Last month I represented King's College London at the BASES (British Association of Sports and Exercise Science) student conference in Portsmouth, England... home to the navy! It was lovely to see the south coast of this wonderful country, the Spinnaker tower (which we didn't go up), and the Isle of White in the distance. It was nice to be by the sea and see all the boats coming and going. I was very tempted to hop on a ferry to France!
The BASES conference itself was an interesting experience. For so long I have been immersed in the dance community but it was nice to step out of my comfort zone and experience a sports science event and some of the current research that students are participating in within this field. Some of the student presentations were very impressive!
Highlights of the conference included...
Talk from Katherine Grainger, British rower, 6 time world champion and 4 time Olympic Medalist!
Wow! What an amazing speaker! She was absolutely hilarious and engaging, while so down to earth. She spoke from her heart about her experiences as an Olympic athlete; from the thrill of winning her first Olympic medal in Sydney to the crushing disappointment losing to China in 2008, and then to her ultimate victory and gold medal at London 2012. Even though we all knew the end of the story, (she won!) I swear everyone was on the tip of their seats as she dramatically recapped the final minutes before the race.
As someone who is involved in the training of athletes, it was interesting to hear her speak of her team extending far beyond the members that sat in the boat on race day. From her coach to her physiologist, nutritionist, and her strength and conditioning coach, they were all with her on race day, and all played a roll in her finally winning that gold medal (which she whipped out of her back pocket at the end!!).
A tour and demonstration of Portsmouth University's environmental lab.
The facilities at Portsmouth University in their Sports Science department are AMAZING! Including, 3 climatic chambers that can range from -40 to + 40 degrees Celsius, change humidity, wind chill, and mimic environments of high altitude.
They also have a full submersion pool and we watched a demonstration of a student volunteer submersed into freezing cold water. We witnessed how her core temperature, heart rate, strength, coordination and energy expenditure changed as her body adapted over the 25 minutes they kept her in there for. The things people do for science!
They also have a swimming flume to train athletes swimming against resistance and loads of visual 3D software. It was so cool to see the space, and all the cool research that can be done using these facilities.
Some innovative presentations of current research from students in the exercise and health session. Some of these included:
I specifically found interesting a study that investigated into a new term that is on the rise called 'metabolically healthy obesity'. BMI (body mass index) is a common measurement used by health professionals to measure obesity.
BMI = weight (kg)/ Height (m)2.
Generally the following classifications are used to determine a healthy BMI:
As a measurement of weight in relation to height, BMI does not take into account other factors that can determine health other than weight. As muscle and fat have different densities, someone with lots of muscle mass will have a high BMI and thus athletes often fall prey to having very high BMIs. A small subset of 'obese' people are now being classified as metabolically healthy. This research study looked at the prevalence of metabolically healthy obesity in male rugby players - meaning by BMI terms these people are obese, however in terms of other health factors including body fat percentage, physical fitness and insulin resistance they are considered healthy. This study, along with some other emerging studies on the topic reaffirmed the idea that there may be better ways to measure health in athletes (and other populations) than BMI.
Attending the BASES conference reminded how it is so SO great to get out there and see what other professionals are doing in the same field. For me, staying up to date with current research is so important in staying active in this field and being able to apply best practice to the people I work with. This conference reinstated my motivation to continue with more research in the coming years! Stay tuned for some future research projects I've got up my sleeve.
To go along with the 'core' theme of late, today’s exercise is the PLANK!
Strengthening your Core
Strengthening your core is essential for a healthy spine and a healthy, and optimally functioning body. The core consists of a complex set of muscles that extend far beyond just the abdominal muscles and include all muscles that attach to the spine and pelvis. If you look at the anatomy of the spine, you will see that the ribs attach to the thoracic spine providing anterior support in that region. There are however no bony structures supporting the front of the lumbar spine. It's not surprising why, when people complain of back pain it is usually first in the lower back. For this reason, it is so important to develop strong abdominal muscles to keep the lumbar spine supported and able to move fluidly with ease. The deep inner abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, multifidus) are essential components to a strong core and are important for stability and postural control. Many people doing conventional exercise programmes forget about these little guys. These, along with the larger more superficial muscles that aid in movement work together to create a stable and strong core! With a strong core, you are able to perform movements with more fluidity and ease in a safe manner.
The plank exercise is so great for your abominals, but it's even better because it also works your entire core including your arms, shoulders, back, legs, bum…. etc. The plank is an example of an integration core exercise, which means it is a complex, multi-joint exercise that works a combination of muscle groups simultaneously. An isolation exercise on the other hand, is a single joint exercise that works only one muscle group ie. crunches which work only the superficial muscles in the tummy; basic, simple and what we now understand to be not all that effective!
