How To Look After Your Health When Stressed And Super Busy: Part 5B - Essential Movement

November 21, 2018

 

Part 5b: Essential Movement

 

We are all stressed from time to time and find ourselves super busy, however it’s important that our own health doesn’t take a back seat at these times. We can’t just turn our health on and off. Our personal needs of working towards greater wellness should always be there, constant and in the background, a natural, no compromise practice.

 

In this series of blogs on how to look after yourself when stressed and super busy I have written about the 6 elements I feel are a sum of our overall health and wellbeing;

 

1. Sleep and Relaxation

2. Food and Nutrition

3. Mental Health

4. Gut Health

5. Essential Movement and Exercise 

6. Skin Health

 

Although I can’t take your stress away I hope to give you the tools to recognise when one of these health factors is out of sync, and how to attend to it when life is hectic. 

 

This is the second part to my blog on ‘Essential Movement', where I explained how beneficial it is to get your body moving daily - in addition to this even just one hour of exercise a week does wonders for the mind and body. Because regular exercise doesn’t just build strong muscles, keeping our bodies lean and our hearts and lungs healthy, it also boosts brainpower, helps to control addiction, inspire creativity and promotes happiness.

 

By taking a little time out to exercise it gives us body confidence, focus, and mental strength when faced with stressful situations. It also helps the uptake of the nutrients from the food we eat, which is just as essential for our body’s energy as it is our capacity to think quickly and clearly. When it comes to choosing a type of effective exercise that helps us to de-stress, group exercise comes out on top. This is due to the added social and motivational benefits of training in a group. 

 

In today’s society we sit for an average of 8-9 hours a day, this includes travelling, sitting at a desk and sitting down in front of the TV. In fact the latest research suggests this ‘sitting disease’ is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Finding a way to weave essential movement into the day is vital. A good starting point is to set daily goals, such as increasing your daily step counts, by walking instead of taking transport where possible, parking further away from the shop / workplace, or even getting off the bus a stop earlier. When you feel stressed, by stepping (literally) away from the situation that is causing you stress and speaking to others in a light-hearted, neutral, environment, it helps to bring perspective to your own situation, and the realisation that you aren’t trapped. 

 

In this blog I will go into more detail about the importance of gluteal (glute) muscle strength, how exercise can boost your brain power, my review on the best protein powders, AND I have created two timesaving workouts for you. Consult with your doctor or health advisor before embarking on any new exercise, food and supplement regime.

 

Feel free to scroll to end to find a summary table of five ways to make your office healthier. 

 

 

Greg’s Guide to Desk Exercise

 

Professor Grey Whyte has designed ‘deskercise’ (pictured above) as a solution for those who find it challenging to fit movement into their day. If you have a long, daily commute followed by sitting behind a desk all day then this will help to keep your joints and muscles mobilised. This in turn will prevent the slumped posture, compressed lower spine and associated lower back and upper back pain that is becoming commonplace in modern day society. I personally feel it may be embarrassing to start performing squats at your desk or whilst waiting for the office kettle to boil.

 

Whyte suggests that by making everyone in your office aware of the importance of activity, and getting everyone to join in will create a happier, healthier, more productive workplace. This may be a solution to preventing body stiffness for some day-to-day but be under no illusion that this will help you build muscle, or lose body fat. We have to overload our muscles with tension from a resistance force and workout at a level that raises our heart rate and gets our core body temperature hotter to glean these results. However by ensuring you have great posture and stand tall you will look confident and more svelte.   

 

 

How To Get The Most Mental Benefit From Your Exercise

 

Research suggests regular aerobic exercise (movement maintaining 60-85% of your max heart rate for a minimum of 20 consecutive minutes), can boost the size of the hippocampus, the core of the brain’s learning and memory systems. When we are stressed and super busy our minds start to function at a sub-optimal level, we tend to struggle to think clearly, the quality of our work reduces and we make mistakes, which we then have to spend more time fixing. By including some essential movement, into your week, it will help you to become more organised, productive and efficient. 

