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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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Understanding Fitness – Basketball

Basketball has been around in one form or another since 1891 when Physical Education teacher James Naismith nailed a peach basket ten feet above the floor of his school gymnasium and told his students to throw a soccer ball into the basket to score points. Who would have guessed that Naismith’s rainy day invention would become one of the most popular team sports? Basketball quickly caught on; initially at neighbouring schools and then nationally and, by 1932, internationally. Just four years later, in 1936, Basketball received Olympic recognition and the men’s game has featured in every games since. Woman’s basketball was a few years behind the men’s game and only became an Olympic sport relatively recently in 1976.

Since its inception, the rules, equipment and techniques of basketball have evolved almost beyond recognition but one thing remains constant; the height of the rim of the basket above the floor is still ten feet.

Basketball is played by teams of five players and matches are divided into quarters. Basketball squads tend to be quite big so that players can be substituted often which helps keep the overall pace of the game high. While strictly a non-contact sport, the speed of the play means that players frequently come in to contact with each other; albeit accidentally. If this contact is deemed to be outside of the rules, a foul is awarded against the perpetrator. A player with five fouls against him is automatically sent off for the remainder of the game.

Typically, basketball players are tall. Height is an obvious advantage for passing, blocking and shooting and most successful male players tend to be taller than six feet three inches (1.91m) while most women players are five foot seven inches (1.7m) or taller. That’s not to say that you HAVE to be a giant to succeed in basketball but, certainly in the top leagues, it’s a big advantage.

Basketball is a very fast-paced sport which involves lots of sprinting, jumping and rapid changes of direction. Although the court is quite small, especially when compared to a soccer or rugby pitch, the ball changes end with such frequency that players cover many miles per game; usually at a sprint.

The demands of basketball tend to mean that players are not only fast and fit, they are also strong; muscular and generally lean. Needless to say, as jumping is such a big part of the sport, most players also possess terrific vertical leaps.

The up and down the court nature of basketball has resulted in a very special and effective shuttle run workout called suicides. Suicides are normally performed for extended periods of time or for high rep counts and are very challenging. While a long series of suicides will probably do little for your sprinting speed, there is no doubt that this particular drill will improve your fitness.

Using the lines horizontal lines marked out on a basketball court, from the base line, run out to the first line and then back. Immediately turn and run out to the second line and back. Continue running out to the next furthest line until you finally reach the opposite end of the court. Run back to the start and repeat from the beginning. Tough? Yes! But very effective.

To improve their jumping ability, basketball players use a form of exercise called plyometrics. Plyometrics makes use of something called the stretch shortening cycle or reflex. This phenomenon describes how a rapidly stretched muscle will respond with a powerful counter-contraction. Imagine squatting down quickly and then jumping up into the air. This reflex can be trained so that it becomes even more efficient; that’s where plyometrics come in.

Plyometric exercises that will increase vertical jump height include squat jumps, hurdle jumps, “depth” jumps which involve jumping off of a platform or box and then rebounding, repeated standing broad jumps and box jumps. (Image supplied)

Some players use a training device called a Strength Shoe. These specially designed shoes have built up platforms under the forefoot which keep your weight up on your toes and off your heels. This means that your calf muscles are under much more stress than normal and the manufacturers of these types of shoes state that stronger calves can result in a bigger vertical jump. While some people swear by these shoes, some studies suggest that at best, their benefit is only marginal and at worst, they increase the occurrence of injury in users.

In addition to specific jumping exercises, many basketball players engage in regular strength training to improve both their sporting performance and their physical presence on the court. Although basketball is a non-contact sport, that doesn’t mean that a bit of physical intimidation on and off the ball won’t give a player an edge!

As basketball is such a free-flowing, multi-directional game, players also spend a lot of time working on speed, agility and quickness, often referred to as SAQ. Multidirectional running, drills involving rapid changes of direction, sprinting, and a combination of these disciplines are designed to simulate the demands of basketball and ensure that players are as prepared as possible for both offence and defence.

