equipment suggestions for home exercisers

kettlebell triceps extension

If you have suddenly found yourself exercising at home, instead of attending your usual classes or PT sessions, you might want to invest in a couple of key pieces of equipment to make the best use of your exercise time.

What you choose will depend on your goals, and of course your budget, but here are a few suggestions that you might want to consider, including some of my links to my favourite brands and suppliers.

Please note:

I am not paid to promote any of these items. They are all ones that I use in my business and for my own fitness, and I am happy to recommend them. Please do your own research and shop around as you may find alternative options, including pre-used items on auction websites.

Basic equipment:

  • skipping rope – choose a plastic-covered one as it will have a good weight and stay in good condition even if it gets wet
  • an exercise mat – I buy my yoga mats from ebay (there are loads to choose from so take your pick)but you may prefer a smaller fitness mat like this
  • small pilates/rehab/soft tissue release equipment – trigger point ball*, prickly therapy ball*, overball, stability disc, stretch band*, pilates circle, small weighted pilates ball (* I have these items marked in stock and available for local delivery p please message me for details)

Weighted equipment:

  • dumb-bells – there are so many options on the market that it is best to find the ones you like most. I have Hampton vinyl covered DB up to 4kg – they have a smooth surface so comfortable to hold, but they are quite chunky to grip. For heavier weights, I have hexagonal rubber DB which have a bare metal grip – not so comfortable and cold but very non-slip
  • kettle-bells – you will often find these at affordable prices in large super-markets or online. I like cast iron KB without a vinyl/neoprene coating – you may prefer a coated finish to avoid rusting if they get damp. The really big, concrete-filled KB are cheaper but the excess bulks can compromise your technique so best avoided.
  • barbells & plates & spring release collars – if you only want one set of weights, these are very versatile. The plates can be used on the bar and separately without it and you’ll have a selection of weights suitable for a range of different exercises.

Bigger/more expensive stuff:

  • Vipr – these are awesome, very versatile, suitable for indoors and outdoors, long-lasting – a great all-round piece of kit. You will often find them at good prices on auction sites – just check they are in good condition before you buy
  • a suspension trainer eg. TRX – if you only want to buy one thing, you should definitely consider this! When i was putting this article together, I found lots of other brands which were much cheaper but I cannot vouch for them, whereas I have had my TRX (in fact I have two!) for years without any signs of wear and tear. My clients love it when we do suspended planks in particular!!
  • Reebok deck – I bought one of these to replace an older step but found it is much heavier than I wanted to carry around to PT clients’ houses, so now I use it at home. It’s not a cheap step platform, but it is a versatile piece of equipment which has several functions including use as a weights bench.

Suppliers I like & use the most:

I like to shop around for smaller items but I tend to use these two suppliers for most of the fitness equipment I buy. My advice when shopping for fitness equipment, would be to compare quality as well as price and buy the best you can afford. Start with one or two multi-purpose items rather than feeling like you need everything on the market!!

What weights should I use?

This will depend on what your goals are, any health issues you may have and your previous exercise history. If you are a current exerciser, you will probably have a good idea what weights you already use, but if not, have a look at my suggestions below.

As a rule, you want a weight that is challenging but manageable so that you can perform the exercise with great technique and good posture. Bear in mind that you will probably out-grow a lighter-weight DB or KB quite quickly once you start exercising.

Here are some very general weight guidelines:

  • weighted pilates balls need to be light enough that you don’t overload neck and shoulder muscles, so you probably don’t want more than 0.5kg-1kg
  • most women I train are comfortable with 3-5kg DB, a 4-6kg KB or a 4-6kg Vipr for a circuit-style workout
  • for men, I would tend to offer 5-8kg DB, a 8-12kg KB or an 8kg Vipr for a circuit-style workout

Some final thoughts:

Remember that there are so many exercises which can be performed using only your body-weight so there is no need to go crazy setting up your own home gym. However, if buying a few pieces of kit will keep you strong and healthy and motivated over the coming months, and beyond, then maybe it’s time to go (online) shopping!

As always, please check with your own medical or health practitioner, and seek professional fitness coaching before embarking on a new exercise routine.

