• Swimming Drills – 3 Golden Rules

    Posted in swimming on May 9, 2013

    Expert swim coach Glenn Shepherd talks as through how to get the most out of you training drills.

    As a swimming coach, a previous competitive swimmer, and spectator of the sport, I see many coaches and swimmers regularly use drills in their training sessions.

    I am a firm believer of practising drills in most if not all sessions, as it promotes skill resilience, which refers to one’s ability to maintain correct stroke technique during pressurised or fatigued conditions. Furthermore, regularly practicing drills can allow a swimmer/coach to identify different areas in the stroke technique that may need tweaking, such as:

    Body position, balance, coordination, and proprioception (feel of the water).

    – Weaknesses in the entry, catch, and recovery arm phases

    – Strength of the kick

    – Timing of the breathing

    – Muscular strength imbalances (affecting stroke mechanics)

    – Flexibility weaknesses

    All these areas will subsequently affect the overall efficiency of stroke mechanics and technical ability, and as I’m sure most of you will agree, drill repetition should be recognised as an important part of swimming training.

    Choosing what drills to use, however, can be difficult and needs to take into account age, ability and experience.

    Nevertheless, there are 3 Golden Rules that can help as a guide to the best drills. These are:

    RULE 1

    The drill aims to improve propulsion

    RULE 2

    The drill aims to reduce drag

    RULE 3

    The drill aims to increase overall efficiency 

    So next time you are thinking about a drill set, see if your chosen drills satisfy at least 2 of the above conditions. If not, they could be cowboy drills, and not worth bothering with.

    To help get you started here are some Front Crawl Drill examples that use a minimum of 2 out of the 3 golden rules:

    Shark Fin – reduces frontal drag via a better body position, which will improve overall efficiency of the stroke.

    Hold a high elbow position in the recovery phase for a second and then continue with arm stroke.

    Finger Drag – reduces drag through better body and hand entry positions, improving overall stroke efficiency:

    Lightly let the finger tips drag through the water during the recovery phase.

    Fist drill – improves propulsion via forcing correct forearm positioning (and improved feel for the water), improving overall efficiency of every stroke pull.

    Clench your fists gently and maintain this position throughout the entire stroke phase.


    “Drill for Skill not just to Thrill!”


    For more expert advice and guidance, you can book a training session with Glenn here.

  • 5 Static Stretches Every Swimmer Needs

    Posted in swimming on

    Post-training static stretching should be part of every workout, but has been known to ‘slip through the net’ for some of us. Swimming pools, particularly when a lot of clubs are training, can be hectic environments. Finding the space after to perform your static stretches may prove difficult.

    Expert swim coach Glenn Shepherd has put together a short routine that can be done anywhere, and incorporates just 5 simple stretches.

    The stretches target the large muscles used in competitive swimming, and areas that are prone to injury and each stretch should be performed for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeated twice on every body part!

    But before you begin your post-session stretch routine, allow your tendons and muscles to relax with an all-body shake down by lightly swinging and rotating your arms, trunk, and legs. Providing you didn’t experience any pain in the shake down, you are now ready to stretch:

    The Pectorals, Anterior Deltoid & Serratus Anterior Stretch

    There are many variations of this type of stretch but keeping it simple is what it’s all about.

    To perform correctly, stand with your chosen arm extended to the side or rear of your body, parallel to the ground. Hold onto a stable object and turn your shoulders and body away from the outstretched arm.

    You should feel this stretch in the upper corner of the chest, which connects to the front of your shoulder.

    The Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major Stretch

    Similar to the chest stretch above, there are many variations to the back stretch. The image shown here represents a safe and effective way to stretch out those big muscles in your back.

    Simply stand and raise your arms above your head. Cross your arms at the wrist and hold in a semi-streamlined position. Reach up as high as you can and then over to one side. Make sure you lean to the side and not forward as this will reduce the stretch acting on the muscles in your back.

    You should feel this stretch from the side of your upper torso, just underneath your shoulder, right through to the top of your arm.

