Hi! I'm Sophia - a British born, London trained, Californian living Pilates Instructor, Personal Trainer and lover of all things fitness & wellness. I'm wife to John and Mama to baby Theodore. I workout to keep my body strong and healthy and my (over-worrying anxious) mind calm and focused. My approach to fitness is to listen to my body and move it in a way that makes it feel good - some days this means slow, controlled mindful Pilates and other days this means a higher intensity, sweaty workout! But the main thing underpinning every workout I ever do is good form - moving well means maximising the benefit of every exercise (and workout) reducing the risk of injury and, ultimately, feeling much better in mind and body....'move well, live well' as I like to say!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I LOVE food! I have a semi-serious chocolate addiction and am currently working my way through every Californian Pinot noir and Chardonnay available. To me, living a healthy life doesn't have to mean excluding the things you love; to build a positive, life-long relationship with fitness and food, nothing should ever be considered 'bad' and you shouldn't ever be made to feel guilty about what you ate or the workout you didn't do (rest days are super important!)! Yes, of course, we must consider the nutritional value of our food and make sure that we include as much nutrient-dense food in our daily diet as possible (for optimum energy and health benefits) and, of course, if we become overweight for our height/build then we might need to consider whether we're consuming more calories than we're expending and look at reducing daily calories consumed from certain foods (as well as increasing activity levels to create the calorie deficit required for weight-loss). BUT....if we exclude the less nutrient-dense (but super yummy and soul-nurturing) foods from our diet completely, we will only ever end up wanting them more and (more often than not) will end up developing a very negative, unhealthy (and potentially disordered) mindset towards food. And, let's be honest, food is one of THE most wonderful things about life so let's enjoy it!
My approach to wellness is just as much about my downtime on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of wine as it is about my workout program....I get anxious and overwhelmed pretty easily (even more so since having a baby!) and so downtime is SO important to me for my mental health and overall wellbeing. We moved to the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area last year for my husband's work and I had my gorgeous baby Teddy last summer. So life is currently pretty much all about new Mama life and figuring out how I maintain my fitness and wellness as best as possible now I have my mini-man to look after (without being able to call my Mum to come and save me when I can't cope...argh!). I hope you enjoy my little blog - I don't find the time to update it half as often as I'd like to (I only wash my hair once a week these days so sitting down to write a blog post is nothing short of a miracle!!) but take a peek below for my thoughts and top tips on all things fitness and wellness, including advice based on my recent pregnancy and postpartum journey.
Oh, and I'd love to hear from you - get in touch if you have any questions, requests for content or want to connect or collaborate!
Big virtual hugs, Sophia x
When it comes to improving your performance in fitness or in sport, your core strength plays a vital role. Whether you're trying to lift heavier, run faster, gain more control in your yoga/Pilates practice or improve your sporting performance, good core strength will provide the stability required for improved control, speed and power.
So what exactly is core stability? We tend to think of it as being our abdominal strength but it is, in fact, much more than this. Core stability can be defined as the ability to maintain control of the position of the pelvis, spine, shoulders and head, in order to provide a stable (but not necessarily still) base of support from which efficient movement can be generated. Core stability is a dynamic process; it allows quality movement to be performed with control and fluidity, whilst also ensuring any unwanted movement is avoided. What does this mean? Well, if you want to master
When considering effective core stability we should look at two very important factors; the abdominal muscles that make up the core and the use of breathing in the dynamic process of core stability.
Here comes the anatomical bit (the inner anatomy geek in me has to come out sometimes). So what exactly makes up the muscles of the core? It's easy to think of the core as being just one set of abdominal muscles. Well, would you be surprised to know that your core is actually made up of four different abdominal muscles, the muscles of the back, the diaphragm and the muscles of the pelvic floor (yes your core stability has a floor!)?
The four abdominal muscles are the rectus abdominis (the 'six pack' at the front of the body) the internal and external obliques (the 'side abs') and the transverse abdominis (the deeper ab that lies close to the spine). So why do we have four different abdominal muscles? Well the first three mentioned help us primarily with bending forward or twisting from side to side. They can also assist in helping to stabilise the spine when performing movements with the extremities but the primary abdominal muscle tasked with controlling the spine is probably the least well known and the most misunderstood. The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominals. Because of it's unique alignment (it is positioned side to aside as opposed to the others which are positioned in more of an up and down direction) and because it is the only abdominal muscle to have a direct attachment to the spine itself, it acts as the body's internal corset by pulling the abdominal contents in closer the spine while simultaneously drawing tension through the back to help stabilise the back when performing strenuous movements. Simply put, this deeper abdominal muscle is your muscular corset of strength!
So now to breathing. Breathing and the muscles involved in the breathing process directly impact upon core stability due to the effect that the functional use of breath has on thoracic and abdominal cavity pressure (basically the pressure within your thorax). The diaphragm, the most important muscle for breathing, which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity, is responsible for increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which is required for stability.
