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Exercises for Better Posture

Your spine is made up of five separate sections, all of which are curved. The inward curves are called lordotic curves whilst the outward curves are called kyphotic curves. When these curves become excessive you can develop problems with your spine such as back pain. Because of modern-day posture caused by long periods sat at your computer or watching TV, your upper spine can develop an excessive outward or kyphotic curve which presents as rounding of the upper back and a forward head position. There are a number of things you can do to avoid developing an excessive kyphotic curve, which is correctly termed hyper kyphosis.











Soft Tissue Release using a Foam Roller
Lying face up on a foam roller and performing soft tissue release can help to reposition your spine and is a lot like having a massage. Foam rollers are available from sporting goods stores and in 2010 cost around $15.00. You should spend 5 minutes a day using a foam roller to maximize its effectiveness but be careful not to overdo it. If you are overly aggressive with your rolling you may make your back sore.

foam roller





Door way Chest Stretch
Kyphosis is, in part, caused by overly tight chest muscles. When your chest muscles shorten and become tight they pull your shoulders forwards and inwards which can increase your kyphotic curve. Stretch your chest by using a standard doorway. Standing in an open door way and place your elbows on the door frame at shoulder height. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with your hands flat on the door frame. Keep your elbows in place and lean through the door to gently stretch both sides of your chest at the same time. As you feel your chest muscles relaxing, increase the depth of the stretch. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times every day.

chest stretch






Face Pulls

Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back can help to draw your shoulder blades back and lessen your kyphosis. Attach two rubber exercise bands to a sturdy anchor at chest height. Grasp a band in each hand. Keeping your elbows level with your shoulders and held out wide, pull the band towards your face-hence the name of the exercise. Concentrate on keeping your elbows up and your wrists straight. Pause for 1 to 2 seconds in the most contracted position before slowly returning to the start. Repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions, resting 60 seconds between sets. This exercise can also be performed using an adjustable pulley.

face pulls





Standing Wall Angels
This exercises strengthens the muscles between your shoulder blades but does so isometrically. This means that although your muscles are working, they don’t actually move. Your muscles often work isometrically to maintain your posture. Stand 12 inches away from a wall and lean back against it. Keeping your head against the wall, raise your arms and place your elbows against the wall. Bend your arms to 90 degrees and place the backs of your hands against the wall. You should now be in a “stick ‘em up” position. Slowly slide your hands up the wall as far as your flexibility allows while pushing your elbows against the wall. Once you have reached up as far as you can, slowly lower your arms until your elbows are level with your shoulders. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions, resting 60 seconds between sets. 

wall angels

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Pep up Your Posture

I’ve been sat here hunched over my computer trying to think of a suitable topic for a while now. That’s when it struck me…chances are that you are doing the same (hunching over your computer I mean, not searching for fitness-related newsletter inspiration). This got me thinking about posture. I know each week I usually pontificate about strength training, nutrition or, even on occasion, dog walking but it occurred to me that one of the most important aspects of health and fitness is actually something we need to think about almost 24/7.

If you look up the word posture in the dictionary you’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful definitions but for the purpose of today’s lesson assume posture to be “the optimal alignment of joints”. A joint is the union of two or more bones and when a joint is aligned optimally it is in such a position that it is not placed under any injurious stress.

Sadly, the adaptive mechanisms that allow you to get fitter and stronger as a result of exercise also allow your body to adapt to slouching, sitting down too much and generally not “standing up straight”. If you spend a lot of time sat down, your body gets really good at sitting down! This means that very important muscles on the back of your body get elongated and weakened and other muscles on the front of your body get shortened and tightened. As a result, when you DO try and stand up straight, it’s really hard because not only do you have to overcome gravity to stand up tall like a guardsman, you have to battle against short, tight muscles as well as mean old gravity.

Modern life has become progressively more passive over the last couple of decades. More and more of us make our livings sat down. We travel sat down, spend our leisure time sat down and, because of this, fitness equipment manufacturers design machines that allow us to work out sat down. We are turning into a race of sit-o-holics!

Poor posture, as a result of sitting down to much, can have an adverse effect on spine health and increases your chances of suffering bulging intervertebral discs and other forms of back pain such as sciatica. In addition, a rounded back posture, properly called hyperkyphosis, promotes an outward bulging abdomen. And how do most people attempt to fix this? By performing lots and lots of ab exercises which actually compounds the problem. Poor posture can also cause headaches, shoulder problems, digestive problems, knee pain, reduce general functionality and is also responsible for the current world-wide financial crisis. If everyone could learn to sit and stand up straight, the world would be a happier and friendlier place.

