Romanian deadlift

Crucial for propelling your in your running, one of the most effective workouts for strengthening your glutes and hamstrings is the Romanian deadlift. Originally developed by Romanian weightlifter, Nicu Vlad, when performed correctly, it involves a hip hinge movement and uses the muscles that are vital in performing other excerises in lifting, jumping and sprinting.

While your glutes and hamstrings are engaged – you’ll find that the muscles in the front (quadriceps) are also being used, as well as the upper back muscles, which is an effective way of strengthening your back muscles and posture (along side other back exercises). 

Technique

  • Hold the bar with an overhand grip approximately shoulder-width (your thumbs should brush the outside of your thighs).
  • Place your feet approximately hip-width apart, with knees soft and your feet straight ahead.
  • Maintaining a flat back position, bend forward at the hips lowering the bar towards the floor.
  • Reverse the position, extend your hips and return to the start position. 
  • Perform 8-10 reps (3-4 sets) 
  • Safety tip: keep your shoulder blades engaged as you lower.

For information about strength and conditioning training, check out The Strength & Conditioning Bible: How to train Like an Athlete by fitness expert and coach Nick Grantham

Kettlebell exercises

2016 might’ve been the year of the kettlebell craze, but the versatile piece of equipment continues to enjoy its time in the limelight thanks to its amazing benefits to overall body strength and conditioning. ‘There’s a good reason why these scary-looking cast-iron weights are still being used in gyms,’ says celebrity trainer Nick Mays of ikeepfit.com. ‘They’re user-friendly (you can use them in or out of the gym and only need one bell to get an all-over workout), and allow you to swing from one move to the next without stopping, creating a cardio and resistance workout all at once.’

Researchers also found a 20-minute kettlebell workout can torch almost 400 calories, the equivalent of running a six-minute mile pace, or cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace. ‘This is just one of a long list of benefits,’ says Mays. ‘You’ll not only get a higher-intensity workout than standard weight-training routines, you’ll add definition to your entire body while improving heart and lung efficiency and working the body in a completely different way. This is because the kettlebells’ weight isn’t evenly distributed, so your stabiliser muscles have to work extra hard to keep your body balanced.’ Whether you’re a kettlebell veteran or complete beginner, here’s how you can get in on the action.

Start with the first move and do the exercises back-to-back with as little rest as possible. Rest for two minutes then repeat for a total of three circuits. Not only will your heart rate go through the roof, you’ll get an all-over burn in less than 30 minutes.

Swing

Grab a kettlebell with both hands, letting the bell hang in front of you. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and swing the bell between your legs and behind your hips. Immediately stand up and swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height while pushing your hips forward and contracting your gluteals. Drop back to the starting position.

Chest pass rotation

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold your kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Keeping your elbows close to your body, contract your abdominals and rotate your torso to the right, pressing the bell out once you’re all the way around. Pause, then return to the start, this time rotating your torso to the left and pressing the weight out to the left.

Plie squat to row

Stand with your feet wide and toes pointing out to the sides. Hold your kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Slowly lower into a squat and go as deep as you can, keeping your knees and toes aligned. Pause, then push back up through your heels. Row the kettlebell up towards your chest once you’re back up standing before lowering it back to the starting position.

Pilates exercises

Whether you’re a runner, recovering from injury or just want to boost core strength – Pilates is a go-to workout for many. If you want to make your workouts more effective and boost your body, try these exercises.

Pilates can really help you to focus on specific exercises in order to enhance your shape, says Nadine McCann, instructor at Bootcamp Pilates (bootcamppilates.com). ‘All bodies are different and it pays to know what works for you’. Certain moves can add definition to your body and everyone can benefit from the postural power of pilates. ‘Pilates is great for sculpting the body and stabilising muscles deep in the body’.

1) Toe taps

Technique: 

  • Start lying on your back with legs lifted and knees bent above your hips, shins parallel to the floor and arms relaxed at your sides, palms down. Keep your lower abs engaged and your back flat on the mat.
  • Inhale, then exhale as you hinge at your hip, lowering your right leg toward the mat.
  • Inhale to return the leg to start position and change sides.
  • Alternate legs repeat 10-12 reps pm each sides, bring feet to the floor to rest.
  • Repeat for 2 sets.

