Happy Hips

Having just posted this week’s workout, called ‘Love Your Hips’ on my Strengthen and Stretch site, I felt the need to write this blog to explain just why the hip joint is so important and why we should all do more to keep our hips happy and healthy. We all know someone who in later (or even not so late) life needs a hip replacement; and who before having that hip replacement suffer all sorts of pain and posture changing problems. Or perhaps we know younger people who do lots of one particular exercise regime that puts a strain on the hip joint leading to aches and pains deep within the joint, or even deferred pain in the lower back or knee.

Our hip joints are one of the most important joints in the body. Not only do they bear our body’s weight all day, every day, but they are one of the most flexible joints too. There are many large strong muscle groups that run across it and which along with the type of joint it is allow a large range of movement. Therefore, we should do more to recognise the importance of the joint and exercise it more regularly, looking after it and keeping it healthy.

Not only are the muscles around the hips crucial for movement and flexibility, they are also vital for stability and being able to maintain a good upright posture. When our hips are tight or painful it can affect our ability to stand up straight. Hip related pain can feel like lower back pain, groin pain, tightness and pain in the hamstrings and can lead to knee and/or ankle pain as we make adjustments to our posture to alleviate pain in and around the hip.

If we maintain good hip health by having a regular strengthen and stretch our hips will work better for us. Good hip strength and mobility means keeping the large and small muscles, tendons and bones that make up the joint and provide it’s movement, strong and healthy. Sedentary and inactive lifestyles mean we increase the risk of injury and general stiffness which in turn leads to pain. In addition to this, doing too much of an extreme exercise, such as running, without strengthening and stretching around the joint can also lead to wear and tear, injury and pain.

By keeping our weight in a healthy range and moving regularly with a mixture of exercises to strengthen, stretch and loosen the hip joint we will be giving our hips the importance and care they deserve. Why not have a look at my ‘Happy Hips’ 20 minute workout on YouTube and give it a go! Message me if you’d like the link.

Good Posture and Why It’s Important.

How many times when you were growing up did someone say to you, “Stand up straight”? I remember my mum saying it to me on numerous occasions and me feeling slightly annoyed every time. It felt like a personal comment about how I was looking; but my mum was really trying to tell me that I would look and feel better about myself, if I was standing up straight. She was right of course; but being quite tall I was always trying to make myself look shorter! Now I am the mother of two grown up daughters and quite often find myself sliding the side of my hand in between their shoulder blades in an effort to get them to draw their shoulders back and stand up straighter. Incidentally, they too are quite tall and feel the same way I do! How often do you see someone else with bad posture and want to straighten them up. I must admit Theresa May did that to me – I really wanted to sort her posture out!

Good posture is crucial, to looking and feeling healthy. You can instantly improve how your body appears and your mood by adopting good posture – but to do that you need a certain amount of strength in some key muscle groups. A regular strengthen and stretch will really help.

Bad posture can make you look tired, bored, older and less confident. It can change how you feel about yourself and leads to a myriad of niggling aches and pains. Luckily we can all, with some practise, change our posture!

Quite an old fashioned picture but a very good illustration. Can you see yourself here?

Good posture looks better and is better for us!

When we have good posture the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and can support the body evenly. Bones and joints are in the correct alignment and muscles are able to function properly. This in turn reduces wear and tear on joint surfaces. The spine is better protected and it helps to reduce back ache and muscular pain. In Strengthen and Stretch workouts I constantly incorporate work to strengthen, stretch and mobilise the back and abdominal muscles. It is a fact that stronger muscles and ligaments help stabilise the joints.

Basic core work done each week will help you get back in touch with your abdominal muscles, including the deep muscle fibres that help you have a flatter tummy.

What is Good Posture?

It is alright knowing that good posture is better for us; but how many of us actually know how to get and maintain good posture. We can probably see bad posture in others but can we put it right in ourselves?

Using a mirror is a good place to start – look at your standing position.

Good posture:

  • Think about standing on both feet equally, keeping your body weight balanced equally between them.
  • Don’t lock back your knee joints – just gently pull up through your legs.
  • Think about your hips being directly over your ankles and your shoulders over your hips – keep your hips facing forward but don’t push them forward over your ankles.
  • Tuck your bottom down and in.
  • Zip up gently through your abdominal muscles – taking care not to push your ribs forward.
  • Think about the natural curves of your spine.
  • Draw your shoulders back and down gently.
  • Keep your chin back, maintaining a lovely long neck, but don’t pull it back into your chest.
  • In order to maintain all of the above, you should feel toned but not tense!

