Fit for what? An event or for life in general?

Are you aiming to be Fit for a specific event? Fit because it’s good for you?  OR, Fit so you can be active for the whole of your life?

It’s a question I have found myself pondering for a long while and one which has changed my approach to fitness in recent years.

There are several reasons that lead people to join a gym or a class and a several more that prevent people from keeping it up on a permanent basis. To benefit from exercise it must be for life, not just for a few months or in the ‘post-Christmas diet’ weeks.

The question then is what type of exercise can you keep up on a permanent basis? The answer to that question depends on your aim. If you are booked to run a marathon the exercise should be a specific programme ensuring you are in the best physical shape for that event. If you feel that being fit is ‘good for you’ give some thought to exactly what you mean by that phrase. Do you mean keeping your heart healthy, keeping muscles toned, controlling weight gain or simply an all over general fitness? Or would you like to give your body the best chance of keeping you active for the whole of your life?

In recent years I have changed my approach to exercise. I have undertaken extensive training to help those with back pain, arthritis, restricted mobility and other chronic conditions continue to exercise. The results have been amazing and for some life changing. It has made me realise that an exercise programme which aims to keep you active for the whole of your life can be easy to follow and enjoyable as well as beneficial. It is not looking to get you to a high level of fitness where there is a risk of injury. It is not offering any exercises which put unnecessary strain on the joints. It is simply keeping your body in the optimum condition possible while taking account of its current state.

Many of my clients walk, cycle, ride, look after children or are simply busy. In this way they already get a reasonable amount of cardiovascular work. It may be at a low level but it’s done on a regular basis week in week out. What I offer is a complimenting exercise programme to enable them to lead an active life for the rest of their lives.

Key aims are:
Keeping joints mobile
Correcting muscle imbalances
Building a strong core
Maintaining a healthy back
Preventing the deterioration of balance
Ensuring muscles can stretch to optimum lengths.

To take part in a this type of class you won’t need gym clothing and you probably won’t get hot and sweaty. You will benefit from feeling that your body moves more freely, your back aches less, your joints have more range and you will feel more stable when you take part in other activities or sports. You will also benefit from the shared knowledge of what to expect as your body gets older and what you can do to keep reduce the effect of aging process on muscles joints and bones.

Remember that this is general advice. If you have a specific condition I recommend that you book a one to one session first so I can assess the best way to help you.



Are you stretching or working your muscles?

Are you ‘Stretching’ or ‘Working’ a Muscle?

Confusing working a muscle with stretching a muscle is really common. When you go to the gym or your exercise class are you strengthening or stretching your muscles? Can you tell the difference, what are the benefits of each? How do you know which you should be doing

What happens when you work a muscle?
When you ‘work’ a muscle you tighten the muscle fibres, either by shortening the muscle or by holding it in a static contraction. In order to ‘work’ a muscle there has to be effort on your part. The brain needs to send messages to the muscle to activate and engage it. This gives a sensation of strength and if continued will make the muscle tire and ache, maybe giving a ‘burning’ sensation. You can also physically feel the muscle harden. Try pulling your abdominal muscles in as hard as you can. Prod across your tummy and feel the muscle harden.

Why should you strengthen a muscle?
To give support and stabilisation to the bony structures of the body. This is especially important for the shoulder girdle, pelvis and knees.
Strong muscle tone will enable the body to move effectively with less effort. This in turn means that the body can move more before becoming tired.

What happens when you stretch a muscle?
When you stretch a muscle you are trying to lengthen it. To do this one end of the muscle is stabilised and the other is moved to a longer position. In practise this is hard to achieve and frequently the stabilised end of the muscle ‘cheats’ by subtly moving to protect the tight muscle and prevent it stretching. Stretching usually involves you taking up a position without consciously putting in any muscle activation.
A common example of this is seen when trying to stretch the gluteus (hip) area. To try this, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and spine neutral (relaxed with a natural gap under and below the waist. Put your right foot across the left knee, lift the left foot off the floor to bring your knees towards your chest. This should give a stretch across the gluteus (hip) area, over the butt cheek down the back of the right side. The pelvis end of the muscle is static and the other end has moved. Now check whether your back changed its position when you lifted your feet off the floor. Ideally your back will still be neutral. If it has moved to be flat on the floor this will have moved the pelvis end of the muscle, giving your lumbar spine a stretch it doesn’t need and leaving the gluteus area tight. Roll your pelvis to put the gap back and feel how that changes the stretch as the pelvis is put back into a stable position.

Why should you stretch a muscle?
Some muscles need to be stretched as they shorten through daily activities and this leads to muscle imbalance and pain.
Modern lifestyles can cause other muscles to lengthen. Stretching these will not help and could do further damage as they actually need to be shortened by strength exercises.
There are frequently muscles which are tight but the body protects that tightness so although stretching would be beneficial it is hard to achieve.

