Monday, 31 August 2015

Vik's Picks : August 2015

The end of another month and another round up of the things that have been my favourites for one reason or another.
  1. I tried Skyr for the first time when I was out in Iceland on holiday earlier this year. It's a thick, protein rich yogurt that is incredibly popular out there but really only just entering the mainstream in the UK. It's been on offer in various stores and I've tried all the flavours on offer. The strawberry is pretty great but the honey variety has become my firm favourite. It's great as a snack, as a side to pancakes or desserts and with fruit compote for breakfast. My favourite combo has been with orange and ginger roasted rhubarb and flaked almonds.
  2. I was determined to make some more recipes from the Skinny French Kitchen cookbook I own this month and have succeeded in doing so! Parsley and pomegranate cous cous was a delicious lunch, a goats cheese salad a treat of a dinner and baked eggs a comforting late supper. All the recipes are low cal and relatively easy to make. More inspiration to come I think.
  3. A wonderful friend of mine bought me a long-coveted ashmei vest as a "starting your new career" present. This super soft merino and carbon top is a joy to run in and my top choice of top when I don't have to be in branded kit for work. Certainly smart enough to wear even when I'm not working out too!
  4. As part of Tesco's Orchard scheme I was able to try Bioglan's Cacao & Flax from the super foods range, for free! I've never really delved into these sorts of things before but I will definitely buy this again, and maybe try something else from the range. I'm sure there are lots of specific health benefits (I've not read up on it) but on a basic level I've enjoyed using this in smoothies, pancakes, porridge and granola to add a chocolate hit and enhance the fruity flavours of anything else in the mix. Big thumbs up and recipes to be shared!
  5. The latest toy I've introduced my RunFitUk group to has been a Reaction Belt. A reaction belt is used to help develop speed and agility. I use it with my group in pairs in a shadow game where one person tries to get far enough away to break the velcro connection and the other has to try to stay close enough for that not to happen. This belt from Adidas comes with three lengths of velcro strapping and two adjustable belts, giving me lots of options for coming up with new games.
Have you tried any of these type of superfood products? Any recipe ideas for me? What's your favourite piece of kit at the moment?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Super Food Pancakes

Pancakes for breakfast is something the Americans do well. Whether they're served with bacon or fruit, butter or maple syrup, they're pretty special and something we Brits are embracing too. There are countless ways to make pancakes and some are more reliable or healthier than others. This version, inspired by one over at Runner's World is just about one of the best I've made in my opinion.

The increasingly popular (in the health and fitness world anyway) basic banana and egg batter ups the protein content with ground almonds, good cholesterol with desiccated coconut and fibre and omega 3 from Bioglan's Cacao & Flax powder. This powder is a new product in my kitchen at the moment, something I've not bought before, or even considered trying. However as part of Tesco's Orchard scheme I've been able to try this for free and I'm now adding it to all sorts of breakfasts. It adds a hint of chocolate and enhances the fruitiness of my smoothies. Plus I know it's good for me!

Super Food Pancakes

Makes 4-6 pancakes


1 very ripe banana
1 egg
45g ground almonds
15g desiccated coconut
1 heaped tablespoon of Bioglan Cacao & Flax Powder
Large handful of blueberries or other fresh fruit of choice
Coconut oil or other cooking oil
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon flaked almonds


  1. Mix the banana, egg, almonds, coconut and cacao & flax powder together in a mixing jug, bowl or processor. This should give you a thick batter, however if the mixture looks a little too thick, add a splash of milk (dairy or non-dairy, your choice).
  2. Melt a little coconut oil in a frying pan and add large spoonfuls of the mixture. 
  3. Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook on the other side for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Serve in a stack, drizzled with the honey or syrup and topped with the fruit and almonds.

What's your favourite pancake recipe? How else would you use the cacao & flax powder?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Event Review : Stokes Scurry

The Stokes Scurry is a little gem of an event that I'm almost loathe to share. I've been trying to get to one for a long time which, given it's held monthly (except during Winter), is quite something and more a reflection on my diary than my motivation.