    The Triceps Bracii Stretch

    This exercise tends to isolate the triceps brachii so be careful not to overdo it. To perform this stretch correctly, stand tall, with your head looking forward. Raise the arm you want to stretch up above your head and bend it at the elbow, placing your palm just below your neck. With the opposite arm, place your hand on the bent elbow and gently force the stretching arm downwards.

    You should feel this stretch on the back of your upper arm.

    The Hamstrings Stretch

    One of the most prone areas to injury and definitely an area you will want to avoid muscle stiffness. As mentioned with the tricep brachii stretch, this exercise will isolate the hamstrings so pay close attention to your pain threshold during this stretch!

    To perform, Sit on the floor with one leg outstretched in front of you and the other leg bent with the sole of the foot placed against the thigh of the outstretched leg. Slowly slide one arm down the outstretched leg and try to touch your toes. Change legs when necessary. You should feel this stretch down the back of your outstretched leg.
    To increase this stretch, raise your outstretched leg up off the floor supported by a pillow or step underneath your heel.

    The Iliopsoas and Quadriceps Stretch

    This stretch requires some balance so to start stay close to a wall or chair for support. Kneel down on one foot and the other knee. Make sure your forward leg creates a 90˚ angle and that your torso is perpendicular to the ground to start. Once in the position, gently push your hips forward stretching your iliopsoas, shown in Part 1. Gently maneuver into Part 2 by raising your foot up to your hip and hold the position with your hands, stretching the quadriceps.

    You should feel this stretch along the front of your hip and thigh.

    So there you go! It’s easy, it’s important, and it’s beneficial not just for your posture but also your performance. Be sure to let us know how you are enjoying the new found flexibility for the season ahead.

    For more expert advice, whether you are a beginner or aiming to become a winning competitor,  you can contact Glenn to arrange a training session here.


  • What difference does a jump make?

    Posted in personal training on May 3, 2013

    Personal trainer Victoria Martin talks us through the benefits of incorporating jumps a.k.a plyometric training into your fitness routine.


    It’s a love hate relationship, personal trainers love them, clients hate them. But why? Due to the high impact and muscle fibers used we are only able to perform them for a short period of time. It’s frustrating how difficult simple movements can be when executed repetitively and at speed. So if you can run comfortably for 30 minutes why not do that instead of exhausting yourself plyometric (jump) training for 15 minutes?

    Plyometric training focuses on strengthening the fast twitch muscle fibers. These are the ones that contract quickly, tire quickly and use mainly the anaerobic system that enhance your explosive performance.


    When you perform a plyometric exercise your muscles go through three phases. Eccentric (when the muscle lengthens), amortisation (resting period) and concentric (when the muscle contracts and shortens). The stronger the fast twitch fibers, the faster the muscle reacts from the eccentric phase to the concentric phase therefore the more beneficial it becomes.


    One of the major benefits is the enhancement of your neuromuscular system which transmits signals from your brain to your muscles to make them contract and relax, enabling movement. The more efficient this transmission the faster you can contract and relax your muscles which increases your speed and power. This is all good if you are Usain Bolt but what if you are Rachel from Walthamstow who wants to shift a few pounds and detests burpies?

    The term ‘Plyomentic’ derives from the Latin words for ‘greater’ and ‘measure’. This is because plyometric exercises increase your muscle mass. The higher your muscle mass the faster your metabolism resulting in the more calories you burn at rest. (Yes even when you’re sleeping). Not only does it increase muscle mass but the high impact explosive exercises means you burn more calories in a shorter period of time, often feeling exhausted after just 20 minutes.

    Bunny hops over bench

    This is not to say you should replace cardio or weight training with plyometics but it is an excellent addition to ensure your training regime doesn’t plateau.

    As well as the benefits mentioned plyometric training also:

    • Strengthens tendons preventing injury
    • Uses different energy systems
    • Increases stamina
    • Improves muscle power and strength
    • Improves joint stability
    • Improves agility and balance

    So why not add this circuit into your weekly training routine. The emphasis should be on speed and power rather than duration / sets so these will vary depending of your fitness level, if you are in any doubt please check with a personal trainer.

