Sleep...your secret weapon!

“Sleep is food for the brain, sleep is fuel for exercise”

Hi everyone, Donogh here from PFP. In this blog I’m going to discuss the importance of sleep and how you might be able to improve your sleep – your secret weapon!

Sleep can aid the body in growth and repair as cortisol, a known muscle eater is reduced during sleep. Sleep is the best time for growth and repair as testosterone and human growth hormone are at their peak. A reduction in sleep means a reduction in muscle building time. Long periods without sleep can increase stress to key organs and cause muscle soreness. Sleep has been shown to improve motor learning and reduce anxiety. Research has even shown that 8+ hours of sleep can reduce your risk of injury.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

 

So, what are the consequences of poor sleeping patterns?

•       Poor concentration, Poor Decision Making, Poor memory Recall

•       Mood Disturbance, Increased Anxiety, Depression,

•       Reduced Testosterone, Reduced Growth Hormone, Increased Cortisol, Reduced natural adrenal release

•       Increased risk of illness

•       Loss in Lean Tissue, Increase in Body Fat

•       Increase stress to key organs

Did you know that research has also shown that being awake constantly for 17 hours has the same effect as 0.05% blood alcohol levels! To avoid this effect, it is advised to try nap throughout the day if you have a long day. A 20 minute nap has been shown to enhance alertness, concentration and motor skills. Be careful not to nap too long though as naps between 45min and 90min may have you waking up groggy and disoriented.

What strategies can we implement to try sleep better?

  • Educate – Understand the importance sleep plays in your lifestyle
  • Routine – Determine your sleep requirements and meet them nightly, try go to bed around the same time every night
  • Environment – Create a dark, quiet, comfortable and a technology free bedroom. Avoid using your phone, tablet or laptop 1 hour prior to going to sleep. Activate the blue light filter on your phone/tablet. Or try out the blue light blocking glasses - available here
  • Periodize Sleep – Try creating times within busy days that you can have a nap
  • Nutrition – Stabilize blood sugar levels, restrict caffeine consumption after 3pm so your bodies melatonin production isn’t interrupted

Sleep is one of the most underappreciated part of our lifestyle but it can play a huge role in helping us reach our goals. Hopefully from this you can take away how important it is and try to improve it just a little.

As always, if you have any questions just pop in and ask one of us.

Talk to ye soon,

Donogh

Shoulders and T-spine Health

Opening up the shoulders and Thoracic spine

Hey everyone coach Ev here, following on from my previous blog, I said I would write a blog on how to free up the shoulders and thoracic spine.

Many of us have developed bad habits that have led to restrictions in our movement ability in our shoulders and t-spine. My experience of coaching has shown me that those who play hurling or rugby usually have greater shoulder and t-spine mobility in comparison to Gaelic footballers and soccer players. And those who sleep on their shoulders often have a huge imbalance in their shoulder mobility when both sides are compared. This could potentially lead to an injury over time which may vary from minor muscle strains to more severe disk issues etc. Almost all of the exercises below can be done at home and can hugely help in creating a little extra mobility.

T-spine

Side lying windmills

Get a foam roller and place this under your top knee whilst lying on your side. Bring your knee to 90° angle. Start by having your hands together with your arms straight. With your top hand, use your thumb like a pencil and draw around your body as you exhale. Keep your thumb in contact with the ground at all times. Your top shoulder will drop towards the ground during this process. Also keep your knee in contact with the foam roller throughout the movement. If you have never completed a movement like this before you may feel ‘popping’ or cracking in your t-spine and this is normal.

 

Bretzel

Whilst lying on your side, bring your knee to a 90° knee angle. With your top hand, grab your lower ankle and with your lower hand, grab your top knee, take a deep breath, on the exhale press your top shoulder back towards the ground. As with the side lying windmill, you may hear or feel a ‘popping’ sensation in the t-spine.

