Friday, 30 November 2018

Fitness for Motorsport

When I was 10 years old I wanted to become a Formula One driver. I was besotted with the sport. I quickly understood that such an ambition, for me, was unrealistic. I only went karting a handful of times with my dad and struggled to grasp the correct racing lines. I certainly wasn’t particularly quick. Being heavily into Kung fu I had a keen interest in the body and fitness / exercise so naturally I decided one day I would be personal trainer an F1 driver. Sadly these job opportunities are rather limited. There are currently only 20 F1 drivers on the grid and most drivers have known or been friends with their trainers for many years.

Fortunately after extensively researching and studying the physical and mental requirements to become a competitive driver in modern day motor racing I have had the opportunity to work with several drivers and teams at various different levels on the Motorsport ladder. I’ve worked with karters, drivers in different formula drivers and indeed F1 test drivers. Alongside gym based training I have also provided event support internationally for teams / drivers at the circuit in sports car competition and British super bikes. So despite not making F1 I have led a very fulfilling, enjoyable and challenging career in Motorsport to date.  When I take on new drivers, aside from their personal considerations here are the areas I predominately concentrate on.  For the purpose of this blog regard all examples as F1 drivers.

It is paramount that Formula One drivers are extremely aerobically fit. Their heart rate will sit between 170 and 180 beats per minute during a 90 - 120 minute race. Considerably higher when waiting for the lights to go out, nerves and adrenaline are coursing through the body. This means there is a huge cardio vascular demand on the heart and lungs, which need to transport oxygenated blood around the body to the muscles. The physical nature of driving flat out in predominantly hot climates means it is all too easy for a driver to become fatigued or physically uncomfortable and lose concentration. As hot and humid as ambient conditions might be it is multiplied in the cockpit.  At racing car speeds things happen in the blink of an eye. The slightest loss of focus can and often does mean a trip into the gravel, or worse still, into the wall. By vigorous cardio vascular training modern day super fit drivers greatly reduce the risk of fatigue and lapses in concentration. In other words a fit driver will withstand the demands of the cockpit much better than one who is less fit.

Well documented now is the necessity for a driver to cope with G forces, especially in a single seater car. The cockpit is a very hostile place. Divers are bumped around and pulled quite literally left right and center whilst wrestling their nibble but ridiculously powerful beast of a car around a circuit. Driving on the edge, centimeters away from catastrophe whilst being bashed around at 185 mph is no mean feat and physical adaptation is crucial. The neck needs to withstand the unrelenting G forces pulling it from side to side and backwards and forward whilst cornering, accelerating and breaking. At 5 G's the head becomes 5 x heavier. Imagine that! Any fit but unconditioned human would scarcely manage 6 laps flat out around a circuit in a Formula one car before their head felt like it wanted to detach itself and role of their neck!

In addition to strong necks it is imperative for racing drivers to have conditioned shoulders, chest, back and arms with excellent muscular endurance. In the past and currently to a degree, despite the strength requirements drivers needed to be slight and light weight.  This equates to a superb weight to strength ratio. With the increasing total driver / car weight allowance today’s drivers can afford a fraction more muscle mass which some are exploiting to help aid their physical performance.  

The core (center of the body) is another key area for racing drivers. Sitting in the cockpit, drivers are in an almost horizontal, laid back position with their feet raised to waist height. This means the core is their center of gravity, takes the brunt of energy continuously travelling through the body and needs to support the lower back for up to two hours at a time. The core muscles help support the skeletal system and in turn keep the internal organs in place as they’re being thrown around inside the body.  They also connect the upper and lower body and stabilise the torso with each and every movement throughout the body. Without a highly trained core, drivers wouldn’t be able to hold their body posture firm whilst driving and they would suffer chronic back injuries.

An often underestimated and overlooked but fundamentally important requirement is having strong leg and hip muscles. Firstly, under breaking for a slow corner a driver must exert upward of 100 kg pressure, dependent on the nature of the  bend. Tracks like Monza and Montreal have enormous braking zones with big stops from high speed. Here the breaking leg force required will be considerably higher. Have you ever tried a single leg, leg press in the gym? See how tough 100 kg is. Then imagine repeating it over and over again. Additionally, having strong hip, bum and leg muscles, along with the core will help a driver keep their legs in alignment and avoid constant hitting of the side of the cockpit causing bruising and pain.

Balance, coordination and reaction work contribute another vital part of the training method. The better the brain is at connecting quickly and efficiently with the muscular skeletal and nervous systems the greater feel and sensitivity to the car a driver will have. Weighted balance exercises force the brain to connect and create new neuro-muscular pathways to the body (including the core) which in turn improves proprioception. In other words drivers have more nerve endings and muscle fibers to call upon at their disposal. The body and specifically the core will react to the slightest or most violent physical demand without delay.   

In conclusion the fitter the driver the more comfortable and more focused they will be in the cockpit. The heat, physicality and fatigue will affect them less and they will also maintain a psychological edge. Knowing you’re physically prepared for competition has huge psychological benefits such as confidence. All that said, despite the undeniable importance of being super fit and conditioned to race, the other best thing a driver can do is to drive! 