During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and lowers towards the abdominal cavity. It moves down very little but does so over a large surface area which, in turn, increases the volume of the thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity volume increases further as the inhalation continues, the diaphragm continues to contract and the central tendon prevents it from lowering any further which, in turn, forces the lower ribcage to expand upwards and outwards. The increased thoracic cavity volume causes a drop in intra-abdominal pressure (so long as the tone of the abdominals is maintained).
During exhalation, the the diaphragm and other associated muscles begin to relax and the diaphragm moves upwards. The clavicles, sternum and ribs drop with the pull of gravity, further facilitated by contraction of the intercostal muscles and the recoiling of the lungs and the tissue which line the thoracic cavity. The result is a decreased thoracic cavity volume (which expels air from the lungs) and an increase in intra-abdominal pressure.
During exhalation, air can be further expelled from the lungs by contraction of the abdominals, particularly the transversus abdominis, the internal and the external obliques. The engagement of the abdominals facilitate the active exhalation process and breathing out can, therefore, be used to assist connection to the stabilisation process
(basically when you breathe out there is a natural/anatomical increase in core stability!). To activate your core stability, the visual of the hollowing/drawing of the 'navel back to the spine' during an exhalation can, therefore, be an effective technique for teaching the use of deep abdominals for core stability. However, it should be noted that, functionally, this stability needs to be maintained during inhalation and exhalation as core stability is a dynamic process.
In addition to the transversus abdominals and the internal and external obliques, the rectus abdominis also directly influences the maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure for core stability. Rectus is the primary flexor of the lumbar and thoracic spine and, in addition to both sets of obliques, is also responsible for providing an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movement of extension of the lumbar and thoracic spine (basically the rectus abdominis provides stability during a backwards bending/extension). The obliques also provide an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movements of lumbar and thoracic rotation and lateral flexion.
Now for the pelvic floor (urgh never a comfortable subject I know!)! These collective group of muscles and connective tissues that make up the base of the abdominal cavity, play an important role in core stability. The pelvic floor act with the thoracic diaphragm and the abdominals to maintain the intra-abdominal pressure during exhalation. You can think of your pelvic floor literally as the floor of you core!
Anatomical talk aside, hopefully this post has made you realise that there really is a lot more to your core! Next time you're about to tense your abs to stabilise your movement, instead try taking a deep breadth in and, as you breathe out, draw your 'naval back to spine'. Switch on that natural corset of muscular strength!
Now, I've never been pregnant so, of course, I don't actually know exactly how it feels to have your posture dramatically change and your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles stretch and weaken as your baby bump grows. However, what I do know (and what I have had confirmed by many of my wonderful pre/post natal clients) is that Pilates is one of the safest and most effective exercise methods for staying strong, fit and active during your pregnancy and to help you get your pre-baby body back post pregnancy.
Pilates focuses on developing a strong core. Core strength is invaluable because if your abdominals, back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles are conditioned and strengthened they will support your pregnancy and delivery effectively and comfortably. Additionally, once the baby is born, it doesn't take long to get those core muscles back into shape with Pilates. Your muscle memory will kick back in (even after muscles have been weakened by pregnancy) and muscle fibres will quickly regain their strength through basic yet super effective exercises which engage your deep, core muscles through very targeted and controlled movements.
Another wonderful aspect of using Pilates as a method of fitness is that it is very adaptable and flexible. Most of the exercises used in Pilates workouts can easily be modified to accompany a belly, a sore back, or stretched belly muscles that are aching to get back into shape. Modifications are an important aspect of any exercise program because they allow you to do the exercise to gain the benefit, yet work within your present limitations. For example, for some women towards the end of their pregnancy, the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen (Rectus Abdominals) separate (a condition called diastasis recti). This causes a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate. Post-pregnancy, much care must be taken not to over engage these muscles in this weakened state and to ensure they are not contracted whilst still in this weakened state. Safe, functional post-pregnancy Pilates exercises will focus on engaging the deeper abdominal muscles (the Transverse Abdominals) and not over-activating the Rectus Abdominals until they have returned to their ore-natal state.
My advice to new mummies? Spend the first five or six weeks (at least - longer if you had any complications during your pregnancy) focusing 100 per cent on your new little bundle of joy and getting used to being a mummy! Then, if and when you feel ready to start moving your body again and re-activating your core muscles, then some gentle Pilates matwork would be an ideal place to start! If you are new to Pilates, check in with your doctor or midwife before you get started. You will need to find a good Pilates instructor who can give you some one-on-one time and who will be able to help you make the necessary modifications in order for you to optimise the exercises. If you've never worked with Pilates exercises before, it's best not to try to do it on your own initially. Pilates exercises are very exact, so in order to get the most benefit, get the proper instruction. If you don't have access to a one-to-one instructor, perhaps try and find a specific post-natal group class, which would be ideal for meeting other new mummies as well as learning Pilates exercises suitable for post-pregnancy!