Is This What You Want?

My Pilates instructor said “yes, that’s it perfect! Just stay like that while I find my phone and I’ll take a picture”. A couple of minutes in that position and your abs definitely know that they’ve been worked so I was cursing her by the time she took the shot :o)

Yes I’m talking about the six pack, what did you think I meant cheeky?! If you’re a gym bunny you’ll know that the female six pack is pretty much the holy grail and, if you get one, you’ll be able to rock a bin bag let alone a teeny pair of cut off shorts. So, how do I get me one of those I hear you ask?

First things first, you have to be really determined and prepared to work your backside off for months and months; a defined tummy is not a goal for the faint hearted and it’s a big fitness commitment.  Secondly, the older you are, the more difficult it will be (sorry) as women tend to carry more fat around their midriff as they approach and go through menopause.

If you’re still determined this is what you need to know:

  1. You cannot crunch your way to a six pack. If you have a lot of fat around your tummy area you can certainly exercise your way to better core strength and you will be able to build muscle but, unless you change your eating habits to lose the fat, it will stay hidden and you will still have a family pack rather than a six pack.
  2. You will need to reduce down your body fat to around 16-18% in order to get definition but if you want the really sculpted look you’ll need to go down as low as 10 or 12%. Trust me, that’s not a lot for a woman! This will give you an idea:

body-fat-percentage-women.jpg

If you still haven’t given up on the idea I really admire your tenacity! So, what are we talking about here:

  • Your diet will need to be a permanent juggling act as you will need to eat enough to give your body the fuel that it needs to be able to build muscle but you will need to keep your calories low enough that you will burn fat. That means a combination of natural carbs and protein: very lean meat, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. Refined sugars and carbs will be a no no so you’ll need to cut out all junk and processed foods, white bread and rice etc etc. [Nb that’s pretty much my diet and I don’t have a 6 pack]High protein foods
  • Losing fat through diet i.e. ingesting less calories is not an exact science as it depends on many factors such as body type, muscle mass and activity levels but, as a rule of thumb, if you burn around 3,500 calories, you’ll lose about a pound of fat. That means, to lose a pound each week, you’ll need to reduce your calorie intake by around 500 a day.
  • At the same time as cutting your calorie intake, you’ll need to up your activity levels. Workouts should be a balance between cardio, weights and exercise designed to build core strength such as Pilates. RunningCardio means running, walking, swimming, biking – effectively any exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you sweating. Working out with weights will grow muscle and the larger and stronger the muscles, the more fat you will burn.[Nb. I walk 25km per week on average and I’m doing cardio and weights in the gym at least twice a week and I don’t have a 6 pack]
  • Next, comes core strength. You will need to include exercises which specifically target your abs and obliques in order to get real definition. Pilates is brilliant for this as building core strength by using your own body weight is a fundamental part of the exercises! Abs are the muscles that run down the centre of the stomach and obliques are those down the side and you have to work both. Shown below are a couple of exercises for abs on the left and obliques on the right. Personally I find abs exercises far easier than obliques but everyone is different. [Nb I do 2 hours of Pilates each week and I don’t have a 6 pack]

Yes, top left picture is me; you can’t see me gritting my teeth. My Pilates instructor said “yes, that’s it perfect! Just stay like that while I find my phone and I’ll take a picture”. A couple of minutes in that position and your abs definitely know that they’ve been worked so I was cursing her by the time she took the shot :o)

That’s pretty much it; a strict diet and bucket loads of exercise for months and you too can have a 6 pack. Simples!

Ps. Why don’t I have a bloody six pack?! Oh yes, I like a glass of wine in the evening and there’s only so many things that I’ll trade for a washboard stomach ;O) x

DOMS!

Anyone who works out or just strenuously exercises will have experienced this at some point or another; the pain usually creeps up on you 2 or 3 days after the event and, I must be honest, depending on the muscles you’ve overworked, it’s not pleasant.

“Oh God that hurts!!”

“I know and you asked for it”

“But I enjoyed it at the time”

“You should have said stop when I told you to…..”