As with any top athletes, nutrition is vital for drivers. Ensuring they are fueled adequately for training, travel and competition is paramount. To supplement training and prepare for a race weekend their food intake should consist of natural, varied, whole foods which are rich in macro and micro nutrients. Taking into account exercise scheduling, competition and the relentless travel, the timing of food consumption is also very important. Drivers need to peak on the Saturday and Sunday afternoon. At the circuit simply loading up on carbohydrates is not enough.  Drivers need to recover from muscle fatigue and restore energy levels. Equally vital is ensuring drivers are hydrated before during and after a race. Personally I avoid sports supplements where possible in favor of a natural food sources. However racing in hot climates combined with the physical exertion of driving a race car regularly results in a huge fluid loss and therefore electrolyte deficit. Alternating regular high quality isotonic drinks with plain water helps keep drivers hydrated and therefore focused. Being even slightly dehydrated will have a disproportionately negative effect on concentration and performance. It is common for drivers to lose 3-5 kg in sweat during a particularly grueling race such as Sepang in Malaysia.

As well as working in the gym environment I have traveled with teams around the UK and abroad providing event support to ensure the drivers and team in general are in the best possible physical, mental and emotional condition to go racing.

At the circuit my personal job is pretty varied.

I provide drivers with driving specific warm ups before they get into the car. Weekends involve a lot of massage and stretching work. Also I monitor the driver’s food and water intake to ensure they are consuming the correct foods at the right times to ensure peak performance. As previously stated, this includes providing specialised hydration and energy drinks designed to keep the drivers brains and bodies working at optimum levels and replacing lost salts. Something I try to slip under the radar but goes a long way is I continuously monitor and if need be, act upon the drivers psychology. This is to ensure they are all in the optimum frame of mind / zone to go racing. Another aspect of my job as driver therapist at the circuit is I effectively work as a personal assistant to the drivers, resolving any issues that inevitably occur and generally keeping them on schedule for their media / sponsor / event commitments.  This also helps take that stress away from team managers. I also find it useful on test days to conduct fitness and health screening tests to monitor their heart rate, blood pressure, body fat and flexibility thus ensuring I am happy with their physical 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Kung fu - My Story

I can still remember the moment back in what must have been 1990 or 1991. I was playing at my grandparents’ house in New Malden. I was up in their bedroom and my mum walked in asking “Would you like to learn Kung Fu?” I vividly remember replying “What’s Kung fu?” to which mum answered “It’s like Karate” Like many six year old's I was a boisterous, enthusiastic and brimming with energy. I recall hearing my mum say it would help “channel some energy” and “wear him out”. In hindsight I’m not sure it worked! 

I was hugely excited and the following weekend I went along to my first ever lesson. The style of Kung Fu was Lau Gar and it clicked with me from the offset and I instantly fell in love with my 09:00 – 11:00 Sunday morning classes. They were held in an rundown, poorly insulated secondary school gymnasium which doubled up as a basket ball court. The floor was extremely hard and especially cold under bare feet in Winter. The hall had an unmissable aging gym smell. It wast a mixture of sweat, dirt and hard work combined with old mats and lots of wooden equipment. Another feature was the high ceiling. This caused my legs to turn to jelly whenever I walked in or gazed upward due to my phobia of looking up at tall buildings. Despite this, even at such a young age I felt comfortable in this environment. I had a huge respect for my first teacher Asim Agri, (I called him Mr Agri) and would hang on his every word. To this day I think it’s so important for young children to have role models outside family and school life.

I quickly asked my friend to join up with me to which he instantly obliged. I would turn up each week and get stuck in giving the sessions my all, I was having a great time. I enjoyed the exercise and sparring side of things but found the technical aspects difficult to remember and master although that has changed now. Sparring would always involve dragging these huge long, blue school gym mats over to make a matted area in which to fight. I distinctly remember setting those up. As much as I enjoyed sparring I would get extremely nervous each time I was up on the mat.

Through my participation in Kung fu I became fascinated in… no besotted with Bruce Lee. The problem for me was as a child I was never allowed to watch his films due to the violence and nudity! All I knew was I wanted to fight like him! I would imagine how many men he could defeat at a petrol station fracas and wonder if one day I could!  

Four weeks into my study my parents brought me my very first Kung fu kit and sparring pads. I was so proud and cherished my kit more than anything. The uniform was similar to a traditional Karate gi only in black which made me feel special relative to my friends who wore white at their Karate or Judo clubs. I’ve always taken great pride in my identity and belonging.

