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Jurg Widmer - yoga and Pilates

How yoga and Pilates can complement your fitness routine

Many of us, a one time or another, have probably signed up to a yoga or a Pilates class. How many of us are still doing them? It can often come as a surprise to people just how tough these disciplines are – many people will take them up, expecting them to be just a straightforward way of ‘chilling out’ after exercise, and quickly realise that if you do them properly, both can actually be very strenuous and testing in their own way. Sadly, this is the point where a lot of people drop out or decide that yoga and Pilates aren’t for them – which we think is a real shame. Here’s why.

The perfect partners

Both practices can really complement the other exercise routines you are doing, improving your performance and helping you to stay fit and, crucially, injury free. Take the combination of yoga and lifting weights. So much of exercising in the right way comes down to getting the best balance between the hard work you do in the gym and the other exercise you do beyond lifting weights. Finding the right yoga routine can be the perfect way to give your body a different challenge when you’re between lifting sessions, working on flexibility and core strength that you can then carry into your weight training. But why is yoga specifically a great complement to working with weights?

Well, in part it’s all about mixing things up – making sure that rather than just focusing on one set of muscles, and working them repeatedly, we build strength in more areas. This is crucial, because having stronger muscles around the areas we specifically want to focus on in our weight training can help to support the areas we’re putting under stress, and so help to reduce the chances of picking up and injury.

This idea of using yoga to introduce a bit of variety into our regular weight training routines also has powerful psychological benefits. On a basic level, taking up complementary practices such as yoga can simply keep us motivated and interested in exercising. But yoga in particular can also help us to increase our focus (especially in areas like controlling how we breath) that can also help us when we head back into the gym.

A flexible approach to running

How about Pilates? Well, we’re also big fans of using Pilates as a complementary exercise alongside running. Quite apart from the injection of some much needed variety that we’ve already mentioned with yoga, finding time for Pilates is also a great way to prevent some of the most common issues that runners face. For example, Pilates exercises can be the perfect way to ease a tight IT band – a common and crippling injury that can play havoc with your running routine. Pilates exercises can also be used to strengthen your ankles and the muscles around your knees – two areas that any runner will know are prone to damage and injury.

There is an important final point to make about both Pilates and yoga as complementary practices to go alongside your running or your weight training – and that is about the benefits you’ll see in your core strength. Having a strong core is absolutely crucial to both lifting weights and running, because it helps you with everything from posture and balance to technique.

Runners in particular can really benefit from both yoga and Pilates exercises that strengthen their core – the work you do on the mat can actually protect your body as you run. A strong core will hold your spine firm as you run and support the movement of your arms and legs, improving your technique and making you more efficient in your movements. Pilates also builds a strong core, and increases the strength and flexibility of your muscles – a crucial part of making sure that as you lift weights you are not putting undue strain on parts of your body that are unable to handle it.

So, if you have tried yoga or Pilates before, but gave them up, then we’d certainly recommend you give them another go – both disciplines can really complement the other fitness routines you do.

Jurg Widmer Probst - fitness

A minimalist approach to fitness

Every popular thing experiences ‘crazes’ – and of course the world of fitness and exercise is far from immune. In many ways it can feel like an industry that is built on fads – the latest nutritional plans to help you to lose weight or gain muscle, the newest technology to help you record your progress, the latest running shoes or highly advanced synthetic materials to help you perform that little bit better.

And yet we’re not going to say that all of this is rubbish, and should be ignored – not least because a lot of these changes are indicative of the great progress the industry has made over the years and the booming popularity of the sector. But also because a lot of this ‘stuff’ – the tech, the clothing, the shiny new theories – are all just a part of the fun of getting fitter. Most of us enjoy looking at the latest trends and trying out new things, and this continual evolution can be an important factor in keeping us fresh and engaged in whatever particular kind of exercise it is we enjoy.

All that being said, there is also a good argument for just stopping occasionally, and reassessing exactly where we are and why we’re doing it – it is a chance to think properly again about why we wanted to get fit in the first place. (Ironically, taking a more ‘minimal’ approach to fitness has become a kind of fad in its own right, and you could quite easily stop reading this post right now and spend the next couple of hours looking at which minimal running shoe is right for you). But, before you do, here are some thoughts on other ways in which you can shed just a few of the things that you maybe don’t actually need on this fitness journey you’re on.

