Jul 262017

Well there are lots of changes this month aren’t there?  Just to let you know that our Pilates class at Barnack Village Hall on Monday 14th August will be at a different time, just for that day only.  On this date we will be meeting at Barnack at 1pminstead of the earlier time of 1115am – this is just because I have a hospital appointment early on in the day where I am not allowed to eat all morning and I really don’t want you to have to suffer a class with me where I haven’t eaten – it will be awful trust me, eurggg low blood sugar!

 Posted by at 3:43 pm
Jul 262017

Well there is some exciting news adrift – Empingham Audit Hall is having a spruce up in the way of a new lick of paint!  This means that the hall will be closed to us for the 2 weeks that the maintenance will take place.  Please do not despair as I would really not like for you to miss out on your Dancefit fix, we are taking our classes on tour to …………Edith Weston Village Hall!
We used to have our Zumba classes there years ago so I know what a lovely hall it is.  The hall can be found at 1 Rectory Lane, Edith Weston, LE15 8HE – there is onroad parking.

So this means we will not be at Empingham Audit Hall on the following days but will be at Edith Weston Village Hall:

Tuesday 1st August
Friday 4th August
Tuesday 8th August
Friday 11th August.

After these dates the classes will resume as per normal at Empingham.  No other classes will be affected.

 Posted by at 3:43 pm
Jul 262017

I tried pilates to cure my bad back – here’s what happened next

Watch and learn

On a Friday afternoon around this time last year, I pressed send on the weekly weather column I write for the Telegraph and leant back in my office chair to notice a curious burning in my shoulder that stretched all the way down to the elbow.

I dismissed it as nothing more than a mutated version of the typical aches and pains any writer gets after a long spell in front of a screen.

My right shoulder had seized up so badly overnight that it was clamped against my chin in the manner of Lurch from the Addams Family.

It was only when I was cycling home that evening and discovered I couldn’t lift my neck properly to assess the oncoming traffic that I realised there might be a more serious problem.

The next morning I woke up with a right shoulder that had seized up so badly overnight that it was clamped against my chin in the manner of Lurch from the Addams Family.

Joe Shute still trying to perfect that 'mermaid' pose
Joe Shute still trying to perfect that ‘mermaid’ pose CREDIT: ANDREW CROWLEY

The eventual diagnosis was a slipped disc between the C5 and C6 vertebrae in the cervical spine. I was in agony and to compound matters due to get married the following month.

My physio told me if I was to sort myself out in time, avoid surgery, and ensure that the same thing didn’t happen again, it was time to start making some major changes. If I didn’t, she warned, I might no longer be able to do the thing that I love the most (after my wife): write.

And so I embarked on the long and – often painful – path that 12 months later has brought me to a mat in an upstairs studio of the Light Centre in Belgravia, being urged by my instructor Sam Webster to perfect a mermaid stretch and trying not to whimper about the ache in my hamstrings.

For I am now a pilates man. And I am not alone.

As ever more of us sit down and stare at screens for a living, back pain is becoming the great leveller of our age. Humans are evolved to move, twist, bend and roam, not sit hunched in an office chair for 12 hours a day.

In the technological era we have moved from a species that is dependent on our bodies to our brains. And the damage we are doing to ourselves in the process is profound.

The latest Health and Safety Executive figures show nearly 10 million working days are lost each year for adults aged 25-64 due to back paincosting the UK economy some £12bn a year. Around 80 per cent of us will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives. 

It is men aged between 45 and 54 who are deemed most at risk of developing problems, an age bracket that is creeping down all the time.

Pilates builds strength whereas its close cousin yoga builds flexibility
Pilates builds strength whereas its close cousin yoga builds flexibility CREDIT: ANDREW CROWLEY

I am 32 and have always been reasonably physically fit but my physio tells me she is increasingly seeing people my age with degenerative conditions a decade earlier than they would typically have been afflicted a generation ago.

Pilates and its close relative yoga (the former is a western invention that focuses on strength and the latter an eastern one that places greater value on flexibility) are increasingly seen as crucial weapons in the war against back pain.