After probably 3- 6 months (forgive my lack of specificity, it was a long time ago) I graded with my friend and the rest of the class beginners for my white belt. My memory of the occasion was one of being both excited and scared. Our senior instructor Mr Neville Wray visited our club to conduct the grading’s in a separate room. This was the first time I had met him in person although leading up to the grading’s I heard other students in the class talking about him in reverent tones. Upon meeting Neville I was instantly in awe of him and what he had and still was achieving on an international level. What I remember of him from our first encounter was that he was very formal, although not scary or intimidating (even to a six year old). Oh and big…he was very big!  - Having met him several times since over the years I would add humble and friendly to that. He is another man I have enormous respect for and to this day he is doing a great job as one of the head coaches to the British WAKO Kickboxing squad. Happily I passed my examination for white grade, as did my friend and on hearing the news the following week and receiving a certificate and white sash, I recall jumping into my mums arms with pure exhilaration and joy. I was now a white sash!
When I was 7 or 8 I entered the national championships in Southampton. I genuinely believed I could win. That Autumn Sunday was a reality check. Having sat in a minivan for 90 minutes or so I got myself massively worked up and nervous and by the time we walked into this huge old sports hall I could barely function. Somehow I managed to control my nervous (despite visibly shaking) enough to put in a fair account for myself but still lost my first round match. I was simultaneously devastated, embarrassed and ashamed. I can’t remember my instructor Asim being at that tournament although I’m sure he would have been. It was a very long and lonely trip back to Surrey. I still remember my mum frying multi-coloured pasta swirls in butter and dropping grated cheese on top. With some ketchup that cheered me up no end. To this day I believe losing is a necessary process in achieving success.
As the years past people naturally came and went. My friend dropped out when we were 8 and my teacher Asim retired due to health reasons. Sadly I never found out what became of him but I like to think he is still around and comfortable. Sent to replace Asim was a man who is now one of my best friends and a kindred spirit. Russel must have only been 17, 18, 19 at the time and he still wasn’t a black sash. It’s funny, I can’t remember much of these early sessions but I still loved the lessons and after a year or two the club moved location and became a bit more geared towards adults.  There were children but not many. I would guess I was now around 10 years old.

Being the youngest in a class primarily made up of adults was always going to bring the best out in me. I used to be extremely competitive with other students trying to do more exercises, or execute techniques faster than they could. I continued to move up the grades and got bigger and stronger and more confident in what I was doing. The class had a core of students Russell our instructor, Steve who was his second and would take the class when Russell wasn’t there, Karl (with a K), Harvey, Chris and myself with many other memorable individuals coming for a year or two before inevitably disappearing. All these guys I became close friends with. Steve and Russell in particular (and later Harvey).

Steve was a character. Stocky with a shaven head, a big fiery ginger goatee (to protect his chin apparently) with tattoos on his arms, legs and back of his neck. To look at you definitely would not mess with Steve but to know him he was one of the easiest most laid back and friendly guys you could ever meet. He looked after me and when sparring, showed me a lot of respect, giving me the time and confidence to try different techniques without fear of being flattened yet he would always keep me honest. Its fair to say, Steve took me under his wing. I would also relish fighting Russell but his speed meant you had to be extremely careful and maintain a healthy respect when coming forward. One mistake and bam! I remember two occasions he gave me lock jaw with a hook out of nowhere! Nothing heavy or dangerous, just enough to make me think. You knew when you got to Russell you had deserved it. Over the years we all had some great ding dongs, but always controlled with a level of mutual respect.

When I was 13 Russell encouraged me to compete in the national championships. I told him I wasn’t interested as I knew I’d get too nervous and worked up about it. Even thinking about it used to send butterflies straight to my stomach. Russell still advised I enter reasoning that if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t have to do it again. He also said I should give it a go so whatever happened I would always know that I competed. With hindsight I do believe to a degree that he wanted me tested and thought I might do well. That it was something that I should experience after all the years training I had done. I also think he knew that as a martial artist and as a person I would regret not challenging myself, out of my comfort zone and experience tournament fighting as he had.  I didn’t want to disappoint him so I decided to compete. I’m glad I did.
It was sheer luck that one round of the CIMAC Super league national championships tournament was being held just a 15 minute cycle from my house. In fact it was staged at the very same location as the original club had started out. I saw it as a personal homecoming of sorts. I arrived, met up with Steve who was helping out with the set up and he booked me in for the peewee light continuous draw. Unfortunately Russell couldn’t make the tournament and my parents, as far as I can remember weren’t able to attend. It was just Steve and I. Up to this point we had always done point fighting and light continuous at our club, but with the smaller, more precise dipped foam pads on our hands and feet. For the light continuous category however I needed proper full size boxing gloves. By chance Steve knew a woman who had a pair of 16 oz gloves. I had never worn boxing gloves before and they were large, cumbersome and heavy. Alongside the extra weight they felt foreign to me they seemed to engulf half my arm! As a short thirteen year old boy (as an adult I’m only 5’7) being placed into the under 18 peewee category I was at a pretty substantial disadvantage. Something happened to me in that hall, on that day. My back was to the proverbial wall. Standing in the center of the matted fighting area, intimidated and surrounded by a couple of dozen fighters and supporters representing my opponents much larger clubs, all shouting inaudibly fast, exasperated exclamations in expectation of perceived points due to be awarded, aimed at influencing the referee, putting me off and encouraging my opponent. Slapping the floor with their hands as they shouted and generally getting behind anything and everything my opponents did, I was in a hostile environment and I dug deep. I fought with every morsel of strength and will power I could muster against much older, taller kids who were every bit my technical equal or better. Near adults who were experienced national level fighters. Fighters who weren’t afraid of high ceilings!                                                              I have a clear recollection of being absolutely exhausted but only halfway through fights. I was barely able to breathe, gasping for air, totally depleted of energy and at one point desperately gesticulating the universal sign for a timeout that would never come. What I hadn’t realised was this being continuous fighting there were no stoppages. You stopped after 3 minutes when the bout was over. (I actually remember the referee laughing as he said I couldn’t have one) Despite the heavy gloves, and perceived disadvantages I came away with a third place trophy. I was so proud and remember the other coaches and their fighters coming up and shaking Steve’s and then my hands. They congratulated Steve on my performance and specifically how much heart I displayed. He was if anything prouder than I was and said I had fought like a lion. At that point I believe Steve stopped seeing me as the 9 / 10 year old boy he had met almost half a decade previously and started seeing me as an adult and a good martial artist by any measure.
Later that same year I entered the South East Championships in Maidenhead. With no disrespect to my competitors, (there were some excellent fighters) naturally the standard was not as high as at the nationals. For starters it was a more localised tournament and this time I was in fact one the older more senior grades in the category. I won that tournament to which I had and still have an enormous satisfaction. Nothing however will beat my 3rd place at the National Championships early that year.

