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Each week Virginia gives us her top tip. These are quick little snippets of advice which, if followed, will make a difference to your well being. Check back regularly to see updates or, if you would like to receive these tips, accompanied by an exercise of the week, delivered by email, let us know.
2018 Top Tips
#1/2018. My top tip for this week is all about pacing yourself…after the holiday period you may have found being out of the usual routine has meant that your usual exercise and sleep patterns have changed a little … don’t panic! Start slow and keep your expectations of what you can get done each week realistic. This will mean you are more likely to stick with it over time. Try and get yourself back into a good sleeping routine over the next week or two to help set you up for the day.
#2/2018. This week my focus is on creating balance throughout your week. Take a few minutes to jot down your weekly exercise routine, and check to see if it allows a rest day here and there. Sometimes we pile up all our strength or cardio sessions in a row and then feel exhausted by the end of the week. Simply planning your week and writing it down can allow adequate recovery time and add variety to your programme week in and out, keeping it fresh and easy to achieve.
#3/2018. Take the time this week to look at the exercises you do both and home and/or at the gym/with your trainer. Are they working different muscles? Is there variety to what you do? With life being as it is and so busy, every stretch or exercise you do needs to add value. Try not to double up on exercises that work all the same muscle groups – mix it up so you work upper and lower body, core and balance. Variety is the key!
Tips from 2017
# 1. This week my focus and top tip is based around the timing of the activation of your deep core muscles. In the ideal world, your core should activate prior to any change of position, exercise or general movement. Failure in the timing of this can lead to your body “stealing” stability from elsewhere and becoming less efficient (e.g gripping through your hip flexors). Pick at least 5 things you do everyday, and try to activate or check your core is on before and during the activity – don’t forget to breathe!
# 2. This week my top tip is all about your feet. Some of you will know if you have been in my pilates classes that I occasionally go on “foot patrol”, to see the posture of your feet as you stand, sit, or lie. Ideally we like to see the feet sitting underneath the knee, and hips in good line. Watch for one turning out to the side, or taking more of your weight. Remember, your feet are highly sensitive and take on a lot of load when when walk – so don’t forget to look after them!
# 3. This week my top tip relates to how we breathe. Often we can get caught up with taking short and shallow breaths from the upper part of the chest, which can tighten up the muscles of the neck and shoulder, but also means that we aren’t getting the most out of each breath. Diaphragmatic breathing encourages a full deep breath, relaxes the muscles around the shoulders and means we can optimise the uptake of oxygen.
Try placing your hands around the base and sides of the ribs as you breathe, feel the ribcage expansion as you inhale, and soften as you exhale.
# 4. My top tip for this week relates to sitting posture. If your day involves a lot of sitting, try to ensure good posture by keeping your feet flat on the ground and your lower back against the back of your chair. Ideally you should directly face your monitor (if you are working at the computer), without any rotation through the spine. Shoulders should feel relaxed from the ears and chin gently tucked in. If you can, try to change your posture regularly through the day from sitting, to standing, walking etc.
# 5. My top tip for the week is all about how we look after our spine.
The spine is a machine which is designed to move, and remains strong and flexible by staying active. By moving around, or even just a subtle tweak to your posture through the day, you allow the spine to manage the loads placed on it.
# 6. My top tip for this week relates to relaxing the muscles around your face and jaw. Sometimes, without realising, we tend to clench our teeth and tighten the jaw. This can sometimes lead to pain referring into the neck and face, or even a headache. Through the day try to open and close the jaw and allow it to remain relaxed as you work. You may be surprised at how tight it has been!
#7. My Top Tip this week relates to your lower back. This is one of the most commonly strained areas of the body, so needs to have some attention! Maintaining good flexibility around the lower back, hips and thighs, along with a regular strength and cardio programme can make a real difference to spinal health. Variation in what you do is also important, so try to mix it up every 6-8 weeks to keep your body strong and your mind motivated!
#8. This week my focus returns to maintaining your neutral spine throughout the course of the day…we are all built with different spinal curves, so it’s helpful to be aware of where your neutral position is. Try tilting your pelvis forward and back several times to find a comfortable middle ground. This should reduce pressure building up through your back with day to day posture & hopefully improve your awareness of your body position.