In Conclusion
Try to strengthen the weak muscles within your body. When you stretch try to ensure that the correct muscle gets the benefit.
Most people have a pattern of weak lengthened muscles which need shortening and strong tight muscles which need lengthening. A postural assessment will identify these so you can work and stretch to correct imbalances whether in a class, at the gym or in everyday life.

Just how much flexibility do you need?

Just how flexible do you need to be?

Recently I’ve been looking at the advantages and disadvantages of different levels of flexibility which raises the question of ‘how flexible do I need to be?’

During my early training as a dancer the answer was always ‘as flexible as possible’. Being able to ‘do the splits’, put hands flat on the floor with straight legs or the gymnasts ‘box splits’ was something to aspire to. Sadly I could never do any of these without a great deal of effort. My body simply wasn’t made to be that flexible.

Over the years working as a full time fitness instructor I stretched my body on a daily basis and did achieve an above average level of flexibility. Over the years I noticed that a number of clients would comment that the seated stretches (reaching for the feet) gave them backache. This made me question the validity of these exercises, to question why we need to do them at all and how much flexibility we actually need.

The answers to these questions took me through Postural Assessment techniques looking at the effect of our day to day posture on our bodies. From here I looked into Bio Mechanics, how each part of our body interacts with another and the effect that muscle imbalance has on our posture.

The way in which our bodies respond to exercise varies as our bodies are all slightly different. A stretch for one person will result in a strain for another. An exercise may be designed to strengthen and/or stretch, but in a specific individual it may create imbalanced strength and strain rather than stretching. The key is in finding exercises which strengthen and stretch without straining while keeping the body in a balanced position. This is an individual process. The level of stretch depends on a variety of complex relationships within the body. Many people with rounded shoulders (kyphotic posture) will have lengthened inactive muscles across the shoulder area and weakness in the pelvic area. Those with a hollow back (lordotic posture) are likely to have tightness in the hip flexor which can make it difficult to stretch the hamstring without impingement.

Sitting on the floor leaning over towards the feet puts a huge strain on the lumbar region of the spine. Many stretches allow the pelvis to twist encouraging instability in an already unstable area. Bio Mechanic training shows how often (especially in women) the pelvis twists to give a greater degree of movement in a hip stretch. This results in no stretch to the area which is being targeted.
Why do we do these stretches? How long do your hamstrings need to be? If you are an Olympic hurdler then the answer is likely to be very different to someone who sits in the office all day and plays a little golf at the weekends. For the average person the amount of flexibility we need is surprisingly low. When did you last need to kick your foot above 90 degrees?

Then, there are a whole group of people who have the opposite problem – hypermobility. These are people with joints which move beyond the normal range of movement. They are prone to sprains and dislocations and in later life frequently arthritis. They need exercise to stabilise the joints and to learn what a normal range of movement is. For this group strength and stabilisation is far more important than stretching.

In a group exercise class it is easy to be carried with the group and stretch as far as possible regardless of your body’s ability or needs. As well as not being good for you this could actually be harmful.

Next time you think about stretching bear the following points in mind:
How much flexibility do you actually need to live your life and do your activities comfortably?
Do you ever have backache after an exercise session? This could be due to the stretch positions putting unnecessary strain on your back.
Do you have hyper mobile joints? It could be that you don’t need to stretch at all, or need to stabilise the joint prior to assuming a stretch position.
Once you have considered these points you can choose how far to take each stretch and gain the maximum benefit.

If having read this you are unsure how your body reacts to stretching and would like to check your positioning and technique in the exercises you currently practise at the gym, in a class or at home do contact me to book an appointment.

The Studio Norfolk Class Timetable


The Studio Norfolk – Class Timetable

Small group classes for a maximum of 6 people.

Booking with prepayment is essential.

The I Move Freely Pilates is a modern programme Anne has created specifically for people restricted by tightness and/or pain.  She has used the principals of Pilates for core stability, combined them with Bio Mechanic techniques for the release of tight muscles, and finally added exercises designed to combat back pain. This has moved Pilates from its origins and brought it up to date with current research.  The addition of bio mechanic and back exercises give the extra benefits of all round core stability, improvement in back health, and better posture.
09.00 I Move Freely Pilates for shoulders and backs
10.05 I Move Freely Pilates at a general level

09.20 I Move Freely Pilates for Core Stability
10.30 I Move Freely Pilates for Osteoporosis
18.00 I Move Freely Pilates for all levels
19.00 I Move Freely Pilates beginners

09.30 I Move Freely Pilates for all levels

10.00 Freestyle Fitness Yoga

Welcome to The Studio Norfolk

Welcome to the Norfolk Studio, set in a beautiful relaxing location with stunning views.

