Dear Santa, I’ve been really healthy (almost) all year and I intend to be next year as well; after a festive wander through Harrods, here are my 18 top fitness gift ideas that’ll certainly help keep me on track through 2014; including some clothes, trainers, workout equipment, healthy food & drink and other gym knick-knacks. The sort of thing any fitness freak like me would love to open in just a fortnight’s time! 😉 Faya x (more…)
These days you’ll find ‘Foam Rollers’ in pretty much every gym, generally in the ‘stretching mats’ area. This is great news as it suggests we ‘exercising types’ are becoming more aware of the importance of taking time to stretch, which helps us to stay flexible and prevent injury (as you might remember from my previous post on stretching, here).
WHAT DOES IT DO & HOW DOES IT WORK ???
I had key-hole surgery on my knee a few years ago and my doctor recommended I use a foam roller, as it’s a fabulous tool in the physiotherapy industry – it massively helped my recovery by encouraging correct and supple muscular rebuild. By applying pressure using your own bodyweight on sore spots, it’s a kind of self-accu-pressure technique (self myofascial release) – or simply a nice self-massage! Manipulating the soft tissue will support and massage muscle groups whilst improving balance, stabilisation, flexibility and core strength. It’s a valuable part of any workout and I recommend incorporating it in a warmup (to help increase blood flow, and relieve muscle tightness to encourage better training) and likewise in a cool-down (to flush out toxins and help soften muscles for faster recovery).
They are available in different densities from relatively soft foam, to high-density rollers that are like granite. The more accomplished, athletic and muscular the user, the more dense the roller should be. Try out a few different ones and see which one’s for you. Work your way up from the softest as a beginner. If one of this blog’s goals is to share great tips that help you train smarter, this intermediate Foam Roller from Myprotein (which provides unlimited self-massage for under £15) comfortably ticks that box!!
HOW TO USE IT ???
This collection of pictures I shot in Regent’s Park below should help to demonstrate some of my favourite exercises with this training aid. Try to target the areas that are more tender, then roll them out to release & decrease some of the over-activity. It can be hard work and can even border on being painful or uncomfortable, much like stretching. It’s important to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort and a discomfort that can lead to injury – your body will tell you this loud & clear! Below are just a handful of many exercises to try!
I had a wander in Harrods this weekend and came across this shiny fitness contraption, who’s proper name is the Technogym Kinesis…
As an aside; to keep the motivation-factor high (and the boredom-factor low!), I love seeking out new fitness-related concepts, be it the latest equipment, a new ‘group exercise class’ or even some novel ‘superfood’ hitting the supermarket shelf! In short, innovation = motivation! However full-on your workout may be, sometimes we all need a bit of variation and inspiration, and regardless of how many years you’ve been training, there’s always something new to learn and take away from a different experience. I regularly have a look around the gym to see what other people are up to and whether there are any exercises I haven’t encountered – then I steal them if they’re any good!
Back to Harrods’ newest toy, the Kinesis. It’s the highest expression of designer gym furniture. It’s only 1sq metre in size. It’s fitted with three handgrips. It operates in total silence. It facilitates over 200 different exercises that target all muscle groups. There’s an electronic dial to gradually & precisely increase the resistance. Each arm has three pivots that the cable slides through, allowing smooth movement in all directions. I think that if I were to have one of these at home, I’d use it to build strength, increase flexibility and improve my posture – amongst many other applications. And all for just £8,980!!! Oh well, it was fun to play with!
Hot on the heels of being invited to the ‘Skinny Bitch Collective’ class, I also got the call to check out the newest London workout, straight from the United States – Barry’s Bootcamp. It’s a regime that’s tried and tested by the famous & glamorous, such as Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Katie Holmes, not to mention personal trainer Jillian Michaels who’s been bringing all her ‘Biggest Loser’ contestants to Barry’s for years. What could all the fuss be about?
Based in north-west London on the Euston Road, the entrance to this bootcamp-themed space (think dog-tags, camouflage wallpaper, metal military details etc.) is guarded by a friendly receptionist, and flanked by a FUEL BAR that serves up some very tasty protein shakes indeed! The studio itself, which caters for c.40 people is seductively lit in red and blue, and is equipped with 20 Woodway treadmills, who’s treads are more like the caterpillar tracks on a Howitzer tank than the belt on your average gym treadmill! They’re made from rubber T-slats, which give extra cushioning whilst maintaining the natural bio-mechanics of your stride, and are a pleasure to run on (relatively speaking!).