 

Quad t-spine rotation

Whilst in an all-fours ground position. Press your hips back and keep a neutral spine. Grab the back of your neck with one hand, fix your eyes to that elbow. As your externally roatate your arm outwards, keep your eyes on your elbow and maintain the neutral spine.  As with the 2 previous exercises, you may feel ‘popping’ in your t-spine if you have poor mobility.

 

Shoulders

Wall slides

Sit into a quarter/half squat against the wall, press your lower back into the wall. Place your hand and elbow in conatct with the wall, run your hands and elbows up and down the wall. This may be difficult if your mobility is very restricted. Throughout the movement keep your lower back in contact with the wall. A good cue for this is to keep ribs down.

 

Bench shoulder flex

For this you'll need a bench/chair and a dowel. Start with your knees dircetly beneath your hip, a dowel held by both hands behind your head/neck and your elbows at shoulder width on a bench. Take a deep breath, on the exhale press your hips back while keeping your elbows in contact with the bench.

 

Shoulder rotations/dislocations

For this exercise all you will need is a dowel/band/rope. Initially I would recommend for someone with poor molility to start wth as wide a grip as possible. Keeping your arms straight. Rotate over your head and backward. As you progress narrow your grip.

For those with severe lack of mobility I would recommend starting these execises at home on top of any training they may already be doing. 2-3 sets of 6+ reps is a decent rep and set range to start with. And remember, when it comes to mobilty and flexibility work, quality over quantity.

As always, if you have any questions, call in and ask or pop us a message here at PFP.

Thanks,

Ev Hennessy B. Sc

 

 

So you want to be more powerful...

Hi everyone, Donogh here again and this time I’m going to tell you how you can get more powerful without learning the Olympic lifts. What??? But how?? Just listen 😉

Olympic lifts are excellent for power output, research has shown us that. But from my experiences with teams, the time taken to teach the technique eats in to a lot of time where you can be getting faster or more powerful or doing curls 😊

When we train for power, what we are essentially looking for is big extension through the hips and glutes and explosive power right up from the ankles which we call triple extension. Improvements in power will come by moving weight very very fast.

These are 4 exercises that I recommend for power that are easy to do and come very close to Olympic lifts for power output.

1.       Loaded Squat Jump – The most similar exercise to an Olympic lift without the complications. I like to hold 2 dumbbells by my side weighing about 40% of my body weight. Get into a quarter squat and jump as high as possible. This exercise gets you into a similar triple extension as the Olympic lift but eliminates the catch. You still produce a lot of power and when landing correctly you receive force too which is crucial for contact sports. Very simple to do and I would recommend 3-4 reps, 3-4 sets with about 90 second rest between sets.

2.       Prowler Push – This exercise when done correctly can produce great amounts of force. You can do this exercise 2 ways, pushing off one leg at a time like a running motion or 2 legs at a time. Either way you will want to ensure that you push your legs back as far as you can to get into that triple extension. I personally like pushing off 2 legs explosively driving the prowler away from you and ending up lying face down on the floor in a push up position (just remember to put your hands out as you fall). I would recommend 50-60% of your body weight and about 10-15m of reps and 3-4 sets again with about 90 seconds rest.

3.       Hip Thrust – Research has suggested that hip thrusts can increase your vertical and horizontal jumps while decreasing your 10m and 20m sprint time. If that’s not a reason to be doing this exercise more than I don’t know what is. I would recommend working at around 70-75% of your 1 rep max and moving the bar as fast as possible getting into hip extension. Again 3-4 reps and 3-4 sets would work well with about 90 seconds rest.

4.       Kneeling Med Ball Wall Slam – This exercise works on upper and lower body. The key to making this exercise worth adding in to your power program is exploding through the hips as you throw the ball and again ending up lying face down on the ground. This will work on extension through the hips and power through the upper body. 4-5 reps and 3-4 sets with around 90 seconds rest will be enough.

So that’s 4 great exercises to add to your program to get more powerful which will lead to increases in your speed and in your jump. And who doesn’t want that?

