Thursday, 29 May 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : K-Beatz

After three months of promising the lovely Gillian that I'd turn up to one of her classes, I finally made it. In my haste to get to said class I managed to slam the car door on my right index finger, which wasn't ideal given the class I was about to take part in involved some punching.
The lovely Gillian. Credit: K-Beatz
K-Beatz was devised by karate instructor and mum-of-two Gillian after a charity event revealed that there was demand for an exercise class with a difference. It combines aerobic exercise with martial arts set to music for a whole-body workout. The classes take place in school halls a couple of times a week and are slightly different every time. There were only three of us in the class on this particular occasion so I got plenty of help in nailing some of the moves.

The first half of the class was pretty dynamic with punch and kick routines, skipping and pad work. Some of the kick and punch combos, travelling up and down the hall, required some amount of coordination that eluded me on this occasion but I was assured it becomes easier very quickly. We worked our upper body with weighted bars and did some partner work on the mats, combining crunches and padwork. The hour went pretty quickly and I was quite sad it was over. If I was to compare it to any other type of class I'd say it was like Body Combat mixed with circuits. I'd definitely go back and do the class again, when I can!

In addition, Gillian's hubby runs something called KickPunchRun roughly every 3rd Sunday. Meeting in a local pub car park the group is lead on a run to Swinley Forest and put through an interval training session that also includes elements of hill running and karate techniques. Since I'm no longer a member of a running club and find it hard to motivate myself to do any serious hill sessions I think this would be ideal for me and I hope to get to a session in the next month or so to try it out.
Credit: KickPunchRun
Credit: KickPunchRun
The K-Beatz classes are a very affordable £6 on a pay-as-you-go basis with the option to pay up front for either 10 or 20 classes for a discount and you can get a reduction on the KickPunchRun sessions if you do K-Beatz too. It's great to find something that's so unique to my local area.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Body Image in Sports and Fitness

How many of us have undergone some type of health of fitness test? Maybe some kind of VO2 max test or step test when starting work with a PT, had body fat percentage measured or a resting heart rate or blood pressure check at the doctors.

Testing was a big part of the Personal Trainer course I took part in recently. We were encouraged to try our hands at taking blood pressure and heart rate readings as well as circumference measurements to assess body fat percentage. We were shown how a number of ways to assess VO2 max (the maximum rate at which we can consume oxygen, a measure often used to determine a person’s fitness or endurance) and muscular endurance. Our results were then compared to a number of norms tables to determine where we fell on a scale.

The outcome of all this was that I realised that I'm not half as fit or lean as I thought I was and that’s a bit depressing. I was well within the average or normal ranges however as someone who puts a lot of thought into what I eat and makes an effect to stay active, and as someone training to be a PT, I expected to fare better. And as I caught myself thinking this, I realised that two things my tutor said suddenly made a lot of sense.  

Firstly, as a PT, choosing the right tests for your client can make the difference between building confidence, motivation and self-efficacy and destroying it. And PTs aren’t immune to this effect, although they’re possibly more inclined to see an unexpected result as a challenge and feel motivated enough to tackle it.

Secondly he suggested that more emphasis put on your appearance as a PT in the fitness world than as a coach in the sporting world. If a PT doesn't "look the part" in terms of muscle mass, leanness and so on, then they’re often seen to be less of an authority on the basis that if they can't follow their own advice then how can they possibly make a difference to you, the client. However when it comes to athletic coaches, or any coaches for that matter, there's less of an assumption that they should be able to do that things that their athletes can. In fact in most cases coaches can't perform at anywhere near the level of their athletes but that doesn't make them any less of an authority or of any less use to their client. You can bet your bottom dollar that, for example, Mo Farah’s coach isn’t capable of running half as fast as Farah himself. Neither will he exhibit the same kind of lean frame or body fat levels, but he still coached Farah to Olympic standard.

It’s a pity that this attitude isn’t as prevalent elsewhere. As a trainee PT, I’m learning that this will be part and parcel of the job; I will come up against prejudices and judgments will be made based on how I look, way before I can demonstrate my abilities and there’s little I can do to change this much as I’d like to.

