The Combined Importance of Your Core and Pelvic Floor

As a pre and post-natal exercise specialist it is my job (or at least I see it that way!) to check the condition of each new clients’ deep core muscles and pelvic floor strength. This assessment tells me exactly where to start with our training journey together and if further assistance may be needed, in the way of a women’s health physiotherapist.

DSC_3525Why am I writing about the pelvic floor when there are other fitness tips I could be sharing? Because I passionately believe that people are greatly undereducated in the role of the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor is not functioning well, this can and does massively affect one’s confidence and overall sense of self. We’re talking about a matter of continence and confidence. — Imagine having the constant worry that if you laugh, cough or sneeze you will not be able to control ‘down there’ and leak a little/pee yourself. This is a regular occurrence for many, because these natural functions of the body put pressure on the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor muscles are weakened for whatever reason, this can easily happen. Many women I have spoken to nod their head in recognition of this and think it’s just normal after having a baby. Well listen up all, you CAN change this.

The pelvic floor comes under a large amount of stress through pregnancy and giving birth. NOTE; NOT just vaginal birth but caesarean deliveries too. Believe me, I know from having a caesarean myself. It isn’t just at this time though; also during the menopause, post hysterectomy and similar invasive surgical procedures. Men can also suffer from the side effects of a lack of conditioning of these deep, internal muscles e.g. from acute IBS or digestive issues as well as heavy weight training.

I have a great book called ‘Pelvic Floor Secrets’ by Jenny Russell, which I have not yet finished but have already learned a great deal from the first half. This information benefits both my clients and me, therefore I recommend this book to anyone experiencing/familiar with sub-optimal pelvic floor function.

Another useful bit of advice is to really think about your breath. Focus on what you feel internally when you exhale deeply. Whether you can feel it or not, (this will come if you continue to practice) this action connects to the deep core musculature and pelvic floor.

I am no longer surprised, yet still disappointed to hear from the new Mums that I train, that in their post-natal check up, they have been given the go-ahead to exercise with no actual physical ‘check’. As a result many women are sent away ready to train without knowing that they are already starting on the back foot. Pelvic floor and core connection and re-strengthening is fundamental before doing sprints/burpees or whatever high impact exercise one wants to do to help shift excess fat. Not only will results be hindered, but these problems left untreated could cause further damage if expert advice is not sought. I’ve seen too many ladies with abdominal separation, and continence issues training unwisely (for healing their body after giving birth), so please speak up if this is you, so you can feel better in more ways than one!


Laura Clark of LEC Nutrition gives her Top Tips!

Did the Olympic Games inspired you to get out and take advantage of some personal training? For athletes, nutrition is often described as a vital piece of the jigsaw alongside natural ability and training. Even for a novice athlete, what you put in your body and when will play a big part in getting the most from your new fitness regime. Here are some top tips:

Eat Regularly

Fuelling your body at regular intervals helps to keep your metabolism working efficiently and will give you the energy you need to exercise. Regular eating means a breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between if going longer than 3-4 hours between meals.

Make it balanced

Include some form of complex carbohydrate (found in bread, pasta rice, potatoes) some form of lean protein (meat, fish, eggs, pulses) and some sort of vegetable/ salad or fruit at each meal. Balanced meals help to regulate your blood sugar levels and keep your energy levels topped up so you’ve got fuel in the tank to exercise!

Know when to snack

If your last meal was a while ago it can be useful to have a snack about an hour before exercise to top you up for example fruit, yoghurt, malt loaf, oatcakes or some plain popcorn. If you’re exercising for weight loss, you obviously don’t want to put unnecessary calories in so have smaller meals and use the calories saved for a small pre-exercise snack to help you power through your session.

Remember exercise is not always a license to eat more

Don’t be fooled into thinking that a slow jog round the park might cancel out last night’s curry. Although exercise has many health benefits such as reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and fending off depression, try not to be unrealistic about how many calories you’ve burnt, particularly if you’re trying to lose weight. For example walking for an hour burns approx. 180 calories, less than what you’d find in a standard sized chocolate bar.