You can check your posture throughout the day. When sitting at your desk, driving, waiting in a queue etc etc.

There are many reasons for bad posture and some of them are medical (in which case advice from a medical practitioner should be sought). However, many are just laziness and if we just spent a few minutes each day thinking about our posture when doing everyday things it would make a big difference. We have long standing habits and learned behaviours that we have to counter balance. A good example is when carrying a baby or small child. How many times have you sunk into one hip and almost balanced the child on your hip. Do you still stand like that if you are waiting in a queue or standing for a long period of time? Think of the pressure that is putting on the hip joint. Again, as a tall woman, I often want to shrink a little but force myself to stand up tall. I would much rather look taller but upright, with my shoulders back and an air of confidence (that I might not actually be feeling) than looked round shouldered and hunched over.

Regular exercise will strengthen your core muscles and help to loosen joints. Both of which will enable you to improve your posture. You can then begin to feel the benefits of good posture:

  • reduced low back pain and things like tension headaches
  • increased energy levels – when bones and joints are in the correct alignment it means muscles can be used as intended and do what they are meant to safely
  • decreased risk of joint wear and tear
  • increased lung capacity
  • improved circulation and digestion – if vital organs are compressed they cant work as well. Healthy blood flow requires proper body alignment.
  • helps prevent injuries
  • increased self confidence
  • makes you look taller (not that good for me…)

A lot of our usual daily activities encourage us to lean forwards, for example, desk work, cooking, driving, so therefore it is important that we spend some time working the muscles that enable us to: pull our shoulders back, open our chest, keep our tummy toned and enjoy the feeling of being in control and beautifully aligned. How many times have you suffered from an ache in the shoulder blades following a long day at your desk? Or, lower back niggles after a long evening slouched on the sofa watching a box set?

It is unrealistic to expect ourselves to keep a good posture going all the time. No-one is saying that we must relax in the evening watching our favourite box set (I’m loving Peaky Blinders at the moment!) on a high backed chair sitting upright with good posture! But we can be more aware and make adjustments when we can. So, next time you’re driving anywhere, sitting at your desk, eating dinner, standing in a queue, going on a long walk, let’s think about how we are standing or sitting. Regular exercises to strengthen and stretch our bodies; improving strength, tone and mobility will help us to maintain a good posture which will in turn give us a sense of wellbeing with less niggly aches and pains, and an instantly better body shape!

So, let’s get moving more and strengthen and stretch those muscles that will help us maintain a better posture!

Better Backs

In my line of work I often hear back pain being used as an excuse for not doing exercise! Whilst I appreciate that for some with chronic conditions this is a very valid excuse and medical advice should always be sought in the first instance. However, it is becoming more and more commonly known that exercise is now recommended as one of the best ways to help prevent and manage most back pain. I have been teaching exercise for many years and have recently started training for a long run, well out of my comfort zone! I noticed after my first 8 mile run that my lower back was a bit stiff with a niggling pain every now and then. After a good old stretch and a run through one of my Strengthen & Stretch Better Backs sessions it felt much better. I am convinced that had I relaxed on the sofa, to ‘rest’ my back, I would have made it much worse… Obviously, after a long run I did indeed relax on the sofa feeling smug later, but only after I had stretched out my back (as well as my legs and glutes), and reached for the chocolate – well there has to be some perks to long distance running!

Everyday we all use various things to keep our skin, hair and nails looking and feeling healthy. Why therefore, don’t we do exercises that will keep one of the most important parts of our body healthy, supple and fit? Stronger abdominal and hip muscles will help to stabilise and keep back muscles fitter. Good posture and exercises that increase mobility and strength of the back are all vital in keeping the important function of the spine and back muscles running smoothly and freely. We oil our car engines to keep them lubricated, why do we not look after our bodies in the same way?

Exercising encourages fluid exchange and means the spaces between the joints are kept lubricated. Regular back exercises and stretches will work like keeping a machine well oiled. Listen to your own body if anything becomes painful, stop and speak to your GP or your exercise provider; I always say exercise should make your muscles feel tired but it should not be painful! Long term exercise increases the strength of ligaments and tendons, leading to more stable joints. Exercising the back muscles themselves reduces stiffness by keeping their connective fibres and tissues of ligaments and tendons flexible. Improved mobility that comes with exercise helps prevent these fibres from tearing under stress, which in turn helps to prevent back pain and injury.