Here at PFP we have a jump mat that can give an accurate measurement of jump height and speed gates that give an accurate measurement of speed. So why not call in and test yourself before trying these out and then re test after 4 weeks to see if they work.

As always, if you have any questions pop in and ask or leave a comment underneath.

Talk soon

Donogh

 

My top training and nutrition podcasts

As we head towards September, I know lots of you are renewing your health and fitness goals and getting remotivated after the summer months. One of the questions I've been asked loads is for some podcast recommendations - so today I'm going to go through a few of the podcasts I'd recommend, especially if you want to expand your nutriton and training knowledge.

1. Sigma Nutrition - https://sigmanutrition.com/

One of my go-to podcasts for evidence based info on all things health and lifting related. Hosted by leading Irish expert - Mr. Danny Lennon. 

2. The Strength Athlete - http://thestrengthathlete.com/

A powerlifting/strength based podcast for those who are interested. Great evidence based info on training, nutriton, technique and sports psychology. 

3. Precision Nutrition - http://www.precisionnutrition.com/

Covering a wide and intersting variety of topics, Precision Nutrition is a great podcast for expanding you nwoledge inrelation to nutrition, health and fitness. 

4. The Guru Performance - https://guruperformance.com/

Hosted by Laurent Bannock and featuring a wide variety of expert speakers on everything in sport and exercise science. Often delving into the latest science and research on a topic. 

Give any of these podcasts a listen and let me know how you get one. Also, if you've come across any podcast gems please let me know...I'm always looking to add more to my playlist.

Thanks,

Nigel

 

My top tips for gains..i.e. Hypertrophy

Your training is going to plan and you want to dial in your nutrition to make some GAINS! If your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, you'll know that getting calories in can be hard at times, especially hitting that protein target. 

  • First thing is liquid calories..easy to get in, easy to digest. Things like milk, smoothies etc. can be had on the go and don't require any planning. With your smoothie, through in a scoop of protein or two, berries /banana /avocado, nut butter, ice, use milk as your liquid to increase cals and protein. 
Image via pinterest

Image via pinterest

  • If you've no intolerances then you can up your intake of grains, especially on days when your carbs are higher.  
  • Don't leave majority of your calories until the afternoon/evening, for me it works well to spread it out throughout the day. If I leave it too late, it can impact on sleep and just leave me feeling a bit sluggish.
  • Eat protein in the morning - I find if I eat a good bit of protein in the morning then it's much easier to hit target for the day. It can happen quite easily that you don't have much protein in the morning, especially if you just have something like oats, and really it's like fighting a losing battle, on the protein front, for the rest of the day. So try include eggs, turkey rashers, protein in oats, salmon on brown bread, protein smoothie, greek yogurt etc. in your first meal. 
Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

  • Don't be too fussy about food sources, sometimes you just have to get the calories in even if it's not the most nutrient dense food. 
  • And my last tip is don't increase your calories too quickly - to reduce the chance of putting on fat tissue you need to be very controlled in your pace of increasing calories. 

Lower back pain? 5 core exercises that may help!

Hi everyone, it’s Donogh here, I’m delighted to have recently joined the team at PFP as strength and conditioning coach.

At some point in your life you will most likely have suffered from lower back pain. I want to talk about my 5 go to exercises that helped me eliminate the lower back pain that I suffered from for quite a few months.

Before I get into it, I know low back pain can come from multiple sources but I also know the main source of low back pain is often from either a weak core or a poorly controlled core. I have a background in sports injuries and so have helped many people get over back pain, most of the time fixing the core helps.

I designed this core circuit for myself but have since given it to a lot of my clients and with proper technique it has reduced pain in every instance and eliminated it completely with a few. These 5 exercises cover every direction of movement and targets each of the main muscles of the core. The idea behind it is to learn how to switch on the core repeatedly and to teach the core not to allow movement in the trunk while other movements are occurring – this is called anti rotation. Anti-rotation for me is a crucial part of creating an efficient core. Whether you’re a footballer bracing for a challenge or a block layer shovelling cement, your back will not like the pressure of constant twisting. Learning how to control the core and getting it strong at limiting movement in the trunk will prevent back pain.

