Month: June 2017

Abs Untangled: How to get a six-pack vs how to get core strength. Ab myths debunked.

Abs Untangled: How to get a six-pack vs how to get core strength. Ab myths debunked.

There are so many myths and misconceptions in the world of fitness and I would hazard a guess that a good 90% of these revolve around the core and abdominal muscles.

If you’re following the Fit Bride Bootcamp series, you’ll know that this month I had a special request from Staci for this month to be ‘abs month’. I was more than happy to oblige. Not only are abs one of my favourite muscle groups to train, we’re also really getting into summer holiday season now! With crop tops and bikinis all over the place, Staci isn’t the only one of my clients who has been wanting a big focus on the troublesome tummy area!

The thing is, words like “core” and “abs” are thrown about all over the place, often incorrectly. It’s no surprise that people often end up disappointed and frustrated when they don’t achieve the core strength and/or ripped six-pack that they desire.

So I thought I’d set a few things straight.

Abs Untangled: Six Packs vs Core strength and other ab myths debunked

The Six Pack

What is commonly referred to as the six-pack is actually just the one muscle- the rectus abdominis.

It runs vertically down the torso and is superficial – on the outside of the other muscles. This is why, when the muscle is built up and the body fat percentage is low enough, it can be seen visibly.

You can do all the crunches in the world but without some cardio or high intensity weight training (and a consistently good diet), you can say goodbye to that definition! You just can’t expect the six pack to show if you’re carrying too much excess body fat. No matter how strong your abdominals are (more on that later).

Everyone has a six pack, but they come in all shapes and sizes. Genetics plays a huge role in the shape and size of your muscles. Some people have larger upper abs. For others, it’s the lower ones. Some people are symmetrical. Others are not. You’ll never have exactly the same abdominal structure as someone else. So stop focusing on the pictures of fitness models and focus on YOU.

The Abs

As well as the rectus abdominis, there are three more muscles that make up the abdominal group. These are the internal and external obliques, located around the sides of the abdomen, and the transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis (TVA) is underneath all the other abdominal muscles and goes around the spine for protection.

The Obliques

If you want well rounded definition, you’ll want to work on your external obliques. Exercises such as side raises and cable woodchops are brilliant ways of targeting this area to achieve the “side lines” that enhance the overall look of the abdominal area.

Both the internal and external obliques are crucial muscles for stabilization. More important than the rectus abdominis  (which is actually a pretty inefficient muscle). It’s for this reason that someone could have a six pack, but if their obliques are weak then they won’t have that essential stability for compound movements such as squats or overhead presses.

The TVA

The transverse abdominis is the other muscle that is key to strength and stability- this time of the pelvis and the lower back.

It’s the muscle that you feel when you think about “drawing in the belly button”. The ability to correctly activate the TVA is key to postural stability. That feeling of drawing the belly button towards the spine is otherwise known as stomach compressions, which are often used as activation for this muscle.

The plank is often used as a strengthening exercise for the transverse abdominis because it forces the stomach compressions to work against gravity – a more challenging feat than when lying on the back or sitting upright!

Abs Untangled: Six Packs vs Core strength and other ab myths debunked

The Core

Muscles work together. You can get good definition by working one muscle in isolation but that doesn’t lead to overall core strength.

Other muscles in the body also contribute to the ‘core’ – which is a bit of an overused and very vague term. For example, the hip flexors, the glutes and the back muscles are also key to strength and stability.

A strong group core muscles helps to protect the skeleton, the spine in particular. By default, a strong core prevents injury during both exercise and everyday life.

It’ll also improve your ability to workout to your full potential. You’ll have the stable foundation required to perform the majority of exercises with correct technique.

Abs Untangled: Six Packs vs Core strength and other ab myths debunked

The Fit Bride Bootcamp Abs & Core Workout Explained

Activation

You’d warm up for any other workout, so why not the abs? I like to do a few walkouts (from standing into plank and back) just to prepare my body and get a bit warmer. It’s also useful to lie on your back and just get that feeling of pressing the belly button towards the spine. Practising these stomach compressions just helps to switch on the mind-muscle connection to the TVA.

Stability

I love to work on stability. If anything because the exercises tend to be challenging but fun! I do a lot of work on Swiss balls. They serve as an unstable surface to force your stabiliser muscles to kick in! Equipment such as bosu balls and TRX also serve this purpose. For the Fit Bride Bootcamp, I used a combination of stabiliser exercises for the abs (Swiss ball crunches), back (Swiss ball back extensions) and the glutes/legs (Swiss ball glutes bridges).

