Category Archives: Exercises

Simple descriptions and illustrations of the exercises I use in my everyday routine to stay on top of my fitness wherever I am.

Pool exercises

I prefer to stand in a part of the pool where the water is just up to my neck. I like to think the reflection off the water makes my efforts a little less obvious. Though who knows, if people noticed me exercising, maybe I’d start a trend.

First off, leg swings.

Simple enough, but as with all aqua aerobic stuff, the water adds resistance. You’ll feel these in your obliques, your quads and your hamstrings.

Then work those arms.

Bicep and tricep curls.

Combine the two for best effect.

With hands facing forwards, elbows tight in at the waist, bring your hands to your shoulders.

Then spin your hands around
(cup them to make the most of
the water resistance) and push back down to by your sides.

For the shoulders, stretch both arms out to the sides, then bring them in to the front, back out and repeat.

Repeat all these at least 20 times and do them as often as you can throughout the day to keep burning off all that beer and tapas.

Exercise 4: Stretching

These stretching exercises supplement The importance of stretching and hydration. I thought I know how to stretch, until I went to a physio with a groin injury and she pointed out how little stretching I was actually doing, compared to how well I thought I was doing. Try these if your lower body isn’t as supple as you would like it to be. These stretches, along with drinking more water, have almost completely stopped the aches in my hips that were keeping me awake at night.

So many people could describe downward dog better than I can, so for that one, try this link how-to-do-downward-facing-dog-in-yoga

It’s never too late to start your new year resolutions

My last post on this blog was August 2017. A new job with early mornings and late nights had the usual consequences; workouts went out the window, and so did my writing.

But a new year always brings new inspiration doesn’t it? So in January I recommitted to getting fit and started my system again from scratch. I looked back to the very beginning and started doing all those little, but everywhere exercises again.

From early morning stretches, to squats and standing pushups when I visit the loo in work, I’m back on track and feeling a million times better for it.

My walk from the car park to work is 12 minutes each way, and I try to walk up the stairs too – that’s 6 flights. But I can’t seem to bring myself to walk down at the end of my day. I say it’s because it’s late, and the stairwell is too quiet. But that’s not really it. What stops me? Is it that I just feel too tired and want to get out of there? Is it because I’m ALWAYS late leaving the office, so I’m in a hurry? Or is it something else. What is that hurdle I can’t seem to get over? Answers on a postcard, – or in the comments section…

My shift pattern doesn’t allow me a regular routine, but I am fitting little bits of exercise in everywhere. I’ve even added a few things, so as well as the exercises in Exercise 1 Work out anywhere, which include engaging my core whenever I remember, seated crunches and seated leg lifts, I keep adding new things here and there. I think I’ve simply grown to like moving, whenever I can. The new exercises are things like:

  • Standing leg curls for my hamstrings (anywhere I’m stood still, like waiting for the kettle)
  • Standing hamstring stretches (as above)
  • Standing quad stretches (see the stretches linked from Month 5)
  • Lateral (side) stretch
  • Adductor (groin) stretch – usually while watching tv, or now while I’m typing this.
  • Flexing my ankle joints, seated hamstring stretch
  • The odd yoga pose (Warrior and Sun Salutation are easy enough – just google them)
  • Bicep curls (no weights or bands, but still something – you could always pick up a tin of beans)

The list is pretty endless. If you can do it either standing or sitting still, I’m doing it. Admittedly more at home than at work, but I still do all those seated desk exercises in Exercise 1 too, and I do those at work.

I’m sure my partner thinks I’m crazy sometimes, but it’s STILL working. Even when I did very little, it was just enough to keep me vaguely on track.

So I gained a few pounds over Christmas (about 6 I think) but that’s all gone again.

I feel a bit stiff sometimes. I pulled a groin muscle laying some decking last year, and I pulled my back a bit clearing out the garage, but these exercises are easy enough that I can still do them, and the stretches are helping with those injuries.

If you feel the need to get all this down in a routine that works for you, don’t forget there’s a table ready for you to fill in if you want it Table for own routine. All January I promised myself I’d work out an actual routine for myself, but I still haven’t done it. Maybe I’ll get around to it before February is out. If I do, I’ll share it.

Whatever you decide to do, if you are really going for it, don’t forget your warm up… Here’s a great arm warm up – with or without resistance bands.

 

 

 

Aah, holidays…

Why would I exercise while I’m away – I’m on me ‘olidays…’.