Speaking of defence, there are two main strategies employed in basketball; man to man and zone. In man to man defence, the defending player shadows an allocated opposing player step-for-step and tries to prevent him from receiving the ball or making a break to shoot for the basket whereas zone defence involves the defenders controlling a specified area of the court. To get just a taste of the demands of basketball, try playing a bit of one to one man-to-man defence with your training partner in place of your normal cardio workout. Simply decide who is attacking and who is defending and the defender must respond and shadow the attacker’s movements closely. Try it for five minutes and you’ll soon see why basketball players are so fit and lean. Remember though; no contact!

If you want to experience basketball for yourself, all you need to do is grab a few friends and a ball and go to one of the many open air basketball courts in your area. If you want to try out for as team, get some coaching or start playing organised matches, contact your local team via the website below.





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Understanding Fitness – Modern Pentathlon

Modern pentathlon is, in many ways, an unusual and elitist-appearing sport. Consisting of five seemingly disparate events, it was the brain child of the founder of the modern Olympics Baron Pierre de Coubertin who designed the event to test the military skills of the soldiers who made up the vast majority of Olympic competitors in the early 1900s.

The modern pentathlon (MP) involves all of the challenges a soldier was likely to face in the 1900s behind the enemy lines; fencing, swimming riding, shooting and cross country running. The prefix “modern” is used to differentiate this sport from the original ancient Greek pentathlon of long jump, javelin, wrestling, running and discuss.

Each event, except fencing, is performed as a time trial rather than head to head. Points are awarded accordingly and the winner is the one with the largest points total. The original modern pentathlon was contested over five days but, in 1996, a one day format was adopted to increase public interest and make the sport more attractive to newcomers and television stations alike. This step also played an important role in keeping modern pentathlon in the Olympics as it was in danger of being dropped in 2005.

In 2008, modern pentathlon changed again and the cross country run and shooting events were combined and the distance covered was reduced from four kilometres to three. This conglomeration of disciplines has lead to calls for modern pentathlon to be called tetrathlon (tetra meaning four, penta meaning five) instead but whether this will happen remains to be seen.

The events of modern pentathlon

The five events (or four depending on your point of view) are as follows…

Fencing – using an epee, MP competitions compete in a round-robin format where each competitor will face all the other competitors in turn. The duels are “one point to win” contests which differs to “regular” fencing matches where fencers must score between five and fifteen points (depending on the stage and level of competition) before being declared the winner. This “sudden death” format means that MP fencing bouts are usually over very quickly and are actually limited to a maximum of 60 seconds in duration.

Swimming – contested over 200 meters, the swim event in modern pentathlon is a long sprint or short middle distance event depending on your swimming prowess. Swum as a time trial, swimmers are seeded in heats according to their pervious bests so that swimmers of a similar standard compete together. The stroke of choice is freestyle.

Ridingone of the most unusual and challenging aspects of MP is that the competitors do not ride their own horses but, instead, are allocated a horse at random from a collective pool. They are allocated their horse 20 minutes before the event and must then race approximately quarter of a mile and jump between 12 to 15 obstacles.

Shooting and Running – the final two disciplines of the modern pentathlon are now combined into a single test which serves to add excitement to the event. Athletes are seeded in such a way that whoever crosses the finishing line first is the winner of the overall event. Developments in technology have resulted in the traditional air pistols being replaced with laser pistols and, unlike alpine biathlon; competitors do not carry their pistols on the run. The new running/shooting format requires competitors to hit five targets in a maximum of 70 seconds before recommencing their run so slow, inaccurate shooting adds time to the run. There are three shooting bouts; one every 1000 meters.

Fit enough for modern pentathlon?

Although the events of modern pentathlon are relatively short, they do provide a good test of all round fitness and also include a wide range of skills. As all the events are contested over a single day, competitors need a high level of mental and physical stamina. This makes MP a hard event to train for because you need access to a wide variety of training facilities and equipment, not least a horse, a epee and a pistol!

