Categories
Fitness

How to Structure a Warm up

Not me. I really need to take some photos!

So I’ve had a few questions recently about warming up, whether it’s necessary and how to structure a warm up. In this blog I’m going to look at what a warm up is, whether you need one and how to structure one.

The purpose of a warm up is to prepare your body for the exercise session. Rather than jumping in at full intensity, you are easing your body and mind into the session and getting yourself ready for what is to come. As such, the focus of your warm up will depend on what the content of your main session is going to be.

A good warm up helps to prevent injury by loosening up the joints that you are going to use, raising your pulse and body temperature, and getting more blood to the muscles. I always think that a good warm up helps you to mentally prepare for the main session as it can be overwhelming skip straight to the main session.

So Who needs to Warm Up?

The short answer to this is everybody. Everybody needs to do some form of warm up although the type and duration of the warm up is going to vary from person to person.

One of the factors that will affect your warm up is your fitness level. The fitter you are, the quicker you can probably warm up and the reverse is true, so if you are unfit or new to exercise, then you should spend longer preparing your body for the session ahead.

Unfortunately, age is also a factor that affects the length of your warm up. Generally, the older you are, the longer that you should spend on your warm up. Older adults could take up to 20 minutes to warm up. Personally, I have noticed that now that I am in my mid 30’s a 1 minute warm up just isn’t going to cut it. In my teens I often used to get away with this (I used to take ages to get dressed so I always missed the warm up for hockey), but now I would suffer for it.

Other factors to consider are the temperature, if it is colder then it will take longer to warm up than if it is warmer, the intensity of the main session so the higher the intensity the longer the warm up needs to be (so minute HIIT sessions require a long warm up) and the content of your main session. If you are planning a leg day, then you should concentrate on warming up your lower body and it always takes me longer to warm up my lower body.

Structure

Despite what you may be thinking, you shouldn’t just launch straight into stretching. First of all, you should do some mobility work and any spinal mobility work should be performed first. Personally, I start any warm up with head rotations and then the pilates roll down. Other mobility exercises such as arm rotations maybe carried out while you are on the second part of the warm up: the pulse raiser.

The CV machines in the gym are ideal for the pulse raiser although you don’t have to use them. You should do some form of cardiovascular exercise that uses big muscle groups but that doesn’t need too much from you in terms of range of movement (i.e. you aren’t having to go into deep knee bends). You should start off slowly and then build up so that out of a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being you are a hot sweaty mess to can’t to anymore and 1 being that you are practically asleep, you are a 3-4. This section is going to take between 5-10 minutes depending on the factors above. Personally, I like to go on the cross-trainer for about 7 minutes as it uses your whole body and I increase the resistance every two minutes.

Only after you have raised your pulse should you stretch. Now there are different types of stretching but if you are reading this then I’m going to assume that you are not a high-level athlete where your ability to perform to your maximum in the training session is important. As such, you don’t have to worry about whether you should do dynamic stretches or static stretches (I might write a post on this another day), just stretch and hold those stretches for between 6-10 seconds. Bear in mind what you are going to be working that day, if you are doing a lower body session then concentrate on the lower body, if you are doing an upper body session then obviously concentrate on upper body.

Finally, and this is something that I did not realise until I did my gym instructor qualification, is that after your stretching you should get back on the CV equipment and raise your pulse again. Again, you should be gradually increasing your pulse again to get it back up to where it was at the end of your pulse raiser (this should only take between 3-5 minutes).

So there it is! At this point you will be ready to hit your session hard! I know that this seems like a lot and initially you would think that it would take you a lot of time but some of the steps can be combined, i.e. you could do the mobility work on the treadmill or bike, you could also do some of the stretches on there. As you get used to this it will get quicker and it is a component of your fitness regime that does require a bit of time.

How do you like to warm up? Do you find that this has changed over time?

Categories
Food

Roasted Vegetable and Lentil Salad

Honestly I don’t think that there is anything easier to make than roasted vegetables. Yet they are delicious, full of nutrients and fibre and filling – the perfect combination! I’ll often have roasted vegetables with salmon as a side dish with a bit of couscous or rice but I had bought some lentils and decided to experiment. The result was this delicious salad which is delicious eaten warm but also ideal cold in packed lunches.