A research study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed that integrative core exercises elicited greater activation of both the proximal muscles (abdominals) and distal muscles (shoulders, arms, glutes) of the trunk while incorporating balance and proprioception challenges (Gottschall et al., 2013). This was shown through EMG (electromyography) a measurement of the force the muscles had to exert to perform the exercises. Yay plank!
I love doing the plank, but I absolutely HATE how boring it is. I can’t think of anything worse than just holding a plank for 2 minutes - well maybe holding it for 3 minutes! So, I’ve started making my planks more dynamic! Incorporating additional movement allows you to challenge all the nooks and crannies of your core while dynamically moving and having a bit more fun.
From a functional perspective, incorporating movement into core work is valuable as well. The static plank isn't actually all that functional of an exercise! I mean, when in life will you find yourself forced to statically balance on your forearms and toes, remaining perfectly horizontal to the ground. You will however, most likely require core strength whilst moving through life; walking up stairs, picking up a box from the floor, getting up and down off the floor. These are movements that happen in all planes of movement and therefore core strength is important through various planes of movement as well.
With stability must come mobility and that is why a dynamic plank is so much more functional!
Here are a selection of ways you can spice up your plank! Apologies to those in Canada who are still facing the brutality of winter. Spring has arrived in London! Watch this video and try adding these movements into your core routine.
Pointers to Remember:
Keep your back straight and your belly button drawing in towards your back the entire time. At all times, you are trying to create a straight line from the head to the toes, allowing for the natural curves of the spine. If at any point you feel like your lower back is starting to arch, lower your knees to the floor for a little rest, then lift back up. It’s not worth a back injury! At the same time, don't allow your bum to creep up so you make an upside down V with our body.
Forearm plank / Straight arm plank
Forearm plank with rocking
Straight arm plank with rocking
Plank Up and Downs (alternating arm that leads)
Mountain climbers (with twist)
Plank twists with leg raise
Plank twists with bum drops and leg raise
Plank to downward dog
Plank Kick Ups (alternating right and left leg)
Walking plank (moving right and left)
7 minute Dynamic Plank routine:
Try performing each dynamic plank movement for 20 seconds, with 10s rest between movements. Then finish off holding forearm plank and straight arm plank for 30s each!
Have fun planking!!
Gottschall, Jinger S; Mills, Jackie; Hastings, Bryce. (2013). Integration Core Exercises Elicit Greater Muscle Activation Than Isolation Exercises. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27 (3). 590-596.
A few clients have recently asked me about exercises they can do to strengthen their backs. So, I have put together a series of progressive exercises to get you moving towards a stronger and healthier back.
Most clients ask me for back exercises because they want to get rid of their wobbly bits... Great we can help do that! BUT... It's important to understand there are other important reasons to not ignore your back in a core programme. The core muscles are arguably the most fundamental muscles for good health. They are essential for everyday functional movements whether you are picking something up from the floor, getting out of bed, or simply standing upright. Despite what many people think, your back muscles are actually part of your core. A strong core is important for a strong body and a strong back is essential for a strong core.
A little back anatomy
The back is divided into four regions. The upper back is composed of the cervical spine (the neck region) the middle back is the thoracic spine (behind the rib cage) the lower back is the lumbar spine and then the very bottom tip of the spine is the sacrum composed of five bones that fuse together throughout life. I just found out actually that the sacrum doesn't fully fuse together in most people until their mid thirties!
The spine has four major movements. It can flex like when you curl forward; it can extend as you come back up straight (or hyper-extend as you look up to the sky); it can laterally flex in a side bend; or it can rotate (twist). The muscles at the front of the body (abdominals) are responsible for flexing the spine where as the muscles on the back of the body extend it. Side bending and rotating require muscles from both the front and back of the body. Different regions of the spine will have more or less mobility depending on the specific movement, however a healthy spine is able to perform all four of these movements with ease and fluidity.
The spine is the framework for the back. Attached are various muscles that intricately support the spine from different angles. When the muscles and ligaments that support the spine are weak, unnecessary stress is placed on the spine.
Many people who sit at a desk or computer all day may begin to develop a kyphotic posture over time. As the back muscles become weak and your centre of gravity begins to shift forward, this can place extra and unnecessary stress as a chain effect down the body and ultimately may lead to pain. Pain= Not good! But not to worry, there is so much that can be done to counteract this! And you can begin with starting to strengthen your back muscles! And then on top of that... Yes, strong backs are sexy.
This post will focus on some progressive exercises that you can do to strengthen you back. It is important that in any whole body exercise programme however, you should be doing exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front and side of the body as well to ensure muscle balance, promote optimal posture and reduce injury. But that's for another day!
Progressive exercises to strengthen the back
1) Robot arms
This exercise will help strengthen the thoracic region of your spine. It is a really good exercise for people who sit hunched over a desk at their computer all day as it opens the chest while strengthening the back.
