I thought I knew a bit about back pain!! And then my back went into spasm and I realised I had no idea how BAD it could feel!! Here are some thoughts on back pain, based on my recent experience…
This was me, part way through teaching a class, when my lower back and glutes locked up. Long story short, several hours of heavy gardening (a few days prior to this) had left the muscles in my lower back, glutes and hamstrings overstretched, weak and vulnerable; I carried on as usual for a few days but at the moment pictured below, my body responded by tightening up the whole of my left hand side, leaving me literally unable to get up!
I think it helped that I understood what had caused the sudden spasm. It didn’t help that I knew my class were watching on at home, unable to do anything. It also didn’t help that I live alone – it was a scary experience to go through alone…
Once I got over the initial panic, there were a couple of things in my favour:
it was night-time so I gradually got myself sorted and then went to sleep – which gave me 8 hours where my body could relax without any demands being placed upon it
I remembered that I had some medication (prescribed for anxiety but actually a muscle relaxant) in a kitchen drawer (not ideal as I had to work out how to get downstairs, but at least I had access to it from the start)
I have very understanding clients who totally didn’t make a fuss about me cancelling work for the next couple of days
Things that helped me get moving again:
diazepam was undoubtedly the first thing! I’m not someone who uses medication often, but I was very happy to have these – they enabled me to get to sleep comfortably for the first two nights
lying on my ‘good’ side in bed so that I could very gradually bring my left knee a little bit towards my chest – gently stretching the muscles which had gone into spasm (NB it was a tiny stretch – the smallest amount possible)
the next day I could lie on my back in bed – this allowed my spine to regain a gentle, supported, neutral position
gentle hip movements on all fours (on my bed because I couldn’t get to the floor) – my main focus was on letting my body guide me where it needed to go: gentle hip circles, some side-to-side hip movement, the very beginnings of a cat/cow stretch, a baby child’s pose position – I did these several times a day for the first to days
very gentle rolling using a trigger point ball against the wall – much kinder than working with a ball on the floor; I focused on rolling my glutes & low back, going onto the edges of my pelvis and sacrum where the muscles attach
walking (at a snail’s pace to start with and only on even ground and over a short distance) – the dog didn’t enjoy this first walk at all!! The day after my back spasm, walking was very uncomfortable; on the following day it felt easier the longer I walked; on the third day it felt normal again
movement rather than staying still – sitting was worst so I didn’t do much of that for 3 days; standing was ok so long as I kept moving gently – lots of hip swaying while waiting in a queue to buy garden pots; by the second day I could weight-bear evenly on both feet; I did some light gardening – not necessarily to be recommended (but luckily I got away with it!); a gentle yoga class on day 3 – I only did the moves which felt ok (limited forward flexion, no holding in position, very gentle rotations)
listening to my body – sounds corny but it really helped to tune-in and follow my gut about where and how I needed to move, when I needed to rest, etc
believing that this was a short-term, transient state and not somewhere I was going to live for a long time! Initially my head fell into a rabbit-hole of panic – what if my spine was the issue, what if it was cancer (bizarrely that one shot straight to the front of my mind as I was lying on the floor in agony!!), what if I couldn’t work, and then I’d have no income, and then what would I do… blah, blah, blah. Luckily I got back out of that particular rabbit-hole of doom quite quickly. It’s not helpful to think the worst – far better to just do what you can to get moving and then go from there
What to do if you have back pain:
The list above is intended as general guidance only.
If you’ve over-done it in the garden or tried a new type of exercise, this guidance will help you to get moving again – and I think that getting moving is of key importance in this situation. If your muscles have gone into spasm you definitely don’t want to leave them there…
That said, back pain is a broad umbrella term and some issues are more serious and need more urgent attention than others. If you experience sudden or unexplained back pain, or an onset of symptoms such as numbness in the legs or a change in bowel and bladder control, always seek help from a medical professional as soon as you can.
Sorry to end on that note, but it needed saying because I am not a medical professional and this guidance is not intended to take the place of medical advice. This is just my thoughts on back pain from someone who had no idea what back pain felt like until a week ago!
And my final piece of advice is this – if you need bamboo roots digging out of your garden let someone else do it…
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.
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
(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.
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 hereor 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 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 hereor 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
After a few years without a writing practice, I decided that 2020 was the right time for me to begin journaling again. But I didn’t know where to start!! I posted the question on Instagram and here is a collection of the beautiful advice I received and the approach I have decided to take.