Yep, that’s me having a conversation with myself when I’m suffering from DOMS, a self-inflicted pain brought on by having too much fun at the gym. If you’re wondering what the hell goes on at my gym and how you can get membership, I should explain that DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. So why the picture? Well 1. I love the boots and 2. it got your attention didn’t it? ;O)

Tired gymAnyone who works out or just strenuously exercises will have experienced this at some point or another; the pain usually creeps up on you 2 or 3 days after the event and, I must be honest, depending on the muscles you’ve overworked, it’s not pleasant. The worst, for me, is DOMS in the stomach muscles (Abs and obliques); that is an absolute shocker and can leave you feeling really uncomfortable and even a little sick for a few days. I suppose that begs two questions:

  1. Why does it happen?
  2. Why put yourself through that?

The first one is tricky because no-one is entirely sure. When we really work our muscles hard they will grow bigger and stronger as a result of the changes that happen at cellular level. Not to get too scientific about it – the cells throw a wobbly, the body panics a bit and sense pain signals up to the brain.

Planks
In case you were wondering about the Pilates planks….

Why put yourself through it? Personally I love the challenge of pushing my muscles to the point where I just can’t do any more. Collapsing face down, sweaty and out of breath on a mat is not pretty for anyone watching but, if its as a result of getting through a complete plank series for the first time, you will feel amazing. It’s the same as going up a weight when you bench press; the fact that you have the power in your body to do what you couldn’t a few weeks ago is a real buzz!

Anyway, if you get DOMS, what can you do about it?

  • First thing and probably the most important is not to stress about it – accept it for what it is, know it will go away and try to keep your muscles in the surrounding areas relaxed.
  • Keep moving and stretch. Sitting in the same position for hours will not make the pain go away, in fact it could make it worse. Try some light yoga exercises to keep everything moving; these are especially useful if your abs are suffering.
  • You can use both heat and ice on the affected area which will give you some relief but neither will take the pain away – only time’s going to do that I’m afraid.
  • You can take pain killers, specifically anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen, but, as these will mask the pain for a while don’t be fooled into thinking that your muscles are ready for another bashing. In fact, if you can, avoid taking pain killers and try natural anti-inflammatories such as leafy greens and ginger (great juice idea right there!)
  • Massage will also help and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good massage.
Cobra pose
Cobra pose is a great way to stretch out sore abs…

There you have it – DOMS in a nutshell – that just brings a whole other picture to mind :O)

Have a great day everyone x

Stairway to Hell

It might sound daft but one way I’ve found of dealing with it is to find a really fast paced track on my i-phone and run up simply because it gets them out of the way more quickly. I should have said that I run up the stairs as a way to boost my cardio fitness but that’s crap, I just don’t like the bloody things! 

You may be wondering what the connection is between the title of this post and the picture that comes with it. It’s quite simple really (at least in my mind) – that’s the way I want my legs to look and putting myself through hell is the only way I’ll get them.

The truth is that I really don’t like stairs, well to be totally accurate, I don’t like climbing them, I have nothing against them otherwise. I don’t like the stair master in the gym and I don’t like being faced with a flight of stairs when I’m out on a walk. However, I know that they’re a great way to build muscle in my thighs and calves, keep my backside as perky as it can be at my age and improve my core strength so I grit my teeth and get on with it.

Where I live it’s pretty much impossible to find a route to go out walking without hills, stairs or both so, as I love walking, I have plenty of opportunity to do battle with my stair demons. It might sound daft but one way I’ve found of dealing with it is to find a really fast paced track on my i-phone and run up simply because it gets them out of the way more quickly. I should have said that I run up the stairs as a way to boost my cardio fitness but that’s crap, I just don’t like the bloody things!

This will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

IMG_3634

This isn’t me looking for stairs you understand – they just all happen to be along my favourite walking routes and there’s just no getting around them.

On the upside at least there’s an equal number that I can run down on the way home :O)

Please share with me the exercises you love to hate – it would be great to hear from you x

 

Weekly Slothing Time

The human body is pretty canny and, whilst your brain is busy telling you that exercise = feeling great, your body is saying ‘hang on a minute I’m knackered’. At this point, as our bodies are infinitely more intelligent than we give them credit for, they will force us into a period of rest whether we like it or not.