Stand in front of a mirror and look at your hands. Can you see the backs of your hands in the mirror? If you can, your shoulders are probably protracted (rolled forwards) and your upper arms rotated inwards. Next, stand sideways on – you may need to ask a friend to check this for you – is any of your upper back visible from the side? If it is, your shoulders are definitely protracted. Is your ear over your shoulder or is your head jutting forward? A forward head carry suggests you have tight neck flexor muscles. Now look at your lower back. Do you have a nice, small but noticeable arch or is your lower back flat? It may even be excessively arched. Either way, your spine is not in optimal alignment and back pain is only a heavy shopping bag away.

One of the best ways to sort your posture is to develop postural awareness. You literally need to teach yourself to sit and stand up straight. As posture is habitual, you will need to think about the way you sit and stand almost constantly before it becomes subconscious.

Try this exercise to help you get into good seated posture. Do this at the top of every hour and you’ll be on your way to picture perfect posture. Actually, do it right now. I’m watching you so no slacking!

  1. Shuffle forwards on so that only your “sitting bones” are on your chair
  2. Plant your feet flat on the floor so your shins are vertical
  3. Let your arms hang down at your sides
  4. Roll your shoulders forwards and round your upper back – you have my permission to slouch!
  5. Lift your chest, arch your lower back slightly and try to sit up as tall as you can without leaning back
  6. Tuck your chin in and raise the crown of your head upwards to elongate your neck
  7. Rotate your hands outward and draw your shoulders down and back
  8. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds while breathing evenly and deeply
  9. Relax but not too much. Try to maintain good posture for as long as you can. Eventually you will sag back down into your normal slouched seating position but with practice, you’ll maintain good posture for longer and longer until it becomes automatic

You can also do this exercise while standing. Don’t worry – while it may look a little odd, chances are nobody is watching you because their posture is so bad they’ll be looking down at the floor anyway!

Another way to counter bad posture is to try and sit less. Stand up on the bus or train, walk instead of drive, do squats and not leg curls and leg presses, standing shoulder presses instead of supine bench presses. If sitting down too much is what has caused your posture to degrade, exercising while sat down is just plain silly! Focus on strengthening the muscles on the rear of your body and stretching the ones on the front. Lay off the crunches for a few weeks until your underdeveloped back muscles have caught up.

Posture is not, in my opinion anyway, as fun or sexy as building strength or running sprints but if your posture is out, you are not going to get as much from these far cooler training methods as you could. Think of posture, like nutrition, as the base of your health and fitness pyramid. Only once you have built a solid foundation will you be able to reach the highest peaks.


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Low back pain (LBP) is currently one of the most common AND expensive musculoskeletal disorders in the world.

LBP can be defined as ‘muscle tension or stiffness located in the area between the 12th rib and the inferior gluteal folds’ – your ribs to your butt!

It is believed that 60-80% of all adults world wide will experience LBP in their lifetime; with the highest prevalence found amongst the 40-60 age groups. Research is now showing that LBP is also increasing in the younger populations i.e. under 20 years of age.

There are many causative factors for LBP. As little as 10% of LBP has an identifiable cause which means that up to 90% of cases may have no underlying cause.


Mechanical Loading.

Let’s put the ‘Red Flags’ such as trauma, injury and structural defects to one side for now.

Those working in hard manual work certainly have a higher incidence of LBP. Children who carry a back pack that weighs more than 20% of their body weight are now showing higher levels of LBP. Sedentary jobs and those who spend periods of time hunched over their mobile telephones or playing computer games do to.

Functional Movement and Alignment.

Your muscles work on a pulley and lever system IE if one is shortened then the other is lengthened. With any injury there is a decrease in muscle activation in the affected area. Other muscles will respond by becoming over active. This change in recruitment patterns particularly when applied to your back will pull your pelvis out of its correct natural alignment, leading to uneven weight distribution in the intervertebral discs and the potential for LBP to develop over time.


Scientific data on LBP and psychosocial factors is still limited and at times is inconsistent. Many of these factors are considered ‘Yellow Flags’ when it comes to LBP. For example job dissatisfaction, poor social support etc. The use of psychosocial screening tools is essential. For example Fear Avoidance Questionnaires and the ABCDEFW (Attitudes, Behaviours, Economic, Diagnosis, Emotions, Family and Work) Back Pain Screening Pneumonic look specifically at attitudes and beliefs, economic issues and emotions amongst other things.

Personal trainers working with clients with LBP should ensure that they utilise a combination of tests during their assessment process not solely relying on physical tests. These are known as subjective and objective test. Objective tests are the physical tests for example deep breathing, pelvic tilting, squat test and Thomas Test etc and subjective tests make up the more psychosocial or psychological screening tests discussed above.