The following year, now 14 I entered the national championships again, this time in Windsor.  As always I was ridiculously nervous and found it hard to focus. I arrived with my mum, signed in and waited for my category to be allocated fighting areas. When after two hours of tortuous hanging around the area was announced on the PA system I made my way to the appropriate area. The other competitors where enormous and half of them looked like men. Men who could kick you in the head before you saw their foot move. It would appear that everyone had grown over the winter except me! The speed of these athletes was unbelievable. My name was called up and I stepped onto the mat and was immensely relieved to see my first opponent appeared to be only one grade (sash) above than me, a similar age and only a couple of inches taller. He was also a better point’s fighter and went on to progress to the second and maybe even the third round, I’m not sure.
For me I had given it a fair crack as Russell had asked and I have no regrets whatsoever. To continue it simply wasn’t worth the tension, and overriding anxiety I would experience weeks before and leading up to tournaments. Besides, these guys I was competing against were fighting fortnightly around the country, training three times a week with clubs who were geared up towards tournament fighting. Genetically many were superior to me. Bigger, faster, stronger and more flexible and the top guys were in the British squad. I was and am still a good fighter but to use a football analogy I was a mid-table championship fighter not premier league! Luckily for me there are many aspect to Kung fu that I love and I gain a lot more than just being able to fight. 

Later that year I had my one and only significant Kung fu injury. I was sparring with Karl who was an awkward man to fight. He was about 6ft and all arms and legs. One week I would have a clear upper hand, the next week he would. On this occasion he threw a powerful but controlled roundhouse kick (the top of the foot / ankle swings across the opponent to hit the side of their body / head). In this instance I shuffled forward at precisely the wrong moment and wham! He caught me straight across the nose. I remember a wave of denseness filling my head and everything fell silent, except for an internal ringing. That’s when I heard Karl say “your nose is bleeding”  As my nose preceded to run with blood I remember wishing it hadn’t happened and thinking what an inconvenience it was to everyone and wondering how bad it would be. Poor Karl was mortified and couldn’t stop apologising. He even offered to take me “up the casualty”. At the hospital that evening they said I could have plastic surgery if I wished but I decided to leave it. Luckily the incident didn’t spoil my good looks! I didn’t even get much of a black eye(s) which I remember being disappointed about at school the next day! There is a tiny lump towards the top on the bridge of my nose but otherwise unscathed. Ironically 10 years later I unwittingly repaid the favour to Karl with a spinning kick of my own. As with me it was the only time he had ever really been hurt at the club. Even then, I blame both incidents on unlucky timing. After all the years training, even with the control we exhibited I think we got off quite lightly.
As the years past I became closer friends with Russell in particular but also with Steve and Harvey too. We started a tradition where the whole club would go out every Christmas for a meal and get together. That’s where I experienced my first taste of curry and drunkenness. I loved those evenings out with adults and club mates. I won’t go into detail!                                                                                                              
When I turned 16 Russell asked if I wanted to help him and Steve with his children’s lesson that preceded our adult class. Naturally I jumped at the chance. As the weeks and months went by they would give me more and more responsibility and after two years teaching with them, they supported me fully in opening my first very own club children’s class one month to the day after my 18th birthday. Unbelievably looking back I had that club for over 10 years and grew it to a point where I had 15 regular students. It was the maximum I could manage on my own but I loved teaching that class and continued to teach at both Russell’s children’s class and on the rare occasion the adult one when both he and Steve couldn’t make it. 
Into my mid-twenties I begun appreciating the more traditional aspects of Kung fu. Aspects such as the sets (a set of continuous movements done with tension and fluidity) and Tai Chi energy techniques, breathing and even meditation. Many people have no time for semi contact martial arts and the traditional aspects and I do see if they are only interested in the fighting side of things they will feel a percentage of Kung fu is not for them. For me though, there are so many internal benefits I gain from being a martial artist. Yes I do still love hitting the pads or putting on the gloves for a sparring session but I find an inner peace with the fluidity, grace and focus needed for tai chi and even apply that to weaponry work, sticking hands and if I’m with someone I trust, sparring.
Having moved to Norfolk I have kept teaching but now I’m looking to expand upon that and reach out to more people. I remain close friends with Russell and we will always share a mutual love for Kung fu and everything it umbrellas as well as Bruce Lee, Kung fu films, music and TV, cinema.
I feel that I am a complete martial artist albeit one with a long way to go and much to learn. It’s a never ending journey and once it’s in you, REALLY in you there’s no escaping it.  I enjoy all the facets Kung fu has to offer in equal measure and through my spirit and desire it embodies me to some degree. I will never be an elite world class fighter but I know through my teaching I have helped many, many people. That’s good enough for me.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Childhood Health