 

The Fit Planet Article by Les Mills cites a study of 1.2 Million U.S. adults that showed those who exercise for shorter periods (around 45 minutes) enjoyed better mental health than those who did marathon workouts. It's important to move regularly and exercise but too much exercise will leave you feeling fatigued and depressed. As a rule full time athletes, or full time fitness instructors are advised to do no more than 3 classes (45-60 minutes per class), a day, and to do this no more than 5 days a week. In other words if a full time fitness instructor, who’s job it is to train, has been advised to do no more than 15 hours a week it’s safe to say that there would be no further benefit to training over 13 hours a week for most adults.

 

The research from the U.S. study also showed that those who exercised for three to five days a week had a bigger reduction in poor mental health days than those who didn’t exercise at all, or those who worked out more than five times a week. This leads to a recommendation of two to six hours of exercise a week over no more than five days. 

 

Any exercise is good but some types are better than others when it comes to mental benefits. When we are stressed and super busy it can encourage depression and anxiety the following types of exercise have been found superior in boosting positivity. Training socially in team sports (e.g. Netball, Hockey, Badminton), cycle-based exercise (Cycle Clubs, Spin Classes), and group aerobics (such as Body Combat, Body Pump, Kettlercise) have been identified as yielding the best mental health benefits. This is followed by Yoga, which is also a great mood booster due to the mindful, breathing, and poses that boost oxygen to the head. Finally resistance training has also been found to be a valuable way to alleviate depression.  

 

Fascinatingly research found that it doesn’t even seem to matter whether or not people actually improve their strength, it still has similar effects and is much healthier than anti depressant medications or psychotherapy. 

 

 

The Importance Of Core And Glute Health

 

It’s fair to say social media loves ‘belfies’ (butt selfies), and I smile when I look around the gym and see so many men and women incorporating a few all important glute specific exercises into their training. But why is it important to train one’s glutes? 

 

Our modern living environment of sitting at desks and for prolonged periods in transportation means we have tight hip flexors, and rounded shoulders. This has a knock on affect on our posture due to a weakening of our core muscles, specifically causing our abdominals and glutes (butts) to go to sleep. This in turn creates knee pain, back pain, and difficulty balancing as our abs and glutes are no longer holding our skeleton up, so our backs, knees, hips etc have to take the strain.

 

Further to this the glutes are aesthetically attractive and key to athletic performance. My background is athletics and swimming where I was taught that the difference between a good athlete and the best athlete is their core strength and ability to use their glutes to power their movement. 

 

 

My Own Journey To Glute Rehabilitation

 

I was a prime example of this; I had real problems firing my glutes. I had always had naturally thin legs, through school and university. I graduated from my Master’s Degree during the recession and subsequently I initially worked 40+ hours a week at a local gym, whilst my fashion design freelance career was taking off. I soon became the primary group exercise instructor and I was teaching Body Pump and Spin most days. As it materialised my quads and back were taking the load because my glutes were not doing their job. Initially my quads became over developed in comparison to my other muscle groups, my once thin legs became bulky, receiving a lot of unwanted attention.

 

Secretly I was perplexed, as my once small yet pert butt was looking increasingly like a pancake. So I started squatting heavier in my classes, because squats are the best thing for glutes, right … WRONG! Squats are a fantastic compound exercise and mechanically squats should be placing a large load through the glutes. However, for most individuals these days, the lower back and quads create the squat movement instead and override the glutes. This is compounded by the tightness in the hip flexors from sitting down a lot, though for me it was due to sitting on a spin bike a lot.

 

I was often teaching 3, 4, on occasion even 5 classes in a day, then one day, my lower back just…. went! I was out of action for 6 months with a serious back injury. All of the heavy back squats had been compressing my (hyper flexible) spine, and pumping up my quads instead of my glutes, and the repetitive strain finally injured my lower back, specifically the Quadratus Luborum (See image above). I saw a physiotherapist, in fact I saw quite a few for second opinions, who all pointed out that I had weak glutes?! I was baffled at this. I was advised to do clams and Pilates exercises to help to trigger the glutes, and to relax my lower back, that was in constant spasm. However this was not increasing the strength of my glutes and I was still teaching group exercise classes, albeit using little to no weights.