Fencing is an explosive, anaerobic event where speed and reaction time are essential whereas a 200 meter swim is a tricky combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Riding an unknown horse requires skill, confidence and a certain amount of bravery while the cross country run is all about aerobic fitness and endurance. Things get really tricky with the inclusion of shooting. Shooting while standing on shaky legs while your chest is heaving and your heart is pounding chest is no easy feat so competitors must run hard enough to get a good time but not so hard that their shooting is impaired and have the ability to transition from action to immobility smoothly and efficiently. A few seconds made up with an overzealous run could result in up to 70 seconds of lost time because of inaccurate shooting.

The broad range of disciplines in modern pentathlon mean that competitors must be prepared to commit to frequent, diverse, training sessions and may need to train twice or even three times a day.

Modern pentathlon might not be the most accessible sport but, after Heather Fell’s Olympic silver medal in 2008 and Samantha Murray’s silver medal at London 2012, more people than ever know something about this historically rich, lottery funded but somewhat eccentric sport which. There are lots of different levels of competition from schools to world championships and Britain has a good history of success in this sport which, for many years, was dominated by members of the armed forces.

For more information about modern pentathlon please visit


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Understanding Fitness – Rowing

For many years rowing was seen as the reserve of public schoolboys and was only really became part of the public consciousness when either the Oxford/Cambridge boat race or the Olympics was on TV. This all changed when endearing and enduring Olympian Sir Steven Redgrave’ successes put rowing on the mainstream map. Rowing has moved out of the shadows and into the limelight, not least because of the success of Sir Steve, Mathew Pinsent, Greg Searle, Debbie Flood, Beth Rodford and Francis Houghton. In fact, so many Team GB rowers have had successes lately that it’s impossible to name all of the rowers who, collectively, have helped make rowing a far more popular sport!

There are eleven different types of boat used in Olympic rowing and a further three unique to the Paralympics. They range from single sculling craft, where one rower operates two oars, up to eight man boats where each man uses a single oar. Some boats use a coxswain whose job is not to row but to keep the rowers on stroke and also navigate the boat as the rowers are actually facing backwards. Race distances vary from the standard 2,000 meter Olympic distance to the 6.8km University Boat Race and rowing competitions are commonly called regattas

The distance of 2000 meters, the most common race distance, seems to be have been selected specifically because it is very hard! Too long to be a flat out sprint but long enough that if you go too fast it can seem never ending, rowing 2000 meters is a true test of strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Additionally, rowing is also a very technical sport and one mistimed stroke cost valuable time. This means that, despite fatigue, rowers must really focus on their technique and avoid “catching a crab” as a incorrect stroke is called.

By and large, rowers tend to be tall and long limbed. It’s no coincidence that many rowers have come from a rugby background as while the sports are quite different, the physical characteristics necessary to be a successful rower are not that dissimilar to those required for rugby. As well as being tall and very fit, rowers must also be strong and powerful. Leg, arm, lower back and upper back strength is important and exercises must be performed which help balance out the repetitive and often lopsided action of rowing.

Obviously, rowers spend a lot of time training in boats. As well as rowing on water, they will also train using an indoor rower commonly called an “erg” which is short for rowing ergometer. Some rowers (and I’m one of them!) have never actually rowed outdoors but instead train and complete only on indoor rowing machines – more on that later.

In addition to rowing at various speeds and over a variety of distances, rowing training will include weight training, circuit training, core work, skill work, and general conditioning and although rowers tend to be quite big, it is important that they are not too heavy as this will cause the boat to sit lower in the water and be less streamlined. Subsequently, most rowers pay a lot of attention to their body composition and diet.

As well as competitive lake and river based rowing, some rowers prefer to pit their abilities against raging seas and far greater distances. Ocean rowing is becoming increasingly popular and as well as transatlantic and other long distance races, there are a number of companies who, for a price, will provide the boat, training, support and experience so that the average fitness enthusiast can attempt to emulate the rowing elite.