I am lucky enough to have two gorgeous little boys. One is seven, the other four. They are brimming with life, exuberance and 100% in your face! Naturally, I wouldn’t have it any other way! One of their favorite pastimes is wrestling (and beating up) daddy and they love walks and cycle rides around our little village. Like most children they adore the park and of course, soft play areas! Hopefully this rings true to most other parents.

In this blog my aim is not to come across arrogant, judgmental or like I believe I am the world’s best father. What I am is a dedicated dad who happens to be a personal trainer. Like most other parents I experience the day to day struggles associated with trying to do the best for my children. I have written this article to highlight some scary facts but also offer hope with some potential alternative choices when it comes to ensuring your child is fit, healthy and happy. 
Childhood obesity is an ongoing hot topic in the media and rightly so. I believe it is a worrying and fundamental problem that is clearly obvious to my eyes when I’m out and about. Across the board children are becoming more sedentary and eating cheaper, more convenient and ultimately poorer quality, processed foods. Foods which are less dense in nutritious content but filled with nasties such as salt, sugar, fat and additives.

I am not claiming for one second that my boys don’t have lazy days were they watch TV or play on their IPads and they certainly enjoy foods which I would rather they didn’t. (To be fair so do I!)  What I can say is that I will always ensure they get out of the house and do some physical activity to stimulate their brains and bodies for an hour or two. The majority of time at home they are cooked healthy, nutrient rich foods. I personally love cooking from scratch and I enjoy getting my boys involved in the cooking process where I can. Involving the children means we all own the process and they clearly appreciate eating something they helped create. What’s more, it’s a great way to spend quality time with them. Satisfaction all round. Disclaimer… be prepared for mess!

Some facts and stats on childhood obesity in the UK:

On average across the UK, almost one quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start school. – This to my mind is staggering.

Typically, it is the poorest children who are most likely to be overweight or obese and to have a poor diet. They’re the least likely to eat enough fruit and vegetables and the most likely to eat foods high in fat, sugar and salt every day.

Obese children are at greater risk of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and of heart disease and stroke as they get older.

Obesity in childhood can contribute to behavioral and emotional difficulties like depression, and reduce educational attainment. Obese children are more likely to need medical care and days off school as a result of illness. - From my own experiences owning gyms and personal training businesses I have come to realise so many people suffer and have suffered since childhood with depression.

Excess consumption of sugar is damaging children’s teeth, with extractions the most common reason for 5-9 year-olds in England to be admitted to hospital. This blows my mind.

Currently my wife and I are looking into various after school clubs for our children as we both believe in offering them further physical and mental stimulation outside of their school and home environments. They both swim once a week and I’m sure it’s a given my eldest will try out my Little Dragons Martial Arts Classes.  They already swim once a week and we are looking at enrolling one into a modern dance class and the other, a local Beaver group (Beavers are similar to scouts but for younger children) 

Unfortunately it appears in the UK and across the Western world millions of children aren’t getting these opportunities. This can be for a number of reasons such as:

Too little emphasis or interest from parents or guardians to help get their children active. - I would like to think most children have a teacher or adult in their life that would encourage and take the time to help them take part in some physical activity.

Parents are too busy to cook from scratch or take their children to classes – This for me is a simple work life balance issue.

Clubs and hobbies can be very expensive and create a financial burden.

Advertising of junk food is rife on TV and try saying no all the time to your child!

Eating healthily can be extortionate. - Have you ever been at the super market and compared the prices in the junk food Isles to those of the fruit and veg and organic sections? - I personally would love to see the government doing more to promote healthy eating. For me it is essentially a sickness industry. One option is narrowing the price discrepancy between health and junk food!

