Don’t let the scales get you down

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“I don’t believe it”

Now before I start let me say that I know only too well how disheartening it can be to step on a set of scales after a day/week/month/lifetime of starving yourself and sweating your socks off at the gym to find that the arrow hasn’t gone down at all. I also know how it can feel even worse finding that after all that effort the blummin’ thing has even had the nerve to creep up slightly.

If you too have been in this position I have a little challenge for you: loose the scales. Hide them in a cupboard, pack them off to a remote island somewhere or take them to the tip. They are dragging you down.

The thing is, muscle weighs more than fat. So stepping on the scales does not reflect the changes your body is undergoing. It is of course extremely normal to want some proof that all your efforts are paying off. But instead of jumping on the scales though take measurements of your waist, hips and chest periodically. Alternatively get a personal trainer or fitness instructor to do a body fat test on you.

There is no secret to having a healthy body but here are a few hints:

  • Exercise and eat nutritious food and you will have a strong and healthy body and mind.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether you have the balance right. Deep down you probably know whether you do or not.
  • Cut back on sugar, salt, alcohol, excess fat and smoking.
  • Some fats are good and vital for your body to function so don’t eliminate them all. Not all fats are created equal.
  • “Low fat” and “reduced fat” foods are pumped full of chemicals your body isn’t designed to process. Swap them for clean foods in their purest form, organic if possible.
  • Vow to never go on a fad diet again. They are temporary solutions that generally see you depriving your body of a vital macronutrient (fat, carbs and protein) that your body needs in order to function properly. You may loose a little weight but you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll put it back on, with a little extra, once you go back to your old eating habits.
  • Give up cereal. Almost all contain some sugar and most low GI so set your body off into a serious of sugar spikes at the start of the day. The box it comes in is probably more nutritious. Swap it for the toast with nut butter, porridge, quinoa flakes or eggs.
  • Drop the fizzy drinks. There is startling evidence that shows a direct correlation between soft drink correlation and a rise in obesity and type II diabetes. The calories in them not only slip into your body undetected due to their liquid form, but they also trick your body into thinking it needs more food than it does. There’s a reason cinemas and restaurants serve such gigantic servings of the stuff.

Loosing the obsession over the scales will free your mind to be honest with itself, and will allow you to focus more on whether you truly feel better for the changes you are making. The chances are when you find what it is that really revitalises you, a stronger and healthier body will follow.

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Sights set on the London marathon?

marathonIf you watched last weekend’s London marathoners wondering if you’d ever be among their masses then read on to find out if you’re up to the 26.2-mile challenge.

Am I fit enough?

If you are currently pretty fit then by implementing a structured running schedule six months before the run you would most definitely be ready to run next April’s race. If you don’t really do any exercise at the moment then it doesn’t mean the 2016 marathon is out of your grasp, but it would be a good idea to slowly introduce some activity into your routine in order to slowly build your fitness levels up.

It is also a good idea to run some shorter distance races beforehand in order to understand what happens at races, and to learn what you like to have with you, how to pace yourself, and about how to mentally get yourself through.

What do I need?

A good pair of trainers is essential, and for running these kind of distances it’s really important that they fit well. Buy them from a specialist running shop as they will analyse your running style to find the right pair for you. Bad trainers can be responsible for injuries all over the body so buy the best pair you can afford.

How do I enter?

There is a public ballot which opens on Monday 4th May 2015, but if you don’t get a place that way then you can apply for a charity place. Check the official London Marathon website for a list of the charities offering places.

I don’t think I’m up to it but still want a fitness challenge

There are so many events you can take part in now. There are obtascle style races such as the Tough Mudder, or Rat Race, loads of different running races over different distances and terrains, some at night and some during which you get covered in paint (Colour Run and Run or Dye).

Cancer Research no longer just offers their 5k race for life. You can now take part in their 10k, Pretty Muddy®, half marathon or even marathon. Check their website to find events near you.

If wheels are more your thing then bike events are becoming more popular by the day and there are now a huge range of those to choose from too.

Help, I don’t know where to start

Whatever challenge you set yourself the key is to have a structured training schedule in place, which sees you gradually increasing your fitness. There are plenty of websites, books and magazines out there that will help you find one.

If however you would like a bespoke plan that takes your needs, schedule and energy levels into account then get in touch at laura.f.hilton@gmail.com and I’d be happy to put a training and nutrition plan together that will see you achieving your goal.

The importance of pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy

Why should I do pelvic floor exercises? I’ve heard that it needs to be relaxed during labour, not contracted. 

Pelvic floor exercises are vital for several reasons including not weeing yourself post labour(!), and are an important part of the labour preparations too. Relaxing it is important but the exercises are what enable you to control it as directed by midwives in labour, so they very are important. People also say they help prevent prolapse too and although that’s true it’s also uncommon.

