Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are an important part of your workout routine, as they help to increase your overall flexibility giving you a greater range of motion, and reducing the chances of picking up an injury.  A well thought out set of stretches can complement the exercises that you do, and ensure that you get more benefits from the gym session.  It also helps to shape the body, with muscles encouraged into a longer shape.

Many people start their workouts with a range of stretching exercises to warm up – this is a big mistake.  Actually, you want to be warmed up when you do your stretches.  Being warmed up reduces the injury risk, and means that your muscles can work to their full range, rather than being required to over work before they are ready.  A gentle 5 minute run is a good idea to warm up for a stretching session, and will get your muscles ready.

There are two main types of stretching exercises, static and dynamic.  We’re all familiar with static stretches.  These are the ones where you bend over and touch your toes, move slowly, and hold the maximum extent of the stretch.  Dynamic stretches involve quicker movement out of the stretched pose, so rather than holding that deep lunge for 10 seconds, you move to your maximum stretch, and then return from it.  You still want to move in a relatively controlled way to avoid injury, but there is no holding of position at the end.  Static stretches will improve your overall flexibility, but in order to get real life benefits for sport or other training, you need to include dynamic stretching exercises too, as these will improve your range of mobility while you are actually moving.  Both types of stretching complement each other.

The most important rule of stretching exercises is:  If it hurts, stop.

When you stretch, you want to feel the stretch so that you know you are increasing your reach, but it should never be physically painful.  If it is, you’re going too far, and you need to relax, and work back up to the range that you are trying to achieve.

There are some great and challenging stretching exercise routines available if you join vytalz (which is free!), but here are 5 stretches that you should try:

Calf Stretch

Place one foot well in front of the other, and lean forwards bending your front leg and keeping your body upright to feel the stretch through your calves.  To balance your work on both sides, try striding forwards between stretches.

 

 

Toddler Squat

We covered this in our full blog post about the toddler squat, but its a great exercise that will increase flexibility in your lower legs as well as improving your strength and balance.

 

 

Lower Back Stretch

Lie on your front, and press your body flat to the floor, then place your hands about level with your waist, and lift your shoulders up while aiming to get a consistent curve into your back.  This will improve your range of movement as well as being a very relaxing pose.

 

 

Groin Stretch

With your feet more than shoulder width apart, transfer your weight from one leg to the other, keeping the non-weight bearing leg straight, and bending the other at the knee.  This stretch widens your stance at the groin, and helps you to get more flexibility and strength into this muscle group.  The advantage of this is that it reduces your likelihood of injury when running or doing other activity.

Torso Stretch

This stretching exercise is one that you need to practice, and also need a mirror to do, because you’re putting a big twist into your back, and it can be a little bit painful if you get it wrong.  Start by sitting flat on the ground.  Raise your left leg, and lie the other flat underneath it.  Then twist your torso to the left, aiming to get to a right angle with your lower body. Support the twist with your right arm on the outside of your left leg, and continue to turn your head as far as possible.  Don’t force the stretch, build up to a good range of movement over time.

Best Breakfast for Health

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  It fuels our body after rest, and it’s the best time to stock up on vital vitamins and minerals to protect our health and help us to stay fit and well.  All too often, people have just a slice of toast and a cup of coffee, or a fat filled croissant for breakfast, rather than really thinking about what the best breakfast for health might be.

The first thing to be clear on, is that a big meal isn’t necessarily the best breakfast for health.  A big stack of bacon and eggs with a pile of hash browns and a glass of orange juice might tick every food group, but it’s also going to be excessive in terms of calories.  Unless you’re in heavy training, you don’t need to eat thousands of extra calories, so don’t, stick to these healthy choices:

5 Top Healthy Breakfasts

Grilled mushrooms and tomatoes on a wholegrain bagel

No need to reach for the frying pan.  Grill a couple of tomatoes and a large mushroom for a few minutes and then put them on top of a chewy wholegrain bagel.  The tomatoes are rich in anti oxidants and vitamins, while the bagel provides you with vitamins B and E, and provides a slow release of energy keeping you feeling full for longer.