Ocean-going boats bear little resemblance to boats you saw at the Olympics. Both the bow and the stern are covered and enclosed so that there is a dry place for sleeping and cooking. The middle section of the boat is open and is where the rowers sit. As a boat will drift (often in the wrong direction!) if not being actively rowed, long distance events are non-stop which means while one team of rowers works to power the boat to its destination, another group will be resting. The actual schedule of rowing versus resting depends on the team in question’s tactics but may involve alternating two hour periods of rowing and resting – often for weeks at a time. As well as being a tremendous physical challenge, ocean rowing provides a huge mental challenge as well.

As a regular gym goer, chances are that the nearest you have ever come to stepping foot into a real rowing boat is when you spend a few minutes warming up on a Concept Two indoor rowing machine. While there are other rowing machines available, the C2 is the most widely used in rowing circles and is also the machine of choice for indoor rowing competitions.

Indoor rowers contest a wide variety of distances from 500 meters to a full 26.2 mile marathon. Some hardy souls even row 100,000 meters in a single event! Despite the variety of official indoor rowing distances, races like the American C.R.A.S.H-B. world indoor rowing event and the British Indoor Rowing Championships (BIRC for short) are over that familiar Olympic distance of 2000 meters.

Mass participation indoor rowing events are a sight to behold; literally hundreds of rowers going hell for leather against the clock. Fitness and age levels vary enormously and as well as seeing some of the best rowers in the world sharpening their fitness in preparation for the coming outdoor season, you’ll also see celebrities, octogenarians, teenagers and just about everyone in between.

As rowing is a non-impact activity, many ex-runners who find their ankles, knees and hips are no longer up to pounding the pavement discover that rowing, especially indoor rowing, provides a safe and accessible competitive outlet for many years after they have hung up their running shoes.

Rowing, either on the water or indoors, provides a great total body workout which, if you row with good form, is fun, effective and generally safe. If you want to try rowing for yourself you should contact your nearest rowing club – most of which offer periodic “try rowing” days. If you are more interested in indoor rowing, all you need to do to start comparing your rowing performances is create an account at . Once you have created your account and logged your times and distances you can compare your abilities with other similarly aged rowers all around the world.

For more information about rowing please visit

For more information on ocean rowing please visit

For information on indoor rowing please visit

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Understanding Fitness – Rugby

Rugby is often known as “a hooligans game played by gentlemen” and originated in 1820 at Rugby public school football match when a player called Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. By the end of the century rugby was a recognised sport with a governing body – the Rugby Football union or RFU for short.

There are a number of variations of the game of rugby which makes this sport very accessible…

Rugby union – with 15 players a side, rugby union is the version most people are familiar with. The ball must always be passed backwards but can be kicked forwards and possession can be won or lost in tackles, scrums or line outs.

Rugby league – 13 players per side and very similar to rugby union, league is popular in the North of England as well as the Southern Hemisphere and Pacific regions. League rules differ from union in a number of ways; the most obvious being that the ball is played back after tackles rather than contested on the ground. If the attacking team does not score within six tackles, the ball is awarded to the opposing team although the ball is normally kicked ahead to gain territory before this occurs.

Sevens – featuring seven players a side and seven minutes per half, sevens is a fast paced game. Loosely following union rules, sevens is commonly played in knockout tournaments where numerous matches are played in a single day. The final of such tournaments is usually played ten minutes per half. Played on a standard sized pitch, sevens is very demanding and there is numerous popular international tournaments contested each year.

Mini rugby – also known as New Image Rugby, mini rugby is a form of rugby union designed to introduce the sport to children. It is played on a smaller pitch, uses a smaller child-friendly ball than standard rugby and has nine to thirteen players a side. Depending on the age of the players, mini rugby can be non-contact, semi-contact or full contact. Mini rugby has been the springboard that has launched many senior rugby players’ international careers.

Touch rugby – originally a non-contact training tool for regular rugby players, touch rugby has become a sport in its own right. Instead of tackling, a player loses possession if the ball if he is touched on any part of his body or clothing. Touch rugby provides many of the fitness benefits of regular rugby but with a much lower risk of injury.

