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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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 Taíno 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

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The Kettlebell Swing

If you’re looking for a ‘bang for your buck’ exercise, the kettlebell swing should be high on your agenda. It is a fantastic posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back) movement that generates a high calorific demand, develops power and endurance and really teaches the user to engage their core musculature.
Kettlebells were originated in Russia in the 18th Century, the original function of them is still debated today, although it is thought that the Russian Farmers used them as a counterbalance with measuring grain and produce. The farmers then used them as a tool to develop their own strength and they became a popular power lifting tool.

The swing is one of the kettlebells’ primary movement patterns, others include the clean and press and the snatch (which will be discussed in a later blog). For the initial start position, the chest should be pushed out and the shoulders back. Grip the kettlebell tight, I have heard stories of people accidentally releasing the kettlebell at the top of the swing causing all sorts of damage, so grip it tight! Initiate momentum and the weight should be shifted to your heels and you’re looking to execute an arching movement.

During the downward phase of the movement, there should be flexion at the hips, whilst maintaining a flat back and the arms locked. A common mistake is seeing too much bend in the knees as the kettlebell is lowered, as previously mentioned, the kettlebell swing is a posterior chain exercise, not a squat-swing.
From the bottom of the ark, the kettlebell is pushed up by generating power through the glutes (bottom muscles) in a shifting motion. As the kettlebell travels up and reaches it highest point, which should be in line with the shoulder, the legs and hips fully extend into a quick dynamic ‘snap.’  Which can be seen in the video below:

A common mistake when performing the kettlebell swing is hyperextension of the back. This puts unwanted pressure on the spine as it is a dynamic, powerful movement that generates lots of torque. Let the glutes do the work, not the lower back or arms!

Here at Espa Life, we are big fans of the kettlebell swing due to its versatility. The double arm swing can be used as part of a power program with a heavy load and less repetitions performed, or it can just as effective when chosen as a finishing exercise as part of a high intensity metabolic circuit.

The obvious progression from the double hand swing is the single arm swing which is a great form of unilateral training where the core and stabiliser muscles really have to be activated. However, I would recommend working on mastering the double hand swing before moving to the single arm.

Friday 10 August 2012

My Favourite Olympic Moments so far. By Tom Cheeseman

For the last week two weeks, London has played host to the 2012 Olympic Games. It all kicked off with a spectacular Opening Ceremony Directed by the Film guru Danny Boyle, responsible for films such as Academy award winning, Slumdog Millionaire. I thought he did a fantastic job to emulate the British culture and how the country has changed throughout the centuries.

It’s hard to single out one specific moment so far during the London 2012 Olympics. So I’m going to discuss a few highlights...

Sir Chris Hoy – Track Cycling

I must start by mentioning our greatest ever Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy. With a total of six gold medals he surpassed Sir Steve Redgrave’s record of 5 golds by winning the Mens Keirin event a few days ago. At 36 years old Sir Chris can be considered one of the veterans of the Olympic Team, featuring in three successive Olympics, winning gold in Athens in 2004, three golds in Beijing in 2008 and two in London. Below is a picture of Sir Chris leg pressing 631kg... now that’s impressive.

Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase – Mens lightweight Double Sculls 

Mark and Zac have been dominating the lightweight sculls for the previous three years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, winning European and World Championships. After a dramatic final, where the race had to be restarted due to Zac’s seat falling off their boat, they finished 2nd and won a silver medal.  Both pushed their bodies to the absolute limit, Mark had to be helped from the boat by British Olympic Rowing Legend Sir Steve Redgrave, and the interview, which can be seen by following the link below, is heart wrenching.


This just shows how much it means to win an Olympic gold medal.  Four years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice comes down to one race. Many of the British athletes who have ‘failed’ to win an Olympic gold have conducted interviews and apologised for their performance. In my opinion, becoming an Olympic athlete is an amazing achievement and it shows that you are at the pinnacle of your sport and a rarity in this country. The athletes have nothing to apologise for, they represent their country with pride and passion, where with other sports this could be severely questioned. I hope Zac and Mark are back in four years time to compete and win the gold medal in Rio in 2016.