 

When I had healed to a functional level and felt I had learnt everything I could in my job role, I left internal gym employment. Instead I set out to do what I had intended all along, to forge a career that combined both fashion and fitness. I now freelance as a group exercise instructor, I can choose which classes to teach and at times I can work my fashion design and journalism around. 

 

 

Bikini Fitness

 

Soon after this I discovered Bikini Fitness, the newer, modelling division of bodybuilding. The bikini competition is often won from the back and it’s about having strong, tight glutes, with minimal quad development. Thus by training for aesthetics, my real rehab began in 2015.

 

At this point I was freelancing, building up my reputation and working 7 days a week. Despite this I still set aside time for two glute specific training sessions a week. At first these sessions where very frustrating, many supposedly glute specific exercises made my quads burn or my lower back hurt. So I had to carefully work around this, by mainly using light weights and high repetitions.

 

I performed 4-5 sets on the successful exercises, whilst only doing 2 sets on others. This was because for some exercises any more than 2 sets and my quads would take over. I persisted, and now my glutes are stronger and some of those exercises that initially triggered my quads and lower back are now some of the best exercises for my glutes. 

 

As my shape began to change I started to think seriously about competing, so I consulted a Professional Bikini Fitness Coach, and on their advice I squeezed some additional shoulder and posing training into my very busy weekly schedule to create an hourglass physique. In the Summer 2016 I took the plunge and walked on stage for the first time. I’d reduced the size of my quads and waist, I had increased the size of my glutes, and most importantly I had reduced my back pain completely. I also became a British finalist in two leagues in my first year of competing.

 

 

Training and Recovery Advice; Are You Eating Enough Protein?

 

If you often have to sit for prolonged periods in a car, at a desk, have poor posture or find your fitness isn’t progressing I would strongly advise on stretching your chest and hip flexors daily and training your glute and core muscles at least once a week.

 

If you were keen to develop the strength and visible pertness of your glutes, I would advise hitting them hard with specific glute training sessions twice a week, with at least two days rest between sessions. And remember recovery time, nutrition and sleep are keys to success. It is important to eat sufficient protein for recovery as protein helps our cells and muscles heal.

 

Resistance training such as lifting weights is of course required for muscle gain, you need to give them a reason to grow and then feed them, with protein (such as meat, fish, eggs, tofu, pulses and legumes).

 

 

The recommended daily allowance of protein (RDA) is 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. However, according to the latest research compiled by Alex Leaf for Examine.com, https://examine.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-do-you-need/, most sedentary adults requirements’ are nearer to 1.2g – 1.8g /kg. Its noted that for a sedentary adult who is not trying to lose weight, then there is no benefit to consuming more than 1.8g/kg.

 

"If you are physically active, you need more protein than if you were sedentary. The American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Dieticians of Canada recommend 1.2-2g/kg to optimize recovery from training and to promote the growth and maintenance of lean mass when calorie intake is sufficient. This recommendation is similar to that of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (1.4-2.0g/kg)”

 

One easy way to boost your daily protein intake, is to swap the mid afternoon slump snack for a protein shake. These are not meal replacements, they are supplements and are ideal to consume immediately after a workout to aid recovery, or when you are in a rush in the morning. One protein shake a day is sufficient and these shakes are not necessarily needed every day, unless you are doing a lot of daily workouts. They are also much healthier and more filling than processed snacks such as confectionary and crisps.

 

Due to my job involving over twenty hours of exercise a week, I usually have 5 protein shakes a week. I personally favour plant based protein shakes as these are healthier to consume on a regular basis, and although studies say whey protein assimilates better within our bodies, I find the ingredients to be of a lower quality to plant based protein shakes and they often cause bloating, which could imply that they aren’t being digested easily. The plant based shakes I have suggested below (on the left) are all sweetened naturally with stevia, whereas the whey protein shakes (on the right) are sweetened with the artificial derivative of sugar, sucralose.

