. . . self-myofascial release aka FOAM ROLLING ! ! ! 

You may of heard of it, you may have seen one in the corner of the gym and you may of even used one…but do you know all the benefits and exactly what Foam Rolling is doing for your body?  If I’m being honest I don’t stretch or foam roll anywhere near as often as I should, I tend to go in phases or realising how fantastic I feel afterwards so religiously stretch and roll for a week or two, then when I’m in a hurry skip it and don’t reintroduce it back into my routine until my body feels tight and needs some extra mobilising!

As the name suggests, self-myofascial release does exactly that, helps to release or loosen the fibrous layer or sheath of connective tissue called the fascia.  If the fascia is not stretched properly it can become almost cross linked, binding to the muscles and nerves, restricting normal motion and ultimately causing pain.  The best analogy I can use, without getting to technical, is to imagine your muscle fibre and fascia as two bungee cords tied together.  Stretching after working out with help to lengthen the cords but will do nothing to release the knot.  Foam rolling the area will help to break down the knot meaning the cords can be stretched fully.  It is the same, or similar result as having a connective tissue massage or soft tissue release massage (although I’m sure sports massage therapists would argue their corner!)

The benefits of foam rolling do not just stop at helping to increase range of motion of a muscle.  The rolling action actively promotes blood flow to the area, increasing the delivery of oxygen.  This in itself has numerous benefits, post workout it helps to flush toxins out of the muscle AND delivers fresh blood, carrying nutrients and oxygen to immediately begin the recovery process.  Pre workout by promoting blood flow and therefore oxygen delivery, lots of new research suggests muscles are then able to perform better throughout your workout, giving better overall results from the training session.  There is an increasing number of experts who believe the benefits of foam rolling pre workout far outweigh the advantages gained post workout, but they are unanimous that foam rolling at any stage of your workout is advantageous to your body.

A combination of lengthening and stretching the muscle paired with increased oxygen delivery result in faster recovery time for athletes and reduced risk of injury.  Foam rolling is also a great way to target specific muscles or individual problem areas as it’s self controlled, so one athlete might suffer from tight hamstrings whereas another may have problematic lower back or hip tightness.  As foam rolling can literally target any muscle, you are able to focus on the specific areas you need to, quickly and easily.

Last and by no means least, they are cheap and can be used anywhere!  Having a very quick internet search, I found a trigger point foam roller for £6.79, so really there is no excuse not to incorporate this simple yet effective method of self massage into your workouts or better still, daily routine.  I know I’m going to make the effort…

foam roll4
Hamstring Roll
foam roll3
Quadriceps Roll
foam roll2
Quadriceps Roll
foam roll
Quadriceps Roll

. . . post holiday full body blast !

After a two week trip to Florida, where I only managed to squeeze in ONE workout (other than daily swimming!) my body is in desperate need of an all over, full throttle, super charged workout.  There’s no doubt that the vacay did me the world of good, but I have definitely lost some muscle definition and feel more lethargic.

When planning my session I like to use supersets (please see my ‘SETS, SETS AND SUPERSETS’ post for a description) to fully challenge myself and to ensure I ‘feel the burn’.  Today’s full body workout consisted of an abdominal section, shoulder and back exercises, a series of lunges and a newly introduced move to work just about every muscle in my body! I’m not even sure if it has an official name yet so lets just call it ‘the killer’….I think you get the jist.

Ab exercises with a 5kg medicine ball:

12 x Russian Twist (make sure you stay leaning back as the tendency is to raise your body higher as you get tired)

12 x Straight Arm Crunches

12 x Reverse Crunch (holding ball)

 

Shoulder and Back superset with 7kg Dumbbells:

10 x Reverse Fly (squeeze at the top for an extra second before lowering!)

10 x Straight arm front raise

10 x Straight arm lateral raise

(Engage your core throughout all three exercises and avoid any swinging action, slow and controlled lift and lower)

 

I added a superset of lunges: (just body weight)

15 x Curtsey Lunge

15 x Alternate leg forward lunge

15 x Alternate leg reverse lunge

…and finished with this move aka ‘the killer’ using the cable machine: (3 sets of 10 repetitions)

cablemachine

I only added one plate on each side which I think is 1.25kg, (as I’ve never used the lightest weight before!!)  It’s basically a low squat and while rising to standing you perform a high fly.  I hope you can see when holding the cables you start holding the opposite side, so left hand holds the right cable and vice versa!  You must also ensure you are standing far enough back from the machine so throughout the squat the weight plates don’t touch back down on the stack, providing resistance for the entire movement.  I did try to perform one set with 2.5kg resistance but after the rest of my workout my shoulders wouldn’t fully open out…and I firmly believe it’s better to perform every exercise using your complete range of motion and correct technique at a lighter weight than half the action with a heavier weight! Plus it gives me more motivation to improve next time!