Michael Phelps – Swimming

I have saved quite simply the best until last. Michael Phelps has amassed 22 Olympic Medals (18 gold) over four Olympic Games. He holds the largest amount of medals in the history of the Olympics and has bowed out at the very top of his sport, here at London 2012. Although Phelps got off to a shaky start, not medalling in his first event and then winning bronze. He came into his own and triumphed with 4 gold medals. Phelps himself believes that his record of 22 medals can be broken, I don’ think anyone has a chance...
With Great Britain overhauling their greatest medal count at these games, UK Sport and other National Governing Bodies have deemed the London 2012 Games a success. It has been enthralling to watch and I have been lucky enough to attend 6 different sports events live, the atmosphere has been electric at each one. With still a few days of competition left, and the Para-Olympics to come, London 2012 has been an amazing spectacle.

By Tom Cheeseman

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Olympic Water Polo Legends Visit Corinthia Hotel London

Corinthia Hotel London welcomed two very special guests today - Olympic legends, György Kárpáti & Alexander Tarics!

György Kárpáti has won 3 gold and 1 bronze medal for Hungary in Water Polo. At that time, he was considered the fastest water poloist in the world & won his first Olympic gold medal in 1952, at just 17 years old.

Alexander Tarics is the world’s oldest living Olympic gold medallist at 98 years old. The Hungarian Water Polo player particpated in the Berlin games in 1936 & is joining us in London to watch the 2012 London Olympic Games!

How fantastic to have such legendary athletes with us at Corinthia Hotel London!

Photo: György Kárpáti & Alexander Tarics in Massimo Restaurant & Oyster Bar.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Water Polo: What Does It Take?

When you say polo, most peoples’ thoughts immediately turn to jumping & horses, elongated golf clubs, polite applause and Champagne.  However, mention water polo and most people are probably not sure what to expect! Let me tell you, it is the complete opposite of the horse-version!

These athletes are seriously fit! Olympic matches are split into 8 minute quarters - yet with stoppages and fouls, this is more like 12 minutes.  That’s 12 minutes where players have to tread water using the egg beater technique (a technique that uses alternate breast stroke leg kicks to keep the player upright).  This means that players require: power in their legs for individual kicks, endurance so that they can keep going for 48 minutes and flexibility, to allow them to move around the pool.  That is a lot to train for and it doesn’t even take into account the strength and power needed for the part of the game that is above the water!

Training-wise, anything that increases power in the legs is going to be ideal – then combine it with a proper set and rep range to build the muscular endurance that the sport requires.  I would recommend something like this:

The squats at the start are designed to increase power; they need to be performed with as much explosive force as you can create.  The idea is that you lift as much weight as you can but that you do it with speed.  There is no point in grinding out the reps slowly for this; speed is your main aim.

The kettlebell swing is going to help with your endurance - this is a repeated powerful movement, so you are going to start to building up some lactic acid and your muscles are going to be forced to learn how to manage that.  This is what will help get you through that final quarter.

The side lunge is an assistance exercise that is going to help reduce the risk of injury when performing the breast stroke kicks.  Lateral strength is tested by the rotary movement of the kick and so the side lunge will build strength for this movement.

Above all else for this sport - you are going to have to get in the pool and practice!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Meet the ESPA Life at Corinthia Running Club...

Join our ESPA Life Running Club every Tuesday & Thursday for a motivating run with us - the ESPA Life at Corinthia Personal Training Team! 

We will be meeting every Tuesday Morning(7am) & Thursday Afternoon (4pm) in the ESPA Life at Corinthia Gym to stretch & run a route ofthe local area. Our team will be there to guide the run, help improve your technique, motivate you & make sure you give those muscles an effictive pre & post run stretch.

Whether you're a beginner or a pro, a Running Club is a great way to improve your run or get you started! 

Water & Towels will be provided! 

Tip: Have a light bite to eat, like a Banana, 30 minutes before the run & bring a light rain jacket, if possible.

Get ready to see some of London's key sights by foot!  See you soon, runners!

Tuesday 31 July 2012

ESPA Life Running Club's Mobilisation & Stretch Routine

After our ESPA Life Running Club's first run this morning, we thought we would share tips on how to stretch. It may sound simple but getting the technique right can make all the difference! 