 

All of these powders taste great, blend well, and contain fewer ingredients compared to other brands, which indicates a product of superiority. 

 

 

Two Takeaway Training Programs

 

As promised I have created two exercise programs especially for you that utilise all major muscles groups and are incredibly versatile. They both incorporate hip health and glute activation with a focus on the posterior chain, the rear muscles of the back, glutes, and hamstrings together with the core. These are the important muscles that support our spine and keep us standing upright. You can do these exercises at home with minimal to no equipment, or you can dial up the intensity with added weights and resistance loop bands, and you can even put both programs together for a longer challenging circuit.

 

 

Circuit 1

  • Beginner to intermediate hip health and glute activation, followed by three compound exercises: clean and press, squats and lunges. 

 

Warm Up (Ideas Below)

  • Raise the heart rate gradually by lightly jogging (or marching to reduce impact) on the spot and star-jumps (or brisk side steps).

  • Follow this by practicing your lunge technique, then using a light weight held at chest perform a squat, pressing arms overhead press to warm up the back muscles.

  • If you are planning to take the weighted options then perhaps hold a light weight to your chest whilst you warm up.

 

Stretch: Hip Flexors and Quads

  • Stretch your hip flexors and quads, these are the antagonistic (opposite) muscles to the glutes.

  • Tip: If the opposite muscles to the target muscles are tight then the target muscles cannot contract and activate fully. 

 

Hip Health and Glute Activation: Clam and Glute Bridge

 

  • Clam 10-30 reps each side.

  • Lie on one side, hips stacked, inside heels and big toes touching.

  • Open knees whilst keeping hips aligned, if top hip falls back reduce range of movement.

  • Perform with control and feel it in the side of glutes.

  • Perform without resistance bands to reduce intensity. 

 

Banded Glute Bridge (Perform 10-40 Reps)

  • Lie on back, feet hip width apart with a resistance loop band just above knees, for extra resistance try adding lighter bands to either mid thigh, or mid shin.

  • Tilting your pelvis towards belly button, squeezing your butt to raise your hips until you feel the hips ‘lock’.

  • Slowly lower butt down until it lightly touches the floor between reps.

  • Keep pushing the knees out slightly against the resistance bands to further activate the side glutes. 

 

Compound Muscle Exercise Circuit (Targets Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Back, Core, and Shoulders)

 

 

  • Lunge 3 sets of 10-20 reps each side.

  • Set up feet hip width apart and take a long step backwards.

  • Lift back heel off the floor and lower back knee close towards the floor, until the front thigh is parallel to the floor.

  • Check you can see your big toe in front and inside the front knee.

  • Stay in this stance and push through front heel to raise body up and down.

  • To advance do a dynamic lunge by stepping forwards and back into the lunge.

  • Do all the reps one side to accumulate pressure in the leg and glute muscles, and then perform an equal amount of reps on the other leg.

  • To further advance this hold a weight at chest or overhead.

  • A weight overhead puts a large demand on the core muscles. 

 

 

Squat 3 Sets Of 10-20 Reps

 

  • Stand with feet just outside shoulder width, with toes turned slightly outwards.

  • Keeping your chest up (higher than hips).

  • Bend knees forwards and out over your second toes, then sit hips down and back.

  • Half a squat is butt level with the knees, which will mainly target the quad muscles at the front of the thighs.

  • A full squat is butt level with mid shin and will put more emphasis on the glutes.

  • There is no advantage to squatting any lower as the shoulders will round and the hips will tuck under into a relaxed crouch position.

  • To lift back up, push knees out again the resistance band, squeeze glutes and push through heels to drive hips slightly forwards and back up under the shoulders.

  • Tip: Using a loop resistance band around mid shin or just above knees to help activate glute muscles, and don’t let your knees cave inwards!

 

  • To advance this try the ‘Pop Squat’; jump feet wide, land with soft knees and lower hips down and back into a squat.

  • Immediately jump out of the squat, landing softly with your feet under shoulders. 

 

 

  • To advance this further use a looped resistance band placed mid-shins.

