Category Archives: exercise

Start Small, Start Now

I’m doing some business training at the moment and its all about five year plans and dreaming big…. I’ve been finding it very difficult as my business has really grown organically and I’ve never really had a big plan in mind.

Sarah Parker Fitness has just turned twelve and when I started out 12 years ago I certainly didn’t envisage where I am now. Especially as I only became a fitness instructor to supplement my acting “career”! But I’d left teaching classes at various gyms to have my first child and hadn’t really started back again when I was approached to set up some community classes. So I started my two classes and it was really just to keep my hand in before I got back to the gyms. Who knew that it would grow to 18 sessions a week (those two classes still going strong!), expand to specialise in pre and post natal, become my sole income and that I would never return to work in the gyms!

I think if you’d told me that then I wouldn’t have thought it was possible!

But it’s been gradual changes. I’ve learnt things and implemented them. I’ve changed things that didn’t work. And I’ve responded to what people want.

A Tim Minchin graduation speech came up on my Facebook feed recently and it really helped me with my planning. He’s not a fan of big dreams – “I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals. Be micro ambitious. Work with pride on whatever is in front of you – you never know where you might end up.”

So I’m approaching my future business plans in the same way. Small steps, done to the best of my ability, seeing where it leads me.

And I’ve been thinking about this health wise too. It’s coming up to that time where people let their health take a back seat to the big Christmas to do list they have. Then when New Year comes round it will be all about massive changes that are almost unattainable.

But why wait? Start small but start now. Don’t make big plans that are hard to accomplish and frustrate or disappoint you. Start with a small goal, celebrate your small wins, and keep going. Add some protein to your breakfast. Cut out one caffeinated drink a day. Walk a bit more. Go to bed a bit earlier. Choose something that is a stretch for you but only just. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

This time last year I put on some special relaxation based Pilates classes. Someone came along for a trial session and then signed up for a month. This led her to attending weekly for the year. Which inspired her to make small changes to her food habits. Which has led to her losing a significant amount of weight. All from one small step.

Start small, start now, see where it takes you!

Dealing with DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

I was at Blush dance studios on Friday for a taster session of aerial hoops and pole dancing. It was great fun, I was pleased with all that I could do (may not have been effortless but at least I could do it!!) and I loved trying something completely new.

I really expected to be covered in bruises the next day as I could feel them forming but what I didn’t expect was just how much I would ache!

This is the known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – and is usually experienced when:

  • trying out a new activity
  • upping the intensity in your normal routine – heavier weights, longer runs
  • getting back into exercise after a long break

What causes DOMS?

When I first trained as a fitness instructor I was taught that DOMS was caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles but now that’s not thought to be the case.  Instead causes are:

  • Tiny tears in the muscle fibres
  • Changes in the balance of enzymes in the muscle

It’s worth keeping in mind what activities you will have to do afterwards – soreness is usually worse the 24-72 hours after the exercise. I had a weekend to recover but driving was painful as my biceps hurt so much it was hard to pull the handbrake on!!

So if you’re looking after a baby for example, you don’t want to push it too far your first time back and find you can’t cope with lifting a car seat, bending to change nappies or getting up off the floor! And it doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard enough if you don’t feel it – DOMS is an extreme response and can be avoided by building up slowly.

If you do feel sore, best ways to deal with it:

  1. hydration – drink plenty of water
  2. warm bath/shower
  3. massage – by hand, massage stick or foam roller
  4. sauna (yes please!)
  5. magnesium – can use a spray direct onto area, Epsom salts in the bath (see number 2) or take orally
  6. low intensity exercise – for example gentle walking or swimming

Stretching has not been shown to be effective for DOMS. It is fine to exercise the next day though – it can temporarily alleviate the soreness and won’t make things worse.

The good news is that one bout of DOMS is supposed to protect you for the future. So next time won’t be as bad – so don’t let DOMS put you off!!

A pill to replace exercise

So we’re a step closer to a pill that can replace exercise.

I know that there is an obesity crisis and things need to be done but this makes me sad, as if exercise is a thing to be avoided.