Re-think about why you are really doing this

If you are going running or heading down to the gym every other day because you love buying running gear or losing yourself in the endless variety of new workout plans, then that’s great – but it is unlikely that these really were the original reasons why you started trying to get fitter. So, take some time to re-assess where you are right now.

Why did you originally start to do this? Are these still the same motivations you have now, or have they evolved? Looking at it from a slightly different angle, what is it that you really love most about the exercise you do? When do you feel at your best, truthfully? What is it that gives you the buzz – is it putting on that brand new digital fitness tracker, or is it the feeling you get when you lift more weights than you’ve ever done before, or run your PB for a 5k?

We’ve found that by taking another look at why you are exercising, and maybe revisiting and reminding yourself of those original motivations, you can begin to look at the things that are actually helping you to realise these goals, and the things that aren’t. Is that new running vest you’ve just bought yourself really going to make you run any faster? Or are you just buying it because it feels good to buy things now and then? Of course, there is nothing wrong with this – we all love buying stuff – but it is worth thinking about how necessary these extra things really are to helping us achieve our fitness goals.

Shed and unplug

This process of reassessment is all a part of drilling down to the basics – remembering why it is we’re exercising, and getting rid of anything that isn’t helping us to actually get fitter, or happier, (or both).

And once we’ve taken the time to think about our motivations, we then also need to start a process of getting rid of what we don’t need. This is the time to experiment – you might think that you need your headphones when you go for a run to stop yourself getting bored, but just try a short run without them for once, and see what happens. It might be that you find that the experience of hearing the world around you as you run is actually just as invigorating as the exercise itself. Or, if it isn’t, find someone else to run with, and use the time to have a proper conversation while you exercise. And if you love lifting weights, maybe try a bodyweight workout that you can do at home, rather than having to pay for a monthly gym membership. Or, save the money you spend on expensive gym equipment or membership and take up a cheaper, (but still tough) outdoor activity instead, like bouldering.

There are countless ways for you to exercise with less – whether it is less money spent on equipment, or fewer distractions while you’re doing it. Either way, it is a great way to reconnect with whatever it was that you loved about the activity in the first place.

Jurg Widmer Probst - fitness holiday

Is it possible to stay in shape over the holiday season?

We’ll address the big thing that everyone is probably thinking first: never mind if it is possible – is it actually even worth trying to stay in shape over Christmas and the New Year? It is a time when we all rest, relax and no doubt over-indulge a little too much – and so why should we even bother trying to keep fit and healthy over the holidays?

Well, it is a fair point, and in terms of exercise, even a couple of weeks off shouldn’t affect your fitness levels too much. In fact, in many ways the well earned rest could even do you some good, allowing you the chance to rest and repair those tired and damaged muscles. Get it right and a week or two’s break could actually leave you in as good a shape as you were before (if not slightly better).

Of course, all this is assuming that you look after yourself a little over the festive period. So what can we do to do this, at a time when it is so easy and tempting to over do it? Late nights, rich food and maybe even a bit too much alcohol can all take their toll. So, here are just a few tips for looking after yourself a little this holiday.

 

Don’t avoid meals

This might seem counter-intuitive, especially given the big meals that many people enjoy over Christmas. But actually it makes sense – trying to skip meals (particularly breakfast) because you are worried about your weight is rarely a good idea, at any time of year. Instead, doing this usually results in one of two things happening (or often both). You will either binge on your next meal, or you will pick at food in between meals to compensate. Unfortunately Christmas is ideally set up to make indulging these two bad habits very easy – so sit down and have regular meals with everyone else to keep yourself in a regular routine.

Get out of the house

Whether it is a family Boxing Day walk or even just a few turns around the block, getting outdoors is a really important part of staying in shape over the festive period. The combination of cold weather, supplies of food close to hand and lots to keep you entertained on the TV can make it all too easy to go into hibernation mode, but this is really not good for your body – or your mind for that matter. Even the closest families will find tempers starting to fray after a few days shut indoors, so heading out together is a great way to get the blood pumping and start feeling alive again. As with most things over Christmas, it is all about personal traditions – everyone develops their own, so make a fun outdoor activity one of yours.

