Week 4: It’s all going downhill (not in a good way)

Last week’s run into work was pretty successful. I beat the traffic, saved money on fuel and still got in at the same time as I do when I drive. As much as I can, I’d like to do this every week.

Week 4 therefore begins with the 5 mile up-and-down-but-mostly-down-hill jaunt into work. My training has recently moved up a notch, I’m running faster, longer and am feeling fitter so hoped this would be a breeze after my 7 mile long run last week. Sadly not. I usually find the first few miles a struggle, both physically and mentally. Today was no different and I reach the top of Troopers Hill, a significant turning point for me last week where I felt a surge of euphoria as I powered down the hill which carried me the remaining 2.5 miles to the end. Sadly, today it’s not to be. I pound on, speeding up as I run down the steep gradient waiting for the endorphins to kick in but just for today, it seems, they’re not gracing me with their presence.

The struggle continues as I pass along the Feeder Road. A long, flat and dare I say, boring? Stretch which carries me a further mile in towards town. The traffic is piling up and I use this to my advantage as my pride prevents me from stopping and walking, even though every fiber in my body is telling me to. I reach the end, knowing I only have half a mile or so until I reach my destination, up the pace to 9.5 minute miles. I reach Temple Meads station and dodge the rushed, already stressed commuters. This feels good, 50 mins so far, I just need to get to St Thomas Street within 2 minutes to beat last week’s time. Then I get to the traffic lights and wait for what seems like an age for the lights to change. Finally the green man appears and I sprint my final stretch, coming in at 52 minutes. Slightly disappointed I didn’t get in faster than last week but I’ll happily blame the traffic lights for that :).

As I found Monday’s run quite tough, it has kind of affected my attitude to my next run. Rather than looking forward to a bit of time out (I have 2 children under the age of 3-fellow parents, you understand, right?) and catching up on the week’s gossip with my running bud, I find myself instead dreading what’s ahead and already anticipating the feeling of being bored, worn out and wanting to stop.

This attitude, of course, does me no good. We get in at 4 miles, really slowly. We are telling ourselves (again) that the GPS has gone dickie and we’re bound to have done more but I think we both know it was a pretty rubbish effort. Time to snap out of this attitude and inject a bit of positivity into my brain.

My third and final run of the week, sadly, fared no better. Due to a big promotion we’ve done at the studio we’re incredibly busy, meaning I’m now having to work on a Saturday. This has kind of thrown the training schedule into chaos as I now have to do my long run on a Sunday, meaning I’ll be unable (read: too knackered) to run into work on a Monday.

My brother and sister-in-law stayed this weekend. I cannot tell you how hard it was to get myself up and out Sunday morning. We’ve not seen them since Christmas and all I wanted to do was drink tea, eat bacon sarnies and catch up on their news before taking the kids out for some fun in the park.

I did, however, find some steely determination and get myself out in the bracing cold. It seems , however, that this week has not been my week. A planned 8 miles turned into 2 and a bit when stomach cramps set in 5 minutes in. I tried to push on through it but it’s happened before and I know that it’s no use so I circled around and headed for home. I was pretty gutted for a while. Until the bacon butty was plopped onto my plate and all of a sudden my woes disappeared…

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Week 3: Dry, cold and lost

I’m so tired I can barely remember yesterday, let alone last week, week 3 of my ‘proper’ (i.e. actually making an effort to run a decent distance rather than pootle along with my friend gossiping about clothes/husbands/recent nights out) training.

Let me see, I started the week with a wet but successful 5 miles into work. It’s mostly downhill, it felt good and it gave me some enthusiasm which has sadly been lacking of late.

2 Days later I met my running buddy. We run around an area she’s unfamiliar with and I’m not much more clued up but am getting to know it better as the weeks go on and as a result am in charge of our route. Spurred on by my last good run and feeling adventurous (read: cocky) I decided to take us in a new direction. Mistake. Big mistake. over 4 miles in with 10 minutes to go before we’re due to collect our children from the crèche at the gym, we find ourselves pretty lost. ‘It’s fine’, she says, being altogether way too polite when I know she knows we’re probably miles from the gym, and will need to run at the speed of lightning to get back on time.

