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)

barre, core & stretch workshop

I am hosting a 2-hour barre, core & stretch workshop on Saturday 9th March, designed for busy women who really need to take a bit of time out to stretch, move and lie on the floor!

This session is suitable for any woman, regardless of fitness level, shape or age. If you feel like you spend most of your time looking after the rest of the world, this session is perfect for you.

Book your space today and join us for a gentle, restorative start to your weekend, followed by cake!

  • venue: The Old School Hall, Back Road, Sandhurst, Kent
  • date: Saturday 9th March 2019
  • time: 9.30am-11.30am
  • cost: £16
  • value: a Saturday morning just for you…? priceless!

Book your place here

legs up the wall

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before but now that I actually have a wall I can use for this pose I thought I’d do it again with some photos (and a video) to show you how good it feels!

Last weekend I found myself unexpectedly hit by some grief and the sadness became quite overwhelming in a way that it hasn’t been since last October. I felt immobilised and I wasn’t sure how to get moving again. It never ceases to amaze me quite how grief can have such a physical impact…

Long story short, when I eventually got around to having a shower, I realised that I had recently (accidentally) created a space in my workout room where I could comfortably lie with my legs up the wall. I also remembered that I had a stash of ‘spacemasks’ which had been waiting for just this moment, so I put the two things together and did this:

There is something so gently restorative about giving your weight to the floor, closing your eyes and tuning-in to your breath. It was exactly what I needed in that moment.

So why is it good for us to lie with legs up the wall?

  • relaxation – with your body supported in this position, you can release and let go of areas which might usually hold tension; as you do so your breathing rate will slow and you will feel a deep sense of relaxation; closing your eyes or using an eye mask will increase the sense of relaxation
  • venous return – elevating the feet improves blood flow back to the heart and reduces any residual swelling in the feet, ankles and lower legs, which can be caused by prolonged periods of sitting (at a desk or whilst travelling)
  • back pain & spinal alignment – this position is ideal for gently releasing any tightness in the muscles of the lumbar spine, which can improve your posture once you come back to an upright position; it also facilitates optimum alignment through the thoracic spine, reducing tension in the upper back, shoulder girdle and neck
  • hamstring stretch – this position is useful for gently stretching the muscles in the backs of the thighs; the key is to lengthen the space at the back of your knees so position yourself in a way that allows this to happen; as your hamstrings become less tight you may find that you can move your hips closer to the wall
  • pelvic floor – if you have hypertonic (tense) pelvic floor muscles, this can be is a useful release position, allowing tension to normalise; too much tension in this area is as damaging as too little tension

How to get yourself into position:

The goal is to stay here a while (5-15 minutes is good) so you’ll need to be comfortable:

  • you will need a mat underneath you and maybe a blanket on top of the mat too; you might feel more comfortable with a folded blanket or towel under your hips and maybe another under the back of your head; if you want to get super-cosy, have a blanket to cover yourself with too!
  • I used a self-heating eye mask but a standard eye mask or a weighted eye pillow would be great too – it helps to have something to block out the light as it helps you to ‘drop-in’ to yourself and shut out external stimuli
  • start by lying down on one side with your legs bent and your bottom near to the wall; as you roll onto your back, take your legs and feet up the wall, into whatever position feels comfortable; have a wriggle about until you feel comfortable
  • leave a small gap between your bottom and the wall so that you don’t restrict the circulation across the front of your hip joint
  • bring your focus to your breathing and enjoy some time to yourself
  • when you’re ready to come back out of it, bring your knees to your chest and roll gently back onto your side; I like to come into a child’s pose stretch to finish before coming back to standing

Watch the video here:

Wishing you a relaxing, feet-up-the-wall weekend Jx

up-chain your workout

Adding an up-chain to your workout is a super-simple way to boost the effectiveness of your training. Even better, up-chains can be used in whatever way suits your training goals, the equipment available to you and the time you want to spend training.

Hi-Li Fitness Circuit

An up-chain circuit is a great way of increasing your strength and fitness because as you progress through your reps, each exercise will get more challenging, and then once you have done the highest number of reps in your chain, you go back to the start and it gets more manageable again. Working in this way means that you cycle through varying levels of intensity and this make the workout more achievable but also more challenging overall.

Here’s an example to show how it works:

  • If you were doing a squat and shoulder press as a continuous pattern of 1 rep of each, for a total of 2 minutes, you might gradually tire (& get bored?), but the exercise itself doesn’t  become more demanding on your body
  • If you use those same two exercises as an up-chain you would do 1 x squat, 1 x shoulder press, 2 x squats, 2 x shoulder press, 3 x squats, 3 x shoulder press, 4 x squats, 4 x shoulder press, 5 x squats, 5 x shoulder press, and then start again with 1 x squats, 1 x shoulder press, and so on which would create more muscle overload in the same period of time

Once you have understood the basic principle, you can tailor your workout to suit your needs and there is no limit to what you can include in your workout. Watch the video &/or click on the link below for ideas about how best to tweak your up-chain to suit your needs and a sample up-chain workout:

I hope you have some fun creating your own up-chain workouts – this one is based on my HI-LI fitness circuit class last week but there is no end to the variations you can make so please feel free to change it as much as you need.

Let me know if you have any questions at all

Jx