Three exercises for backs


These exercises are intended to help those of you who wish to do some practice at home. You should already be familiar with them having attended a regular Pilates class. If not, I recommend that you start with a qualified instructor before attempting them.


Whenever you practice Pilates, remember your ABC’s:

Alignment – start in good alignment; that is pelvis/spine neutral and legs hip-width apart
Breathing – breathe wide and full into your ribcage; in to prepare, out to centre then move
Centring – contract pelvic floor and abdominals, drawing your navel towards your spine

The exercisess

Start by lying in your back with your legs bent, your arms resting by your sides and your head supported by a cushion.

Spine curls (to mobilise your spine) – curl up* through your spine into a bridge position, keeping your weight even through your feet, moving one vertebra at a time up and down – 6 rep’s

Knee pulls (to strengthen lower abdominals) – knee fold one leg so that it is bent at 90° above your hip, reach one arm forward so that the palm of your hand meets your thigh, breathe out to draw your abdominals in towards your spine and pull your knee against your hand – 3 rep’s on each leg – then do another 3 rep’s with legs in a double knee fold

Hundred (to strengthen abdominals, warm up and get your circulation going) – with both legs in a double knee fold, curl up* and float your arms off the floor, reaching towards your toes, beat your arms and breathe in for 5 counts then out for 5 counts up to one hundred counts – as you get stronger you can straighten your legs towards 90° and then begin to lower them towards the floor


  • Strong abdominal muscles help to support your back.
  • You can adapt each of these exercises to suit your level and how your back feels on the day, e.g. for the hundred you can start with just 20 or 30 counts and gradually build up.

*If you suffer from osteoporosis then don’t curl up, just lift straight up and down with a flat back for spine curls and keep your head down for the hundred.

Essential Post-Exercise Recovery Tips

Need to know!

When we talk about recovering, we are not just talking about one factor; it is multi-faceted. In simple terms, you are trying to return your body to the pre-exercise state.

You should aim to:

  • Remove any residual waste products from your muscles
  • Refuel and re-hydrate
  • Minimise any muscle or joint damage caused by the exercise itself
  • Refresh your brain

Some of these factors can be taken care of whilst you are still at the gym, others need to be addressed over a longer period of time. However, you must remember that if you train and don’t recover properly prior to your next session you will struggle to get the best from your next workout – and it will feel really tough!

Nice to Know!

After an exercise session, you should not just stop – even though it may be appealing at the time. You will suffer over the next 48 hours! A cool-down is essential. This will facilitate the removal of the waste products created by the exercises your muscles have just completed.

Following a session, a 10–20 minute tapering period is recommended. Basically that means you need to do some lower intensity activity (walking/jogging/cycling) for 5–10 minutes.

As part of your ‘cool down’ you’ll need to stretch all the major muscle groups that have been used during the session. It has been shown that stretching post exercise can aid muscular development and will help to reduce any post-exercise muscle soreness. It is actually more beneficial to stretch post-exercise as muscles will be warm and therefore more amenable to the stretch.

If your muscles and joints ache after exercise it may be due to swelling that comes with minor tissue damage. Applying cold treatment to the area or alternating hot/cold treatment may help. However, it is probably advisable to check with an instructor before you begin your next session.

Finally, you need to rest – music to your ears no doubt! Getting sufficient sleep is as important as the exercise itself. If you have worked your muscles during the day, they will need adequate rest not only to recover from the exercise but also to aid in the repair of damaged tissue and the generation of new tissue.

Fun Facts!

  1. Sleep not only aids physical adaptation to training but also allows time for mental adaptation, such as cementing movement patterns, and recovery.
  2. From the age of 35 you start to lose brain cells at a rate of around 7,000 a day – that’s 2,555,000 per year (you only have 100 billion to start with) and they will never be replaced! But you can help keep your brain cells in peak condition by getting enough sleep at night.
  3. It is recommended that you get 7–8 hours sleep per night but apparently Margaret Thatcher ran the country on just 4!
  4. 41% of resistance to range of movement comes from the muscle and its associated fascia, with another 10% coming from the tendons. This means that less than half of the resistance you encounter can be changed.