Have you come up against these sorts of attitudes? How did it make you feel? Is it something that we can change?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Om Nom Nom Nom Nom Bars

I've said it before and I'll say it again... breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I love taking a little time to make a proper coffee, linger over a bowl of something and watching the squirrels and birds outside (does anyone else get the Mission Impossible theme in their head when watching squirrels? no?) but there have been a lot of mornings lately when I've had to leave early. When I do that, I have to eat on the go as eating before 8am just leaves me hungrier later, oddly.

So my go-to breakfast has been a smoothie and some sort of bar. I've been enjoying Trek bars, especially the morning berry variety, but I've also been trying nom bars. I've had these as snacks before but never as a breakfast substitute. Cacao & raspberry was the first I tried and I got a small size of the original bar in a saviour snacks box or similar but I'd yet to try the banana flavour so that was the first one I opened.
Elevenses: Coffee in my favourite mug and a nom
Well they certainly live up to the name. The banana one didn't taste overwhelmingly of banana as so many artificial products do and the Cacao & Raspberry one tasted really zingy and fresh. The oats aren't visible in the same way as most flapjacks are but nevertheless they do taste very flapjack-like. And they're pretty substantial; having one at elevenses meant I wasn't anywhere near hungry for my lunch, even by 2pm. I had the plain one with a shake for breakfast-on-the-go and the Cacao & Raspberry one for an afternoon snack and both kept hunger at bay too.
They've just updated their packaging which now looks really bright, fresh and funky. Point of note... the ends lack the zigzag finish of most other bars which I found made them mildly tricky to open. Or I'm a weakling. For anyone unfamiliar with the brand, nom bars are made with oats, oat bran, virgin coconut oil, cacao nibs, contain no refined sugars or dairy and are 100% organic. They clock in at around 235kcal per 52g bar (Trek are around 215kcal for 50g).
P.S. Despite it being on the packaging I only just twigged about nom standing for "Naturally, Organic Matters"... sigh.

Disclaimer: I was sent three nom bars in the new packaging by nom foods in return for a review and have provided an honest opinion in this post.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Another Milestone Reached

I’m gradually edging closer to becoming a qualified PT. I recently attended the workshop for my Level 3 qualification, having completed the accompanying e-learning for Advanced Anatomy & Physiology and Programming & Coaching. In my mind, although I have a long way to go before completing my advanced diploma, this was the biggie. Failing my A&P exam would mean resits hanging over me while I completed my coursework. Failing on the assessment would mean that certificates for other modules would be delayed, even if I passed them.
Another London course, another swanky studio...
I seem to have some sort of aptitude for study, but not a huge amount of self-belief. I love studying and learning and for the most part, don’t get freaked out by exams. But I have never been brilliant at “science-y”  things, giving up Science at school at the earliest opportunity in favour of Literature and Maths. This goes someway to explaining why the A&P parts of my course have held so much fear for me. I’m interested in the body, it’s a fascinating thing, but it’s a complex machine described by lots of long and complicated names. There was never really a point in my study where I felt comfortable with my level of knowledge. I could remember a bunch of stuff but I didn’t necessarily *understand* things.

So it was with some trepidation that I turned over the question paper containing 37 multiple choice questions on the afternoon of day 1 of the workshop. “Multiple choice” no longer equates to “easy” in my mind. Somehow James, my tutor, managed to distract us from our pending results for the remainder of the course to the point I almost forgot I was awaiting them.
The roof terrace at 37 Degrees
I am over the moon with my solid pass. I can now focus on the assessment I need to complete in the next 5 weeks without feeling distracted by scheduling resits and revising again. The assessment, while a lot of work at this stage, as I’m not used to carrying out fitness assessments or designing programmes for real, live people, feels straightforward. I can do this. I’m methodical and organised and will get it done. Hopefully it will be fun along the way.