The foam roller is great way to start a warm up routine. Its low intensity yet is particularly efficient at myofascial release prior to exercise. A great analogy would be to imagine your muscles as elastic bands with knots in them. Stretching a muscle might elongate the muscle tissue however it would not get rid of the knots. The foam roller however ‘irons out’ these knots making it a valuable tool. I particular like the calf and IT band exercises prior to running (Fig 1 and 2). Make sure you roll full length of the muscle and go nice and slowly. Repeat 10 times each leg.

Figure 1 

Figure 2

Running should always be performed in the sagittal plane. If there is any inward or outward rotation of the hips (causing outward, inward movement of the knee), this will not only affect performance it will also increase the risk of injury. To ensure this does not occur, you need to mobilise the hip adductors (Fig 3) and abductors (Fig 4), by using lateral movements, which prevent tightness. This will mean all motion will be moving forward and there will be no compromises down or up the body causing unwanted rotation and subsequent injury problems.

Figure 3 

Figure 4

I am a big fan of athletic drills, prior to running. My favourite is the high knee drill (Fig 5). Drills are more dynamic than other warm up exercises and of course they raise the heart rate. They also get the body going through further ranges of motion by utilising the stretch reflex as well as replicating the running action. High knee drills or any other athletic drills should be performed fast and you should always look forward when performing them. This will keep your spine in a neutral position and prevent the hip going into flexion/extension, thus affecting stride length. I would perform each drill 5 times for 30 metres. Walk back to recover.    

Figure 6

By David Griffin

Join our ESPA Life Running Club every Tuesday & Thursday for a motivating run with us - the ESPA Life at Corinthia Personal Training Team! 

We will be meeting every Tuesday Morning(7am) & Thursday Afternoon (4pm) in the ESPA Life at Corinthia Gym to stretch & run a route ofthe local area. Our team will be there to guide the run, help improve your technique, motivate you & make sure you give those muscles an effictive pre & post run stretch.

Whether you're a beginner or a pro, a Running Club is a great way to improve your run or get you started! Water & Towels will be provided!

Tip: Have a light bite to eat, like a Banana, 30 minutes before the run & bring a light rain jacket, if possible.

See you soon, runners!

Monday 30 July 2012

The Hot Commute: Bike

Everyday, I join just over a million people that travel into work in central London! ONE MILLION PEOPLE!  That is a lot! In 2007, TFL (Transport for London) calculated that 28 million journeys were made in London on an average day; this included: public transport, private transport, walking, cycling and other forms.  40% of those journeys were made using public transport, 38% used private transport (primarily by car), an estimated 24% walk into London and just 1.8% of people cycle to work. I thought that these figures are pretty staggering, including the fact that they add up to 103.8%!

I am one of the 1.8% of people that cycle to work.  I have been cycling in London for over a year and it is the best decision I have made in terms of transport.  Rain or shine (preferably shine) I get on my bike and head into London.  I am getting fitter (my body fat is down from 23% to 14%), I am saving money (at least £100 a month) and I get to see parts of London that I have never seen before (at 5am, London is completely different to look at than at 6am, for instance).  I get up, get on my bike and get to work.  I shower and have breakfast at work, normally porridge with some seeds or add some protein powder. Some people might question why I don’t have breakfast before I exert myself getting to work. Normally, I would insist that clients eat a decent meal before exercise so that they get the nutrients into their system to prepare themselves for exercise. However, in the morning I just don’t have time. Yet, there is some evidence that suggests that steady state exercise (e.g. my 5 mile ride into work) following a fasting period (e.g. sleeping for 8 hours) helps to increase metabolic rate during the day and, as a result, reduce body fat.  If you want to read more on this topic there is a really good account by Dr John Berardi here: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/intermittent-fasting/summary on his experiences with intermittent fasting.

With the Olympics in full flow, cycling is becoming even more valuable. Naturally, traffic is worse, although this just means more stationary traffic so it’s easier for bikes. My usual route to work has been affected (the Mall and Hyde park are being used for events) however I am still be able to get to work in a fraction of the time that it would take using public transport.

