Thursday, 8 December 2016

Principal Pilates' Picks

Thought I'd share some gift ideas now Christmas is coming...

For clothes (Pilates or not) I'm loving BAM bamboo clothing I think you can feel greener buying bamboo clothes as it's a faster growing crop than cotton and uses a lot less water.  I like this Women's Bamboo Horizon Sweat - very soft and cosy, great for winter!

Women's Bamboo Horizon Sweat
Men's Bamboo Contrast Stitch Baselayer
And I love the feel of their base layers - available in his and hers sizes!
Sweaty Betty's Intensify Merino Seamless leggings

So that's tops, now for leggings. My pick for this time of year is extravagant but feels so good.. They are Sweaty Betty's Intensify Merino Seamless leggings - wool but definitely not scratchy and so fantastically warm!

And to complete the outfit - socks! Here are two pairs for the colder months - the dusky pink are short without grips so good for everyday. The long blue pair do have grips and will get you to and from classes with warmer legs!

ToeSox With Toe Casual Crew Dusk
Full Toe Knee High Grip Socks in Polka

Next, on to some kit to use at home over Christmas to work on any tight muscles - Franklin Method of course!  
Soft Franklin Ball, 10cm, orange
Franklin Ball, green, 10cm

Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps...

And when you've put your feet up, how about something to read? Just three books to choose from that may help you start 2017 even more healthy and happy. The first is Nick Littlehale's Sleep.  For me, you can't underestimate the effect of sleep on health.  And Nick tells us about helping numerous athletes achieve gains in their sport by sleeping better. But good sleep isn't just for Bradley Wiggins - this book could help anyone getting a better night and it contains the revelation (to me at least!) that decaffeinated doesn't mean caffeine-free - who knew?!
Living Well With Pain And Illness

My second book is Living Well with Pain and Illness by Vidyamala Burch. A book that helps us understand more about what pain actually is and how awareness, breathing and mindfulness can help improve our lives.
Joanna Hall's Walkactive Programme:

And lastly a good book for January to help us get more active outdoors by walking more.   Most of us walk on autopilot much of the time but to walk as we're designed to takes more awareness. Joanna Hall shows us how to optimise our gait and how to get fitter at the same time. What better way for body and mind to start a year?

Ah, there is one way - and that's a Principal Pilates 1-1 of course! Vouchers available from Caroline!

Merry Christmas and looking forward to a Happy 2017 for all!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

What's all the fuss about fascia?

Fitness industry training about fascia is fashionable now.   Earlier this year I did some excellent training with Heather King-Smith on Myofascial Slings.   The training draws on the growing body of research on fascia and how it functions.

Going back in time to my initial Pilates training, understanding of fascia was less widespread across the fitness industry.  And the received wisdom was to work muscles first then stretch them afterwards.
However, after teaching for a while, I realised that most of us need to become more flexible before we exercise, rather than after.   It also became obvious that you can passively stretch some muscles for as long as you like but you won't make a significant difference to their resting length (in other words - they won't stretch!)

Having discovered the Franklin Method, last year we had a term of  classes that included Franklin hamstring fascial release.  We  finished each class with the Shoulder Bridge exercise (pictured left).

In the past, some clients would always experience cramp in their hamstrings despite warming up and doing static hamstring stretches first.

But in our hamstring-fascial release term I was impressed to see that no clients cramped in the Shoulder Bridge.  Fantastic!   But why and how does that work?   And to begin with, what is fascia?

Facsia is...
Connective tissue that forms all-encompassing structures within our body surrounding and connecting bone, muscle and internal organs.  It's able to both absorb and create force.  Its characteristics vary upon where it is in the body and its function.   Here are four different fascial functions:
  • The outer most layer (superficial fascia) gives our body its shape.   
  • Visceral fascia surrounds and supports the internal organs.
  • Dense layers of deeper fascia surround and compartmentalise muscles (such as the quads). 
  • Elsewhere fascia forms thick sheets which are strong enough for muscles to insert into (e.g. the Thoracolumbar Fascia).