And ultimately I know I will pass because I care about getting this qualification. I am interested in the subject and I want to be able to apply my knowledge. Leaving the course venue at Olympia, having spent two days with a great bunch of people, some new faces, some familiar, learning by design and by sharing ideas, I felt elated. I was enthused and excited. This was how I wanted to spend my time. It felt like home and even though I’m a quietly-spoken, introverted 30-something who takes on far too many challenges and there are definitely people who are better suited to be a PT than, I know I will make something of this in some way, because I really really want to.
Living life in balance isn't always easy

Friday, 16 May 2014

Bandying About

I'm flying out to the U.S. of A with my dad tomorrow for a bit of a tour around Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and Louisiana. We're staying in different hotels every other night on average so although my trainers are coming with me I won't have time to get used to the area and learn where's safe to run. I've done some research and although most of the hotels are quite swish and have a "fitness centre" that could mean almost anything so as a back up I'm also packing a resistance band. These take up almost no space at all so are great for travelling when you want something to ring the changes from running and bodyweight exercises. It's a new addition to my workout kit that I'm still getting to grips with, so to speak.

I got mine from MilletSports, although they're widely available, and it came with a nifty little booklet with guidelines on how to use it safely and some exercise ideas.

So I've had a little play around and come up with a mini routine that I'm going to try while I'm away. Please exercise caution when using a dyna-band. Unless you are using a flat band I would advise against doing the press up. Always remember to exhale with the effort.

Pull down - Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart and the band held above your head, hands shoulder width apart. Pull your hands out and down in front of your chest. Return to the start position in a controlled movement.
Squat - Stand on band with legs hip width apart. Hold one end of the band in each hand and bring them up to shoulder level, palms forward. Perform a squat as normal.

Double arm pull - Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart and the band held in front of you at chest height, hands shoulder width apart. Pull your hands apart and out to the side then return to the start position in a controlled movement.
Chest press - Lie on the floor with the band under your back, just below armpit level, holding one end of the band in each hand with arms bent. Extend the arms and push your hands upwards in line with your chest then return to the start position in a controlled movement.
Bicep curl - Stand on band with your legs hip width apart, hold one end of the band in each hand by your thighs. Slowly flex your arms, bringing the hands up to your shoulders then return to the start position in a controlled movement.
Tricep press - Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Wrap the band around one hand and dangle it down your back. Reach behind you with your free hand and grasp the free end of the band. One arm should be bent, elbow pointing upwards, beside your head and the other by your bum. Extend your bent arm straight up above your head and return to the start position in a controlled movement. Repeat on the other side.
Press up - Place the band flat across the widest part of your back, roughly in line with your arms. Hold the ends in your hands so that you can feel the tension. Perform a press up as normal.
Side step - Stand on band legs hip width apart, holding one end of the band in each hand. Keeping the tension in the band, take a small step to one side, then bring the other leg to meet the first. Perform 10 side steps on each side.
Leg press - Lie on your back on the floor with hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Loop the band around your feet crossing the band to make an X. Hold an end in each hand near your shoulders or hips, depending on how much resistance you want. Brace your core and slowly extend your legs, pushing your feet away from you until the legs are almost straight. Return to the start position in a controlled movement.
Have you used one of these before? Got any other good exercises I can include?

P.S. Just because I'm away doesn't mean there won't be posts. I've scheduled a few for while I'm away which I hope you enjoy. See you in June!

DisclaimerMilletSports allowed me to choose products up to the value of £50 in return for a review on my site. All views are my own. The fitness band was priced at £9.99 at the time of writing.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Head to Toes

Tell you something, I'm glad to be on the other side of last week. My Level 3 PT workshop and Advance Anatomy & Physiology exams caused me some amount of stress about revising, wondering if I could fit in any exercising around revision, actually revising and changing all my travel plans at the drop of a hat (thanks TFL). In the name of being sensible and focused on the main priority of actually passing my exam I didn't do much in the way of exercise apart from a plank everyday (I'm up to 3 and a half minutes now!) and two 3.5mile runs. 

Lack of exercise makes me restless but other things have also been making me feel a bit giddy and excited so now the exam is out of the way I thought I'd share them with you. Let's start with some vibram five fingers. Yes, they do look weird and freaky, but they are surprisingly comfy so far. I'm not 100% sure I'll keep them but they were a third of the price of the Nike free training shoes I've had my eye on. I'm not intending to run in them but rather to use them in the gym and classes, especially those involving weights. This is partly inspired by James, my instructor on the Kettlebells course, and partly by the pins and needles I sometimes get when doing things like rebounding wearing my running trainers, which are the only sports shoes I own. 