Held at 10am on a Sunday morning at Stokes Farm on the outskirts of Wokingham, the Scurry is a relaxed and friendly run around the fields of the farm. There's a choice of either a 2 or 4 mile run (1 or 2 laps) although occasionally there is a 5km distance instead. You do need to register in advance but you don't ned to decide on your distance until the morning of the event.
On the start line
There's plenty of parking and registration is easy. The atmosphere is a relaxed and sociable one with people returning to the registration point afterwards for tea, coffee and delicious home-made cake. And it shouldn't be a surprise, with an event on a farm, that there are free range eggs available for sale. I was a little unnerved when I arrived and on giving my name to the organiser was greeted with the words "Oh you must be the sporty one - four miles then?"... To be classed as "the sporty one" at a race makes you wonder about your reputation!
From a distance... looks as though I'm the only one in the event!
Your timing "chip" is a peg with a number written on it - suitably rustic and a system that seems to work very well. Although it's timed this isn't a race, unless you want it to be. Many people run this at the speed of chat while some leave you in their dust. I was somewhere in between which made it a little lonely but the rutted ground kept me occupied. The choice of distance means it's suitable for all abilities and ages, including children. The course is signed well enough that they don't need to be supervised too closely.
Having a zen moment
The grass had recently been cut which made the going easier and the ground was dry so road shoes were perfectly fine but trail shoes would be a benefit in wetter months. It's not hilly but there are certainly some gentle inclines. You'll pass fields of hens, busy laying eggs for you, encounter the occasional dog walker or horse rider, and forget for a moment that you're a stones throw from the M4.

The Stokes Scurry is on again in September, date to be confirmed, and although I know I won't be able to join that one, I will certainly be going again!

Do you know of any other free or inexpensive runs like this near you (apart from parkrun)?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Fitness in the Workplace : Wellness Incentives

The health and well-being of employees is something that companies are investing in more and more. It's no secret that when people are happy, healthy and feel valued, they are more productive and have improved job satisfaction. There are a multitude of ways in which companies can look after their employees, and it's worth thinking about these when you're considering joining a new company.

If I were looking for a new job, in particular with a larger company, these are the sorts of questions I would be asking and the kinds of offerings I would be looking for. It could sway my decision about accepting a job offer.

Food and Drink

Let's start with some basics. Does the vending machine offer some healthier options over crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks? Is there a fridge, kettle or microwave available so that you could take your own lunch? Is there an on-site canteen with a variety of healthy pre-packed and fresh options?

The last big company I worked for had a Free Fruit Friday once a month, providing a variety of fruit to colleagues for free. Always popular!
Is there somewhere you can go to sit and eat, or is there a culture of working through your lunch break? Time away from your desk or immediate site of work makes a big difference to levels of fatigue.

Keeping Active

Many larger companies these days either have gyms on site or offer hefty discounts on memberships at local facilities. That's great but check whether they're supportive of you taking time during the day to work out. Will you be frowned upon if you get in a little later or take an extended lunch break because you've been on the treadmill, even if you make up the hours later?

Cycle schemes are also popular these days, enabling employees to buy a bike tax free or at a subsidised cost. But even if the company isn't large enough to afford this, are there perhaps running or cycling routes to the office? Are there cycle racks nearby? Are there showers or lockers on site?

Are there any active social groups e.g. lunchtime walking groups or after-work bootcamps?
I lead a weekly walking group on a Monday lunchtime in my local area.

General Well-being

Other incentives that I've come across in my working life are free work station assessments and provision of things like foot rests and specialist chairs, free eye tests, health check ups and facilities for booking massages on site. Soft seating areas and a "library" of books you can borrow to read in a tea break are easy to provide and their value shouldn't be over looked. Having time to relax, removing excuses for getting regular check ups and ensuring your workstation doesn't cause you discomfort are all small but important details in your working life.

A final incentive that I've always found inspiring is fund matching for charity. As so many charity challenges are activity based, this could be an incentive for you to tackle a bike ride, dance-athon, race or climb that you may otherwise not have considered!

