Top tips for eating more fruit and vegetables

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying to up-spec my eating game to include at least 30 different varieties of fruit and vegetables a week, and I’m still doing it!

layered salad bowl

Obviously there are plenty of items that repeat weekly, but I’m trying to add in a few newbies each week too. Across the last four weeks I have eaten 50 different fruit and vegetables in total, which is probably four or five times more varied than in the four weeks before that! As an example, the salad above included mixed lettuce leaves, pea shoots & spinach as a base, topped off with olives, garlic, lentil sprouts, avocado, pickled red cabbage, tomatoes, hummus and sesame seeds – 9 veggies added to the list in one meal!

I’ve bought myself two sprouting jars and I’m really enjoying growing my own vegetables in miniature. Favourites so far are sprouted sunflower seeds and lentil sprouts (below), both of which work well in cold or hot dishes. Sprouted pulses and seeds taste amazing, add texture and colour and a whole heap of nutritional value and they are super-simple to grow.

lentil sprouts

Two jars allows me to stagger them and keep a continuous supply, or sprout two different things at once. I currently have lentils and broccoli sprouts ready to eat and I have sunflower seeds soaking in a separate pot ready to add to one of the jars when the sprouts have been moved to the fridge/eaten. Of course you don’t need to buy a special jar to sprout seeds and pulses but it makes the process very easy. And also I felt that having invested in the jars I might be more likely to keep using them long term…?!

Since the first week of doing this, I have found a few things which help me to stay on track:

  1. keep a pencil and paper in the kitchen to write everything down on a meal-by-meal basis
  2. start the week well – by bedtime on Monday this week I had already eaten 17 different fruit and vegetables, so I felt like I was winning right from the start
  3. make up batches of meals which contain a lot of different vegetables so I have them in the fridge or freezer when I need them
  4. use different fruits to make up fruit compote to go with porridge/chia pudding/granola/etc (frozen fruit is great for this)
  5. make use of what you have around – I cut down the last of my tomatoes at the weekend and made a jar of quick pickled green tomatoes
  6. collect windfall apples, pick damsons or forage for sweet chestnuts if you see them while you’re out and about (I’m not sure whether sloes for sloe gin counts but I guess you can decide for yourself!)
  7. don’t forget to include frozen, tinned or bottled fruit and vegetable options to your list – sauerkraut is one of my favourite fall-backs when I don’t want to cook but I need to up the veggie-quota
keeping track

Now that I’ve started, I’m going to keep the momentum going on my #30fruitandvegetables mission. It makes sense on so many levels – upping nutrition for heart, hormonal, bowel & cognitive health; promoting a feeling of self-care; managing energy levels; and creating a better connection with & enjoyment of eating.

You may already be far more evolved than me on this issue, but if not, and even if you don’t want to go for the full 30 in one go, why not start by adding one extra portion of vegetables to each meal or try buying one new vegetable ingredient each week. Small changes really do add up over time…

Do you eat 30 different varieties of fruit and vegetables each week?

Did you know that eating a broad range and number of fruits and vegetables each week can support your hormonal health?

Last week as part of a course I’m studying, and with my own health in mind, I felt inspired to see if I could follow the advice to eat 30 different varieties of fruit and veg in one week.

home grown!!

The aim is to use dietary measures to naturally support the body in processing & managing oestrogen levels, which in turns supports us through times of hormonal change, such as peri-menopause. In addition to eating a range of plant-based foods (including legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables) and brightly-coloured foods, the goal is to broaden the range of fruits and vegetables we consume.

I am vegetarian so in theory it maybe shouldn’t be that hard. But I’m also lazy about cooking for one and a bit of a fussy-eater after a childhood of strict ‘eat what you’re given’ parenting, so I was really intrigued to see how I would get on.

I started last Tuesday and tracked back over the previous day to start my count. I had also recently done a good food shop so I already had a few different options available to get me started.

I arrived at 17 different items quite easily and really enjoyed challenging myself to fit extra vegetables into my meals:

  • cavolo nero
  • mushrooms
  • green beans
  • sweetcorn
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • sugarsnap peas
  • apples
  • blueberries
  • red grapes
  • leeks
  • red lentils (not sure if legumes count but I counted them anyway just in case I fell short!!)
  • kiwi
  • nectarines
  • carrots
  • avocado
  • broccoli

At this point I realised that back-up supplies would be needed so I trawled the supermarket for as many different things as I could find, including some things I had forgotten about & some that I don’t really like.