Everyone who is a member in PFP will know these exercises and those of you that aren’t a member (shame on you!) should know them too. There is nothing fancy to it but it’s about consistency and challenging all areas. Too often I see people training core either with poor technique (which can put added pressure on the low back) or not training the entire core.

The first thing everyone must know about the core is how to properly switch it on. If you can imagine having a beer can under your rib cage and trying to squash that can with your ribs, you will have switched on your core. Every core exercise should be done “squashing a beer can”.

The 5 exercises are done in a circuit for 3 sets with a 1 minute rest after all 5 are done.

The exercises are:

1.       Plank

2.       Side Plank

Everyone knows what a plank and side plank are but not everyone can perform them correctly. I would suggest videoing yourself doing it to provide visual feedback or to ask a qualified trainer how to do it. If you were to look at someone doing a plank they should be completely straight (like a plank). A lot of people do planks for long reps (60secs), what I suggest is more reps but shorter time (6x10sec with 1 sec between reps). You still get the 60 seconds of work on your core but instead of long shakey reps, you instead teach your body how to go from a relaxed state to an engaged state in the core. I have found this method helps more with low back pain because throughout the day we go from a relaxed state to needing our core (picking an object up).

Key Points for plank and side plank

·         Squash can

·         Body in straight line

·         10 seconds on 1 second off, 6 reps

 

3.       Deadbug – The deadbug is my favourite core exercise, it teaches core control while moving the limbs. This closely mimics running and if done properly can take a lot of pressure off the low back. It also teaches coordination between arms and legs which some can find challenging. To do this exercise correctly, lie on your back, drive the back flat into the floor, squash the beer can and allow no movement from the trunk for the entire exercise. With straight arms point your hands to the sky, bring your knees up towards your chest with your hip and knee angle at 90 degrees. I perform 20 reps per set, 5 dropping the right arm behind your head while dropping your right leg straight down to the ground. Repeat on your left. I then perform opposite hand to leg on each side. Each of these challenges the core in different ways and provide great stability.

Key Points

·         Back flat against ground, squash can

·         Arms pointed towards sky directly over shoulder

·         Knees directly over hips and knee angle at 90 degrees

·         5 reps with same sided movement and opposite side movement – 20 reps total

·         Avoid trunk movement

 

4.       Landmine Rotations – Another exercise that works on anti-rotation by preventing movement in the trunk while movement is occurring. With the bar either fixed in a landmine fitting or in the corner of the wall, pick up the bar and lock both arms straight out in front of you. Drop the bar to one side keeping your trunk steady in one position. The only movement should come from your arms and a little from your upper back. Your low back and hips should stay locked in the starting position. Repeat these 10 times on each side.

Key Points

·         Squash can

·         Movement from arms and upper back

·         10 reps

 

5.       Barbell Rollouts – These can be done band assisted or without the band depending on your ability. Again, squash the beer can while doing the exercise and roll out until your body is fully straight, then roll back to the start position. Rollouts, again, are providing movement while your core fights to stay stable.

Key Points

·         Starting from your knees with or without a band

·         Squash the can

·         Roll out until fully straight but without touching your body off the floor

·         Roll back to start position

·         10 reps

 

So, they are my 5 go to exercises for low back pain. Before doing this circuit, make sure you know how to do each exercise properly. Any questions don’t hesitate to come in and ask.

 

Donogh Flannery

 

Bad Hamstrings?...Our top tips...

Hi everyone,

Coach Ev here again.

This blog post is aimed towards those who complain of having ‘’Bad Hamstrings’’, and who are wondering how they can fix this. 

 

Here are my 4 tops tips for developing and strengthening those hamstrings.