What health and well-being incentives does your company offer? Is there anything that you would like to see?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Picnics, Presents and Paddles

It was my birthday this week. It wasn't a milestone, except in the sense that I now have to tick a different box in the age category on surveys, but it was lovely nonetheless. I started the day by teaching a class at the gym then a 10k run to earn my August medal from Virtual Runner. The rest of the day was spent the rest of the day with my parents, something I'm rarely able to do as I'm not in the habit of taking the day off work. It's one of the perks of being self-employed, that I can arrange my weeks to suit, to some extent.
Sprinkles on my breakfast smoothie
I got thoroughly spoilt with pimms cupcakes my mum made, a host of gifts wrapped so beautifully I almost didn't want to open them. Yes there was funky new lycra but also moomin-related items, a new rucksack for my new active lifestyle and vinyl - all bases covered!
My mum would give Mr Kipling a run for his money
It rarely rains my on birthday so we'd planned a picnic at Buscot Park followed by a wander around the house and gardens. However this year it did rain so we picnicked in the car before exploring, cloaked in raincoats. All in all it was a lovely day, rounded off with a meal at Jamie's Italian.
Car picnic - home made blue cheese, pear & walnut tarts
I'm now into my second week as a self employed Personal Trainer and it's still taking some getting used to. I'm building a routine and spending a lot of time planning sessions. I've been in talks with my council this week about providing a Back To Fitness Scheme which has been super exciting and also taken quite a bit of my time in organisation. I have a lot more flexibility in what I do when which does seem to allow me more time to train. My week of activity has looked a little like this:
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: 4 miles at Stokes Farm Scurry (review on the way), a further 5.5 miles afterwards, metafit
Monday: Monday Mile
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 10k run
Thursday: 1500m open water Doggy Paddle swim (another review on the way)
Friday (planned): 1.5hr run, 1hr cycle, boxercise class
Midweek bling!
My diet hasn't been particularly great this week, due to birthday cake and meals out, but it's no big deal, I'll just draw a line under it and stop eating cake! I've got a fridge stuffed to bursting with fresh fruit and veg at the moment so there's no excuse for not eating well. I'm definitely more conscious of what I'm eating and doing now I'm self employed. 

From September I intend to revive these "Life and Training" type posts as I enjoy writing them and both elements are very different for me at the moment so hopefully you'll enjoy reading them too.

Do you take your birthday off from work? Are you doing any virtual races over the summer? What's your favourite picnic food?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Barbecue Inspiration with Quorn

You may have trouble believing it, based on the current weather activity but it is summer and therefore the season the the BBQ. I do enjoy a BBQ but rarely make the effort to do one myself and sometimes, as a vegetarian, struggle for inspiration of what to cook so an evening at the London Barbecue School with Quorn was just the thing.
A lot of people are surprised when I say that I don't eat a lot of Quorn. It's not because I dislike it, far from it! But my style of cooking has changed a lot during the time I have been vegetarian and one of the wonderful things about Quorn products is that they are so easy to use as substitutes in recipes that traditionally call for meat such as chilli, toad-in-the-hole, curries and of course barbecues, fare I don't often make these days.
Credit: Quorn
Although Quorn is a product suitable for vegetarians, it's more appropriate to say, because of its versatility, that it's just a healthy protein. My dad, a committed steak eater, cooks with Quorn often and I'm a huge fan of something he calls "gumbo" (not quite like the real deal). He also regularly requests a version of beef bourguignon made with Quorn at home. Compared to beef, Quorn contains 90% less saturated fat, 50% fewer calories, is higher in fibre and is still a complete protein. On top of that it's highly sustainable, resulting in 90% lower emissions from the production process than beef and a great carrier of flavour. It's this last part that's key for me when thinking about using it on the barbecue.
At the London Barbecue School, drinks in hand, we were shown how to operate the huge egg-shaped grills then let loose with stacks of ingredients and four recipes to try our hands at whipping up some delicious meals using Quorn. The products we used weren't especially fancy; sausages, burgers,  Swedish style balls and crispy coated southern burgers, but the meals were all mouthwatering and flavourful.

Nibbling on picnic eggs and cocktail sausages to tide us over we whipped up kebabs using Swedish style balls, sticky sausage & vegetable skewers, southern fried burger & vegetable wraps and chilli burgers with chipotle & sweetcorn salsa. I got stuck in with the sticky skewers, making a marinade with olive oil, lemon juice, wholegrain mustard and mango chutney and singeing the hair on my arms whilst turning and basting them. I tried a bit of everything (twice) and found it hard to decide which was my favourite. If pressed I think I'd say the kebabs, but really, I would be far from disappointed if any of these were my only option at a barbecue.