I added a few ‘deli’ items:

  • olives
  • artichoke hearts (I’d forgotten how much I love these)
  • sauerkraut (love this and eat it often but had run out)

Some vegetables I normally avoid:

  • brussels sprouts (which were better shredded and pan-fried than any other way I have ever eaten them)
  • parsnips (I don’t mind them but wouldn’t usually choose them)
  • mustard cress (tasted way better than I remembered)
  • celery (I hide it in ragout-type recipes)
  • cauliflower (I had some in the freezer so I used it to make cauliflower, parsnip and garlic mash)

Some basic extras:

  • potatoes
  • butternut squash
  • garlic
  • onions
  • white cabbage (I made coleslaw with added apple and sunflower seeds)

And, last but not least, some lovely additions:

  • pea shoots (such a great flavourful addition to a salad)
  • mango (post 10-mile hike purchase)
  • blackberries (picked en-route)

So I finished my week on 32 different kinds of fruit and veg (33 if I include the red lentils, but in that case I can also include butter beans and cannellini beans so 35!) I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t really more on fruit (as I am a bit of a fruit-bat) and actually I really enjoyed finding new ways to include more vegetables into my meals.

brussels sprouts made better

One of the things I learned from this (which came as no surprise but all the same it was a good reminder) is that I basically eat the same ingredients nearly every week. Probably many of us do. Food shopping can become a bit of a chore and I think I have been following the same path through the shop each time, so that I buy food without ever needing to veer off-course. I really enjoyed thinking about what I could eat to increase my veggie uptake and it was good to look along shelves that I normally by-pass.

The best thing I gained from doing this, was a stirring in my soul – a little bit of excitement about my meals, a joy in new found flavour (& texture) combinations, and a better connection with what I was eating. My meals are usually ‘bistro bowl & single utensil’ options so that I can eat without thinking, mostly sat on the sofa, distracted by a bit of catch-up TV. Last week I think I used two utensils together more than once, I sat at a table to eat more often and I actually took notice of what I was eating.

I felt like I was bathing my body in nutrients, colour, flavour and a big dose of self-care.

breakfast favourite – chia pudding, fruit compote, ground flaxseed, soaked sunflower seeds, organic yoghurt

I ate (& craved) less chocolate & consumed significantly less cheese-as-a-meal-substitute last week. Interestingly I don’t think I spent any more than usual on food because I didn’t buy snacks or lots of cheese like I might usually do. I guess time will tell how much it costs but I plan to do lots of batch-cooking of dishes which include as many vegetables as possible. Yesterday I made a green lentil ragout with eight different veggies in it – knowing that I have portions of this in the freezer will be a real bonus when I’m short on time and need a veggie-boost.

There was a downside…I used the dishwasher more than usual, but I guess that’s just part of being a grown-up & cooking actual meals?!

fresh supplies

One week on and I’m still going with the goal of 30 but I’m trying to make some changes from last week so that I don’t stick with the same 30 each week. So far I’ve added in beetroot, spring greens, pomegranate & raspberries; I’ve grown broccoli sprouts and I’m sprouting some sunflower seeds; and I have pak choi and sweet potatoes lurking in the fridge. I think the key is to layer in a couple of extra veggies at every meal – so instead of a meal consisting 3-4 ingredients, I will bump it up to 7-8 different ones, so that every meal makes a contribution to my total count (and more importantly my health!)

broccoli and friends!

So how about you? Do you (or could you) eat 30 different varieties of fruit and veg in one week? If not, might you give it a try?

If you are a way off to start with, you might not want to make such a sweeping change all in one week so perhaps start by gradually adding in a few new items each week until you get there.

Please let me know if you give it a try – would love to know how you get on and what differences you notice, particularly if you are also trying to balance your hormone levels.