We rely on several muscle groups and joints to take every day pressures off the spine itself. If these are weak then the stress that the spine is put under in every day life takes it’s toll and leads to more wear and tear within the spine. If they are stronger they can take up some of the slack and protect the spine. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure we have strong abdominal and pelvic muscles and joints. Our back and abdominal muscles act like a corset supporting the vertebrae discs, bones and ligaments. If these two major muscle groups are strong not only are they helping to keep the internal organs healthy but they can work hard a their job of supporting the back and make us stronger. In addition, for example, if our hamstrings are strengthened and stretched regularly they can take their part in relieving stress on the lower back too. Reducing the chances of recurring back pain.

We need to exercise our backs in a consistent, regular way; maintaining strength and mobility. Staying active with regular exercise of differing types to maintain our strength, tone and mobility. Maintaining good posture is key to all of this. When your bones and joints are in correct alignment it allows the muscles to be used as intended. Muscles don’t have to work so hard to do what they should be doing. To achieve this good posture, we need muscle flexibility and normal motion in the joints. In turn it leads to a decrease in the abnormal wear and tear on joint surfaces and it prevents back ache and muscle pain.

In each weekly workout I always ensure there are exercises to help with all the above; this is obviously hard to achieve in half an hour which is where the little extra add on videos like ‘Better Backs’ come in. It was reassuring to note in my research for this blog the exercises that kept being highlighted were all ones we do on a regular basis, some photos of which I have put throughout this piece.

In conclusion it is safe to say that for most of us exercise is key to a healthier, stronger back. Which in turn will lead to good posture, strong core muscles to help protect key organs, improved circulation and lung capacity and, we will be less prone to injury when doing every day things. It is important for all muscles and joints to remain active and engaged but in particular the back muscles. Let’s all get our Strengthen and Stretch Weekly Workout done regularly!

Early Morning Exercise – Why?

Getting our allocated minutes of exercise in during the summer months is much more appealing than in the winter; but how many of us are making the most of the lighter mornings and evenings to do that run, go for that walk, take that workout into the garden or cycle to the gym?

It is a fact that exercising in the morning before work or family life begins is amazingly good for us in many different ways; and this is definitely easier to do in the lighter warmer mornings. So why not kick start your morning exercise routine now, and by the time winter comes round you’ll have created a fitness habit that’ll you take through to the less appealing, colder, darker mornings?

Firstly, I do need to point out that not many people I know, myself included, wake up and bounce out of bed delighted to remember that it’s a workout morning. But, what I can categorically state is that you will feel better mentally and physically, and will have earned yourself bragging rights; safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to fit your exercise in at the end of the day! (This is obviously not the case for some medical conditions and clarity with a doctor would need to be sought first in such cases.)

Exercise fires up the brain, increasing blood flow around the body leaving us with a natural glow (so less make up required!); it gets our metabolism flowing which in turn makes our body feel and look better.

It definitely helps to clear the lethargy and sluggishness that we can often wake up with; and by setting the alarm a little earlier, and not pressing snooze a hundred times, we gradually develop a strong self discipline that can only help us in other areas of daily life!

One of the major benefits of getting that workout done first thing in the morning is that other chores don’t get in the way! How many times have you promised yourself that you will do that workout, after work, after lunch, after school drop off….and how many times has other ‘stuff’ got in the way? If you set the alarm a little earlier and get it done, nothing can knock it off the ‘to do’ list.

I also notice that I make better food choices when I’ve exercised early in the day. I’m more hungry at breakfast time, but for healthier options. To be honest it is the thought of that yummy breakfast that keeps me going on that early morning ‘reluctant’ run or workout; it is only reluctant for the first 5 minutes, I hasten to add and then it feels ok, and, after it’s over it feels great!! Ah the smugness!

There are some tricks to help you become an early morning exerciser:

Move the alarm further away from your bed so that you have to move to turn it off! Don’t push the snooze button!

Always do a good warm up – perhaps even tick one or two mundane jobs off your list to get your body moving first. I often put a load of washing on and then start my workout. Just easing the body into it. You must always do the warm up.

Don’t make it too long – Strengthen and Stretch Weekly Workouts are only 30/40 minutes in length – perfect!

Give yourself something to look forward to once you’ve finished – like that healthy but good breakfast.

Drink as you exercise. You’ve probably not had any water all night and your body needs to be hydrated.

Finally, once done enjoy your breakfast, safe in the knowledge you’ve done something great for your body. You’ll feel less stressed at work, your body will be more toned. try alternating a workout with a run or walk – enjoying the beautiful mornings, exploring your surroundings. When on holiday my family often do a workout or a run before breakfast; not because we are fitness freaks…but to set us up for the day and to explore where we are and get our bearings for whatever our plans are. Sometimes it’s just preparing for a day reading by the pool but when you’ve done your workout in the morning even that feels better!