#9. This week my focus is all about your balance. Sometimes we can become reliant on one side of the body more than the other, and naturally become much stronger on this side. When you can, try and balance on 1 leg and see how steady you are compared to the other. Try and aim for at least 10 seconds each side. If you are a little unsteady, make sure you are near a wall or something solid for support. If you find one side isn’t as good, work away on this as you can to help restore similarity.
#10. This week my focus is all about your balance. Sometimes we can become reliant on one side of the body more than the other, and naturally become much stronger on this side. When you can, try and balance on 1 leg and see how steady you are compared to the other. Try and aim for at least 10 seconds each side. If you are a little unsteady, make sure you are near a wall or something solid for support. If you find one side isn’t as good, work away on this as you can to help restore similarity.
#11. My Top Tip for this week relates to your feet, and more specifically, the small internal muscles that lie within them. Like any other muscle group, the internal muscles of the feet can get tired and weak, and can be strengthened to help offload the joints of the foot and ankle. My favourite exercise for this I call “The toe grippers”. Take a small towel, place it under your foot and start to grip it as if you are trying to pick it up. Repeat this on and off for 30-45 seconds, 1-2 times per day.
#12. My Top Tip for this week relates to your hands. Similarly to your feet, your hands work a lot through the day and the small muscles within them, (along with the larger ones of the forearm), can get very tight and tired. Give your hands some love by stretching out the arms every hour or so at work…this may simply be stretching the fingers out or extending the forearm and drawing the palm up or down.
#13. My Top Tip this week is all about keeping active. Don’t underestimate the impact of going for a brisk walk, getting in the pool or even doing a home based programme with small weights. With the seasons changing and the nights creeping in earlier it may be more tempting to head straight home after work, so try to mix up your routine and try something new!
#14. This week my focus is on looking after your neck whilst at work, especially if you sit or stand a lot through your day. Try to keep your chin tucked in just a little, and if working on a computer ensure the screen is set at the right level, just so you aren’t looking down or twisting the neck to see it. Every so often stretch the neck side to side and reset your posture.
#15. My Top tip for the week relates to the Thoracic (middle) spine. This part of the spine is often the area we lean forward and hunch from when sitting, typing and even texting! As it supports the rib cage and has an important role in our posture, it is important to keep it mobile and strong. Simple movements such as rotating the trunk as you sit, or a cat stretch on hands and knees, can keep it from stiffening up. Lifting the chest bone up slightly in sitting, along with broadening the collarbones, can be easy ways of encouraging a little more extension and length of the spine…
#16. This week my focus is on the ribcage. Ideally, when we breathe, there should be a slight emphasis on getting your breath to the base and the side of the ribcage. This is called “lateral breathing”, and encourages the diaphragm to be part of the process. You can feel this happening if you gently rest your hands on the base of the ribs as you inhale. Whether you are sitting, standing, or simply lying down, test this out and you should feel the rise and fall of the chest wall. This can help also to activate your deep abdominals, assist in relaxation of the body and also help direct stress away from your shoulders.
#17. My top tip for this week relates to how much we rest and sleep. With life being as busy as it is, it is important to allocate sufficient downtime, and get to bed early where possible, to allow our bodies to slow down and recharge. Your body is busy as you sleep repairing itself and preparing you for the day ahead…so reward yourself by getting your 6-8 hours as often as possible!
#18. This week my focus turns towards planning your exercise for the winter months. As the seasons change, the days get shorter and more chilly, it can be harder to go for the morning or evening walk or run. Have a few alternative options if the weather is against you that you can do inside no matter what. Maybe try your hand at swimming, the local indoor tennis centre, or even a touch of Pilates to see you through!
# 19. My Top Tip for this week relates to those people who stand a lot through the day. With the option in many workplaces now of the sit- stand desk, more of us are spending time on our feet, which is great. If you are on your feet more through the day, keep an eye on your posture and every so often check that you haven’t started to stoop or lean too heavily on one side. Small, subtle corrections and movements through your day can make a world of difference!
#20. As winter is now upon us, try to make sure you still get out at some stage through the day to get your dose of fresh air and Vitamin D. It can make such a difference to your day just to get outside and get the legs moving, energising you for the rest of the day. Alternatively, wrap up warm and hop off the bus or train a stop early and get a few extra steps in on your way home….it all adds up!