(cont’d)

making plans

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind (under-statement?!) but hopefully the dust is beginning to settle on our strange new world. Now that we know we’re going to be ‘here’ for a while, we need to think about making plans so that we come out the other side in the best place possible…

who do I want to be during COVID-19? (source unknown)
I haven’t been able to find out who created this diagram, but I really like that it reminds us that even now, in the midst of this global situation, we still can choose what we bring to the world around us. Once we know who we want to be, I think it helps us make our best plans

Like all of you, my head has been all over the place at different times since the COVID-19 crisis began to impact our daily lives. Emotions are finely balanced and there have been a few wobbles along the way, but the thing that is helping me the most, is making plans.

Making plans:

I’m not actually a huge planner in life – I’ve always tended to drift a bit and see what happens – but right now I recognise that I need a plan! It’s definitely not about having a busy, packed schedule; it’s more about having a general idea how I’d like my day to look & feel and building in time to nurture myself. Having a plan gives me reassurance that I’ll still be standing at the end of this pandemic, and also keeps me grounded in the moment so that I can get through each day in turn.

Of course there’s no ONE way to handle this – we are all unique and armed with our own coping strategies – but talking to other people (remotely, of course) it seems that there are three common approaches at the moment:

  • make plans, find time for supportive activities, think about the end goal, get on with the ‘new-normal’
  • sit it out, do nothing, wait for it all to pass, hope that we’ll all go back to ‘old-normal’ afterwards
  • over-plan for the children, forget about yourself, feel stressed about no-one else sticking to the schedule you wrote for them, get up and do it all again tomorrow…!

Maybe you can recognise your own approach somewhere in this list? Maybe it changes from day-to-day? Maybe its a mixture of all three? Maybe you’re still settling?

All of these are perfectly good IF they are working for you – ie. that you feel mentally & physically supported to get through your day; that you have a balance of different activities to keep you engaged; that you are able to manage your stress-load effectively; that you’re able to carry on with the mundane everyday tasks that we all need to do; and that you are sleeping and eating to support your body.

But, if your current approach isn’t working for you, or if it stops working for you, perhaps it’s time to start making plans?

For me, planning is not about creating a rigid schedule. It is simply about recognising what you need and making plans to include some of that in your day/week, because now more than ever, what you need is truly important. It is not selfish to take care of yourself and focus on what you need. If you are supporting other people right now, make sure you also support yourself.

I know that we are all in totally different places right now – physically and emotionally and practically – but within all of our circumstances there is an opportunity to make plans to support ourselves.

Write them down – make them happen:

Ideally your plans will be written down (in your diary, on your family calendar, in a journal, on a scrap of paper, in an online planner…) and shared if you’re in a shared space right now (because it’s important that other people know what you need to do today – it’s not all about them and when they want to eat again!)

diary

I’m a Filofax kind of girl so my plans all go in there, but I’m also fond of keeping a pen & a piece of paper by the kettle for any thoughts that occur while I’m there. My diary tends to work best for my weekday planning; the piece of paper plan is most often used at weekends, when I try not to be in my office near my diary! Right now there’s a bit of a cross-over but I’m trying to separate out the working week and non-working weekends as much as possible for a semblance of normality.

Writing plans down is the best way to make them happen!

What to plan:

pilates mat

My key planning tactics over the past 3 weeks have included:

  • planning my work schedule to support clients whilst also being mindful of the times I need to support myself
  • booking online yoga/meditation/breathing sessions which are FREE of charge – this is important because it would be easy to get carried away and spend more than I’m earning!
  • booking online yoga/meditation/breathing sessions which are PAID activities – this is important because I want to support other people who are in the same financial position as me
  • planning what food I have that needs using by a certain date to avoid waste and make sure I am engaged with my own nutrition
  • planning when (& where) I’m going to take my daily walk – so far I’m saving this until the late afternoon so I have something to look forward to when I might otherwise slump into a ‘sofa/chocolate/rubbish-on-the-TV hour or two’
  • planning when I can face-time my three girls without it being too noisy or chaotic!!

Some plans are made for weeks ahead (work for example), some are made at the start of the week, some are made at the start of the day. I like to keep a balance of these so that there is some flexibility within the structure.

Best laid plans…

Yesterday my day was thrown off course completely because I didn’t have a plan beyond 12pm!

