Circadian Rhythms – Finding your optimum time to exercise

Circadian rhythms are fascinating 24 hour internal cycles that regulate everything from when we need to sleep to when we are mentally most alert.

All living organisms have circadian rhythms, including humans, animals, plants and microbes and they are all subject to the external cues of their immediate environment, such as light & dark, temperature and environmental chemistry. These elements can all be altered, changed and artificially manipulated to influence the circadian rhythm of the individual, which is good news for anyone working night shifts or unusual work patterns. However a persons chronotype (internal body clock) is biological and can only be influenced rather than fundamentally changed, so while around 50% of the population are neither a morning lark nor an archetypal night owl, if you do happen to sit at either end of the body clock spectrum, it may not be that healthy to force an unnatural sleep / wake pattern.

Further understanding of how our own personal circadian rhythm works and what portion of the 24 hour cycle is best for different activities, means we can optimise each one of them whilst keeping good homeostasis.
Observing the 24 hour cycle helps develop and maintain routine and it’s also well worth the consideration of what our body naturally wants to do, tweaking activity times accordingly to avoid continually feeling fatigued or sluggish.

See below a diagram of proven times for bodily functions, including the best time to exercise.

– This article has been published in the September edition of Life Magazines –

Jump rope for fitness

If you’re looking for no fuss fitness that gets serious results – try skipping with a jump rope.

Synonymous with boxers, this form of cardiovascular exercise has many fantastic wellbeing benefits.
It builds stamina, develops coordination, strengthens bones, and creates toned arms, legs and torso muscles. In fact depending of the weight of the rope and the intensity of the skipping, it can pretty much tone nearly the entire body. Skipping is great for preparing the body for other forms of sport too.
Skipping is also cheap to do, you only need this one small piece of equipment and the space to do it. The rope can easily be stowed away in a bag or backpack and taken to work for a lunch time skip or squeezed into suitcase compartments to take on holiday for a quick & convenient workout solution.

The length of your rope can vary the intensity of your workouts and tone different parts of your body. It’s recommended that for beginners a longer, unweighted rope is used.
There are lots of footwork combinations and different paces to work at, such as jogging pace, running pace or a sprint pace for short bursts.
Build your pace and time up gradually starting with a jogging pace for 10 – 15 minutes in 1 – 2 minute intervals, jumping from one foot to another, rather than on two feet together, as that is much harder to sustain for long.
Try to skip on soft ground or a sprung floor, rather than on hard concrete, to avoid jarring muscles and joints.

Channel your inner Rocky and try these skipping drills –
*Skip at jogging pace for 2 minutes, then take a 1 minute rest. Repeat 6 x times.
*Skip in 1 minute bursts at running speed, with a 20-30 second rest in between. Repeat 6 x times.
*Skip continuously at jogging pace for a full round of 3 minutes, with a sprint speed for the last 10 seconds. Rest for 2 minutes. Repeat 6 x times.

This article has been published in the August edition of Life Magazines –

Summer workout tips

The summer is a great time to take your workouts outdoors. The fresh air and sunshine is so revitalising, yet there are a few things to keep in mind when exercising during mid summer, when the heat can be at its most intense.

Wear sunscreen: When out running, playing sports, cycling or swimming, it’s sometimes difficult to notice just how strong the UV rays really are, especially when there’s a lovely summer breeze. Don’t get caught out and end up with painful and potentially dangerous sunburn, so wear sunscreen on exposed skin which is waterproof or specific for sport, so that it won’t slide off as you sweat or get wet in an outdoor pool or the sea.

Stay hydrated: To prevent dehydration it’s important to drink plenty of water prior to your workout, as well as continually sipping throughout your session. Sometimes we don’t realise how much we are perspiring and how easily we can become dehydrated. Don’t forget that preventing dehydration includes topping up on lost electrolytes too, by snacking on mineral rich foods such as bananas or nut butters or drinking isotonic sports beverages.