2) Criss-cross

Technique:

  • Lying on your back, interlace your hands behind your head to support your head. Lift your knees and feet off the ground with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  • Inhale as you twist your ribcage to the left and extend your right leg forward.
  • Exhale as you take your body through the centre, twisting your ribcage to the right while extending your left leg to complete the exercise on the opposite side.
  • Do 6 twists alternating sides. Do 3 sets in total.

3) Glute bridge

Technique:

  •  Lie on your back, with your knees bent. Place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, with your arms at your side.
  • Exhale as you lift your hips off the floor until your ribcage is in line with yur hips and knees. Press down evenly through both feet.
  • Inhale as you squeeze your glutes for three seconds and then exhale as you lower your hips slowly back down to the mat.
  • Do 15-20 reps, the rest pulling your knees to your chest, then repeat once more.

4) Side plank twists

Technique: 

  • Starting in a side plank poisition, with one hand directly under your shoulder, place your top hand behind your head, with yur elbow pointing straight up.
  • Inhale and twist your chest upward.
  • Exhale and rotate your chest toward the floor.
  • Do 5-8 reps per side and rest before repeating on the other side.

5) Side reach

Technique: 

  • Sit with your knees bent and legs tucked behind you to the right,  supporting your weight with your left hand and keeping your arm straight,
  • Inhale to prepare. Exhale you lift your hip away from the mat, extending your top legs as your top arm reaches overhead. You’re aiming to lift your side up toward the ceiling.
  • Inhale to return to the start position.
  • Do 6-8 reps on each side and rest, before repeating the whole thing once more. 

6) Swimming

Technique:

  • Lie on your stomach with your forehead down and arms extended out in front. Extend your legs with your toes pointed out.
  • Focus on pressing your pelvis into the mat  while drawing your belly button away from the mat. Squeeze your inner thighs and lift your arms, legs, chest and head from the mat.
  • Inhale and exhale as normally as possible as you alternate lifting opposite arm and leg without touching the mat.
  • Count down from 10 to one then relax onto the mat to rest.

7) Side-lying leg tap

Technique: 

  • In a side plank, place your top hand on your top hip to help stabilise you. Pull in your abs and lift your waist off the mat.
  • Dip your top big toe down in front of your body to tap the floor then move the foot backward over your bottom leg and tap the floor behind you.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps each side then rest. Repeat again.

8) Plank double pulse

Technique:

  • Start in plank position, with hands directly under shoulders and your body in a straight line.
  • Inhale to prepare and as you exhale draw your left heel toward your glutes, bending at the knee.
  • Pulse in twice, squeezing your glutes, before setting your foot back down without letting your hips drop.
  • Do 8-10 on each leg, rest sitting back on your heels.

The best running shoes for you

Spring is the perfect time to take your fitness outdoors. Not only is it a great opportunity to get your fresh-air fix and boost your vitamin D levels – it’s not called the sunshine vitamin for nothing, you know! It’s also the PERFECT excuse to get some new kicks!

Whatever type of running you prefer, we’ve got a trainer for you. Getting trainers designed to suit your running style and experience is the key to a good run, and smashing any races you might have coming up. 

The Marathon Trainee

Hard-working shoes are a must if you’re training for a marathon. The Saucony Redeemer ISOs are super supportive while maintaining great flexibility. They’re also really comfortable so ideal for clocking up the miles in. (Saucony Redeemer ISO RRP £130, saucony.com)

The Barefoot Runner

If you’re not going to go the whole hog and get your jog on with your tootsies out, a great pair of minimalist shoes are essential. We love the VivoBarefoot Pure Speed shoe. It’s the ‘purest’ shoe in the range and gives you a really stripped-back ‘barefoot’ running experience. Sold! (Evo Pure Ladies, RRP £90, vivobarefoot.com)