For me, holidays are the perfect time to treat myself with a bit more tlc. I still enjoy nice food, beer at lunchtime and wine with dinner, but I also indulge in a bit more activity than usual. Who doesn’t want to look their best in a bikini?

‘How?’ I hear you ask, ‘the kids are up early and dying to get to the beach/pool/down for breakfast.

My friends are no exception, we generally have a full day of ‘activity’ planned, even if that’s just lying by the pool. If I want a proper concentrated workout I have to get up early. Luckily, one of our group likes an early morning run, so I’m not always the only one up with the sunrise. It’s a great time to make use of an empty terrace for 20 minutes or go for a walk. Sometimes others come with me, but I’m just as happy on my own, taking in what’s around me and wishing the locals good morning.

A few years ago, when I was just starting to try and get fitter, I felt drab and frumpy in my ancient workout gear yet not inspired enough to spend serious money on new stuff. I guess I didn’t feel I was worth it.

A couple of days into a holiday in Turkey, I spent about thirty quid on some great looking Nike 3 quarters and some vest tops, all totally knock off of course, but it gave me the confidence to nip to gym in the resort every other day for the rest of the trip. Just 15 minutes on the treadmill and ten minutes of floor exercises and I felt energised for the day. My excuse, so as not to seem like a total goody two shoes? To get the towels on the beds. I’d have a swim too, and all before breakfast.

Even throughout the day, there’s no excuse for not having a swim when the others are in the pool. Can’t swim? Stand in the shallow end, water to your shoulders and do anything from leg lifts to bicep curls. For the most part, the reflection off the water will conceal your efforts if you’re embarrassed. There are even exercises you can do on your sunbed. Just get creative with a few simple arm, leg and core movements. Here’s a quick sample of a few pool excercises I do to start you off.



It’s easy to GAIN weight on holiday. Beer, ice-cream, sodas, yummy meals out and desserts. But with a bit of effort you can maintain what you’ve worked so hard for, or even LOSE an extra inch or two.

Pool exercises

Month 6: Incremental improvement

I see this whole fitness lark as a incremental improvement thing. Some people talk about changing your lifestyle, and yes, if you’ve been a total couch potato for the last few years and eat tons of junk food, then maybe you do need a bit of a lifestyle change. But that’s a scary thought isn’t it? Anything that puts you outside your comfort zone is scary. And what if that wasn’t you? What if you were always moderately active, and eat good, home cooked food and still find yourself slowing down and putting on a few extra bumps here and there.

I nearly always cook from scratch, so I always know what’s in my food. I might get a takeaway at weekends, and I do eat out a lot, but I never eat ready meals laden with salt and sugar.

I do give in to chocolate cravings once in a while, and I love baking cakes, but my biggest downfall is probably red wine. I certainly wasn’t up for anything that could be called a lifestyle change.

I wanted small changes, that wouldn’t impact how I live my life but would still have incremental effects on my body. And it worked. If you’re six months into this, hopefully it’s working for you too.

So far I’ve written this as my ‘story’. A gradual learning process that set me off on the right foot towards feeling fitter. If you are already a bit of a gym bunny, you probably won’t find this useful at all, but if you’re a bit overweight and struggling to know where to start, I hope it’s given you some pointers. From here on in I will be posting as I find new and interesting information, still hopefully at least once a month, more often in my Twitter feed.

For my final ‘monthly’ piece I’m going to focus on two tips to make any exercise you do find time for, work harder for you.

Interval training

I’d heard of interval training, but it was when I saw  a channel 4 programme, the name of which I’ve long since forgotten, showing how many more calories you burn when you vary the level of exercise you do that I really sat up and took notice. This is simply exercising as hard as you can for short bursts, with rests (or slower exercises) in between. The programme I saw showed the participants walking, then running, then walking again, and they burned more calories at the time than someone who was just walking or just running, and kept on burning calories for a couple of hours afterwards.

The Body Coach workouts (https://www.thebodycoach.com/) are based on interval workouts; he gets you to exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10.

I forget all the science behind it, but it’s out there if you want to search for it.

Fasting workouts

I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a fan of dieting, this isn’t dieting, it’s just timing your eating habits to when you tend to do exercise.