    *Perform each exercise for 12 repetitions rest for 2 minutes and repeat for a further 2 sets.

    • Vertical Jumps
    • Press ups with a clap
    • High jumps
    • Burpies
    • Chest pass with medicine ball
    • Long jumps
    • Jump lunges
    • Bunny Hops over bench

    *Increase / decrease the reps where necessary.

    *Remember to fully warm up for at least 10 minutes prior to decrease risk of injury and Due to the high impact of plyometric exercises if you have any back or joint injuries you should seek advice from a personal trainer. 

    Inspired to take a leap? You can book a personal training session with Vicki here.

  • Runners: Should You Really Be Foam Rolling Your ITB?

    Posted in running on April 11, 2013

    Expert running instructor James Dunne offers a re-think on how we approach managing IT bands

    There are certain things that as a community of runners, we all often do, despite recent research providing a growing body of evidence that in fact we might be better to have a slight re-think. Static stretching before exercise is the classic example quoted when talking about modern research going against long standing practices.

    In this post though, I’d like to focus on another common practice – Foam Rolling the Iliotibial Band (ITB).

    For some time, a popular method of treating and managing the pain of ITB Syndrome has been to engage in the often painful practice of foam rolling. The supposed rationale being that this will “stretch the ITB” and break down “adhesions” within the implicated soft tissues. The belief being that this will release, lengthen, and reduce tension in the ITB.

    Firstly, let’s talk about the anatomy of the ITB and structures involved in the pain associated with ITB Syndrome.

    ITB Anatomy

    ITB Anatomy

    The ITB is a long, thick band of non-contractile tissue, and is essentially a thickening in the lateral line fascial system. Tests have shown that the ITB has an incredibly high tensile strength (not dissimilar to that of steel cable), so stretching it is pretty much out of the question! However, one of the upper attachments of the ITB is a muscle called Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL).This relatively small muscle of the lateral Hip plays a huge role in determining the tension of the ITB – if it gets tight, the ITB gets tight as a direct result.

    Just above the points where the ITB attaches close to the outside of the knee, it passes over the Lateral Femoral Condyle, the bony prominence on the outside of the knee (lateral epicondyle on the diagram). Previously, it was thought to be the repeated friction of an overly taught ITB crossing this bony prominence that caused the inflammatory pathology and localized pain of ITB Syndrome.

    Recent research however suggests that this pathology and pain may actually be due to repeated compression of either the small bursa or fat pad, that sits protectively between the ITB and Lateral Femoral Condyle. This compression coming directly from increased tension of the ITB itself.

    So, with these facts in mind, given that the pathology and pain may well be more linked to compression rather than friction, what good could come from the compressive action of foam rolling the ITB local to the painful or tight area?

    Foam Roller

    Instead, a more appropriate use of the foam roller, or self-massage device would be to focus on trigger pointing TFL and muscles around the hip, to help remove tension from these muscles which create tension in the ITB directly.

    For advocates of foam rolling the ITB directly: Yes, it is possible that short-term relief from ITB related knee could theoretically be experienced in some individuals, as a neurological response to the “different kind of pain” inflicted by the roller. However, is it not better to address the causes of the problem in the first place?

    Of course, in a long term treatment plan, further investigation is required to identify the reasons for increased tone in TFL and other muscles affecting the ITB.

    Take Home Message: You can’t stretch the ITB. A better option is to achieve relief from ITB tightness and ITB Syndrome through addressing tightness in musculature around the hips. Stretch your hips to help your knees!

    You can book a running analysis and technique coaching session with James here.

  • London Marathon Nutrition – (just) before – during – and after!

    Posted in nutrition on

    Sunday 21st April, just another Sunday in the capital right? No! It’s the London Marathon and many of you reading this will no doubt be participating and those who are watching are very likely to be inspired for next year. The physical training and commitment to participate in any marathon is immense – those of  you making it to the start line, we salute you!