The simplest advice I had was to use a journal firstly for dumping any feelings that came up whilst writing & secondly for noting down any feelings of gratitude. This is a great place to start as it helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings as well as letting go (or parking) anything that we don’t want to keep carrying around all day, whilst at the same time seeking out some positives from our day.
Someone reminded me that there are no bad feelings, just interesting information so I made a note of that in the front of my journal before I got started.
Other suggestions that I found helpful as ideas for journaling, included:
writing down positive affirmations (did you know that even if you don’t actually believe them, writing or saying affirmations has an impact on how we feel; take though because this works if we tell ourselves negative affirmations too!)
noting down visualisations for how we want to feel, even if we’re not there yet and not sure how to get there either
adding some art – flowers, tickets, photos, doodles… whatever works for you (I really like this idea as I’m quite a visual person)
setting intentions for the day/week/month/year/life…
And then someone gave me a brilliant list of suggested questions or prompts that we can use to shape/review our day – these can all be present or past tense depending on where you’re at in your day. There were lots but here are some favourites:
what am I struggling with today?
am I being true to my values?
what do I need to take time with?
what brings/brought me joy?
what would I do if I wasn’t scared?
what makes/made me laugh?
Interestingly, this list brought to mind a fabulous poem by John O’Donohue that I had recently found so I printed off a copy and stuck it in the front of my journal. The poem invites the reader to review their day – you can find it by clicking this link: At The End Of The Day – a mirror of questions
My journaling process:
I started my journal with two words for the year. I had been thinking about them for a few weeks, weighing them up and deciding if they were right for me. Having decided that they were, I wrote them on the second page (the first page was filled with my journaling ideas) as an intentional focal point. A benchmark I could come back to when I needed to.
I chose two words – ‘heart’ and ‘connect’ – and added notes about what they mean & why they matter for me.
My journaling practice so far has been split into two points in the day – when I wake up & when I go to bed. I keep the journal (and a purple pen) on the floor by my bed (because that’s how I roll!!) so it acts as a gentle prompt to connect when I’m in that space.
When I wake up:
I have been starting the day with some intentions and some positive affirmations as I find they give me a focus for the hours ahead. Some of them have a personal focus and some are business-related and I really just observe how I’m feeling about the day and note down things that I feel will guide me through it.
It feels really good to stop for a moment before the day gets going, which sounds a bit mad after doing nothing but sleep for a few hours, but I’m finding it really useful.
Some days I set myself defined goals for the day. Usually there’s a reminder about eating well or going to bed early because those are my weak areas…!
When I go to bed:
I have been ending each day with a review of achievements (checking-in with any goals I set myself that morning), things I’ve loved that day, moments that made me smile and how I’m feeling in myself (mentally and physically)
It is so easy to forget to celebrate ourselves and I find this process really helpful. I probably have a tendency to carry around or pick over things I didn’t do well and a few moments doing the opposite has proved really beneficial so far. I go to bed feeling much more positive about myself which funnily enough results in me waking up much more positive about myself – who knew!!
Some nights I also add in a focus for the next day too. For example, I have got into the habit of spending time on social media when I first wake up, which sometimes steals the time I need for a pre-work walk or a relaxed breakfast.
Last night my final journal entry reads as follows: “NO social media in the morning until I’m up, dressed fed and walked” And because I saw that first thing this morning, I got up and did some work, had a shower, ate my breakfast at the dining table and went to work without looking at social media… Proud moment right there!!
Thank you to everyone who gave me the inspiration to get started. If you’re new to journaling I hope some of these ideas help you to get started. & if you’re already journaling, I’d love to know what works for you Jx
I am quite selective about what noise I like around me when I’m driving and so I’ve recently been compiling a collection of podcasts I like to follow…
Here are some of my current favourite podcasts/some recent recommendations that may become favourites. They tend to be a bit lifestyle-y and a bit business-y and perhaps influenced by a deep-seated desire to escape. [I’m never sure what I want to escape from but living alone on a desert island has been a dream of mine since I was very young!]
These are in no particular order, other than the first one:
This had to be first on my list – partly because of the reason above but also because it was the first podcast I ever really listened to. I go in phases with this because I like to wait until there are a few good episodes to download and then binge on them. I have many favourite episodes but probably the most memorable was David Nott – if you’ve never heard that episode, do! It was so moving that I had to pull over and stop driving. I find that the least celebrity people are the most interesting and generally older people appeal more too.