1)      Flexibility

This is a simple one, you don’t need much on this and there are many ways you can work on hamstring flexibility. Here at PFP we keep it simple with toe touch progressions and leg lowers. For the toe touch progression. Start with your knees straight and feet hip width apart, toes elevated (on a rope or small block of wood), and in a controlled manner walk your fingers down your legs, then try with heels elevated. Again, keeping it simple can be most effective. With leg lowers all you need is a band or piece of rope, lie back on the ground with the end of the rope etc wrapped around one foot keeping your leg elevated but knee straight. Raise the other leg to the same to the same angle as the leg being held by the rope. Even at home using static hold stretches can help. However, before a gym/pitch/class session I would strongly recommend using more dynamic movements.

 

2)      Mobility

It may not be your hamstrings that are the problem but rather poor mobility or movement from the ankle or hip. Working on simple mobility exercises can aid in the movement in these joints thus helping the hamstring lengthen. For ankles, I would always recommend a simple exercise known as ‘’knee to wall’’. Where you place one knee on the ground, like a lunge position, keep your front heel flat and press your knee forward. Over time you’ll find you’ll get further and further away from the wall. For hip mobility, the list is almost endless ranging from goblet squats to front foot elevated split squats to fire hydrants and to more lateral squats.

 

3)      Glute Activation

Poor glute activation is often a factor when athletes or gym goes complain of tight or sore hamstrings. Mini bands are an easy and effective method of activating the glutes in a warm up and go a long way to rectifying the problem. Getting a band around the knees and working on walks, clams and side lying leg raises will guarantee those glute are firing, in addition work on glute bridges and hip thrusts.

 

4)      Eccentric Strength

(Eccentric strength has been highly backed up by research as a valuable tool in preventing hamstring strains. Eccentric strength is where you slow down the lowering portion of a rep e.g. RDL deadlift with a 5 sec lowering on a rep and then explode up)

RDLs!! Nordic Curls! And Glute Ham Raises!

Using tempo work for these can put the muscle under eccentric tension. For an RDL or Romanian deadlift, I would use at least 3 seconds eccentricly or on the way down. This puts the muscle under tension whilst lengthening it. Having good eccentric strength aids in reducing your chance of injury but for athletes also helps with deceleration during speed and agility work.

So, there’s my top tips for helping those dodgey hammys. Any questions as always call into PFP or give us a shout.

Ev Hennessy B.Sc

 

Can exercise help you beat anxiety?

We all know how good working out is for our physical health, so let's start a conversation today about the benefits of working out for your mental health. 

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Exercise is underutilized as a method of managing and treating anxiety. It has no negative side-effects and it can be free, if you do it at home or outside.

Several studies have shown that there is a very powerful connection between exercise and anxiety. In fact, the coloration between both is so strong, that exercise on its own may be enough to drastically diminish the symptoms of anxiety. 

How can exercise do this?

1. Endorphins - the body releases endorphins when you exercise. These are your body's natural 'painkillers',  and in addition they play a massive role in regulating your mood and relaxing your mind. You know that 'feel good' feeling after a workout ? Yep! That's the endorphins. 

2. Sleep - exercise tires out the body and  can enable those who have anxiety to get a better night's sleep. A lack of sleep, or inability to sleep, makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. Exercise can release all of the excess energy in the body and mind - in fact, high intensity exercise has been shown to tire out the body and the mind simultaneously. 

3. Inactivity anxiety - a lack of exercise can lead to an excess of energy and this energy can be misplaced by the body, resulting in increased tension and stress. An increase in stress levels can exacerbate anxiety. This is very much linked with the above point on sleep. A lack activity can feed into a lack of sleep, and together both of these elements can accumulate and worsen the symptoms of anxiety. 

