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You are not the only person concerned about body image.

Every person in the developed world thinks about their body image at least once a week- posititively or negatively.

I saw an advert for a beauty cream- that claimed it could remove your bodies ‘imperfections’ the other day and I was pretty angry about the message it was sending- in the eyes of big companies you will never be perfect in your own skin. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sell anything to you.

This needs to change.

If you aren’t looking at yourself in the mirror and being totally happy in your skin- then it has huge knockon effects that can have lethal consequences, all the way up to depression. Millions of women and men across the world are fed the image that they are not good enough, that only them spending their money on the latest cream gives them any right to breath in our planets oxygen.

This, of course is not true. It’s also not to say that your body is perfect, you may well be in need of curbing a certain food or losing a few pounds. But when you look at yourself, you need to see the unfinished canvas and recognise that you have every right to the body that you want. The hardest part is the thought process, one of my favourite qoutes from a coach is “The more you succeed in habit, life and competition, the more habitual success becomes. Prove to yourself repeatedley that you have the courage and ability to overcome obstacles”.

Fit shaming is also a thing…

Unfortunately shamers also target those that take great pride in their appearance- this tends to happen more amongst women. Women that are hugely keen on weightlifting and being strong often hear things like “You look like a man” or “I wouldn’t date a girl that can lift more than me”. If you’ve ever heard that then you have my support, you have the right to feel great in your own skin.  It is very easy to consider yourself inadequate, or not as good as those you see on magazine covers. It is very hard to put yourself in your own compartment. To worry about your own body and not what everyone else thinks is the hardest thing to do.

I find that it helps to spend some time alone with my head, observe the traffic of your mind. Don’t try and run through it. Get in tune with how you feel and what drives you, at the end of the day all the external factors that make up your own body image are the least important. The most important is what goes on in your head.

The more you succeed in habit, life and competition, the more habitual success becomes. Prove to yourself repeatedley that you have the courage and ability to overcome obstacles.

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Sit-ups: The truth

Risks

The risk posed from sit ups is a little different and there are two main reasons why alternatives are better than this exercise. Firstly, the ‘abdominal muscles’ of which there are a few, are predominantly designed to resist movement. The best example of this is a plank- where they are contracting to resist gravity isometrically (without lengthening or shortening). Once you can sufficiently resist movement only then should you be looking to create it.

The second, arguably more important, reason is that there are muscles that attach to the Thoraco-lumbar fascia (lower back). Every-time there is a contraction from this muscle the spine is also affected. Psoas Major (our main hip flexor) is one of these a powerful muscle that helps us to jump, run, walk etc. Excessive spinal flexion from sit ups can cause there to be too much ‘pulling’ from this muscle on the lumbar spine.

The videos below are some good examples of abdominal exercises that can be performed in the gym.

The risks of Jogging are basically that, if you are just starting exercise then you will have to do a huge amount to kick-start metabolism particularly if you are in middle age. This can cause an extreme amount of wear and tear on the lower body- none of which you will really know about until it is too late. The “ordinary” person has very limited ankle mobility, extremely limited hip mobility and just about everything else is limited too. Throw in 10,000 ‘thuds’ from the body weight, and it will start to take its toll fairly quickly. An appropriate resistance program must be in place to ensure that the joints and bones are strong enough to take the increased weight-bearing.

Sit ups and Jogging are the scourge of Physiologists and Strength coaches alike, performed over and over in Health Clubs across the country, there is he belief that Jogging (not running) is the easiest way to shift some weight and that sit ups are the easiest way for guys to become ripped, and women to “Tone up” their mid section.

The bad news is that these are not the easiest OR safest options when it comes to training- both can be carried out as part of an exercise program, but they must be accompanied by supporting work to, as I shall explain.

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The Psoas attachment to the spine

https://livewithintent.co.uk/20180724_215651-mp4/

Notice that my clients arm position in these exercises is always straight, and that hips are forward- this can achieved by contracting the Gluteus muscles and engaing the Abdonimus muscles. If any ‘pressure’ is felt in the lower back area during these exercises, then ensure that you have the right amount of contraction in the Glutes. If it persists then discontinue or ask a trainer that is present.

https://livewithintent.co.uk/20180724_215605-mp4/

Posture fix that will get rid of back pain

 

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Back pain, knee pain and headaches can all be caused by bad posture.
  2. A heavily sedentary (seated) lifestyle will cause muscle atrophy (wastage).
  3. ‘Just’ exercising sometimes isn’t enough to break negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Bad posture and back pain

Back pain and posture are intrinsically linked. Back pain can be attributed to many things. Normally the right answer to dealing with any kind of pathological pain needs a multi directional approach. In most cases though, you can alleviate pain by looking at specific places that might be causing you trouble. Let me first mention that pain relief such as deep heat and paracetamol are not solutions, they are ‘time buyers’ and may give you a few hours of respite- but ultimately you will need to combat that pain sooner or later.

So how does posture make a difference?

The spine is the strongest part of the body, mainly because it houses the Spinal chord and the central nervous system. Also because it is formed by several facets that work together to form a single unit. To effectively assess how our posture is affecting spinal health is to look at the top and the bottom- particularly when seated. The ideal position is to have the spine in a (mostly) straight line with the pelvis directly underneath and the ears in line with the shoulders at the top. Deviations from this cause muscles to be ‘short’ or ‘long’ which basically means they are changing their length to accommodate any bad posture there might be. Muscles will take the path of least resistance. Think of them as a mould. If they are subjected to a particular position, over time they will ‘set’ to that position. Sometimes painfully! Back pain in particular can be affected by the muscles of the lower back being moved and trying to compensate for a pelvis that is in a different position.