I’m new to this one but so far I really like it. I like the concept that there is so much to learn from our ‘failures’ and I like that it is fairly gentle on the ear – I generally don’t like over-excited interviewers/ees! There looks to be a really interesting mix of guests and I look forward to hearing more episodes of this one.
This is cool – Dr Rupy Aujla cooks for his guests as he chats to them. I feel like I’m in his kitchen with them! I was recommended an episode called ‘The language of kindness’ with writer Christie Watson which I’m really enjoying, although I did wince at the thought of aubergine curry because I can’t eat aubergines. I just tuned out a bit when the food was mentioned! Like the previous podcast, this feels gentle on the ears. I will definitely dig deeper and listen to more episodes.
This podcast is hosted by two UK photographers, Vicki Knights & Eddie Judd, and I’ve listened to lots of episodes after recently being recommended it. Some of the topics are very specific for photographers but there are plenty of really useful business-y guests too. I don’t mind the photography stuff (because I am interested in that too) but the business ones are equally relevant to any field of work. The hosts are very bright and chatty – I tend to skip the first 10 minutes of chatter – but I like the way they interview their guests and tackle some interesting topics, including mental health, social media use, mindset and marketing.
Other podcasts on my radar:
Here are some more podcasts that I follow but either haven’t listened to yet or haven’t listened to in a while:
The Mother of All Movement with Kathryn Meadows – focuses on all aspects of moving your body after having children; has a body-positive message; wide range of topics and interesting guests
Practical Magic with Kate Taylor – haven’t listened to this one yet but I have several episodes on my download list; ‘helping us live an embodied life full of creative expression’; some short episodes which are perfect for a quick mindset-shift
Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee – I love the common-sense approach of this podcast and some great information; I love his voice & his passion for empowering us to manage our own health; the episodes are a bit on the lengthy side – good for longer journeys
The Happy Startup Community – another one that is new to me but it looks at some interesting business issues so I am sure it will become a favourite
Bravehearts Rising with Lisa Pascoe – this is another newly recommended and not yet listened to podcast but it speaks to my soul – it describes itself as exploring ‘what it takes to create a wholehearted life’ and I like that concept; lots of stuff here that I look forward to hearing soon
What podcasts are you listening to? I’d love to know because I really like this format and find it a really useful way to pass the time whilst driving between clients.
I’m not ready Christmas this early in the year, but I have had some questions about gift vouchers so here are the options available in case you like to get organised in advance.
Massage gift vouchers & packages:
Regular massage offers many benefits including reduced pain, improved mobility, stress-reduction, better sleep and a sense of general well-being. Giving the gift of massage will definitely improve your popularity!
I have three options available for sports massage vouchers –
I have created a 4 session package which is great for someone who has an on-going soft tissue concern, where an initial course of several treatments within a shorter space of time will help to reduce symptoms.
This voucher will give the recipient four treatments over the course of 10-weeks, taken at intervals to suit their schedule, and it will earn you a whole lot of brownie points! If you are buying this as a Christmas gift, the voucher can be dated to start from 6th January 2020
I also offer a 10 session package which can be a gift voucher for someone else, or a gift to yourself! I have a special offer available when one of these options is purchased by 29th November, giving 11 sessions instead of 10 at no extra charge.
If you are buying it as a Christmas gift it can be dated to start from 6th January 2020; if you are nearing the end of a current block of 10 sessions, the start date can be amended to follow-on immediately afterwards, so that you can still take advantage of the 11 for 10 price.
I can also set up a gift voucher for any specific amount to be off-set against future treatments. Please get in touch to arrange this bespoke option.
Personal training packages:
I have recently introduced a 10 session package for personal training and this can also be purchased as a gift voucher. Please make sure your recipient will appreciate your gift before purchasing! Please get in touch to discuss and purchase this bespoke option.