Lower Cross Syndrome.

This syndrome is typically found in individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time with their spine in a flexed position. IE leaning forwards.

Vladimir Janda MD, an expert in muscle imbalances, describes Lower Cross Syndrome (LCS) as ‘over activity of the thoraco-lumbar extensors, rectus femoris and iliopsoas group as well as reciprocal weakness of the glutes and abdominal muscles.’

IE in layman’s terms if the abdominal muscles and glutes are weak then the erector spinae and iliopsoas (hip flexor) groups are tight.

LCS may present with an increased lumbar lordotic curve or lower back arch.

Why? If you sit in a constantly flexed position your erector spinae group has to work extra hard to hold you in an upright position while your iliopsoas and rectus femoris (muscle at the front of the thigh making up the quadriceps group) are constantly shortened leading to the tightness described.

In this syndrome your pelvis is typically in an anterior tilt. It is a distortion syndrome of your lower lumbar kinetic chain. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl containing liquid. If you stand with your hands on your hips, would this bowl be tipping liquid out of the front or the back? If is from the front then it is an anterior tilt.

Pelvic tilting as an objective test is a fantastic tool. It allows us to test the motor control between the spine, pelvis and hips. A tilt either posteriorally or anteriorally will lead to increased stresses on your lumbar spine.

How can we correct this?

  • Stretching including the use Self Myofascial Release or SMR is one way of stretching out these tight muscles.  Your muscles are covered with fascia – a type of connective tissue. This tissue has in all likelihood become tight and restricted leading to hot spots. The aim of SMR or foam rolling is to break down these hot spots by relaxing the contracted muscle, therefore reducing inflammation and increasing lymphatic drainage while stimulating the stretch reflex. It is a bit like rolling out pastry with a rolling pin but more painful!
  • Strengthening and stabilization training. You should aim to work on the weakened muscles of the glutes and the abdominals through specific programming and look at improving your lumbo – pelvic hip control.
  • Client education. As a fitness professional our role is to explain to our clients why they have the pain they do. The client then gains an understanding of why and is at less risk of injury and ultimately will be able to self manage. This is known as Motor Learning Progression.

Upper Cross Syndrome

This syndrome is typically found in individuals who sit and work at a desk all day.

Janda describes Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) as ‘over activity of the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid and pectoralis muscles and reciprocal weakness of the deep cervical flexors, lower trapezius and serratus anterior.’

IE in layman’s terms if the upper traps, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid and pecs are tight the neck flexors, serratus anterior and rhomboids are weak.

Due to these imbalances in the head and shoulder region, UCS may present with an excessive forward head tilt, hunching in the thoracic spine with shoulders in an elevated and protracted position. 

In this syndrome the poor posture will lead to chronic pain overtime, muscular aches and pains, headaches and premature ageing in the intervertebral discs.

How can we correct this?

  • Stretching including the use Self Myofascial Release or SMR is one way of stretching out these tight muscles.  Your muscles are covered with fascia – a type of connective tissue. This tissue has in all likelihood become tight and restricted leading to hot spots. The aim of SMR or foam rolling is to break down these hot spots by relaxing the contracted muscle, therefore reducing inflammation and increasing lymphatic drainage while stimulating the stretch reflex. It is a bit like rolling out pastry with a rolling pin but more painful!
  • Strengthening and stabilization training. You should aim to work on the weakened muscles of the glutes and the abdominals through specific programming and look at improving your lumbo – pelvic hip control.
  • Client education. As a fitness professional our role is to explain to our clients why they have the pain they do. The client then gains an understanding of why and is at less risk of injury and ultimately will be able to self manage. This is known as Motor Learning Progression.

As previously highlighted many causes of LBP remain unclear but with time both of the syndromes mentioned above can be treated. These are common postural problems and very relevant to the age that we currently live in. Don’t become a victim of your environment. Regular exercise, regular stretching. Make it part of your life today!

Pippa Crowther.

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Massage 101

Massage – an introduction and overview of the oldest form of medical care
Massage is the oldest and simplest form of medical care, outdating even Chinese acupuncture. In Eastern cultures, massage has been practiced continually since ancient times. A Chinese book from 2,700 B.C. recommends ‘breathing exercises, massage of the skin and flesh, and exercises of hands and feet” as treatment for numerous physical and emotional complaints. It was one of the principal methods of relieving pain for ancient Greek and Roman physicians and its well documented that Julius Caesar received a daily massage to treat his joint pain. “The physician must be experienced in many things,” wrote Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, in the 5th century B. C., “but especially in massage for massage can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid.”