Is it just me or does anyone else find their weekly rest days a struggle? We all know the benefits of not working out every day of the week: training breaks down your body tissues and weight training can cause teeny tiny tears in our muscles so we need time for all this stuff to mend but I find the psychological break from training much harder to deal with than the physical.

Warning exerciseI made the mental connection between physical exercise and stress relief many years ago and it’s never really left me. I suppose it’s because when all our attention is focused on what our body is doing our mind doesn’t really get a look in; if you’re stressed about something it goes on the back burner when you’re trying to push out that last rep or get to the end of the 5km with muscles that feel like hot jelly. The fact that exercise causes serotonin and dopamine to go rushing around your brain probably doesn’t hurt either; these chemicals are known to improve our mood but can also give a kind of high that’s difficult to reproduce without the aid of artificial stimulants so, that in itself, tends to be addictive. I find that I can go to the gym tired but after half an hour of cardio and a few reps with the weights I’m buzzing with energy and can sometimes be found having a little boogie around when I think no-one is looking. It follows then that, when I don’t feel great I will look to exercise to make me feel better and, for the most part it works.

keep-calm-and-don-t-obsess-over-calories-1The other slight issue is the ‘I can go out to lunch today because I know I’m going to the gym later’ logic. Although calories in and calories out is the basis of any diet, it can become something of an obsession and, like any obsession, common sense tends to go out the window when it takes hold. If your only goal is pound shedding then it’s certainly sensible to slightly lower your calorie intake if you know that you’ll be inactive for a couple of days but, if you’re trying to build muscle this can be counter-productive as our bodies need food, especially protein, to grow and develop muscles. I understand the principal but there is always a little nagging voice on my shoulder saying ‘if you eat that today, you’ll be fat tomorrow if you don’t burn it off’ (it’s a kind of sing-song voice which is really irritating!).

Therefore, between genuinely missing the feelings I get when I work out and the completely irrational concern that I’ll suddenly gain 10lb if I don’t exercise for a day, I do find sometimes that I’ve gone 8 or 10 days without a break and then I’ll get my wake up call. The human body is pretty canny and, whilst your brain is busy telling you that exercise = feeling great, your body is saying ‘hang on a minute I’m knackered’. At this point, as our bodies are infinitely more intelligent than we give them credit for, they will force us into a period of rest whether we like it or not. They might decide to catch a cold or to suddenly take that mild niggle in your knee and turn in it into raging agony overnight. This is not your body being unkind, it’s merely trying to attract your attention and tell you that you’ve been over-doing it.

img_1439-1.jpgHaving been through this cycle more times than I care to remember I have come to realise that, like them or not, rest days are an essential part of my exercise regime. Gentle yoga stretches, some deep breathing exercises and 30 minutes or so of meditation will usually be enough to calm my mind and allow my body the rest that it needs or, failing that, a Sex in the City marathon or a day’s sunbathing ;O)

Mother Nature’s Gym

Walking uphill is a great workout for your glutes (those muscles that keep your bum firm and pert) plus it’s a great way to get your heart pumping but the best bit is seeing the view from the top

Human beings tend to be creatures of habit and that’s as much true for exercise as anything else. Some people are in the gym five days a week and panic if they miss a day or have to change their routine by going on holiday and enjoying themselves for a fortnight (alright, yes, I do tend to pick hotels that have gyms – guilty as charged!). Other people choose to do 30 laps in their local indoor pool every morning or can’t bear the thought of missing their twice weekly hit class. However, we often forget that Mother Nature has provided us with the perfect training ground and, better still, what she has to offer is free!

step machineFor instance, if you are a big fan of the step machine in the gym, have a look at your surroundings, pick the highest point and walk there. Walking uphill is a great workout for your glutes (those muscles that keep your bum firm and pert) plus it’s a great way to get your heart pumping but the best bit is seeing the view from the top. Not only will you get a different perspective of the place where you live but you’ll also get a great sense of achievement when you realise quite how high you’ve climbed – you’ll literally be feeling on top of the world! IMG_0978

If you spend all your time on the treadmill listening to your i-pod or watching a video on the little TV screen in front of you try taking yourself off into the countryside. Walking on a surface that is not level or even is a much harder workout for your muscles than walking on a flat surface as you constantly have to adjust your pace and stride according to the terrain. Not only that but being in and feeling a part of nature is incredibly beneficial for our emotional and spiritual well-being.