Keep on lifting those weights

If you are in the middle of a weightlifting programme, don’t skip it during the festive break. It is actually a great way to burn calories, and rather than giving it a break and doing a bit of cardio, make sure you maintain your weight work. And even if you’re not a weightlifter, it’s still important to try and keep your regular fitness routines going over the holidays. So, get to the gym if you can – but if you really can’t then try and fit some other activity in to compensate.

Plan ahead and be realistic about your goals

It is a fact of life that you are likely to be enjoying some big meals and evenings out over Christmas and the new year. So, a important part of making sure you stay fit and healthy is to plan ahead. If you are likely to be eating a big Christmas meal one evening, try and go easier on the meals during the day – be kind to your body and just prepare sensibly so that you can enjoy those special treats fully.

 

Finally, just be kind to yourself, and be realistic with the fitness goals you set yourself over Christmas. It is going to be tough to avoid breaking a few healthy eating and drinking rules, so if you do, just enjoy it and don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s always the New Year for those healthy resolutions!

Jurg Widmer Probst

How a healthy mind leads to a healthy body

The link between the health of the mind and of the body is a fascinating one, and of course it is a relationship that goes both ways. The mental world we inhabit on a daily basis is essentially one that’s the product of billions of chemical and electrical processes – as neurons fire off in all directions and varying levels of important chemicals in our brain have a profound effect on everything from our mood to our energy levels.

And underpinning all of these myriad mental processes are the physical things that we take in – the food and drink we consume – as well as the way that we look after and maintain our physical bodies in terms of exercise. In this sense, we have a huge choice to make. We can create a vicious circle for ourselves, in which the food we eat and the exercise we do (or not) makes us feel down and low on energy – or we can eat well, exercise often and feel mentally alert enough to want to make these good habits regular ones.

So how do we go about creating a virtuous, rather than a vicious, circle of good mental and physical health, so that one maintains and sustains the other? We think there are many different ways to do it, and of course much of this is about trying to find the activities that work for you. This sense of personal engagement is absolutely essential – if you are forcing yourself to do things that ultimately have no personal meaning for you, then it unlikely that you will be able to do them for long enough to form them into regular good habits.

That said, we do think that there are actually at least a couple of general principles around maintaining both a healthy mind and body that most people will find beneficial.

Finding space and perspective in your life

We all lead busy lives – going to work, exercising, looking after family and friends and meeting daily commitments and demands of every kind. Because of this, it can be incredibly easy to get completely swamped and overwhelmed. We can feel as if life is something that happens to us, rather than something that we have an active role in managing. We might be doing all the right things – maybe even managing to squeeze some exercise in here and there – but what we lack is space and the perspective that room can offer.

There are lots of ways to do this – whether it is meditation or yoga or just sitting a reading a good book for half an hour – but whatever it is, it is essential that we find a way to build more space into our lives. When we step back for a moment, we can then see that there are plenty of ways that we can be more actively and positively engaged in our lives, rather than being thrown about by events like a boat in a storm. Having this sense of control and active engagement is great for our mental health – and also has a direct impact on our levels of physical wellbeing too. When we feel in control, we feel motivated and able to act in a positive way.

Develop an outlet for creativity and innovation in your life.

We firmly believe that one of the keys to staying mentally healthy – and so giving yourself that solid foundation of a positive, energised approach to life – is to try to find some opportunity for being creative in your life. It may be that you think that you get this in your job, but really the key here is that this is something that you do for yourself, and not necessarily for others.

In a very practical sense, creativity is the driving force behind humanity’s evolution – it is what has driven us to develop new tools and to solve problems over the millennia. And so because it is such a fundamental part of who we are, it is absolutely essential that it is a part of our lives that we don’t neglect. Building creativity into our lives in some way energises and excites us, and gives us the motivation to keep actively engaged in life.

Finding a way to build more space into our lives and introducing an outlet for our creativity are absolutely essential to not just our mental wellbeing, but our physical health too. When our minds feel fit and rested, our bodies do too – just as when our bodies feel well, we feel in a better place mentally as well. We, ultimately, have a lot control over what kind of relationship body and mind will have – so, make it a positive one.

