and Babies groups can be a vital part of the healing process. Relationships, personal self-worth, finances and health are all put through the mill in the first 12 months. It takes time to re-find your feet with a new member of your family.

Up to two years post birth

When you are pregnant, your growing baby forces your abdominal wall to stretch. The body responds by creating new muscle cells, or sarcomeres, literally lengthening your abdominals. According to health practitioner Paul Chek (author of How to Eat, Move and be Healthy) it can take up to two years for your abdominals to fully recover. Three big factors that can prevent this recovery, causing an abdominal distention are: Having two babies within two years (or falling pregnant within two years of the last pregnancy); gaining a large amount of weight during pregnancy; or a C-section (C-sections can cause internal scarring or adhesions which can add to abdominal distention).

Two years and beyond

Complications such as diastasis recti (split in the abdominal wall), adhesions, post stitches pain or pelvic floor dysfunction (such as prolapse) can cause problems well beyond two years.

So mummies, let’s lay off the ‘lose weight now,’ or, ‘get fit quick’ resolutions. You’ll know when you’re ready to get in shape or just get more energy, your local gym’s marketing team don’t. This post isn’t intended to be a license to eat cake and ice cream forever, that won’t do much for your body either but do wear your physical changes like a badge of honour, enjoy the early years with your baby and be like the clever tortoise, not the media hungry hare.

If you liked this post, check out The New Mummy Diet.

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 http://www.alittlefitter.com.
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
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Get updates from the alittlefitter post natal newsletter: http://eepurl.com/YVmD9

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.