Doctors such as Ambrose Pare, a 16th-century physician to the French court, praised massage as a treatment for various ailments including “ailments of the head and the heart and those of the legs”. Swedish massage, the method most familiar to Westerners, was developed in the 19th century by Swedish doctor, poet, and educator Per Henrik Ling. His system was based on a study of gymnastics and physiology as well as techniques borrowed from China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Physiotherapy, originally based on Ling’s methods, was established with the foundation in 1894 of the Society of Trained Masseurs. During World War I patients suffering from physical injury and shell shock were treated with massage. Saint Thomas’s Hospital, London, had a department of massage until 1934. However, later breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology eclipsed massage as physiotherapists began increasingly to favor electrical instruments over manual methods of stimulating the tissues. Whilst these technological advancements increased the number of patients that could be treated in a given time, massage was still the preferred method and achieved the best results.

Massage is now used in intensive care units, for children, elderly people, babies in incubators, and patients with cancer, AIDS, heart attacks, or strokes. Most Eastern and Western hospitals have some kind of bodywork therapy available, and it is frequently offered in health centers, drug treatment clinics, and pain clinics – such are its wide reaching benefits. In many cases, it is even covered by your medical insurance! Massage is a truly mainstream holistic therapy.

The benefits of regular massage:
Massage is the perfect compliment to today’s busy lifestyles – it is a holistic and natural therapy which affects the body and mind without the use of harmful pharmaceuticals and which has very few contraindications or exclusions. Many common and not so common conditions and ailments can be helped by regular massages including:-

Reduced Muscular Tension   
Massage affects the muscles and other soft tissues throughout the body. It can loosen contracted tense and shortened and stimulate weak, flaccid muscles. Chronic muscle tension reduces the circulation of the blood and movement of lymph in an area and this is often alleviated with regular massage treatments. Tight, tense muscles are often the cause of other symptoms throughout the body e.g. tight neck muscles can show them selves as regular frequent aches.  

Improved Blood Circulation 
The oxygen capacity of the blood can increase 10-15% after massage. By indirectly or directly stimulating nerves that supply internal organs, blood vessels of these organs dilate and allow greater blood supply to them. Poor circulation (often felt as cold hands and feet) is improved after massage. A full body massage will increase the blood flow to both the core and extremities giving a healthful benefit to all of the body’s systems.

Better Lymph Movement & Lymphatic System Function
Lymph is the fluid that drains impurities and waste away from the tissue cells. Within this waste are the toxins which are the by-products of metabolism. Massage makes sure lymph is circulated through the lymph nodes for filtering which in turn can result in enhanced immune system function.

Increased Mobility, Flexibility and Range of Motion of Joints
Massage provides a gentle stretching action to both the muscles and connective tissues that surround and support the muscles. The gentle stretching of muscles keeps them in good condition, maintains the integrity of connective tissue and joint mobility is often enhanced. Joint and muscle pain is often reduced after a massage and specific joint/muscle pain can be targeted by a Sports Massage Therapist. 

Massage Stimulates or Soothes the Nervous System  
Massage balances the nervous system by soothing or stimulating it, depending on the techniques used and the effect that is needed by the individual at the time of the massage. A pre-sport massage can help prepare the body to perform at the highest level where as a Swedish massage will help calm and relax the body and mind. For many, a relaxing massage is the perfect antidote to a stressful day at work or the pressure of a hectic modern lifestyle. 

Improved Skin Condition  
Massage enhances the skin condition by improving the function of the sebaceous and sweat glands, which keep the skin lubricated, clean, and cool. The use of special oils will enhance the condition of the skin further and the skin is exfoliated and moisturized during a massage treatment. Circulation to the skin is improved by massage which is seen as a slight reddening during the treatment. Increased blood flow to the skin encourages skin cell renewal and makes tired skin look brighter and healthier.

Better Digestion and Intestinal Function
By increasing blood flow, the digestive organs receive more of the life-giving oxygen they need to function effectively. Digestive discomfort is often relieved by massage, as is abdominal bloating and gastric upset. Swedish massage even includes an optional abdominal massage where the intestines are gently massaged through the abdominal wall which is designed to improve digestive system function and health. 

Pain relief
Massage can promote recovery from minor aches and pains by improving circulation which is an essential part of the healing process. Massage also triggers the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers (related to morphine) which may result in lowered pain levels and a reduced dependence on pain medication. A treatment with a Sports Massage Therapist can save literally weeks by promoting fast and effective healing of serious and-not-so-serious injuries. 