Please let me know if you have any questions at all about any of the voucher options or packages available Jx
I’ve had several really interesting conversations this week about weight loss, hormones, wellness, men(!) and life in general! It got me thinking about my top 5 wellness tips, so I decided to share.
weight loss has come up in conversation with clients a few times this week following some recent coverage in the news. Last week James Corden spoke out against ‘fat-shaming’ on his show (see it here if you missed what he had to say) and earlier this week the topic of obesity hit the news, with psychologists calling for a change in the language used by health professionals. We all know that weight loss can be a complex issue. We eat for many reasons apart from needing to satisfy hunger, and making changes to long-term habits is never easy to start with. However, here are some simple strategies that might be helpful if you are struggling to get started:
switching to a smaller plate helps to reduce portion sizes – your body will only take a few days to adjust to smaller meals
avoiding foods and drinks which contain artificial/zero calorie sweeteners will help to adjust your palate, so that you gradually stop wanting sweet foods
taking more time to chew each mouthful of food not only slows down the rate at which you eat but also promotes better gut health
swapping out energy-dense foods for less energy-dense options will reduce overall calorie intake – eg. replace some of your pasta with an extra portion of vegetables
making choices, rather than denying yourself everything, will help you to create new habits which are more easily sustainable – eg. choose a glass of wine or a pudding, not both; share a piece of cake rather than having a whole piece
focusing on one strategy at a time, and getting good at it before you add another, is sometimes easier than making lots of changes all at once
hormones have been fairly high on my agenda recently and several female clients have chatted with me this week about their own situation. Until I needed some hormonal support myself, I had no idea how complicated it can be finding the right guidance. I am very fortunate that my GP practice has a gynaecology specialist available (only 2 hours per fortnight, but still better than not at all) but I know that option isn’t always available. My advice would be to keep asking for help until you get what you need! If your surgery doesn’t have a specialist on site, ask for a referral. And keep asking until you feel you have everything you need. And go back if things change (which they will!) None of us need to put up with feeling ‘less-than’ just because our bodies are changing, and there are so many potential options out there. In particular, if you need help with pelvic floor issues book yourself an appointment with a Women’s Health Physio who will be able to advise you in much more depth than your GP. You may need to pay privately for this, but there is help available if you need it.
wellness is a generic term covering a whole multitude of health & well being-related issues but one thing that came up for me recently is how much I have been judging myself. Over the past 3-4 years I have been experiencing some anxiety symptoms in certain situations. Without realising it, I have been running an internal dialogue on repeat, telling myself how stupid/weak/silly/pathetic/blahblahblah I am for having these feelings… And then last week someone suggested that maybe I could just accept the feelings for what they are (a small part of where I am in life right now) instead of giving the feelings all of my focus and attention. And a week later I already feel different about the anxiety. It may still rise up but I’m not searching it out or expecting it. And when it comes, I think I’ll be better able to let it go by me. I am not those feelings. I just have those feelings sometimes. And that feels ok. Maybe you have a negative conversation looping around your head too? Maybe you could let them go a bit by accepting them as a small part of a much bigger and more glorious you…
men have been a source of much chat this week too! I have absolutely no tips about men at all – not for nothing am I a very single person!! And I don’t want to spark a sexist debate, because there are always two sides to every situation. And I know that not all men are the same. BUT I will say to the women reading this: don’t let anyone stop you shining your light…none of us need to feel ‘lesser’ so that someone else can feel ‘more’. For any men reading this, the same applies. Let’s all just be great at being us & keep shining!
life in general – this is a big area to cover in one bullet point but here goes:
On Saturday I attended a beautiful sound bath (with Sharon of Cosmic Healing) in celebration of the autumn Equinox. The focus was on gathering in the energy we had enjoyed over the summer months, in readiness for the shorter days & longer nights ahead.
I have been to a few sound baths with Sharon, but this was for me the most relaxing yet. I think my soul felt truly ready to gather itself in and I feel much more settled since the weekend. There have been some unexpected feelings of anxiety for me of late, but I feel that I turned a corner this weekend. I feel that I was able to gather in a positive energy, wrapping it around me like a blanket. And at the same time, I felt that I was letting go of some of the jangly, nerviness I have been noticing. I know it might sound a bit ‘out-there’ but I really felt something shift – and I liked it!
As well as gathering in my personal energy, I have been literally gathering in everything I can find in the hedgerows! I had a weekend of jam-stirring.