Progression: From the lifted position, extend your arms up to the 'high V' position then back.
2) Quadruped Arm and Leg Reach
This is a great exercise to strengthen the back while also helping to integrate core support with arm and leg movements. Really focus on maintaining that connection from your navel to your spine to avoid arching in the lower back.
Try to create a long line from the tip of your finger to your toes, lengthening the spine and the neck. Keep your hip bones and pubic bone parallel to the floor so you aren't tipping the pelvis.
Progression: Add in 10 little pulses in the outstretched position before returning the limbs to the floor.
3) Thera-band Rows
You can increase or decease the intensity of this exercise by using different levels of resistance. If you have access to a gym, the cable machine is great to use for this exercise.
Progression: Increase the repetitions or the resistance.
4) Bent over lateral arm raise
This is a more advanced exercise and it's important you have a substantial amount of core support and abdominal strength to do it correctly. Beginners can still do this exercise lying face down on a bench so the arms extend and hang vertically while building up the abdominal strength to one day do it fully.
Keep the arms in line with the shoulders (or very slightly below shoulder level) and the neck long. Try and avoid changing this upper body position throughout the exercise. The goal is to stay horizontal throughout the whole movement!
Progression: Challenge your balance by lifting one foot slightly off the floor.
Enjoy these exercises and a stronger, healthier back!
I did this Ladder Run today before work and it was amazing! It is a variation of an interval workout - it's not an interval session in the traditional sense that it alternates between periods of high intensity work and rest, but still works with the concept of alternating periods of higher intensity work with lower intensity work in a more gradual way.
This workout is a great way to increase your running speed! And for all you Canadians who have been stuck indoors due to the cold it's a great way to challenge yourself with a short but intense run so you're not on the treadmill for hours. Always warm up with 5 minutes of walking/ light jogging and some dynamic stretches and finish with some stretches specifically for the quads, calves, glutes and hamstrings.
Obviously the running speeds can be increased or decreased depending on your own abilities. I am naturally more comfortable running long distances vs running fast so I am gradually trying to improve my speed through more interval style runs. For people who are faster runners you may have to up the speed whereas newer runners may want to start at a pace closer to 5 m/h.
As a general way to gauge appropriate speed, the middle interval should be your 10 km race pace. I'm doing a 10 km race at the end of March and am aiming for under 50 minutes, so my race pace is approximately 7.5 m/h or 8 minute miles (5 minute km). Get out your calculators and find your race pace!
What this workout is doing
1) Increasing your VO2 max: VO2 max stands for maximal oxygen uptake. This run is actually quite similar to a VO2 max test which progressively increases in intensity until you can either run no more, or your oxygen uptake plateaus. As the intensity of activity increases, your muscles require more oxygen (hence why you start to breath harder and faster). The more oxygen your body can take in and the more efficient your body is at delivering that oxygen to your muscles, the harder they will be able to work. If your capacity to take in oxygen is high, you will be able to run faster and harder for longer. By working up in that VO2 max range, you are stressing (good stress) and challenging your capacity to increase.
2) Increasing your lactate threshold: Lactate is a byproduct of the process of glucose breaking down to produce energy. All day long your body is producing lactate as it produces energy from glucose, however it also has an efficient process of clearing lactate (some people more efficient than others). When the intensity of work is low - ie. just walking around town - your body can clear lactate at the rate that it is being produced. As you increase the intensity of your workout however, lactate increases at a faster rate than it can be cleared. This is your threshold! It's that burning sensation in your muscles and what ultimately stops you from continuing. By progressively increasing speed as you make your way up the ladder without rest, you are training the body to work close to that threshold and push that threshold further and further along. The point is to feel uncomfortable in those faster intervals, that means you are challenging your lactate threshold.
3) Increasing your recovery ability: Once you've progressed up the ladder to your fastest speed, you have one minute at a slower pace to recover before moving up the ladder for set 2. Although you may want to jump off the treadmill for a minute of complete rest research has shown that active recovery is more efficient than rest at removing lactate that accumulates during high intensity exercise. As well, you are teaching your body to recover from the faster pace while continuing to run and over time your body will become more efficient at this recovery process even if at first you don't feel like you are getting so much of a rest!
4) Increasing your confidence running at a faster pace: This is actually a huge one! It's amazing how much psychology comes into play in running speed. I used to always run at 6 m/h. It was my speed. Whether I was running outside, or on a treadmill I would set the speed for 6 m/h and run for an hour. But I've realized now I wasn't able to improve because I was always staying in that maintenance zone without overloading which is essential for improvement. By increasing the speed in short 2 minute intervals, it is a manageable way to psychologically get over the hurdle of running at those faster paces.