Boiled egg on wholemeal toast

Eggs are a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins A, D and riboflavinare, making them an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Mix this with some wholemeal bread which contains vitamin B and E, as well as fibre and you have a tasty meal to start the day.

Porridge with dried fruits

Porridge is really good for you.  Oats provide plenty of insoluble fibre and may help to reduce your cholesterol levels. They provide a slow release of energy throughout the morning, keeping you away from the snack cupboard.  By adding dried fruit, you add more vitamins and some extra flavour to the dish.

Porridge with dried fruit

the best breakfast for health

Muesli, fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt

Muesli has all the same benefits as porridge- a slow release of energy, and an impact on your cholesterol.  Adding yoghurt increases the calcium and protein you get, while fresh fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals, making this one of the best breakfasts for health.

Wholegrain cereal with semi-skimmed milk

You don’t necessarily need to spend hours preparing the best breakfast for health.  The cereal industry has probably done it for you.  Choose a healthy wholegrain cereal with added vitamins and minerals – especially iron, and you’ll be getting most of your RDA.  Add the protein from semi skimmed milk to the fibre and carbs in your cereal, and you’re getting a great bunch of nutrients.

 

Toddler Squat

WHAT IT IS

The toddler squat (sometimes called the third world squat) isn’t really an exercise or a stretch, however in recent years, it has become both.  In parts of the world, the squat is a common sitting position, and it is a shape that the human body holds pretty well, however it requires suppleness and greater than normal mobility in the knees and hips.

Third World Squat

The toddler squat is a natural way of sitting, without a chair, in which the strength of the legs and core holds the body in balance.  It’s the way that we sit  as children, and according to some people in the paleo-fitness communities, it is the way that we should sit as adults.  As people, particularly adults have begun to live more sedentary lifestyles, and spent more and more time in office chairs and on sofas, our natural flexibility has suffered, making it more and more difficult to get into this position.  This difficulty is something that can be countered through stretching, and as a result of the difficulty in getting into this pose, actually doing it, becomes a fairly powerful exercise.

BENEFITS

The main benefits of this pose are in developing greater core strength (as you hold your balance), more strength in your thigh muscles as you hold the legs while in the position, greater mobility through your knees.

People who regularly include the toddler squat in their exercise routine claim that it helps them with any leg exercises – such as squats or lunges – and that the additional flexibility makes them more efficient as runners or cyclists.

Another longer term benefit of becoming more flexible is that you will reduce your risk of sporting injury, and boost your ability to recover from exercise more quickly.

HOW TO DO IT

The toddler squat is a really simple thing to do, which as you get used to it feels more and more natural.  Essentially, it is as simple as bending your legs at the knee as you would with a regular squat, and sinking down as far as you can before holding the pose altogether.

In most cases, we lack the flexibility in the knees to go much further than having our legs horizontal with the ground, which puts additional load on the legs when you try and get into a third world squat.  You want to extend the knee so that your thigh’s are below horizontal. This ensures that the weight of your body is better distributed by your leg muscles.

You need to lean your body slightly forwards to keep your centre of gravity above your fee, and it also helps to place your elbows on the insides of your knees – again to improve your balance.

It takes a while to get used to the third world squat.  At first, you will feel the pull through your thighs and the fronts of your lower legs, and probably spend more time teetering to keep your balance than is comfortable, but as you get more and more used to the pose, you’ll get better at holding it until you arrive at the point you were when you were two or three years old, and could hold it indefinitely.

5 tips to lose 5lbs in 5 weeks

We blogged a couple of days ago about how many calories you need to use to burn 1 lb of fat, and that got us thinking about small changes we could make in our existing lifestyles to  lose 5lb in 5 weeks.