    As some of the upmysport team know firsthand, one of the big pre- marathon anxieties is how to fuel up before the race, and also how to manage nutrition and hydration along the 26 mile route and to help with recovery afterwards.

    Naomi Mead, Nutritional Therapist & Co-Founder of Food First talks us through her top tips.

    Marathon Runners we salute you!

    The big day is approaching. You have endured the COLD, dark, wet, winter evenings pounding the streets, with everyone telling you that you’re completely mad. There have been times where you have most certainly agreed with them. But now you’re less than 2 weeks away, and despite what looms ahead, you know that you’re going to feel pretty damn smug afterwards.

    It’s the final push, and you want to get your body into tip top condition; ensuring you’re one of those (mildly irritating) people jumping up and down on the start line…sweatbands and all!  And a big part to play in this is your nutrition leading up to race day. Your food and drink intake can strongly influence your performance, and now, just days before your big day, it must be optimal.

    So to help you bound over the finish line, we have put together our top tips on how to fuel in the lead up to, and during, the race…

    1)       Change is not always gooddo not try and introduce new foods into your diet in the days leading up to marathon day. You don’t want any risk of discovering something that doesn’t agree with you- the last thing you want on race day is a dodgy stomach!  You know your body best, so stick to foods that you’ve eaten before and can easily digest.

    2)      We wary of your fibre intake in the days leading up to the race, by avoiding gas-forming foods such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower cabbage), beans and pulses.

    Urine chart

    3)      Hydration – In the days leading up to the marathon you want to stay hydrated — but don’t drink obsessively. The colour of your urine is really the best indicator of whether you’re getting this right. If it’s totally clear, you’re drinking too much. If it dark in colour, you’re definitely not drinking enough. Pale yellow is ideal!

    4)      The right carbs- try to increase your intake to around 8-10g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per day for the week leading up to the marathon to help maximize your glycogen stores. Don’t be tempted to choose sugary, refined foods but instead opt for natural wholefoods that are medium-low on the glycaemic index. Brown rice, fruit such as berries, apples, pears and stone fruits, green leafy vegetables, wholegrain bread and sweet potato are all great options.

    5)      The Last Supper- keep this simple and resist the urge to overeat. This meal should combine a good source of protein, ideally chicken or fish (avoid red meat which is difficult to digest), with some complex carbs and plenty of steamed veggies. Steer clear of creamy sauces, spices or garlic. Plain is best!  Avoid caffeine post 3pm the day before the race to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep.

    Bagel with peanut butter

    6)      Marathon day breakfast- make sure you finish your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the start of the race. This should consist of something easily digestible (so nothing high in fat) combining carbohydrate and protein. Most importantly it should be something that you’ve tried and tested in training! Ideas include: a bagel with peanut butter, bowl of porridge with berries, banana with an energy bar.

    Porridge with berries

    7)      Sports Gelscan be really beneficial for refueling during the race, but don’t wash down with sports drinks; chase with water instead. Putting too much sugar into your system at once can cause stomach cramps or diarrhea.

    8)      The importance of refueling– you have a window of around 45 minutes post-run when your body is primed to replenish its glycogen stores, and to soak up protein for muscle repair. The guidelines are:  1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight plus 10-20 g of protein. It is also crucial that you replace the fluids you have lost through sweat. Keep monitoring your urine to ensure that you are adequately hydrated in the hours following the race. Resist the temptation to switch straight over to the beers!

    And finally GOOD LUCK! We will all be cheering you on very firmly from the sidelines!