Correct clothing: The right apparel goes a long way in making sure an outdoor workout is successful. Wear lightweight clothing with mesh panels in breathable, sweet wicking fabrics. Wearing a hat or cap with a rim or peak will help protect against sunstroke and shade the eyes if wearing sunglasses isn’t possible.

Time of Day: Be sure to check the daily weather forecast and choose the right time of day for your workout, preferably when the temperature is coolest, either first thing in the morning or later in the evening, avoiding the midday heat.

If it all gets just too hot ’n sticky out there and you’d prefer to stay out of the sun, then head to the gym and enjoy a temperature controlled air conditioned environment or invest in a powerful electric pedestal fan for at home zoom sessions.

– This article has been published in the July edition of Life Magazines –

Pilates Breathing v Yoga Breathing – whats the difference?

As a Pilates teacher I often find myself explaining the differences between Pilates & Yoga. Many people believe they are pretty much the same discipline and it is fair to say that they do look similar, with low impact exercises, done on a mat, without shoes and several of the movements do appear to be the same, yet there is one particular aspect that fundamentally separates the two disciplines and that is the breathing techniques.
There are other important differences as well, yet in this article we will focus on a brief overview on the differences with the breath only.

The Pilates breath is known as Lateral, intercostal or thoracic breathing, so called because the inhaled air visibly increases the lateral expansion of the rib cage.
The breath is inhaled through the nose and pushed into the back & sides of the lungs and then forcibly expelled through an open mouth with slightly pursed lips. This type of breathing helps to facilitate and maintain the deep intra-abdominal flexion needed in Pilates to stabilise the core, which ensures successful performance of the exercises and also protects the lower back and spine.

The yogic breath is known as diaphragmatic breathing, flowing in and out of the nose in a more rhythmical way in its performance. The breath is first pushed down into the belly, filling and expanding, then into the torso and finally the chest, expanding the chest before being exhaled with a long, slow breath out in reverse order, expelling the breath from the same three sections through the nose again. Experienced practitioners can perform an alternate nostril breathing technique by inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other.

There are benefits to both types of breathing, yet should be used according to the practice being performed. Both disciplines are in-depth forms of exercise and professional teachers for each one should be consulted to properly learn and understand the breathing techniques in more detail.

*Always support your local instructors.

– This article has been published in the June edition of Life Magazines –

Pilates Barre classes

Pilates Barre classes have been on the fitness trend list for the past few years and have recently become more mainstream, appearing on many gym & health club studio timetables.
The classes fuse together aspects of Pilates & Ballet and incorporate bodyweight exercises, the use of light weight resistance apparatus and deep stretch work, to develop muscular endurance and toning, without bulking, for the whole body.

The Pilates aspect has the practitioner focus on training the smaller stabiliser muscles of the body with precision and control, working within an often limited range of movement, maintaining alignment and emphasising core strength. The ‘Barre’ is taken from the horizontal bar used in ballet to support the practitioner to balance whilst warming up through the positions.
In the case of an at home or online class, the back of a chair or sideboard would suffice.
The class steals inspiration from classical ballet movements performed at the barre, such as pilé’s, arabesques and battement tendu, yet no need to be a dancer or have had any previous ballet experience, as these moves are not literal, only ‘inspired by’ those classical movements, and can be performed at whatever level of skill & flexibility you have. Then there’s the use of light hand weights, resistance bands and bodyweight exercises, included to make a full body workout that will challenge muscles you never knew you had!
Finally deep stretches are incorporated to make sure the muscles are fully lengthened out.

A Pilates Barre class is low impact, yet quick moving from one move to the next, so if jumping around in an aerobics class is not your thing but you want to work hard, this class could be for you?!
Channel your inner ‘Fame’ aspirations wearing slim fitting clothing, such as capri leggings and cami vests (leg warmers optional) so that your posture can be seen by your instructor and look forward to developing a more svelte physique!
Pilates Barre classes are available through Promise Pilates.