Women’s rugby – union, league, sevens and touch rugby are also played by women. Women’s rugby is a rapidly growing sport and there are local, national, international and world level competitions.

Rugby, the contact versions specifically, is a tough sport which requires a broad spectrum of fitness attributes. Players of the modern game must possess high levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness, be strong, powerful and quick and able to withstand lots of physical punishment; I’ve yet to meet a player who doesn’t train or play while injured!

Generally rugby players tend to be big with some players being over two meters/six feet six inches tall and weighing in excess of 110kg/sixteen stone. This was not always the case…

Up until the last twenty five or so years, rugby (the union version of the game at least) was a strictly amateur affair and players had to hold down full time jobs even if they played for high ranking clubs or even their country. This factor, combined with less scientific sports training meant that players were fit but not necessarily the giants we see playing rugby today. In general, the bigger than average players ended up playing in the forwards (the guys in the scrum) whereas the smaller, faster players went into the backs and were the players more likely to score tries.

This has all changed and quite often it is hard to identify the forwards from the backs simply by looking at the players physical characteristics as most professional players are huge physical specimens irrespective of their playing position.

In addition to their size, the general fitness level of the modern rugby player is far superior to his predecessor. Strength and conditioning coaches work hard with their players to ensure that each man (and women) can keep up a furious pace of play for the entire duration of a match.

Equipment has changed too. In the middle to late 20th century, players had nothing more than a strong cotton jersey with a reinforced collar to protect them from the potentially injurious impacts experienced throughout the game but today’s players are allowed to wear soft helmets, a lightly padded torso protector and gum shields – no bad thing considering the speed, size and strength of the opposing players!

Rugby players tend to spend their training time divided between gym-based strength and power training and pitch-based skill and conditioning training. Strength training tends to revolve around compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses and power cleans. Core work is also a priority because of the need for spinal stability for injury protection. Players will also perform specialist power exercises called plyometrics designed to increase explosiveness which is important for acceleration and jumping.

For cardiovascular conditioning, many rowers favour indoor rowing and some rugby players have gone onto enjoy success at the BIRC – British Indoor Rowing Championships. Being tall and strong is a great benefit for rowing and rugby alike! Visit information on rowing training for rugby.

Outside of the gym, players will work hard to develop their sprinting speed, agility and ball handling skills. Full contact tackling drills and also using tackle bags and dummies will help prepare the players for the numerous impacts experienced in a game of rugby.

While rugby is undeniably a tough and demanding sport there are clubs for almost any level of player and many teams offer introductory sessions to bring new players into the sport at grass roots level. With the rise in popularity of touch rugby, a whole new generation of players are getting to enjoy the taste of competition without risking life and limb. Rugby is well worth considering if you want a sport that will challenge virtually every aspect of your fitness; not to mention your courage!

For more information on any aspect of rugby please visit the Rugby Football Union at or the Rugby Football League at



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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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Understanding Fitness – Fencing

Fencing is not a new sport but it is one that is often considered somewhat elitist and the reserve of military officers and public schoolboys. As well as being a standalone sport, fencing also features as part of modern pentathlon competitions, a multi-event sport which is said to replicate the duties of a messenger on a battlefield and comprising of fencing, running, horse riding, pistol shooting and swimming.

Contrary to popular belief, fencing is not elitist and is a very accessible sport. I fenced at school and college and can assure you that Bath Tech’ was not exactly a seat of higher learning!

Fencing is the only combat sport without weight categories and was originally a training technique developed to help young French aristocrats learn the necessary skill to defend their honor in duels. Dueling to settle arguments was common in France up to the early 20th century and unless a gentleman had served in the military, he was unlikely to have learnt how to wield a sword correctly. Fencing developed the necessary skills of attack, counter attack and defense in a less lethal environment. When dueling was outlawed, fencing become a sport and has featured in every modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1896.