I first read about fasting workouts from reading an article by Scott Laidler, who writes a weekly column for the Telegraph. (Scott.laidler.com / Telegraph.co.uk) The basic upshot is that if you exercise on an empty stomach (8 hours after last eating) your body gets its energy from stored fat instead of food that you are still in the process of digesting. This seems to be how a lot of people advise getting rid of those stubborn fat areas; the bits you struggle most to trim down.

For me, the easiest time to do a fasting workout is first thing in the morning. Calling it a fasting workout is a bit grand really when all I really do is to put off eating my breakfast until I get to work, so any walking I do or any energy I expend in the morning is drawing on those fat reserves. I guess if I couple that with interval training the effect will be multiplied. That might not be true, but it can’t hurt.

When I do eat breakfast it tends to be fairly healthy: either muesli, or fruit, or if I’m on the move I make myself a smoothie before I leave the house. I know there are mixed views about smoothies, apparently they turn the good fruit sugars into free sugars, but surely it’s still better than a bacon butty!

Some of this must work, because really, considering how I love my food and how little I really actually exercise, I have managed to maintain a body size and shape that I’m relatively happy with. That doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t rather be a bit fitter and toned, but I’ve stayed roughly the same weight for two years now doing this, where before I started, my weight was gradually creeping upwards.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far, and I hope I can continue to inspire you on a daily basis as I up my tweets, and maybe my blog posts.

Exercise Sheet 3: Warm up exercises

The importance of warming up

There’s nothing more off-putting than waking up the morning after doing some exercise and feeling like you can barely move. Warm up and cool down, as well as stretching (See Month 5) are crucial to avoid this.

Obviously I’m going to include my usual mantra of walking, anywhere and everywhere. But you should even stretch before and after a walk to avoid injury or even just aches and pains.

Plus, sometimes you need to get your heart going a bit faster than a walk allows, so try these out:

  • Stand at the bottom of your stairs (or by your decking or back step). Facing the step, step up, left foot first, followed by your right foot, and back down left foot first, followed by the right foot. Repeat 20 times. Do the same again, leading with the right foot. To get your heart pumping, you need to do it quite quickly, hold on to the banister if this helps keep you steady.
  • If you are ok doing squats, then do 20 fast squats as a warm up.
  • What about gentle jogging or marching on the spot? If marching, get those knees as high up as you can, and get your arms moving too.
  • If you planning a good arm workout, an extra warm up on your arms isn’t going to do any harm. Stand straight bring your arms to your chest in ‘boxing’ pose and punch out forwards and across your body crating a slight twist at your waist. Repeat, at least 20 times with each arm (alternating). If you want to make it a bit harder, use the resistance bands from Exercise 2: wrap the band around your back and hold one end in each hand. See Ex3 for this with and without the resistance bands.

And with summer approaching, let’s start thinking about getting those arms ready for t-shirts and vests. Nice toned shoulders and biceps/triceps look great with a glass of holiday fizz!

 

 

Month 5: Stretching and warm-ups

Getting back into exercise after easing off for a while means you should be extra careful not to dive straight in and overdo it.

Most people I know (including myself) go really hard at it afterwards because they feel they should catch up on all that exercise they missed in between. But whether you’ve taken a break like I had to, or you just find it hard to stay motivated and end up lapsing from time to time, when you’re ready to get going again, ease back in slowly; overdoing it in the first week or so will increase your risk of injury, and cause some aches and pains that’ll just put you off again. If it feels like hard work you won’t want to do it. The reason I’ve kept to this is because it’s a manageable lifestyle change, not a quick fix that’s hard to sustain.

I like to make sure I do proper warm-ups and stretches. (Actually, this applies whether I’ve eased off a bit or not – warming up and stretching is always important.)

Warm up

When I first get up in the morning, I tend to feel a bit stiff, my ankles and right hip take some time to wake up and get moving, so, as nuts as it sounds, I use my morning routine as a pre-warm up, warm up.