Each lb of fat is 3500 calories worth, which means that losing 5lbs means saving a total of 17,500 calories.  Given that the recommended daily intake for men is 2,500 calories, and for women 2,000 calories, the challenge of losing 5lbs in 3 weeks means using up an extra 500 calories more than you consume.  Here’s our 5 tips:

Walk More

The NHS have a 10,000 step challenge to get people to walk more.  The idea is that by targeting 10,000 steps of extra walking each day, people will burn around 300 additional calories.  You’d need to walk about 5 miles to hit the 10,000 steps target, but it’s really easy to add a couple of miles.  Wear a pedometer for a couple of days, and see how many steps you already manage.  You can burn an additional 100 calories per day simply by adding 3,000 steps – about 1.5 miles to your routine.

Cut Out the Coffee

Are you a fan of Starbucks?  Did you know that a Starbucks Latte contains 200 calories?  Opting for a regular filter coffee with skimmed milk in Starbucks rather than a Latte or other made coffee will save you around 190 calories.  For an average person who drinks a couple of coffees per week, that’s about 50 cal per day.

Swap your Chocolate

Chocolate’ great.  It’s also packed with fat and calories, and let’s be honest, you’re never going to lose weight if you’re consuming 300 calories of sugar and fat in the space of 5 minutes.

You don’t “need” chocolate bars, so drop them from your diet.  It’s easy to find a low calorie alternative, and save yourself 200 calories per day.

Laugh

Every weight loss article you will ever read tells you that laughing will help you lose weight. It’s true: laughing burns calories.  Swap out the weepie movies (and the boxes of chocolates and tissues) for a comedy DVD.  Over the course of an hour, you’ll laugh for about 10 minutes, and burn around 50 calories, as well as feeling great.

Work Out

Keep fit, lose weightHaving a 10 minute Vytalz workout each day is a great supplement to your regular routine, and is high impact enough to make a difference to your fitness.  For an average person, the 10 minute blast of exercise will burn about 100 calories.  Just the right number to bring up our magic 500 calories per day.

If you haven’t already joined Vytalz for free exercise routines, sign up today.

Calculating Your VO2 Max

While BMI Calculators are an indicator of your health, the most accurate measure of your fitness is your VO2 Max.  Calculating your VO2 Max is essentially tells you how efficiently your body is able to convert energy from food into physical movement.

A high VO2 Max is important for endurance athletes, and it is something that will develop as you train harder over time.  VO2 Max is normally represented in terms of a ratio of milli-litres of oxygen / kilogram of body weight / per minute and as such allows you to compare your results with a competitor.

There are a number of ways of calculating your VO2 Max score.  To get the most accurate possible representation, you would need to actually measure the volume of oxygen you use during a set piece of exercise which requires specialised equipment.  This isn’t always practical, however it’s reasonably straightforward to get an accurate estimate of VO2 Max using the simpler Cooper Test.

The Cooper Test

The Cooper test was developed for the US Air Force during the 1950s to measure the fitness of airmen and determine their fitness for service.

To carry out the Cooper Test, you measure the distance in metres that you can run in 12 minutes at peak effort.  The following equation is used for calculating your VO2 Max:

VO2 Max Equation

Equation to calculate VO2 Max

As an example, if you were able to run 2.5KM in a 12 minute period, the calculation for your VO2 Max would be:

(2500-505)/45 = 44.33

Your VO2 Max score is always relative to your age and gender.  For a man aged 19, 44.33 would represent a “fair” VO2 Max, while for a woman aged 40, it would be “superior”:

VO2 Max Graph for Men

VO2 Values for Men

VO2 Max for women

VO2 Values for Women

For most regular people, both the Cooper test, and the performance bands outlined above are sufficient to determine VO2 Max values with a reasonable degree of accuracy – certainly enough to be able to measure health improvements over time.  Truly elite athletes will often have performance values for VO2 max that are off the normal scales.  The cyclist Greg Lemond often performed well above a VO2 Max of 88.

We’ve developed a VO2 Max calculator that uses your Cooper test results so you can track your fitness over time. Try it out here.