I also got quite a couple of foodie parcels including some nom bars and a case of Dorset cereal that I'd managed to cash in some "Yeokens"on the Yeo Valley website for. I love my food and I love a freebie or a bargain and frankly I can't look at that packaging and not smile.
On nom nom nom!

Other foodie highlights were my first attempt sweet potato chips with home made guacamole and a series of breakfast shakes including pear with butterscotch swirl protein, frozen cherries with cherry bakewell protein and pear, avocado and spinach smoothie. All really tasty.
That's a G'n'T... just to balance out the healthy
Kit and food aside, something I didn't expect to get quite so much enjoyment from this week was meditation. I've been using the Headspace app on my phone most days to do ten minute guided (non-spiritual) meditations which I've thoroughly enjoyed and felt the benefit of. I've probably given people at work something to talk about as I sit on one of the sofas in the canteen with my eyes closed doing these occasionally. There's a ten meditation program you can get for free but I've enjoyed it so much I'll probably sign up for the annual subscription now.

What were your highlights last week. Have you used Headspace or do meditation? 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Medicine Ball Workout

There's really no excuse for not being able to do a workout in your own home these days. There are loads of simple bodyweight exercises you can do and you can find basic pieces of equipment quite easily. Supplier of sports clothing and equipment, MilletSports, contacted me recently and asked if I would like to write a product review for them. Now I'm a sucker for a bit of kit but as I'm trying to build up my collection of equipment it seemed a perfect opportunity to fill a couple of gaps. I already own a weighted hula hoop, BOSU ball, skipping rope, kettlebell, dumbbells and yoga mat but there's a couple of other pieces I'd like. They have a huge range of kit and equipment for all manner of sporting endeavours at competitive prices with free delivery on orders over £50. They produce a nifty magazine that you can read online to boot.

Now the title of this post has probably given away the fact that one of the items I chose was a medicine ball. A 5kg medicine ball to be precise, that arrived just 2 days after ordering. It's a versatile bit of kit that I'm hoping to get a lot of use out of. To kick things off I've put together a little workout that you can try yourself either in the gym or at home. Try 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise. Oh and please excuse the quality of the photos. I was trying to do them with a timer in a small space...

Squat with overhead reach - Start by holding the medicine ball at chest height. Perform a normal squat but as you rise back to a standing position, raise the medicine ball overhead. As you squat down again, bring the medicine ball back to chest level.

Shoulder press - Start by holding the medicine ball at chest height and then extending the arms up and pressing it towards the ceiling. Return to start position. Remember to brace your core and step one foot slightly behind to stop yourself swaying too much.
Chest Press - Lie on the floor and hold the medicine ball with both hands just above the middle of your chest. Extend both arms straight up and press the ball away from your chest towards the ceiling. Lower back to the start position.

Glute bridge - Lie on the floor with both feet on the medicine ball. Push down through the heels and raise the hips to a bridge position. Hold briefly then carefully return to the start position. Make this even tougher by balancing on one leg at a time and keeping the other leg raised.

Bicep curl - Hold the medicine ball with both hands, elbows tucked into your sides. Starting with the hands at your thighs, curl the arms up until the ball almost touches your chest and lour back down again.
Tricep Press - Hold the medicine ball above your head with both hands. With the elbows pointing forwards bend the arms so that the ball drops behind your head. Extend the arms back up to the start position, concentration on keeping the elbows still.
Russian Twists - Sit on the floor with legs and hips bent at 90 degrees and body leaning back at around a 45 degree angle, holding the medicine ball with both hands. Twist your body to one side, moving the ball with you. Return to centre and repeat on the other side.
Crunches - Lie on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees and feet on the floor. Lift the medicine ball   towards the ceiling with straight arms. As you curl up into a crunch, keep your eyes looking towards the ceiling and arms straight, lifting the ball slightly. 
Pressups - Adopt a standard press up position but with one hand on the medicine ball. Do a press-up then roll the ball to the opposite hand and repeat.
Plank - Place both hands on the medicine ball and hold a plank position. This pose is more unstable than a regular plank so don't fret if you can't hold it for very long to begin with. Work up to 3 x 30 seconds.