Mark Foster
Essential Post-Exercise Recovery Tips
A Health Tip from Mark Foster

Talent on Tap

Check out this article from the Sunday Express about how Ian Waite first got into dancing. and more about what he has to say on FitSteps: “So many women tell me, ‘I’d really like to go to a ballroom class but I don’t have anyone to go with.’ With this, you can do all the dances from Strictly and you don’t need a partner.”

Pilates celebs: Madonna

Madonna has included Pilates in her workout for many years. It’s one of the reasons that she is still so fit. The Daily Mail has a recent report about her leaving a Pilates session “…it seems she made a wise choice of workout, as is said to help build flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms, hips”. Read more…

Why Mark Foster Thinks FitSteps® Is Great

Mark Foster, Olympic swimmer, has racked up 47 international swimming medals – so he knows a thing or two about fitness! He says:

“FitSteps® isn’t for everybody… but it is for the majority of people! Everyone can do it. There are so many positives to it. A lot of people don’t know where to start, but once you find a class, attend for the first time, and go to the second class, it can become a major part of your routine. Every [Wednesday] night you’ll look forward to going and seeing the girls and the boys in the class.

“A healthy lifestyle is all about conditioning and routine. I’m not saying you can’t miss a class, nor am I saying you can’t eat a bad meal. But it’s just a case of being conscious of your body. I believe in moderation, but I don’t think generally people are very good with that. We are very good at excess. We should moderate everything: moderate drinks, moderate diet, moderate exercise; moderate the lot.

“Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. So, why not do a FitSteps® class, realise how much fun it is, learning something new and get fit in the process?

“In fact, you know what? Just get involved. Have a laugh and a giggle. I think a lot of the time we think everyone’s watching us. They’re so not watching us. Just put it out there, let go and we can learn to accept ourselves an awful lot more.”

Understanding What’s In What You Eat

Need to Know!

The Law – what has to go on a food label – and what doesn’t!

Certain things have to be included on food labels by law. These include the name of the food, the weight of the food, the ingredients (starting with the largest), use by or best before dates, recommended storage conditions and preparation instructions.

The law does not require nutritional information on packaging, unless a specific nutritional claim is made. When it is included, it too has to follow certain rules. The energy value of the food (joules and calories) must be included, as must the amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat in grams.

The amount of sugar, saturates, fibre and sodium does not have to be included unless a claim has been made regarding the content of these. The information must always be given as values per 100g or 100ml, values per serving size can be given too.

If a food is claiming to be organic it must have certification which will be found on the label – if this is not included then the product is not genuinely organic.

Nice to Know!

Once you have this information it is up to you how you choose to use it!

You have already been advised that a good diet for an active person should be 55–65% carbohydrate, less than 25% fat and 10–20% protein but how do you get this information from a label?

The calculations take into account the differing number of calories per gram of the different macronutrients.

Carbohydrate and protein each contain 4kcal per gram whereas fat has 9kcal per gram. To work out a percentage you need to perform the following calculation:

  1. Multiply the number of grams of the nutrient per 100g of the product by the appropriate number of calories i.e. 4 for protein and carbohydrate or 9 for fat (see below)
  2. Divide this number by the number of calories per 100g of the product (see below)
  3. Multiply this number by 100 to give you a percentage.

E.g. Product containing 6g fat per 100g and 450kcal per 100g

  • 6 x 9 = 54
  • 54/450 = 0.12
  • 0.12 x 100 = 12% fat

What will become apparent is that marketing claims are not always what they seem, particularly those regarding fat content.

As products only have to give information on the number of grams per 100g of the product, if it has 3g of fat per 100g then the product can claim to be 3% fat, regardless of the number of calories per 100g.  You can work out the percentages of your favourite products, but you can’t do this with every product you pick up – shopping would take you days!  So, when dealing with fat content it is easier to look at the ingredient list.

If fat, in any form (oil, butter, lard, cream, cheese etc) is listed in the top three, then the product is probably high in fat.

Fun Facts!

  1. A good example of clever marketing is whole fat milk, which has 4g fat per 100ml, but only 69kcal per 100ml. When calculated this product works out to be 52% fat which is more than most chocolate bars!
  2. Although the food industry is governed by laws stating what must be included on labels and there is legislation to deal with false claims, there are no such controls in the supplement industry! So, be careful when buying dietary supplements – they aren’t always what they seem!
  3. The average person will lose a teaspoon of salt with each bout of prolonged exercise – if you work out twice a week, that’s more than 100 teaspoons per year! But be careful, salt is in pretty much every packaged food you buy.