The physical benefits of cycling over public transport are obvious. Cycling is much better for you than sitting on a tube, everyone knows that!  More specifically, it is a great workout for your Glutes, Hamstrings and Quads as this is where most of the power comes from. So, if you are training for lower body power, try sprinting between traffic lights (if it’s safe!) or try to incorporate a few hills into your route. Hills are a great way of adding resistance to cycling, which will increase your heart rate and require a bit more effort from your muscles.  You can also take your new commuting regime to the gym and support it with an exercise program designed to increase lower limb power and endurance – making your daily commute to work easier and faster!

By Ross Gillanders

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Running to Work during the Olympics: Tips by Personal Trainer, David Griffin

If you want to lose weight and get fit fast then running is the best exercise to participate in. There can be no argument that running - the exercise that is so natural to all of us - is the most efficient calorie burner and most efficient at developing cardiovascular fitness. So, if you live within a 1-5 mile radius of work (or even further, if you are really keen) then get your running trainers on!

Building Up
It takes time to gain decent running fitness, particular from scratch. However, you have to be patient and keep trying. Plan a route in advance and a weekly schedule. The route, if possible, should be as off-road as it can be. So always try to make full use of the parks located in and around London. This will not only make your route more enjoyable, it will also reduce injury. Run within yourself, relax and don’t worry about other runners around you. Everyone has a starting point so go by how you feel, rather than time. Remember the Olympic spirit...It’s the taking part that counts!

Tempo Running
As your fitness levels develop...Out comes the stopwatch.  It is good every now and again to push the boundaries. You will not develop fully as a runner just by running slowly. Running that little bit faster every now and again will develop a different energy system. The important thing to remember during a tempo run is that it is a hard effort for the full distance, not a flat out sprint for 100m and then crawl the last 3 miles. You need to judge the pace right so that your speed is continuous over the full distance and you are working about 80-90% of maximum effort.

Fartlek Running
I am a massive fan of fartlek training. It plays a particularly important role if you participate in intermittent effort sports like football, rugby, tennis, boxing etc. Fartlek training involves a steady paced run with efforts during the run. The efforts can range from short sprints to prolonged efforts, according to your fitness levels and requirements. A great way to train like this is to use markers at the side of the road, such as lampposts or use trees in the park.  For example, you can run to work running steadily for 3 lampposts and then run fast in-between 2 lampposts. Corinthia Hotel London is ideally located to make full use of this training. I would also look at using the River Thames as a great way to train. You can go hard from bridge to bridge and then recover between the next bridges. St James, Green Park and Hyde Park are also close by, which makes for ideal running training.

Monday 23 July 2012

Exercise In The Spotlight This Week: Chin Ups

The Chin Up is perhaps the best exercise for back strength and a great indication of total body strength. Performed correctly, the exercise mainly utilises the Latissimus Dorsi, but is assisted by the Biceps, Rhomboids and Trapezius muscles.  On their own, the Lats are an extremely large muscle; they attach onto the vertebrae (T6 to the sacrum), the pelvis, the ribs, the scapula and the humorous.  They make up most of the muscle mass that you see when you look at someone’s back and therefore play a huge role in back health and mobility.  The Lats work to help depress the scapula - so if you sit at a desk all day staring at a computer and as a result suffer from a forward head posture and kyphosis (rounding of the shoulders), then chin ups could be the way forward for you.

Now, as a beginner, I would not rush straight into Chin Ups, they are a hard exercise and usually require a decent amount of training just to be able to achieve your first repetition.  I get my clients to start with mobilisation exercises, such as wall slides and bands rows, to allow the shoulder to achieve a full range of motion before we start to add weight.

Once you have good shoulder mobility, you need to start looking at scapular control.  More often than not in an untrained person, the level of control that they have over scapular movement is very low.  The scapula becomes fixed in one position or is permanently rotated away from the natural position, close to the medial line of the body.  I choose to use pulling or rowing exercises, such as single arm dumbbell rows and cable rows, to help correct scapula control and to start increasing strength in the shoulder girdle.