One final thought. Exercising in the morning could help towards a healthy sleeping pattern at night. You are more physically tired at the end of the day and because of the good start that early workout gives you, you’ve probably been more productive, leading to less stress and therefore you are more ready for sleep when bedtime comes around. A lot of us exercise in the evenings which could be argued, keeps you awake longer because you’ve got that ‘feel good’ factor at the wrong end of the day!

What has been scientifically proven however, is that a good workout causes our body to release endorphins which give us the much quoted ‘feel good’ factor. Over the many years of teaching exercise no-one has ever left a class saying, they wished they hadn’t come, or wished they hadn’t done my online workouts. They only ever regret the ones they didn’t do! So how about setting your alarm a little earlier tomorrow and beginning your day with a workout, building that good exercise habit? Enjoy that first 40 minutes of your day, doing something great for your body and brain, making the most of these beautiful summer mornings. Have a look at http://www.strengthenandstretch.co.uk if you are interested in working out at home. Message me if you would like to try a 2 week free trial and mention you’ve read this blog.

Motivation and Exercise

Since setting up my online Weekly Workouts one of the most discussed issues is that people really want to do more exercise and a lot of them want to do it at home, but how do we motivate ourselves to actually do it? People say to me all the time, “I want to do your sessions; I feel great after I’ve done it but find it hard to motivate myself to get going.”

I totally understand this. There are so many other pulls on our time, so how do you justify spending 30/40 minutes doing a Strengthen & Stretch Workout when there is so much other ‘stuff’ to do! My answer is always, what is more important finding the time to look after your body and doing something fabulous for it, or, getting on with chores? I always find without fail, that after doing some sort of exercise I charge through those chores much more efficiently than I would have without it!

It is very important to ask yourself, why you are exercising or wanting to fit it into your day. Most of us do it because we feel the benefits and these are disseminated into our minds on a daily basis via various media outlets. We feel a bit guilty if we don’t do it; but also that it’s ok for fit people to tell us we should do more but they are already fit and don’t have to go through the pain barrier of getting started. Other people often say to me, “It’s ok for you, you like exercising.” I know this is true, but the reality at 7am when I’ve remembered it’s a run day or a workout day is very much different. I do not wake up and shout “Yippeee! It’s a run day!” But, once I get going and am out there or back eating breakfast, I feel really really good, and it is that feeling that makes me want to do it again.

In my opinion the most important factor is to do something you enjoy (or grow to enjoy). Your body is designed to be active; we were made to be hunter gatherers not couch potatoes and the more we move our body in a variety of ways the better. It is made up of moving parts that need to be kept moving or they will cease up; and need to be strengthened or they will inevitably weaken!

What is your goal/need? What will be your motivation to get going and continue with it? Exercise, like quitting smoking or biting your nails, needs to become a habit. The motivation gets you going and the habit keeps you going. Exercise for me is a habit and I feel better in so many ways for doing it.

When I brain stormed what motivators there are for exercise I came up with lots:

Want to feel fitter; excellent way to de-stress; health reasons; want to look more toned; be more flexible; weight loss; feel good factor; it is actually fun; hobby; family want you to; eat more cake and drink more wine; feel better after; you love doing it and the added health bonuses are great; you know you should; a good class or instructor; social media;

Lots of people want to exercise more and I see it as my job to help them adapt to and adopt a more active lifestyle and to stick with it.

You must however, set yourself realistic goals! As in all things if you set yourself an admirable yet totally undoable goal (and it may not be undoable physically but you just wont fit it into your day) there is more chance you will give up.

So, choose a physical activity, class or exercise programme that fits in with your life, set yourself some realistic goals and targets. Find something that motivates you enough to make yourself do it – begin to feel the benefits and then turn that motivation into a habit that becomes part of your day/week. Less than 50 per cent of new exercisers maintain their program in the first 6 months. Don’t let yourself be on the negative side of that statistic! Tackle the reasons why you might not be doing it; then set yourself a goal, create a habit and stick to it.

“Movement is Life”

In 1946 the World Health Organisation advised us that, ‘…regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health…’ We cannot escape the nagging fact that we all need to move and stay active to maintain our health and wellbeing.