I’ve heard that it’s more important to practice squats during pregnancy than pelvic floor exercises. Is that true?

There’s no denying that squats are beneficial, especially if you think you might like to give birth in that position. However pregnancy is not the time to start hitting the squat rack if you’ve never set foot near it before.

Instead maybe try squatting against a wall. Lower yourself down until your knees are at a right angle. Hold the position if you can. If not raise yourself up and down for about a min. Keep your back pressed into the wall.

What pelvic floor exercises should I do?

  1. Slowly relax and contract the pelvic floor ten times, then do the same quickly.
  2. Image your pelvic floor as a lift that goes up three “floors”. Lift it up to each floor and release back down stopping at each “floor” on the way.
  3. Contract the pelvic floor and hold it for a count of ten.

Try and do these at least three times a day. Maybe every mealtime? Or every time you stop at a red traffic light? You could also set a reminder on your phone.

How to run faster

I was recently asked how to increase your running pace, so thought I would share my answer with you here:

The secret is interval/tempo training. The basic idea is that you go beyond your aerobic threshold into your anaerobic training zone for short bursts so that in time your aerobic speed increases. In essence this means that over time the speed you could only maintain in short bursts previously, will become the pace you can keep at throughout a long run.

You can either do this as speed or hill work. With speed you would run at a steady pace for say two mins, then fast for a min, steady for two etc. You can also do what’s called as fartlek which is more random but normally someone yells at you to get you to change pace so is hard to do alone. Another good method is to use lamp posts and count a certain number for the steady pace and fast pace.

A good way to do hill work is to run up a hill as fast as poss then jog slowly back down and repeat.

If you have any training questions please feel free to email me on laura.f.hilton@gmail.com. Also get in touch if you are interested in personal training or small group training.

Snack attack

You plan your meals to ensure they’re healthy and nutrient dense but tend to reach for snacks that don’t complement that diet. Here are a few suggestions of what to snack on:

  • Rye toast with nut butter
  • A handful of nuts and/or seeds
  • Veg sticks with humus
  • Low GI Fruit
  • Yoghurt, preferably natural and organic (def not yoghurt with sugar or sweetener added to it, this includes all ‘diet’ yoghurts so avoid them too as their flavour comes from chemicals your body can’t properly digest)
  • Try to stick to low GI foods so wholemeal pasta, rice etc and bread if you eat it
  • Small pieces of cheese
  • Avocado
  • Olives

Pre workout food

  • Don’t eat too much a couple of hours before a workout
  • Protein shake as long as low in sugar or sweetener
  • Grilled chicken with mixed veg
  • Berries, a small amount of banana, natural yoghurt – I add quinoa flakes, goji berries, cinnamon, grounds flax seed and chia seeds to mine
  • Smoothie made with whatever milk and fruit you like and you can add powders like wheatgrass etc to it
  • Oatmeal with low GI fruit
  • Apple wedges with almond butter
  • Oatcakes with nut butter

Post workout snacks

  • Follow workouts with a good quality protein, especially when you’ll be working out again the following day
  • Sweet potatoes are a good pre or post workout food, pair with salmon, or some other protein
  • Veg omelet with avocado

A few tips

  • Try to avoid foods that will cause a sugar spike which include dry fruit, most cereal bars, honey, jam, wheat-based products and of course cakes, biscuits and other processed foods.
  • Where poss choose organic products.
  • Stick to the purest forms of foods. This is the basis of ‘clean eating’.
  • Lots of fruits are high in sugar which will cause a sugar spike. Bananas, apples and grapes are some of the worst culprits. The better options are berries, peaches and cantaloupe melon.
  • Avoid ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’ products. Often they are pumped full of chemicals to give them flavour, which your body isn’t very efficient at processing, which can lead to all kinds of health problems including weight gain.
  • Don’t be afraid of fat. Your body needs fat to function. Just ensure you go for pure fats including natural organic yoghurt, organic butter from grass-fed cows and when it comes to oil opt for organic coconut or hemp seed oil for cooking, and organic cold-pressed olive oil to drizzle on salads.

If you have more questions about nutrition or would like me to write you a diet plan then please email me at laura.f.hilton@gmail.com

Introducing kettle bells

Kettle bells could become your secret weapon (Copyright 2011 John Piekos)
Kettle bells could become your secret weapon (Copyright 2011 John Piekos)

One of my greatest fitness loves are kettle bell classes. They give me results I’ve never got from any other kind of workout. By doing them I’ve seen my strength and muscle tone increase, lost weight and body fat and seen a huge improvement in my stamina and general fitness.