Fencing is a physically demanding, explosive sport and very fast sport. It is said that the tip of a fencer’s sword is the fastest moving object in sport after the marksman’s bullet. You need strong and powerful legs, good flexibility, and a high level of aerobic fitness, agility and speed to be a successful fencer.

In contrast to sword fighting in films and on stage, fencers wear protective equipment to make what is essentially a martial art as safe as possible. The protective jacket worn by fencers is called a lamé and is electrically conductive. Connected to sensor equipment via a cable, touching the lamé with a sword completes an electrical circuit which registers a hit on the scoring equipment. The lamé covers the front and back of the torso and extends down over the groin to fasten between the legs.

Lamés are traditionally white which is a nod to the history of dueling where the winner was usually the first to draw blood and so combatants wore white (and probably frilly) shirts. Contrary to popular belief, duels were not usually to the death. Such serous disagreements would be settled with pistols rather than swords.

Fencers also wear protective masks made of wire mesh that have built in throat protectors as well as gloves on their sword hand.

Fencing takes place on an area called the piste which is 45 feet long and 6.5 feet wide. At the start of a match, fencers stand 13 feet apart in the centre of the piste and after the command to begin fencing, must stay within the confines of this area. Fencers are penalized for stepping off of the sides or the rear of the piste.

There are three weapons used in modern fencing – the saber, the épée and the foil. Each weapon is used differently and has different scoring target areas. While club level fencers will tend to compete in all three weapons, elite fencers are much more likely to specialize in one weapon only. While all the weapons share common techniques, the rules governing each weapon are different.

Based on the military sword used in the late 18th to early 20th century, the saber is a flat bladed weapon with a large, rounded hand guard. Hits can be scored with both the point and the edge of the saber. The target area in saber is the entire body above the waist including arms and head which replicates the areas that a horse mounted soldier would be able to reach on a foot soldier.

The épée is based on the original dueling sword popular in France in the 19th century and consists of a domed hand guard, triangular blade and a depressible button tip which registers hits. Users of the épée can only score points with the end of the blade. The target area for épée is the entire body including head, hands and feet. The épée is the weapon used in the fencing discipline in modern pentathlon.

Similar to the original swords designed for dueling practice, the foil is a lightweight weapon. The foil consists of a small bell shaped hand guard and a rectangular blade which is topped with a rubber button for safety. Points are scored with the tip of the foil against the scoring area of the torso. The arms, head and legs are not target zones in foil.

The basic form of movement and attack in fencing is the lunge which makes fencing a primarily asymmetric or one-sided sport. From a sideways-on position, the fencer steps forwards with their lead leg and extends their rear leg while simultaneously reaching out with their sword arm towards the target and  bending front knee. The rear arm is extended to provide balance. Recovery from the lunge involves either a powerful push off the front leg to move backwards or the recovery of the rear foot to move forwards.

While the lunge is the most common move in fencing, the most spectacular is the flèche – a leaping attack which would boarder on suicidal if the weapons used in fencing were real swords. The flèche is very difficult to defend against but the attacker cannot recover easily from a failed attempt and is subsequently open to an inevitably successful counter attack. A flèche will either win a point or lose a point…

Fencing is an explosive stop-go sport that is primary anaerobic. Speed is a virtue, as is coordination, agility, fast reaction time and a calm, calculating mind. Fencers are usually tall and long-limbed with a long reach being a distinct advantage. Fencing is not about aggression and “getting stuck in” but is more akin to a game of chess where reading your opponent’s intentions and preempting his actions will serve better than trying to hack and slash your way to victory.

If you like the idea of trying a combat sport but are wary about getting punched, kicked or thrown, fencing is a very good option. Safe but still exciting, fencing will have you feeling like that famous old time movie swashbuckler Errol Flynn in next to no time!