On Saturday I noticed some gorgeous rose hips on a local walk. Determined that there must be something good to be done with them, I found a recipe for rose hip and apple jelly, and set to work. An hour later I had filled one (clean!) dog poop bag with rose hips and another with windfall eating apples. A few hours later I was chopping and cooking and straining the juice, ready to create the most beautiful jewel-bright jelly…
On Sunday it was the turn of the dark fruits – blackberry and damsons. I have been gathering these in over the past weeks and freezing them until I was ready to jam. I just love the colour:
And a final word on letting go, because sometimes I think it is even more important than gathering in:
Wishing you a fabulous autumn – lots of gathering & just the right amount of letting go Jx
Obviously I’ve been walking pretty much all my life, and I walk the dog every day, but I’m a relative newbie to full-day-walking and have just completed my first long distance walk. To start with I was a bit self-conscious about buying walking ‘gear’ – I felt like an imposter – but over recent months I’ve started to see the benefits of having the right kit.
One of the things I knew I wanted to try was walking or trekking poles. I had previously enjoyed some Nordic Walking sessions from a fitness perspective, and was keen to feel walking as a whole-body (and a mind-body) process, rather than just being all about my legs and buttock muscles. Luckily I have a trekking friend who kindly lent me her poles for a prolonged amount of time while I was training, and I acquired my own poles just before I set off to walk the South Downs Way.
Over the course of a week filled with some long & challenging walks, I weighed up the pros and cons of walking poles as I see them. These are my thoughts as a walker (carrying an 11-12kg pack over 8 continuous days), but also as a fitness professional and massage therapist with a good anatomical knowledge-base and a sound understanding of posture & movement. These observations are not scientifically tested, and you may not agree with all of them, and I’m OK with that because you can write your own blog if you want to!!!
using poles creates less muscle tension in the legs and buttocks because the body is working as a more integrated system, which incorporates more core & upper body engagement. I got back from eight days walking an average of 18 miles a day with no aches and pains at all in any part of my body and I think the poles are largely responsible for that
there is less load on the hip and knee joints, because the impact is absorbed through four points of contact (rather than two) and comes into the body via the deeper core (postural) muscles and then to the limbs of the upper and lower body
walking poles remind me to walk with a tall, open posture which means that all the systems in the body (muscles, connective tissue, joints & circulatory system) are in the optimal position to work well with each other
the poles give extra drive on uphill sections and added stability/deceleration on downhill sections, enabling the body to maintain this open, upright posture even when the walking becomes more challenging
as someone who experiences vertigo, I found that walking poles gave me a greater sense of connection to the earth on high and exposed areas, and they especially gave me the confidence to stand, catch my breath & enjoy the view when my brain was yelling at me to keep moving in case I fell!
even without vertigo, I feel that walking poles give a feeling of confidence in relation to balance in general, and particularly on loose scree or where there is a noticeable camber – they don’t take away or reduce your body’s natural ability to balance, but I think they definitely enhance it
I find that the rhythm of walking with poles is quite meditative – it actually helps me to get into a smooth striding pattern and also helps me notice if I’m not walking evenly on each leg
although not something I can personally vouch for, I understand that using walking poles can help to reduce oedema (swelling) in the hands and forearms over prolonged walks, which makes sense because they keep the arms active rather than passive
walking poles are also great for bashing nettles, moving brambles out of the way, testing the depth of streams, checking the stability of stepping stones, propping up lightweight canopies and redirecting spiders & caterpillars that are descending from the trees and floating across your path …
I had to wrack my brain for these as there really aren’t many negatives – here’s what I came up with:
poles are another thing to carry in your kit (even though they don’t weigh much) and if you find yourself not using them for long stretches of your walk I guess that could become annoying (although my preferred poles have found a genius way around this)
if you’re walking a dog on a lead it is much harder to get the benefit from walking poles – you can make do with one pole but I think many of the benefits are lost in this instance; I tend to stow them when the dog is on his lead and use them while he is running free, but will also look into a lead for the dog which goes around my waist so that I can keep poling …
they can become a potential trip hazard… more than once, on tired legs, I have almost caught myself on one of my poles, but it is usually a case of not focusing on what I’m doing at the time
it is harder (but not impossible) to check a map/phone/watch, blow your nose or eat a snack while walking with poles in your hands – I get round this by either stopping and resting my poles against a fence or tree or by tucking them under one arm (like an army sergeant!) while I walk, until my hands are free again
using poles can leave your hands & forearms more exposed to the weather conditions (sun, rain or snow) but sunscreen, sleeves & gloves will obviously help you to get around this issue
Which poles are best?