Please let me know if this exercise has a name and give me some feedback once you’ve tried it…good luck.

. . . T Bar Squats ! ! ! 

I’m always in the gym working out and realised I never share my workouts with you!  So starting today I’m going to rectify that! 

In the pre-holiday, pre-summer body build up I like to focus a lot of my workouts on my lower body and the bigger muscles groups to maximise the overall calories I burn.  

Today’s warm up was 15 minutes of LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio on a Watt Bike.  I set the resistance dial to 6, so I feel like I’m working but not exhausting my muscles, and I aim to keep the revolutions between 75-85 for the full 15 minutes! 

The focus of my main workout was squats, where I like to vary different types to ensure I’m regularly engaging all the muscles in my Glute group (Gluteus Maximus, the largest muscle in the group, Gluteus Medius, in my best attempt to describe its position, it basically sits across the top of your bottom and Gluteus Minimus, the deepest muscle within the three!)  Today I opted for Supersets (two exercises performed simultaneously) to give myself an extra challenge:

35kg T Bar Hack Squats x 12 

6kg (each hand) Reverse Fly’s x 10

  
No recovery between each exercise, 30 seconds recovery between each set, 5 sets! 

Followed by:

25kg T Bar Front Squat x 12

15kg Upright Row x 10

  
Again, no recovery directly between each exercise, 30 seconds recovery between each set, repeat for 5 sets!!! 

Top tips – When squatting ensure you have good form, and try to go as low as you can to work through your full range of motion.  With the back exercises I always try to hold the weights at the top of my range for a second before slowly lowering.  It helps me to focus on a controlled motion without swinging the weights when I become tired!!  Plus don’t forget to stretch after working out! 

I hope my workout will help give you some ideas or even a little extra motivation…now go and get squatting girls and guys!!! 

. . . SW19 ready ! ? ! 

It’s seven weeks until the start of this year’s Wimbledon Championship.  The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club will experience over 500,000 visitors from the 27th June through to the Men’s final on Sunday 10th July. 

With the grass courts officially opened today, my first numerical tournament fact is about exactly that…the grass!  It’s a very serious business at the only Grand Slam to be played on the surface.  I’ve rounded up some figures to ensure you are literally ahead of the game before it even starts…

8mm – the exact length the grass is cut and maintained at throughout the entire tournament!

1877 – the year the first Wimbledon Championship was held, making it the oldest tennis tournament in the world. 

54,250 – the number of tennis balls used throughout the championship!  Not only are all the balls stored in a refrigerated container, they are changed every 7-9 games to ensure each ball is in perfect condition.  

1986 – the year the balls were changed from white to yellow…better visibility for the TV cameras being the main reason behind the switch. 

250 – the number of ball girls and ball boys used throughout the 11 days.  

26,750,000 – pounds worth of prize money awarded at Wimbledon in 2015.  The Women’s and Men’s singles earning the most at £1.88 million.  The first year equal prize money was awarded at the Championship was 2007.  

665 – the total length in minutes of the longest recorded match between John Isner from the United States and Nicolas Mahut from France.  Isner finished victorious over the three day match in 2010.  

238 – kilometres per hour.  The fastest serve in Wimbledons history. Both the male and female fastest serves are held by American’s, Taylor Dent and Venus Williams respectively. Williams clocking a 205kph serve.  

9 – the most singles titles won by an female, Czech, Martina Navratilova.  William Renshaw, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer all equally holding the men’s title wins at 7!  

101.2 – Maria Sharapova’s loudest recorded grunt at the championship, in decibels.  

28,000 – kilos of the finest Kent strawberries consumed by visitors throughout the tournament, with 7,000 litres of fresh cream!  

1 – the number of hours Hamish the Hawk flies for every morning before the start of play, to scare away SW19’s local pigeons.  

1995 – the first year a player got disqualified from the Championship.  Britain’s original Mr nice guy, Tim Henman, struck a ball in anger which hit a ball girl, disqualifying him and doubles partner Jeremy Bates from the competition.  