All I can say is that there are certain benefits which come from being restricted on time. We powered back, eventually found ourselves back on familiar territory with the help of the map on my iPhone. Coming in at over 5 miles in roughly 50 minutes, we covered more miles than we otherwise would have and a better pace. exhausted and red in the face, we collected our charges just in the nick of time.

Saturday morning I was all set for a 7-mile adventure. On my own this time, I set of at a good 10 minute mile pace, shivering against the cold. It was a freezing morning and I was jumping over icy puddles and, careful to avoid an ankle injury, zigzagging past rock solid mud as I passed through the woods. An adventure indeed!

I have never in my life run more than 7 miles. It seems that psychologically this got the better of me and, after keeping my constant steady pace for 6 miles I found myself stop-starting to the end (or beginning: They’re both the same thing). A touch disappointed but pleased that I’d done the full 7 miles I came back an hour and 12 minutes after I set off. Altogether a good time for me, tough as it was. Onward to week 4!

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How to make friends and massage people

Before Christmas we were approached by Groupon, a company who team up with local businesses to offer greatly discounted products and services on the basis that a large number will be purchased. The company have a database of 130,000 people in Bristol alone who subscribe to the Groupon daily deal newsletter.

We sat and had a cuppa and chat with the sales executive and decided that we’d offer an hour’s sports massage or spinal rehabilitation consultation for £14 instead of £40. We’ve only been open 2 years and as we still have people coming in, saying ‘I didn’t know you were here’ we figured it can only be a good thing getting our name out to 130,000 people.

The deal went out on Friday 21st January. I logged on when I got up that morning, at about 7am and already 20-odd were sold. We watched as the number rose steadily throughout the day and the phone calls started trickling in. By the end of the day, 271 had been bought and, as the deal was on as an ‘extra’ deal for the next 2 days, by Sunday evening we had a grand total of 430 new customers. To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement.

Last week was manic. We were flooded with phone calls, emails and the answering service we use when we’re not able to answer the phone were pinging emails to us every 5 minutes with details of another caller who wanted to book in.

I’d say out of the 70 or so people we’ve spoken to so far, about 95% want the sports massage as opposed to spinal rehab consultation, perhaps the appeal of a deep, de-stressing treatment is greater this time of year when stress levels are pretty critical.

The one challenge we’re facing is that many people want evening appointments. We need to keep our commitment to our existing clients and have a certain number of evening slots available for them so we currently have a few weeks waiting time for after work treatments. We have decided to open the studio again on a Saturday, something we did early last year until the demand for weekend appointments tailed off. We will stay open on a Saturday as long as we have the demand for it. It seems a good solution for those who work away for the week or who don’t work near us.

So, just over a week in and between Carolyn, Andy and myself we’ve seen 20 people so far. It’s lovely meeting so many new people and of the 20, 2 have already rebooked for a second massage and one has booked a 12-week spinal rehab programme. Proof, perhaps, that it will be a few months of hard work but there are plenty of people out there who we can help and this deal has been a great way to introduce us to some lovely new clients.

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First aid when back pain strikes

When back pain strikes, take the right action in the early stages and you can increase your chances of returning to normal activities quickly. 90% Of back pain sufferers will recover in 6 weeks.

There are a number of steps you can take if you are suffering acute pain:

Keep moving
Traditional advice was bed rest for a bad back. Research shows that this is counterproductive and can prolong the problem. If you can, continue your daily activities but do take extra care when lifting. Help protect your spine by engaging your core muscles when lifting, twisting, bending, pushing or pulling. Learn more about how to engage your core muscles here

Use pain killing medication
If the pain is affecting your ability to function normally, use paracetamol or ibuprofen to give you short-term relief. It’s not advisable to use painkillers long-term so if your pain persists, seek professional help.

Use heat or cold to relieve the pain
If your back pain is the result of inflammation, an ice pack or bag of something from the freezer could help reduce swelling and ease the pain. If, however, you are experiencing muscular pain, heat could provide necessary relief. A hot water bottle or warm bath are both good options to get heat into the area. Chances are though, you won’t know whether your pain is muscular or inflammatory so the best thing to do is try both heat and cold and use the one which provides the most relief.