How to cope with self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic

If you’re currently working from home or worried about how to cope with self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, here are a few thoughts to keep you moving and keep you sane. I’ll add to them as new ideas spring to mind…

I made a short video today looking at some coping strategies to keep us going in the coming weeks. I grabbed a few books off my shelves in case you’d like to use this time to practice Pilates at home or include some soft tissue release work into your (new) daily routine…

There is so much we can do to manage our feelings at this time, but try not to get overwhelmed by all the suggestions that are circulating (including these!) Just pick one or two things that make sense to you right now and start with those.

We are in a brand new landscape right now (and will likely be for some time to come) so be gentle on yourself – breathe, move, eat, sleep and stay hydrated. If you have more time on your hands than usual, try to put it to good use but remember that doing nothing is sometimes good too.

how can I hlep

I’ll be back with more short videos & thoughts over the coming weeks – let me know if there is anything in particular that I can help with Jx

For updates on how COVID-19 is affecting taylor-made fitness sessions please click here

COVID-19 updates

(updated 21st March 2020 – changes in purple text)

Please find details below regarding changes being made to taylor-made fitness in light of the current situation with coronavirus COVID-19. For the latest Government advice on coronavirus, please click here

I am currently in the process of updating my website to reflect the changes that have been made to taylor-made fitness with regards to coronavirus COVID-19. Please bear with me until everything is fully functional again!

Fitness Pilates and Hi-Li fitness circuit classes:

With effect from Monday 16th March, all in-person group classes have been temporarily suspended and will be delivered as live-streamed or pre-recorded sessions. I have set up a virtual studio in my home so everything is good to go. I will be adding a variety of class options in the coming weeks – please let me know if there is anything you would like me to include.

Please try to carry on with your regular movement practice at home – even if we can’t be in the same space, we can still be collectively exercising at the usual times – physically distant but socially cohesive!

I am going to make a change to the way class bookings are made during this period, so that you will have more flexibility while your finances may be less certain. With effect from April 6th, I will offer monthly subscriptions which will give you access to all my live-streamed and pre-recorded online classes. I hope that you will be in a position to continue supporting me during these changing times, so that taylor-made fitness can still be there to support you once everything is more settled.

I had planned to take a week off 6-13th April but this is currently under review as I’m not sure where I’d go!! I will keep you posted nearer the time and set-up the classes accordingly.

Wellness walks:

At present, I am planning to continue with the Wednesday morning walk as usual and will add an extra walk session on Fridays (details below). In these difficult times, assuming we are not symptomatic, we can all benefit from getting outside and breathing fresh air.

Managing our mental health will be even more vital over the coming weeks and walking is my favourite way to do that. I will be walking and you are welcome to join me if you’d like to.

  • Wednesdays 9-10.30am – meet outside The Old School Hall, Back Road, Sandhurst, Kent – wear wellies or suitable walking boots as all potential routes from here are muddy at present! Dogs welcome.
  • Fridays 9-10.30am – meet by Iden Green pavilion – this will be a circular loop along the quiet lanes; less muddy but also less off-lead options for dogs.

We are lucky to live in a rural setting where we can be outside and away from direct contact with others, even if we are walking in a small, spread-out, group. Here is an article about whether it is still safe to walk, in case you have any concerns: coronavirus and walking

Please note a change to the start time on Fridays (9am instead of 9.15am)

Please do not attend a walk session if you have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms

There is no charge for these sessions but if you’re planning on joining us please email/text me on the day so that we know to wait for you before setting off. For your own peace of mind, please bring hand gel if you have any as there are no hand-washing facilities available (except puddles perhaps!)

Personal training:

Personal training sessions will continue to be delivered in-person although the following processes will be followed:

  • clients will use their own mats and equipment for their sessions – I will no longer be bringing any items with me and will build sessions around whatever equipment clients have access to
  • I will use hand gel before and after each session as well as using anti-bac wipes on the controls of my van
  • sessions will take place outside at safe distance; where this is not possible we will need to move to live-streamed sessions

PT clients must notify me if they have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms.

I will be in email contact with individual clients to agree how to proceed and we will continue to review as the situation develops. In the event that clients think they have been potentially exposed to the virus, personal training sessions will need to move to live-streamed sessions. Obviously the same applies if I think have been exposed to the virus.