  • Jump out of the squat position onto a bench, landing in a narrow stance monkey squat.

  • Your glute and leg muscles will absorb the impact, which creates more tension in the muscle, plus the raised heart rate from the jump help us to tone up and get fitter more quickly.

  • Take care to never land a jumping exercise with rigid knees. 

 

 

Clean and Press (3 Sets Of 6-10 Reps)

  • Set up neutral posture or set position, which is feet under hipbones, with chest lifted, abs braced, shoulders back ad down, with slight knee bend. 

  • Start with more knee bend and use the legs to drive the bar up with elbows above the bar.

  • Keep the bar close to the body as you upright row it to chest height.

  • Drop body under the bar, rotate wrists to drop elbows under bar also. 

  • This forms the ‘clean’ phase with the bar held close to collarbone. 

  • Slight knee bend and use legs again to assist ‘press’ overhead. 

  • Bend the legs again to lower bar to the clean position and rotate wrists to bring elbows up and over to lower the bar by opening the lat back muscles. 

  • To modify this use one lighter plate in a similar movement pattern. 

 

Circuit 2

  • Intermediate to Advanced hip health and glute activation, followed by three compound exercise sequences: Split squat, Pommel–Pushup-Climber, and High Pull into Squat Thrust.  

 

Warm up: Ideas Below

  • Raise the heart rate gradually by lightly jogging (or marching to reduce impact) on the spot and star-jumps (or brisk side steps).

  • Follow this by practicing your lunge technique, then using a light weight held at chest perform a squat to over head press to warm up the back muscles.

  • Practice the plank, and pushups on the knees. 

 

 

Stretch: Hip Flexors and Quads

  • Stretch your hip flexors and quads, these are the antagonistic (opposite) muscles to the glutes.

  • Tip: If the opposite muscles to the target muscles are tight then the target muscles cannot contract and activate fully. 

 

Hip Health and Glute Activation: Glute Kickback and Weighted Glute Hip Thrust

 

 

Glute Kickback (15-30 Reps Each Side}

  • Kneel on all fours and raise one knee out to the side into a Pilates fire hydrant position, knee level with hip.

  • Draw knee in towards shoulder to stretch glutes and load the oblique waist muscles.

  • Extend the leg back and up, slightly outwards from the body and squeeze that butt cheek.

  • Repeat all reps on one side before performing on the other.

  • Try to keep your back neutral and still to prevent ‘throwing’ the leg out with the back muscles.

  • To advance this, try using ankle weights. 

 

 

 

Glute Bridge / Glute Hip Thrust Using A Weight (3-4 Sets, 20-35 Reps)

  • Sit with your shoulder blades resting against a bench, if the bench is high then place feet on a slightly raised platform also to protect lower back.

  • Place a strong loop resistance band mid shins, you could add an extra one just above the knee too.

  • With a bar resting on hips, just below hip bones, tilt your pelvis towards belly button, exhale as you squeeze your glutes and raise your hips up to hip locking point.

  • Hold at the top for 2 seconds then lower slowly.

  • As you lift and lower your hips keep opening your knees out slightly against the resistance band. 

 

 

  • Tip: the photo shows me performing this exercise in a hip bridge technique, and the illustration details the slightly different hip thrust technique: where one allows the head and shoulders lift off the bench as one lowers their hips.

  • The hip thrust can help more power to be pressed through the heels and hips.

  • I used a bar pad for comfort as shown, these are inexpensive from Amazon, or fold a soft mat on hips.

  • To lower the intensity use a lighter plate across the lap, or omit the weight completely. 

 

Compound Muscle Exercise Circuit: Targets Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Back, Triceps, Core, and Shoulders (Split Squat (3-4 Sets, 12-20 Reps Each Side)

 

 

  • Find a raised surface like a chair or bench that’s approx knee height.

  • Rest back foot on it with heel facing up and ankle at the edge.

  • Lower back knee back and down towards the bench and floor, lower front thigh until its parallel to floor.

  • Drive up through front heel, feeling the pressure build in the front leg’s butt cheek.

