Author Archives: Courtenay Pipkin

Women’s Boxing: Eye of the Tiger, Thrill of the Fight

There are a few sports that are historically male dominated – and boxing is one of them.  However… times are a changing!

Olympic Gold Boxing Nicola Adams

 

Women’s boxing was first seen in the Olympics in 1904 as part of a demonstration but was banned/saw little support in many countries. Attitudes towards women’s boxing started to change around 20 years ago and, in the 2012 Olympics, we saw Nicola Adams take home gold for the UK.  Women were finally represented in every sport in the games!

Some people see boxing as being too violent but it isn’t all about knocking seven bells out of each other! It takes immense fitness, coordination and stamina to box – it’s not just about who can hit the hardest.  Boxing requires a combination of footwork, technique, skill and power.

Woman boxing and exercising. Boxfit, Boxercise.

Boxing-related sport is growing in popularity.  With classes like Boxfit and Boxercise you can access some of the benefits boxing can bring. It’s a great way to to get quick on your feet and super toned!  Many gyms run boxing-related sessions as part of their timetables.  Alternatively, you can choose to go to a specialised boxing gym. The benefit of the latter is that you’ll often find classes taken by current or past boxers and professional trainers – you also get access to a wider variety of equipment.  Sessions often include a warm ups, running, shadow boxing, bag or pad work and circuit exercises.

Hanging Boxing Gloves

If you want a super fast way to get an all over workout, this is it. Short sharp bursts of intense interval training, impact work with the bags and pads to strengthen and shape your upper body, and always moving on your toes and toning your legs- a perfect all round workout! It’s also a great way to vent any excess energy you have – I guarantee you won’t have any left by the end.

If you’re thinking of starting to box, take it slowly – arrive early and explain you’re a beginner and you’ll get shown a few of the basics. Most sessions will require you to have your own hand wraps – these protect all the tiny bones inside your hands – but can be picked up for under a fiver from your local sports store, or just bandages from the chemist. Most other equipment can generally be borrowed, and if you decide you love it, there’s always the option to advance into more technical sessions and training with an amateur club.

Despite its increasing popularity with women, it is still a male dominated environment but don’t let this put you off – I’ve not tried a boxing gym yet that hasn’t been welcoming to everybody. If you’re still a bit daunted by the thought of a boxing gym then look out for female-only sessions, many places run at least one a week.

It might not be for everyone, but it’s a great sport to try.  Let’s help to continue it’s recognition in the wider the sporting community!

By Courtney Pipkin

Courtney is our Health and Fitness writer.  She lives in London and is always trying new and different ways of getting a good workout.

You can follow Courtney on Facebook and Twitter.  If you have any questions for Courtney, email courtenay@thebeautycloud.co.uk.

Gloanna Yoga Run

Last month, my friend and I took part in London’s 2nd annual Gloanna Yoga Run.  With a morning promising to offer yoga, sushi and Prosecco I could never say no! Even if it did involve running…

Gloanna Yoga Run, London

The event was a 5km run with a shot of Prosecco on the start line (!), followed by a 45min yoga session and sushi and fruit lunch. Having chosen the slightly later 10am run start (the first was 9am – far too keen for a Saturday morning) I was a little bleary eyed turning up at Battersea Park after a few drinks the night before. After some crazy storms the preceding nights, I wasn’t overly convinced the event would be running but fortunately the rain held off.

Gloanna Fun Run Map, Battersea Park

It wasn’t that obvious what was going on and where we needed to be, but after generally following the large crowds and checking our bags and yoga mats in, we were poised at the start line! A cheery warm up took place, and then we were off for 2 laps around Battersea Park lake.

I’m not running regularly at the moment so plodded along at an average pace; some chose to race it and others just walked in their own time! There was no pressure to push yourself to your limit, and marshals along the way cheered you on. The run was over within half an hour, and we were provided with water, coconut water and a glass or 2 of Prosecco, depending on the entry package you had bought – much needed in the insane humidity!

Outdoor Yoga

There was then a choice of yoga classes – a more serious session, which was busier, or the smaller starter class which was more about having a stretch and a laugh. Hula hoops were available and it was lovely to chill out on the grass afterwards. We got lucky with the weather….it might even have been too hot as it was super sunny, and I’m not sure what they’d have done about the classes if it had rained?! It definitely wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable in the wet.

The day was mainly made up of women and it was a really fun atmosphere. As an open event, partners and children were there to cheer family on, and one cute little girl was even getting involved in the yoga class! With free stands from Sushirolls, Bounce and Whey Icecream there were plenty of treats to indulge in.