The same applies if you do your cardio in the gym on a bike; whilst it is an effective exercise and you can adjust the resistance on the machine to make the workout more strenuous, it’s not the same as taking an actual bike through the hills and dales. Not only that but, with a static bike, you don’t get that amazing feeling of free-wheeling down a hill which evokes such wonderful feelings of childhood for so many of us.

swimming poolAlthough it’s not a gym exercise, swimming is hugely popular and a great all-body workout; it uses virtually all our muscles, is low impact and it makes our hearts and lungs work hard. However, lengths up and down the pool, for me at least, is not the most interesting way to pass the time. Swimming in the sea, however, is a whole different ball game; it is physically harder as you are having to work against the current and adjust for the constant movement of the water but it also has the effect of making you feel at one with something beautiful and powerful. The surface of the water is also ever-changing as is whatever is moving about underneath which means that it’s rarely, if ever, boring!

IMG_5235

The weather won’t always allow us to get out and about and maybe you don’t feel that you live somewhere that’s worth exploring but Mother Nature always has something to offer us. I love going to the gym but, as soon as the sun comes out I want to be out there soaking up the vitamin D and enjoying what this wonderful world has to offer.

Perfect Harmony

Keeping your joints and muscles supple and flexible will offer you protection from injury, allow your muscles to recover more quickly and give you an increased range of movement.

I’m a huge fan of yoga and have been for many years; I first discovered the stretches (or postures) on an obscure TV channel in the UK, I then attended a class at a Buddhist centre (which also then gave me a huge respect for that particular religion) and now I practice at home when I feel the need to relax or to relieve aching muscles. I do a lot of exercise: 2 hour long Pilates classes, spend between 3 and 5 hours in the gym and walk around 20km every single week; I love all of it but nothing leaves me feeling quite so peaceful and at one with the world as yoga. Not only that but the stretches enable me to do as much exercise as I do without succumbing to injury.

Our bodies are amazing, especially in the ways that they try to protect us. A prime example is when we have been working out hard, repetitive exercises which make our muscles tighter and tighter, and our bodies decide to bring in other muscles to help us out. Really kind of them isn’t it? Well, actually, no because if you are using under-trained ‘helper’ muscles you could find that you’ll end up tearing one of them which will leave you in a lot of pain and unable to workout for a while. This is where yoga comes in. Keeping your joints and muscles supple and flexible will offer you protection from injury, allow your muscles to recover more quickly and give you an increased range of movement.

As we get older and our bodies start to get a little stiffer many of us turn to the gym to increase our fitness levels and to keep trim. This is great! Cardio vascular exercises like walking or jogging on a treadmill, using a stair master or an elliptical machine are all great for keeping our hearts and bodies in shape but there’s no point in doing all this if we can’t train 3 weeks out of every 6 because of injury. Yoga, combined with your normal workouts, will enable you to train better and more effectively with the added benefit of making your respiratory system more efficient. The short video below explains how yoga breathing can relax your mind and body allowing you to free yourself to work more dynamically.

By opening posture, yoga significantly increases respiratory capacity; in fact, many have overcome asthma and other respiratory conditions through regular practice. Obviously, this is invaluable to athletes. Yoga has also been proven to dramatically enhance circulation, digestion, and efficiency of motion, which all further improve energy and endurance. [Source]

Whatever forms of exercise you enjoy, whatever sports you like to play, yoga can help both in terms of protecting your body from injury and improving your performance – it’s not just for lycra clad lovelies with long blond hair ;O)