This recipe serves four as a side or two as the main event! You can make it vegan friendly by taking out the feta (you may want to add in vegan cheese) and substituting the Greek yogurt for coconut yogurt.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • Large handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 100g uncooked lentils
  • feta cheese to crumble on top
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons harissa
  • Fry Light or oil of your choice
  • 2 cloves of garlic (optional)

Method:

  • Chop up the vegetables into bite sized chunks – keep the skin on the sweet potato (just wash it well and cut the ends off). It tastes good, it’s edible and your gut bacteria love it!
  • Place the vegetables in a roasting dish and spray with a few squirts of fry light or oil of your choice. Add in garlic if using.
  • Bake in the oven at 180 decrees centigrade for about 25 minutes, or until cooked.
  • Put the lentils on to cook as instructed by the packet. I buy the ones that you don’t have to soak and take 25 minutes to cook.
  • To make the dressing, simply mix the Greek yogurt and the harissa together in a small bowl, set aside.
  • Once cooked, allow the lentils and the vegetables to cool slightly them mix them together in a large bowl.
  • Once served, crumble feta on top and dollop the dressing on the side.

I like to serve this salad on a bed of spinach with a chicken breast on the side. 

Categories
Weight Loss

Myth-busting: You can’t get Fat if you Don’t Eat Fat

Oh if I had a penny every time that I have heard this myth… I actually heard a nurse advising a patient this a few years ago when I knew nothing at all about food and nutrition. I cringed then.

Fats are one of the main macronutrients that make up our diet. None of the macros should be avoided, but the government recommends that we eat them in different proportions because they have different functions in our bodies and different effects on our health. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, which is the highest of all the macronutrients so it does makes sense to keep an eye on it when you’re trying to lose body fat. The UK government recommends that no more than 30% of our daily calories come from fats, but in the UK the current average caloric intake for fats is more like 42% of our diet. It is something that as a nation we need to make an effort to reduce.

Fat has different purposes in the body including protecting our vital organs, insulation, making the ’covers’ that go round our nerve cells and energy. It’s pretty important and by no means should it be cut out of our diets. When eaten to excess, fat is stored in the body. However, it is not as simple as you eat fat, it doesn’t get used so that same fat gets sent to the hips, stomach or wherever it is that you don’t like it being stored. In order to use fats, our body has to break them down. Fat molecules, or triglycerides (as 99% of the fats that we eat are this kind of fat) are too big to be absorbed and transported around the body, so they are broken down into their smaller components: glycerol and fatty acids. From there, they absorbed and end up in the blood stream where they are sent off to be used and the excess are then sent to the body’s fat cells (called apodicytes if you really want to know!) where the glycerol and fatty acids reform into triglycerides – so the fat that you store is made from all the different fats that you have eaten that day.

What about Carbohydrate and protein?

Both carbohydrate and protein if eaten to excess (and by excess I mean more energy is obtained by them than your body needs) will be stored as fat.

When your body has more carbohydrate than it needs, it will store some of it as glycogen in the muscles and liver. However, once these limited stores are full, then your body converts the carbohydrate into fat and stores it in the fat cells – it now has the same form that the fat that you ate and stored does. With protein, something similar happens. Excess protein cannot be stored in the body (although how great would it be if excess protein went to your glutes) so your body excretes the nitrogen it contains and converts the rest into energy. Like any other energy, and I’m sure you’re spotting a theme here, it is either used immediately, stored as glycogen or transported to the fat cells to be stored as fat.

When it comes to fat loss, the important thing is energy balance: calories in vs calories out. It is not fat or any one macronutrient which makes your body store excess fat but excess calories. Quite simply, if you eat more energy than you are using, your body will store it as fat.

I hope that this myth is well and truly busted! What health and fitness myths have you heard?

Categories
Food

Curried Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup

There is something that I find really relaxing about making soup. I’m not sure why this relates specifically to soup but for me, if I’ve had a stressful day then this is my go-to activity. I especially love it when it’s cold outside and my kitchen gets all hot from the cooking and you feel all cozy.