Though there are about 10 ‘drill sergeants’ in Barry’s London ‘platoon’, my class is lead by the beautiful Icelandic personal trainer Heidi (pictured above) – a former IFBB figure-fitness champion! I expected this class to be tough; Heidi did not disappoint. The Barry’s workout combines strength and interval cardiovascular training, leaving minimum recovery time and maximum exertion. I’d say half the time, the class was on a treadmill (c.10 minutes at a time) and the rest of the time was spent on the floor, tackling strength training. It is remarkably demanding, and you take it to your own level, but the atmosphere (lighting, group, equipment, motivating trainer, military theme) spurs you on to the next level up.
1) WHY INTERVAL TRAINING?
As discussed in my previous post HIIT ME AGAIN interval training is the optimal cardiovascular training to achieve fat burn goals. By not sticking to the same pace for the entire cardio session (whereby the body would otherwise go into a steady state and tries to conserve energy) HIIT shocks the body by introducing different intensities, maximising time and transforming it into a fat toasting 10minutes!!
2) WHY STRENGTH TRAINING?
I’m told that Barry’s always include strength training in the class. Today was a full body workout class, taking each exercise to failure with good form. There’s very little rest after each exercise, it is either followed by another exercise or some element of additional cardio, e.g. step ups. This keeps the heart rate elevated, gives the body hardly any time to think/get bored, or indeed to object. The additional bonus of not having much rest is that you burn even more calories – perfect for unwanted fat! And muscles burn c. 15 times as many calories as fat (even at rest) which increases your metabolism yet further!
Ultimately, the class is exceptionally high-energy, utterly exhausting, satisfyingly endorphine-releasing, and doesn’t allow you time to think, moan or get bored. The equipment is incredibly well-invested (really superb treadmills) and the grouped format brings out a competitive nature, encouraging you to push through those sickeningly tough sprints! Try it out!
Click here for some photos & explanations of what my Barry’s Bootcamp session involved.
Sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to go to the gym solo, especially in these cold winter months. When I feel like that, I go along to group classes, to up the motivation-factor! This week, I was invited to an all-singing, all-dancing, all-sweating, all-girl fitness class in London’s West End. With a catchy, cheeky name like ‘The Skinny Bitch Collective‘ how could I decline?! The class was held just off Baker Street, and is led weekly by the founder, Russell Bateman. Under his enthusiastic guidance (and stern yelling!) all ten girls had to put in 110% to keep up with this very demanding routine. The class is basically an intense metabolic workout including some unusual ‘primal movements’, and is set to classic Ibiza house mixes, which marks the aim and tone of the session!
Here are just 6 of these primal movements included in the ‘Skinny Bitch’ session – they definitely got my poor legs bitchin’!!
Alot of my clients don’t (at first) think they need to stretch. Some don’t see the value. Some think they should be lifting something instead, or running somewhere. Some think they’ll (embarrassingly) never be able to reach their toes! BUT by stretching for a few minutes, you will see and feel the benefits. Here are just 6 (of many) reasons why I consider it vitally important to stretch, in no particular order!
1) Reduces your risk of injury drastically, and keeps you mobile as your body matures.
2) Improves your flexibility, by increasing the range of motion of a joint by stretching out the surrounding soft tissue (i.e. muscles tendons & ligaments)
3) Speeds muscle recovery – after an intense workout, the muscles remain in a partially-contracted state, and by not stretching afterwards, you will feel stiff and sore for longer. Stretching relaxes, elongates and softens the muscles which is important for both strength and endurance training.
4) Creates correct muscle balance – failing to stretch regularly after workouts can lead to problems with posture, & muscle imbalance. Consider someone who sits at a desk for 10 hours everyday, some of his / her muscles will naturally become tighter, others weaker. For example, the hip flexors will be in a mildly contracted state whilst seated, and after a while the hip flexor can tilt the pelvis forward, causing the spine to round, which leads to pack pain. So even if you’re not working out, stretching out the pelvis, hip flexor, back, neck and shoulders for a few minutes every day, will help your body stay conditioned.