Burnout

These are the killers for the lower portion of the rectus abdominis and the hip flexors. Hanging leg raises, scissor kicks and plank jacks make a great combination. None of them involve crunches or sit ups and they all leave a super satisfying burn. In the plank jacks, be sure not to stick the bum in the air and support the lower spine by switching on that TVA!

Finisher

Every workout needs something that’ll just finish you off. Working muscles to fatigue is necessary to get that pump and make the muscles grow. Weighted get-ups add a challenge for the rectus abdominis, while Russian twists will tire out the obliques. I like to finish with a static exercise – such as a v sit hold- just to make sure I’m completely done!

You can do a million and one sit ups every night and sure you might feel like it keeps you relatively ‘toned’. But if won’t give you a six pack or encourage weight loss. You need variety, different angles and different styles of training. You need a good amount of attention to all the muscles in the ‘core’ group. Most important of all you need motivation and hard work!

 

Make sure to head on over to LnL to see the full Abs & Core workout video and to read Staci’s commentary from Month 5!

 

Abs Untangled: Six Packs vs Core strength and other ab myths debunked

Stretching in the Sky: My Introduction To Yoga.

Stretching in the Sky: My Introduction To Yoga.

When it comes to appointments, sessions, classes, clients and even social events, I’m a very on time person. In my mind “on time” has a sub-clause which is “with five-ten minutes to spare”. Even being one minute late triggers quite a lot of irrational anxiety that is disproportionate the situation. It just stresses me out.

Bizarrely, however, when it comes to crazes and trends I’m very late off the mark. Constantly. Whether it’s an actual fashion trend, and up-and-coming musician, or a fancy new place to go in town, I always seem to have a little bit of a delay compared to other people.

It took me aaaaages to clamber myself up onto the Instagram bandwagon. And don’t even get me started on high-waisted jeans. I would say that it’s because I “don’t follow the crowds” and because I want to make sure I invest in things that are worth my time…the truth is that I’m just a bit oblivious.

Yoga is a brilliant example.

You may have read in my update post from all the way back in March that one of my goals was to try out a yoga class- for the very first time. People are often really surprised when they find out that (up until last week) I’d never done a Yoga class. I’m a personal trainer, an ex-dancer, I have a reasonably good balance between strength and flexibility. A lot of my sessions with clients focus on loosening tight hips and increasing flexibility. In principle, Yoga is right down my street. Which I have always known on some level. But, in typical Roslyn fashion, I just didn’t really think about it properly.

Not until recently anyway. One of the things I love most about being a PT is learning about and exploring different styles of training. Not to mention that my dancer-flexibility is very slowly being monopolised by my increasing strength!

The thing that’s put me off until this point is some of the “yogi stereotypes”. I’m a very down to earth person, often overly analytical. So some of the things that I believed to be associated with yoga- lots of nature imagery and spirituality- well…weren’t exactly my cup of tea.

But coming into the fitness industry and getting to know a whole load of people who either practise or instruct yoga, I became a bit more educated. I realised how broad the term “Yoga” is and began to look more into the many different and varied branches that it offers. I accepted the fact that there is probably a branch out there that suits me and adopted a “don’t know until you try” mentality.

Quite by chance (or so I thought- I later realised that it was because of International Yoga Day on June 21st) suddenly loads of opportunities presented themselves for me to finally get my ass in gear.

One of which was a 6.30am sunrise yoga class on the 35th floor of Sky Garden- London’s walkie talkie building.

I may always be late to trends. But when I do finally get there I go all out!

Stretching in the Sky: My Introduction to Yoga

Sunrise Yoga at Sky Garden, London

The Location

I didn’t intend to be simultaneously writing a review of Sky garden itself when I’m supposed to be focusing on the whole yoga thing. The thing is that when you’re in such an iconic location in a beautiful building and with panoramic views of London’s cityscape…

Well, how could I not?

It’s a beautiful place with a really calming atmosphere and the views speak for themselves. It’s a gorgeous place to watch the sunrise over London, yoga class or no.

Luckily it really added to the whole ‘yoga-debut’ experience. Before the class even started I felt removed from the hustle and bustle from the city below and far away from my daily tasks and routines.

Stretching in the Sky: My Introduction to Yoga

The Teacher

The class itself was taken by the wonderful Ro (@yoga_ro). She was calm and knowledgeable and took everything in her stride. As a teacher myself I know how difficult it can be to run a busy class when there’s a huge range of abilities. She handled this perfectly – everything was well explained and clear enough even for my own novice self- but I did notice that she gave adaptations wherever necessary and progressions for the more advanced pupils. She also has a great voice. Like an actor. Not even the slightest hiccup broke the flow.

