Archives for December 2013

Strong to the core

Stiff neck? Aching lower back? What’s holding you upright if you don’t do anything to exercise your core muscles?

What is my “core”?

You rely on your body to get out of bed, to lift your children, to perform your job and to move around with ease every day.  While our limbs provide mobility and strength, it is our body’s core that provides the basis of each movement. Your core is the midsection of your body, from your shoulders to your groin – basically everything in between your arms and legs. The core includes the pelvis, abs, back and chest muscles. It is this core that offers stability, balance and flexibility.

Every movement you make originates in the core – whether you are reaching for a snack or running a marathon. If the core is not properly conditioned, it will limit your ability to move freely and will leave you open to injury. Remember, the most common sites of injury are usually the parts between your arms and legs!.

Working the muscles in your core will improve the effectiveness of movements in your limbs. Most exercise routines focus on building muscle predominantly in your limbs and superficial muscles. By creating a stable strong base, you can optimize the strength and flexibility of each limb.

How do I strengthen my core?

As a physio, I have treated many patients whose main reason for injury was poor strength and lack of flexibility in their torso. The Pilates method of training targets the deep postural muscles of the abdomen and spine to improve overall central core stability and posture. This system of exercise strengthens the entire body from the deepest layers of muscle to the most superficial and also corrects imbalances or weaknesses.

It was devised by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. He believed that our modern life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health and ultimately devised a series of exercises that could be performed on the floor (mat pilates) or equipment based pilates.

Even if there are minimal or no weaknesses present, it gives the body a solid foundation from which to work.

For example, when I first started participating in pilates classes, I thought as a runner, my body and abs were quite strong. I quickly discovered muscles that had been untouched by traditional exercise. Obviously, pilates was able to address any strength or endurance issues in those muscle groups. After a 6 week break from running (for injury rehab) which included pilates classes only twice a week, I went back to running my usual route and couldn’t believe the faster times I was achieving in my long runs.

I soon discovered, as my core became stronger, it supported my upper body weight with ease. This freed up my legs to focus on running and propel me forward instead of supporting upper body weight AND running. In other words, this type of strength translates to any sport one plays as the body is literally able to support it’s own spinal and upper body weight more efficiently than if the core was unconditioned. I sometimes liken it to having strong arms and legs attached to an eggshell foundation or attached to a brick foundation. This is the difference core conditioning exercises can make to your overall strength.

Exercises I can do?

Many Pilates exercises are great muscle-toners that work large muscle groups beyond just the abs and lower back. The Plank position effectively works almost every muscle in the body in one move! Leg kicks work the glute and hamstring muscles very well.  Squats and lunges are the best lower-body exercises around, working the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the glutes whilst engaging the core musculature for stability. Some great core strengthening exercises can be found at these sites:

It is important to perform all movements with maximum control to ensure it is you that is managing your body and limbs and not use gravity or momentum.

As always, please consult your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or have not exercised in a long time.

Running keeps you young

Regular running slows the effects of ageing according to a new study…

We have known for a while now that exercise has been shown to improve many health outcomes and the well being of people of all ages. I know that I am fitter this year than I was last year and every year seems to follow this same pattern. I started slowly, walking of course with a few metres of running. This slowly increased from metres to minutes, then the minutes led to solid jogging then running. After a while, someone suggested a fun run and I looked at them bewildered. How could they put those two words in the same sentence? Needless to say, I tried one and never looked back….

But don’t take my word for it, see what the experts have to say on the matter:

According to a study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine,  running and other vigorous exercise in middle age is associated with longer life. There was also a stronger correlation between continued mobility and running well into the runners nineties compared to the non runners. Runners were younger, leaner and less likely to smoke.

When Professor James Fries and his team began this research in 1984, many scientists thought vigorous exercise would do more harm than good for people in their age group.

Professor Fries team began tracking 538 runners over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of non runners. The subjects, now in their 70s and 80s, have answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the non runners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.

The effect of running on delaying death has also been more dramatic than the scientists expected. Not surprisingly, running has slowed cardiovascular deaths but has also been associated with fewer early deaths from cancer, neurological disease, infections and other causes.

“The study has a very pro-exercise message,” said James Fries, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine at the medical school and the study’s senior author. “If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.”

So, the message is loud and clear: To ward of lack of mobility and live a long and healthy life, put those sneakers on and head outside. The power is in your hands!

Motivating you

Get out of bed! Time to get serious about your workouts…and your health.

Your alarm goes off at 5:30 am, you press snooze and fall back asleep.  Ten minutes later you’re pressing snooze again. Now your alarm is interrupting your sleep for the third time. You now realise it’s decision time – do I get up and go for my workout, go to the gym, swim my laps, do the class? “It’s raining outside or it’s too hot” you tell yourself. “I’m still tired, I’ll do it at the end of the day”…. Do you have THIS conversation with your pillow every morning?

You will never win an argument with your pillow.

So don’t start one! This is the point where you have to take charge of your health and fitness so don’t give in to temptation. Don’t let your pillow rule your fitness! At this early hour of the day, you’re decision making ability is still far behind, approximately somewhere in the pasture with all the sheep you were counting not long ago. After a long day at work, you’re ability to rationalise once fatigue has set in, is somewhere in the same pasture! If you are aiming  to become or are a morning exerciser, there will always be good reasons to stay in bed. And as a personal trainer and instructor of early morning classes for almost 10 years, I have heard them all!  Your bed will always be too cosy and just the right temperature. Your pillow is instantly the object you most desire. If you are an evening exerciser, the couch will be too comfortable. So stop talking to the furniture and get up already!

You must have a plan

Decide the night before or plan the week ahead, what your workout routine is going to be for the next day or for that week. Don’t tell yourself you’ll get there soon, make a date. It is imperative you write it down, diarise  it, and get the satisfaction that you can tick it off, goal attained!

Be organised

Lay out your workout gear the night before if you’re a morning exerciser so you don’t have to think about clothing, water bottles or towel first thing. Lay out your clothing so the transition from work clothes to gym attire is an easy one. We all know that sometimes, getting to the gym is the hardest part!

Don’t think about it, just do it

Depending on your lifestyle, you may not have much flexibility in your daily routine but if you find you have been missing more sessions than your hip pocket can justify, you may need to consider the switch to morning exercise. If you are too busy at work to make it to that class on time so then don’t exercise at all that day or too tired from a full day to even think about a barbell, do it fresh, first thing in the morning, get it out the way and then it’s done. Statistics show that morning exercisers are more consistent with their exercise habits regardless of other work, family, life issues than non morning exercisers. Maybe it’s time to switch.

Think about it. What have you go to lose?