Welcome to the ESPA Life at Corinthia Fitness Blog

Written by us, the Personal Training Team at ESPA Life at Corinthia London. We wanted to create a blog to write for fitness advocates and beginners alike, a place to share everything from tips & truths, effective workouts, dietary advice, words of encouragement , our thoughts on the what works (and what doesn’t) and what music is on our playlist. We will also run competitions, encourage you to join us for a morning run and provoke discussion.

We welcome your views and if you have any questions, please post them on the blog so that others can join the conversation! You can also email us at espalifefitness.london@corinthia.com

Best wishes,
Ross, David, Tom & Marina
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Monday 21 January 2013

SKI life

As London is blanketed in snow, now is the perfect time to get Ski ready and where better to do this than at ESPA Life at Corinthia.

We have created a bespoke programme ensuring you embark on your ski holiday in prime physical shape with a one month ski training package. Combining strength and endurance training with nutritional advice and sports massage therapies, the course guarantees that by the time you hit the steep blacks you’ll be at your optimum fitness and ready to get the most from your trip.

Click here to read more

Tuesday 8 January 2013

The Ironman Part 1 – Introduction

David Griffin

As a Personal Trainer I love Performance Goals. So when Tom Freud entered the gym here at ESPA Life, and told me he was planning to do a Half Ironman a smile quickly spread across my face (not that I don’t smile anyway...!!!). It’s a huge challenge, particularly as Tom has never participated in an extreme endurance challenge before. Although I think it’s fair to say both I and Tom enjoy challenges and we quickly developed an understanding. It is going to be a test of strength, endurance and character, but I’m confident he can perform well with the correct structure to his training.

As a Personal Trainer I need to know everything about this event, so appropriate initial research is the first thing to do. I have raced over Half marathon before and also over distances on the bike, but have never competed in a 70.3 Ironman. This is another reason why the initial research is so important. It is also fair to say, training for an Ironman is unlike any other event. It is the ultimate endurance test, and to get results, preparation is vital.

  • Competition: 70.3 Ironman. (Half Ironman)
  • Location: St Polten, Austria.
  • Exercise Type: Long duration Aerobic exercise. 1.2 mile swim (Lake), 56 mile bike (road), 13.1 mile run (road).
  • Typical Environmental Condition, St Polten, May: 
    • Avg low: 11°  |  Avg hi: 21°  |  Avg precip: 0.16 cm
  • Exercise Frequency: One off Event. Sunday 26th May 2013.
  • Causes of Fatigue: Hypoglycaemia, Dehydration and Hyperthermia, Depletion of Muscle glycogen and Liver glycogen, impaired SR and mitochondrial function (due possibly to free radical damage), Heat Exhaustion, Cramps, GI Disturbances.
  • Other causes of DNF: Crash, Punctures, GI distress, Heat Exhaustion, Acute injury (Breaks, muscle strains, sprains), Chronic injury (Achilles tendonitis, Calf tightness etc...)
  • Possible Sports Nutrition Strategies: CHO Loading, Pre CHO intake 1-4 hours before event, CHO/Fluid intake during event, Hydration strategies before event, Supplementation PRO, antioxidants, Fe, Zn, Mg.
  • Time of Competition: 07:00 Swim Start – Expected finish Approx 12:30
    • (Swim 45-60 min), (Bike 160 min-200min), Run (105min-120min)
  • Estimated Total Duration: - 5Hours - 6hours 20min.

I will refer back to this information often. The main reason is that training has to always be specific to the task in hand. There is no point, for example, regularly training the ‘Phosphagen’ energy system when the causes of fatigue are predominately a depletion of muscle and liver glycogen through the ‘Aerobic’ energy system. Training at a higher intensity serves its purpose (discussed later), even in an Ironman, but with a total expected competition duration of over 5 hours, training for long durations will be essential.

Another important requirement is the Initial assessment, including a comprehensive health check, exercise screening, Body composition test and Cardio and pulmonary exercise testing (CPEX testing). With this information I can then start to individualise the training, according to the results of the testing and in relation to his goals.