5) Improves balance – by increasing the range of motion in joints, it gives the body one fewer reason to impede itself and fall over, as stretching encourages uninhibited movement.
6) Muscular growth – The fascia (fibrous tissue) surrounding muscles is said to limit the amount of space muscles have to grow. By stretching a muscle under a resistance, you can encourage further muscular growth (hypertrophy). Be aware though, Extreme Fascial Stretching (for muscle growth) is very stressful to muscular tissue and can cause injury if not practised properly.
TYPES OF STRETCHING ?
1) PRE WORKOUT ? Dynamic Stretching – always warm up for c. 5 minutes before stretching, making sure the muscles are actively prepared, and then perform dynamic stretches, which effectively means ‘stretching whilst moving’. These stretches should only be held for 3-10 seconds each. Some examples are walking lunges, lunging and reaching, power skipping, knee hugs, quad walks etc.
2) POST WORKOUT ? Static Stretching – these are slow and constant, and each stretch is usually held for 10-30 seconds, during which you’ll consider them mildly uncomfortable. Sometimes they’ll be passive, as someone stretches you out whilst your body relaxes. You should avoid bouncing whilst holding your static stretch, as it can risk tearing muscular fibre. These stretches aren’t designed to make you sweat, rather to lengthen/relax the muscle spindles.
Stretch safe, here are some pics of me having a stretch! Faya x
Just me, my 6kg kettle bell, and the park… combined, they give a versatile and explosive full-body workout, which builds power and burns fat! Why do kettle bells work you say? The position and thickness of the handles (hanging directly under the wrists) unevenly distributes the weight which requires more strength in the grip, & more core engagement as the weight is far more difficult to control. Dumbbells by comparison are centred and therefore balanced – kettle bells are inherently unstable; their handles protrude from one side of the sphere & act like an additional pivot point control.The ‘kettle bell swings’ keep the muscles working through the entire motion, so they work all together which avoids imbalances, and is softer on the joints / bones. So they’re great overall muscle-conditioners, & a basic 20min workout can burn up to 270 calories. They were also Gerard Butler’s secret weapon for strength and tone in the movie 300 😉
Here’s my circuit: Do 3 sets for…
Having a nice Peppermint tea before bedtime; apart from finding it very relaxing, it’s clinically proven to have a sedative effect, which helps send you off to the land of nod peacefully! Extra-perfect this time of the year, as it can strengthen your immune defenses against cold and flu (the mint leaves contain potassium, calcium and vitamin B) whilst the restorative sleep adds another barrier.
One further benefit is that it simulates the sensation of being full (I’m looking at you, late night snacker!!) when it’s basically just 100% water (hydrating, good for skin, good for blood pressure etc.) and best of all, contains a waistline-busting 0 calories, with no fat, carbs or salt! Did I mention it’s naturally caffeine-free, great for stomach pain and aids digestion? Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or perhaps some fresh ginger to the mix, for additional taste and digestive benefits! Mint Tea; not superfood, superdrink!
Good night! Faya x
I love training (myself & clients) in the park – fresh air, gorgeous scenery and awesome people watching – and these days, it doesn’t mean I have to lug 10 tons of kettle bells along with me! With a TRX (stands for Total-body Resistance eXercise), all I need is a tree! No weights, plates or slates; instead, just some gravity and my own body weight as resistance. It’s basically two connected nylon straps with handles, which give a full-body workout, build strength, refine balance and enhance core stability, all at the same time. TRX is the classic example of “functional training”, an industry buzz-phrase that’s thrown around a lot, but which put simply, means ‘exercises that mimic every-day human movements’ (unlike for example, some stationary machines you’ll find at the gym). Trust me, when you do it properly, it’s a lot more painful (and effective) than it looks !!!
In this picture I’m just doing jumping squats. The TRX advantage is that it allows me to get down really deep in the squat by encouraging a more extreme low-point, offering a backstop for balance, and crucially, providing a spring-board to energise my jump back up. It encourages improved posture, and targets not just the legs, but also the abs and arms too. Stringing together 3 sets of 30-reps, done as quickly as you can, with correct form, will see you in (very fit) pieces on the floor!
Ouch – arms and legs… Now your turn!