I get my coffee on (crucial first step for me), stick some music on and empty the dishwasher, tidy up, put things away from the night before, wander out with the bin and recycling, anything that starts me moving without really thinking about it. After about ten minutes of doing stuff that needs doing anyway, I’m ready for a proper warm up

Obviously I’m going to include my usual mantra of walking, anywhere and everywhere. But sometimes you need to get your heart going a bit faster, so try these out:

  • Stand at the bottom of your stairs (or by your decking or back step). Facing the step, step up, left foot first, followed by your right foot, and back down left foot first, followed by the right foot. Repeat 20 times. Do the same again, leading with the right foot. To get your heart pumping, you need to do it quite quickly, hold on to the banister if this helps keep you steady.
  • If you are ok doing squats, then do 20 fast squats as a warm up.
  • What about gentle jogging or marching on the spot? If marching, get those knees as high up as you can, and get your arms moving too.
  • If you planning a good arm workout, an extra warm up on your arms isn’t going to do any harm. Stand straight bring your arms to your chest in ‘boxing’ pose and punch out forwards and across your body crating a slight twist at your waist. Repeat, at least 20 times with each arm (alternating). If you want to make it a bit harder, use the resistance bands from Exercise 2: wrap the band around your back and hold one end in each hand. See Ex3 for this with and without the resistance bands.

 

I got so into the warm ups that if I didn’t have time for a full workout, I started doing only the warm ups. They became a warm up to my walk up and down the stairs at work. I found they set me up to walk even faster. It became an upward spiral.

I was enjoying getting my heart going faster so much I started wanting more and more cardiovascular (CV) stuff and  discovered Joe Wickes (The Body Coach).

On a weekend when I had more time, or if I got up just 15 minutes earlier than usual I started doing his low impact Hiit routine. Find it here on YouTube

He has lost of other hiit workouts on there, do whichever one takes your fancy. I started with this low impact one because it puts less strain on my knees.

Stretching

After I’ve warmed up I always make sure I do some stretches, even if I know I won’t be doing an actual workout. Someone told me years ago that animals stretch all their muscles daily, and that in itself keeps them fit. I have no idea if it’s true, but I choose to believe it anyway. If you’ve ever watched a dog or a cat wake up, you will notice they always have a good long stretch before they do anything else. You can’t beat a natural instinct I reckon.

For stretches, I can’t do any better than referring you to the whole body stretching routine on SportScience.co website http://www.sportsscience.co/flexibility/whole-body-stretching-routine/

I pretty much always do 4-8 and 13-21, but you should do whichever ones fit with the workout you plan to do. Even better if you can find time to do all of them.

Exercise 1: Work out anywhere

Start Simple

I’ve started simple, anything you can do surreptitiously, and virtually anywhere. Little and often is better than nothing at all.

TIPS

  • Do these exercises wherever and whenever you can. On the train, sat at your desk, as a passenger in a car (NOT as the driver).
  • To overcome the fact that your fellow passengers/colleagues may think you’re a little crazy, forget the usual 3 sets of ten or fifteen fast reps, instead do one set of ten, but hold each pose for a count of ten. This builds deep muscle strength, but is also less obvious!
  • Engage your core all the time, it will get stronger every minute, and the more muscle you build, the more fat you’ll burn. Your metabolism will speed up and it will get easier and easier.
  • Some of the exercises show the ‘traditional’ position, then my ‘alternative’ version. Think how the original would feel in your muscles; the aim is to replicate that muscle action even though you might be sitting on a train.

Note: All my exercises assume prior knowledge of exercising. If you have never been to the gym and don’t know the best way to do them, stop now and get some tuition so you know you are doing it right. But if you’ve been shown how to do them before, and just need some incentive, then carry on reading. As with any exercises, make sure you are not putting strain on your back, and if you are in pain, STOP!

A, and A Alt. Text describes action shown

Traditional crunches and my alternative method.

B and B Alt, text explains actions.

Reverse crunches, traditional and my alternate method.

C, and D. Text describes action shown

Leg lifts (extensions) and standing leg curls

E: Text describes action shown

Easy standing push ups

A: A standard crunch involves lying on the floor, knees bent, engaging the core muscles and bringing your chest toward your knees.

  • Now imagine using the same muscles, but sat upright with hands resting on your desk (train seat in front) and knees bent slightly under your chair.
  • Engage your core and pelvic floor muscles, and lean slightly forward until you feel a tightening of the abs and your stomach muscles actively engage.
  • Make sure you don’t strain your back as you do it. You can increase the effort by pushing against your desk, or the seat in front, with your hands.
  • Rather than doing three sets of ten quick reps of this, like you might usually, hold the position for ten seconds, and repeat ten times. I guarantee you will feel as though you have done three standard sets of sit-ups. Because you are doing the action slowly, no-one will even notice, AND you can still work while you are doing it.

B: A reverse crunch is when you bring your knees up towards your chest instead.