Next week Ironman Part 2 – Assessing an Athlete

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Overcoming Back Pain

If we were to analyse the health of peoples’ backs in the western world we would find that over 80% of the population would present with some form of back issue. Whether this is spinal disk, nerves, muscular or genetically created problems, over 80% of people would not be functioning as we are naturally designed to.  Most of these problems are created because of our un-natural lifestyle. We, as home sapiens, are not genetically evolved to sit down (whether at a desk, on a tube, in the car or on the sofa) for extended periods of time.  Neither are we designed to play sports, train in the gym and run long distances!  Now I’m not saying don’t do any of the later examples (I whole heartedly would encourage you to get off the sofa and move any way you possibly can), what I am saying is that you have to be aware of the affect that it will have on your body.

Any form or training or sport will cause a muscular reaction, and generally damages the body.  Your body is prepared for this and it is a natural reaction, this is how muscles increase strength and power. However the damage creates tension in the body, what is normally referred to as tightness.  This tightness is the body trying to protect itself so that is can repair and get stronger.  Typically the myofascia (a dense tough tissue that surrounds and covers all of your muscles and bones. Barry Jennings, 2009) will contract and shorten as a result of training muscle damage. As myofascia runs all over your body and connects muscle and bones (think of a web that covers your whole body under your skin) tightness in one area will have a knock on affect to the rest of the body.

This is one of the main causes of back pain. Imagine you have been in the gym and completed a hard leg session, your legs feel heavy and sore, and you know that the next day you are going to be stiff (sitting down is going to be accompanied by lots of groaning).  All of this tightness in your glutes and hamstrings is going to be having an effect on the myofascial system. The next link up the web is the sacrum, followed by the lumbar and thoracic regions of your back.  The tightness from your legs is going to put pressure, through the myofascial web, onto these regions. It’s going to affect the biomechanical way you move and the forces that the muscles use to stabilise the spine.  This is what causes back pain, when you suddenly change the natural spinal alignment (acute injury) or the same process but over a long period of time (chronic injury).

For this reason, mobilisation and muscle preparation should be the most important part of your gym program.  Foam rolling, mobility drill and a proper warm up are essential if you are to remain injury free.  Foam rolling ensures that tension in the fascia is reduced, that the muscle quality improves and also begins lymphatic movement so the muscles begin to prepare for exercise.  Mobility drills re-enforce our desire for a maximal range of movement at each joint. If we can drill our bodies to move properly and to their full range, and have strength at that full range, we will significantly reduce the likelihood of injury. Finally to the warm up, this needs to be muscle specific to your program.  Jumping on the treadmill for 10 minutes is not going to prepare you for exercise.  Yes it will get you warm but we are not looking to raise your body temperature, we need heat in the muscles and for them to move through the whole range of movement.  Exercise complexes that mimic your program are perfect, so for heavy
squats use bodyweight squats, split squats and lunges, for bench pressing use band flys’ and inclined press ups.

Now that your body is prepared for exercise we need to address the problems that are causing your back pain. Now of course this is going to be different for individual situations, however I would like to share a few main ideas that will generally help everyone.

1. Increase Glute Strength – So many of the muscle groups that are attached and associated with the back, and its movement and stability, also attach to the pelvis.  If you have weak glutes, the forces that go through the other muscles are going to create imbalances. This is where you get issues like anterior pelvic tilts and pelvic rotation.  Having strong glutes not only looks good, but will help you resist the forces created from the rest of the body and maintain the natural posture that we naturally desire.

2. Increase Core Strength (not Abdominal Strength) – Unfortunately to most people the definition of core strength has become a direct heading to sit ups and crunches.  Whilst the research still argues about whether flexion and extension of the spine should be included in strengthening programs, in my experience I have found that flexion and extension cause more problems than they solve.  Admittedly this is generally down to poor technique and form but I take this out of the equation by avoiding the exercises.  I prefer to strengthen the entire lower area of the torso or the trunk as it is more often called.  Using rotation and anti-rotation exercises force us to strengthen not only the abdominals but the spinal stabilising muscles, the oblique’s and the intercostals muscle groups.  This will provide much better total strength and is much more beneficial for back health.