In the afternoon, I spent three unexpected hours sorting out some technology; I had a face-time call with Imo who wanted to see where her little bed was, and see the tortoise, and see the dog, and see her high-chair (basically I think she was checking that I’d cleaned the house!!), and then after my walk, I slumped into bleurgghhh!

I didn’t eat the food I had defrosted (I had apple & chocolate for dinner instead!). I didn’t do the online class I had intended to do because I didn’t book it and therefore it became easy to ‘forget’.

Instead, I watched boring TV, went to bed and played a stupid game on my iPad until later than I should have…and weirdly it didn’t feel like a satisfactory kind of day at all!

Getting back on track:

Of course, one wasted afternoon doesn’t matter very much. But right now there is more opportunity than usual for multiple wasted afternoons which is why making plans is crucial for keeping me sane (or at least as sane as usual!)

If you find yourself feeling all-at-sea right now, think of ways to plan a different reality to get you back on track.

As a bare minimum, try to include a balance of:

  • some kind of movement
  • some quiet time
  • some (physically distant) social time
  • some time outside
  • some time caring for others (directly or indirectly)
  • some creative time
  • some time that’s just for you
  • something that makes you laugh

Of course we might not achieve all of these things every day, but thinking about them when making your plan will make them more likely…

Happy planning! Jx

Click here for details of how I can help to support you with some daily movement habits

Some useful articles on planning as a stress-reduction tool:

The principles of Pilates – centering

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.

mat-work pilates

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

This time we’re going to look at centering.

Centering:

In Pilates the ‘centre’ refers to the neutral position of the lumbar spine (lower back) & pelvis. Joseph Pilates describes ‘the centre’ as the area between the ribs & the hips, at the front & back of the body. Nowadays we have extended that definition to include the sides of the torso.

Your centre is the pivotal point of the body from which all movements start. Movement, balance, force & strength all come from the centre – a weakness in the core will affect the body’s ability to perform any of these functions.

Your core:

It is important to understand that core control is more important than core strength. Abdominal control provides fluidity of movement which is crucial; abdominal strength provides support which is beneficial but secondary.

Your centre is controlled by use of the abdominal muscles, the muscles in the lower back and the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles surround your abdominal cavity and form a central cylinder (see diagram below)

When you activate your core (ie. all the muscles surrounding your central cylinder) you are better able to manage the intra-abdominal pressure which gives stability to each movement.

Once the core/centre has been activated, we add arm & leg movements to challenge your stability and develop better muscle tone.

Finding your centre:

One of the keys to success is being aware of when you have ‘lost’ your centre, and making sure that you work within the capabilities of your core control – if you try to progress too soon, or push ahead without maintaining your centre, you will not develop a stronger core. Instead, you will risk overusing the muscles in your lower back or adding downward pressure into the pelvic floor or adding outward pressure into the abdominal wall (or perhaps all three!) potentially leading to less stability than you started with (& maybe some pain too).

There are many ways to find and activate your centre/core and we spend time doing this each time we move into a new position. We find a neutral pelvis, where the core muscles are in the optimum position to ‘fire’, and then we think of drawing gently upwards and inwards with the pelvic floor and deeper core muscles as we exhale (we’ll look at breathing as a separate principle).

Ideally you will keep an awareness of your centre during the class, but if you find you have forgotten about it, simply take a breath and come back to it on the next movement. Outside of your Pilates class, it is useful to keep an awareness of your centre to improve your posture in everyday life.

Finally, remember that we are looking to achieve a light connection with the core muscles – you don’t want to activate them to 100% otherwise movements will not flow and your posture will become unnatural – aim for 30% contraction so that you are just aware of a gentle feeling in the tummy wall.

Next time we’ll look at breathing as the third principle of Pilates – breathing.

tmf 60 x 60 challenge

I am hereby throwing down the tmf 60 x 60 challenge in a bid to keep you [me!] motivated to move more for the last 60 days of the year/decade! If you’re reading this on Friday 1st November you have exactly 60 days left (allowing a day off for Christmas). If you’re starting a bit later that’s ok – it’s better to start late than not at all.