Admittedly if your funds are tight it can be difficult to pay for clubs or to buy good healthy foods but I do have some simple suggestions.

          Buy less junk food snacks and use the money you save to upgrade and purchase better quality meal foods

          If you and your children eat too much, reduce portion size in meals and avoid creating food waste. This will result in smaller food shops leaving money in your pocket!

          Consider how much you spend on your children’s electronic devices such as computer games and small toys that get played with once and then thrown away. Place a spending cap on those items and use the surplus cash to go swimming or enroll your child in a club. 

If money is still tight, organise walks, cycles, and play dates with your children’s friends. Take them to the woods to make forts and bases, climb trees, kick a football round, or go out looking for wildlife. These are all fantastic activities which build experiences and make happy memories.

I am all for choice but many children, including my own at times, would rather pick their electronic devices over going out to play or taking part in their sports / activity club. What I guarantee though is 9/10 times your children will have a better time burning off energy, socialising outside and blowing of steam than they would cooped up in front of a screen eating sweets.

Happy, healthy children. That’s all we really want.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Functional Injury Rehabilitation

Over the years I have worked with many clients who have required injury rehabilitation.  I have always used the functional rehab approach, which is to say, I encourage natural day to day movements using little although ever increasing resistance. Getting rehabilitation right is not an easy task nor is it an exact science. All our bodies differ and there are various degrees ad severities of injuries depending on how they occurred and your immediate treatment. Luckily with my knowledge and guidance, all my clients have seen huge improvements in their condition through carefully monitored supervised exercise rehabilitation.

Common injuries I have rehabilitated that you may recognise from your own experience are:

Shoulder and rotator cuff tears
Football (soccer) related knee injuries such as post cruciate ligament reconstruction
Lifestyle and posture induced wear and tear on the upper and lower back and hips
Shattered ankle and calcaneus (heel) bones.
General to severe tightness in back and shoulders

If I do say myself, I have an exemplary record when it comes to helping people get back to where they need to be. Here I am going to provide a few simple (and quite obvious) guidelines to help you help yourself or your client through the process of injury rehab. All these guidelines are based on the assumption that previous medical surgery or diagnosis and initial treatment have taken place and you have a doctor’s recommendation that you / your client should begin physical rehabilitation.

Know what you’re dealing with: Understanding the injury and how the injured body part moves / works is vital. You do not want to be moving or manipulating the area in ways that it is not designed to move! If you haven’t seen a particular injury or established solid tried and tested methods to improve it then do your research. I often consult my books if I haven’t dealt with a certain injury in a while. Never guess how to rehabilitate an injury and always have a plan!

Every case is different: Appreciating not only the injury but also the individual (when helping a client) is so important. Your client must be confident and comfortable with you. After all they are trusting you with their body. What’s more, a body that is already in discomfort. So listen to what they are telling you and communicate the rehab process to them.

Establish what you / your client can already do: So often with less severe injuries, physios give their patients exercises which place less stress on the client than the stresses they automatically place on themselves during everyday life. Don’t go mad but begin with controlled and stable movements or exercises. Try and place a small demand on the body part. Initially, I usually use two sets but that’s dependant on how the first set feels.
Don’t be scared of the injury: As long as you listen to your body / client’s feedback and you don’t force anything, you are half way there. By simply encouraging natural movements you are increasing mobility and oxygenated blood flow to the injured area. This helps to heal the injured area and builds connective tissues, muscle fibre and nerve ending resulting in improved strength. Don’t forget the human body is an ever evolving organism and is pretty robust. By applying functional rehab exercises you are encouraging the comprehensive growth and repair.
Slowly but surely: Never rush rehab. Keep progressions minor but constant allowing the muscles to acclimatise to the volume and intensity of work

Always listen to your body: If something hurts then stop. I never use the “no pain no gain” philosophy. I use the “no pain no gain no brain” approach. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know something is not right so listen to it or risk making things worse. I always go by the uncomfortable is fine, pain is not rule of thumb.

No machines: I never use machines simply because they do not stimulate comprehensive proprioception (the connection between brain and body and resulting balance, coordination, sensitivity and reactivity). Utilising body and free weight exercises, your brain must send millions of messages to all the relevant muscle fibres and nerve endings to effectively control movement in a smooth and supported fashion. The more off balance you are, the more nerve endings and muscle fibres are created to support the demand resulting in improved strength and coordination. This is vital when you consider that when you injure yourself you damage these very muscle fibres and nerve endings! The more you have the stronger, more balanced and coordinated you are! Balance and non-supported exercise is harder than you would imagine. Try standing on a bosu with one leg lifted in the air and just feel the twitches and involuntary stabilising movements through your lower limb.