  • Sat upright at your desk, knees bent and feet flat on the floor; engaging your pelvic floor muscles and your core muscles to rotate your pelvis forward and upwards, raising your knees up so that your heels raise of the floor. Again, 10 reps of 10 seconds.

C: Leg extension. Normally done on a static weights machine in the gym.

  • You can easily do these at your desk.  Just sit at your desk with knees at a right angle and raise each leg at a time. When done slowly (10 reps of 10 seconds) this works your quads and stretches your hamstrings.

D: Leg curl. The opposite of a leg extension.

  • If you’re going to work your quads, you need to work your hamstrings too. At this level, just stand still and raise each leg by bending the knee. 10 reps of 10 seconds. If you want to stretch your quads too, you’ve stretched your hamstrings after all, then take hold of your ankle and pull gently till you feel the stretch at the front.
  • If you feel these are too easy and you want to add a bit of resistance, you could use ankle weights if you have them. Use the weights equally while doing the leg extension and the leg curl.

E: Standing Push ups

  • Women in particular often struggle with push ups, especially at first. This is a great way to start using those arm muscles without all the heaving and groaning. You could eventually progress to half push ups (traditional position but just from the knees) after a month or so of doing these. These won’t work your core to the same extent as a regular push up, but they’re a start, and that’s what this is all about.
  • Lean slightly forward with your hands against a wall.
  • Rotating at the ankles, allow your whole body to lean closer in, then push away again. As simple as that. Like a push up, but standing up. And you can do it wherever there’s a wall: In the loo, at a bus stop, in a lift (again best to choose the stairs though). 10 reps of 10 seconds.

These exercises are gentle enough to do at least once a day, more if you feel you can. Even at this pace, it doesn’t hurt to combine them with some stretches. There is lots of reference online for good stretching routines. Here’s one I found to get you started. http://www.sportsscience.co/flexibility/whole-body-stretching-routine/

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Month 1: the first steps – walk your way fit

I have two work contracts. I drive to one and get the train to the other. Either way, I spend at least two hours of my day commuting and I want to put that time to good use.

I’ve always tried to fit walking into any commute. The two days I drive I park at least a fifteen minute walk from the office, further if I have time, and when I’m on the train I have a fifteen minute walk to the station, so all told I’m walking for half an hour a day, and even after week it started to get easier. By the end of the month, I could actually run if I was late, that wasn’t an option before.

When I drive, it’s just me, so even when I’m stuck in Jams, there isn’t much I can do. But if you car share, and take turns driving, then you could do a decent workout on the way to work every other day. Fab! For me, the train and the office were destined to be my main focus but the exercises will be pretty much the same.

I’m no expert, I’m just a 55 year old woman who wants to get fit, but I’ve been to the gym before, and I’ve had a couple of stints with a physiotherapist after a knee op, so I knew what I wanted and what I had to work on. Walking is great for general fitness, but I was also thinking, “What about those bingo wings? How do I work my arms out ? What about my core muscles?” I’m sure there are lots of you out there who can relate to my rambling thoughts below.

What, when and how?

I’m a great fan of lists, so this is my very first list of ‘What?’, ‘When?’ and ‘How?’.

Note: To see examples of the first exercises I came up with, see Exercise 1. These are pretty simple on purpose. This is just the beginning in a whole new you. I will add more exercise routines as and when I get a chance, at least monthly. Don’t forget to keep up with the walking too; you want to get fit AND tone up, so you need both.

A list of exercises also shown in text

My first list of random thoughts on exercises I could do anywhere

Arms/bingo wings/those bits that bulge from under my bra straps

  • Bicep curls
  • Press ups/pull ups/arm raises
  • Need some form of resistance? Wrist weights? My bag? Handle on the seat in front?
  • Stand up ‘press-ups’. Leaning at an angle on a wall and pushing. Anywhere really, but lifts or loos are the best option.

The exercises I should do to support my knee

  • Squats, leg raises at my desk?

Lose the flab around my waist

  • Stretches (when I go to the loo?)
  • Sit-ups/reverse curls (not really possible, is there an alternative?)
  • Can ‘engage’ core muscles sitting anywhere (desk/train)
  • pelvic floor exercises (as above, pretty much anywhere)

Glutes, I don’t want to get ‘old-woman-flat-bum-syndrome’

  • Squats (loo again)

Exercise 1

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