Finally, get some manual therapy work done, it will be the best investment you can make!  In reality you are probably going to start off in such a state that you will need some accurate and professional work done to release the target muscle groups.  Whether is massage, acupuncture, cupping or reflexology, get yourself booked in with a practitioner.  The whole of your posterial chain (from your neck, down through the shoulders, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calfs, to the bottoms of your feet) get it all released.  You might suffer for a few days but the gains will be worth it!

This has worked for me. Just over a year ago I had chronic back pain, I was unable to play my sport, getting out of bed was hard work and any kind of lifting left me in pieces for days. An MRI scan revealed that I had a perforated L3/L4 disk with a bulge onto my spinal cords. In addition to this I had several dehydrated disks, which lead my doctor to proclaim that I had the back of a 50 year old man, I’m 26!!  A wake up call if ever there was one!  Through hard work and following the principles above I am now well on my way to being able to function without any pain.  I can go back to my sport and have no problems performing my favourite lifts in the gym.  Don’t get me wrong, this is now a lifelong rehab program for me, but at least it doesn’t affect me in my day to day any more.

By Ross Gillanders

Friday 31 August 2012

2012 London Paralympic Games: What We Will Be Watching

With the 2012 London Paralympic Games in full flow, we started talking about which of the sporting events we were most looking forward to & why....

"The Sport I’m looking forward to the most is the swimming.  It’s incredible the speeds that the swimmers reach and shows an incredible ability both mentally and physically in the pool, despite having a disability. I am most looking forward to watching Ellie Simmonds who is a role model for me. She is in the S6 class and competes over many different events.  In the classification title, S represents Freestyle, Backstroke and Butterfly strokes. Swimming classifications are on a gradient, with 1 being the most severely physically impaired to 10 having the least amount of physical disability. The competitions will be great and I'm sure there will be a fantastic atmosphere in the aquatic centre, especially when Ellie is competing!"

- David Griffin

"I'm looking forward to watching the Powerlifting the most. It’s a bench pressing competition to test an individuals’ upper body strength. There are different weight catagories that athletes fall into. There are 200 competitors, 120 male and 80 females. Athletes are given three attempts at each weight that they lift, and technique forms a strict criteria for each lift. The International Federation for Powerlifting state that ‘Athletes with a physical impairment in their legs or hips, which would prohibit them compete in weightlifting are eligible to compete in the sport at the Paralympics.’ I think this sport shows that anyone with a disability can continue to perform and feel the benefits of strength training, it’s a closely fought competition with athletes regularly pressing three times their bodyweight."

- Tom Cheeseman

"Wheelchair rugby is what I am looking forward to seeing! It is fast, it’s aggressive and there is a hidden skill and tactic level that is not immediately apparent. I love the fact that wheelchair contact is allowed but bodily contact is not. This sport could have the same atmosphere and popularity as beach volleyball did at the Olympics. Wheelchair Rugby is a physically demanding game. Players need to be robust, with speed, strength and stamina, as well as having excellent ball skills and the ability to think quickly and play tactically as a team. Don't miss the Mixed Wheelchair Rugby matches, starting on the 5th September at 14:00 when Great Britain will take on the United States!"

- Ross Gillanders

Born To BBQ. By Ross Gillanders

Next to my passion for gym work and writing exercise programs, I have a real love for cooking – particularly barbecuing.   I love getting a bit of meat or veg, covering it in marinade and putting it on the “Braai” (South African for “BBQ”).   It tastes great, it’s healthy (depending on your marinade and barbecuing skills) and you have very little washing up to do.  Plus, you always cook far too much so you have the joys of cold barbecue food the next day.  This opens up the possibility of salads, wraps and snacks which can make healthy meals, when prepared with herbs and olive oil instead of creamy dressings and spreads.

In the past, I have successfully cooked everything from chicken wings and chipolatas to whole legs and shoulders of lamb and whole chickens. Mackerel done on the “Grill” (American for “BBQ”) stuffed with a few herbs, is the best way that I know of cooking this amazing fish.  Fancy some vegetables?  Slice them, marinate them, and stick them on!  You will be amazed by the tasty results.