The aromatic spices of this warming soup make you feel inside and out and its packed full of nutrients too. But best of all, the best thing about making this recipe is that it serves about four so you have delicious lunches for work or quick dinners. It also freezes really well.

Ingredients

  • 700g Sweet potato peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 large/ 2 small onions finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons garam massala
  • 1 teaspoon corriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon medium curry powder (can substitue this)
  • I teaspoon chopped chilli (optional – I lke lazy chilli)
  • 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger (again I use the lazy stuff)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • a (very) generous squirt of lime juice (although this is optional)

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan (I use a stock pot as this recipe makes a lot of soup). Once the oil is hot enough, sauté the onions until they are soft and then add the garlic, garam massala, corriander, cumin, curry powder, ginger and chilli if you are using. Mix these in with the onions.
  • Add the sweet potatoes and coat them in the spices. Now add the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potato is really soft (I stab mine with a fork to check).
  • Take the soup off the heat and if you’re sensible you’ll let it cool down a bit (for safety – not culinary- reasons). Once it’s cool enough, blend the soup until it is really smooth. I’ve used both a hand blender and a proper blender, I prefer a hand blender because there’s less washing up but it does take a little longer.
  • pour the soup back into the pan, if you used a blender, and put it back onto a low heat. Stir in the coconut milk and make sure that it is properly mixed in. Add in the lime juice if you are using.

I like to serve this with a dollop of Greek yoghurt because it it makes it even creamier and crusty bread because, who doesn’t love warm crusty bread!

Categories
Weight Loss Wellness

Why Slow and Steady wins the Race

The evenings are getting lighter, the clocks going back are nearly upon us and we’re all starting to think about our summer holidays. Invariably, thoughts then turn to ‘beach bodies’, ‘how to get fit quick’ and basically how to lose half our body weight in… ohhhh I don’t know….three weeks?!

In this post I want to speak to you about sudden, drastic weight loss. The type where Sarah from tells you that she’s lost 6 lb in a week. The kind of weight loss that if we aren’t achieveing we think that we’re failing in our diets and promptly give up diving in to the Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and putting on more weight than we started with.

Let me let you into a little secret…when somebody is losing more than 1 kg a week (2.2lb), they aren’t just losing fat. It is not possible to lose any more and if you do lose more weight than that in a week, then it won’t be fat. It’ll be glycogen, water and protein (i.e. muscle). Losing weight and losing fat are two different things. Weight can be anything, chop of an arm and you lose weight, but it isn’t going to affect your body composition.

Why is losing more than 1kg per Week Damaging?

Well, first of all, from a psychological point of view it’s going to be pretty damaging. Water and glycogen weight can fluctuate by up to 1 kg so it’s likely that at some point you are going to put that back on, at least partially. If initially, you do see big changes on the scale (and just to reiterate…this is weight not fat), then this will not be sustained. Think about how you are going to feel when you ‘just’ see a modest weight loss of 1-2 lb, probably not too good.

Losing more than a kilogram per week means that you are almost certainly going to be losing those bootie gains you worked so hard for. To lose 2kg of fat in a week you would have to cut 14,000 calories from your diet in a week. Now, for a lot of women that may be what they need to achieve energy balance (i.e. where the amount of calories that you eat is the same as the amount of calories that you are using). Are you telling me that you didn’t eat or drink anything apart from water all week? That’s highly unlikely, and dangerous if true. However, there are less calories stored in a kilo of muscle. This means that when you burn muscle you lose more weight for fewer calories. Now this might sound like a good, thing but it isn’t because muscle takes up a lot less space than fat so you won’t actually get much thinner. Plus having muscle is awesome for the following reasons:

  • being strong feels so good;
  • muscle is more metabolically active which means that it uses more calories just to keep you alive;
  • muscle looks good. I mean if you’re in this for aesthetics then you probably realise that heroin chic is not so chic. Why just be skinny when you can be wonder woman?