Happy workout! Keep your eyes peeled for another workout featuring another piece of new kit soon!

DisclaimerMilletSports allowed me to choose products up to the value of £50 in return for a review on my site. All views are my own. The 5kg medicine ball was priced at £29.99 at the time of writing.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Power Yoga

Running and yoga often seem to go hand in hand. As one of many runners who are guilty of not stretching as much as they probably should, doing yoga means I do at least some maintenance to stop things going "ping". It's also good for strength, flexibility and, for me anyway, general well being.

I first remember doing yoga at University in a vast sports hall. Our slightly plump, silver-haired instructor was called Dorothy and to this day she's the best instructor I've had. I've dabbled in other classes over the years but never gone back to it regularly. I'm yet to try hot yoga but Body Balance has been an on-off part of my regime. There are lots of yoga classes in my neck of the woods but a "Power Yoga" class at Reading Sports Park caught my eye so I thought I'd give it a go. The class description said I was in for one hour of "physical, dynamic yoga, heating up the body, toning and cleansing." so I expected lots of movement, maybe some challenging poses and to feel as though I'd really worked.

Unfortunately I was disappointed. The studio itself was nice enough, with mirrors and room for 20 people. The instructor didn't introduce herself, ask if any one was new or had any injuries, and adjusted people without asking if it was ok to touch them. Little things but if I'd had no previous experience I'd have been really put off by that. I normally make a point of introducing myself to the instructor if I'm taking a class for the first time but I didn't get a chance. The class itself was fairly standard too. Some variations of sun salutations, lots of downward dogs, a couple of balances, some warrior poses and stretches rounded off with 5 minutes of relaxation. I felt worked but not challenged. Few options for different abilities were given and I certainly didn't get warm.

I'm glad I went, it certainly did me good, but I would rather do the Body Balance classes included in the price my gym membership than pay £7.50 for a class like that. The search for an exciting local yoga class will continue!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

King of the Swingers : Kettlebells 101

It was back to school again for me last weekend to do a course I'd been looking forward to for a while, the latest in my FutureFit adventure, kettlebells. This time I got to go to the wonderful facility that is the UEL SportsDock. I want to go back to University... purely to study somewhere like that.
We had a double whammy of instructors, James and Jacqueline. Jacqueline actually designed the course and James has a great method of delivery. Kettlebells are thought to have originated in Russia and the exercises you perform are built on a philosophy of effectiveness of movement. This was reinforced a great deal throughout the course. When you get your head around that the techniques make a lot more sense. When you learn that the Russian masters of sport have to have spent at least 10,000 hours in training alone to merit the award then you know they mean business.
I'm sure many of you have wielded a kettle bell at some point in your fitness life. Maybe you've done deadlifts or swings or even presses. Now I thought I knew how to do a kettlebell swing. Boy was I wrong! 
"More hip snap Vikki"
"You're extending your arms too much"
"Don't lift with your arms!"
Kettlebells are a very humbling thing. They can give you a great full body work out but so much comes from the lower body. Anything that involves lifting the bell, pretty much comes from the glutes. We've sent so much time being told to stand with feet hip distance apart that the wider base you often need feels alien, as does sticking your hip out to rest on in the rack position. 

We had about 2 hours in the class room and the rest of the course was a constant work out in the studio, learning and practicing techniques and exercises. As a beginner you run the risk of getting horribly bruised. By the end of the first day I already had the beginnings of callouses, bruised forearms and biceps even with sweatbands to pad the area and chalk to reduce friction. On the plus side my core has never felt so toned!
Another bruise for the collection
Beginnings of callouses
It was a fantastic course; challenging but so rewarding. I got to meet up with Louise who I met on the Level 2 Fitness Instructor course and I get to spend the weekend with James again this weekend as I take on the Level 3 PT workshop. However if I hear one more joke about cups of tea when I mention kettle bells then I might scream. Or throw one at the offender. And man would that hurt, believe me.
Oh and the course... yeah... nailed it!
Just about in shot flaunting H&S rules and NOT looking at my kettlebell in windmill pose