Types of massage
There are a great many different styles of massage and at Faros Spa we offer three different forms to suit the requirements of our growing client base… 

Relaxation (Swedish) Massage
Swedish massage is a whole body treatment which uses a smooth, flowing style that promotes general relaxation, improves circulation relieves muscular tension. This type of massage is ideal for “beginners” to massage and will leave the client feeling wonderfully relaxed and refreshed. Oils are used which help to condition the skin and act as a medium between your skin and the therapists hands. This form of massage is so relaxing it is not uncommon for clients to fall soundly asleep after just a few minutes on the couch! 

Sports Massage
Sports massage uses similar techniques to those found in Swedish massage but normally they are used with more pressure and a view to preventing future or treating current specific physical conditions. Many people find that by having regular sports massages they suffer fewer indecencies of muscle pain, back ache and muscular tension. Sports massage can be seen as a physical “tune up” of the body’s muscles or as a preventative service. Sports massage is a “deeper” massage and not normally as relaxing as the Swedish variation but is particularly useful for people who exercise, play sport, have physically active jobs or feel like their bodies need some specific attention. Treatments are customized to suit an individual clients needs however, if after a sports massage you feel “beaten up” as some people may describe the feeling after this type of treatment, it’s very likely the therapist was over zealous and unnecessarily heavy handed. It’s very important to give your masseuse feedback during and after your treatment so that they can fine tune their treatment to your individual requirements. 

Using thumb and finger pressure on the reflex points of the feet (which correspond to all areas of the body) to assist in achieving balance within the body. Reflexology is based on Chinese acupuncture but uses pressure as opposed to needles to help rebalance the body’s energy pathways. Although only the feet are touched during Reflexology, the whole body receives great benefit from this powerful treatment. 

Check your masseuse’s credentials!
Although massage is a natural and relatively simple therapy, it is essential to make sure your masseuse is properly qualified, licensed and insured. It’s important to remember that massage can have a profound medical effect on the body and should not be performed by unqualified persons. Make sure you check the credentials of any masseuse you are considering using. Just because they are cheap or have been “doing it for years” doesn’t mean they are safe! Professional massage standards has come a long way since the guy who used to rub a few legs at half time for the local Sunday league football team started plying his trade!

So, pretty much everybody’s body will benefit from massage by a qualified massage therapist – and with a patron like Julius Caesar who are we to argue?

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Spine 3

Daily Exercises for Spinal Mobility

evolution of manYour spine consists of 33 individual vertebrae which are separated by intervertebral discs and held together by inelastic ligaments. Often, because of poor posture or a sedentary lifestyle, the spine can lose some of its mobility which can lead to back pain and loss of function. Perform these exercises on a daily basis to maintain the mobility of your spine.

Standing Twists
To mobilize your spine, stand with your feet hip-width apart, legs slightly bent and your arms hanging down by your sides. Keep your arms loose and relaxed and turn your upper body to the left, allowing your arms to swing around to the left side of your body. Reverse direction turn your body to the right allowing your arms to swing the other way. Try to rotate slightly further each time and allowing the gentle swinging action of your arms to help take you further into the twist. Repeat until you have completed 10 repetitions on each side.

Hump and Hollow
Kneel on all fours with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Breathe in and lift your back up towards the ceiling to form a hump. Slowly exhale and allow your abdomen to descend towards the floor to form a hollow. Continue alternating between humps and hollows in time with your breathing and complete 10 repetitions in total. This exercise can also be performed in a standing position by slightly bending your knees and leaning forwards with your hands braced on your lower thighs.

Spine 3

Quadruped Side Bends
Kneeling on all fours, slowly walk your hands around to the left side of your body, bending your spine to the side and trying to look behind you. Hold the furthest position you can comfortable achieve for two to three seconds before walking your hands around to the other side. Continue walking from one side to the other until you have performed five repetitions per side.



Spinal Rolls
Lie on your back on a soft exercise mat. Slowly pull your knees into your chest. Maintaining this tucked position, roll up onto your butt. Immediately roll backwards and up onto your upper back/shoulders. Continue rolling back and forth until you have completed 10 repetitions.

Stability Ball Circles
Sit upright on a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor and your hands by your sides. Keep your body upright. Try to draw a anti-clockwise circle with your pelvis by pushing your hips to the left so that your weight is on your right butt cheek, pushing your hips backwards and leaning forwards slightly, pushing your hips to the right and shifting your weight onto your left butt cheek and finally pushing your hips forwards, tipping your pelvis slightly under. Immediately make a clock-wise circle by rotating your pelvis in the opposite direction. Continue until you have made five circles each way.

stability ball seat

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Paul Mumford shows you how to run

Paul Mumford shows you how to run


ultra-FIT’s Paul Mumford shows you how to run barefoot, following up on the two articles he wrote on the subject in the spring on 2013.