  • Yoga – a beginner’s journey

    Posted in yoga on March 28, 2013

    Thinking about taking your first steps into yoga? Adrian Kowal, yoga instructor and co-founder of the Evolve Yoga and Wellness Centre talks us through his beginner’s journey…
    A substantial pool of stinky sweat has pooled on my mat right underneath the ends of my trembling fingers which I’ve been commanded to “offer” to my reflection in the mirror. My eye keeps roaming to the attractive blonde two rows back who wears a small black sports bra and bottoms which barely cover her modesty. The instructor barks via his radio mic for us to keep our “drishti” (our attention) on ourselves and orders us into a toe-stand. Not wanting to look soft I ignore the screaming from my left knee cap – until I hear a ‘pop’.
    Like many before and after me I began my yoga journey on the repulsively odorous mats of Bikram studios across London. That was until I injured my knee, which took four years to recover. ‘Proper’ yoga was always preconceived as a bunch of vegans, chanting in strange tongues whilst pretzeling themselves into the shape of balloon sculptures. All the incense and woo-woo-ery seemed a little too contorted for any real benefit to my good self.

    Fast-forward a few years and I enrolled onto a Hatha yoga basics course, which armed me with the fundamentals of yoga, and I soon realized that much of what yoga is all about doesn’t have anything to do with the physical element on a mat.  The way that yoga differs from almost all physical activities is the depth and breadth of the practice.

    From deep full breathing techniques, which can either reinvigorate you or ground you, to a holistic philosophy around nutrition, mind and spirit – yoga offers a fully complimentary system for those seeking support in areas often untouched in traditional education.

    Since re-beginning my ‘proper’ yoga journey, my mind functions on a calmer and more effective level. With the discipline of a regular on-the-mat practice my body feels energised, toned, clearer of toxins, and I enjoy a much greater connection to the physical sensations of my organs and muscles. The coolest thing however is that I can stand on my head.

    From a practical perspective the way in which yoga integrates itself into my daily and often hectic city life, is to offer me a selection of useful techniques and practical applications in different situations. If for example someone is confrontational during a business phone call, instead of reacting straight away I pause – take deep breath from the bottom of my stomache – and then reply in a much calmer and often more considered way than I used to in the past. Before I take to the ski slopes, 20 minutes is dedicated to spinal twists and other yogic stretches that will ensure my body will be supple and prepared for a thorough day of skiing, and will alleviate that lower-back tightness that used to dominate my body.

    Whatever your fitness level, spiritual inclination, or mental condition, yoga is a wonderful tool to support you in living a healthier, more grounded lifestyle in the often stressful conundrum that is modern-day living. The best place to start is to find a beginners level course or class to ease yourself into what can be a life-enhancing practice.

    Details of Adrian’s classes can be found here.

  • Finding Balance

    Yoga instructor Erika Shapiro talks about the importance of finding balance in our lives and offers a few tips to help ease the pressure.

    We live in times when we tend to be constantly wired. Work generally demands a lot from us and we are forever on duty with smartphones and technology.  We try to conciliate and balance other aspects of our lives such as families, friends, and hobbies.  Ultimately, this leaves very little time for ourselves.

    Erika Shapiro

    This means that our nervous system is constantly on alert. Ideally, we would like our nervous system to be balanced, with on one side the parasympathetic system (our calming response) and on the other our sympathetic system (our fight and flight response). We need both to function and to be able to intervene when needed. If there is a real threat to our safety, it is important that our sympathetic nervous system is able to kick in, creating adrenaline. When, we have been in overdrive, it is important that our parasympathetic system responds, bringing us back to balance. However, in modern life, our sympathetic system is often overactive, leaving us depleted and searching for balance.

    We can also think of this balance as the yin and yang of the daoist system. The two are in constant flux with each other, like a pendulum.

    Below I offer a few little self-care tips that can help us achieve more balance in our busy and pressurized lives:

    • Take time out from external stimulus. Switch off the phone and make yourself unavailable for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis (2-3 time per week to start with). Find a comfortable seating position (a chair or a sofa is fine), making sure that your spine is straight and upright, and that you are sitting on your sitting bones.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Thoughts will come to your mind: just watch them come and watch them go, bringing your attention back to the breath when you drift. Imagine that you are watching your mind activity from a camera, with a lens and that you are zooming out, watching from a distance.  Stay with the breath;
    • Set time aside for something deeply nurturing, if you are feeling depleted. Try and resist the temptation to unwind with a glass of wine or in front of the TV (or both!) once in a while and choose something that feeds you in a more holistic way. Book a massage, surround yourself with art or music, go for a walk in nature, book a meditation, yoga class or do something creative (drawing, painting, sculpture….). This will help you reconnect with your deeper sense of self. It is important that we learn to practice kindness and compassion not only with others but also to ourselves;
    • Have an early night. The body needs to rest and restore. We often confuse adrenaline for energy and are unaware of our fatigue. If you have trouble sleeping, try breathing deeply, lengthening your exhale to calm your nervous system;
    • If your diet has been erratic, make the time to prepare a homemade meal with lots of organic vegetables. Our modern diets tend to be rich in acidic content. Vegetables are mostly alkaline and help us rebalance our PH levels. There is something deeply soothing and nurturing in chopping and preparing lots of multicolored vegetables. Make a nice soup, salad or just some oven-roasted vegetables.  No need to be a chef!;
    • Breathe deeply! Our breath tends to be constricted, especially when we are in overdrive. Learn a few basic breathing techniques that you can practice when necessary. They can be deployed at any time; before an important meeting, to help you get through a deadline, or to just help you reconnect.  A recommended book is “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi.

    Erika Shapiro

    By practicing deeper awareness and becoming more attuned to our rhythms and needs, we can lead healthier and more balanced lives. Yoga helps us develop this internal awareness and inner insight. It is not just limited to what we practice on our mat; the awareness we carry with us off the mat is just as important. It is easy to confuse adrenaline for energy and deplete ourselves even further, increasing our stress levels. By getting to know ourselves better we will know which is which and when it is necessary to intervene and practice a bit of self-care.  This will lead to better balance and deeper harmony in our lives.

    You can book a  yoga lesson with Erika here.

    Erika truly grateful to those who have helped her find deeper balance in her life: Linda D’Antal, Alex Filmer-Loch, Joanne Avison, Deborah Grant, Bo Forbes to name a few.


  • Mudder Nation: are you prepared for the Fire, Electrocution, Rope Swings & Ice Baths?

    Posted in running on March 8, 2013

    Sometimes running just isn’t enough. Off road and adventure races are increasingly popular. Personal trainer Geoff Clement talks us through what it takes to make it through a Tough Mudder race.

    You’ve probably heard about, know someone who has done it, or perhaps even read a few column inches in the papers about it. Tough Mudder has been designed to test your physical fitness, strength, stamina and mental grit.

    Tough Mudder – it’s tough and muddy…

    For those out there that are actually willing to commit thoughts to action and are prepared to throw themselves at what is regarded as “the ultimate” off-road/adventure race come mud bath that is Tough Mudder, you better equip yourself with the facts first!

    1. 10-12 Mile Assault course developed by the best in the business – British Special Forces.

    2. Multi terrain course: Fields, Concrete, Tarmac, Woodland, Rivers, and Bogs, not including 20-25 custom made obstacles.

    3. Rope Swings, Cargo Nets, Fire, Electrocution, Ice Baths, River Crossings, Monkey Bars, 12ft Walls… you name it, this course will most probably have it. Did I mention electrocution? 10,000 Volts to be precise! Shocking!

    If you are training to complete a Tough Mudder event and think you are going to complete it with relative ease because you can ace a half marathon with a degree of ease, then think again! Cardiovascular conditioning is a significant element, but not your only concern. This course will challenge your body to climb or crawl over, under, around or through various obstacles whilst at the same time coping with some tricky terrain and the mental doubt of “can I complete this” ringing in your ears.

    As having completed the very first UK Tough Mudder event I know only full well the preparations required to complete it. For a start you need a plan of action. As the quote says, “a goal without a plan is just a wish”.

    Forget L.S.D (Long slow duration) cardio, it’s all about the use of sprints, hill sprints, and bi weekly long runs for overall conditioning.  It is important to then focus on increasing functional strength and agility using push-ups, pull-ups, dips and squats – essentially compound exercises utilising multiple muscle groups at once.

    Ideally you want to picture the event in your mind, the obstacles involved and they types of terrain you’re going to encounter. Use the videos out there as part of your plan for how you are going to train and hopefully conquer this extreme event.