The Running Clubber

These trainers come in some fabulous colourways – we’re digging the fluoro pops and bright laces. These lightweight, responsive shoes are perfect for the style savvy. (Sketcher GOrun 4 running shoes, RRP £94, sketchers.com)

The Newbie Runner

A good pair of trainers is key, but we understand you might not want to break the bank on that first pair of kicks. These purse-friendly Asics runners fit the bill. (Asics Gel Oberon, RRP £65, asics.co.uk)

The ‘Action Woman’ Runner

The Saucony Nomad TR is part of Saucony’s hard-wearing Run Anywhere line and offers awesome traction and durability on the trail. Perfect for acing every adventure run that comes your way. (Saucony Nomad TR, RRP £95, saucony.com) 

The Smiley Runner

These Gorun Ultra Road shoes have been updated to be even more durable – perfect for you, the energizer bunny runner who gets the bug and just keeps running! The dual-density Resalyte midsole and enhanced traction outsole make them super comfy to run in. They’re also breathable, lightweight and boast winter-ready reflective detailing. (Sketchers GOrun Ultra R, RRP £89, sketchers.com)

‘How I regained my health after bikini competitions’

After four months of strict dieting, twice-a-day gym sessions six days a week, endless chicken breasts and egg whites, layers of fake tan and learning how to walk in six-inch heels; competition day arrives. All of the sacrifices and exhausting workouts lead to those 60 seconds on stage. I had shed 12kg and got my body fat down to 11 per cent. The day comes and goes. Now what?

I found myself feeling really low’

For me, that question lingered for a long time. I placed fourth and third in my competitions, bringing home two glorious trophies which still manage to pick me up if I am feeling sorry for myself. The highs of show day leave you feeling somewhat useless once it is all over. Every day for the past 16 weeks has been dedicated to reaching one goal, and during that time nothing else outside of the competition bubble has seemed important. Yeah, I know… it seems like a selfish sport.

After the photo shoots, congratulations and celebratory cheat meals (plural indeed), I found myself feeling really low. I struggled to get back into my normal eating habits, lacked enthusiasm and lost focus. On top of that, months of strict dieting and a gruelling exercise regime left my hormone levels awry.

Sports nutritionist and dietician Helen Phadnis explains, ‘Inadequate energy intake affects not just menstruation but also bone health, cardiovascular health, metabolic rate and immunity’. The stress hormone cortisol ‘causes the release of glucose into the blood stream and insulin resistance’. In the long term, continuously raised cortisol levels can ‘directly contribute to weight gain, increasing hunger and cravings for high fat food’. To say I could relate to this is an understatement. Pizza, anyone?

Constant overeating’

Feeling low and hormonal led to binge-eating, an emotional comfort. Takeaways followed by Krispy Kremes and late night cereal, constant overeating… we’ve all been there. Jennifer Low, dietitian and health writer, describes binge-eating as a maladaptive coping mechanism that can really harm a person’s health – both physically and mentally. The person will have learned to not recognise negative feelings, they may binge as a way to cope with the feelings’.

After a week of indulging I gave up on trying to weigh my food and instead started to just eat sensibly, allowing myself a treat if I felt like it. The problem is I had no idea how many calories I was consuming, and as predicted, gave in to my sweet tooth whenever it called. Over the summer I partied, like any normal 22-year-old should if they want to (which always leads to the local kebab shop), and continued not to track my food.

My gut was irritated and I was extremely bloated’

The consequences? Five months post-show I felt awful about myself and was unable to find balance. I would eat well, binge, and then do extra cardio workouts to make up for it. More importantly, I was having gut health issues. I suffer from ulcerative colitis, a chronic irritable bowel disease, and after spending the summer consuming food that I wasn’t used to, such as dairy and alcohol, my condition flared up. My gut was irritated, I was extremely bloated and I had terrible fatigue (a common symptom of UC). A specialist put me on an eight-week steroid course to calm my symptoms – I was taking up to eight tablets per day.

Being an aspiring nutritionist, I wanted to use food as medicine where possible, too. I saw it as a push to get my eating habits back to normal, stop binging and feel healthy again. At the same time, I started an Access to Science course to study nutrition and also landed a magazine internship, which gave me a new motivation and focus.