Ways to Progress
There are various ways to progress this workout once you've done it a few times and feel comfortable with it. Here are a few suggestions:
Increase the speed: Instead of starting at 6.5 m/h try starting at 6.6 and doing each interval 0.1 m/h faster. You probably won't notice that much of a difference but after 5 runs you will be starting at a completely different pace!
Increase the time of each interval: Try progressing to 3 minute intervals for 2-3 rounds.
Increase the number of rounds: Aim to progress to 5 rounds of this workout! That's 50 minutes of running - you will be KNACKERED!
Variety is the key!
This isn't the only exercise to push the intensity of your runs, and not necessarily even the BEST. But... it might be something slightly difference than what you are used to do. The key is challenging your body in different ways and varying it up from run to run. By running at a constant speed day in and day out not only will you not improve, but your body will begin to adapt to that stress over time and you will actually be doing a disservice to yourself. Try this run out and let me know what you think!
This month, I wrote a piece that was featured in the IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine & Science) newsletter which I wanted to share. It has caused a bit of a stir among members who are opposed to my suggestions, however I feel confident and passionate that a change is a comin' and it's up to us, members of the IADMS community, to lead the way. Confident enough to share this with a wider audience.
For those who are unaware, IADMS is an international association composed of dance artists, researchers, educators, physicians, therapists, company directors and dance enthusiasts! I've been fortunate enough to serve on the student committee for the past year and have become deeply involved in the fantastic work IADMS does.
Dance science is a vast field that encompasses a wide number of aims. Because of this, IADMS is a multi-disciplinary organization which I believe is one of its greatest strengths. Although the most common aim of dance science is to optimize the health and wellbeing of dancers, a collection of therapists and researchers are interested in how dance, as an intrinsically healing tool, can be used with other populations. Until now, IADMS has tiptoed around this topic not wanting to step on the toes of dance therapy organizations.
Much of my interest and experience in the health and fitness field comes from working with people of all different abilities including children, elderly and people with Parkinson's. I decided to follow this pathway for my Masters degree thesis and investigated a dance imagery programme for people with Parkinson's. But we'll save that for another day!
I did however, present my work at the IADMS Annual Meeting in Seattle last year. Here were my thoughts...
To the IADMS community...
This was my first year attending an IADMS Annual Meeting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being surrounded by so many passionate people left me feeling inspired and optimistic about the future of dance science. I had the pleasure of presenting my research, which was an investigation into the effects of a dance imagery program for people with Parkinson's. There were three presentations on topics related to Parkinson's, indicating that dance for health research is certainly growing.
When submitting my proposal, I was asked to address how my presentation related to the mission of IADMS - that of enhancing the health, well-being, training, and performance of dancers by cultivating educational, medical, and scientific excellence.
After re-reading this statement, I feared that my research might fall-short given that it focused on dance as an intrinsically therapeutic tool with ‘other’ populations. Not traditional dancers. To my delight, the selection panel accepted my abstract, however this got me thinking that perhaps it is time for our mission to more clearly acknowledge dance for health research.
Fantastic work is being undertaken in this area and most certainly evolving at a fast pace. I would like to propose that IADMS’ mission more fully embraces dance for health research in its mandate. Expanding our mission would help us bridge connections with those doing innovative work in this field; it could increase funding by addressing health based government initiatives and increase awareness about IADMS - resulting in attracting more members!
By embracing dance for health research, IADMS will encourage us to consider how we define the “dancer”? Is an elderly man in his third year of dance classes just as much a dancer as a child in her first ballet class? Is the woman just diagnosed with Parkinson's, who has rediscovered her love of movement—as opposed to her fear of loss of movement—not a dancer? Why exclude innovative scientists and practitioners who have tapped into the healing power of dance?
For those who are challenged by this idea or feel that IADMS is crossing boundaries with dance therapy, I urge you to recall that 23 years ago IADMS was in its infancy and dance psychology research appeared irrelevant. We now fully appreciate the importance of keeping our dancers both physically and psychologically healthy, and indeed at the 23rd Annual Meeting in Seattle, we witnessed numerous presentations addressing dance psychology topics. I believe the multidisciplinary nature of IADMS is one of our greatest strengths and what sets us apart from other organizations.
In her opening remarks this year, Past President Emma Redding proposed that dance science may no longer be considered a “new and emerging” field of dance research and might even be
considered a distinguished field. We have established ourselves as members of the scientific community and are now able to push boundaries, take risks, and expand our goals.
I believe it is time for us to be more confident of what our mission stands for so that it encompasses more clearly dance for health for a wider group of dancers. Bold steps are the result of confidence and maturity. I can only imagine where the future of dance science will go.
Hi, I'm Hannah. I'm a Registered Massage Therapist, Movement specialist and dance science consultant, I am a Registered Provider for Safe in Dance International and teach workshops and courses related to Safe Dance Practice. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.