 

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Normal spinal position.
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Forward head position.

Negative effects of sitting

In the current world where most people will be sitting for the majority of the day- posture has become a huge niche for trainers and clients alike. Four or five hours of personal training in a week is fast becoming ineffective at combating the negative effects that sitting has on the body. Office workers that do manage to sneak out for an hour or during the day, or manage to go after work, are still then doing things that are reinforcing those negative effects of sitting. An example of this is a user who has a heavily sedentary career who then goes to the gym and only uses the bikes. This is beneficial on the obvious front of increasing the heart rate to encourage weight loss and blood pressure reduction, but this method of exercise will not combat the loss of strength and muscle definition that these kind of clients will suffer from.

‘Just’ exercising sometimes isn’t enough to break the cycle of negativity from being overly sedentary, you need to incorporate all aspects of physicality within your training, basically, use the whole body!

Why you should be training if you’re over 40

Many believe that that once the body ages it is best to avoid any strenuous activity, or that they are not capable of any activity beacuse of ‘age’. Ever heard of the saying “we dont stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”? This speasks volumes for th attitude that many hold, particularly in the age of sedentary lifestyles.

There is not an age that you should stop or start physcial activity- however it can become too late for us if we don’t maintain a somewhat healthy lifestyle.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1.  At any age, if you start exercising, the adaptions are huge. This is becasue the body is a machine of adaption, if there has been no ‘stimulus’ to date and you start providiong one- there will only be good results. This effect will lessen as the body gains age, but the principle still stands.
  2. Regular load bearing of any kind will dramatically reduce the occurence of osteoporosis. The national osteoporosis foundation (https://www.nof.org/) says that load bearing exercises can include anything from weightlifting to regular walking.
  3. As we know, age and sedentary lifestyles are big risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, just 30 minutes of walking a day can be said to reduce the likeliness of both. The study is here if you want to look: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439651)
  4. If you’re over 40, reversibility will start catching up with you before long if you don’t use your body. If you want to be mobile when you’re in your 60/70’s, then you need to start early. Time is health!

Food As Fuel

Aside from stopping hunger and tasting good, we sometimes forget the actual purpose of food when we eat.

Humans are a complicated mix of billions upon billions of chemical reactions all coinciding with one another simultaneously, just to complete our basic functions- let alone when training for specific events. To supply the energy needed for even day to day events takes alot of meticulous work that we take for granted.

You might have heard the phrase “empty calories” when describing junk food, alcohol etc. That simply means that your body will not gain anything from those calories, there is nothing in them to allow for repair and growth of the muscular system for example.

What we put in is equal to that which we get out. If you eat foods that provide your body with no energy or nutrients then you can expect to be lethargic and lacking motivation. The first conversation I often have with clients is what they are eating, I need to know how because ultimately, it will affect how I train them and how they subsequently recover.

Calories per gram

Not only is there a difference between the components of micronutrients and how they affect our bodies. There is also a difference in the energy factor that comes with each one:

Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. They are also the principle nutrient for energy delivery into the muscle. Advice that says carbs should be avoided for weight loss are for lazy people that don’t want to exercise. If you avoid carbs then your blood sugar levels will suffer and thus, your energy levels. Don’t factor carbs out, factor exercise in.

Fat. Fat is the taboo word in the health industry, one side will adamantly oppose the consumption of saturated fat, and another group are more open to it being included in the diet. My advice is to find the science that you agree with and follow that. But it’s important to remember that fat is also a fuel source (when it comes from good sources such as Salmon). It also contributes to protection of organs and is a vital macronutrient again, from the right source. Fat contains 9 calories per gram which is important to remember if you are a calorie counter and also means you don’t need huge amounts of it.

Lastly, Protein, this also contains 4 calories per gram. A hugely important macronutrient and one that should be a major part of anyone’s diet- regardless of whether they train or not. It is very hard to convert protein to fat, so even if you aren’t very active but considering it, it can be useful to get the bulk of your energy from this macronutrient. Protein can contribute to the accumulation of lean muscle mass, so alongside a good training program. You can see some good results!

Reversibility: Use it or lose it!

In a world of increasing reliability on technology to do things for us, like voice activation and other automatic functions in our homes, it is becoming dangerously uncommon for humans to have need of our legs. Most people that are active are active because they choose to be- rather than it being a requirement in their daily lives.

In fitness we have a principle called Reversibility- the title explains what this means. As you might’ve guessed, if you don’t use the body’s muscular system well enough through life, then it will not consider it ‘worth’ sustaining and you will lose dependibility. Most accidents that occur with elderly folks is because their sense of balance and lower body strength has not been sufficiently challenged throughout their lives. Alongside the increasing number of people that have sedentary jobs, that then come home and are further sedentary, the west is becoming increasingly lazier and it is coming at huge cost to our healthcare systems and governments.

I have a living example in my family of the principle of reversibility. My grandfather is still mobile in his mid 80’s because his hobbies were cycling and gardening, the latter of which he still does! Unfortunately he is more mobile than some people I know who are 30 or 40 years his junior. Those people may find it very difficult to be as mobile as they are now once they reach 60 or 70. This increases the risk of mental health decline and other health issues. Humans are not made to sit for extended periods of time, albeit sometimes it is necessary.

This should not be news to anyone reading this- it is probably one of the most reoccuring pieces of advice: “Get active!” even if it just walking for 10 minutes a day to start with, the benefits will start mentally. Life can be very hectic but as I’ve mentioned in one of my previous pieces- you will find time for the things that matter.