Credit: Quorn
All the recipes were quick, low-faff and required little in the way of fancy ingredients so are easy to recreate and have paved the way for me to get creative with Quorn products again. I enjoyed trying some new recipes in the past and with such a huge range of products from the everyday mince, pieces, sausages and burgers to Chef's Selection, gluten free, picnic foods and a soon-to-be-launched vegan range (which I'm rather excited about) there's plenty to choose from! And I'm safe in the knowledge that it's a good fit with my healthy eating intentions.
Credit: Quorn
It was a really fun evening, not only cooking but chatting, relaxing and quaffing in the open air in the courtyard that is the school. The London Barbecue School is located in Peckham Rye and offers the opportunity to learn how to make the most of your barbecue and eat excellent food prepared on one of their Kamado Joe barbecues. I'm particularly keen to go back for one of their Vegetarian and Vegan workshops!
Thanks to Quorn for inviting me to the event, providing the ingredients, refreshments and a goody bag. I'll be cooking up a storm again soon...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Fitness in the Workplace : Stealthy Desk Workout

One of the last tasks I was asked to complete before leaving my former office job, was to design a workout for the team that they could do in the office to keep in shape without looking obvious. A fairly tall order!

In reality, there are many of us who want to maintain a fit and active lifestyle while working a busy schedule. Many people don't achieve this goal because work and life “get in the way.” and one way to try and combat this is to multitask. I'm going to skip over the tips about using the stairs instead of the lift, about parking further away from the office door and going for walks in your lunch break, not because it's not good advice, but because these tips are all well-known and I'd like to suggest something slightly different. If you really struggle to find time and motivation outside of work to fit in any sort of activity, then there are things you can do, even if you're desk bound.

This set of discrete exercises is intended to help to improve your posture and muscle strength which could help to dispel those aches and pains I know I've suffered from after a long day in the office. They could be done at your desk or in a meeting without drawing too much attention.

Before doing any of these exercises, ensure you have good posture and remember to breathe.


Yes it is possible to do a little cardio at your desk! Pretend you're Fred Astaire and tap your toes quickly on the floor under your desk. To make this harder and to engage the core muscles more, sit closer to the edge of your seat. Try four sets of 45 seconds of taps with 15 seconds of rest.

Legs and Bum

Calf Raises: While you’re waiting for your printing, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, press up onto tip toes, pause at the top, then lower back down. Repeat for three sets of 12-15 reps, or until the printing, faxing, or scanning is done.

Glute Squeeze: Squeeze all the muscles in your bum. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and relax. Repeat until the agenda wraps up or your glutes tire. 

Seated Leg Raise: While seated, straighten one or both legs then lower the leg(s) back to the ground without letting the feet touch the floor. Hold in place for five or more seconds and repeat (alternating legs if raising them separately) for 15 reps

Leg Toner: With legs straight, cross one on top of the other. Raise them off the floor. Press top leg down and resist with bottom leg. Hold until muscles are tired. Repeat with opposite legs top and bottom.
Thigh Press: Find a sealed package of printing paper. While seated, place the stack in between the knees and press legs inward, engaging the inner thighs. Continue squeezing the paper ream in place for 30-60 seconds.

Shoulders and Arms

The Namaste: Seated upright with feet flat on the floor, bring the palms together in front of the chest and push both hands together powerfully until you feel the arm muscles contract. Hold the position for 20 seconds. Release and repeat the sequence until you feel a little more zen.

Secret Handshake: Sitting up and with feet flat on the floor, clasp hands together as if giving yourself a handshake (with one thumb pointing to the floor and the other pointing to the ceiling). Then pull! Resist the motion of both arms (you should definitely feel this in those biceps). Hold for 10 seconds or more, release, and repeat.

Biceps Curl: Move chair close to desk. Make a fist while elbow is at 90 degrees and turn hand as if you're doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Push up against the desk with fist/hand. Hold for 6-10 seconds. Repeat 6 times.

Chest, Back, and Neck

The Pencil Pinch: Roll back the shoulders until the shoulder blades are pinched together, as if you’re holding a pencil between them. Hold for as long as possible.

Shoulder Shrug: While sitting upright, grab side of the chair and as though you're trying to lift yourself. Try to lift the seat of your chair while you’re sitting on it. Hold for 6-10 seconds. Repeat 6 times.