Don’t be fooled by special sports products

Sports products have their place; the key is knowing when to use them to avoid extra calories you don’t need or throwing your money away. If exercising at a moderate to high intensity for over an hour you’ll need to top up your carbohydrate reserves in your muscles. This is where sports drinks or portable snacks like bananas or cereal bars can play a role. If you’re exercising for less than an hour you should only need water.
Protein shakes and bars are another confusing area. Despite what you often hear, protein requirements for most active people can genuinely be met easily through diet. It’s much more important to get the timing right rather than worry about the amount. To repair and re-fuel muscles, protein and carbohydrate taken together within 30 minutes of exercise is most effective. Great snacks for after a workout include a fruit smoothie, crackers and ham or yoghurt and fruit.

For more individualised advice, contact Laura at or on 07917 473 181 for a free 10 minute consultation.


Distance running

Here is an article on distance running that Lucy co-wrote with fellow Personal Trainer at The Third Space, Jon Stratford, as part of a ‘Challengers Pack’ giving advice for fundraising events, for international charity War Child.

To train for long distance running you need to condition your muscles to be able to have the strength and stamina to withstand the prolonged impact and exercise. Preparing for a marathon or half marathon you need to start training from at least 6 months before, preferably building your conditioning training up gradually over 12 months in advance. For 10k’s and 5k’s, if you are not used to running you will also need to build up the distance and conditioning from 6 months in advance.

To start with:

Ensure you have the right shoes. Have a gait analysis done (at The Sweat Shop, The Marathon Store, etc.) and invest in a pair of trainers to suit the type of support your feet need.
Make sure you ALWAYS warm up thoroughly before training. This will help to prevent any injuries, by keeping the muscles supple and stretchy. It is also vital to warm down and stretch for at least 7-8 minutes afterwards.

Here are some key stretches, for the main muscle groups:

Hamstrings (back of the thigh) – with one heel placed down in front of you and the toes up, slowly lean your weight backwards and towards the floor.

Quadriceps (front of thigh) – stand holding one foot towards your bottom keeping the knees in line and push your hips forward.

Glutes – place one foot onto the top of the knee and sit back (with the knee going out to the side). You should feel this stretch across your bottom and outer thigh on the upper resting leg.

Calves – lean forward with one leg in front. The back leg should be straight with the heel pressing into the floor.

Chest – place your hands in the small of your back, palms against the body. Push the chest out and draw your elbows towards each other behind you.

Upper/middle back – hold firmly onto some bars/railings (around the gym or a park) and let your weight drop away and towards the floor, curving your back. If you slowly bend one leg and straighten the other, you should feel a stronger stretch on one side.

Resistance Training:

With regards to a weight training programme, look at doing movements to strengthen the body overall, especially the legs. Here is a sample programme to start with. Over time you can increase the weights, to challenge yourself further once you have adapted. Do not do so until you have done at least 6 weeks of the initial programme.
Here is a programme to use when beginning your training:

  • Squats x 12-15
  • Lunges onto bosu x 12-15 each side
  • Press ups x 10-15
  • Lateral step ups x 12-15 each side – slow and controlled movement, in both directions
  • Bent Over Row x 12-15
  • Clean and press x 12-15
  • Core Exercises:
  • Russian twist x 10 (left to right = 1)
  • Plank for 20 seconds +
  • Jack knife x 10-15

Alongside this go jogging outside as well as inside. Try some interval training also; where you work hard and run for a set time and then recover by jogging or walking. Repeat this for up to 10 minutes at first. You might start by doing intervals of one minute on, one minute off then decrease that to 30:30 seconds.

Nutritional tips:

Small changes can make big differences – in your energy levels and patterns, moods, etc. so try one or two of these at a time and compare (also make note of) any changes you notice. Then you know what helps or hinders for future training purposes.
These tips are to help your body run efficiently, with regards to metabolism and using energy:

  • Eat small meals regularly throughout the day, every 2-3 hours. Don’t skip the main meals.
  • Combine complex carbohydrates (wholemeal grains; pasta, rice, bread, couscous) and lean protein at each meal.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Always eat breakfast; it is the most important meal of the day. Your body has been deprived of nutrients and fuel for the hours you have been sleeping.
  • Avoid processed and refined foods.
  • Avoid/limit sugar and alcohol.
  • Avoid saturated and trans fats.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, in a variety of colours.