Sushi Rolls

The event was sponsored by Sweaty Betty and we got a fab goodie bag at the end with a neon race vest, water bottle and pair of running socks! For a non-runner, this is a great introduction into a structured running event, particularly as it wasn’t competitive at all! I’m not sure I’ll be taking part in many longer races, but it was a really fun morning.

By Courtney Pipkin

Courtney is our Health and Fitness wirter.  She lives in London and is always trying new and different ways of getting a good workout.

You can follow Courtney on Facebook and Twitter.  If you have any questions for Courtney, email courtenay@thebeautycloud.co.uk.

Speedflex: A Low Impact Calorie Busting Workout

With the pressures of everyday life rarely letting up, we’re always looking for the most efficient ways to get fit, making the most of a workout. This is most prevalent when it comes to cardio!

A good cardio workout doesn’t just mean pounding the treadmill at the same steady pace, day in, day out. One popular (and very effective method) of burning fat and increasing fitness is through high intensity interval training, or HIIT, combing bursts of very high intensity training with a short recovery period to bring your heart rate back down.

Speedflex Logo

One company leading the way with this form of training is Speedflex. Originally based in Newcastle, Speedflex now have centres in London and Leeds, with a new one due to open in Edinburgh soon. Two weeks ago I attended a Speedflex induction, and have since taken a number of sessions there. These run every hour throughout the day even if there is only one person booked in, but they do say it’s more fun with a bigger group.

The principle is simple…there are 8 machines in the studio, all identical. These were originally used for rehab purposes and are run on hydraulics so the resistance is never more weight than the user can handle. The difference comes with the varying exercises that are performed – these can be high pulls, bent over rows and even a clean and press. The classes run as a circuit, taking turns on each machine with additional auxiliary exercises between each – press ups, sit ups, medicine balls, kettlebells etc.

Speedflex - Low Impact, High Calorie Burning Workout

Each session is led by a personal trainer, and the structure is different every time depending on who is running it. It could be a set time per exercise, a particular number of repetitions, or even the amount of time it takes another class member to complete a certain amount of reps on a machine. This definitely keeps the classes interesting – don’t expect any two sessions to be the same. It also creates a great team environment in there which helps the time fly by.

Throughout the class you have a heart rate monitor to wear, with video screens at each end of the room telling you the training zone you’re in – this is by percentage of maximum expected heart rate for your age. At the end of the session, they will go through each person and let you know how long you spent in each zone, and also how many calories you burnt. As a predominantly cardio exercise, you’re not going to bulk up with Speedflex, instead expect to get leaner with increased muscle definition.

Speedflex - Low Impact, High Calorie Burning Workout for All Levels of Fitness

Their big selling feature with the concept of Speedflex is that anyone can train together, be it someone just starting out with exercise, or a seasoned athlete. Expect to burn anything from 400 to 1000+ calories in a 45 minute class; it’s a great way to compete with yourself to see if you can burn more than last time! But will vary depending on your current size and fitness levels. I tend to burn over 500 each time, which is always a good feeling before breakfast!

Everything about the centre itself is clean, new and shiny, with great facilities including free towels and lovely big showers. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and it’s far more luxurious than many fitness centres I have been to! Prices start at £120pm for an annual contract paid upfront, or £150pm on a rolling contract. I would want to use this in conjunction with other strength training to get a rounded workout, so if you were to be paying for another gym as well it could get pricey. However, for a great way to get fit quickly it really works, I can’t recommend it enough.

A free induction and taster class is available to anyone, as well as a personal health assessment which will tell you all about your body composition and even cholesterol levels! Membership packages allow you to have this assessment every 3 months so you can monitor your progress. Find out more at www.speedflex.com.

By Courtney Pipkin

Courtney is our Health and Fitness wirter.  She lives in London and is always trying new and different ways of getting a good workout.

You can follow Courtney on Facebook and Twitter.  If you have any questions for Courtney, email courtenay@thebeautycloud.co.uk.

Daily Vitamin Shots – Performance Boosting or a Caffeine Kick?

Energy is big business…and I’m not just talking the kind that flows through power cables. The likes of Red Bull, Monster and Relentless are multi-million pound industries now, with us looking to get that instant ‘pick-me-up’ to get through the day. The next step in the energy drink market was efficiency. We don’t want to have to sit and drink a whole can of energy, we want it in one teeny tiny bottle.

Hence the birth of the ‘energy shot’. These have since gone on to appeal to an even wider marker, by claiming not only to give us enough of a buzz to want to run a marathon – twice- but to ALSO meet a plethora of nutritional needs in one 60ml swoop!