The Practice

The practice itself I also thoroughly enjoyed. It was great to devote a whole hour to my body in a way that wasn’t putting it under a large amount of stress- like my normal training does. I love stretching, and actually having a large chunk of time stretch properly felt like a brilliant privilege.

The more dynamic and flowy bits were my favourite (sorry any yogi readers here for my appalling language…). I found myself best able to focus when one thing would move almost straight into the next and you literally barely had the time to focus on anything but your body and your breath.

In the interest of full disclosure, I felt myself losing concentration when Ro went into detail on the nature imagery (mountains and trees). I get that it can be extraordinarily helpful for other people. Just not me. I weirdly think I’d find it more calming to think about the scientific aspects of breath…the heart and the lungs and the blood circulating oxygen to the muscles, rather than thinking of emptying my vessel of negative energy.

I realise it’s essentially the same thing. It’s just the way I think.

Summary

All in all, yes, I’m going to try out a couple more yoga classes. I think it would be an incredibly beneficial thing to add to my routine to supplement a lot of high intensity strength training. I’m going to experiment with different styles and see if I can find one that’s fast paced enough to stop my hyper-analytical mind from overacting.
Am I a yogi yet? Well, no. But I’m always late to these things so maybe ask again in a few months’ time.

Keen for recommendations – what’s your favourite style of yoga and why?

Stretching in the Sky: My Introduction to Yoga

Scoliosis Awareness Day: #gotyourback17

Scoliosis Awareness Day: #gotyourback17

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot more videos lately.

Partly because I decided that I needed to get my act together and liven up my/FlexFit’s social media profiles.

But you may have also noticed that the videos recently have all followed a particular theme- backs. Back strength, exercises for back muscles and, more specifically, spinal health.

This is because the last Saturday in June- so, tomorrow (!)- is Scoliosis Awareness Day and I’ve been doing my best to help raise awareness of what’s actually a very common, just very unpublicised disorder.

I wrote a whole bunch of posts in honour of Scoliosis Awareness Day last year. From my own experience dealing with the condition, to some helpful accessory exercises to help with posture. You can also find out in more detail what on earth Scoliosis even is in my Straighten Out the Facts post.

I don’t really want to repeat myself too much.

I guess I just continue to be shocked by the amount of people that crop up who have experience dealing with spinal conditions such as Scoli, but who also feel completely isolated because of how little information there is out there on what it is and how to deal with it.

Just the other day I saw a complete stranger with a scar that matches mine. All the way down the length of her spine. A few weeks before an old friend reached out to me. She’s about to go through the same surgery and boy, is it a scary feeling.

The big difference between this year and last year is that this year I’m actually fully fledged in the Fitness Industry and therefore in a position where I have a lot more knowledge and experience about the anatomy of the body and how it works.

As a PT I spend much of my time researching different theories, training methods and exercises. It’s no surprise that I often find myself leaning towards anything to do with rehabilitation, postural analysis and spinal health. A lot of clients come to me because they know from my online bios that I place a strong focus on technique and correcting imbalances in the body, due to my own experiences. One of my clients has scoliosis. I have a few with musculoskeletal issues in the lumbar spine. Several just carry a lot of tension, and complain of aches and niggles that are often related to poor posture.

It’s helping clients such as these that give just the best feeling of job satisfaction. Ever. I’m not saying I fix their conditions in the slightest. But even if I’m able to provide the tiniest bit pain relief, or show them a variation on an exercise that until now they haven’t been able to do because they have a condition that’s holding them back. Well, that’s rewarding enough.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I think that one of the things that would have helped tremendously in the months post-surgery is having someone who knows what I know now to help me through it.  Unfortunately it wasn’t until I met Tom (a good 5 years later or so) that I met someone who was both able and also selflessly willing to teach my how to strengthen my back. I’m finally now at a stage where I can (very proudly) say that my back is STRONG. Not just average. Not just strong “considering what you’ve been through”. Just strong.

And I will do my very best to help anybody who is now going through the same thing I did.

Scoliosis Awareness #gotyourback17

Scoliosis Awareness Day 2017

This year Scoliosis Awareness Day is taking place on Saturday 24th June. So shout out, spread the love and share this post (somewhere) with the hashtag #gotyourback17 . If you’re super keen and would like to either donate or get involved, go to www.sauk.org.uk .

Chances are you have a friend, a friend of a friend, or even a friend of a friend of a friend who’s dealing with scoliosis. I can’t emphasise enough how helpful it is for those people to have someone who knows what the hell it is.

If you have any questions, or if you are have scoliosis and would like to chat, please email me. By all means, I love a good gossip about spines.