Exercise
By strengthening the lumbar extensors and surrounding muscles, you will provide essential support for your spine. Not only will this ease your pain, it will also help prevent further attacks. Here are 4 exercises which can help if you’re suffering from acute pain. If you are new to exercise, or are unsure what to do, you should see a physiotherapist or back care professional.

Massage
A deep-tissue or sports massage can help relieve tension in sore muscles, stretch the soft tissue structures and break down any adhesions which may be inhibiting function and causing pain. Short-term, massage is an excellent solution for immediate pain relief.

Finally, if your pain lasts longer than 6 weeks, you should seek help from a back pain specialist. You could see your GP but it’s likely that all they will be able to do is prescribe medication or refer you to a NHS physio which can be a lengthy process.

A common factor linking chronic low back pain is insufficient strength of the core and lumbar muscles. Read more here about how strengthening exercises can help with chronic pain. When you look for a professional, try to find one who will include progressive strengthening exercise as part of your rehab programme.

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Running diary week 2: The wetter, the better?

Well, last week was a bit of a disaster so I’m not going to dwell on it too much. Having suffered from a nasty flu bug over Christmas, I think I tried to get back into running too soon and even 3 miles was a struggle. Given that I was doing 7 miles before the bug I was pretty demoralised to say the least.

After words of encouragement from fellow runners on Twitter I was feeling ready to face week 2 with renewed gusto.

I agreed to meet my running buddy on Wednesday morning. The wettest day of the year yet. Brilliant. This, however, is exactly why I love running with a friend. Neither of us dared text the other to cry off for fear of letting the other down. With the little ones safely dispatched in crèche, waterproofs (or, in my case, showerproofs: note to self, buy waterproofs) firmly secured, off we went.

Somewhere on the streets of Bradley Stoke, the most unlikely of places, I found my running mojo. Oh, how I missed you! We managed 4 miles. A small victory but a victory over the energy-sapping, morale-stealing running demons of the previous week. Perhaps I run better in the rain?

With my regained enthusiasm and a rest day behind me, I set my sights on a longer run on Friday and set off from my Mums in Weston with another running buddy, this time of the four-legged variety. I find I better well if I don’t know the area well. I guess the thought that goes into figuring out where I’m going and trying not to get myself lost stops me thinking about how hard the run is and how long until it ends. True to form, getting myself lost in Weston did the trick and I had an easy 5 miles in the bag. My companion, Barney, however, was not so enthusiastic. Dripping tongue lolling after a good slurp of cold water, he spent the rest of the day, um, spent. Think I’ll stick to the shorter runs with him in future.

I was then planning to do a longer run Sunday but also had a plan to run the 5 miles into work today, Monday. That, and the lure of toast, pints of tea and gorgeous cuddly Sunday morning toddlers was enough to dissuade me. I settled for a long walk with the family instead. Much less effort, arguably not very advantageous to my training but fun none the less (and better for Barney :))

So that brings us to today. The start of week 3. My plan to run in to work this morning was only briefly in jeopardy when I dropped the children at nursery in the pouring rain, but for once, my steely determination kicked in and spurred on by the fact that I hadn’t run yesterday I put my water (shower) proofs on and off I went.

I took it steady, knowing I had a big hill to negotiate out of Hanham. The rush hour traffic was building. To my advantage, I was to discover. Pride prevented me from stopping and walking, knowing there were people watching me as they sat idling in the traffic on the way to work. As I reached the brow of the hill I was tired but knowing I had a lovely 1/2 mile or so down Troopers Hill kept me going.

I powered down the hill, the familiar feeling of euphoria coming over me with Florence in my ears (“run for your children, for your sisters and brothers”, one of my favourite running tracks). This must be the elusive runners high.

This carried me the rest of the way into work. Cold, wet, and waiting for Andy to arrive with my clothes I sit here feeling tired, but great. 5 miles in 52 minutes. Just a few minutes to shave off, but no matter, I’m feeling good, I’m back and ready to bring on the week.

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Functional exercise and back pain: how can it help?