How demanding are we?!  

www.6vitaminshot.co.uk 6 vitamin shot, daily boost, caffeine, coffee, b vitamins, performance boostingA few weeks ago, I was sent 6 bottles of the new ‘6vitaminshot’…the latest brand to produce one of these energy shots, designed to provide the consumer with their ‘recommended vitamin allowance and more’. The shelves are now saturated with competing brands trying to get in on the action, but does this one stand out from the rest?

 What is it?

6vitaminshot is marketed as an energy boosting supplement and having never heard of the brand before, I was excited to give them a go! The ingredients are listed on the side of the bottle, and directions just tell me that for maximum effect I should drink between meals. The front of the bottle claims that is has 6 key benefits:

        – Sustained energy

               – No jitters

               – Mental clarity

              – Increased endurance

              – Enhanced performance

              – Sugar free

How does it taste?

Regardless of the content, the flavour of the shot itself is probably one of its most important features – it may well be able to work miracles, but if it tastes awful, no-one is going to want to drink it! The liquid is ‘Acai Berry’ flavour….not too thick and a pinkish colour; the smell reminded me of artificial sweet drinks from when I was a kid, but I was pleasantly surprised by the fruity flavour! It went down easily, but I did find chilling them in the fridge made them a bit more enjoyable.

But what’s actually in it?

www.6vitaminshot.co.uk 6 vitamin shot, daily boost, caffeine, coffee, b vitamins, performance boostingA fair old bit actually. A ton of ingredients are listed are listed on the packet, with details of the benefits of each on their website (reduced fatigue, antioxidants, athletic performance, metal alertness, a boost during exercise…the list goes on). ‘Sugar free’ is always a bonus, compared to many of the full sized cans of energy drink which are laced with the sweet stuff – though this does have artificial sweetener in it instead.

Taking a closer look at the vitamins contained themselves, the amount per serving is given alongside the % Daily Values recommended. The website says…

‘6vitaminshot contains ingredients which have proven benefits to enhance sporting performance whereas Berocca just contains low dose vitamins and minerals for more general use’

A quick look at the B vitamins shows that many of them are over the recommended allowance anyway (B12 is 8333% – necessary?) and are actually comparable in amount – if not less in some cases – to those in Berocca. The other ingredients further down the list are those that ‘enhance sporting performance’ (Betaine, Taurine, L-Tyrosine). Unfortunately I don’t know enough science behind these to pass accurate judgment, but there are studies available into the effects of them on performance and mood – many of which have proved to be positive. I did quick bit of research into recommended dosage for improved performance – Betaine is 2.5g daily, L-Carnitine is 3-4g daily, L-Tyrosine suggests 0.5-1g 3 times daily). The levels in 6vitamin shot are 0.5g, 0.3g and 0.5g respectively – these low amounts probably aren’t going to make much of a noticeable difference to performance in a single dose.

www.6vitaminshot.co.uk 6 vitamin shot, daily boost, caffeine, coffee, b vitamins, performance boostingOne of the most important features that caught my eye in the listed ingredients was caffeine. Each shot contains 120mg, which is the equivalent to 2 cups of instant coffee. Obviously depending on individual sensitivity, this is enough to perk anyone up! The FAQ section of their website explains the supplemental benefits of caffeine, but says that 300mg is regarded as the safe upper limit for daily, so make sure to factor in any other drinks you’re having that day.

How much will it set me back?

www.6vitaminshot.co.uk 6 vitamin shot, daily boost, caffeine, coffee, b vitamins, performance boostingI’ve not seen these for sale in shops yet, but you can buy directly from their website (www.6vitaminshot.co.uk) priced at £2.50 a bottle or a tray of 12 for £24.99 – if it’s the B vitamins you need, I’d say that you can get a cheap multivitamin tablet to do the same job.

Marketed as a daily supplement, this price is too high for me – while it’s pleasant enough to drink, this could soon add up if you’re drinking one everyday!

And do I feel on top of the world?

Vitamin-wise, I only had a small supply to try, and as I have a fairly healthy diet anyway I don’t think I’ll have been lacking in B-vitamins, so taking extra wouldn’t really make a difference. Sport-wise, it was good to have before the gym for the energy boost (which I definitely need at times!), however, I do think this may have been more from the caffeine and I didn’t notice any marked improvement in performance.