You should now have a fairly healthy shoulder and are ready to start your training to achieve that first chin up repetition.  For novice clients, I start with exercises such as lat pulldowns, so that they can start to groove the type of movements that they will need for the chin up.  Once the weight starts getting up to around 75% of the clients’ bodyweight, I will start to add in assisted chin ups.  For the assistance, I try to stay away from the specifically designed chin up machines that support your bodyweight.  They can alter the position of the body during the eccentric phase of the exercise and reduce the focus of the exercise from the Lats more towards the shoulders and bicep. Instead, I use bands or a cable machine with a jacket to assist the client when first performing Chin Ups.  This allows for a more natural movement and for the client to begin understanding how to perform the exercise with good form.  Once the client has achieved the desired set and rep range, we can then move onto full chin ups.

To perform a full Chin Up with good form and a full range of motion requires a great deal of mental toughness.  You need to be able to activate your Lats so that they perform the bulk of the work; this is difficult in itself as most people do not have the ability to recruit specific muscle groups for a specific action. To help increase activation you can use a physical cue, either someone putting pressure on the muscle you want to activate during the exercise or by doing it yourself before performing the exercise.  This cues the brain and helps to develop a link between the muscle and the brain that will then be associated with the exercise.

A chin up can either be started from the flexed position with the concentric phase first or from the extended position with the eccentric phase first.  Either way, proper form is essential.  I prefer to start with the eccentric phase first as this is the weakest park of the movement.  To begin, grip the bars or the handle with whatever grip is most natural and comfortable for you. Supinated, semi-supinated, pronated or mixed grip, it does not really matter.  Whatever feels natural is most likely to reduce the risk of injury so that is what I believe you should go with. Lower yourself so that your elbows are fully extended and so that your shoulders are completely relaxed and extended.  This is your starting position.  From this position you want to move as quickly as you can through the phase to the flexed position, elbows flexed, shoulders adducted and scapula depressed.  This is where it is important to concentrate on using the Lats so that you get the most out of the exercise.  At the top of the movement, pause for a second and then begin to lower yourself down again.  For maximum strength gains this phase should take between 2 – 4 seconds,  as we are normally stronger during the eccentric phase of a motion we can increase the time under tension to maximise strength gains.

Again, once the repetition and set range has been achieved, we can start to add weigh on top of the natural bodyweight of the client.

Friday 20 July 2012

Weight Loss: 10 Best Ways to Lose the Pounds David Griffin

More people are realising the importance of lifestyle changes to achieve optimum health. Without doubt the number one common reason people begin Personal Training is to lose weight. Obesity has become a huge problem in the UK (approximately 23% of people are clinically obese) and the links between excess weight and health problems has becoming more apparent. There are also so many crazy diets out there that further confuse the issue; it’s no wonder people often find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Here I have put together a list, of what I believe are 10 of the best simple, yet most effective, ways to lose weight healthily.

1. Achieve a Negative Energy Balance.
In order to lose weight, energy expenditure has to exceed energy intake. This is known as negative energy balance. How to increase energy expenditure and decrease energy intake efficiently will be explained in the other points, but it is important to remember the general principle: Weight loss can only be achieved by either reducing the calories consumed and/or by increasing calorific expenditure.

2. Eat Regular Meals every 2-3 hours.
Eating regularly is essential for increasing metabolism and hormonal control. Many people don’t realise that by missing meals during the day can actually increase the likelihood of gaining weight. This is primarily down to glucose regulation and the affect it has on insulin sensitivity. It is often a good idea to include a complete protein (contains all essential amino acids) and also a vegetable source packed with vitamins and minerals with every meal.

3. Increase Non-Exercise Physical Activity.
This is a particularly important aspect of a weight loss program that is often overlooked. We often assume that the only way to achieve ‘Negative Energy Balance’ is to eat less or do more exercise. However, from my experience people with sedentary lifestyles are often overweight regardless of whether they go to the gym or not. Just by regularly taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or walking to work instead of a short bus journey can really make a significant difference. Remember a weight loss program should not only apply when you eat and train - a weight loss program is a 24 hour commitment.