#tmf 60 x 60 challenge
#tmf60x60

Recently (or more accurately for at least the whole of this year!) I have struggled to motivate myself into doing any regular exercise, other than daily walking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete couch-potato – fitness is my business after all so I am active most days. I think nothing of walking 20 miles at the weekends and I do feel relatively strong and fit-ish. Just not as strong and fit-ish as I used to/would like to feel…

In an attempt to motivate myself, I have set myself the goal of doing 60 reps of something every day for the last 60 days of the year #tmf60x60. I would really love it if you could join me and it doesn’t cost you anything other than your commitment!

I’ve called it a ‘challenge’ but more than challenging you [me] physically, I hope this inspires you [me] to get more active over the next 60 days, and that it helps you [me] to build good daily exercise habits to carry over into the next decade. If your [my] body feels fitter, leaner, stronger &/or more flexible by 31st December as a result that’s an added bonus!

You can choose whether you do the same reps of the same exercises every day or whether you mix and match according to your mood; you might do 10 reps each of 6 different exercises or you might do 60 reps of one exercise; you might do your reps all in one go or spread them out over the day – really you can make this whatever you want it to be but now is the time to commit!

if not now, then when

I tried it out this morning and it took me less than 5 minutes so that’s the ‘no time’ excuse knocked on the head. I’m planning to vary my 60 reps (easily bored!) and I will try to get them done before I start my day, but you can shape it to fit your lifestyle. If you have kids why not get them joining in to?

Click on the link below to read more and see some simple exercise suggestions from me. You can print this off to refer back to whenever you need ideas:

To help you keep on-track, click on the link to print off your daily check-sheet:

If you decide to join me in the challenge, please share some pictures of your home workouts using #tmf60x60 so that we can keep each other motivated; or email me so I know you’re in.

And please share this with everyone you know – the more the merrier!!

As always, let me know if you have any questions or need any help Jx

Walking…

Just to let you know I’ll be hijacking my blog with walking posts and updates over the coming weeks…

pair of boots #5

In 8 days time I’ll be setting off on my first long distance walk (the South Downs Way) so I’ll be covering some walking-related topics and blog posts before and after my adventure. I probably won’t add much during my walk because a big part of it is about going off-grid, but I’ll try to keep a journal every day so I can share later on.

Someone asked me this week if I was walking for charity and I told her I’d share the details here. There have been some very generous donations already but no amount is too small and every penny will be put to good use. I truly appreciate all your support.

There is still time to make a donation to my JustGiving page if you would like to support The Sam West Foundation, who provide in-school mental health support for children and young people. And as it is Mental Health Awareness week, what better time to support their work?

Thank you in advance Jx

5 pairs of walking boots & a few life lessons:

When I started upping my walking mileage at the start of the year, I found an old pair of walking boots that I had long-since stored in the shed, and decided that they would be okay for the time-being.

old boots - too short

As the miles stacked up I realised that the boots were slightly too short for my slightly-too-long second toe, and so the search began for my perfect pair of walking boots.

I had no idea it would be such an arduous process given that I don’t have any problems with my feet. They are slightly wide, but not excessively so; my arches are naturally self-supporting; I don’t roll excessively onto either side; and I roll relatively well through my big toe joints. It seems that maybe boots are designed to address common foot issues, and since I don’t have the issues, the boots don’t generally suit my feet, but regardless of the reasons for the problem, here is my journey through 5 pairs of walking boots:

Pair of boots #1 was a traditional-looking, brown leather walking boot. Sadly size 7 was too small, so I was sold a size 8. Once I got them home, I soon realised they were way too big and creased across the wrong part of my foot.

Back I went to the same shop and was steered towards pair of boots #2. These were the only pair I tried in that shop which felt comfortable when I put them on – a nice rolling sole, breathable leather & fabric upper, comfortable around the ankle, lightweight & blue. In hindsight they did feel slightly snug, but it kind of felt like they were hugging my foot gently, so I decided they would be good.

pair of boots #2

Over the next 3 weeks I walked over 100 miles in my #2 boots – and then I got my first blister! After that every time I tried to put them on I realised just how much they were pinching my toes together, and I knew I had not yet found the ones…

At this point I realised that maybe it wasn’t going to be as straight forward as I thought, so I read everything I could find about wider fitting boots, looking at different brands, the pros and cons of different features, rands, soles, lacing systems…you name it, I researched it! Armed with my latest Intel, I tracked down a pair of wide-fitting boots in a store in Faversham, which proved to be a total waste of time and no wider than the narrow-fitting boots I already owned…  Having already driven to Faversham (on Good Friday which was actually turning out to be a not-so-good Friday) I diverted to Maidstone, to Cotswold Outdoor which was open until 6pm (on a bank holiday!)