It is easily accessible from Aylsham, Roughton, Reepham, Cromer, Sheringham, North Walsham, Holt, Norwich or anywhere in North Norfolk.

We can be difficult to find on your first visit, so if you haven’t been to us before, why not look at our How to find us page. Please take a few minutes to explore what we offer and see how we could help you. Pilates, Yoga, Biomechanics, Personal Training, Postural Assessment, Sports Massage and Functional Fitness.

To receive a weekly email with information on class times and availability subscribe to our mailing list here:

The Studio Norfolk offers a small range of specialist exercises classes for up to 6 people per class.

The I Move Freely Pilates is a modern programme Anne has created specifically for people restricted by tightness and/or pain.  She has used the principals of Pilates for core stability, combined them with Bio Mechanic techniques for the release of tight muscles, and finally added exercises designed to combat back pain. This has moved Pilates from its origins and brought it up to date with current research.  The addition of bio mechanic and back exercises give the extra benefits of all round core stability, improvement in back health, and better posture.

If you are looking for increased strength and flexibility and don’t have any back or knee injuries then our Freestyle Fitness Yoga classes may suit you.  This is not a spiritual experience, there is no meditation nor relaxation element. Extreme postures that exceed the normal range of movement are avoided. You can expect to improve flexibility and strength within 10 weeks. In addition you can learn how to identify your bodies stabilizing muscles and use them effectively and efficiently to improve your posture and move with confidence

See here for our timetable.

Biomechanics A new approach to reducing aches and pains.

Biomechanics really can improve many painful conditions, often following just one session. As a Bio Mechanic Coach Anne uses Bio Mechanic principles within the I Move Freely Pilates group classes but you may wish to consider a one to one session:

Why consult a biomechanics coach?

  • Recurrent injury. If you have a recurrent injury, our Biomechanics Coach will be able to determine whether there are any biomechanical problems that may be causing it to occur repeatedly; a series of exercises would then be prescribed, to help minimise the risk of recurrence.
  • Pain. If you experience pain, for example when running, sitting at a desk or working in the gym, a biomechanics coach can establish whether that pain has a biomechanical cause. If so she can then prescribe remedial exercises to treat the pain.
  • Optimal performance If you are looking to improve your performance in a particular sporting or physical task, then our Biomechanics Coach will be able to  prescribe tailored exercises to help you achieve your goals.

Personal Training with Functional Fitness – the ultimate personalised training experience for the way you live your life.

Functional Fitness is concerned with giving people the level of fitness that they need to cope with their normal every day life. For example; if you are not a gymnast, why train for extreme flexibility?  However, you do need to be able to reach your feet to tie your laces, which is often a cause of back injury. We concentrate on those capabilities that you will use every day, intially core stability and subsequently more specific exercises e.g. for parents to combat back problems from lifting or carrying their children.

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Classic fitness training, often using machines and weights, restricts movements to a single plane of motion for safety reasons.  However this is not the way we move in every day life, so can result in imbalanced muscle development, and hence, an increased risk of injury.
Functional Fitness ensures that we exercise the muscles we use in our life, to the level required.  Building a programme of exercises that target individual, and groups of, muscles to match your lifestyle.
In this way you can train your body to be capable of doing real life activities in real life positions, not just to lift a weight in an idealised position on a machine at the gym.


Postural Assessment

Do you suffer from recurrent pain or stiffness in the shoulders, neck or back?
It is often the case that this is caused by a postural imbalance.

We are pioneering a new approach to alleviating these issues by addressing the root causes rather than treating the symptoms.

Most of us are walking around with less than perfect postures although we may be quite fit and healthy.  We may not be feeling any pain but could be building up problems for the future.

The postural imbalances may cause stiffness and/or pain which we accept as normal or part of the ageing process.  Any length of time we spend in one position, for example, at a desk, using a computer, or driving a vehicle, can exacerbate these aches and pains.

These symptoms may be relieved by a massage or visit to a chiropractor but often recur.  Postural assessment and correction may provide a long term solution. It is based on small changes to daily habits and regular tailored exercises.  The exercises are small, simple, quick to perform and can be done in the comfort of your own home.


Sports Massage You don’t have to play sport to benefit from a sports massage.  If you have tightness or pain in a specific area, a sports massage can help provide relief.

Relaxing Massage

In addition to sport massage with its tangible results we also offer the more relaxing massage techniques.  These are ideal for stress relief, the release of tight shoulders and for anyone who needs to relax but prefers a lighter touch.  Choose from Hot Stone Massage, Indian Head Massage or a regular Body Massage.