This news came out the same day as my car broke down.  I had to cancel a class and then arrange a lift to my evening classes – I was particularly stressed by the time I got to the church ready to teach!!   But a healthy dose of exercise later I felt much better.

Benefits of exercise

From those three classes I:

  • reduced stress,
  • got stronger,
  • worked my cardiovascular system,
  • burned calories,
  • increased my metabolic rate,
  • downtrained my sympathetic nervous system,
  • connected with other women,
  • felt happy,
  • mobilised my joints,
  • kept my bones healthy and
  • stimulated my brain.

Amongst other things. Will a pill do all that?

How you can help your pelvic floor

I was asked by someone this week about rehabbing the pelvic floor post birth, in preparation for getting back to running.  I was so pleased that she was aware of the importance of taking her time – things keep popping up in my timeline about postnatal classes where people are running with buggies, skipping and even doing jumping jacks! All of this can have a deleterious effect on the pelvic floor and continuing to overstress a weakened pelvic floor can lead to prolapse.

However taking your time, making a few lifestyle changes and building up core strength can mean that even if you’re currently experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction (any leaking, back pain, heaviness in the pelvis) you may be able to get back to your previous exercise routine.

I prolapsed after my first child and was given very little advice about it other than being told I would probably need a hysterectomy when I go through menopause.  Because of this experience I have spent my time learning more and applying it to my own life as well as in my work with others.

First thing I implemented was no impact.

As someone who wasn’t a runner, this wasn’t a big change.  But I did have to stop jumping around in my aerobics classes and also give my trampette a wide berth…!  I can now run for the bus without worrying and I played rounders in the summer where I was sprinting for quite a while with no effect.  So I could probably run now if I wanted to but I’m still choosing to stay low impact most of the time.

Second thing was no crunches

The downward pressure created by crunches/sit-ups will push on the pelvic floor.  Full planks and press-ups and exercises with both legs lifted also creates a lot of pressure and so I avoided them.  However there are alternatives – for example in press-ups performing them on an incline, plus incorporating crunchless core exercises – so there is no reason to stop exercising, just make a few changes.  Bear in mind that sitting straight up in bed is also a crunch (and how many times do you do that a night?) – I roll over to get out of bed instead.

It’s not all about what you shouldn’t do though. There are things that I needed to start doing:

  • alignment/posture

particularly the with respect to the pelvis.  Try tucking your tailbone under and bringing your hips towards your ribs.  Lift the pelvic floor now.  Then take your hips away from your ribs, allowing your lower back to arch more, then lift the pelvic floor.  Then bring yourself to a neutral pelvis where your level through the front and the back of the pelvis (think of it like a bowl) – the pelvic floor lift should feel easier in this position.  Pelvic floor works best when we are in alignment, with the head, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis and heels all stacked up in line

  • breathing

both looking at how you breathe during exercise and from day to day.  During exercises you need to breathe out on the effort and lift pelvic floor at the same time.  This also applies when you are lifting a weight – baby, shopping etc. – and also when you go from seated to standing (The knack – as you go from sit to stand but vice versa too).  The other aspect of breathing is to stop breath holding and sucking your stomach in.  When you breathe in your stomach should actually swell not suck in.  I see so many people who’s stomachs stay still when breathing and instead their shoulders lift.  Try lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.  Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.  As you breathe in you should feel your chest move first then your stomach.  Your stomach lowers as you breathe out and then your chest.

All these changes I’ve made have meant that my prolapse has improved and I’m hoping to avoid that hysterectomy!  I know that there’s still work to do and I’m currently learning more about another part of the puzzle:

  • relaxation

stress can affect the pelvic floor, there’s also some evidence that lower limb injuries and back injuries will impact the pelvic floor too, even years after healing or the pain has stopped. There may also be scar tissue from episiotomies or tears.  I’ve just learnt some trigger point release for that – sitting on one of the spiky balls!  It’s uncomfortable but definitely has an effect – I will let you know how that goes!  And it’s also helped to introduce deep breathing, mindfulness and relaxation practices into my daily life.