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July Issue on Sale Now!


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July issue out now! We talk to Randy Hetrick TRX inventor, start getting you in beach ready shape with a Sexy, Shoulders Workout, and explain why everyone should rugby train! Elsewhere Rob Riches gives the low-down on the Paleo diet and how it could lean you up among much, much more.

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Boost your Recovery

Scientifically Enhance Recovery

By Sports Scientist Ross Edgley

Photography: Simon Howard: Model: decathlete Thomas Ashby

Whether you are strength, speed or endurance athlete you would have no doubt experienced an ‘immune crash’ during periods when you’ve over trained. Unfortunately it’s just part and parcel of being an athlete since constantly loading your body above its habitual level in an attempt to get quicker, stronger or more enduring will of course eventually give rise to problems. But how is it possible to avoid this whilst still improving in your chosen sport? Well, generally speaking it’s accepted both through anecdotal and epidemiological evidence that moderate regular training can reduce the risk of infections by having a positive effect on the immune system and you can therefore avoid this ‘immune crash’. The only problem is you won’t be smashing PB’s or breaking training plateaus by training at a slow and steady pace on a regular basis. So here we’ve teamed up with the Sports Scientists at  to take a look at just what exactly goes on inside the body during periods of intense training addressing everything from the impairment of natural killer cell activity to lymphocyte production and then we take a look at the supplements and science that could help.

Firstly a study conducted at the Department of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland in Australia set out to determine the effects of exercise intensity on immune parameters in order to better understand mechanisms by which training may influence resistance to infection (L.T. Mackinnon, 1997). It was found that intensive exercise altered a number of immune parameters including circulating leukocytes (more commonly known as white blood cells) whose chief function is to protect the body against microorganisms causing disease.

Plasma cytokine concentrations were also affected, cytokines are any of a number of substances that are secreted by specific cells of the immune system which carry signals locally between cells, and thus have an effect on other cells. They are deemed critical to the development and functioning of both the innate and adaptive immune response and so altering them effectively alters the ‘communication’ of the immune system (R. Gokhale et al, 2007).

Scientists from the department of Research and Development, Medical Services, Athletic Club of Bilbao in Basque, Spain further examined various hormonal markers such as testosterone, cortisol, testosterone to cortisol ratio, 24-hour urinary cortisol to cortisone ratio, plasma and urinary catecholamines, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (S. Padilla, 2004) during periods of intense training. They found changes caused by overtraining can not only correlate with changes in an athlete’s performance capacity but can also create a hormonal environment (specifically citing elevated cortisol levels) that allow pathogens (disease producing agents) to thrive. Put simply this is because specifically both cortisol and epinephrine suppress T-cell cytokine production.

More specifically and very common in athletes is something known as Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, an illness caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tract: nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.

Ultimately all of the above means sore throats and flu-like symptoms are more common in athletes than in the general population (G.W. Heath et al, 1991) and once infected , colds may last longer therefore detrimentally affecting training and performance (B.K. Pedersen et al, 1995). More specifically and very common in athletes is something known as Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, an illness caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tract: nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.

So, now we’ve identified what exactly happens inside the body when an athlete’s immune system is suppressed, what methods are there for combating it? Well, first and foremost a well planned and periodised training regime is critical and is the best form of preventative treatment. But as any athlete will know, when loading your body above its habitual level in training, even the most well planned regime can fail to support the immune system effectively. This is where certain supplements can help.

Firstly studies from Bente Pedersen’s group in Copenhagen found that the release of IL-6 from contracting muscle can be improved by long-term antioxidant supplementation. IL-6 (or Interleukin 6 to give it its full name) is an interleukin that acts as both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine and plays critical roles in the immune response (T Hirano et al, 1990). In a recent single-blind, placebo-controlled study published in The Journal of Physiology it was reported that 4 weeks of oral supplementation, with vitamin C (500 mg/day), markedly attenuated the release of IL-6 from active muscle and the plasma IL-6 and cortisol response to 3 h of dynamic two-legged, knee-extensor exercise at 50% of maximal power output compared with placebo. High levels of circulating IL-6 stimulate cortisol release, and this study provides some strong evidence that the mechanism of action of the antioxidant supplementation was via a reduction in IL-6 release from the muscle fibers of the exercising legs. Attenuating the IL-6 and cortisol response would be expected to limit the exercise-induced depression of immune function, and this may be the mechanism that could explain the reported lower incidence of URTI symptoms in ultramarathon runners supplementing with vitamin C (alone or in combination with other antioxidants) compared with a placebo (Christian P. Fischer et al, 2004). This is why more and more athletes are now supplementing with antioxidant supplements such as Vitamin C (Vitamin C is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £7.99 for 250g). Or even more recently the more newer antioxidants like Montmorency Cherry Tart Extract, following impressive studies on this and it’s antioxidant properties and ability to aid recovery by reducing oxidative stress (MONTMORENCY CHERRY EXTRACT is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £15.99).