    “Ideally you want to picture the event in your mind, the obstacles involved and they types of terrain you’re going to encounter”

    When training for this event you will need to think outside the box a little. Fundamentally, endurance, grip strength, power to bodyweight and flexibility/agility is what’s required. The way the courses are set up, they are designed with a stop start pattern. High intensity exercises, followed by well spaced runs through varying terrain often grinding to a complete halt in preparation to make that pass on the balance beam!

    When formulating your plan of action don’t forget to try and stick to a hybrid type workout whereby you tag explosive weight training such as kettle bell swings/presses with short and sharp sprints, possibly even with a weighted back pack for extra authenticity! As I previously mentioned the stop start nature of this event demands that you are well versed in using high-energy demands followed by short rest periods. Adapting to this scenario will only stand you in good stead for Race Day.

    Remember having a decent level of fitness to start with is great. As a minimum I would suggest being able to do a straight 5/6 mile run non-stop in a fairly decent time. However it will be those event specific skills that you will need to hone that will enable you to hang, climb, lift and balance your way across those tricky obstacles that will make you a contender to finish and not just another statistic or casualty that didn’t complete it! Good luck!

    The Finish!


    If you would like some focused training for a Tough Mudder or similar race, get in touch with Geoff here.

  • Do Athletes Make Good Coaches?

    Posted in expert insights on February 28, 2013

    Baz Moffat personal training and rowing instructor (including event training for individuals and teams), speaks to Annie Vernon, who after a successful rowing career picking up World titles and Olympic medals, is now embarking on a coaching career.

    Baz caught up with Annie to find out what she has to say about athletes being good coaches…


    I spent eight years as a full-time international rower and following the London Olympics I moved into a temporary job coaching Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. I never, ever thought I would become a rowing coach but the job seemed like it could be good fun and before I knew it I was sitting in a launch on the River Ouse at Ely, right in the Fens.

    If I could describe my life right now, it would be that I’m becoming that person I used to hate: I’m doing all the things that used to really annoy me about my coaches….

    It started one day when I found myself shivering whilst supervising a weights session, so I suggested to the girls that they close the windows of the gym. They looked at me in disbelief: I was wearing layer upon layer, whilst they were wearing shorts and vests.

    Then I started to notice that I was racking up an impressive list of all the things that used to annoy me about my coaches:

    standing around looking bored and playing on my iPhone when the athletes were doing tough sessions; not pressing the button on the megaphone properly so they couldn’t really hear what I say when coaching; accidentally running the oars over in the coaching boat; and making sarcastic comments when they’re screwed from a hard week’s training.

    So do athletes make good coaches?

    I’m not sure.

    On the one hand, I can really empathise with what the athletes are going through, both good times and bad. On the other hand, I will always tend to side with them when sometimes they do truly need a good kick up the backside.

    Thinking back to the relationship I had with my coach, I liked that he was always utterly uncompromising and although I often didn’t like it at the time, he absolutely got the most out of me. I’ve had to learn to see things from the outside rather than always taking the athlete’s point of view.

    As an athlete you’re only concerned with yourself. Your mind, your body, your motivation, your experience, your results. As a coach of a squad of thirty girls, I now have to deal with 30 different minds, bodies, motivations, experiences, and try to get the most out of each individual.

    Many thanks to Baz and Annie for sharing their conversation.

    What do you think? We’d love to hear from you on this and any other topics of interest for our community at hello@upmysport.com, or post a comment below for everyone to see!

  • Pert buttocks, endurance, elegance and a lot of lycra – An introduction to Cross Country Skiing

    Posted in cross country skiing on February 21, 2013

    Upmysport’s Alice Gartland takes her first official skating steps into the world of cross country skiing….

    Two years ago I made my first attempt at cross country skiing. Back then it took me about 45 minutes to work out how to put the skis on. Thankfully in 2013 I had cross country skiing expert Tania Noakes by my side.  I got my skis on in seconds, propelled myself forward and we were off!