I’m looking forward to see if any of these figures can be updated this year!  Can Roger Federer make it 8 wins at the Tournament?  Will Maria Sharapova grunt her way into the record books again or can Sabine Lisicki snatch the fastest serve title this year?  

 

. . . Doha Diamond League !

Today, marks the start of this years Diamond League series, with Doha, Qatar, being the first of 14 events spanning the next four months.  The 2015 Doha Diamond League was widely regarded as the best event from the series last year, being tied with Brussels and Monaco as the meeting with the most Diamond League series records, so with this being an Olympic year I’m excited to see what the athletes have in store for us this time around!

50 nations are represented across the 206 competing athletes, 125 men and 81 women.   Kenya is fielding the largest team, with 29 athletes while the United States have the greatest female presence at 14.  Within the male competitors, there are 21 Olympic medallist, 6 of which winning Gold.  The women’s offering isn’t quite so forthcoming with six Olympic medallists, only two having won the Gold, Kazakhstan’s Olga Kypakova and Veronica Campbell-Brown, from Jamaica.

Many athletes have opted to delay the start of their competitive outdoor track season due to the Rio Olympic Games but again Doha hasn’t failed to assemble a world class field in the majority of events.  Some of the many contenders looking to hit the ground running include, David Oliver and Eliud Kipchoge in the men’s 110M hurdles and 5KM respectively.   Oliver will be looking to equal the male successive win record, which currently stands at 4, jointly held by two field athletes, US Shot putter Reese Hoffa and Norwegen Javelin thrower Andrea Thorkildsen.  Oliver holds the current meeting record of 12.95, set in 2008, but will face a tough challenge from reigning Olympic champion USA’s Aries Merritt and 22 year old Jamaican, Omar McLeod, fresh from his 60M Hurdles World Indoor victory.  31 year old Kenyan, Kipchoge recently ran the second fastest marathon of all time with a personal best of 2.03.05 in London, hopefully indicting he is in form to produce some exceptionally fast track times this season.  Kipchoge has amassed four 3K and one 5K victory in previous Doha Diamond League competitions, holding the most wins at this event of all the male athletes.

Dutch sprint sensation Dafne Schippers makes her Doha Diamond League début, competing in the women’s 100M.  She has already set the fastest time in the world this year over 200M, clocking 22.25 in Gainesville last month, so will no doubt be looking to cement her status on the world stage as the European force to be reckoned with.

Looking closer to home, unfortunately Jessica Ennis-Hill won’t be competing in any individual events, having already gained the Olympic qualifying standard for Rio 2016.   Ennis-Hill surpassed the 6,200 points required by finishing fourth in her first competitive heptathlon since ‘Super Saturday’ London 2012, at Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis, Austria, finishing with 6,520 points.

Mr Lightening Bolt himself elects to start his outdoor season at a low-level event held in the Czech Republic, missing this more prestigious Diamond League competition…I’m assuming he lives by the theory that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, and sees no need in changing his pre Olympic schedule that has proved to be a winning formula time and time again!

The UK’s Meghan Beesley and Eilidh Doyle go head to head in the women’s 400m Hurdles, in a star-laden field consisting of three athletes with sub 54 second PB’s. Jamaican Kaliese Spencer, current World Champion Zuzana Hejnova from the Czech Republic and USA’s Tiffany Williams all battling against the Brit’s (and technically Scot!) for the coveted top podium position.

Robbie Grabarz lines up in what can only be described as a prelude to the Olympic final in this who’s who of elite men’s high jump at 16.45.  He will face competition from local hero, Mutaz Barshim who will be looking to go one better than his previous Diamond League second place finish and World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist Canadian Derek Drouin.

Scottish Eilish McColgan enters the world class women’s 3K after a phenomenal start to her outdoor season, taking over 30 seconds off her 5k PB at The Payton Jordan Invitational last week. 24 year old Almaz Ayana from Ethiopia and Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot are just two of the African competitors looking to mark their superior status in this highly anticipated race, starting at 18.45.  It will be great for Eilish to line up in such a world class field ahead of the Rio Games.