4. Decrease Refined Carbohydrates and Sugars.
I am not a big fan of the ‘no carbohydrate diets’ (particularly the side effects that comes as a result from them), but I do believe we need to look at the types of carbohydrate we consume and when we consume them. On a weight loss program you will need to keep sugar down to a minimum, this also includes fizzy drinks, fruit juices and high calorie smoothies. Also substitute the bread, rice and pasta for different coloured vegetables that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. The only time I would recommend a high carbohydrate meal during a weight loss program (>60% total meal) would be after exercise when carbohydrate is more readily metabolised. Low GI (Glycaemic index) foods should be consumed as they will leave you feeling fuller for longer and controlling glucose regulation.

5. Increase Vegetable Consumption.
As well as containing plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre, substituting vegetables in a meal, will inevitably lower the ratio of carbohydrates and fat. I also believe it is important to try and get our micronutrients from food sources instead of supplementation. I often feel supplements are only included in a diet to compensate for what is already a ‘poor diet’.
I would recommend supplementation when the body is under stress i.e. during Illness, recovery or oxidative stress from regular training, but so often people take shakes, tablets and capsules that they just don’t need. The healthiest people I know keep it simple, train hard and understand their body. So many people believe in the ‘quick fix’, take loads of supplements and are always in the comfort zone during training. These people never get results as they learn to rely on supplements rather than rely on training and a healthy diet. Try and mix the colours of your vegetables and substitute these instead of the high fat, high carb foods in your meals. The more colours in your diet the better.

6. Increase Complete Lean Protein Intake.
So often is the case that people on a weight loss plan decrease their protein intake, which is a huge mistake. This is the one macronutrient that you should aim to increase, particularly complete protein from animal sources that contain all the essential amino acids. Increasing protein will lower the ratio of fat and carbohydrate in the diet, but there are several other reasons why protein intake should not be decreased. Protein is theromogenic (heat given off while it is metabolised) and requires more energy than carbs and fat to breakdown. This helps with the weight loss due to a higher metabolic rate. Protein also provides the building blocks of muscle tissue, therefore helps us improve body composition as well as weight loss. Let’s face it when we lose weight it is the fat we want to lose, not muscle tissue. Protein also increases the hormone glucagon which has a direct influence on fat storage reduction in the adipose and liver cells. Protein also has an increased satiety affect leaving you feeling fuller for longer. For these reasons I would strongly recommend having protein with most meals, (particularly lean chicken and meats, egg whites) which will lead to increase in metabolism and improvements in body composition and performance.

7. Substitute Good Fats for Bad Fats.
Substituting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated in the diet instead of saturated fat is very important not just for weight loss but for decreasing the risk of Cardiovascular disease as well. Fish oils, a good source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, should be encouraged as they improve insulin regulation. It is also important to include nuts and seeds in the diet as well which will increase your Omega 6 intake. Try introducing ground flaxseed and olive oil in foods as well that are also great sources of good fats. Of course the take-aways, processed foods and regularly visits to the pie and donut shops are a big no no.

8. Increase intensity of training as well as Duration.
Training for longer burns more calories, but also training at a higher intensity burns more calories as well. Higher intensity training also has a ‘metabolic after burn effect’ meaning you will be burning more calories during the recovery process. For an obese client, increasing intensity of exercise can be very difficult so it is best to just keep moving for an hour with major muscle group exercises. For people that can work towards a higher intensity, circuit training and interval training are particularly useful. However duration is still important and it’s amazing how I see people training for 15-20 minutes at a high intensity and still think they are going to lose loads of weight. Get your body used to performing for longer durations first, and then apply the intensity. This not only allows you to handle the higher intensity sessions easier, it also means fat oxidation efficiency will improve and you will be burning more calories when you start to do even harder training. It is also important during longer aerobic cardio sessions to perform one exercise, instead of having 5-10 minutes on 4 different cardio machines. So if the intention is to do 50 minutes cardio, then do 40 minutes running/40 minutes cycling and finish off with a 10 min quick high intense metabolic circuit at the end. Try and do a minimum of 4 hours exercise time per week. I am a firm believer in training for a minimum of 45-50 minutes exercise time per session during a weight loss program (preferably 50-70 minutes). Anything under this and your back in that comfort zone and wasting your time.