Sports & clinical massage:

We now have guidance from the Sports Therapy Association which is as follows:

“After spending most of the night reviewing the current Governmental guidance, I have arrived at the conclusion that now is the time to cancel all non urgent appointments and unnecessary social contact , as we are not classed as Allied Health Professionals – that means all clinic appointments, home visits, pitch side commitments and training nights. I’ve shared multiple sources of information over the past few days all of which classifies our role as high risk. I hope that we can look back in several months and say we were wrong and guilty only of overreacting.” Gary Benson Founder of STA

In line with this guidance I feel that my decision to stop offering hands-on treatments from Monday 16th was the best one to take.

Please rest assured that even though I cannot treat you in person at this time, I am still available to offer help as required via online and telephone contact. As well as creating some general self-care release videos that you can use at home, I am also able to offer individual guidance via Skype or Zoom so please reach out if you need my help.

If you have an existing massage voucher, the expiration date will be extended accordingly.

My commitment to you:

This business is my livelihood and my only source of household income, so for sure these are scary and worrying times, as they are for many of you I know. But, more than being my income, this business represents my heart & soul and I am feeling very sad and worried about what might happen to it right now. I know I’m not alone. I know we will get through this. But I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the sadness too.

Today I have been lifted up by the emails & texts of support from all of my lovely clients – thank you so much, it means the world to have that contact. Thank you for your on-going support in uncertain times.

Please keep in touch. Please keep walking. Please (if you can) keep to your usual class schedule at home. Please look after yourselves and your loved ones. Please take time to look up at the sky and plant your feet in the soil. Please take time to lie on the floor and breathe deeply.

I am going to try to keep myself busy creating class content for you and I’ll send regular emails so that you have plenty to keep you busy too. I also plan to complete my L4 Sports Massage course (which is all online) so that I’ll have new skills to share soon. If I get really stir-crazy, I might pack up my dog and a tent and go off-grid for a while…

Hopefully I will see some of you on walks but if not I am here if you need anything – fitness ideas, massage self-care advice, online support, virtual cake & coffee mornings, shopping errands…please shout if you need anything from me at all Jx

Principles of Pilates – breathing

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than forcing the body to create a larger movement. Pilates teaches us to bring subconscious control into habitual movement patterns so that we can move with more ease and efficiency.

Following the eight principles of Pilates helps us to get the most from our practice. Last time we looked at centering.

This time we’re going to look at breathing.

“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale & inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth” J Pilates

Breathing:

Breathing has 3 key functions:

  • to carry nutrients around the body, bringing energy to every part of the body
  • to carry waste products away from the body and back to the lungs where they can be exhaled
  • to increase stamina

A restricted breathing pattern can create issues such as muscle tightness, restricted joint movements, tiredness and headaches. A more relaxed breathing pattern can help to reverse these issues whilst also reducing stress and creating a sense of well-being.

mat-work pilates

In Pilates, we use breathing as a way of connecting with the deeper core muscles (made up of the transverse abdominals, pelvic floor, diaphragm and multifidus). When the breath is aligned with our movements, we can experience greater control at our centre with reduced tension in peripheral areas of the body.

The goal in Pilates is to breathe fully into the lower rib-cage without unnecessarily using accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders. It is one of the key principles of Pilates but can also one of the hardest to grasp to start with.

What is the best breathing pattern for Pilates?

  • keep the neck and shoulders relaxed to reduce tension in these areas
  • breathe into the lower part of the rib cage, allowing it to widen in all directions
  • allow the belly to relax, soften and expand on each inhale
  • feel the belly gently contract and lift as you exhale
  • allow your breath to flow – don’t hold your breath at any point

Some people advise that it is best to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, but I think it is best to do what feels right for you. However, if you are more comfortable breathing out through your mouth, try to do so with soft lips (not pursed) and make a sound as if you are sighing – think of the sound that waves make as they break on the beach.

When do I inhale/exhale?

When practising Pilates we want to exhale with the movement which requires the most effort. The basic rule is that you exhale as you move away from your starting position, and inhale as you come back to it. There will be some variations to this rule, but it is a good guiding principle to start with.