……by supplementing with carbohydrates (more precisely 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5hr of strenuous cycling) you are able to improve the efficiency of the immune system whilst still continuing to train at a high intensity.

Furthermore on the topic of supplementation and cytokine response, researchers from the Immunology Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, USA found that the cosumption of carbohydrate during exercise also improves increases in plasma IL-6, catecholamines, ACTH, and cortisol. More specifically it was shown that consuming 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5 h of strenuous cycling prevented both the decrease in the number and percentage of IFN-γ-positive T lymphocytes and the suppression of IFN-γ production from stimulated T lymphocytes observed on the placebo control trial. IFN-γ-positive is a cytokine that is critical for innate and adaptive immunity against viral and intracellular bacterial infections, so again by supplementing with carbohydrates (more precisely 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5hr of strenuous cycling) you are able to improve the efficiency of the immune system whilst still continuing to train at a high intensity.

Finally another supplement that’s specifically cited when mentioning over training and immune system suppression is Branch Chain Amino Acids. Scientists from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo in Brazil set out to determine how intense long-duration exercise could lead to immune suppression through a decrease in the circulating level of plasma glutamine and how the decrease in plasma glutamine concentration as a consequence of intense long-duration exercise was reversed, in some cases, by supplementing the diet of the athletes with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). To find out they evaluated blood parameters (lymphocyte proliferation, the level of plasma cytokines, plasma glutamine concentration, and in vitro production of cytokines by peripheral blood lymphocytes) before and after the São Paulo International Triathlon, as well as the incidence of symptoms of infections between the groups. The data obtained show that BCAA supplementation can reverse the reduction in serum glutamine concentration observed after prolonged intense exercise such as an Olympic triathlon. The decrease in plasma glutamine concentration is paralleled by an increased incidence of symptoms of infections that results in augmented proliferative response of lymphocytes cultivated in the absence of mitogens. The prevention of the lowering of plasma glutamine concentration allows an increased response of lymphocytes, as well as an increased production of IL-1 and 2, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma, possibly linked to the lower incidence of symptoms of infection (33.84%) reported by the supplemented athletes. BCCA’s are available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ in tablet, powdered and flavoured powdered form, including Green Apple Spike and Berry Blitz and for as little as £13.99 for 250g. Ultimately making BCAA supplementation easier and more convenient regardless of your supplement preference or budget.

Lastly taking all of the above research into consideration the Sports Scientists at THE PROTEIN WORKS™ created RECOVERY PROTEIN, an advanced formula that’s been scientifically engineered to provide the body with a comprehensive supply of nutrients immediately after training to help the muscles repair and re-build. For more details visit the product page here and EXCLUSVIELY for ultra-FIT readers, right now you can get 10% OFF RECOVERY PROTEIN when you use code ‘ULTRAFIT10’ at the checkout.


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Posted in Fitness, Innovations, Misc, Nutrition, Personal Trainer, Resistance training, Sports, Sports Injury, Sports Training, Triathlon, Understanding Fitness, Workout of the Week (WOW), Workouts0 Comments


Crossfit (R) It could get you killed…..?

What’s its all-about?


To an outsider, Cross Fitters may appear like an obsessed bunch of hardcore enthusiasts who are prepared to work out to breaking point and sometimes beyond. As a fitness professional I have been aware of Crossfit® for many years, have dipped my toe in the water several times and even tried the occasional workout (they like to call them a WOD – workout of the day) but in order to really find out what it’s all about I needed to check out my local affiliate gym.


By Paul Mumford


On the cover Narmin Assria

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CrossFit is the brainchild of Greg Glassman, a gymnastics coach based in California who set up his gym in Santa Cruz 18 years ago. After studying the training routines of many elite athletes he realised that compound exercises (those that require many different muscles at once) coupled with high intensity primal movement patterns are key to establishing an elite level of fitness. Glassman defines this as, ‘work capacity across broad time and modal domains’. He then began devising exercise routines using many different methodologies including power lifting, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and kettlebells. Many have questioned his principles as dangerous but Glassman explains that ‘it (CrossFit) can kill you; I’ve always been completely honest about that’. However there are now enough people hungry for his way of training to support over 5,500 affiliate gyms worldwide.