#21. This week, my focus is on how we hold up the weight of our head through the day. Every morning on the bus, I look around and sure enough the majority of commuters have the head down, scrolling along their texts, reading the news or checking out Instagram posts they may have missed overnight. Although this definitely makes the trip go faster, it certainly doesn’t help the pressure around the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Where possible, try and take a quick break from your phone and take the time to stretch out your body. Think about lengthening up through the spine, rolling the shoulders and nodding the head side to side.
#22. This week my focus returns to the lower back, and in particular, keeping it strong and mobile. Every time you exercise, whether it be a game of golf, a session at the gym, or a walk around the park, try to spend a few minutes warming up the back. This may be a simple cat stretch on all fours, a standing rotation of the trunk or lying on your back hugging knees to chest. Think of it as a method of ‘paying it forward’ to your spine!
#23. This week my focus is on the Hamstrings, which are the big muscles on the back of the thigh. If we spend a lot of the day sitting, (or if you run or cycle a fair bit), this can put the Hamstrings in a shortened position, which can mean they may start to tighten up. While seated through the day, try extending the leg out and gently drawing your toes towards you. You can circle the ankle too. Have a go at this through your day to keep those legs happy!
#24. This week, my focus is on our posture as we travel to and from work. Whether you use public transport, drive or walk, try to keep your spine from slumping forward and your shoulders relaxed and open. Try to keep the feet aligned under the hips & knees, and your gaze up. Even if you are only travelling for short periods of time, bad travel posture can add up over the course of time and may factor in to aches and pains. Happy Travels!
#25. Aches and pains in the neck and shoulder region are common complaints we see in the clinic. My tip for this week relates again to this area, specifically stretching you can do at the desk. Have a go at the exercise for the week, and try to get into a routine of doing it several times a day if you can. Little things built into your day can make all the difference!
#26. Over the next few weeks I have prepared a few videos of some of our favourite exercises using the foam roller – it is a great piece of kit used to help activate the deep abdominals, and compare stability of one side versus the other. I really like the idea of subtle stability and balance, versus heavy abdominal loading all time. If you have access to a roller, have a go at these and feel the difference between these exercises and performing a plank or ab curl. I think you will still find it a challenge, and will bring your awareness more to the deeper layer of abdominal muscle.
#27. As winter continues into it’s final month, it can become hard to maintain a regular fitness routine. Having several exercises or stretches to run through at home can help to see you through until spring arrives. Have a go at my roller exercises and challenge your stability – the key is consistency and before you know it you will have mastered it!
#28. This week we continue with our foam roller exercises. I have shown several examples of ‘rolling out’, which you may have seen from your Physio or Pilates instructor before. These techniques can help release pressure points within muscle or help to release tension in the spine on a regular basis. These can also be done with a shorter roller if need be too.
#29. As Spring is rapidly approaching it is a great time to start a fresh and begin a new exercise programme. Start easy, and slowly build up either your intensity, duration or frequency, mindful that you progress sensibly each week. Increasing too many of these factors at once can sometimes lead to injury. If you are not sure where to start, pop in and chat to one of the team here to help get you safely underway.
#30. This week, my focus comes back to your feet. Hugely sensitive, our feet take on repetitive stress as we walk and move everyday. Give your feet some love at the end of the day by gently massaging them or using a tennis ball to roll through the arch. Stretching the calves, circling the ankles and wearing supportive shoes can also help.
#31. My Top tip for this week relates to your wrists and forearms. To keep this area from tightening up through the day, try stretching out by straightening the arm out in front of you and moving the hand up and down. Circle the wrists a couple of times as well to keep it comfortable, especially if your day involves typing or manual handling.
#32. This week my focus relates to keeping your hip flexors, (the muscle group at the front of the hip), flexible and free of tension. This can definitely occur with prolonged periods of sitting, cycling, running and many other exercises.
To stretch these out, pop down onto bended knee and place the other foot forward, hips & knees at 90 degrees. Allow the trunk to straighten up, engage your deep core and breathe evenly for 15-20 seconds, 3 repeats each side.
#33. My Top Tip this week relates to relieving stress around the neck and shoulders whilst you are at work. Very commonly, as we get busy and focused in work, our shoulders can ‘creep’ up towards the ears, creating muscle tension around the area. Every so often, check in with your posture and allow the shoulders to gently soften from the ears, the collarbones to broaden out, and your chest bone to lift a little.