Nape Shaper: Put your head in your hands as if exasperated by the workday (you may already be in this position), and press your palms into your forehead as if trying to push the head backward. Resist the motion by engaging the neck muscles. Next, clasp the hands behind the back of the head and try to push the head backward, resisting the motion with your hands. Hold for 5 seconds, slowly release, rest, and repeat 5 times each.


Desk Chair Swivel: Sitting upright and with the feet hovering over the floor, hold the edge of your desk with your fingers and thumb. Use the core to swivel the chair from side to side. Swish back and forth for 15 rounds.

Levitation: This one may draw some attention but is great for your core and arms. Sit in your chair with your legs crossed and your feet on the seat (wearing trousers is advised). Place your hands on the armrests, suck in your stomach and raise yourself a few inches above the seat, using your belly, muscles and hands. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five times.

Challenge your colleagues to see how many of these you can do in a day!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Female Coaches & Project 500

Back in May, Andy Murray voiced his support for equality in sport, with particular reference to wanting to see more women not only getting into sport but coaching it too. Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo in June 2014 and credits her with helping him to get back on track to win the Madrid Open. His choice to hire a female coach was met with raised eyebrows but the article rightly points out that coaching an individual is a very personal thing; there has to be a rapport as well as the skill set.

It needs to be recognised that women have the ability to be great coaches, just as men do, and that each coach should be judged on their own merit. It's not right to say that women are more "softly softly" or should only coach other women, although undoubtedly there will be a lot of women who are more comfortable with that arrangement. But Murray points out that the gender difference can be a huge benefit to the athlete/coach dynamic.

"When you get five or six men sitting at a table in a competitive environment, it's not pleasant. I've found it difficult to open up sometimes as you feel judged or that it's seen as a sign of weakness. Sometimes, when we're competing and working out, trying to be macho, it can get a bit testosterone-fuelled."

Another article about the subject points out that intentionally narrowing the pool of people considered to be hired as coaches is just bad business. Why would you narrow the pool of talent in that way? It also tackles the argument that women wouldn't be able to coach sports such as American Football because they don't have experience in playing them, but points out that this doesn't seem to stop men from coaching sports that are traditionally female-oriented such as softball (it's an American article).

Indeed this line of thinking is one that I hold myself, both in and out of a sporting environment. Do you think Usain Bolt's coach can run like he can? No. You don't need to be able to have the athletic ability in order to coach, but an understanding of the skills involved in achieving that ability and the motivational know-how. It's similar to being a project manager in that sense. You don't necessarily need to fully understand the technology involved in the project in order to deliver it.

Reports from Sports Coach UK show that only 30% of coaches in the UK are female, which is better than our friends in the USA but with ample room for improvement. Project 500 was launched back in 2013 with the aim of helping to developing, recruiting and retaining 500 female coaches across a variety of sports in the South and South East of England. It's success lead to the introduction of Project 3000, a similar scheme but nationwide.

I personally know some women who have taken advantage of this scheme, being successful in their applications and are putting their skills to good use, following a dream or an ambition. It's a great opportunity to for women to get a helping hand in becoming a coach but also for sport to benefit from a wider pool of talented coaches.

Would you prefer a female coach? Have you perhaps experienced coaching from both genders. What differences did you find?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Triathlon That Wasn't

I had intended to be able to post today about how I took part in and completed my first standard distance triathlon, in Henley on Thames. I was hoping to have some great insights to share about how a longer distance compared to the sprints I'd done before and to offer some inspirational nuggets. However, I'm able to do none of these things as I must own up to a Did Not Start or DNS as it's known.

So why didn't I take part? A few reasons. I'd come back from a week's relaxing holiday in Yorkshire on Friday so should have been well rested but I came over very dizzy and sleepy on Saturday for no apparent reason. I was horribly under prepared for the event, my training not having gone to plan and not having run much while I was away. There was walking a-plenty but nothing on the scale of what I normally do. I think there was a deal of apprehension too. I told myself that I'd covered each distance (1500m swim, 27.5km cycle, 7km run) individually so was capable, but cycling and swimming had fallen by the wayside for some weeks despite best intentions of getting to some Thames Valley Tri swim sessions, so those achievements were not recent.
A run route that proved hard to follow
Walks in Yorkshire are rewarded with fantastic views
After much discussion with myself and a third party I decided that it was ok to DNS on this occasion. Instead I still travelled to Henley on Sunday but with the purpose of joining my friend Patrick as he swam the 14.1km Bridge to Bridge event. The plan was that I would walk the route on the Thames Path while he swam and then meet at Marlow to travel back on the coach for food in Henley. So at 8:30am on Sunday morning I watched Patrick's wave of swimmers set off and I started a brisk walk along the Thames Path.
I felt like a character out of an Enid Blyton book in my shorts, t-shirt and walking boots, rucksack on my back containing a book, water, a large scone and some fruit. All that was missing was lashings of ginger beer, although I did have a half of ale later in the day. The Thames Path is extraordinarily pretty along this section of the river. There are a couple of places where it veers away from the bank across fields and deer paths but for the most part you are on the river bank. It's very well sign posted and easy to follow, plenty of places to pause, a few locks with facilities and dotted with dog walkers, runners and families on days out.