When in a calorie deficit, your body burns muscle rather than fat where it can. Although this seems counterproductive, you can’t really blame your body because it is simply trying to keep you alive. From an evolutionary point of view, when you are in a calorie deficit your body panics and does all it can to ration its energy. One of the ways that it does this is by burning muscle for fuel. This serves two purposes: firstly it accesses fuel and secondly, muscles are expensive to run. They use up more energy just existing than fat does so if your body can get rid of some muscle, the amount of energy that it needs to stay alive is lower. In terms of your brain trying to keep you alive when it thinks that food is scarce, this is a win-win.

This whole burning muscle for fuel phenomenon is exactly the reason why most personal trainers recommend weight training when you are in a calorie deficit. If you keep training your muscles, then your body recognises that you need them and you should maintain a higher proportion of muscle. So rather than training to gain muscle when you are in a calorie deficit, you are actually training to keep what you already have.

So my advice to you is if you want to lose weight, take the sensible slow and steady route of losing 0.5-1kg (1-2 lb) per week.

What advise would you give to somebody to help them lose weight sensibly?

Categories
Fitness

How to find the time to exercise

If I had a pound for every time somebody told me that they don’t have the time to exercise, well I’d be a very rich lady! However, I’m a big believer that exercise is so important to our mental and physical health that we simply don’t have time NOT to do it.

That said, we all have hectic lives and it can be difficult to fit everything in so here are some helpful hints and tricks to fit exercise in.

Realistically, how much TV are you watching?

So many people tell me that they don’t have time to exercise and yet they watch Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and goodness knows what else. I’m out of the loop (so I had to Google search this) but these shows are on 15 times per week for half an hour each episode – that’s 7.5 hours per week (almost a whole day in work). If you gave up just one Soap you would be able to fit in enough time to get in a decent workout 4+ times per week and really how much do they add to your life?

Now I’m not against downtime, in fact I think that it’s really important. But if you’re telling me that you don’t have time to workout because you have a Netflix queue to get through, then I’m going to tell you that your priorities are all wrong. Physical activity and being a healthy weight play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and stroke, and even cancer.

Plan Ahead

If you’re busy, then planning when you are going to get your activity in is absolutely critical. Each Sunday, spend 10 minutes with your planner and book appointments in – in PEN- to exercise. You can even plan your workouts in advance and perhaps even get your gym kit ready. If you know when you are going to workout, and what you are going to do, then the decision element is taken out of it and you know that you have time to get your sweat on.

Take the kids with you

If you have childcare responsibilities then I agree figuring when to workout can be more difficult. However, why don’t you get the kids involved? If you like running then you could go out for a run with the kids on their bikes or you could shove on an exercise DVD at home and all do it together. It’s not always easy but there are ways around this – you just need to get creative with your time (and if you have a partner make sure that they are doing their share of the load).

Workout the best time of day for you

Working out at lunchtime is not my favourite time of the day to workout. However, when I’ve been really busy it is the only time that I have. Lunchtime is a time where a lot of us don’t actually do a lot and although it’s nice to chat to your colleagues, you could be using that time to improve your health. If you have kids then it could be a good time to go because you’ll have childcare in place already.

For some people before work will be better. I find that working out in the morning does give you a really nice boost and a sense of smugness that by the time everybody has made it to their desks, you’ve already achieved something. However, I’m not a morning person and I really struggle. But when before work is the only time that I’ll have time to work out, then I head to bed earlier the night before so that I can get in the gym early.

Remember a workout doesn’t have to be an hour long

Fit in what you can, when you can I say. The UK government guidelines are 30 minutes five times per week. However, this can be divided up in to 10 minute exercise ‘snacks’ and indeed something is better than nothing. When I’m really busy, my workout might just be 20 minutes but I’ll maximise on that time and make it a sweaty, intense AMAP (as many rounds as possible).

Incorporate Exercise into your current regime

Rather than taking the car everywhere, walk where you can. A 30 minute brisk walk is all you need to hit the guidelines so why not knock one of your chores off the list? Also, rather than arranging to meet friends for drinks or food, how about suggesting that you do an activity together? I did this recently with ice skating. Rather than just having dinner, I suggested to a few different friends that we go skating. I really didn’t think that any of the them would accept but I asked on the off chance. All of them bit my hand off and we had a laugh doing something that also keeps us fit. It’s definitely something that I’ll be doing more of in the future.

What are your top tips to find the time to workout? I’d love to hear them below.