– This article has been published in the May edition of Life Magazines –

Humble Plank

The Plank, is a bodyweight exercise revered and dreaded with equal measure. It targets the whole body, with emphasis on core strength. Planks can be performed anywhere with little space and no equipment needed. The primary muscles used are deep in the torso, including the abs, internal obliges and back, the secondary areas are chest, shoulders, buttocks, thighs, calves and triceps. It takes a lot of energy and strength to perform a decent plank, so you will quickly feel fatigued, even when held for just a few seconds – currently the Guinness world record for holding a front plank, on forearms, is 8hrs, 15 min & 15 sec, by a man and 4hrs 19mins & 55 sec, by a woman – now there’s a challenge to try this weekend if you’ve got nothing else to do?!

In all seriousness, it is a challenging movement and must be built up gradually, using good form from the get go, ensuring both strength and muscle memory are properly developed and correct technique employed to avoid injury.
There are many variations to the humble plank, some are static (isometric) and others are dynamic, and in the case of Pilates part of a movement pattern called a ‘flow’. A Plank can be performed with either outstretched arms to support the upper body, or by resting on the forearms and can incorporate a variety of positions and movements with the legs and core.

The benefits of planks are numerous, as so many muscles are being used. Few exercises can boast working the whole body, including the core, the way a plank does. As a result not only will your core strengthen, improving posture, you’ll also develop overall more muscle mass, increasing your metabolic rate (aka more fat burning potential). The resistance created by holding your own body weight has other less obvious, yet equally beneficial effects with an increase in bone density and strengthening of the surrounding connective tissue. So whats not to love?…oh yeah – they are hard work!

– This article has been published in the April edition of Life Magazines –

The art of doing nothing

It may seem a bit of an oxymoron to be reading a fitness article promoting the art of doing nothing. Though as I actively encourage and practice movement, I also believe there is a much needed balance between activity & rest and deliberate ‘down time’ mentally & physically recharges the whole self, which then benefits our fitness training.
During a training programme, the period of time in-between the sessions is almost as important as the training session itself, as it’s during the ‘rest’ period that the muscles repair and become stronger &/or bigger and we can apply that same principle to our lives in general.

Most of us know that getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial to our wellbeing but don’t consider the importance of just ‘resting’. Taking a portion of time between activity and sleep, to do – well nothing much really!
The Italian phrase for the art of doing nothing is ‘Dolce far niente’ and the Dutch call it ‘Niksen”. Neo-classical painters depicted the notion with scenes of reclining beauties, lounging on silk and fur but sadly our English culture does not celebrate such a thing, many of us would be racked with guilt to pursue such idle navel gazing, we prefer to brag about how busy we are, despite burn out being a very real phenomenon.

Time spent with no real purpose, perhaps listening to music laying on your bed or looking out over a garden or landscape, is the essence of Dolce far niente. It can aid better sleep, reduce stress & anxiety and increase productivity and performance the next time you do engage in an activity or work. Other physical advantages include a strengthened immune system, fortifying us against ailments and slowing the ageing process.
Creative ideas are also often born out of times of relaxation, take for example the Ancient Greek inventor & mathematician Archimedes who cried “Eureka” as he figured out how to measure volume – whilst taking a bath – imagine!

– This article has been published in the March edition of Life Magazines –

One for the girls – Sports Bras!

My only expertise in the area of sports bras is the experiential wearing of many, many different types over the years for my job as a Personal Trainer / Pilates Teacher and competitive sports person. Invaluable knowledge though when it comes to dishing out advice. It’s so important to protect your breasts and the right underwear is essential.

There are two main types of sports bra – Compression and Encapsulated, within those two types are different styles such as racer back, criss-cross back, pull-over or clasp back.