Strong muscles are the key to spinal health. The muscles surrounding the spine act as its support system. To use an analogy, imagine a tall building surrounded by scaffolding, with the building representing the spine and the scaffolding representing the muscles. Now, if the scaffolding were removed, the strength of the building will be compromised. The same goes for the spine, if the muscles are weakened, the spine is at greater risk of injury.

If you’ve ever broken a bone, when the cast was removed you probably noticed a reduction in the muscle surrounding the affected area. It’s exactly the same when you experience back pain or injury. Because the muscles have not been used properly, they thin and waste. This, in turn, leaves you at risk of re-injury unless you work to re-build the muscles to restore functionality and strength.

If you have, or are currently experiencing back pain, it’s important that you undertake a rehabilitation programme which includes relevant exercises to strengthen your core and low back muscles to ensure optimum support for your spine.

So, how do you do it? The muscles running down either side of the spine, the Erector Spinae act as columns when you bend and lift. These are the muscles which come in to play when you do exercises such as dorsal raises and most ‘traditional’ back-extension movements. However, If you think about your day-to-day activities, how often does the movement involve just forwards-and-backwards flexion and extension? Opening doors, picking up bags, rolling over in bed all involve movements in other planes and therefore, use different muscles.

By performing functional exercises, you can hit these small, deeper muscles which, in turn will make you stronger and better supported to carry out your daily activities. Gym machines have their place but in the context of back pain, they’re pretty irrelevant. A shoulder press is all well and good but how many times during the day do you sit down and push a heavy item above your head? In reality, when you, say, reach up to put something in a cupboard, not only will your shoulder muscles be working but (amongst others) your core muscles will need to come into play to stabilise your trunk as your centre of gravity changes.

More and more gyms are moving towards functional exercise now and many are bringing in equipment to help. Kettlebells, TRX training and ViPR equipment are commonplace in many gyms nowadays.  If you have back pain and have access to a gym, it is well worth booking a session with an instructor to learn how to use this kit.

If you don’t have access to a gym, there is still plenty you can do to incorporate functional exercise into your routine.  Functional movements can be split into 7 basic types:

Squatting
Bending
Lunging
Pushing
Pulling
Twisting
Gait

Think back to your day-to-day activities and they will all contain one or more of the above movements. Therefore, you can use these 7 categories to devise a functional training plan.

We’ll soon be posting a functional training plan you can do at home or in the gym. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding back pain or functional exercise, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Fitness myths-fact or fiction?

Does weight training make you bulky? Will hundreds of sit-ups give you a flat stomach? Take a look at these common fitness misconceptions and read the truth behind them.

1. Muscle turns to fat

False. Muscle and fat are 2 completely different tissues. What people commonly experience when they stop training is muscle atrophy (wasting) accompanied by increased fat storage due to a fall in metabolism so the muscle is replaced by fat.

2. Women trying to lose inches should avoid weights because it’ll make them bulky

False. On the contrary, in fact. Weight training increases lean tissue, which in turn increases metabolism and can actually help with fat loss. Read more about the link between metabolism and weight training here . Much depends also on the type of training you do. You can bulk up but it takes a lot of hard work, just ask any bodybuilder. By sticking to a simple, medium intensity weights programme a few times a week you’ll get the metabolism-boosting benefits without unwanted bulk.

3. If you want a flat stomach, do lots of sit-ups

False. Unfortunately we can’t ‘spot reduce’, or decide where we lose fat from first. Unless you work to lose the layer of fat covering them, your stomach muscles will remain hidden. To lose fat, we need to burn more calories than we consume. Try a combination of cardiovascular and resistance exercise whilst maintaining a healthy diet (lots of fresh fruit & veg, lean protein and avoiding processed foods & sugar) to boost your metabolism and drop the fat. If you have excess fat around your middle, by doing this you’ll eventually see a reduction

You’ll only lose weight if you sweat

False. Research shows it’s possible so burn a significant number of calories without breaking a sweat. Walking, for example, can burn 280 calories per hour. Sweating is merely the body’s way of cooling itself and everyone is different in terms of how efficient their ‘cooling system’ is.

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