Reverse dieting ensures your metabolism can adapt steadily’

The right thing to do straight after competing would have been to reverse diet. Jennifer Low explains that ‘calorie-restricted diets might reduce your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy you expend)’. This in turn slows your metabolism, ‘so it is then a lot easier to gain body fat once you resume normal eating’. I had been on calories as low as 1100 for four months, so you can see why my body had a shock. Reverse dieting ensures that your calories increase gradually week by week, your metabolism can adapt steadily and that you can make some lean gains.

To get back on track I began a ‘gut restoration’ plan eliminating irritants like gluten, dairy, soy, eggs and alcohol; which commonly cause my ulcerative colitis flare-ups to worsen. My plan consists of five meals spread out over the day and includes sweet potato, chicken, white fish, green veg, white rice and gluten-free oats. Little and often is the key. I lift heavy weights four to five times a week and do four 10-minute HIIT sessions a week.

12 weeks after starting my new plan I felt better than ever. I reached a maintainable weight and built muscle, my digestion and gut health improved and I am now back in love with training. I don’t obsess over the scales but I have gone from 62kg to 57kg and can see my results through weekly progress pictures. I weigh my food to ensure I hit my macro goals every day and stay in control of what I am consuming. On the other hand, if a friend wants to go out for dinner, I will happily say yes without stressing that it won’t fit into my eating plan.

I haven’t binged for months’

That is the difference between prepping for a competition and prepping to feel healthy. I know that weighing my food and being on a plan can’t last forever, just as my competition couldn’t, but I am able to maintain it for now and it has given me a positive approach to food. I haven’t binged for months, my calories are high and I don’t schedule in huge cheat meals to go wild. I simply stay on plan, but if a social event comes up or I fancy something different, I’ll go with it.

A study published by Dr. Sherry of Dalhousie University, The Perfectionism Model of Binge Eating, states that ‘individuals with a high degree of perfectionism are often setting themselves up for a host of physical, emotional and mental problems– particularly related to binge eating’. Competing is all about bringing the perfect package to stage and you can become obsessed with achieving this image.

My aim is not to put you off competing entirely, because I gained so much confidence, experience, strength and friendships from mine. My aim is to help spread the importance of setting goals after the show, and to make people aware of the damage it can cause if you push yourself to these extremes. Dr. Sherry’s study looks at the mistaken belief that ‘perfectionism will ultimately produce achievement and social success’. My journey to the stage gave me a huge sense of self-achievement, but taught me that having abs isn’t the key to happiness after all.

Aimee Corry, 22, London

@aimeecorry

Sources/references:

The Fed Cup: Diet Diaries

If you’ve been following the on-court excitement of the first round of the Fed Cup (Feb 8-11), you’ll know GB’s women have smashed their way through to tomorrow’s play off, earning themselves a chance to qualify for World Group II play-offs in April. Amazing!

The Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport – the equivalent of the Davis Cup, a team-based tournament.

This year’s talented Aegon GB Fed Cup team consists of Johanna Konta (British No.1 and World No.10), Heather Watson (British No.2), Laura Robson and doubles player, Joss Rae, overseen by captain and former British No.1 Anne Keothavong.

So how do the team stay fuelled for such formidable action? We caught up with Johanna Konta and Heather Watson, in between play, to talk about the diets that keep them on form.

Johann Konta, British No.1 

‘My diet changes daily – the timing of my matches dictates how much I eat and when. For me, the biggest part is hydration. I need to ensure I get both water and electrolytes so that I’m fully prepared to play a three-hour match if need be.

 I work with a nutritionist and have a team around me who help me get the right intake of foods. Do I enjoy cooking? Well I really enjoy eating! Most of my food is cooked for me at the National Tennis Centre but I think, with time, I’ll slowly get better at the cooking too.    

Fortunately, I don’t need to be too regimented about my calorie intake but I do need to make good choices. I’m lucky to have grown up in a household where my Dad’s motto was ‘everything in moderation’. And I picked up good habits from my Mum too. I was the kid who went to school with a tin of tuna, rye bread, carrot and celery sticks not a packet of crisps! That’s helped me nowadays.’