Balance and core stability: I have just spoken about balance and how it encourages the brain to recruit and establish a greater quantity of nerve endings and muscle fibers for stability but the core has a very important role to play too. Activating the core (squeezing the pelvic floor and pulling / tightening up internally to the navel) will help you maintain a good posture and control during all your clients’ rehabilitation exercises. Especially with lower back issues, the core muscles work like a weight belt and if activated correctly will protect you and help you heal without imposing further damage to the area. I personally believe that your body heals from the inside out so having a healthy core will enable a healthy body and quicker recovery. For further information, I have written an article on this blog about core stability.

Progression: As with regular gym periodisation it is important that you continually increase the challenge and demand on the body. Once a good basis of strength and stability within the injured part is established, reduce stability and force the body to work hard. For example introduce exercises on the ball or bosu or lift a planted limb off the floor / away from the central line to challenge balance and core stability..  
Nutrition: By eating a varied, natural wholefood diet you are fueling your cells with lovely nutrient rich goodness which will promote healthy cell growth.

Ice treatment: Quite simply, after a rehab workout it is common to experience swelling (especially if it’s the knee) around the injured sight. Applying ice to the area will cause vasoconstriction, the process where your blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow and therefore swelling and any residual pain.

I hope this article provides . Please feel free to visit my other online work.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Carbohydrates - Should you cut them out?

Over the years I have all too often heard people say that they intend to cut carbohydrates from their diet to lose weight. This is generally a bad idea, whoever you are. From a nutritional perspective, what we should be more concerned with is the type of carbohydrate we consume and how much we have. After all, in your diet you should be consuming more carbohydrates than any other macro nutrient so it makes no sense at all to try and cut them out. 

So, what are carbohydrates and what do they do?
Carbohydrates are organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues including sugars, starch, and cellulose. Once consumed, carbs are broken down and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Glycogen stores MUST be replenished every day to survive so quite literally don’t go starving yourself to death! As you exercise, your body uses up more glycogen and as a result, you need to replace the depleted stores by taking on board more carbs.                                                                                           
About a fifth of the body’s glycogen is stored in the liver and helps maintain blood sugar, an extremely important job! The other four fifths is stored in muscle cells and is used as energy fuel for physical activity. For someone who leads a relatively sedentary lifestyle or who trains at a low intensity for less than one hour per day, I would recommend 3-6 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight each day. (Serious athletes will require 7-12 grams per kg of body weight).  In both scenarios, this will be enough to fuel the body but prevent an excess fat gain. As activity levels and therefore energy requirements increase so does the carbohydrate requirement. Still think it’s a good idea to cut out carbs?!

So you can gain some perspective on the energy value in food I have listed the following average calories per gram in macro nutrients.

Carbohydrate = 4 calories
Protein = 4 calories
Fat = 9 calories
Alcohol = 7 calories (empty calories right?!)

Now, when it comes to (and I hate the word) “dieting”, yes it can be beneficial to reduce your carbohydrate intake if it is clearly too high. Another more precise approach I recommend is changing the type or source of your carbs which I will explain in a minute... 
Firstly a fun fact:

Did you know that for every gram of glycogen there are 3 grams of water attached to it? So in other words, suddenly reducing your carb intake will result in a loss of 3 grams of water for every one gram of carbohydrate. This means when you weigh yourself you have lost predominantly water weight and not body fat.   

Good Carbs vs bad carbs

Many of you would have heard of good and bad carbohydrates and categorising them can make it easier to distinguish which ones are healthy or unhealthy.

Simple = sugars (generally less healthy)
Complex = starches and fibers (generally good)

I would urge you not to rely solely on simple vs complex carbs when planning your food consumption as these ideas are a little dated and can be misleading. For example some foods such as biscuits, cakes and bananas contain both complex and simple carbs and natural sugars are healthier for you than processed ones.
A modern and very effective method to decipher the effects different foods will have on your blood sugar levels and therefore weight control and health is the Glycaemic index.

Glycaemic index

The glycaemic index ranks foods between 0 and 100 depending on their immediate effect on blood sugar levels (how quickly the body digests them and converts them into glucose). It is considered better to stick to low GI foods as these have less of an impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels therefore controlling and maintaining balanced levels. They take longer to break down and digest. High GI foods however will quickly spike blood sugar levels potentially leading to hyperglycemia. This is followed by a rapid dip in the blood sugars, causing light headedness, sickness, headache and irritation! For diabetics these symptoms can be much more severe and very dangerous.

Low GI = GI 0 – 55: Most fruits, pasta, grains, peas, beans, brown rice

Medium GI = GI 56 – 69: Rye crackers, cereals, couscous

High GI = GI 70 – 100: White bread, rice, cakes, sweet pastries 

Low GI foods help manage food cravings therefore promoting weight loss. They prevent energy dips, feelings of irritation and general hangriness!! They are also ideal for athletes as they improve endurance and delay fatigue. By contrast High GI foods have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and a wide variety of different cancers.