My local affiliate in Chelmsford, Essex is run by Rob Manlove and his gym now looks after a wide range of people with many different goals. He began by explaining more about Glassman’s methodology. “CrossFit is based around 10 general physical skills: strength, speed, power, balance, accuracy, agility, flexibility, co-ordination, stamina and cardio-respitory endurance. The idea is to build capacity in all of these skills, no one is more important than another. If you’re lacking in one that’s seen as chink in your armour. For instance, a lack of flexibility will prevent you from getting into the positions required and a lack of strength will prevent you from moving the weight.”

I asked him about the type of people that take part in CrossFit. Is it for everyone? “All different kinds of people come with lots of different goals and although CrossFit is not designed to be sport specific, it will improve your ability in many sports. For instance; we have a basketball player, Kojo that comes here and although CrossFit won’t help to increase his shooting percentage, it has certainly improved his co-ordination, balance, stamina and many other skills needed for his sport. We aim to create a well-rounded athlete who is competent in a number of different skills.”

CrossFit also promotes competition amongst its members. Kojo can compete against someone like Helen, another of Rob’s members, who is in her late thirties and is working to lose weight. Even though they both have very different goals they’re doing the same programme and getting their own desired results. They can compete against each other by lifting their own level of weight and going head-to-head on endurance and time. Rob added, “Generally people who do CrossFit are competitive in nature and because of that this environment motivates them to push harder”.

I spoke to one of Rob’s regulars, Christine Cope who is a 36 year old mother of two. Her CrossFit journey is a bit of a revelation. “I’d seen loads of stuff on the internet about CrossFit and thought it looked cool but way out of my reach. Even though I knew there was a gym on my doorstep it took six months before I built up the courage to get in touch. Now it’s like my second home. It’s an amazing community, more like a club than a gym.”

Before CrossFit I couldn’t do things like lift my children over my head and put them on my shoulders.

So what has Christine achieved so far and how does it really help a busy Mum anyway? “Pulls ups were a biggie for me and I really love the Olympic lifting”, she said. “At first that seemed so difficult but because it’s technically challenging it gives me the opportunity to step out of my everyday life and really focus on something I’m doing for me. Before CrossFit I couldn’t do things like lift my children over my head and put them on my shoulders. They’re six and eight now and I can lift them no problem. It’s also helped me in many practical ways. If I get a puncture on my car, I’m now strong enough to take the wheel off myself and put the spare on. CrossFit is very relevant to my everyday life”.

The CrossFit Games

Every year the cream of CrossFit across the globe enter The CrossFit Games and this year over 100,000 people worldwide are taking part. The competition starts at the affiliate gyms with a 5-week programme overseen by a judge. Then the top 48 male and 48 female Cross Fitters go onto a regional heat in Copenhagen with the top 3 from each region then travelling to California for the CrossFit Games.  “A lot of the people in our gym aspire to making the games,” explained Rob, “but it’s very tough. I came 16th in Europe last year but one of our members here, Scott who is 42 years old, is currently ranked 30th in the World.”

What really impresses me about CrossFit is the attention and importance they place on technique. Every newbie regardless of age and experience goes through a thorough foundation course that teaches the basic skills required and the progressions needed to master them. All this is done before you can even start to compete against other Cross Fitters. Rob and Christine both took me through some of the basic movements including cleans, dead lifts and box jumps and I’m not ashamed to admit that even I struggled to keep up. I’ll definitely be back for more. CrossFit is clearly not just for the boys.

Both Christine and I are wearing Inov-8’s Bare-XF 260 shoes. They are designed with CrossFit in mind and have a zero drop heel (for optimum proprioception and balance) along with a Rope-Tec grip system to help with rope climbing.


Article appeared in our April issue.

Posted in Events, Fat burning, Fitness, Get Outside, Innovations, Misc, Nutrition, Personal Trainer, Resistance training, Sports, Sports Injury, Sports Training, Understanding Fitness, Workouts0 Comments

Our Fitzine Newsletter 10th May 2013 Feeling from Zombies!

Our Fitzine Newsletter 10th May 2013 Feeling from Zombies!

What fitness would need to survive a zombie attack? Contributing editor Patrick Dale shows you what in our latest Fitzine newsletter. You can sign up for this and get a free digital issue by returning to the home page of this site. Newsletter also contains a great £20 subs offer and you get a free pack of pocketfit playing cards.

Posted in Fat burning, Fitness, Get Outside, Innovations, Misc, Nutrition, Profiles, Recipes, Resistance training, Sports, Sports Injury, Sports Training, Triathlon, Understanding Fitness, Workout of the Week (WOW), Workouts0 Comments

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