9. Try drinking 2-3 Cups of Green tea per day.
Green tea is thermogenic, meaning heat is given off when consuming it. Green tea also contains powerful phytochemicals that have antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties and is thought to decrease the risk of cancer as well as lowering cholesterol levels. I would definitely recommend green tea as part of a weight loss program, but try to hit 3 cups per day to get maximum benefits.

10. Good Quality Sleep
Sleep is so important in any exercise plan, including a weight loss plan. Poor sleep leads to hormonal imbalances and reduction in overall human performance.Aim to get a minimum of 7 hours sleep per day. This will control hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) that becomes raised as a result of poor sleep patterns. It will also enable you to have more energy and more motivated to increase activity levels throughout the day. Without good quality sleep you will never get great results.

Monday 16 July 2012

Train like athlete, Andy Rayner. By David Griffin

Andy Rayner's Personal Best of 14:19 and 30:56 for 5 and 10k (as well as his top 20 finish in this years National XC Championships) make him one of the UK’s leading middle/long distance athletes. Like Michael Skinner's training program, the important speed sessions have been included - yet there is also a major emphasis on covering a minimum of 70 miles per week. Here is a typical week's training schedule for Andy Rayner in preparation for the 5000m:

Monday: Am: 30 mins easy Pm: 40 mins steady

Tuesday: Am: 30 mins easy Pm: Track session 5x1km (3 mins jog recovery)

Wednesday: Pm: 60 mins easy

Thursday: Am: 30 mins easy Pm: 30 mins Tempo run

Friday:  Am: 45 mins easy

Saturday: Am: Track session 12x 400m (1 minute recovery)

Sunday: Am: 90 mins steady
Total weekly mileage: Between 70 - 90 miles

Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Week of Training in the Life of Professional Athlete, Michael Skinner

After interviewing professional athlete, Michael Skinner, we decided to put together a typical weeks training program courtesy of the man himself...

Typical Weeks Training for Michael

Monday: AM 60 mins run (9-10 miles) PM 30 mins run (4-5 miles) followed by some gym exercises and a core workout.

Tuesday: AM 30 mins run (4-5 miles) PM Track session e.g. 8x1k off a minute recovery or 2k (3 mins recovery) 5x400 off a minute (3 mins recover) then repeat it all again.

Wednesday: AM 60 mins run (9-10 miles) PM 30 mins run (4-5 miles) followed by core exercises.

Thursday: AM Tempo run. Running 30 mins using a heart rate monitor. I normally run with my heart rate between 165-175 bpm which is somewhere between 5.10 and 4.55 minute mile pace for me. PM 30 mins run (4-5 miles)

Friday: AM 30 mins run (4-5 miles) PM Physio or massage

Saturday: AM: Session of hills and tempo. Eg 10 minute tempo, 5 x 45 seconds hill sprints and repeat it all or 15 minute tempo, 8 x 30 secs hill sprints, 15 minuet tempo PM 30 mins run (4-5 miles)

Sunday: AM Long run of anywhere between 90 mins to 2 hours (14-19 miles)

Total weekly mileage: Between 90 - 100 miles

Friday 29 June 2012

Building an Aerobic Base (by the athletes who know how) By David Griffin

Michael Skinner and Andrew Rayner, two friends and Club team mates of mine, have had fantastic success as Endurance athletes. Michael is a GB international XC runner and is regularly a high finisher in the European and World XC Championships. Last month, both Michael and Andrew were in the winning team event for the London Bupa 10k.

Michael stated: "I have had a bit of a torrid time with injury and illness over the past 12 months, so my aims are just to get back racing and being competitive. I want to run a 10k road race and then have a short track season where I will run some 5k's and 1500's before doing the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials.
Beyond that, I would like to then begin preparation for my Marathon debut - which could well be at Berlin in September - with the aim there of qualifying for the Great Britain team for next year’s World Championships.
Having represented Great Britain at 5 World and 5 European Cross-Country Championships, I would like to go to major track championships before I finish my career and, even though the marathon is on the road, I would count that!"