A good balance of the following: NUTRITION – TRAINING – SLEEP

  •  If you haven’t trained before or for a while get a health check from your doctor
  • Be progressive
  • Listen to your body; eg if your shins start to ache get them checked out!
  • Drink 250ml of water per 15 mins of training
  • Never run on a treadmill set at 0% incline always put it on a minimum of 2% to stop yourself from bobbing up and down
  • When running outdoors, wear layers so you can tie one around your waist if you start to heat up
  • Invest in a well fitting sports bra
  • Loose tops can cause nipple rubs so try Vaseline or specific running tops
  • Be safe and seen when running outdoors – wear reflective clothing especially at night
  • Know your route to avoid getting lost
  • Vary your route to avoid boredom
  • Grab a friend to train with
  • Think about wearing a hat and gloves in the cold
  • If running for over an hour carry a snack or sports supplement to keep your energy up
  • If running on roads, run on the right so that you can see the approaching traffic
  • Try and run off roads and pavements for as much of your training as possible
  • Have a look at a local map. There could be some great places to run a short drive or bus ride away
  • Have a look at joining a local running network
  • Most of all, enjoy your training!

Training routine example:
Mon – Hard run (30 mins at a level that you can’t talk at)
Tue – Circuit *See above
Wed – Medium run (45 mins at a level that you just talk at)
Thu – Circuit
Fri – Easy run (60 mins at a level that you can comfortably talk at)
Sat – Circuit
Sun – REST


My 10K run for Congo women

On Sunday 3rd June 2012 I took part in my first running event, the 10K Run for Congo Women. Early morning, on that wet and rainy Sunday I made my way to Regent’s Park, via Monkey Gate for the 8am sign-in time. Despite massive travel problems getting into London I made it to The Hub, with relief, by 8.30am. As the race start time approached I felt more nervous — a little excited also — but very nervous. Then I simply thought to myself ‘what’s the worry?’. I was there to run, at my own pace with no pressure and simply to raise money for people in need. I am very pleased to have raised £345 and hope to raise more over the next two months. Thank you to all those who kindly donated!

The race itself was great fun to take part it. It was a rainy, grey day but it didn’t matter one bit. What is one hour of slight discomfort compared to what the women in the Democratic Republic of Congo have gone through? By the time we started it had stopped raining and the drips from the trees helped to stay at a good body temperature in fact! During the run, a slight injury I have in my right foot started to play up so I focussed more on correcting my posture and running style as well as keeping a decent pace. I had set my heart rate monitor stop watch so I could see my lap times and I was doing pretty well, getting similar times for the first two laps (about 16 minutes). The total course was three laps, so in the final lap I was intent on achieving my own personal goal; completing the 10K in under 50 minutes.

I knew not to push it too early, otherwise by legs would fail me on the home straight. I checked the path way ahead of me, that nobody was in the way and just kept on, breathing steadily. Once I turned the corner towards the finish line I gave it all my legs could take, sprinting as fast as I could. I felt a little sick with exertion bur once across the line I was warmly welcomed by my boyfriend, the lovely Jenny Burrell and husband (who did the run also) and the fantastic team at Women for Women International, who organise the race. Thank you for such great support!
It wasn’t until the next day when the times were put online that I knew for sure but I was thrilled to discover that I had run it in under 50 minutes — 49 minutes and 50 seconds!!

If you would like to take part in the next 10K Run for Congo Women, you can find details on how to enter here!


Dynamic Stretching for Postural Correction

Stretching after exercise is very important, not only to prevent muscle soreness the next day, but to also allow the muscles to realign and not remain overly tight following exertion. However, you should also use stretches even without doing any physical activity. Due to everyday activities; be it standing, sitting for long periods or lifting things regularly, your body will develop areas of tension. This is simply the body’s clever way of supporting itself; when in the same position time after time, certain muscles come into play, adapting and becoming shorter and tighter. Your muscles will stay this way unless they are attended to with some simple stretches. Further help can be sought through classes like yoga, which is fantastic for lengthening muscles, improving flexibility and posture.
To prevent a build up of tension and its visible effects e.g. hunched shoulders, rounded back, neck jutting forwards, short stride length in gait, it is useful to try and integrate some movements that are key to realigning the body towards optimal posture as well as greater comfort. These movements can, in turn, help prevent injury. With one set of muscles dominating a movement where there should be an equal balance, this can cause other muscles to strain to compensate and lead to a pull, strain or even a tear.
If you are sitting for long periods of time your hip flexors are prone to becoming tight. This tension can alter your posture and affect your gait, which in turn may lead to pain or injury.