Why release fascia?
Fascia can become restricted which may cause pain and / or dysfunction.   For example, fascia can get damaged and tighten down and then put stress on nerves, muscles and joints.   It can also thicken and become more solid if there is a lack of movement (such as around a frozen shoulder).

The good news is that fascia can be released.   It has sensory receptors which respond to touch and pressure (such as rolling on a ball, massage, tapping and vibration).  This means that when you release fascia you can decrease the tone in the surrounding muscles.   So the muscles are less tight and are then more able to stretch.

In our hamstring release classes, we used our hands to massage the superficial fascia at the back of the thigh and as a result we were able to reach further down our legs.   So the muscles were able to stretch and their tone had changed so they were less likely to cramp in the Shoulder Bridge.

In these two pictures, I have a fascial release ball under one set of hamstrings.   I'm flexed forward over the leg to bring my hamstrings into a lengthened position.   By staying and breathing for a short while - using this method - I'm also able to influence the tone and resting length of the hamstrings effectively and gently.  

In our April and May term we've also found some surprising effects on flexibility in joints of the body quite far away from where we were releasing - again the power of connective tissue!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

One Step at a Time

Spending two hours every day driving my daughter to a new school prompted me to buy a pedometer to check how active I am.

The NHS challenges us to walk 10,000 steps every day to improve our cardio-vascular health, build stamina and burn calories.  So I thought I'd see how me and my family measure up to this...

I bought pedometers for my daughters (aged 8 and 14).  And my husband has a Fitbit already - which counts driving a car as climbing stairs!   Luckily that can be rectified with the Fitbit.   

Meanwhile, in a mildly scientific way, I decided to experiment and compare our steps over an average week.  Not a Step-Off style competition as such, just a step count.

I waited a while as our 8 year old began by spending all her lunch and playtimes at school running around to maximise her steps.  After a couple of weeks she forgot to and her steps (I think) became more normal...

Interestingly, on a rainy day, she took hardly any steps.   We still walked to school in the rain but at school she stayed in one room pretty much the whole day - so not many steps.

Pedometers at the ready!
And for Laurie, my 14 year old, I imagined not many steps during a school day.  But with six lessons in a day, she notched up some impressive numbers just walking between classrooms and to and from her locker (as well as lots of steps in PE lessons twice a week).  And then being dropped around the corner from school really added up the steps too (plus allowed me not to be an embarrassment)...

And for my husband, a pretty decent step count for someone with a long train commute and a desk job at the end of it.

Our step count between 14th and 20th March 2016
So, here's how we did last week in steps.  Our overall winner was Alice with an impressive 67,513 steps over the whole week (not that it's a competition!)   Running for Sport Relief on Friday definitely helped boost her steps.    And large amounts of school homework took it's toll on Laurie's weekend steps.

So having done our experiment, we're certainly not feeling smug as a family - but now we're more aware of how much we move. 

Knowing that rainy school days can be tough on active kids, I think they would love St Ninians, the Scottish Primary School which has pioneered the Daily Mile  where children go out and run for a maximum of 15 minutes everyday in any weather.   The reported benefits for the kids are better focus, more confidence plus they're eating and sleeping better.   

And on weekends, for the whole family, if you don't leave the house and go out and walk somewhere, it's much harder to get to 10,000 steps in!

Have a happy and active Easter!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Pilates in the Saddle

Jimmy the Shetland!
I love horses and grew up riding (this is me aged 3 riding Jimmy the Shetland Pony).   Since then, things have moved on!   Sadly, I no longer have a horse in my life but happily I do have clients with horses in their lives.   Holly is 1:1 Pilates client and Marcus is her the horse.

In Holly's Pilates sessions we work on various releases to increase flexibility as well as working on shoulder, pelvic and core stability. 