  • Tip: keep back leg relaxed and if you feel it in the front leg’s front thigh (quad), you are not going low enough for the glutes to fire up.

  • To modify perform fewer reps with great technique. 

  • To advance this try adding a jump as you drive out of the front heel, land with a soft knee and keep back foot on contact with bench at all times. 

 

 Plank Pomel-Tricep Push-up-Mountain Climber Sequence (3-4 sets, 6-10 Reps)

  • Form a plank position; hands under shoulders, weight slightly forwards, on toes with feet close together.

  • First Jack the feet out and in, the pommel phase, then push chest forwards and down, bringing elbows close alongside ribs to a 90 degree bend, to perform the tricep push-up. Follow with an oblique mountain climber; in plank position drive alternating knees under body towards opposite elbow to fire up the waist muscles.

  • To advance these perform as many reps with great technique as fast as you can at timed intervals. 

  • To modify; place knees on floor in low plank, with hips pushing slightly forwards, do the tricep push-up on your knees also then lift the knees off floor to slowly walk the mountain climber. 

 

 

 High Pull Into Squat Thrust Sequence (3-4 Sets, 6-10 Reps)

  • Begin in squat position (instructions above), with a Kettlebell on the floor, slightly infront of your feet.

  • Drive upwards out of the squat by pushing through heels and squeezing glutes slightly forwards and up.

  • At the same time lift the kettlebell into an upright row position (elbows above handle), springing onto to the balls of the feet from the powerful momentum.

  • Squat down deep to place the kettlebell back on floor whilst keeping chest lifted (this is a high pull)

  • Place hands on floor and shoot feet backwards into plank, taking care to keep the butt down and inline with shoulders. 

  • Jump feet towards hands, with feet and knees finishing outside elbows.

  • Lift chest and form a squat position to begin again. This is a squat thrust. 

  • To modify omit the weight and perform slowly by walking feet one at a time into the plank and walking them forwards into squat stance.

  • You could also separate the moves, i.e. perform the high pull only, rest, then perform the squat thrust only.

 

 

  • To advance this exercise use a challenging weight and perform the sequence as fast as you can, with great form, for timed intervals in a HIIT style training method such as 60 seconds work, and 30 seconds rest. 

     

     

    For a printable workout table and videos of these exercises –please see my social media; Facebook: Lucinda Ella PT and Instagram: lucinda_ella_pt

     

     

    Conclusion

     

    When we are stressed and super busy with work and family life we may feel exercise isn’t important, but the chances are it will relieve bodily tension and mental stress and thus help you to become more productive, creative, and efficient at daily tasks, which may even help to reduce your workload. Interestingly the brain is the only organ we can’t overtax, and yet when life becomes hectic we can’t seem to think straight. This is because a healthy brain needs variety to flourish. In other words if you are doing the same thing every day it is not challenging the grey matter. By introducing and punctuating your day with new ways of moving you (and your brain) will thrive!

     

    My next blog and final part in the series on how to stay healthy when stressed and super busy, is Skin Health. Our skin is our biggest organ and has a huge influence on our wellbeing and self-confidence. I am going to discuss the latest skincare products and optimal skincare routine suggestions from ‘real’ people that are time-effective.

     

    When it comes to skincare advice, it’s important to know that the UK beauty market is worth £17 billion. Therefore a lot of what we read in magazines and on the Internet is indirectly sponsored, and it’s difficult for us to tell the advertising apart from the sound medical advice.

     

    When we are stressed and tired we crave carbohydrates and can often grab sugar-laden snacks that are detrimental to our skin, resulting in both fine lines and acne. I’m going to share a few more of my latest healthy treat recipes that will nourish you from within and help you reduce your intake of refined sugar. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Our Author: Lucinda Abell is a Level 3 Personal Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor, UK Bikini Fitness Finalist and Sports Science Lecturer who is based in Cheshire. 

 

Lucinda also works as a Freelance Designer and studied her Fashion Design Technology degree at the London College of Fashion, later going to specialise in Printed Textiles in her Masters degree at the Royal College of Art. You can discover more about Lucinda HERE