For example:

  • with a leg slide, exhale as the leg extends; inhale as it comes back to relaxation position
  • with knee rolling, exhale as the legs rotate to the side; inhale as they return to an upright position
  • with a side-lying leg lift, exhale as the leg lifts; inhale as it lowers

Don’t get too hung up on your breathing!

Although there are very sound reasons behind the style of breathing used in Pilates, don’t get too hung up on it. If you’re struggling, simply focus on keeping a relaxed, rhythmic breathing pattern so that your breath is flowing as you move. Gradually as you get more confident with the exercises, you will find the breathing becomes a more natural part of your practice.

If you’d like to know more about breathing, you can find my ‘focus on optimal breathing’ guide here

Do you have tight quadriceps?

Do you have tight quadriceps muscles which won’t seem to stretch? Do you have tightness or pain around the knee? Do the muscles in the front of your thighs feel ‘switched on’ all the time?

There are lots of reasons why we might have more/less dominant muscles in a particular area of the body (posture, lifestyle, occupation, etc) but for most of us the goal is to create a better balance, as that helps to create more even movement patterns. Typically we will have an imbalance which is left- or right-sided or which is noticed in the front or back of the body, but there will often be a combination of both and/or some rotational imbalance as well.

Of course, it is all relevant to the individual. For an elite golfer, an appropriate ‘imbalance’ will actually be required for them to excel at their sport, but most of us do not fall into that category and we are more concerned about improving every-day functional movement and potentially reducing pain.

I often see clients struggling to get into a position where a quad stretch is effective, and setting aside the debate about whether we actually need to stretch or not, I have recorded a short video showing a simple technique using a trigger point release ball. This technique focuses on releasing tight bands within the muscles fibres, which in turn enables the body to move more freely, which in turn reduces the development of tight bands within the muscle fibres…

This video came about because a client was struggling to move her hips backwards while squatting because the tightness in the front of her thighs was creating excessive pressure (and the most extraordinary noise!) over the knee-caps. It goes without saying that individual assessment and soft tissue work is the optimal approach, but this simple technique might be a useful starting point to get you moving more comfortably.

In the video I am using a dog toy as my trigger point ball – simply because they are affordable, readily available and still effective. If you want to invest in the real deal, I can highly recommend either Yoga Tune-Up balls or YogaBody balls, both of which I have.

Hopefully the video covers everything you need to get you started, but as always:

  • let me know if you have any questions
  • get in touch if you’d like to know more about how I can help you with soft tissue therapy
  • check with your medical professional if you have any doubts about your suitability for trigger point release work

& finally, let me know how you get on…!

massage room hygiene

In light of the current situation, I thought now might be an ideal time to share the hygiene measures that I have in place for the comfort and safety of all clients visiting my massage room.

massage room hygiene

Please find details below of the steps I take to ensure that my massage room operates as a safe and clean space. These measures are not new, but I will continue to review and update to ensure that best practice is followed:

Me:

  • hand washing – I wash my hands before you arrive, and again while you are settling yourself on the table, as well as immediately after your treatment
  • hand sanitiser – I have a bottle of anti-bacterial and anti-viral hand sanitiser in my massage room which I apply to my hands/forearms before and after your treatment. You are welcome to use the hand sanitiser on arrival/before you leave – or bring your own if you prefer
  • massage wax/lotion – the massage medium is removed from the container using a wooden spatula and applied to my arm for use as required; any surplus on my arm at the end of your treatment, is thrown away

Items that you come into contact with:

  • table linens (ie. towels, flannels, table cover, bolster covers, etc) – when you arrive for your massage, the table will have been made up with clean linens; everything that you touch during your treatment is then stripped and replaced at the end of your session. All linens are washed at 60 degrees using a non-bio liquid detergent and an anti-bacterial laundry cleanser; all items are tumble dried. Massage room linens are always washed separately from my household laundry
  • face cradle – disposable face cradle covers are replaced for each client
  • hard surfaces (eg. arm rest, metal parts on the face cradle, side table, door handles, light switch, etc) – all surfaces are wiped with anti-bacterial wipes between clients
  • massage tools – these are cleaned with anti-bacterial wipes between clients and washed in hot soapy water at the end of each day
  • water & drinking glasses – the water carafe & glass are clean for each client; fresh water is provided for each client