So when looking at rehabbing the pelvic floor, it’s not just about a list of exercises to do – we need to think of the body as a whole and the pelvis at the centre of that, and looking at improving in all these areas

Happy New Year/You?!

I’m not really into New Years resolutions. And I’m definitely not into the the new year new you thing – there’s nothing wrong with the ‘old’ you!

But I am into goal setting.

I’ve just bought myself a shiny new business planner and right at the front is a blank page to fill in hopes and dreams for 2017. Most of mine are tied up with family life as I feel that’s the area that needs the most work done right now!

But there’s also some goals for me and my work too…

Now from the business coaching I’ve done the advice when goal setting is to make a plan and then break it into small manageable chunks. This way you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to see a result – this in turn will motivate you and keep you going on the next step.

Resolutions tend to be all or nothing.

And from the fitness world, we were taught to make sure we made SMART goals:

  • Specific – so not just “I’ll get healthy” but how? Doing what? Break it down
  • Measurable – can you track how you’re doing? Put numbers to your goals
  • Achievable – is the goal feasible
  • Relevant – important to you, not because everyone else is doing the same. The reason you make the goal may be the only motivating factor to keep going when things get hard
  • Time based – when will you do it by? Too far away and you’ll not work towards it, too soon and you’ll not get the chance to get it done.

So here’s my 5 top tips if you have made exercise part of your new year resolutions/goals:

  1. Add new things one at a time – don’t try to change everything at once. Go for somethings easy to start with that will encourage you to continue – eg drink more water, stand up every 20min, walk at lunchtime
  2. Put your exercise into your daily diary – block it out as your time so that it doesn’t always get left down to whether you have time left or not
  3. Combine exercise with something else – meet up with friends, walk to shops/school run
  4. Don’t feel you have to start on a Monday/ January 1st. Start as soon as you can

And don’t worry if things don’t go to plan. You haven’t failed. It’s just another day You’re not having to start from scratch.
Have a great start to 2017! And let me know if there’s any ways I can help you hit your goals

Walk this way!

I’m a bit obsessed with walking…  There are so many health benefits to it and it’s so easy to fit into your day and yet I read a report that said that 45% of people would rather take public transport than a short stroll.  And 1 in 20 would use public transport rather than walk for 5 minutes!  And yet walking is the easiest way to fit in the suggested amount of exercise we should be doing plus is like medicine for all the health benefits it has!

For those of you, like me, with older kids who really aren’t excited about the prospect of going for a walk (to say the least) I highly recommend Geocaching!!  Unlike golf – “a good walk spoiled” (Mark Twain) – geocaching is a good walk made better – by a treasure hunt!  Becky even did a talk about it in school this week so must enjoy it more than I thought.  You can find out more here

And remember Mums, Tums & Buggies has plenty of walking in it if you fancy joining us!

Walk this way

When I was a kid I walked with very turned in feet.  My family did what lots of families do – mocked me for it!  So having not seen any kind of specialist I forced myself to walk with straight feet – I now have a twisted shin for my trouble!  So it’s always worth working on any of these postural changes incrementally – just play around with how it feels and notice your gait rather than aiming for some big change.  And there are plenty of specialists who can help if you need it.

Here are some steps you can start with

  • feet should be facing forwards – not turning in or out
  • feet bony hip width apart – in standing and when moving.  Feet should stay in parallel and your weight shifts slightly from side to side, rather than crossing into centre like you’re walking a tight rope or waddling!
  • land mid foot and roll through – your toes should hinge and be the last part to leave the floor
  • push backwards with foot – instead of falling forwards you should be using your leg like an oar.  So the leg spends most of the time behind the body and swings forward from the hip.  Knees shouldn’t be bending that much

Posture is important – the way we walk can have an affect on our pelvis and back health too.  For those of you with buggies, try to walk as you would if you weren’t pushing – the number of people I see leaning forward at a 45 angle…  Not great for the back and a missed opportunity to work your bum muscles! Your arms should be relaxed and think of the legs driving the movement – so you’re not really pushing at all.  Another tip I saw is to use just one arm, and stand off to the side slightly.