There were four checkpoints or food stations on the course for the swimmers, some where exit from the river to navigate a lock was necessary. Each looked incredibly well stocked and although I was tempted to stop I wanted the walk to be worthwhile so I didn't dally. I covered the distance in 2 hours 45 minutes and enjoyed a sit down with my book and an ice cream at the event village. A group of elderly ladies on an outing shared my bench and we shared a conversation about what was going on, me pointing out the first swimmers coming through and being very aware of how hot I'd gotten on the walk. Patrick finished his swim in good shape and we enjoyed some more lazing in the sun before wending our way back to Henley to find some food at the Angel on the river.
All in all it was a great day. I don't regret the DNS at all. I know for a fact I'd have hated it and it may well have put me off the discipline which would have been a shame, for the want of better training that I know I'm capable of. Instead I did some decent exercise within my means that was enjoyable and different. It felt like an adventure and certainly boosted my vitamin D levels! These things happen on occasion and the trick is to make the best of the situation.

Have you ever DNS'd? What was the reason and did you regret it?

Monday, 10 August 2015

On Track

When my house move made staying with my running club unfeasible I was determined to join a new club local to me. I looked online to see what my options were, found a couple and decided on one. Great! Now all I had to do was get along there...

Clubs are really handy for becoming more familiar with the local area and finding new routes but what I really find clubs most useful for is taking me get out of my comfort zone and getting me tackling hill, speed and track sessions. So far I've either had other commitments on the club track nights save for one occasion when they were doing a handicap session in the forest which was no good for me. So. I came up with a plan B. 
Credit: Runner's World
I've programmed my Garmin for some speed sessions in the past which works quite well and I will continue to do some of these on the roads, with the Garmin in the future but for some sessions, those based more on distance than time e.g. 400m or 800m repeats, it's easier to use a track than worry about routes and roads and crossings and so on.

The gyms I use don't have tracks but the one the club uses is at another near by leisure center and as long as it's not been booked out by one of the many athletics groups in the area, anyone can hand over £3.65 (non-member price) and theoretically use the track for as long as they want. The first time I went I was able to use it for free as I'd built up loyalty points from when I used to use the center years ago and I had it almost all to myself - result!
Credit: Bracknell Athletics Club
I've used the facility a few times now and really love it. I'd never used a proper track before, having run on grass tracks in school fields previously; it's a much faster surface and counting off the laps can be quite therapeutic, like a form of meditation, with the added advantage that it's easier to figure out how far you've run and to compare like for like laps than on the road over short distances. Using the track as a member of the public gives me more flexibility than running with the club, it makes me feel like a pro (just for a little while) and I do find I really put the effort in. I'd possibly do even better with the club and maybe I'll get to find out one day. But until then I'm embracing my inner athlete, donning my sunglasses and squeezing in track sessions whenever I can.

Do you use a track, either with a club or on your own? Do you find it useful? Fun? Any tips?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Not Just For Athletes : ithlete

We all know the importance of rest and recovery as part of our training schedules, right? Overtraining is a very real issue but how do you find the balance? Sometimes it's not always easy to tell when you should rest, when you could push yourself a little or when you're just being a bit lazy. I know I've been there!

There are multiple ways to record your training, whether it's a sports watch with GPS device, an app on your phone or online. But how can you tell how when to train and when to rest? Your heart rate (HR) gives a good indication of this but HR variability (HRV) is even more accurate. The HR increases as you inhale and decreases as you exhale and the difference between these is known as the HRV. If you're well-rested there will be a wider gap than if you're overtrained or stressed.