If you would like more information on healthy eating choices or an in depth diet analysis and eating plan please email me on

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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Exercise for mental health and brain function

Why do you hit the gym or go out running? Is it to improve cardiovascular fitness, build muscle, and of course let’s not forget, get an amazing beach body? Probably yes I’m guessing, but have you considered the above the neck inter-cranial benefits? There is a wealth of evidence backing up the theory that exercise increases brain function and helps fight the ever more publicised battle with mental health issues.

Firstly, keeping active can reduce stress (and I can vouch for that!)

Feeling stressed out or not coping well with work or life in general? Something as simple as leaving the office for a 40 minute walk in the fresh air at lunch can make all the difference. Working up a sweat increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress therefore can help manage physical and mental stress and can reduce anxiety sensitivity. Over the years I have trained many clients who pop in to my gym during their lunch break for a quick workout. Likewise I have clients I visit at home, breaking up their work day. They all report the same thing: To get away from their desk and get their body moving (and brain working) does them wonders! W hat’s more is clients constantly feed back to me that they are much more productive and indeed, creative at work after sessions! Unfortunately none have agreed to give me a percentage of their earnings... Yet!                   

The natural high!

Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. I’ve had countless personal training clients who suffer from clinical depression. (BEFORE meeting me before you ask!) After just a couple of weeks training they all, without fail, back up what all the research indicates. They report alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety. My advice, pencil in some “me time” where you can go for a bike ride, hit the gym, go for a swim or whatever you fancy. Anything that gets you out of your home or work environment, where you can just shut off to the world and release your inner beast!  If that sounds awful to you remember, just 30 minutes 3-5 times a week can instantly boost your mood.


Even at a basic level, knowing you have exercised makes you feel good about yourself. You have done something that benefits you and you’re in control. That’s empowering! Immediately after exercise you can feel your muscles tighten and let’s face it, in a sick and twisted sort of way it feels great to sweat and ache because you’ve pushed yourself! Of course as the weeks go by you will see a physical difference in the mirror. You will stand straighter, walk a little taller and even gain a little bounce in your step. People notice these things will start commenting on how well you look (trust me, they will). This will enhance your self-image and further boost your confidence no end. As the function of your body improves you will find you can achieve more with your body and your quality of life will improve, therefore opening up more possibilities to do things you never would have had the confidence to do before.

The Great Outdoors

Not only one of my favourite films starring the greats Dan Aykroyd and John Candy but a super way getting closer to nature. A place, I believe as a species we are really meant to be. Fresh air, sunshine (vitamin D), wildlife, natural beauty all do amazing things for our state of mind. Becoming dwarfed by nature can help one put their worries and being into perspective. There are so many physical activities you can do outside. Figure out what floats your boat and give it a go. A few suggestions: Team sports, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking.  

Keep the brain active with exercise

Something many people don’t realise is that exercise can be (and it’s my philosophy that it should be) taxing on the brain. Challenging the neuromuscular system (brain connecting with the body through millions of nerve endings and muscle fibres) will not only improve the bodies balance and coordination but also the brains ability to send such messages to the body. The great thing is, like a muscle, the brain responds well to being workout out. You feel tired but satisfied! It’s a sad fact but in later years, our brains deteriorate. Aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, causing the loss of many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet won’t cure Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins at middle age. Exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. So in summary, exercise improves brain functions, better connects brain and body, speeds connection time between brain and body, improves memory and helps maintain healthy brain cells in later life! Exercise not sounding too bad now right?!


Using up all that excess energy and tension in the gym can be extremely tiring.  Many of my clients have reported improved sleeping patters due to regular exercise. As a result they are happier the following day and cope better with whatever life throws their way.

Addiction control

The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure. So when a person becomes dependant on drugs or alcohol (or anything else that gives you a perceived feeling of pleasure) you become addicted to the dopamine. Exercise can be a great distraction. Keeping occupied with exercise, doing something you know will benefit you, can help you forget your cravings for a short while. Working out creates a new focus which hopefully becomes a prioritised alternative to substance or alcohol abuse.

Inspire others to feel good about themselves

Over the years I have trained many different people of different shapes, sizes, ages, back grounds and abilities. You name them, I’ve trained them! What I have found is it’s not just the slim, well-toned “gym rats” that inspire others. It’s the older generation striving to improve their strength and mobility. It’s the overweight individuals slogging through sessions to make themselves healthier. It’s the athletes who offer help and support to beginners which inspire and give them something to aspire to. It’s those who (irrespective of physical appearance) are scared to enter the gym, feel intimidated or have anxiety yet still force themselves to do so. You are all amazing! I also have to mention the support groups that organically form without intention in the gym / class / sports / activity environment.  I believe these groups are fundamentally important in maintaining good mental health. Exercise breaks down social barriers and friends are made over the common bond of exercise and wellbeing. These are friends that can empathise with you and encourage you on your journey.  They are there to pick you up when your mood or motivation dips and make you feel good again. The truth is that anyone who is putting themselves out there and working towards a healthier lifestyle will be inspiring someone else, whether they know it or not. So my advice is not to worry about what you may look like when exercising. You are an inspiration for deciding your own course taking action. That is something to feel positive about.

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