Jurg Widmer

How to work out with out weights

Your first response to the idea of working out without weights might be: why on earth would you bother? Gyms have lots of specialist equipment designed specifically to help you to build muscle and exercise different parts of your body – so why would you not use it?

We can see that for many people, exercising with out using gym equipment might seem a little bit of a fad – albeit one that has been around for quite a while now. Well, we really do believe that there are very good reasons for ditching the equipment for a while and giving working out without weights a go. Continue reading “How to work out with out weights”

Jurg Widmer Probst

How to set good fitness goals and achieve them

We have all been there, whatever our levels of fitness or commitment to getting healthier. We set a goal – for example losing a certain amount of weight, or maybe running a 5k or even a marathon.

We commit to it for a few days, or a few weeks even, before something goes wrong and we give up. It might be that we get injured, or just disheartened with the progress we are making and don’t feel motivated any more.

Then, we stop, feel bad about ourselves, and fail to make any progress until we feel motivated to start again. And all too often, the process repeats itself. So, how do we break out of this? Is there a way to set fitness goals that are testing, but achievable, and that we will stick to until we beat them? We believe there are – so here are out tips.

Willpower really is all down to you.

There have been varying theories on what exactly willpower is, with some researchers suggesting that it is something that is directly linked to rest. And while it is clear that rest (in the form of enough sleep and healthy food at regular intervals) is a fundamental part of helping us to feel in better shape, it isn’t the whole story.

Newer research suggests that willpower is actually only as limited as you think it is – so, for example, if you tell yourself that you don’t have enough willpower to get up and go for a run or hit the gym, that will be the case. This has big implications because it really hands back the power to get fitter to you – whether you have the will to do something really comes down to your own attitude, and nothing else.

Just do it for yourself.

This might seem counter intuitive – after all, having a goal such as raising money for charity, or even just telling lots of people what you’re trying to achieve can all have a motivating effect on you. But the opposite can also be true. By setting a goal that is motivated internally, you can often make much more progress.

What do we mean by this? Well, for example, if you commit to go to go out for a run every day because you are trying to raise money for a charity, it is likely that you are going to feel fairly  motivated. You’ll keep going because you’re thinking about the money you’re raising and the good thing you’re doing for others.

But it will be tough, and there is a good chance that you will be much less motivated to go for a run than someone who actually just loves going running. If you get a big personal buzz out of pulling on your trainers and hitting the road, then you are more likely to stick at than someone who is doing it for purely altruistic reasons. So, find a fitness goal that fits with things you love to do, and it will be far easier to keep to it.

Keep it interesting.

No one enjoys running the same route every day, or working the same muscles on the same equipment at the gym. It is boring and demotivating – but is remarkable how many people make this very basic mistake when they are setting their fitness goals and creating a programme to achieve them. To return to our previous point again – the key to setting and achieving fitness goals is to find activities that you enjoy, and nothing kills enjoyment like endless repetition.

So, mix it up. Pick a different route, or head out on a trail to build a bit of variety into your runs. Or, if you’re creating a programme of gym workouts, make sure that you are focusing on a wide range of muscle groups, or mixing up the equipment you use. For example, if you’re used to just using the gym’s machines, then try using free weights too for a bit of variation.

A final thought on this. So much of setting and achieving our fitness goals is really about being good to ourselves. Too often, people see getting fit almost as a form of punishment – and while it does need to be tough, we also need to try and find something we feel passionate about.

So find an activity you love. Set goals that will test you but that you can achieve, and don’t be too hard on yourself. However you get on, know that you can always begin again: focus on the start that you have made, not on the failures you have had along the way.

 

Jurg Widmer - Keto Diet

What is the keto diet – and is right for me?

Whether it is down at the gym or at your local running club, the chances are that you will have heard a little bit of the buzz around keto diets, and their potentially beneficial effects not just for athletes but for everyone. So, we thought we would take a quick look at just a few of the biggest questions around keto diets, and give you our thoughts on whether taking this approach to nutrition can be beneficial to us as athletes.

But first, it is probably worth taking a quick look at exactly what keto diets are, and the effect they are supposed to have on the body. So what are they and how do they work?