There is now a system on the market called ithlete, consisting of a HR sensor (various, from £44.99) and an app (£7.99), which allows you to measure and record your HRV, alongside other details such as muscle fatigue, sleep quality, mood and diet, to give a view of how your body is responding to the demands put upon it and how hard you should workout.
I've been trialling the system for over a month now and it has definitely had a bearing on my training. Each morning I plug the finger sensor into the headphone socket of my iPhone, launch the app and carry out the one-minute breathing exercise while my HR is read from my finger. After this I enter the other measure on a 1-10 scale including how hard my last workout was and I get a reading. If the number is green, I'll benefit from a harder workout, amber suggests I should take it a little easier and red is an indication that I really should rest. The chart shows the trend and average over time as well as your other readings so you can spot any trends or correlations.

If you want a little more meaningful data interpretation and guidance then ithlete Pro is a web-based platform that syncs with the app and Fitbits. It gives a pictorial representation of your readings, including more subtle workout zones and summarises guidance in a single sentence.

The ithlete Pro platform costs £3 a month or £30 per year but you can sign up for a free 2 week trial on the website. It's very easy to register and there's a great little tour of the platform; it took me all of two minutes to set up the account, have a look around and sync the existing data from my phone.

I've heard that there are more exciting developments in the pipe line which I may be in a position to write about in the future. For now though, I will be continuing to use ithlete to guide me in the intensity of my workouts, especially as I head into September, a heavy month of events for me.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary finger sensor by ithlete in return for a review but paid for the app myself. All opinions are my own and I genuinely found benefit from using this device and app.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Working Both Sides Up : BOSU Workout

The BOSU is an increasingly popular piece of kit for both gym and home workouts. BOSU stands for Both Sides Up and is in effect half a Swiss ball mounted on a sturdy base. This makes it infinitely easier to store but still has a multitude of uses.

As the name suggests you can use the BOSU either stood on it's hard base or balanced on the soft inflated part. Here's a set of eight exercises that will work the whole body, challenge your balance and raise the heart rate. Try 2-3 rounds of 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest on each exercise.

Toe Taps

With the BOSU on it's hard base, carefully take your start position balanced on the ball. Keeping the supporting knee soft (slightly bent), core tight and taking care with your balance, tap one toe out and to the floor. Come back to your start position and repeat with the other leg.


With the BOSU hard side up, assume a plank or press up starting position gripping the sides of the base. Jump the feet in towards your hands then, picking up the BOSU, come up to standing and raise the BOSU over head. Place the BOSU back on the floor and jump the feet back to your starting position. You can perform a press up if you wish before repeating.

Press Ups

With the BOSU hard side up, grip the sides of the base and perform a press up. Due to the added instability this will work your arms and core more than a regular press up.


There are two options for lunges using the BOSU, soft side up. Place either your front or back foot on the ball and perform a lunge as usual. If you are placing your front foot on the BOSU, you can perform alternate lunges, but if you are placing your back foot on the BOSU, perform all your reps on one leg first, before changing.

Mountain Climbers

With the BOSU hard side up, grip the sides of the base and assume a plank starting position. Keep your weight forwards, with shoulders over wrists. Engage the core muscles, keep the back flat and lift one knee up towards the elbow on the same side, return and repeat on the opposite side. Slow repeats will work the core more, while fast ones will give you more of a cardiovascular workout.

Glute Bridge

Lie on the floor with your bottom close to the BOSU which should be soft side up. Bend your knees, place your feet on the BOSU and lift your hips up. You can hold this position or pulse up and down. Keep the hips high with a straight line from knee to shoulder (unless pulsing). Rest hands on the floor palms up, to reduce the temptation to use your arms to make the move easier. To make this even harder straighten one leg and perform the move. Be sure to repeat on the other side.


With the BOSU soft side up, rest your toes on it and walk the hands out to extended plank position. Hold this, engaging the core, keeping the weight forwards and remembering to breathe!


Take up position on the BOSU soft side up, lower back pressed into the ball, knees bent and feet firmly on the floor. Contract the core muscles as you raise the head and shoulders until you feel the muscles working. This is not a sit up, so the movement should be quite small. Don't pull on the neck and keep some space between the chest and the chin.
Do you use a BOSU as part of your workout routine? What's your favourite exercise?