And this is where I found pair of boots #3 – tan coloured nubuck leather, good ankle support, firm sole & pretty pricey, but seemingly comfortable…until I wore them around the house and decided they weren’t actually comfortable at all. The heel was set way higher than the forefoot (not a good thing for a barefoot shoe wearer) and they didn’t roll smoothly from heel to toe. Even walking around the house I could feel that my hip joint was starting to jar with each step.

By now I was getting pretty annoyed, but I did further research & went back to exchange them for pair of boots #4…which was even more pricey but a beautiful ‘espresso’ brown leather boot. If looks were the thing, these would be the ones. On this trip to CO I tried on 5 or 6 different pairs of boots before settling on a men’s size 7 which felt roomy for my toes although a little loose on my heel. After two days wearing them around the house, I just knew that these were not going to be my boots.

Arrrggghhhhhhhh…

I was starting to lose the will to live, and thinking that maybe I should give up the search & walk the South Downs Way in my slightly-too-short old boots which let the rain in. I decided to give it one more try, not least because I had to go all the way back to return pair of boots #4 anyway, so it seemed that I may as well have another attempt at finding the ones.

On Wednesday morning (whilst walking) I spoke to a lovely man on the phone, who not only ordered in a selection for me to try on, but also arranged to come in to work on Thursday (his planned day off) so that he could make sure they were a good fit. I think he just ‘got’ what I needed from my boots (and very kindly gave me an extra 5% discount too).

Pair of boots #5 has a wide-fit sole AND a wide toe-box AND a women’s size heel. On top of that they are blue, comfortable around the ankle, waterproof, light-weight and they have a little hook in the middle of the tongue to stop it creasing at the ankle. I’ll admit it wasn’t love at first fit but by the second fit I realised they had potential & in the end I decided they were so nice that I nearly asked if I could wear them home (do you remember doing that with new shoes when you were a kid??)

pair of boots #5

As I’m writing this, I am 99% sure that these boots will be the ones that walk the South Downs Way with me in less than three weeks’ time, but I guess I won’t know if I made the right choice until then…

So the moral of this story?

I think most of these are true for life in general as well as for buying walking boots:

  • ask for help when you need it – do your research, be clear about what you need & get an expert opinion
  • ask for more help if you don’t think you got the right help to start with
  • ask again if you are still not confident about the advice you’re getting – basically keep asking until you find someone you believe in to help you
  • don’t settle for something because someone else thinks it’s right for you – take advice but then listen to your gut/heart/head and always go with them
  • looks aren’t everything (otherwise I’d have kept pair of boots #4 – and I’d never have married the man I did, but that’s a whole other story!!)
  • wear something comfortable on your feet – at all times – because life is too short for sore feet and you’re going to have to live with them a long while
  • if you’re looking for walking boots, go to Cotswold Outdoor in Maidstone and ask for Ian – he’s definitely your man!

Just goes to show, yet again, that every day’s a school day?!

Jx

PS I’ll be testing out ‘the ones’ in the outdoors over the weekend so wish me luck. My plan is to do three consecutive longish walks in them as my last bit of serious training, and then I’ll back off the miles a little bit for the last two weeks before I leave for Winchester on 22nd May.

If you’d like to, there’s still time to make a donation on my Just Giving page, where I’m raising money for the Sam West Foundation – I know that every penny donated will help them to do even more to help children and young people coping with mental health issues, and I know they will truly appreciate your support.

Thank you xx

compound workout

A compound workout uses complex, or layered, moves to create powerful, effective exercises which can be adapted to suit you.

kettlebell triceps extension

In a nutshell, you will start with a basic movement (eg. a squat) and then layer in extra movements (eg. a calf raise and shoulder press) to increase the load on your body. By working-out in this way, you will increase your heart- & breathing-rate and add extra work to your muscles and bones, whilst decreasing the amount of time you need to exercise for. If you are time-poor, this style of workout is ideal for you!