My home:

  • massage room – the floor is wiped/swept between clients and hoovered as required (always before the first client each week and then as necessary). I sometimes dust the picture frames!
  • bathroom – the toilet, wash basin, bath & floor are all cleaned before the first client each week; the hand towel is changed before the first client each week and then as required
  • hall, stairs and landing – these areas are also cleaned prior to the first client visit each week

You:

  • illness – if you have any symptoms of illness, please postpone your massage until a later date; this helps to keep my massage room clean and safe for everyone, but it is also better for your body to receive a massage when you are well. If you’re not sure whether you should postpone, please get in touch beforehand
  • hand washing – if you use the bathroom, please wash your hands, and feel free to use the hand gel

Any questions?

Please know that I take massage room hygiene very seriously so that you can enjoy your treatment without any concerns. If you have any questions at all, please let me know.

If you have any questions/concerns specifically about coronavirus (COVID-19) please refer to the CDC website

Find out more about sports and clinical massage

Hypermobile elbows & Pilates

Hypermobile elbows (& other joints of the body) are sometimes really visible in a Pilates class. I wanted to look into the topic in more depth than we can easily cover in a group setting, as information for those affected.

The human body is an incredible thing but sometimes we need to take back a little bit of control for ourselves. Just because we can ‘stretch’ (ie. over-extend) at a certain (or all) joints of the body, doesn’t mean it is helpful to do so. 

The most common examples of hypermobility I see in class are:

  • locked-out knees in a standing position – where the back of the knee is pushed as far backwards as possible – and
  • locked-out elbows in a quadruped (all-fours) position – where the upper arm becomes rotated and the inside of the elbow joint turns forward

Of course, if you are hypermobile (or tend towards it) you will often be hyper-mobile at many joints in the body, but these are the two that are most visible in class.

mat-work pilates

What is joint hypermobility?

Joint hypermobility is often hereditary and cannot be prevented, but it can definitely be managed. It is caused by a weakness in the soft tissues that support the joint, and specifically a difference in the collagen. If you are hypermobile, it may not cause you any problems or it may cause pain in the joint itself or in surrounding areas of the body.  

What happens when we hyper-extend? 

When we go to the end-range of movement in a joint, it gives us a feeling of stability, which is great. However, when the joint hyper-extends, it means that the stability isn’t coming from the supporting muscles but from the joint itself. Over time that is likely to create wear & tear on that structure and other compensations in surrounding areas of the body – eg. if you lock out your elbows, you are very likely to experience associated neck and shoulder pain issues; if you lock out your knees, you are very likely to experience hip and back pain issues. 

Just because you can hyper-extend, doesn’t mean you should!

What can we do about it?

The ideal is to learn to stop short of your end-range point (keeping the affected joint ‘soft’) so that the supporting muscles surrounding the joint can get stronger. To start with it will feel unstable, but your body will gradually adapt and build stability in the muscles, so keep giving it the opportunity to do so.

I will keep reminding you about this in class because even if you feel like I’m nagging, I believe that I would be negligent if I didn’t bring your attention to it. You might not be ready to hear the message yet, and that’s ok because it is your body, but I’m going to keep on mentioning it when I’m teaching, and hopefully that’s ok too.

In the case of hypermobility in your knees, ankles or hips you may also be better avoiding fast-paced or high-impact exercises where the joints will hyper-extend without you having the chance to control the range of movement, and where the added impact will place extra load through the (already compromised) joint structure.

Although you can’t change your physiology, you can work on creating a stronger support system to protect your joints if hypermobility affects you. It may seem frustrating & like a backward step to begin with, but further down the line you will be so glad you made some changes and created a stronger body, especially if it avoids/delays your need for invasive surgery.

If you’d like to know more on this topic, Jeannie di Bon is a Movement Therapist who works extensively in this area. She directed me towards a blog post she wrote a few years ago: 

I think this is a really useful starting point, but Jeannie has plenty more great content on her blog which you can find via her website and she also covers the topic in her latest book