They give you an all-over-body workout and combine cardio and resistance training, and as a result you get great results. If you’ve never tried kettle bell training, read on to find out more.

What are kettle bells? 

Kettle bells are cannon ball-shaped weights with a handle. They are generally made of cast iron or steel. They come in a wide variety of weights.

Why do they give such great results?

Kettle bell classes combine strength, flexibility and cardiovascular training. All your energy systems are going to be challenged and all your muscles are going to be working hard, in particular those in your legs, shoulders and lower back.  Your core also gets a great workout because of the need to engage it throughout the class for stability, as well as any moves which specifically target the area.

What does a class involve?

It will depend on the instructor but personally I’ve encountered two approaches. In one an instructor will demonstrate a move, the class repeats it for a minute, and so forth throughout the class. Moves will come in a fairly random order varying between big combination movements such as squats, and isolation movements such as bicep curls. The pace for all will be fast and all body areas will all be worked throughout the class.

In the other kind an instructor might take a more circuit-like approach. A set might involve three or four different moves performed a certain number of times or for a certain duration. Besides kettle bell moves these may also include some bodyweight or ab exercises such as press-ups, burpees, v-sits or planks. The set will be repeated several times before the class is moved onto another mini circuit.

I like both approaches. In the best instance a fitness centre will offer both within a week in order to give variety while still using the same powerful moves.

Where could I try a class?

Kettle bell classes are very popular now. Check out your local council gyms, private gyms or personal trainers in your area who might run classes.

Can I do this at home? 

Yes. There are plenty of DVDs available. Obviously you would need the kettle bells themselves but these too can be bought online. If you’re a beginner a 4kg will probably be good to start off with. Just remember that you need to increase your weight as you get stronger, otherwise your fitness will plateau and you won’t reap all of the potential benefits. This can mean that you have to keep buying new weights which is a downside to home kettle bell workouts vs those in a gym, where these is loads of equipment.

If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. I can’t urge you enough to try out this great workout.

Get outside

Just because summer is behind us for another year doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from getting outdoors. In fact in some ways exercising in the sun at this time of year is better for you as you aren’t subjecting your skin to such harsh UV rays.

Benefits of outdoor exercise

  • Increase your intake of vitamin D, which helps your body to absorb important minerals such as iron and calcium.
  • Reduces the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can be particularly acute in winter months.
  • Gives your lungs a burst of fresh air.
  • Makes you feel happy.

Get out every day

  • Walk when possible. Do the school run on foot so the kids get outside and some exercise too, walk to work or the shops whenever possible. If it helps invest in some good waterproof apparel so you’re not put off by the rain.
  • On lunch breaks take a stroll, if only for five minutes.
  • If you take the bus get off a stop early, or walk to the next stop along your journey after work.

Exercise outside

  • Bootcamp-style classes will run all year whatever the weather, so find one near you.
  • Run outside. With the right gear you can keep running all year round, even when it’s dark and pouring with rain. High-visibility gear, trail trainers and a head torch mean there’s no need to quit running for winter. Just make sure you’re visible and stick to well-lit areas after dark.
  • Pause regularly in your run to do some squats, star jumps or lunges to add variety.
  • Go for a long walk. There’s nothing like it on a sunny autumnal morning and if you have kids they will love collecting fallen leaves of varying colours.
  • Cycle. Again, with the right apparel, and with a mind on safety there’s no need to stop just because summer is over.
  • Swim. There are loads of wild swimming destinations in the UK that you could explore if you invest in a wetsuit.
  • Go for a buggy run. Your little one will love the fresh air and may even sleep better for it. Cycle paths are particularly good places to do this as they’re wide, flat and traffic free.

The right kit

  • Head torch
  • Wicking layers that can be removed as you warm up
  • Gloves
  • High-visibility clothing
  • Walking boots
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Good waterproof coat
  • Wetsuit

So get outside. Even if you’re only out for five minutes you will feel better.

Think Healthy Thoughts

Hello everybody and welcome to my new blog. Whether you are a regular triathlon competitor, or thinking about starting a new fitness regime, I’m hoping that this blog will inspire you.

Who am I?

I’m a mum of three who over the years has tried and tested all sorts of diets and fitness regimes. It took me a long time to realise that to make real changes I had to change my long-term outlook, not my short-term approach.

When I finally felt I had discovered the right balance I found it so inspiring that I decided to retrain to be a personal trainer, so that I could help others find the balance faster than I did, and without all the stress and low self-esteem that paved the way to finally making that discovery.

What will you find here?

Hopefully some inspirational tips and suggestions, as well as some interesting posts about various aspects of fitness and nutrition. I hope to help you all make small changes that will make a big difference to your lives.