There is a wide range of walking poles available to buy, to suit different needs and different budgets, and I don’t pretend to have tried them all by any means! I have however tried two different styles and have found a firm favourite.
Most poles have a foam, upright grip with a webbing wrist strap. With this style of pole, you slide your hand through and over the strap, and rest your wrist onto it whilst lightly holding the handle. As you walk your grip stays light and you keep the weight of your wrist on the strap.
I used this style of pole for nearly all of my training and had only one problem with them – on longer walks (bearing in mind that it was spring so I wasn’t wearing gloves) I would start to find that the strap irritated the heel of my hand and my wrist and this would gradually niggle me more and more as the walk continued. On a positive note, there are many brands that offer this style of pole and they are easily found in outdoor shops so you can have a try before spending your money.
Once I started researching my options, I saw lots of positive reviews for Pacerpoles but wasn’t entirely convinced that they would be better, until I tried them. They arrived a few days before I set off on my first long distance walk and I was slightly anxious whether I would get to grips (no pun intended!) with the slightly different technique in time. On the third practice day I felt much more confident with them, but in hindsight I realise that actually I didn’t fully find my rhythm with them until a couple of days into my walk. And then there was no going back!
These Physiotherapist-designed poles have a unique moulded handle which is fantastic. Pacerpoles rely on the angled, shaped handle rather than a webbing wrist strap, and as a result they feel really light to hold and much more comfortable.
The handle is held between the thumb and first finger and the heel of the hand then comes to rest on the ledge of the handle as you move forward. The idea is to move from the elbow, lifting and lowering the forearm with each step, rather than swinging forward from the shoulder. It is hard to describe the movement but once you try Pacerpoles you’ll get it!
I honestly believe that I couldn’t have walked the South Downs Way without poles and I firmly believe that Pacerpoles were the best choice for me.
There were sections that were so steep (up and down), and sections that were so windswept, that I would not have felt safe walking without my Pacerpoles. Even more importantly though was the fact that I never got tired heavy legs – even on days when I felt mentally fatigued and close to exhaustion, my legs never struggled. My pack was heavier than I would have liked (about 12kg with enough water for a full day) but my posture still felt great. Every time I put my poles in my hands I remembered to ‘walk tall’ so they acted as a great prompt as well as a physical support.
Is it ‘cheating’ to use poles?
A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone who said she would never use walking poles because she liked to feel that she was using the strength of her own body for balance and support. She suggested that for her it would feel like ‘cheating’ to rely on poles.
This conversation was a real turning point for me early in my training, when I was still undecided about using poles, because it had me really pay attention to what difference (if any) they made.
I honestly believe that poles help me to walk further (and faster) without any muscle or joint pain. I can feel that my core muscles are providing me with stability and that my leg muscles are then able to work efficiently without any tension. I also no longer feel a long-term persistent niggle in the attachment point of my left hamstrings. (I hadn’t realised that this had stopped being an issue, until it cropped up again when I walked without poles one day after having used them for several weeks)
My goal when working with my fitness & pilates clients is to have them experience movement which is generated from their core and then outwards into their peripheral limbs, without holding tension in any area of the body. Using the core muscles as the base for stability, allows the arms and legs to move more freely, and so it seems natural & obvious to bring this principle to my walking as well. I think this is where Pacerpoles make the difference.
Anything that helps the body move well is definitely not cheating in my eyes! I don’t think using poles is cheating any more than wearing walking boots or waterproof clothing is cheating…it’s just sensible.
My body simply feels stronger and more efficient when I’m walking with poles. I walked a total of 146 miles over eight days, with a pack, at an average pace of about 2.6 mph, and didn’t feel the need to stretch out my legs more than once in that time. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been true if I’d been walking without Pacerpoles.
Of course we are all different so I will leave you to make up your own mind about what equipment to use for day- or long-distance walking. But if you are a regular walker and you haven’t tried walking poles, I would suggest that you borrow a pair (preferably not mine because I will be using them!) to see how you get on…you might be surprised at the results.
If you want to read more about my adventure on the South Downs Way, start here with my notes from day 1
[In the spirit of openness, I want to let you know that I was gifted my Pacerpoles, for which I am truly grateful. However, in writing this post, I have been entirely honest in my appraisal of them and other walking poles. If anything, I have been more analytical in my assessment of them, to satisfy myself that my views have not been unduly swayed as a result]
I never listen to music, audio books or podcasts while walking because I just love the connection with all the sounds in nature and the chance to let my mind gently process thoughts as I go. I have to admit though, that before I set off to walk the South Downs Way, I did wonder if eight days alone with my thoughts would drive me mad!!