Compression sports bras, generally do not have cups within them and typically are a ‘pullover’ style, they are stretchy in order to get on over your head and shoulders and therefore offer a minimal amount of support. Sometimes they may have light integral cups with padding, which creates more enhancement to the shape & look of the bust. They may have a racer or pretty criss-cross back or regular shoulder straps. They allow free movement without chafing, so are great for low impact activities, such as Pilates, stretch and yoga or low impact resistance training.

Encapsulated sports bras separate the breasts into structured cups that provide much more intensive support. A good quality bra reduces the figure of 8 movement of the breasts, experienced when running or during other high impact activity. It helps prevent damage to the ligaments supporting the breasts or stretch marks forming on the décolletage skin and sides of the breasts. This type usually has a clasp back (or front), adjustable straps and many are underwired, keeping the breasts firmly in place.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that using the encapsulated high impact bra for all activities would be a ‘meets all needs’ choice, yet the solid structure of these bras worn over long periods of time can squash down the delicate glands and breast tissue, which can be as negative as wearing your lacy push-up bra to run 5k. So chose your bra wisely.

– This article has been published in the February edition of Life Magazines –

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

There are so many reasons to exercise, our bodies literally need it, yet it’s important to look beyond just the physical and realise it’s not only about the strength of our muscles or which dress size we’re in but also the often overlooked, yet hugely beneficial effects on our sense of well-being and mental health.
It is proven that regular exercise can help alleviate and manage several specific mental health issues namely, depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress, it also improves general wellbeing status’ such as memory and thinking ability, sleep patterns, energy levels, moods and resilience to life changes.

Feeling happy with your appearance and knowing what your body is capable of, no doubt contributes to an increase in self esteem, yet on a chemical level physical activity actually boosts the production of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, which all have very positive effects on many aspects of mental health. Improvements in conditions such as mild to moderate depression can be so good it help sufferers actually avoid having to take medication and endure their unpleasant side effects.

Stress relief can be found by way of mere distraction, spend an hour in a Pilates class or jogging in nature and your mind can be diverted away from negative thought patterns to give the nervous system much needed respite, promoting healing and fortifying the immune system. Gentle stretching and walking can induce a sense of calm and more intense anxiety issues causing tension and stress in the muscles can be relieved with the production of endorphins through more vigorous exercise, which also promotes a sharper more focused mind.

Other changes in the brain include neural growth, new brain cell development reduces age related cognitive decline and improves mental agility and symptoms of PTSD have been proven to be reduced with activities involving both the arms & legs such as running, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing and dancing.

So get exercising to get happy! 😉

– This article has been published in the January edition of Life Magazines –

Vitamin D for December

December is the month with the shortest day of the year and the least amount of natural daylight, which is a crucial resource needed for our bodies to be able to manufacture Vitamin D.
We need Vitamin D, it is vital to our wellbeing and is instrumental for a range of functions, including musculoskeletal health, psychological wellbeing, circadian rhythms and a strong immune system.

We can obtain vitamin D from foods such as egg yolks, oily fish, red meat & liver though our amazing body actually creates its own vitamin D through the exposure of bare skin in natural light.
The amount of exposure time needed is dependent on the colour of your skin, the darker your skin the more time you will need, for example fair skin can gain sufficient amounts in as little as 10-15 minutes, however those with darker skin will need significantly more and in some cases may benefit from supplementing their intake to ensure they are getting the right amount. Vegans may also need to supplement this vitamin. Primarily though seek your daily top up outdoors in the daylight and fresh air as often as you can.

As many of us are working from home right now, we’re not even absorbing the natural light we would normally get from our daily commute, so it’s even more important to make a conscious effort to get outside in the daylight at some point each day and if you combine a 20-30 minute brisk walk, you’ll efficiently be getting both your daily exercise and your vitamin D requirements met together, both of which will help fend off the December blues, which in extreme cases to those who are exceptionally sensitive to the diminished light, can trigger the onset of a depressive syndrome known as S.A.D or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

With all that said then, I’m putting my laptop down right now and popping out to get my own quota before sundown!

– This article has been published in the December edition of Life Magazines –