Since being appointed, new Diamond League Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe has voiced his concerns over the Diamond League series.  He believes the series needs to be reviewed to ensure it attracts a bigger audience and engages the younger generation in order to maximise its impact on a world stage.  One suggestion was to link the individual Diamond League events into a consecutive series of competitions, I presume with the hope of building anticipation as the season culminates, much like the football league system, where we have just witnessed a whole nation eagerly following the unfolding events in Leicester!   Rio 2016 is just months away and with London 2012 gaining 3.6 billion television viewers, a massive 76% of the global potential audience, there is no better time to try and raise the profile of athletics, so let’s hope Doha doesn’t fail to deliver!

. . .Can The Gills keep their Championship hopes alive ? ! ?

Today marks the biggest game of the season for Gillingham FC, who need to secure a victory against Burton Albion FC, in order to keep their Championship play off place alive.  Looking back at their head to head matches, The Gills are in an advantageous position, having won 4 of their 8 previous games (drawing 1, losing 3). Together with a steady April away record of two draws, 0-0 vs Sheffield United and more recently 1-1 vs Rochdale AFC, they do need to find some extra fire power at the Pirelli Stadium to secure the win.  The teams last meeting back in December resulted in a 0-3 loss, but that could partly be attributed to the first half sending off of Doug Loft, leaving a struggling ten men side for the majority of the game.  If we want to reminisce about a Gills win against Burton, we have to venture back to 20th October 2012, in a League Two fixture, resulting in a defiant 4-1 victory.

Burton are certainly not going to make it plain sailing for the Gills, fighting for the points to secure their automatic promotion position, and looking directly above in the table, Gillingham require a loss (or two consecutive draws) from Barnsley who face Colchester (the team that rather ironically were guaranteed relegation from League One after losing 0-3 to Burton!).

Let’s hope Manager Justin Edinburgh’s positive attitude to today’s game holds true “If it is that we come up short, we come up short but there is no chance, no talk and no body language of anyone throwing the towel in here”.

…Pancakes Pancakes Pancakes ! ! !

I couldn’t let Shrove Tuesday pass without sharing my top tips on how to keep your pancakes as healthy as possible!!  It’s a day to be enjoyed, to be experimental with new recipes, instead of worrying about calories and fat content!  Here are my five best ideas for guilt free pancakes (well as guilt free as they can be!!)…

1. Use coconut oil instead of vegetable or ordinary oil.  Coconut oil helps aid digestion, boost metabolism, support your immune system and can even reduce sugar cravings.  Even if you don’t change your actual pancake recipe but use coconut oil in the pan, you are winning!!

2. Honey.  Try swapping maple or golden syrup with honey.  It has been known to soothe coughs and colds, boost memory and it provides essential nutrients to your body.  It also helps with the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which at this time of year are everywhere).  Although maple or golden syrup taste fantastic, they are often synthetically produced and packed full of artificial sugars.  By drizzling honey over your pancakes you are still treating yourself to something equally sweet and not losing any of the indulgence but its 100% natural!

3. Instead of making your pancakes with plain flour, try wholemeal flour (I posted a blueberry pancake recipe last week using multi-seed bread flour!!)  Using wholemeal flour will keep you fuller for longer (having a GI value of approximately 51 instead of 71 for some white flours) and doesn’t contain any of the nasty flour bleaching agents used to give plain flour it’s whiteness!!  Wholemeal flour also contains higher levels of several vitamins, including folate, riboflavin and vitamins B-1, B-3 and B-5, not to mention it’s higher in dietary fibre.  This simple switch will mean you need to eat less pancakes to fill full and you will be getting more goodness from each one to!

4. Finally, try adding spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or vanilla extract to the batter, which will hopefully negate your need to load up on sweet toppings to get the same delicious result.  You can even add peanut butter or vanilla protein powder to your batter, or squished banana so your pancake with be packed with protein and/or goodness to!

 

Now go, experiment, and cook until your heart’s content, with the satisfaction that your pancake day will no longer be an over indulgent, belly busting date in the diary!

 

…BLUEBERRY PANCAKES ! ! !

Here’s my recipe for delicious and healthy Blueberry Pancakes, a breakfast item usually saved for weekend treats or seen as a luxury!  The recipe is so quick and easy that you will soon be enjoying these guilt free goodies every day of the week!!

I chose to use Tesco Multiseed Bread Flour for my batter, containing 12% seeds, including Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Linseeds and Poppy Seeds.  I find the extra gluten in bread flour helps to bind the added seeds and blueberries (and banana if you chose this option!) together when cooking, making them thicker, slightly denser than regular pancakes you may eat!  Bread flour also contains marginally more protein than all purpose flour, so an added benefit for a post workout meal if you chose not to add any protein powder to the mix!