Due to the lack of oil and the fact that a lot of the fat is cooked out of the meat (the fat burning on the coal is what gives the amazing barbecued taste) it is an incredibly good way to enjoy meat whilst reducing the fat content.

I have a gas “Barbie” (Australian for “BBQ”) that sits outside my back door and I use it throughout the year (Christmas day BBQ in the snow is a personal favourite).   I know that some barbecue purists will argue that charcoal is the only pure way to cook but I would vote for the gas BBQ for its convenience (I don’t have time to sit and wait for it to heat up), health bonus (gas is much cleaner to burn than charcoal) and consistency (you do not have a temperature gauge on charcoal).

Lastly, here is a bit of BBQ history for you…

Barbecue derives from the word “barabicu” found in the language of the TaĆ­no people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, and entered European languages in the form “barbacoa”. The word translates as "sacred fire pit”.  The word describes a grill for cooking meat, consisting of a wooden platform resting on sticks.

Let me know your favourite BBQ recipes and bring on the gas versus charcoal debate!

 By Ross Gillanders

My Top 3 Olympic Moments. By David Griffin

With the 2012 London Olympic Games behind us and the Paralympic Games in full flow, I'm looking back at my top 3 London Olympics moments and getting ready for some exciting Paralympic events to come.

My Top 3 Olympic Moments...

3. Mo Farah Gold 10000m

Mo has got to be in my top 3. I am so happy for him. I have been on trips abroad with Mo competing at XC races and he has always come across a genuine nice guy. He’s race was fantastic. I have never heard the crowd in the Olympic final so loud. Many of my friends were there to watch the final. It was a special moment that he could hold on up the home straight and win our 3rd gold on that memorable evening...probably the greatest night in the history of British athletics.

2. Bradley Wiggins Gold Road Time trial

To be the first British rider to win the Tour De France and then become Britain’s most medalled athlete in history in just 9 days was unbelievable. He won the time trial by 42 seconds. He is just quite simply the best sportsman this country has at the moment.

1. Italian Archer last attempt

For me this was the best moment in the London Olympics 2012. Whatever you do before a competition you cannot prepare for the immense pressure that goes with the Olympics. On the last attempt in the team event, in the archery, the Italian team needed a 10 to win (dead centre). A 9 would have been good enough to take it to a sudden death shoot off. Anything else and the Italian team would have lost and the USA would have won the gold medal. In them 5 seconds, not only did the last Italian archer have to put up with the pressure of winning gold for himself, he had to deal with the pressure of his team and his country. There was also a breeze affecting the flight of the arrow. He stepped up, took aim and fired.........he got a 10. A brilliant moment.

By David Griffin

Friday 17 August 2012

How To Run Faster & Stay Injury Free. By David Griffin

Everyone has different running biomechanics and I have realised over the years of training and competing in athletics myself, as well as training others, that it is very difficult to completely change a runner’s biomechanics. However, subtle changes in a warm up and strength routine can significantly enhance performance and prevent injury. For example, a common running injury is ‘runner’s knee’ – A pain/weakness in the knee making it very difficult to run. One of the causes of runner’s knee is tension in the IT band. Many runners do not bother mobilising this ‘fascia’ that runs on the outside of the leg from the knee to the hip. It is a particularly hard area to stretch and is often associated with sharp pain when mobilising it, often causing athletes to miss this area out of their routine completely. However, just by using a foam roller and acupuncture, tension in the IT band can be reduced, causing less strain on the knee. In this article I will go through the main areas to improve running biomechanics, preventing injury and improving your running performance.

The FMS + Flexibility

Here at ESPA Life, we perform an in depth 90 minute consultation and exercise screening assessment. From a performance point of view, it is essential to assess a person’s biomechanics from the start to iron out any major issues and correct them. Equally, this is important to prevent injury, so we use a functional movement screen and a range of flexibility exercises to assess the person’s range of motions, muscular strengths and weakness, as well as any other imbalances they may have.