 

Calorie Counting – The Catch

A recent post of mine discussed the use of the great food tracking app, My Fitness Pal, to keep an eye on what you’re eating – particularly if you’re monitoring your calories day to day. Following on from this, I thought it was only responsible to write a sequel post, delving into the big bad world of those calories themselves.

The science is simple: energy in = energy out

calorie-energy-balance-scale

Energy in is made up of the food (and drink) we consume that fuels us in the form of calories. It is then expended through our physical movements – exercising, fidgeting, breathing and even sleeping. If more energy is burned than is consumed, you’ll lose weight; or if you ate a few too many eggs at Easter without hitting the gym quite enough, you’re probably going to find that your jeans are that bit tighter than they were before. People are quick to follow this logic when they’re looking to shed a few pounds for the summer – eat fewer calories to lose weight.

There are a huge number of calorie calculators online where you can enter your height, weight and activity level. They’ll then give you an estimate of the number of calories you should have each day in order to lose/maintain or gain weight. Once you have this, you can then start monitoring your daily intake.

Sounds like a flawless plan, no? Except there’s one teeny tiny catch….

Not all calories are equal.  

A quick science lesson here for you (and one that I’ve spent a lot of time researching myself lately). Your food is fundamentally formed of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These are known as macronutrients.

Carbs = 4 calories per gram
Protein  = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram

When you hear people talking about a ‘balanced diet’, this means getting enough of each macronutrient in your daily food total to ensure that your body can function effectively; a good starting place for this is a rough 40:40:20 ratio. Unfortunately, the modern diet often leaves us with too much of one, and not enough of the other, leaving us tired, sluggish and often carrying a bit too much around the middle.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are what give us energy and can be found in all of my favourite foods…bread, pasta, rice, fruit….in fact almost everything contains some amount of carbs. These tend to make up the bulk of the average diet; however, this often means that your diet is lacking in the other key macros. We’ve all seen the ‘success’ of low/no carb diets like Atkins, but look at the percentage of your diet that is currently made up of carbs (up to 80% in some cases). If you suddenly cut this out, you’re leaving yourself with a huge calorie deficit – no wonder people drop weight fast! You’ll also find your metabolism will be wrecked.

Protein 1

Protein is what your body uses for muscle repair and growth. The average guidelines say your diet should consist of 0.7-1g protein per pound of bodyweight. Body builders will often include 1-2g per lb because of all the lean muscle they’re looking to build and maintain. Depending on your training schedule you may well need a higher amount of protein. If you’re hungry all the time, you should look at upping it as it’s what will keep you fuller for longer. A protein filled breakfast is more likely to see you through till lunchtime than a bowl of sugary cereal! A lack of sufficient protein also means that if you’re training, your body won’t be able to repair your muscles, and this is when you start to lose lean muscle.

Fat

Fats help your body to function, and contrary to popular belief it’s not all evil and should make up 20-35% of your daily calorie intake. There are still good and bad fats, and too little fat in your diet at all can lead to vitamin deficiencies, food cravings, cardiovascular problems and emotional issues. Obviously too much fat in your diet can lead to too much fat on your body, but make sure you hit the right amount. Some good fat sources include olive oil, eggs, nuts, fish and avocadoes.

When you’re purely tracking just calories, none of this comes into consideration. Say you’re on a 1600 calorie a day diet – you could live on a diet of cereal, pasta, chocolate, take out, fizzy drinks, but in smaller amounts. Technically each day you may well be within your calorie limit but there’ll be far less nutrition, and your body will suffer for it (struggle getting up? mid afternoon slump? Starving an hour after eating?). You definitely won’t be looking good either – ever heard of the term ‘skinny fat’? No lean muscle or definition, no bum, and a dangerous amount of fat lining the organs!

Macro counting has also been termed ‘flexible dieting’ – as it’s not as extreme as clean eating all the time (nothing processed, nothing refined etc etc) you can still factor in some of the treats you love, as long as they’re within your macro limit. This is a big deal for keeping your sanity in check! In theory this sounds like you could eat what you want ALL the time, but hitting your numbers while living on junk food is almost impossible. Trying to make as much of your diet healthy with as many micronutrients as possible (vitamins & minerals) will help you feel and look your best.

For the next few days I’m planning on tracking my macros– My Fitness Pal allows you to view your macro amount when you track your food, and it’s already proved interesting for me. I’ve calculated the daily calories I need and then worked out the macro split. My protein intake was definitely too low (I’m full all the time at the moment!) and it’s been an education on the composition of some of my favourite foods, especially some that people like to shout about as being ‘great sources of protein (yes…but how much fat is there too?). It’s a fine art…the ratios that work for some people may not work for others, but it’s about playing around with what works best for you.