‘Movement is Life’ was the original ‘tag line’ (before tag lines were invented) for a pioneering women’s exercise organisation founded in the 1930’s. Although the name, The Women’s League of Health and Beauty may be outdated now, the ‘tag line’ is as true today as it was then and the organisation (under the name of FLexercise) is still going strong. This remains the mantra and motivation for my Strengthen & Stretch Weekly Workouts. There are thousands of fitness apps and exercise classes out there, but we need to find one that suits us and that is achievable and doable. We all know it’s healthier to exercise on a regular basis but how many of us actually keep going with classes and gym memberships that we enthusiastically sign up for at various times of the year? In January, those new year’s resolutions start so earnestly but wane by the end of March if not before; at Easter time as the warmer weather begins to arrive and the layers come off, there is another purge. But the truth is we should all be moving every day for our own fitness not just for how it makes us look but because ‘movement is life’ and the more we move the better we will feel. Our joints need to be mobilised and the muscles around them strengthened to enable us to move freely.

Physical fitness needs: cardiovascular, muscle strength, flexibility and muscle endurance, workouts; which in turn help to improve our emotional/mental wellbeing, as well as our medical fitness. This can sound a bit daunting if you are not ‘into’ exercise and many people tell me I’m lucky because I do love to have a dance; to go for a cycle or a walk, so it is arguably easier for me to fit it into my day. However, I have not met anyone, after many years of taking classes and one to one sessions, who feels worse after a workout, a walk or run, who wishes they hadn’t done it! Also it needs to be noted that I never look forward to a run or a hard cycle! Every time I go for a run I always have the makings of a ‘reluctant runner’s blog’ ringing in my head for the first 10 minutes at least! But once settled into a pace it’s actually great for enjoying the outdoors and having some time when all you can think about is breathing and moving one leg in front of the other or pushing those pedals round to get up a steep hill, the everyday stresses and strains are pushed to the back of your mind! Perfect!

We all need to keep our bodies active and moving; like a machine if you leave it for a period of time without using it, it will need a service to get it going again. Our bodies are the same. Without regular movement we will cease up and moving becomes harder. So why not get some physical activity planned into your week? Set aside some time (if you had an important meeting you’d fit it in!) and goals – realistic ones, and go for it!

Now, with this in mind, I’m off to do a Strengthen and Stretch Workout for half an hour, followed by an invigorating 3o minute run or walk; before relaxing with supper on the sofa in front of the tv; my guilty pleasure when I’m home alone!!

Why Strengthen & Stretch?

Well, this is finally happening!  It has been a long time (typically me) in the ‘thinking about’ stage and now I have a new website and a blog going live on the same day!  I must admit to feeling excited but quite scared at the same time.

“Video yourself doing your exercise at home and send it to us each week.” Was the cry that started this crazy but fabulously enjoyable business venture last year.  Having taught exercise classes in the UK for over 30 years (am I really that old…) I was forced to close them when I moved away with my husband for his work.  Class members, who had become friends over the years missed the classes and wanted to do, ‘our sort’ of exercise at home, when it suited them.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing…and my family will testify to this!! I am not very tech savvie, can be quite scatty, and have spent many hours, days even, hunched over my laptop trying to achieve things that would take anybody else half the time; my daughters and their friends dread my messages and calls, asking for help!  But I am slowly learning and now my messages are more, can you check this isn’t naff before I post, rather than anything technical.

Still affiliated to FLexercise, the organisation I ran classes for before moving, Strengthen & Stretch has evolved.  Real exercise for real people is my passion.  There are thousands of exercise related blogs, vlogs, websites, apps and absolutely everythings; but on doing my research I found many are quite frankly just too hard for your average person!  The trainer looks absolutely stunning in his or her gym gear and performs moves that most of us cannot hope to achieve properly.

I hate this phrase but put simply, Strengthen & Stretch does exactly what it says on the tin!  30/40 minute workouts posted on a closed, members only Facebook group every Monday that Strengthen & Stretch the body.  They are often challenging and sometimes when I am re-doing it after a filming session, I can’t believe I made it so long or did so many reps; but are ultimately doable, with progressions and easier options too.

I feel extremely lucky that I can spend my day working on something I love and feel passionately about; it’s a fact; we all need to move regularly so that we feel fitter, more flexible, toned, stronger and have a feeling of wellbeing

.  In addition, having always been told when studying for school exams or my, ‘mature student,’ degree not so long ago, I do like to waffle when I write; the idea of having a blog to run alongside is even more loveable.

These blogs will sometimes be the witterings of a 50 something year old exercise teacher, but more often hopefully informative pieces of writing on contemporary exercise related topics.  So, all I need now are some readers and some exercisers to join me each week in my mission!