The other great advantage of a compound workout is that because there are layers added-on, you can easily adapt it by taking away (or replacing) anything which doesn’t feel right for you, without having to miss out on a whole exercise.

For example, in the case of squat, calf raise & shoulder press:

  • if you had an issue with your shoulder, you could continue with squats & calf raises but leave out the shoulder press; or you could substitute a biceps curl in place of the shoulder press
  • if your feet were not comfortable with calf raises, you could do just a squat & shoulder press; or you could do a squat, shoulder press & triceps extension

The key to layering in movements is to find ones which flow together fairly easily so that the workout doesn’t feel awkward to do, but other than that, the only rule is to listen to your body and change anything that doesn’t feel right for you. And don’t feel that every exercise has to be a compound one – mix in a few simple exercises too for more variety.

I’ve put together a simple compound workout to get you started and I have filmed all the exercises, to go with the notes below, so that you can see how they look. You can find a pdf version here

Compound workout:

  1. squat, calf raise & shoulder press – start with your weights by your shoulders; sit into your squat to begin and then as you stand rise up onto the balls of your feet and press your weights towards the ceiling; bring your heels to the floor and lower the weights back to your starting position before starting on your next squat
  2. diamond push-up – this is a variation to target your triceps, but you can change to a wider push-up or a standard narrow push-up if you prefer; focus on your range of movement and adjust your position to allow a deep push-up
  3. alternate forward lunge and row – have your weights at your sides; step into a long, deep lunge, pressing your front heel on the floor with both knees bent; bring your chest to your thigh if you can before starting your row; the longer and lower you go into your lunge, the more energy you will use to come back to standing; reverse lunges are a little easier and are also kinder on sore knees so try those if you need to
  4. walk-out to stand – start as if you were about to perform a gymnastics floor routine; say ta-dah if it amuses you to do so; bend forward and walk your hands along the floor until you are in a full plank position; hold for 2-3 seconds; walk your hands back towards your feet, bend your knees & stand; ta-dah; repeat (NB if your body doesn’t like the motion of going up and down in this way, either come down to the floor and stay in a plank position for the whole time or miss this move out altogether)
  5. repeater reverse lunge to knee lift & hold (x each leg) – I love single leg work because it really loads the big muscles in your standing leg; go as slow as you can on this for extra core-control and as a contrast to the next exercise which will ideally be fast & light; step back into your lunge position; as you come back to standing bring the knee up to hip height; try to step straight into your next lunge without tapping your foot back to the floor; add a tap down in between if you are feeling unstable
  6. knee/tap repeater (x each leg) – this is a sped-up version of the move above, without the lunge; you will need to lean slightly forward to keep your weight on your standing leg; try not to transfer your weight back into the tap; go as fast as you can without losing control
  7. upright row and front raise – in the upright row make sure your elbows lift higher than your hands; in the front raise maintain a neutral posture through your torso – ie. no arching in your lower back and no flaring of your ribs

Watch me doing all of the moves in the video here:

I added some afterthoughts on push-ups here:

As always:

  • spend some time mobilising and warming-up your body before you begin your workout
  • pay attention to your body and change anything which does not feel useful for you
  • either use a timer for each exercise or count repetitions – whichever you prefer

Please ask if you have any questions at all

Jx

(this workout is  aimed at regular tmf clients but it is generally suitable for everyone; however, if you are new to exercise, recently post-natal,  or have any health concerns please seek medical advice or professional guidance before embarking on a new exercise routine)

how can I get a flat tummy?

Possibly the most common question I get asked is along the lines of: ‘how can I get a flat tummy?’ or ‘what exercises will make my tummy smaller?’ so with that in mind I’ve recently been using some core-focused workouts with PT clients and in my HI-LI fitness circuit class, and I thought it might be something you would like to try out at home.

I’ve filmed the exercises, to go with the notes below, or you can find a pdf version (which includes the video links) here.

Before I go into the exercises, it is important to mention that there are many things that can affect the appearance and function of our tummy/abdominal wall, including:

posture:

The tilt of your pelvis has probably the biggest influence on the look and feel of your belly.