Accordingly despite being an activity traditionally perceived as restricted to women, ever more men are now taking up pilates. Not even necessarily as a hobby, fun though it is, rather a necessary tool of keeping going in their lives.

The 2016 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence  guidance on the management of back pain recognises a combination of approaches often works best – exercise, psychological therapies as well as manipulative therapy. This ties in with a new authoritative study published in the US this month, which proved regular yoga classes relieves lower back pain as effectively as physiotherapy.

I consult a few of my fellow male attendees at the Light Centre and hear stories remarkably similar to my own.

Nick Medd, 54, is a former banker for HSBC and nowadays works as a head-hunter. The married father of three says his back pain struck in his early 40s, at a time when he was sitting at his desk for 12 hours a day.

“I went to see an osteopath who just told me I was spending my whole life sitting down and if I wanted to continue to work I had to change my lifestyle. I would sit on the train to work be at a desk or otherwise be on a flight. My wife told me to start standing on the commute in from Basingstoke but it didn’t make a difference.”

Instead he started pilates and now attends classes two or three times a week in between work. He thinks it would be far better if businesses encouraged their staff to take up pilates to prevent back problems before they emerge. “The benefits to me are so obvious,” he says.

Pilates was, in fact, the invention of a man. The early 20th century German pioneer Joseph Pilates patented the technique of using control of the body to strengthen and condition it. The concept also owes something to the “medical gymnastics” developed in 1813 by Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish fencing master and romantic novelist.

It focuses largely on breathing and developing core strength. I realised how seriously this was something I lacked in my first class when a mass of cramp formed in my gluteus maximus sending shockwaves down to my calf. I leapt up from the mat yelping in pain, much to the amusement of my fellow classmates.

That was in a local leisure centre where I am often the only man out of 20 women in the room. In my experience the more expensive classes in the city tend to be more mixed sex affairs.

Pilates forces you to pay attention— focusing on your breath while working through each movement
Pilates forces you to pay attention— focusing on your breath while working through each movement CREDIT: ANDREW CROWLEY

I supplement these occasional pilates classes with my own stretches in the morning and night, and as regularly as I can during the day as well.

So what differences have I noticed? Firstly, my posture. I stand far straighter than I used to and sit better, too. My body feels stronger, and I have developed small bulges of muscle around the shoulder blades where there was none before. I still can’t touch my toes – and on busy writing weeks feel occasional stabs of pain in my shoulders – but I am getting there.

Pilates focuses on the deep postural muscles, under the abdominals.  The author Martin Amis, another devotee, described the strengthening effects as while not sufficient to make his gut disappear, certainly enough to enable him to suck it in when an attractive woman walks by on the beach.

He also once neatly surmised what pilates had done for him. “I stopped groaning,” he said. “When I get out of the car now, I don’t go arrggghhh.”

And for us devotees that, quite simply, is what it is all about.

 Posted by at 3:38 pm
Jun 192017

Image result for cycling

Following Chris Froome’s Tour de France win, and Team GB’s unprecedented medal haul at Rio, cycling has never had such a high profile or been so popular!

Certainly, it’s one discipline that has lived up to the games’ mantra of “inspiring a generation”.

Cycling has been becoming increasingly popular as a sport, as an easy form of training and as a cheap form of commuting and transport. And following the successes in Rio, it can only get bigger and better.

Training for cycling has been traditionally very simple; the more miles the better! But could the introduction of Pilates help the cyclist to train smarter?

The answer to this is a resounding yes – at both an elite level, and also for someone who is using their bike to get to work or for health benefits.

For any cyclist improving efficiency is key – the more power they can produce with less effort, the faster they can travel for longer.

It is easy to spot a tiring cyclist – as fatigue sets in their effort becomes less and less efficient, and as they pedal, their bodies will start to roll from side to side on their bikes. In contrast, riders who are still moving efficiently will have their legs turning the pedals smoothly whilst their head, shoulders and body remain still and secure, in doing so they are wasting less energy to propel the bike.

Clearly, the longer a cyclist is able to maintain good form on the bike, the more efficiently they will use their energy, and the further and faster they can go.
Pilates targets the core muscles that help stabilise the rider on the bike, keeping the spine in a stable position whilst the limbs move. So by improving their core strength, cyclists can increase their power output.