    There are two styles to cross country: Classic or Skate.

    Pippa Middleton does Classic…

    Pippa Middleton and others doing Classic technique – it’s a bit like a walking motion

    I do Skate …

    Learning the V shaped Skate movement (it’s good to practice without poles)

    Tania is an expert at both and whilst I have started with Skate, the origins of cross country are in the Classic. Mastering the Classic first is a good way of getting to grips with the basic alignment of your hip over your foot, which is the foundation for an efficient cross country technique in both disciplines.

    Tania explaining the importance of getting the alignment of your hip over your foot – key to both cross country disciplines

    The Skate is an elegant movement, whereby you rise and fall with the motion of your skis as you alternate pushing out your left and then right ski. You also need to keep your head up and not look down at what your skis are doing. As Tania points out, this helps with the main point of cross country – to get out there and enjoy the view. But as with alpine skiing, keeping your head up and looking out and ahead, also aids balance and good posture.

    Tania showing me how it’s done

    However, don’t let that elegance mislead you. It is a superb work out for your heart and lungs and does wonders for your core and buttocks – It is cross country skiing that has been credited as the mastermind behind the world heritage site that is Pippa Middleton’s derriere.

    Mastering hills is a challenge and you have four ‘gears’ to help you manage the changing terrain.

    Tania introduced me to the two most helpful: Gear three or ‘Skate 3’ which is where you double pole over/on every other leg. You use it on the flat and on gentle downhills; and

    Tania demonstrating Skate 3

    The first gear or ‘Skate 1’, which has a slightly off-set double-pole over/on every other leg. This is used mostly for hill climbing and slow conditions, or getting going. Tania introduced it as “the telephone” technique – one pole is slightly more upright and you bring it up towards your ear – a bit like answering a telephone. I now think of Lady Gaga and Beyonce on all uphill. It works (for me).

    Tania demonstrating Skate 1

    Hills aren’t the easiest and you have to up the tempo and really build the momentum to propel your way up. Downhill on such skinny skis is also pretty exciting and it’s a fun test of your balance. It also feels like a nice complement to alpine ski technique.

    Skinny skis and nimble boots

    Cross country skiing is a lovely way to travel in the mountains, and there are some pretty exciting endurance challenges out there should you be tempted. The epic Transjurrassiene takes you into the heart of cross country skiing in Europe. As Jeff who completed the 57km this year says it’s, “one of the most gruelling events in the cross-country calendar. There are departures at 76km, 57km and 25km from the finish in a race held whatever the weather. It was minus 20 degrees celsius at the start this year. An ascent of about 9km through pine forests populated by bell-clanging Jura villagers helps make it one of the most arduous and exhilarating events around.”

    There is also the historic and super tough Vasaloppet ski marathon in Sweden which Pippa completed last year and there are loads of other races dotted around the mountains throughout the winter.

    Traversee de la Ramaz 2013 – 30k start

    Tania has been Cross Country skiing for over 10 years and competing nationally since 2006.  She is a former GB champion in both the 10km Classic, and the 10km Biathlon Mass Start and has been British Biathlon Union Club Champion for several years.

    Tania Noakes in action (Note the Skate 1 technique)

    You could get intimidated by that, but Tania just loves what she does and gets totally excited about you travelling 50m or 50km – it doesn’t matter – she just wants you to be out there and have fun!

    I have just propelled myself forward about 10m – smiles all round!

    It’s also that energy and her ability to focus in on your technique in a really subtle way as you are skating along enjoying the view, that meant that after just two hours Tania had got me skating smoothly, broken down the elements of the technique, given me some key drills to practice, totally inspired my confidence and also got me contemplating my first cross country ski race (a somewhat hillier than anticipated 7.5km). And for the sake of my buttocks, a Transjurrassiene in 2014 …

    Just finished the Traversee de la Ramaz 7.5km – a hilly but happy start to my skating career – Thank you Tania!

    If you have been inspired and would like to have a go, Tania would be delighted to take you out for a lesson in Chamonix and the surrounding areas.