The other thing that is worth noting is that the way you walk also depends on the reason for the walk.  If like me you’re always rushing on the school run it’s harder to focus on your form.  In Germany they’ve actually had to put lights in the pavement so people on their mobile phones know when to stop!  Obviously you can’t keep good posture if your chin is dropping onto your chest as you check social media… But also one of the benefits of walking is the chance to think, to look and to be in the moment for once.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When can I run again?

If you search the internet for the answer to starting running again after baby you may well be confused by the information out there.  There are some people who are back to their normal regime way before 6 weeks postpartum, others who advocate avoiding all sorts of exercise.  So what’s right for you?

First up you shouldn’t return to formal exercise until 6 weeks postnatal (8-10 if you’ve had a caesarean) and you should be getting the all clear from your doctor, although I know some doctors wait to combine your check-up with babies 8 week check.  And some doctors don’t do them at all now.

However once you’ve had your check that doesn’t mean you can just start up where you left off.  At 6 weeks only the initial healing of your body has been completed – full healing could take a year or more!

Returning to impact exercise too early can reduce pelvic floor strength and lead to incontinence or prolapse so it is worth taking things slowly and building up gradually.

So once you’ve had your check, and assuming you have no pelvic floor issues or diastasis, it is fine to introduce low impact exercise and specific postnatal classes.  Body conditioning classes are also fine but need to be lower weights and avoid direct work on your stomach muscles (i.e. no sit-ups or crunches or planks).  Over the next few weeks you can gradually increase the intensity and the weights.

And then what, what’s the magic number of when you can start running/crunching/go to hardcore classes?

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer.  Some say 4 months, others 6, still others a year.  I thought I’d been conservative waiting 5 months after a C-section before then teaching a high impact aerobics class.  I wasn’t and I prolapsed because of it, despite having no warning signs so I do tend to err on the side of caution with mums who come along to classes.

So the only real answer to “when?” has to be – listen to your body.  If you have any pelvis or lower back pain after exercise, a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, any bulging or straining or doming of the stomach or the pelvic floor or any leaking these are all a sign that that exercise is too much for you at this particular time.  As is shaking during an exercise or breath holding.  Doesn’t mean this will be for always – just at the moment your body isn’t ready and you need to modify the exercise until you are stronger.

This should apply whenever you’re exercising not just in the early postnatal period.  Your form is the most important thing to be mindful of when exercising and how your body is feeling.  There is always a way to make an exercise easier or to bring the intensity down.

Other things to bear in mind when exercising:

  • tiredness – fatigue can lead to injury as you push yourself through
  • sore breasts – if you can feed before exercise that can help.  A decent sports bra is important too.  There is such a thing as a feeding sports bra although they can be quite expensive.
  • loose joints – the effects of pregnancy hormones on your joints can last around 3 months post birth.  If you’re breastfeeding the effects are thought to last until 3 months after you finish feeding.

So bear these in mind when you want to start a particular exercise regime.  You can practice exhaling on exertion and lifting the pelvic floor before the 6 weeks (once any perineal damage is healed) – this way the core is protected and you will be rebuilding the body from inside out!

Pelvic floor first is a great website that’s worth visiting.  Their Returning to sport pdf gives a timeline of what’s recommended at various stages.

And remember, all my classes are pelvic floor and tummy safe!

10 years!!

Just over 10 years ago I took my one year old daughter to a family event at Reddish Vale Technology College (RVTC).  I hadn’t really gone back to work at the gym since I’d had her – I’d covered one class and did too much too soon. From then on I didn’t really feel like I belonged any more. Plus I wanted to carry on spending time with my girl.

I got chatting to people who worked for the extended schools programme at RVTC. They wanted to offer fitness classes at the school in the evenings.  It was something I had considered doing for years but I’m a terrible procrastinator!! Anyway, they persuaded me and on Thursday 17th November 2005 I began teaching Bums, Tums and Wobbly Bits and Pilates in their performing arts centre.