The maths works – if you’re hitting your macro target each day, you will automatically be at your correct calorie limit, and you’ll know the breakdown of what you have will be what your body needs! It’s about eating smart, not less. Quality, not quantity.

 

 

Game, Set and Fitness

Now that spring is here and summer is right around the corner, it’s time to put down those dumbbells, step away from the treadmill, and get your butt out of the gym and into the fresh air!

Health and fitness isn’t always about lifting weights or pounding the pavements, sometimes the best way to do your body some good is with some good old-fashioned sport!

Tennis Racket and Balls

We moved into our flat at the end of 2012, and after a quick scoot round the area and a browse of Google earth, we found that there were some tennis courts down the road. Even better…they’re free to use!  So last year when the weather finally brightened up, we dusted off our old tennis rackets, nipped down to Sports Direct for a pack of 3 tennis balls (£1.99…bargain!) and attempted to recreate Wimbledon. Sadly it didn’t quite look like that, however it WAS pretty fun and a great thing to do on a nice sunny evening after being sat at a desk all day.

Jump forward to this year, and I’ve just got back from our first tennis session of 2014. I was never a great sportswoman at school, and barely got through tennis sessions but whatever level you’re at, it can be a great all over workout. I love that it’s one of the sports my boyfriend and I can play together, and if you’re feeling sociable, you can always play doubles with friends.

Tennis Courts

If you’ve never played before, see if any friends have a racket you can borrow – failing that, you can normally pick up fairly cheap ones from big sports stores. Next, find yourself a partner. If you know someone who can play, ask him or her to give you a few pointers.  Even if you can barely hit it, constantly bending down to pick up the ball is a great leg toner in itself!

As you get better, you’ll find yourself getting more competitive, and it’s a great feeling when you manage a decent shot. Try doing some drills – have someone lightly tap it over the net and practice aiming in a particular direction. It can take a while to get into it (I’m often being shouted at – ‘MOVE YOUR FEET!!’) but an hours session will fly by. By the end, you’ll have got a good cardio workout from running around, arm workout from swinging the racket, and leg workout from lunging to hit the ball. What more could you ask for?

Now where are the strawberries and cream….

Strawberries and cream

Find somewhere locally to play for free at http://www.tennisforfree.com and check out some basic online lessons at http://www.intosport.com/academies/tennis-school/11/default.aspx.

 

 

Secret Eater? Try the My Fitness Pal App

Channel 4 is well into series 3 of Secret Eaters – for those of you who haven’t seen it, each episode is pretty much the same as the last:

1. Very overweight families go on the show, with no apparent idea of how they got to the size they are.
2. They are monitored for a week, with PI’s watching and counting every calorie.
3. At the end of the week, the calories they think they have eaten (around 1500) are compared to the calories they have actually eaten (something in the region of 4000).
4. They then proceed to act shocked when shown clips of them demolishing numerous packs of Maryland cookies in the middle of the night.

Binge Eating

Admittedly, these generally seem to be quite extreme cases, but the principal of food logging makes sense (for the short term at least!). For the last couple of weeks I’ve been monitoring my food intake using the app ‘My Fitness Pal’. This allows you to enter all the food and drink you’ve consumed, and even allows you to scan the barcodes on packaging to make life much easier!

It’s a great tool to accurately monitor your calories – it lets you input calories burned through exercise too. Even if this isn’t something you need, I’d recommend everyone do it for a day or two just to take a check on what you’re consuming.

The recommended balanced diet is 50% carbohydrates, 20% fat and 30% protein. A food tracking app like this will show you the split, and help your tailor your diet if you find that it’s too heavy in one area (mine was a bit carb happy!). It’s also handy to track your sugars and other vitamin areas in case you are lacking in anything.

Food Portions

I’m always very conscious of the nutritional labels of what I buy at the supermarket, but it’s hard to keep track of food when you’re eating out. You might be surprised at the nutrition of some big brands; we were shocked at the amount of sugars in apparently ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals!  America is pushing for labels to show the food data of ‘average’ portion sizes rather than what is recommended (who ever just eats 30g of cereal?!) and I hope that comes into place over here. It’s important to monitor portions as well as what you’re actually eating – often you don’t need as much as you think, and we get into the habit of filling our plates and feeling compelled to finish what’s in front of us.

It’s a handy tool to try, ESPECIALLY if you think you know what you’re consuming every day. Compare it to what you’re actually having and maybe you’ll even come out of it with some positive changes to make.