Breakfast: ‘I always enjoy starting the day with fruit and waiting a bit before eating breakfast. I’m a massive fan of eggs. I usually have two poached eggs – my new discovery – and avocado with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. Then I like to finish off with porridge made with almond milk.’

Lunch: ‘It varies but I always look to have a bit of protein, carbohydrates and plenty of veg. I usually have chicken or fish but don’t go to heavy on meat at lunch as I’m usually training after.’

Dinner: ‘This is a similar meal with a good combination of all the things I need to be getting. I love eating an early dinner and digesting well as it really improves my sleep. I try to stick to local food wherever I am as it’s always the best. For instance, in Australia, there’s a great variety of fresh seafood so I overdosed on lots of fish, rice and salad.’

Fuelling up: ‘Post warm-up, I might have a tiny bit of protein shake, just to get something in, and possibly graze on some food if there’s time, plus electrolyte drink and water.’

Recovery: ‘Straight after I come off court, I drink a protein recovery shake with water. I look to drink it within the first 15-20 minutes.’

Supplements: ‘Because my body is under more strain than normal, it’s important to replace nutrients. I take an array of vitamins, omegas, glutamine (an amino acid) and zinc.’

Treats: ‘Everyone knows I love gelato and pizza! I actually see gelato more as a necessity for mental wellbeing and that, in turn, comes through in my physical wellbeing. Pizza is more of a treat.’

 

Heather Watson, British No.2

‘My main nutrition strategy is to be healthy and have as much energy as possible on the court. That means lots of fruit and vegetables, lots of carbs for energy and,  after I finish training, lots of protein. 

I feel a massive difference if I don’t eat healthily. If I ate a Chinese takeaway the night before training, I’d feel a lot more tired and have less energy. I never look at calories. If I’m hungry, I’ll eat. Obviously, you don’t want to overeat and be full – the worst thing is training and feeling like you want to throw up or being superbloated! It’s better to eat often and little. 

A nutritionist at the LTA called Glen helps me out with my diet but I don’t follow a strict programme. It’s a very simple approach: everything in moderation. When I’m hungry, I eat and when I’m not, I don’t eat – that’s so I don’t get fat! I like to listen to how I feel and my nutritionist has a similar outlook so it works really well. I don’t believe in following diets or cutting things out, I just believe in eating healthily.’ 

Breakfast: ‘Today I had toasted bread with salmon and poached eggs. I probably should have had some fruit but I was full! If I’m doing a run first thing (out of season), I don’t want to eat as I’ll get a stitch so I have a few sips water and maybe one bite of something.’ 

Lunch: ‘This is probably my favourite meal of the day. I can’t eat a lot in the morning so I’m always starving! Today it’s chicken with pumpkin risotto.’ 

Dinner: ‘Tonight, I’m having grilled salmon with garlic spinach. I won’t need much carbohydrate I’ll have had lunch late after training. It all depends how my body feels. I try anything and everything! Today I had some herring at breakfast; I’ve tried alligator and shark, and what I really love is eel and sea urchin. I’m very adventurous!’

Fuelling up: ‘If I have lots of time before a match, I’ll have pasta. If not I’ll have something lighter like rice – all very plain. I drink loads of electrolyte drink to make sure I’m hydrated.’ 

Refuelling: ‘After a match, I’m never hungry but it’s important to have something to help your muscles repair in those first 20 minutes. What works for me is chocolate milk.’

Supplements: ‘I’m not big on supplements, I prefer a more natural approach.’

Treats: ‘I love my treats! The important thing is not to go over the top as I don’t have a limit! The day before I left (for the Fed Cup), I had a chocolate éclair. The thing I crave most is crisps because they’re salty. But I wouldn’t eat them during a tournament because, mentally, I wouldn’t want to know I’d had them.’

 

The Aegon GB Fed Cup team play the first round of the Fed Cup in Estonia, February 8-11. For updates, visit www.lta.org.uk/FedCup