(graphics credit: www.burrelleducation.com)

In a neutral pelvis position, there will be a supporting length & tension in the muscles and other soft tissues in the front and the back of the body. When the pelvis habitually tips forward into an anterior tilt (shown above), the soft tissues in body will lose this ideal synergy resulting in:

  • an increased lordosis in the lumbar spine, with shortened and tight muscles in the lumbar area, the front of the hips and the front of the thighs
  • added pressure from the internal organs which are also tilted forward causing a protruding belly & lengthened and weakened muscles in the abdomen and backs of the thighs

There are many factors which can contribute to an anterior tilt, and it is often not enough to simply create a conscious tilt in the opposite direction. Massage, stretching and the use of trigger point balls may be needed to address the imbalance, along with improved postural awareness and appropriate, well-executed abdominal exercises.   

stress:

It is well-documented that stress hormones can cause your body to store belly fat and it therefore stands to reason that managing your long-term stress levels can make a positive difference. Activities such as leisure walking, sleeping, going off-line, spending time with people we love and restorative exercise (eg Pilates, yoga, stretching, meditation) can all play a pivotal role in our total well-being & they are definitely something to consider if you think that stress might be contributing to your unwanted tummy. For more on this subject read here.

nutrition:

It goes without saying that what you are eating will play a part! If you are feeding your body with poor or inappropriate nutrition, or you have uncontrolled dietary issues that causing bloating & distension of the tummy wall, no amount of exercise is going to be the solution. Be honest with yourself about your eating habits and seek professional help from your GP or a nutritionist if you have concerns in this area.

Of course there may be other issues to consider so please seek appropriate advice if you think it is what you need. Once you have ruled out and addressed any issues, here are some exercise suggestions that may be helpful in strengthening your core muscles.

As usual, start with a few minutes of simple mobilisations and warm-up movements before you begin the exercises; if you are adding these exercises on at the end of a general workout, you will already be warm to start with.

NB not all the exercises I have included are going to be right for every body.

Pick up the exercises at the level that is right for you at the moment – harder is only better if your body can support the extra load; easier is often the best place to start. I will show various options and use different equipment – please decide what is best for you (ie best for you = the one you can do without compromising the integrity of your tummy wall).

Rest when you no longer feel that the exercise is working the right area of your body (eg. if your legs feel like they are doing all the work or your neck muscles are feeling tense). And don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right for you.

Core circuit:

  1. Upright kneeling front raise – kneel on something comfortable, tuck the toes under and lengthen the spine; avoid moving backwards as you lift your arms; think of keeping a connection between the ribs and the pelvis throughout the movement; breathe
  2. Kneeling or incline push-up – use an incline position against a wall or kitchen worktop or come to the floor in a box or ¾ position; maintain a long spine and neutral pelvis throughout; breathe out as you come back to the start
  3. Shoulder bridge hold with arm extension – keep a connection between the ribs and the pelvis (ie. avoid lifting the ribs to the ceiling as the arms go overhead); take the shoulder bridge away if you need to; breathe
  4. Side plank – choose the best variation for your body; maintain a long spine and neutral pelvis throughout; avoid holding your breath
  5. V-sit hold or pulse – you want to feel your sit-bones sinking into the mat whilst keeping a long spine and neutral pelvis throughout; avoid holding your breath; legs, neck & shoulders need to stay relaxed & free of tension
  6. Supine running legs OR leg scissors – lie face-up with legs bent and feet flat on the floor; find a neutral spine; bring the legs into a table-top, lifting one leg at a time and maintaining neutral spine (you can imprint the spine if you need more stability); control the size and speed of your movements so that you can maintain stability through the torso; change to a single leg variation if necessary
  7. Supine leg circles – lie face-up with legs bent and feet flat on the floor; find a neutral spine; extend the legs to the ceiling, lifting one leg at a time and maintaining neutral spine (you can imprint the spine if you need more stability); control the size and speed of your movements so that you can maintain stability through the torso; change to a single leg variation if necessary

Watch me doing all of the moves here (with apologies for the slightly mad hair this morning!):

I added some afterthoughts on push-ups here:

As always, find exercises which are suitable for your body & please ask if you have any questions at all

Jx

(this workout is  aimed at regular tmf clients but it is generally suitable for everyone; however, if you are new to exercise, recently post-natal,  or have any health concerns please seek medical advice or professional guidance before embarking on a new exercise routine)