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Karl Henry's 10 steps to turn your health around: Week Five


Karl Henry advises you to stretch to loosen your body up. Photo:  Mark Nixon

Karl Henry advises you to stretch to loosen your body up. Photo: Mark Nixon

Karl Henry side lat raise 1

Karl Henry side lat raise 1

Karl Henry side lat raise 2

Karl Henry side lat raise 2


Karl Henry advises you to stretch to loosen your body up. Photo: Mark Nixon

As you get older, your body gets stiffer and you become more at risk of injury by pulling a muscle. This week is about stretching to loosen your body up. This is particularly important for your back.

Lower back issues are nearly always linked to very tight hamstrings - and the tighter your hamstrings the more at risk you are of putting your back out. Stretching is simply a way of loosening up your body by attempting to lengthen the muscles while holding a certain position. When you stretch you should feel a light pull on the muscles. Never stretch beyond this point unless you are working with a trained professional.

The benefits of stretching are:

* Lower risk of injury

* Endorphin release

* Relaxation

* Increased range of motion

* Sense of positivity

You can also do classes such as pilates, tai chi or yoga if you want to go further with stretching. If you don't feel comfortable going to a class then why not look at YouTube for workouts that you can do in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. But as always, check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise programme.

When it comes to checking your hamstrings for flexibility, there are several ways to do this. One of my favourites is a simple hamstring stretch. Lie flat on your back and get a friend to raise your leg toward the centre of your body, keeping the leg straight. A 90 degree angle is a sign of very flexible hamstrings and is a target I try to use for my clients. But don't worry if you are nowhere near this, the 10 steps are about gradual improvement and if you are consistent with stretching, you will improve quickly.

Another version of this is a standing hamstrings stretch, like the one I use in the video on independent.ie. Stand tall, then cross your right foot over your left, place your hands on your thigh and lower your hands towards the floor.

Don't bounce, just keep the body nice and relaxed and go to the point where you feel a slight pull on the back of the legs. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds. Swap legs and repeat.

Here is another good tip. If you stand or sit all day, never place both feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg on a 2-3 inch book or block of wood. You can alternate legs during the day. By doing this you take a lot of pressure off your lower back and naturally straighten your posture. From this week on, we will stretch before exercising. You should do this before both cardio and resistance training.

Keep up the good work!

Exercise of the week: side lat raise

What you need: Table, bench or a wall

Keep your arms straight and raise up to shoulder level and return back down

Start with feet shoulder width apart

Place weights/waterbottles by your side

Frequency: Perform the exercise for one minute, take a break and repeat x 4

Week five food:

Breakfast: Have one meat-free day this week, increasing your veg intake and giving your Digestive system time to recover

5 things to train for...

1 Parkrun

Parkruns are free 5k runs all around the country that are timed and marked out for you, they have all the feel of a paid event but are totally free. They are expanding all the time and you can see your fitness levels improve by doing it each weekend. Check out parkrun.ie for more details.

2 Adventure races

As the name suggests, adventure races are a mixture of cycling, kayaking and running. They take place all around the country, can be tough but challenging and will leave you with a huge adrenalin rush. Gael force is one of the most popular events but check out runireland.ie for a list of events for the rest of the year.

3 Triathalons

Swim.Bike.Run. These are the three sports that make up a triathlon, there are lots of different distances and the season runs from April to October. A great way to challenge yourself and avoid injury as the training is nice and varied. Take a look attriathlonireland.ie.

4 Charity cycles

Have you enjoyed getting fitter and healthier over the past few weeks? Well why not continue that journey by challenging yourself for charity? There are lots of charity cycles all over Ireland that will challenge you and you can get fit and raise money for a good cause at the same time.

5 Your holidays

What better event to aim for than your holidays. We all want to look good on our holidays, especially when we look back at the pictures. So use this as a target to work towards and go for it!

Week Five: summary

* Check your weight, waist measurement and your fitness levels to measure your progress.

* Stretch before working out. For video go to independent.ie. Do your 5 exercises in at least one resistance session. Always work to your ability and take breaks.

* One meat-free day. Add fats. Eat oats or eggs for breakfast, have greens with min two meals and swap white food for brown.

Exercises at a glance

Tuesday: Resistance - Side lat raise, tricep dip, side leg raises, static ski squat, table press-up- five sets of one minute for each

Wednesday: Fitness test

Thursday: Resistance - as Tuesday

Friday: Cardio (running, walking or tennis, etc)

Saturday: As Thursday

Sunday: Cardio

Monday: Rest

Irish Independent

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