Here is a stretch pattern to remedy this area:

Lunge forwards with your left foot in front, allowing both knees to form a right angle and reach up as high as you can with your right arm while keeping your shoulder blades down your back. Then step back to a neutral standing position. Repeat this 15-20 times, or until you feel looser in the hip flexor area. Then change sides.
NOTE: To increase the stretch sensation, add a rotation in your torso either towards or away from the front leg. Take care however, as it can have quite a dramatic effect.

Another common complaint, in sportsmen particularly, is tight hamstrings. Instead of the usual static hold you may already know, we will add some movement to allow maximum benefit. Step your right foot backwards leaving the left foot to rock onto the heel, then take your hips back while reaching your arms forwards (towards your toes or out ahead of you). Now step back up to a standing position and repeat. Imagine someone is pulling your hips backwards and your hands forwards to get the best stretch!

This dynamic form of stretching is far more beneficial in the long term than the static type; the muscles are naturally stretched in two or three planes of motion to trigger contraction back towards a position of least effort/tension — we call it centre: you currently know it as neutral.

To support this increased flexibility you should work on your core strength to allow the spine to align well in accordance with the surrounding muscles. Core stability is important to everyone, active or not; it can help to prevent back pain and to have greater control over your stomach muscles, achieving a slimmer and more toned appearance. As well as abdominals exercises, make sure you work your back and do some twisting movements to encompass all planes of motion that the body goes through.

Through doing these exercises, you should feel a lot less restricted in the lower body and perhaps your upper body as well. Practice daily for maximum results; it may improve your posture, when static or walking, as well as alleviating any niggling pain you have had. These are some of the benefits of dynamic stretching. I hope you enjoy using them!
If you have any questions then please do get in touch.


Training Through Winter

Lots of people find it harder to get outside in the colder months but once you do, not only do you realise it’s not as bad as it seems but you feel great for doing it! So resist the urge to hibernate and read on …

Here are my tips to help encourage you to carry on regardless! — To train for a stronger body, a flatter tummy, a positive mind and the sheer smug factor from not letting the weather get the better of your workout!

  • Heat your gloves and trainers on the radiator before you go out (my favourite!)
  • Put on some gym trousers over leggings for extra warmth. I love multiple layering at this time of year, it really helps to keep warmth in.
  • Get into your sports kit first thing in the morning so that you are in the right mind set and geared up to go!
  • Train with a friend or if not, tell a friend when you are about to do some exercise. This way they should ask how it went and you can have someone to answer to and congratulate you on your efforts.
  • Join, a great website which allows you to set yourself goals, provides you with motivation and lets you invite people to support and encourage you on your journey. It’s free!
  • Read an inspiring book e.g. Born To Run, or a book by an athlete.
  • Visualise your reward when you’ve completed your outside training session. E.g. a relaxing hot bath, like this fella to the left, plus a cup of tea or a protein-rich smoothie. Try blending Pulsin’ pea protein with a banana, some non-dairy milk, a tablespoon of nut butter and any other healthy additions you might fancy.
  • Buy some nice sports wear to inspire you to get out in it. Striders Edge, Lorna Jane, and Lululemon (also does mens clothing!) are my favourites, for their feminine designs and quality.
  • And if you really can’t get out, plan a fitness routine at home! Clear some space in the house to do your exercise. Ready Steady Mums DVD’s can guide you through the moves if you are pregnant/post-natal.

Even just making time to do stretches is great. Stretching is good for many things; providing greater comfort, easing stress, preventing pain and injury. If you are sitting for long periods, as is often the case when breast-feeding, and holding your child then your posture is bound to suffer a little. So stretching, all over the body, at least once a day can do just the trick to help you feel great and improve your posture too!