I started to notice what I was thinking about while I walked and there were definitely some recurrent themes:
1) Not surprisingly I thought about my Mum a lot, still processing my grief for her and trying to understand the huge shifts in my family since she died. I think that her life outside her career was quite ‘small’ which is not intended as a criticism of her choices, but more an observation that she perhaps wasn’t a brave woman and never sought adventure. I honestly don’t know if this was her choice or just how life turned out for her. Realising this about her over the past 18 months, has made me very determined to not live small – I do want to have adventures, I like to feel challenged, I’m ok with feeling a bit uncomfortable or scared (within reason!) and when my time comes, I want to know that I have lived before I die. I thought about this probably every day as I walked – in fact, I’ve probably thought about it every day since she died. I didn’t reach any earth-shattering conclusions about how I’m going to live a bigger life, but I definitely made a bigger commitment to doing so…
2) I thought every day about vegetarian food!! I was astounded how difficult it was to find good vegetarian food options along the South Downs Way. Admittedly I don’t eat out very often at home so maybe it is the same in pubs everywhere, but the lack of choice or the lack of simple meals was really bizarre. Even shops didn’t seem to stock vegetarian sandwiches, which isn’t exactly hard! One shop had eight sandwich options, all of which included meat or fish. Unbelievable!! One pub had the choice of potato & aubergine curry, vegetable chilli or teriyaki salad – ie. two versions of sloppy spicy stuff or the most disgusting salad imaginable (I know, because that’s what I ordered and it was truly vile). I will happily admit that I’m a tad fussy about food, but a range of options isn’t difficult – something spicy, something bland, something with pastry, something light, something traditional, something exotic… exactly the same as you could reasonably expect for non-vegetarian options. And my biggest gripe was this: if you are a pub serving a (meat) burger in a bun, with fries and salad, why on earth can’t you keep veggie burgers in the freezer and offer a vegetarian version of the same thing??? You already have the other elements of the dish, there is nothing extra to make and zero wastage – so SIMPLE!!! There were of course some exceptions along the way, but they were few and far between and the lack of good nutrition made a significant impact on me. If you’re a pub on the SDW, please add a veggie burger option to your menu…
3) I also wondered every day why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ when clearly they are higher up than nearly everything else and when walking it seemed that I spent far more time going up than down!! I Googled it when I got home…apparently the name comes from the Old English/Gaelic/Welsh name for a hill or hill fort – ‘dun’. So now you know…
4) Whilst walking, I was surprised to see so few other walkers (it was mostly cyclists) and then it occurred to me that there were even fewer women. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe – a giant boys playground! I did see women walking their dogs but it took until day 4 to see another woman hefting a backpack. There were sometimes female cyclists, but always in the minority amongst a pack of male riders. Is it just that women generally don’t want this kind of adventure or perhaps were they at home enabling the men to enjoy a few days of testosterone-fuelled escapism?? I honestly don’t know the answer but as a lone-walking woman I would just say to other women that the South Downs Way is too beautiful not to get out & enjoy, that it never felt anything other than safe and that adventures are not just for the boys. We need to even-up the numbers ladies – let your men stay at home while you go out to play!
5) My final ponderance came after a great meal in a pub, which was then sadly followed by one of the worst chocolate brownies I’ve eaten…why is it so hard to find a really good, made-for-you chocolate brownie? I’m not the best at baking by any means but I think I can make an ok brownie. It’s not really rocket-science after all… The one in question was too light and sponge-cakey, with no chocolate chunks (or actually any real chocolate at all) and it tasted a bit plastic and burnt. I think it is true of chocolate brownies perhaps more than any other cake-thing, that they so often look really tempting, but nearly always fail to deliver – and yet I can’t seem to stop myself trying them out. But not any more! I hereby swear that I will not eat another chocolate brownie unless I know that it has been home-made (not necessarily by me) and has real chocolate incorporated beneath it’s soft delicate crust…
So there you have my top five thoughts-while-walking. You probably didn’t even want to know what they were, but if you’ve read this far, you do anyway – and at least you now know why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ Jx