4. Healthy coping strategy- managing anxiety through exercise is a healthy coping strategy. Sometimes we turn to things like alcohol to manage anxiety. But the consumption of alcohol, as a coping strategy,  will usually have a negative impact on anxiety and will often lead to a worsening of symptoms. Exercise, on the other hand, is a positive means of dealing with anxiety with lots of additional benefits such as improved overall health. If you are in a gym or a group, such as a running group, the camaraderie and friendships can be an additional support in managing anxiety.

So that's it - a brief overview of how exercise can help to cope with and manage anxiety. In the long term, a regular exercise schedule can dramatically alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. If you, or someone you know, is suffering with anxiety, please do seek medial advice - medication is may sometimes be necessary, but exercise can, and should, compliment it.

As always, feel free to get in touch,

Nigel

If you need to talk to someone please phone one of the numbers below:

Aware (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder & Anxiety)

www.aware.ie
Tel: 1800 80 48 48

National Suicide Helpline (Pieta House)
1800 247 247

Pieta House (Suicide & Self-harm)

www.pieta.ie
Tel: 01 623 5606

Grow (Mental Health support and Recovery)

www.grow.ie
Tel: 1890 474 474

IACP (Counselling & Psychotherapy)

www.iacp.ie
Tel: 01 230 3536

Shine (Supporting people effected by mental ill health)

www.shine.ie
Tel: 01 860 1620

Teenline Ireland Helpline

www.teenireland.ie
1800 833 634

For references and further info please see below :

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201506/sitting-all-day-increases-your-risk-anxiety

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/mindfulness-the-power-thinking-about-your-thinking

http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/exercising

 

 

Fats and Immune function

In this third and final installment of the role of macro-nutrients on the immune system, we are taking a look at the role dietary fat plays in immune response and function.

Fats are powerful mediators of the immune system, and they may modulate the immuno-suppressive effects of strenuous exercise. Dietary fat plays a role in some key functions in the body, which all contribute to immune function, namely:

  •  Hormone regulation and production, especially testosterone and oestrogen
  • Transport of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), to the liver for storage and utilisation.

Dietary fats play an important role in numerous physiological functions and therefore a low fat diet can pose health problems. Additionally, a low fat diet does not guarantee weight loss if calories aren’t appropriate.

Both the amount and type of fatty acids in the diet influence the growth and activity of immune cells. Proper functioning of the immune system depends on adequate amounts of each essential fatty acid.

Essential fatty acids such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), are the precursors of substances that can promote or restrain inflammation. Essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body and thus, must be taken in via the diet. Essential fatty acids are intricately involved in the immune response, and regulate cytokines, which are released from immune cells in response to injury, infection, or exposure to foreign substances, as previously mentioned in our protein and immunity article. Amongst the fatty acids those from fish oil (EPA and DHA) are more biologically potent than alpha linolenic acid.

Studies in athletes have shown that a low-fat diet (15% of total calories), increases inflammatory and decreases anti-inflammatory immune factors, depresses antioxidants, and negatively affects blood lipoprotein ratios. A critical analysis of a large number of studies, demonstrated that there is a number of potential benefits to consuming unsaturated fatty acids on the immune system. This analysis showed that fatty acids play an important role in immune system regulation and may therefore be classified as holding the ability to modulate immune response. http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/v78/n1/full/icb20006a.html

Increasing your omega 3 intake (specifically EPA), and decreasing your omega 6 and saturated fat intake can have positive health effects and decrease inflammation. Omega 3 sources include salmon, mackerel, eggs and red meat. Omega 6 sources include sunflower oil, corn oil and safflower oil.

 

Foods: 
• Saturated Fats: Usually solid at room temperature and are primarily from animal sources, such as, dairy and other meats.
• Unsaturated Fats: Usually liquid at room temperature and can be further divided into mono and poly unsaturated fats.
• Mono-unsaturated fatty acids include: olive oil, avocado and peanut butter. 
 

http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/10910295

https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200232050-00004

http://advances.nutrition.org/content/6/3/293S.full

http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v56/n3s/pdf/1601478a.pdf