Low Fat Lemon Chicken Pasta Recipe

Low Fat Lemon Chicken PastaA lot of low fat pasta meals are pretty insipid affairs – bland tomato sauce and a few flakes of tuna, but here’s something that’s a real treat:  a low fat lemon chicken pasta recipe that manages to have a really punchy flavour while only being 477calories per portion.

This recipe is enough to serve 2 people.

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 200g pasta – we like fusilli, but you can use whatever you like
  • 50g frozen peas
  • 1 sliced pepper
  • cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 25g non fat cream cheese
  • 25g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

Method

Start cooking your pasta in boiling water with salt and a splash of oil to prevent it sticking in the pan.

Heat a frying pan with some olive oil in it.  When the oil is hot, add the chopped garlic, and then your sliced chicken.  When the chicken is cooked on the outside, add the frozen peas, sliced pepper, and cherry tomatoes, and continue to cook for a couple of minutes before emptying the chicken and veg from the pan and putting aside.

Using the same pan, mix the cream cheese, lemon zest, and chicken stock together and cook over a high heat for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly to get a smooth sauce for your pasta.

drain your pasta once it is cooked to your taste.

Once your sauce is properly mixed, add the pasta, chicken and vegetables, to the pan with the sauce, and mix together before seasoning with the salt and pepper, and sprinkling with parmesan cheese to serve.

How many calories do I need to use to lose 1lb of fat

We’ve recently added some calculators to the Vytalz website that help you work out how many calories you burn running, and how many calories you burn swimming, but one question we get asked quite a lot is:

How many calories do I need to use to lose 1lb of fat

1lb of fat in the form of butter

For reference, 1lb of fat is roughly the equivalent of a standard block of butter.  In your body it is spread across your entire frame, and it’s a little less dense, so losing 1lb of fat won’t change your appearance, although it will have an impact on your health in the long term.

It turns out that 1lb of human fat represents about 3,500 calories.  In terms of food, that’s about the equivalent of 3 medium sized Big Mac Meals.  Given that the recommended daily calorie intake for women is 2,000  and for men is 2,500 per day, it’s clear that how many calories you need to lose 1lb of fat is going to be equivalent to quite a lot of exercise.

On most weight loss programmes, people target a 1lb per week weight loss, although it’s important to recognise that just because you lose 1lb of fat per week, you would not lose 1lb in overall weight.  Improving fitness will always increase muscle mass, and this is more dense and heavier than fat.

How Many Calories do I need to use each day to lose 1lb of fat per week

Theoretically, in order to lose 1lb of fat per week, you need to have a difference in intake vs usage of approximately 500 calories per day.  The recommended intake of calories for women is 2,000.  If you reduce this by 250 (1,750), and add 250 calories of exercise to your daily routine (a 4KM run or a 20 minute workout on Vytalz), you’d be burning enough additional calories to hit your weekly target.

In reality, you’d find that this type of routine would deliver a better result.  more exercise means more calories are used for both the work that you are doing, but also in the creation of new muscle tissue, and to power that tissue.  You’d actually be burning more calories than you’d expect, and as a result, drop more than 1lb of fat per week – although as noted above, this might not reflect in your overall weight, so it’s important not to get downhearted by weight loss, and to focus more on overall health and wellness during your exercise plan.

 

 

The Letchworth Centre for Health

Personal well being is about far more that the amount of weight you can lift, or how fast you can run a mile, it’s about the sense of balance that you can achieve, and how comfortable you are within yourself.

Health, both mental and physical is easy to take for granted, because we don’t often spend enough time appreciating it.  Even a brief cold or dose of the flu can knock our confidence and bring us down.  Long term, chronic illness is painful both physically and mentally, and severely impacts quality of living.

The Letchworth Centre for Health

Long term medical care for chronic conditions can be extremely costly, especially for people unable to work, and access to sympathetic and supportive caring professionals makes a huge difference to quality of life.

Organisations like the Letchworth Centre for Health take a drug free, natural approach to well being, promoting holistic health care and encouraging exercise and relaxation as a means to improve general health.