Time to cut the carbs

Ketogenic diets are essentially ones in which levels of carbohydrate intake are kept low, in order to encourage your body to enter a state known as ‘ketosis’. Usually, we prefer to get our energy from consuming carbohydrates – think of that big pasta dinner you have the night before a marathon.

But with a keto diet, that high level of carbohydrate intake is cut right back, forcing the body to look for alternative sources of energy. The most likely place it will find this energy is in your body’s fat reserves and in the increased levels of fat that you are consuming as a part of the diet. Your body will then turn this fat into a compound called ketones which, in turn, give us the energy we need.

While our bodies are more used to getting energy from carbs (which produce glucose and insulin, and so provide us with something we can convert into energy) keto diets use high intakes of fat (and our own fat reserves) to generate the energy we need.

It does this simply as a kind of survival mechanism. So, if we are in an environment in which we are unable to access the levels of carbs that we are used to, being able to go into a state of ketosis allows us to replace energy from glucose with energy from ketones that our body has produced by breaking down fats in the liver.

Keto for athletes

The big question for us then, as athletes, is whether a ketogenic diet is right for us. It is easy to see the advantages of a keto diet for someone who is looking, for example, to lose weight. Burning off fat is clearly a positive outcome for someone with this particular goal, but the benefits for athletes looking to improve performance is less clear.

While it is hard to say for sure, Keto diets seem, at the very least, to have a positive effect on body composition – something that can certainly be of benefit to athletes of all kinds.

But research on the matter is still on a relatively small scale, and a lot more work needs to be done to provide a more definitive answer to the question of how beneficial these kinds of diets are to athletes. According to a study of New Zealand athletes cited on RunnersWorld.com, research “showed that a 10-week keto diet improved the athletes’ body composition and well-being but not their performance. In fact, the athletes initially experienced reduced energy levels and an inability to undertake high-intensity bouts of exercise.”

The key to muscle building?

So what about for those of us who are doing our workouts in the gym? Well, this time the picture is a bit clearer when it comes to keto diets. The bottom line for us is that carbohydrates and the insulin they produce in our bodies perform a fundamental role in promoting muscle growth – so cutting the carbs will have a direct impact on your body’s ability to produce the muscles you’re after. Carbohydrates also help our bodies to recover more quickly, by reducing the impact of an intense workout on our immune system. So, once again, carbs have a big role to play in helping us to workout hard, build muscles and recover quickly. In the light of this, reducing the amount of carbs you consume, and forcing your body to burn fat instead, will clearly not help with muscle growth.

Ultimately, our take on keto diets is this. If you are looking to burn off a bit of extra fat and perhaps change your body composition for the better, then it is probably well worth giving these kinds of diet a try. But, if you are a body builder looking to grow muscle or a runner trying to improve your performance, then the jury is still very much out. The research that has been done on keto diets and the impact on performance just isn’t there yet – and what there is suggests that the benefits are mixed.

So, if you’re an ultra runner who wants to get better at being able to use your stores of fat to keep you going through to mile 50, then a keto diet might be a great way to prepare your body for this. But, if you’re a body builder or just some one who wants to feel energised and healthy when they run then you might be best sticking to the carbs for now.

 

Jurg Widmer Probst

A beginner’s guide to running further

Whether it’s completing a 100km ultra marathon or just managing to jog to work every day, as runners most of will have goals that we want to achieve. It is the way we measure ourselves, and how we set targets that will hopefully push us to improve, little by little. These targets can be about beating a specific time – maybe a sub-three hour marathon – or perhaps you might have a certain number of kilos you’d like to shed. Continue reading “A beginner’s guide to running further”

Jurg Widmer

Why less is sometimes more when it comes to workouts

The many excuses we come up with for not going to the gym are often longer than the queues for the most popular equipment. We are great at telling ourselves that we either have too much work, we’re too tired, or we simply just don’t have time to go and work out. So is there a way to get more out of the workouts we are able to squeeze in? Is it possible to do shorter workouts, but get the same benefits? We believe it is, so here are our top tips for getting more out of shorter gym sessions. Continue reading “Why less is sometimes more when it comes to workouts”