Now here I am 10 years later, based in Christ Church, Reddish with 15 classes on the timetable and a great community of women that I have the pleasure to serve.  It has always been their desire for more that has allowed me to teach additional classes and develop my specialities.

Massive thanks to you for your loyalty to me through the years, enabling me to keep doing a job I love whilst still getting to spend time with my family.  And thanks too to Reddish Vale for getting me started on this journey!

What’s with the six week rule?

There’s been a few people in my classes recovering from injuries and minor operations recently.  Then of course there’s the mums who are recovering from childbirth – considered a trauma whatever experience they have had!  But despite the range of severity and site of injuries, there seems to be a six week rule – no returning to exercise until after six weeks .  What’s so special about six weeks?

Stages of Wound Healing

The answer lies in the four stages of wound healing.  Tissue is the same no matter who you are or what has happened and it will go through the same process every time.

  1. Haemostasis – this is all about stopping the bleeding and forming a clot.  It happens immediately
  2. Inflammation – this is the stage of fighting infection and keeping the wound clean.  There is increased blood flow to the wound – resulting in redness and heat.  There is likely to be pain, swelling and possibly pus.  This lasts for 4-6 days.
  3. Proliferation – new skin is formed over the surface, whilst tissue is rebuilding underneath. This pulls the wound closer. This starts after 3-5 days and can last for 2-3 weeks
  4. Remodelling – changes to the tissue strength and number of blood vessels serving it.  This is when a scar starts to go paler and flatter.  The process starts 2-3 weeks after injury, once the wound has closed, and can last up to 2 years!

These stages are not distinct but  instead overlap, so there is some variation in healing times.  6 weeks means that all the early stages have completed and the remodelling phase is well under way.

However, it will take up to a year and possibly longer to return to full strength and function.  And scar tissue is only 80% as strong as the original tissue.  This is worth bearing in  mind when you are returning to exercise after an injury and after childbirth.  At 6 weeks healing is not completed, so you need to begin gradually and listen to your body – don’t try to get back to your previous level straight away!

Crunches are a waste of time

I’m always being asked about exercises to flatten the abs so I should explain why I don’t do crunches in my classes.
One of the main things to bear in mind is the saying that abs are made in the kitchen – it’s more about nutrition than anything else.  You cannot choose an exercise to reduce fat in a certain area and according to Men’s Health Magazine it would take over 22,000 crunches to burn 1lb of fat.  And for us women, the stomach is where we mostly accumulate fat.  So watching what you eat is going to be the main way to get your desired result.
Back to those crunches…  Most people know you have to stop doing them when you’re pregnant.  But it’s one of the first exercises women think of returning to once they’ve had their baby in a bid to get rid of the mummy tummy.  In fact they’re a huge no-no as the pressure they create in the abdomen will push out on the stomach muscles and may prevent any diastasis from healing.
But it’s not just pre and post natal women that need to avoid this exercise.  And here’s why:
1.  They don’t work –  most people’s stomachs push up as they do the exercise, training the muscle to be domed, not flat.
2.  They put pressure on the spine – the spine is loaded more than is healthy and the discs are compressed. This could lead to back problems and will exacerbate any existing back pain.
3.  They reinforce an unhealthy posture – due to our daily habits most of us have rounded shoulders, a chin that pokes forward and tucked under pelvises.  When you do a crunch you mimic these same movements.  In fact, one sure fire way to achieve a flatter stomach is to improve your posture.
4.  They put a huge amount of pressure on your pelvic floor – I saw a graphic video showing this and wanted to post it.  But either it’s been removed or my parental filters are too strong!  Either way, every crunch forces pressure down on the pelvic floor.  With 50% of all women who’ve given birth going on to prolapse and 1 in 3 women have urinary incontinence, I think it’s worth protecting our pelvic floors!   So what’s the best thing for a flatter stomach?

  • improve your posture – Pilates is ideal for this.  Also sit less and walk more
  • nutrition – eat real food, and try to avoid sugar and alcohol particularly
  • functional whole body exercises – I’m a great fan of all fours work and squats and lunges and include them in all my classes!