The Letchworth Centre for Health operates as a charitable body, so rather than taking funding from the tax payer, it is supported by gifts – often from grateful people who have benefited from visiting, or from the families of those have been cared for.

There’s a real and ongoing need for organisations like the Letchworth Centre to provide support to people who can’t get it from traditional healthcare providers.  During the current austerity era, with cuts in a lot of the funding they can get, it’s more important than ever that members of the public support places like this to ensure that they can continue to provide care, advice and support in the long term.

 

Press Ups

Press ups are the staple of any fitness plan, and a great way to build strength and definition in your upper body.  Good form is important in maximising impact and there are numerous different press up variations that you can do as you develop your strength to ensure that you are continually challenged.

Muscle Groups Worked by Press Ups

Press Ups or Push Ups

Standard press ups

Depending on the technique that you use, your press ups can impact on a variety of different areas of your chest and arms.  The core areas worked in a push up routine are your triceps (the muscles at the back of your upper arms) and your pecs (the muscles across your chest). Additionally, you work out the muscles through your core back and shoulders too by holding your body straight.

Basic Form Guide for Press Ups

Regardless of the kind of push ups that you want to do and your level of fitness, you should focus on a smooth, controlled action and move slowly through the downwards phase before pushing back up hard.   Each repetition should take around 3 seconds, with 2 spent on the downward part and one on the upwards part, as this is where you expend the most energy.

At the top of the exercise, your arms should be completely straight and at the bottom of the exercise, your chest should be just about touching the floor.  Keep your back straight throughout the whole exercise, and your abdominals tight so that you give yourself the best possible form.

When you’re at the point when you cannot fully straighten your arms, try to push out one final full repetition rather than shortening the action, as this will not benefit your muscles through the full range of their movement.

The wider you spread your arms, the more emphasis you put on your chest rather than your arms.  A narrow stance will concentrate effort on your triceps, while a wider stance will apply more effort through your pecs.  Over a work-out session, you might want to use different variations to balance the areas that you work.

As you develop your fitness routines with vytalz, you’ll naturally extend the amount of time you spend on each exercise, so the number of press ups you can manage will increase.  As a rule of thumb, if you’re keeping a good steady pace and maintaining form, you’ll be doing around 10 reps in a 30 second work-out session, and 15 when you move up to 45 seconds.

Harder Press-ups

The amount of weight that you push with each press up can be controlled by your resting body position.  Novices will probably want to start on hands and knees which mean that you’re only pushing about half your body weight.

It’s also possible to do inclined press ups using the edge of a table, but make sure that the table is stable so it doesn’t flip over when you put your weight on it.

As your strength increases, you’ll have no problem doing regular press ups where your feet are on the ground and you lift a high percentage of your body weight.

Lifting your feet off the ground on a step will mean that you have to lift more weight off the ground, which means more effort, and better results.  The higher you lift your legs, the more intense you will make the exercise, but make sure that you keep things stable and comfortable, as too high an angle can be dangerous, and finishing the exercise can be trickier.

Press ups are a core part of the Vytalz Training plan.  Join now to see more.

 

Calculating Your BMI

Your BMI, or Body Mass Index shows the relationship between your weight and height, and is a tool that medical professionals use in measuring your health.  For any given height, there is a range of ideal weights that correlates with better health.  People who’s weight fall outside the healthy level are typically at a higher risk of developing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

Body Mass Index Chart

Chart for calculating your BMI

It is important to note, that your body mass index is essentially a measure of body density, and you are compared to a wider sample of people.  You can be perfectly healthy and have a BMI that falls out of the “normal range”.  People who train hard and have a greater muscle mass sometimes find that a BMI calculator will indicate that they are overweight, when in fact they are healthier than the average man in the street.

Because of this, when calculating your BMI, you should bear in mind that it is a guide to health compared to the wider population, and while an objective for your fitness programme might be to get a healthier score, you should also focus on other fitness measures such as VO2Max, or body fat percentage.

Use our BMI Calculator to find out what your score is.