Some pancake recipes instruct you to whisk the egg yolks and wet ingredients separately and fold in the dry ingredients after…..but I add all my ingredients into one bowl, mix them all together and cook the pancakes immediately!

Ingredients:

200g Multiseed Flour (or 100g flour and 100g of protein powder, I usually opt for a vanilla flavour as it compliments the blueberries!)

1 tsp baking powder

Tiny pinch of salt

1 egg (alternatively you can use just the whites from two eggs)

250ml of Almond Milk

200g Blueberries (or 150g Blueberries and 1 Mashed banana!)

Pinch of cinnamon

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract (you won’t need to add this if you are adding vanilla protein powder)

Method:

1. Quickly mix the flour, baking powder and salt together (and protein powder if using this option!)

2. Mix in the egg, about half of the milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon until a thick batter is formed and gradually add the remaining milk to make a smooth batter

3. Add the blueberries (and banana if using this variation) and mix well (I like to use a fork to randomly squish some of the blueberries open!!!)

4. Heat a pan with a drop of oil, I use coconut oil but you can use any you have and once hot, ladle a spoonful of the batter into the pan.  Cook for about 3 minutes over a medium heat then flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

5. If you save a few blueberries to garnish, I like to drop them in the pan once I have finished cooking all the pancakes to heat them through until they become slightly squishy, pour over the top of the pancakes and serve!

With pancake day just around the corner I hope you give these a try and let me what you think.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

TOMATO RED PEPPER CHILLI SOUP

 

Tomato, Red Pepper and Chilli Soup

This is my quick and easy, go-to recipe for a healthy hearty soup!  I generally call it my ‘Tomato, Red Pepper and Chilli Soup’ but actually it contains lentils for added protein, PLUS you can add any other vegetable you have left over….today I chose 1/4 aubergine!

For me to be able to maintain a fit, healthy and busy lifestyle, I need to fuel my body with quality carbohydrates, nutrients and protein.  (Very basically, the carbohydrates are essential for providing my energy, in the form of glucose and the protein (lentils) for recovery, building new cells and maintaining tissue/muscle).  This soup basically provides me and more specifically my body with everything it needs to run effectively on a day-to-day basis, and the fact it’s delicious helps!!

Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against disease and maintain a healthy body.  Red Lentils have the third highest level of protein of any of the legume classification, to repair cells after a workout and are high in fibre that helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.  They also contain folate and vitamin B1.  Chillies contain up to seven times the vitamin C of oranges and have many health benefits including fighting sinus congestion, aiding digestion and helping to relieve migraines, muscle, joint and even nerve pain, so are great when you are feeling under the weather or have a cold (like me!!)  They are also a good source of vitamins A and E, beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium.  Added with the vitamins and minerals from any of the other vegetables you choose to add to the soup, you are sure to be getting a fantastic dose of all your body needs to function well!

The recipe I use is:

1 large onion, diced

1 red chilli (seeded and chopped, you can add more depending on how hot you like it)

800g chopped tomato (tinned or fresh)

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

1 red pepper, coarsely chopped (depending whether you like it chunky)

1/4 aubergine, coarsely chopped (I had this left over in my fridge so added it in today!)

125g tin red lentils (drained)

1/2 teaspoon, smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons, tomato paste

1 litre vegetable stock (check the salt content!)

black pepper to season

The method:

1.) Sauté the onion, chilli,  celery, red pepper and carrot in 1 tsp olive oil for a few minutes until lightly golden.

2.) Add the tomatoes, aubergine, paprika, cinnamon and tomato paste and cook through for a few more minutes.

3.) Next add the vegetable stock and red lentils and leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes until it has slightly reduced and thickened.

4.) Season with black pepper.  (You can garnish with a little fresh chopped parsley)

For a post workout variation I sometimes add one of the following for an extra protein boost (in the last 10 minutes of cooking):

1.) Homemade meatballs from lean beef or chicken (depending what I have!)

2.) Tin of cannelini beans (for a vegetarian option!)

As I hope you can see, although this is a recipe, it is very flexible and you can add almost any vegetable you have in your fridge and really boost your protein intake after a particularly hard workout if required!!  I hope you enjoy it…..please let me know!