Sir Bradley Wiggins (who knows a bit about generating power on a bike) is quoted as using Pilates to help strengthen his core; as he says “without a solid core you can’t transfer power efficiently.”

An increase in core strength also improves balance and therefore bike handling – always an advantage in both performance and safety cyclists at all levels.

It is not just through the core where performance gains can be found. Pilates also encourages improved limb alignment when moving. Again, the key here is improved stability. Making the movement more stable improves the movement pattern in the leg, stopping the knees and feet from turning or twisting during the pedal stroke. This delivers significant benefits in both force production and efficiency and – equally important – also helps protect against potential knee or ankle injuries.

Cyclists frequently have lower bone mineral density than sportspeople in other disciplines – this means that their bones are softer and more susceptible to fractures. By adding some resistance based training – Pilates works well for this, including our Pilates bands (!) – load will be put through these bones and joints which will increase their bone mineral density, increase resilience and reducing the risk if fractures in crashes. Another advantage of using Pilates for resistance training is that it will improve muscle strength without increasing bulk, allowing cyclists to improve their power to weight ratio (watts/Kg).

Last but not least, let’s not forget that Pilates is known for its ability to improve flexibility and posture, so it’s a great way to redress some of the postural and muscular tightness and imbalances that cycling inevitably brings. Cyclists tend to suffer from tight hip flexors, necks and upper backs, caused by being hunched forward over the frame – it’s a particular issue for racing cyclists. Pilates will help stretch and lengthen these muscles, and also strengthen them so they don’t set tight and short, this is another good preventative measure to avoid injury.

Competitive cyclists can build Pilates into their regimen during both the on- and off-season. In the off-season they can use it to help build strength and improve alignment. During the season, it will help them stretch and release tight muscles whilst improving core strength.

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
May 292017

If you’ve struggled with depression you’ve probably heard the statistics. Depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide.  It can be triggered by a major life event, or can arrive without warning. More than just “the blues,” it can take the joy out of everyday life, leaving you feeling empty and unmotivated.   It is a topic that some of you have been discussing and I’m realising that it is occurring more and more amongst both men and women.

For some people, therapy or prescription medication can help alleviate the symptoms. But some consider dancing!

Dance is considered to be one of the earliest forms of human communication, and it’s also a great way to exercise, get your mind off your daily life, and find others with common interests.

Here are five ways that taking a regular dance class can help curb depression and bring more joy into your life.

  1. Exercise.
    You’ve certainly heard that the best way to fight depression is to get up and get some exercise. Aerobic exercise elevates levels of both dopamine (the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward) and euphoria-inducing endorphins. But if you suffer from depression, you also know how difficult it can be to get motivated.Dancefit classes help erode away that resistance because they take place at a certain time and the I will guide you through whatever the movement sequence is that day. You don’t have to track anything, program any elliptical machines, or remember which weight machines you should be using.
  2. Music.
    Our dance classes take place with musical accompaniment from our legendary beatbox! Rhythm, the most basic of musical elements, gives our brain something to focus on, and certain tempos can even induce trance states.
  3. Finding flow.
    Dance classes are like a moving meditation, even the most vigorous ones. During an hour-long dance class, you’ll be so focused on following the structure of the class that time will fall away. You won’t even have time to feel distracted by your depression inertia. It can be sometimes called being “in the zone.” It’s also characterized by a feeling that you have the potential to succeed, which will help you feel better about yourself.
  4. Other people.
    Sometimes interacting with other humans seems like the last thing you want to do when going through a depressive episode. However, the structured nature of a dance class allows you the experience of being in a room with others without the awkwardness of having to make small talk or you can chat as much as you would like!
  5. The joy of improvement.
    When you struggle to remember a complex movement sequence or stay balanced during a turn, you have two choices: get frustrated and quit, or keep coming back to class. And when you feel like we’ve done something well that you once struggled with, your brain floods with feel good dopamine – dopamine spurs you to want to seek that sense of reward again, so you’re more likely to go back to dancing. And when you do, you’ll be bringing more activity, music, and community into your life, hopefully keeping depression at bay!8525322_orig
 Posted by at 3:46 pm