For more information on fencing please contact British Fencing via their website



Posted in Sports0 Comments


Guide to running for beginners

Guide to running for beginners

Running is probably one of the simplest of sports to take up as all that it requires is you and your motivation, your trainers and the great outdoors!  Whether you are running for fitness, weight loss, enjoyment, or to overcome chronic illness, it is a sport that you can do in all weathers, in any environment and you can cover the key aspects of fitness: from strength & speed, to stamina and coordination, you can address it all without the necessity of a gym membership. It really is that simple so if you are ready to get started, here are a few tips for beginners:

Starting tips


  • The main reason that beginner runners do not persevere is that they start too quick and do too much too soon which can make for a very uncomfortable experience. To avoid injury and enjoy the experience, it is essential to ease yourself into it slowly and increase your pace and distance gradually over several runs. If you do not already have a good base level of fitness, start by walking for up to 20-30mins and if this is comfortable, start to include some short intervals of jogging for 1-2mins.  Gradually increase the intervals until eventually you are able to run for the duration.
  • When you do run, do not start running too fast – have a slow progressive warm up of 5-10mins to allow the body to prepare and utilise the most efficient energy system.  In the initial stages of a beginner’s running practice, it is important to exercise at an intensity whereby you are able to hold a conversation comfortably in short sentences as this shows that you are working aerobically. Also ensure a gradual cool down and a good stretch routine post run.
  • With regards to distance, the 10% rule is good to abide by for progression and to avoid injury.  Basically this means that you do not increase your running mileage by more than 10% for your single longest run from week to week, or for your overall weekly mileage.
  • Think about your posture and form when running.  Aim to maintain an upright running posture with relaxed arms and shoulders and a smooth efficient running stride.  A good goal cadence to aim for is 180 foot strikes per minute so you may want to count the number of one leg foot strikes over 15secs at various intervals of your run and if it is 22-23 then you know you are achieving this.
  • There is currently a lot of varied opinions on choice of trainer with debates on cushioned versus minimalist trainers.  It is important to do your own research and follow the path that feels natural to you.  You may want to have a thorough running gait analysis to give you an insight into your personal running style and areas that you may need to work on.  Running is a very pure experience and so therefore don’t be drawn into fashions and gimmicks that some manufacturers may use to persuade you to buy their product.
  • Once you start a running routine, try to be consistent – it is better to run 2X per week and progress from there rather than run every day and then not run for a week.  You may also consider some cross-training, such as cycling, which will also benefit your general fitness without the impact of running only.
  • You may prefer to run with company for motivational or safety reasons so you could arrange to run with a friend of similar ability.  Alternatively, consider joining a local running club as most clubs now have enough members to split into ability groups enabling the runners to run with others of the same pace.
  • Goal-setting is good practise and it will keep you focussed so once you have developed your base running fitness, think about entering a short charity run or a 5k race/ Park run as a personal challenge. Also keeping a training diary can be encouraging as you look back and enjoy seeing how you have progressed and what you have managed to achieve.


  • As you develop and progress, you may choose to take a more scientific approach to your training.  This could include working in various heart rate zones using different energy systems or running to individually calculated run paces based on run tests.  In this regard, training tools such as a heart rate monitor and/or GPS style device may become a valuable piece of equipment.
  • There are numerous running races in the UK and worldwide of all distances and all terrains whether you enjoy racing for the experience or for the competitive nature, there is an event out there for all.
  • As running becomes part of your weekly routine and you become more serious or competitive, you will need to consider the use of supplementation to meet the additional demands being placed on your body as diet alone is not always enough.



  • You will perform better in your run training if you eat good energising foods and it is up to you as an individual to find which foods you perform well on and which foods to avoid.  Most people suffer if they eat solid foods within a couple of hours of running as your body will divert the blood to the working muscles and therefore the digestion of food will not be a priority and it will sit heavy in your stomach.  One way to fuel your running is to supplement with liquids or gels which are easily absorbed into the bloodstream: a carbohydrate drink with electrolytes (lost through sweating) such as USN Cytopower, or a Vooma gel, provides a good training or racing fuelling strategy. If you tend to sweat a lot, an electrolyte tablet such as Acti-Fizz dropped in 500ml of water will help with re-hydration and replenishing of important electrolytes.
  • Equally important to consider is your recovery after a hard training session and a drink such as R3 Xcell which contains carbohydrates, electrolyte and protein will help to replenish after a long or hard run so that you are ready to go again next time!
  • Ensuring a good source of protein on your rest days will further assist the body to repair and develop as the training effect takes place– Protein GF-1 is a useful addition to anybody’s diet.