Holly and Marcus (riding in circles plus
 speed equals force!)
Last week I went to watch Holly having a lesson on Marcus at Baulking Grange with Sally.    Memories of twenty-odd years of riding flooded back to me as I watched Holly riding 20 metre circles.   And although Holly and I discuss her dressage in our Pilates sessions, as I watched her it was much more obvious to me how exercising helps Holly ride well.

Fit to ride
To start with riding relies on a hefty amount of fitness - more than you'd expect as an idle onlooker.   Sitting tall and keeping shoulders above hips and hips above heels is a fairly big ask for many of us, but add to that the motion of the horse, the centrifugal forces and the resulting challenge to balance and you're looking at some hard work!

Pelvic balance

For balance you need good stability in the body.   For the pelvis, this means maintaining an even weight distribution through the pelvis; so the triangle of pubic bone and sitting bones take even loading.    Core strength is going to be key here.  For the shoulders and the arm position, shoulder stabilisers will be important too.

The rider needs enough flexibility to be able to find the correct body alignment in the saddle.  For example, the hip joints need to be mobile enough for the rider to find the correct leg position.  This then allows the horse to move and breathe properly.  The right leg position in riding also lets rider communicate aids through to the horse with her legs.

Holly demonstraing a good leg position
Body awareness
This is important for maintaining the correct alignment as you ride.  For example, are you aware of whether your hands drop?  If they do drop, the tendency is for arms to straighten which then locks wrists and elbows.

Okay so none of us are perfectly symmetrical and nor are horses!   But asymmetries can be amplified when you ride as the horse is affected by the rider's lack of symmetry.   For example, if your left arm is more dominant than your right, the horses's canter will be affected.  On the left rein (moving anti-clockwise in a circle) it will be harder for the horse to begin cantering.  This is because  it leads its stride with its back inside leg and this will be more restricted by the tight grip on the left rein. 

So riding is complicated!  There's a lot involved for both rider and horse!   Holly is a very good rider.  She's also very good at Pilates.  And having watched Holly ride, I can see how we can tailor exercises more to help work on alignment and body awareness as well as working towards even greater symmetry.

For a less experienced rider perhaps the first thing to work on with Pilates would be core strength to enable basic stability in the saddle.  Following that, increasing both flexibilty and body awareness will go a long way on a hack or round the dressage ring!

Happy riding!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Fitness Forecast 2016

So what will be in - in 2016?   Crazes in group exercise classes in UK gyms are ever-changing and can be ever-surprising!   It is good though to keep your body surprised in terms of the exercises you do.  This means your body has to keep adapting to change, rather than plateauing with a limited number of exercises.  

Online, exercise appears to be increasingly about Instagram Glam.   Despite it's long and spiritual heritage, Yoga's future looks to include yet more Yoga pose selfiies online. 

So will this obsession with body image and exercise carry on?   Or will there be some balance with body function over form as the reason to exercise?    Perhaps the large amount of published scientific evidence available will help persuade us of the greater benefits of getting and staying fit...

Meanwhile, evidence a while back suggested how effective High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is in terms of increasing fitness.  And HIIT has certainly been a big hit in 2015.   However, the intensive nature of the training does carry a higher risk of injury when compared to lower intensity exercises.   Might this stop us and make us pause to think about how well our bodies function under stress?    Might we appreciate and understand more about our posture, flexibility, mobility and stability and the roles they all play in safely exercising?

For some, if you already have an injury, or other physical issue such as a back problem, then gaining all of the above is going to come first - before you think about speed, power and high intensity.

But might 2016 include a light bulb moment for more of us in terms of what we need to do to prevent injury?  Will we think about future-proofing our bodies before we go for the New Year burn (if we haven't gone for it already)?

Source: Amanda Mills
If that burn is going to be a run, then you may be part of the fastest growing sport in the UK right now.  And chances are, you might be wearing a new bit of wearable tech.  It will be interesting, in time, to know what difference wearable tech makes to the fitness landscape.   It's certainly a tool for those who already exercise.   I wonder if it will draw in many new exercisers?