#34. This week I encourage all of you to get outdoors and start building up your steps. With the approach of daylight savings this weekend the days will get a little longer & there is much more opportunity to get your steps up and get moving. There is a lot of support in the literature for just keeping the body moving, no matter which exercise you choose.
#35. My Top Tip this week relates to driving postures. When you are behind the wheel, try to relax your shoulders and have your seat adjusted to allow your back to be supported. Try to remain in a neutral spine position, especially if you are in the car for a long period of time. Keep reminding yourself to align the head and neck position also, watching that you don’t end up too slumped.
#36. This week I am keeping the focus on the simple breath. Of course, we all breathe through the day without even thinking, but when it comes down to it, there is actually an art to breathing efficiently. Take a few minutes every so often to take note of your breathing. Is it shallow? Fast? Are you holding it when you are doing a harder task? To assist your deep abdominal and pelvic floor contraction, it is helpful to breath in a 3-dimensional manner. By this, I mean if you place your hands on the sides and back of the ribcage, you should feel a gentle rise and fall with your breath. If you do, you are on the right track!
Practice this approach every now and then, especially if you are struggling to get to sleep at night. It can aid relaxation, and offload stress around the neck & shoulders.
#37. My Top Tip for this week relates to your Hamstrings, which are the big muscles at the back of your thigh. In a sitting posture, the Hamstrings are in a shortened position and don’t get much time to lengthen out. Through your day, (especially for more sedentary roles), try to extend the leg out and paddle the foot a little under your desk. This will not only actively stretch out the Hamstring, but also get some blood flow though the muscles and joints of the lower body.
#38. My top tip this week relates to posture as you sit on your sofa at home. If you have a low seated couch, try to be aware of how you sit, and whether you are twisting through the spine as you relax. Ideally you can still recline and get your feet up, but remain fairly neutral. Take a note if you are twisted and/or straining your neck. If so, use a few pillows or realign your body so you feel more supported.
#39. This week, my main focus is on the movement through the spine. More often than not, we spend the day slightly flexed, or potentially slumped forward through the body. As you can, try to lift and lengthen through the body as you sit, stand or walk to add a little extension into the day. Sometimes it is as simple as reaching your arms back up overhead on your chair and tilting the pelvis forward slightly. Add in a few gentle rotations and already your back should feel slightly better and energised.
#40. This week I would like to bring your focus towards your gaze. More often than not, our gaze drifts downwards to read or text, and then you find your head, shoulders and upper back follow. Where possible, keep the gaze fairly level. This may mean adjusting your screen height, or modifying slightly how you read and use your phone. I also notice that during exercise, people tend to watch their feet and leg position. If you can, lift the gaze slightly and allow the head and shoulders to sit in a more neutral posture. This should help offload these areas from building stress.
#41. As the end of the year approaches, it is important to plan your week so you can still fit in your daily routine of exercise. It may mean getting up slightly earlier, walking instead of taking the bus, or simply doing a few extra stretches at home before bed.
Consistency is the key, so plan ahead and keep on top of your fitness and rehab goals.
#42. This week my focus is on the balance between weight on one side of the body versus the other. As you stand, try to distribute load evenly between your left and right, so as not to overload one side more. You may notice that you tend to lean more on one leg, or sit with one leg crossed over the other. If you can, try to set this back to 50:50 loading each side.
#43. My focus this week relates to creating balance through your working day. Where possible, attempt to get up and walk around every 45 minutes to break up the day. Tackle the stairs instead of the lift, and if you have to sit for a longer period of time, at least roll the shoulders or walk the feet out. If you stand a lot, try to incorporate some sitting or at least a foot stool to rest on, alternating legs every so often.
For the next few weeks, I am showing several of my favourite studio exercises we use in the group classes, with the first few looking at stability required for walking, running, and various sports. These are definitely a good challenge
#44. My Top Tip for this week relates back to your breathing. To optimise your breathing and oxygen exchange, try to inhale to the base, the sides, and the back of the ribcage. As well as taking in more air, this also helps to connect with your core muscles which support your spine and pelvis. Placing your hands around the ribs and feeling for the chest expansion can help. You may find it also quite a relaxing technique if you are feeling stressed in the day.
See you in the studio,
Virginia & the Pilates team