The ankles are one of the major movement joints in the running action but they are often overlooked. It’s amazing, particularly in dorsiflexion, the limited amount of movement there is at the ankle joint amongst even high level runners. Mobilising the ankles not just in a frontal plane but also a lateral plane is particularly important for many reasons. For a start the ankle is the base joint of the body when running. Any issues at the base are going to be exacerbated higher up the body. Limited ankle mobility also can put strain on the achilles tendon, soleus peroneals and gastrocnemius muscles of the lower leg, causing tendonitis, muscle cramps and tears. Plantar Fasciitis, a sharp pain underneath the foot caused by a collapsed heel arch, is also associated with poor mobility in the ankle.

The problems may not occur straight away but with many running injuries, it is the chronic (repetitive pounding) injuries that often end a runners career. At Espa Life, we therefore include a range of ankle mobility tests to increase range of motion at this joint during dorsi flexion, plantar Flexion, inversion and eversion.


The knee joint, despite providing flexion and extension, primarily requires stabilisation at the joint. My important concern when analysing the knee joint is not always looking at the knee itself, but the areas around the knee including ankle and hip mobility and the strength of the surrounding muscles. It is also important to regular get feedback from runners on how the knees are feeling, particularly during road running where there is a lot of pounding involved. To prevent this I try and get runners to run on grass as much as possible, as oppose to the track or road. I also like runners doing uni-lateral movement exercises, such as lunges, single leg dead lifts and split squats. During the running action both feet are never in a standard ‘squat’ position, they are split either on one leg in contact with the ground or both completely off the ground. By combining single leg exercises in a program with split stance exercises, a runner will be gaining stability as well as strength. The foam roller is also a great way to provide myofascial release in the legs before exercise.


Hip mobility is so important for a runner. At Espa Life we analyse the hip through many different ranges of motion (flexion, extension, medial and lateral rotation). Stride length restrictions are often caused by tight ilipsoas muscles. Many people have lower back problems during running as well which is often caused by the hip flexors pulling on the lumbar spine, where they are attached. I would always recommend stretching these before and after running and also introducing dynamic movements before exercise, such as lateral lunges and hip mobility drills. Working on the adductors and abductors is also important to prevent any unwanted hip medial and lateral rotation during running. Here I have included a couple of photos of me doing some hip flexor mobilisations. It is often the case that people work on strengthening these areas as well when they do not need to. Often strengthening the abductors and adductors tightens the muscles, particularly if they are not performed at a full range of movement. So aim to get this mobilised first before introducing any hip strengthening exercises.

Strong Trunk Stability

The rectus abdominis (Abs) is not designed to flex or extend the spine, but to support the spine by resisting any unwanted outside movements, including flexion, extension and rotation of the spine. So when people talk about ‘Core Stability’ and start doing sit ups they are going against the purpose of stability (resisting an outside force). Here at Espa Life we perform a number of stability exercises that protect the spine and work the core muscles the way they were designed to be worked. In running the perfect technique would be a neutral spine position (same as if you were sitting upright in a chair looking straight ahead) with no unwanted movement. If you watch an elite runner run, you will see that above the hip there is no other movement. Their trunk is perfectly ‘still’ and all effort is going forward. With amateur runners you will see all kinds of flexions and rotations of the spine and head movements, caused by a lack of stability in the trunk and tightness.

Glute Activation

Often is the case with runners, is that they are hamstring dominant and have an anterior tilt of the pelvis and subsequent low knee lift during running. This is primarily caused by tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings, but also a lack of glute activation. Utilising the glutes: a powerful muscle, is very important in the biomechanics of running. Hip Lift variations are particular useful and also the kettlebell Swing (see picture below) is a great way to get the glutes firing. The most important thing to realise during these movement patterns is that they are ‘hip dominant’ movements not ‘knee dominant’. Therefore flexing the knee should be limited and hip flexion/extension should be encouraged. But remember keep the spine neutral.

Now, let’s put it into action…

FMS Hurdle Step

Hip Flexor Stretch

Kettle Bell Swing

Piriformis & Shoulder Stretch

By David Griffin