Exercising at home with a fitness DVD or video has been the preserve of thousands (of mainly women) for years.   Now though, these are being replaced by a plethora of online exercise tutorials, some of which promise to accommodate every body shape and size.  But can they?  Can they replace a real life class where you can explain to the instructor that you don't feel 100% when you arrive and can give feedback the next week about how you felt after the class.

Going back to HIIT, it's interesting how scientific evidence filters down into the fitness industry and influences how we exercise.  2016 may see more findings about our obsession with how and when our bodies use fat as a source of energy - fat-burning.   These findings may well influence trends in how and when we exercise in 2016...

Keep on going!

Friday, 1 January 2016

What will we eat in 2016?

So January is when we regret eating so much over Christmas and letting all our good intentions go to pot, having been indoors with large amounts of food that we might not otherwise have bought or eaten...

Time to get outside and get moving!

I wonder what 2016 will bring us in terms of dietary trends and messages?   With New Year's resolutions in mind, the Amazon Wish List for dieting and health eating books appears to refer more to plans and cures rather than to the D-word - diet.   Have we finally realised that diets don't work and just cost us a lot of money?   Or are diets just being rebranded as lifestyle changes and panaceas?

Last year also saw a significant online reaction to what was seen as female body-shaming.  Protein World ran an ad campaign on London Under Ground featuring and promoting the beach-ready body.   An immediate online petition signed by 70,000 suggests that many have had enough of body image dictation by advertising and marketing executives.

Social media will further shape what we eat over the next 12 months (if sales of cook books are anything to go by).   The biggest selling cook book was written by food blogger Deliciously Ella, knocking all celebrity chefs off the top spot.

In turn, bits of kit, like the Spiralizer (which turns vegetables into thin ribbons), have taken the nation's kitchens by storm.   Let's hope more vegetables will be eaten as a result!

Wikipedia: Creative Commons
And the power of celebrity is nudging doors open in both the food industry and Whitehall - in the shape of Jamie Oliver's 2015 Sugar Rush documentary and campaign    

The campaign focuses on childhood obesity with proposals for a tax on sugary drinks, changes to food labelling and a 9pm watershed on advertising of food high in fat, sugar and salt.   We may also see the naming of the UK's first Sugar Smart City (Brighton and Hove?) in 2016.

Perhaps Jamie's proposal with the most teeth is that of reformulation.  This follows the example of the food industry reducing salt levels in processed food.   For sugar, it would mean a gradual reformulation of all foods and drinks which contain extremely high levels of sugar.  This would allow our taste buds to adjust to less sweet-tasting food gradually.

So, finally after decades of fat being demonised, as a nation we are becoming more aware that actually our bodies need fat to function properly.  Our bodies do not, however, require food and drinks with large quantities of added sugar...

2015 also saw growth in the world of 'free-from' foods - many people choosing dairy, gluten and sugar-free diets.

After the World Health Organisation recently announced that eating processed meat is associated with a small increased risk of cancer (in the studies they reviewed), there may well be a longer term shift away from meat - a trend my vegetarian daughter will be pleased with!    The increasing awareness around the environmental cost of meat production is likely to boost this trend.

Wikipedia: Creative Commons
The States has led the way in recent years in high protein diets, something that may well be reflected by food retailers on the British high street more this year.   Interest may also grow further in 2106 in foods that boost 'good' gut bacteria.   Fermented foods, for the same reason, may well also increase in profile.   And if we turn to more pulses, seeds and grains for our diet - we may find ourselves soaking them to increase their nutrient content and aid their digestion.

Come summer, it may be Caipirinhas all round as we watch the Olympics in Brazil!

For now though, perhaps a diet free from large quantities of turkey, roast vegetables, chocolate biscuits and chocolates is all we need!   And maybe a dry January too...?!