Happy running!



Posted in Fat burning, Get Outside, Misc, Personal Trainer, Sports Training, Triathlon, Women's Fitness, Workouts0 Comments


Overcoming Injuries – Ciara’s Blog

By Ciara Horne of Team USN, the Welsh Cycling Team


Following the UCI Track World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico, our team pursuit squad were straight back into training with a big road block. But an unexpected setback occurred three weeks ago today, on a training ride back from the gym with my Team USN teammate Hayley Jones. I hit a pothole, disguised as a puddle, and hit the ground pretty hard. Immediately I could hear a lot of ‘crunching’ on my right collarbone. Thankfully, Hayley and a lorry driver looked after me until the ambulance came. Hayley was an absolute star and sorted out the logistics of getting my bike home and contacting our coach Darren Tudor and my parents.


At the hospital, X-rays were performed (as shown) and an impressive looking fracture to my right clavicle was revealed. The fracture itself was very nearly an open fracture, which means the broken bone penetrates the skin. Luckily, it didn’t, as I suspect that would have hurt a fair bit. The NHS stated that surgery may take up to six weeks, which would have meant no training for six weeks as there is no way I could have trained with a risk of an open fracture if I was moving around too much. I was extremely lucky and am incredibly grateful for the support of Sport Wales, as instead I was able to have surgery two days post the accident with an exceptional surgeon – Richard Evans at theSpire Cardiff hospital.

My post-op instructions stated that the first ten days had to be no sweating in order to reduce the chance of infection. This was music to my ears as it meant I could train, just not sweat! Two days post-op, I was back on the bike. In the first ten days I did plenty of three hour turbo sessions and also, with the help and guidance from Sport Wales strength and conditioning staff, I was able to start a weights programme five days post op. The weights programme consisted of leg press, sled walks, body weight exercises and a specific core programme.

In order to maximise recovery, under the guidance of our Sport Wales nutritionist and USN – I’ve been ensuring I’m having enough protein in my diet on a daily basis. I personally love the Protein Fuel 25 chocolate cream flavour drink, so have had a supply of these drinks to help aid growth and repair of the bone/muscles injured from the accident.

I’m now allowed to do efforts on the turbo, as pain allows. Three hours on a turbo isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, in fact, it really does test you. But with the Commonwealth Games 157 days away (at the time of writing), how could I not be motivated?

The physiotherapy and physiology team at Sport Wales have been a tremendous help and are working alongside my coach to help plan my rehabilitation. In less than two weeks I will be able to fully weight bear. So I’m currently counting down the days until I’m back on the track and road. For now, it’s a case of putting the work in at the gym and SRM/turbo sessions. As someone wise said to me last week; ‘There are no traffic lights on a turbo’ so hopefully this block will help me.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Sport Wales, Welsh Cycling and USN for their incredible support

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?




Posted in Blogs, Nutrition, Sports Training, Women's Fitness0 Comments


WOW – Mondays Workout 24/02/2014

Sprinting is a great workout for your legs and butt as well as a champion fat-burner. Try this workout to get your sprinting fix!

Name: Four by Four
Duration: 15 minutes
Equipment: Treadmill, timer
Method: Using a treadmill or an athletics track run 4 sets of 400 meters, going every 3 minutes i.e. start your stop watch as you begin your 1st 400 meters, on completion rest until the time reaches 3 minutes then go again. The faster you run, the longer you get to rest! If you prefer not to run, this workout can be done on as a rowing workout instead.

M & W running

Posted in Fat burning, Sports Training, Workout of the Week (WOW), Workouts0 Comments

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