Friday 8 June 2012

Endurance Training Blog: An Insight into Elite Training. By David Griffin

As a competitive athlete and Personal Trainer for over a decade, the one thing that has become more apparent as I have progressed over the years is that you learn more from ‘the best’.  There is always an underlying reason why some succeed and others fail.  My intentions have always been to find the relationship between those at the highest level and what they do differently.  Many believe natural ability and just plain good luck are the reason for success.  Personally, I believe athletes ‘are made, not born’ and as Gary Player once said: ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get’.

So what do Elite Athletes do differently?  Well, fortunately enough for me, I have had the opportunity to train and compete with many of the UK’s leading Endurance coaches and athletes.  The one common theme that I have discovered with top athletes is that, as well as an ability to push themselves to the limit, they all do high to very high mileage.  This is not just the case for runners but also for elite cyclists, swimmers, rowers and triathletes that I have had the pleasure to train with and compete against.

Building an aerobic capacity (the ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen around the body) has always been regarded as an important factor in endurance performance. However, recent research is beginning to show that it is not actually the maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max) that is the determining factor in endurance performance, but the anaerobic threshold as a percentage of the VO2 max.  The anaerobic threshold is the point in exercise intensity when the body can no longer survive just using oxygen and uses a different energy pathway (anaerobic pathway) to maintain the intensity. Therefore, in theory, it is not actually the amount of training you do but the quality/intensity of training to boost this anaerobic threshold.  So why do elite endurance athletes still have to do high mileage to succeed?  A ‘by product’ of the anaerobic energy system is lactic acid.  This ‘by product’ can be converted back into Pyruvate and subsequently Acetyl CoA, where it is metabolised and used in energy production. However, this process is significantly enhanced when there is a greater oxygen supply. Therefore, the aerobic energy system is supporting the anaerobic energy system – an important factor in understanding the principles of training.

In sporting performance terms, this will mean the athlete with the larger ‘aerobic base’ will not only be able to go for longer at a steady state, but will also be able to keep up a higher percentage of their maximum during interval training and repetitions.

From the years of training and competing with Blackheath Harriers Athletics Club, I have always found the athletes who committed to a full winters training would excel during the summer track season.  My coach, Dave Liston, would make sure all the quality speed sessions in the summer would be based on a very hard Winters training with lots of steady runs and longer repetitions to build this ‘aerobic base’.  Dave has not only coached athletes to success at National level in middle distance events (400m-5000m), he has also had success in Marathons and Duathlons (Run-Bike-Run) where athletes were required to do in excess of 60-70 miles running per week.

Yet, I believe there are also other factors that are significant in leading to success that only long aerobic training can provide.  Particularly in Marathon running, the VO2 max is not a major factor for success.  Let’s face it - if you can run for 6 miles using oxygen at steady state, why can’t you run for 26 miles at steady state?  Obviously there are other factors that come into play that cause runners to get progressively more and more tired, particularly as they reach the 15-20 milemarkers.  The main factor to cause runners to ‘hit the wall’ is the depletion of glycogen stores.  By regularly hitting this zone in training your body will adapt and glycogen stores will be enhanced.  Your ability to metabolize fat will also improve, allowing you to ‘save’ muscle and liver glycogen.  Another reason for doing the miles…

In competitive endurance sports the strength of mind often out ways the strength of the body. I mean, let’s face it, how often does our body completely give up before our mind?  I have found that regular endurance training makes you mentally stronger.  It is also easier to get to the end of repetitions knowing you will have time to recover afterwards.  But how often do you get to stop halfway through a race?   Again another reason for doing the miles...

I am not suggesting taking away any type of high intensity exercise is a good thing.  I believe that high intensity exercise and tempo training (running just below your anaerobic threshold) are essential to improve anaerobic threshold which, in turn, is important in endurance success.  However, there is absolutely no substitute for high mileage and as mentioned previously, the high mileage will enable you to handle the higher intensity training far easier. I would love to find easier alternatives but the most important factor to success is getting out more often and for longer.

We get what we put in... which, ultimately,  is the difference between the best... and, well, the rest. 

David Griffin is a competitive athlete & Personal Trainer at ESPA Life at Corinthia Fitness Centre. 
To find out more about David & the Fitness Team