“Often people come to me when the pain gets too bad to ignore,” says Josephine, Head of Physiotherapy at Soho Fitness Lab. “But if they came in before this then the recovery is often much quicker and they need to see me less.”
By Amy Hopkinson
Train for life but recover like an athlete with London's sportiest techniques. Let us introduce Fascial Stretch, postural assessment massage and prehab before rehab.
It’s the ultimate stand off: do you spend 10-minutes stretching, really stretching, or do you make a mad dash for the shower queue and subsequently have enough time for a coffee en route to work?
Any PT worth their qualification will drum the answer into you: spend less time massaging your scalp and invest the minutes in your muscles.
If they don't, question whether they have a Level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instructing and Personal Training then take this advice.
According to Lee Mullins, founder of Workshop Gymnasium, recovery should be pre-planned in the same way you do your workouts.
“In an ideal world we’d all spend 10 minutes each day releasing our muscles through stretch, foam rolling or yoga,” he told us. “You should double this for every strength session you do.”
For the average gym-goer that’s three 20-minute sessions a week. The focus is to increase motion, flexibility and ultimately muscle strength.
This is your baseline and believe us, this investment is one of the best ways to injury-proof your body.
But at times you’ll need more; perhaps your training harder or what you thought was just a knot in your shoulder becomes a nuisance. For these there’s the expert treatments.
FASCIAL STRETCH AT WORKSHOP GYMNASIUM TO INCREASE FLEXIBILITY
“One piece of your fascia, your connective tissue, can run from your little toe up to your head,” Brian Walpole, Director of Personal Training and Fascial Stretch Specialist told us. “Stretching individual muscles is good, but for the ultimate release you want to stretch this tissue in planes of movement.”
Sounding weird? Let us explain.
Fascia, the body’s web of gluey connective tissues, is the biological fabric that’s key to stability and movement. If it gets jammed up fluid can’t reach all the tissue and it becomes dehydrated. Think of it like a dry sponge.
The focus of FST is to make these layers as pliable as possible, in turn this increases hydration and reduces the risk of tears or ruptures.
The process all very pleasant: you’ll lie on a table and the therapist will stretch your legs this way, that way and perhaps some other way too.
Don’t be surprised if you hear a hip pop or a shoulder crunch. This treatment works at the deepest level – your joint capsule.
Need more convincing? America’s top athletes receive this conditioning treatment. If you want to train like an athlete you should make time to recovery like one too.
EQUISSAGE AT EQUINOX TO HELP WITH POSTURAL PROBLEMS
Don’t be thrown by the Google search results, Equissage is not for horses but humans.
Next, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, 'are you symmetrical?'. Be honest, is one shoulder slightly higher than the other? When ignored, these common postural problems can develop into bigger imbalances.
At Equinox, London, the therapists custom-tailor treatments based on postural assessment.
Unlike standard massage, the therapist will target the areas that need extra release – a tight left hip might be causing your shoulder issue – to increase movement and alignment.
Not a member? No worries. Book a treatment that’s 50 min or longer and you can use the facilities after (read: make full use of the Kiehl's beauty products and lounge serving Fresh Fitness Food).
Don't be surprised to see athletes when you're there either. In the past Equinox has teamed up with national sports teams and Robert Lynch (their Muay Thai coach) trains Olympians.
How to carve your abs and get a flat stomach, without hurting your back
By Francesca Menato
Many people on a mission to get abs wind up with backache. Between throwing yourself up during a sit up to activating the wrong muscles, there are a lot of technique issues on most gym floors.
We spoke to Soho Fitness Lab physiotherapist Josephine O’Callaghan to find out the key mistakes that she sees time and time again.
So, stop bracing the wrong bits and start engaging the right bits...
1. WEIGHTING YOUR FEET DURING SIT UPS
Getting a friend to hold your feet or hooking them under a bench for stability during a sit up is an old fashioned habit. Stop it now.
Josephine explains, all this does is allow you to use other muscles to power the movement; "you start to put more pressure on your hips than your actual abdominals."
2. NOT LEARNING TO ACTIVATE YOUR UPPER AND LOWER ABDOMINALS
When doing any kind of stomach work, it's important to think about the muscles that you are using during a movement.
Leg raises will engage your lower abdominals while Russian twists will work on your obliques (the sides of your stomach). If you can't feel where you are working, it's likely that you're not working the right bits at all.
Josephine explains: Not activating the correct muscles “can cause people to get very tight in their hips and eventually even get quite lordotic (when there is an exaggerated curve in the spine).
If this is sounds familiar, you'll probably not be getting much of a six pack and may have quite a lot of tenderness in your lower back and hips."
3. OVER USING YOUR HIPS & QUADS
How do you tilt your pelvis during a sit up? The answer may be the difference between a six pack and back problems.
"It's important to spend a bit of time making sure you know how to engage your lower abdominals, the best way to do that is with a correct pelvic tilt," she says.
When doing an exercise where you start lying on your back, it's essential that your pelvis is tilting up with your lower back flat on the ground.
To take this one step forward stretch out your hip flexors with a pigeon stretch before you even get to lying on your back.
4. BRACING THE UPPER BODY & NECK
The other place that takes the strain of incorrect form is the upper back and neck. People pull themselves up using power from their neck and shoulders rather than engaging their upper abdominals, the area of the stomach that should engage during the up part of a sit-up.
"You shouldn’t feel it in your back or your neck at all. If you do, you’re probably coming forwards with your head too soon and trying to use momentum to get off the ground," Josephine explains.
Nix this bad habit by only coming up a third or quarter of the way and engaging the right muscles.
5. THINKING ABS = CORE STRENGTH
You have different muscle groups in the core and there's a big difference between the ones that look like 'abs' and the ones that stabilise and support the rest of your body.
Josephine tells us: "You’ve got your postural abdominal muscles and then you’ve got the ones which you generate movement with. You need to know which ones you're using."
The muscles you use to stabilise during full body movements like a curtsey lunge are the former of these, the ones you feel activating during ab exercises like a sit up would be the latter. It’s important to strengthen both.
6. STARTING WITH LOADED EXERCISES
All of the pains and imbalances caused by bad technique are only exacerbated by adding weights.
It can be tempting to work with weights - we all know the benefits of resistance work - but if you're not engaging the right muscles, it’s counter-productive. "Worst-case scenario you end up with back pain, best-case scenario you don’t end up with a six pack anyway," she says.
THE BEST ABS EXERCISES TO CORRECT TECHNIQUE
Josephine tells us: "Start with smaller, easier movements such as a roll down instead of a sit up.
"You can also try core exercises like three leg planks or dead bugs, so you’re lifting the legs alternatively, by breaking things down you engage the muscles separately. Also, don’t forget oblique work, do side planks too."