The easiest way to be sure you know how much fat, salt and sugar you are eating is to buy fresh foods and prepare them yourself.

Mark Foster
Understanding What’s In What You Eat
A Health Tip from Mark Foster


Why you need a sports bra

Whatever exercise you do, whether it’s Pilates, FitSteps, running or just a brisk walk around the park, and irrespective of your cup size, your breasts are fragile organs and they need support.

During repetitive or high impact sport, breasts bounce. This pulls on the ligaments forcing them to stretch and because they are not elastic, they stay that way eventually causing your breasts to sag.

Lack of correct support can also cause breast pain and upper back and shoulder problems.

Different levels of impact require a different type of sports bra – make sure you choose the right one for your breasts and your sport.

Compression style bras (which look like crop tops) press the breasts flat against the chest. These are suitable for women with bra sizes 32-34A for all sports and up to 34-36B for low impact sports.

Encapsulation bras (with complete cups) are better at preventing up and down, and side to side movement of the breasts during exercise. Women with larger bra sizes and people taking part in regular high impact exercise will be better off with this type.

Sports bras are also more comfortable during exercise because there is no underwire to dig into your front and no straps or hooks to dig into your back.

So if you don’t already have one, I recommend a trip to the shops!


Your body needs fluids to be able to transfer energy to muscles and to enhance the metabolism, which in essence is the body’s ability to burn fat. Waiting until you feel thirsty is not a good indication for when to drink, as this means you are in fact already dehydrated! By not drinking enough fluids, not only can your health be damaged, but your physical performance will also suffer.

As little as 2% dehydration can cause a decreased ability to be active, but at 5% you may experience as much as a 30% drop in daily performance. Feeling hungry is another potential sign of dehydration, so when your stomach rumbles, have a drink and wait 20 minutes to see if that reduces your craving for food. Drink tepid water (between 15 and 22 degrees), as water that is too cold won’t be absorbed into your system properly until it warms up.

If you don’t enjoy plain water, try weak tea or fruit tea, or add lime or another cordial.  Fruit juices are OK, although they can cause discomfort if drunk to excess.  The best approach is to consume a variety of different drinks.

Strong tea and coffee are diuretics and assist the dehydration process by making you lose fluid by going to the toilet regularly. Alcohol has the same effect, so make sure to drink a glass of water between beverages; I know that doesn’t sound as much fun, but at least you’ll drink less calories, save cash and avoid a hangover the next day! Alternatively choose a carbonated water as the bubbles fill you up in similar way to beer or lager, as well as aiding your digestive system.

Must Do

  • Drink at least 8 tumblers of fluid a day
  • Drink a glass of water every time you fill the kettle
  • Try to reduce your alcohol intake by having alternate days off
  • Drink a small glass of water between alcoholic beverages
  • Keep a bottle of fresh water in the car

Activity and energy

Being more active in daily life as well as trying out a more formal type of activity like FitSteps is a great way to shift the pounds, improve energy levels and enhance your body’s ability to process its fuel. Essentially it’s a bit like driving a car and making sure the oil travels around the engine to lubricate all the parts.

Of course, if you park a car for too long, or only drive short journeys, soon enough problems will begin to emerge. However the brilliant thing about the body is that it continually repairs damage. So it’s always better to enhance your daily life with physical activity to help you increase your energy levels.

This week I suggest that you to record exactly what you eat and how much activity you do each day. Why not stick it to the fridge to remind you to keep track of everything your consume?

Success always starts with a good plan and monitoring is key to Achievement. Checking progress regularly is important so that you can see how much of a daily energy deficit to achieve to enjoy positive weekly results. In terms of weight, you should initially aim to lose 1–2lbs per week for sustainable, safe weight loss.

To lose body fat you need to consume 500–800 calories less than your body needs each day. However, in general terms, women should never eat less than 1,200 calories per day and men no fewer than 1,500 calories.

Mark Foster
A Health Tip from Mark Foster