Piriformis Syndrome- A Real Pain in the Butt!


Piriformis Syndrome- A Real Pain in the Butt!

Through this blog I will try and help identify what is a common issue for many runners, sportsmen and women and also just anyone with bad postural habits.  Piriformis Syndrome has bothered me for many a year and although it does not stop me training and competing, it can be a literal pain in the butt! 

However it is remedied with some simple flexibility training and knowledge.

The piriformis is a small muscle located in the buttock area and hidden deep under your glute muscles it is in close proximity to your sciatic nerve.  Sound familliar?!

The piriformis’ job is to rotate the hip externally and it can be aggravated by prolonged sitting, running and lying on your side at night for hours in bed.  These can cause it to become overstretched leading to spasm, swelling and tightness.  This can press and impinge on the sciatic nerve leading to pain in your butt and lower back. 

Pain is typically felt in the lower back, glute and hip during walking or running and if you have been seated for a long time.  As I mentioned earlier it tends to affect me from time to time after heavy training and lots of sitting at a desk.

So how do you avoid Piriformis Syndrome or relieve it?

1.     Men, don’t sit with your wallet in your back pocket as this presses on the Piriformis causing it to spasm and tighten.

2.     Warm up correctly and take your hips through full range in order to activate and lengthen muscles.

3.     If you sleep on your side put a pillow between your knees to keep your hips neutral and avoid overstretching the Piriformis muscle.

4.     Stretch!  Do the following stretches (when warm) when you are warm to help target the Piriformis and relieve or prevent Piriformis Syndrome:

Glute and Piriformis stretch:  Lie on your back with your knees up and then cross one leg over the other.  Grab your thigh and pull the knee in toward your chest keeping your tail bone pressed into the floor.  You should feel the stretch in your butt on the crossed leg.

Glute stretch:  lie on your back again and bring one knee up towards your chest and grab the knee with both hands.  Pull the knee in towards the chest and across to the opposite shoulder to feel the stretch through your butt and lower back.

To minimize the risk of developing Piriformis Syndrome try and be aware of your posture while sleeping and avoid spending too much time sitting (especially if you’re sitting on your wallet).  If it’s too late and you have it already then try the stretches and tips above to relieve it! 

Remember that you must consult a physio or osteopath if you are in severe pain and have not been able to relieve the problem with the suggestions above.

 Good luck!





Affordable Personal Training- Is There Such a thing?


Affordable Personal Training- Is There Such a thing?

Many people ask me if personal training is expensive and question if they can afford it.  The answer depends on you and what you value.  It is not so much a question of if you can afford a personal trainer, it is more a question of what you could cut out to better use your hard earned money.  You can spend up to £100 per hour on a top celebrity trainer or £30 per hour on someone who may be less well known, and there are many different packages to choose from.  The one that works for you is the best.  It just depends what price you put on your health and what you value for the long term?

The first thing you should consider is that if you are asking questions above then you must want to change your health or appearance so you are already on the right track.  You just need to figure out what is available, what you need and how much it costs.

£30-£100 for one personal training session seems steep?!

If you are unhappy with your fitness level or weight then you might need to change your lifestyle a bit which could mean giving up a habit like smoking or reducing eating out.  Then decide what you want to change, in the long term and establish a clear goal as this will motivate you.  This might be losing weight or running a marathon.  Neither can be achieved if you don't make a change.

Now consider what you want in terms of a trainer- do you want to join a gym and hire one of the “in house trainers” or do you want to work externally without a gym membership? Then what will it cost?

Average prices for personal trainers are £45-£65 per session in London.

Now look at your lifestyle and consider the following habits and what they cost a week approximately:

o   Smoking 20 cigarettes a day costs up to £70 a week and that is not including the extras you smoke when out boozing

o   Eating out an extra night a week costs up to £100 depending on where you go

o   Going out drinking an extra night a week costs £50 give or take

o   Buying lunch at work each day costs £20+ a week

Changing any of these habits would save you money!

Now consider the price of personal training which is on average £45 to £65 an hour.

All of the expensive habits listed above are both detrimental to health and your wallet.  Sacrifice one night out per week out of two, give up smoking, give up one night out for dinner a week or make your own lunch each week and you have saved the money for that PT session already!

1 personal training session costs the same as the average night out on the sauce…. You won’t have a hangover, you won’t put on weight and you will feel, look and perform better in every sense! 

Finally, you have to consider what you should get from your £45-£65 per session:

·       One-one tailored exercise sessions designed around you

·       Motivation and support to achieve your goal

·       Nutritional support

·       Progress checks

·       Fitness tests

·       Additional exercise programs to supplement your training

·       Education on what, why and how to exercise effectively

·       Safety in the knowledge your trainer is a highly qualified professional

No, Personal Training is not expensive!

You are investing in your health which will make you live longer- the luxuries above will mostly shorten your life!  Exercise is a proven stress relieving, feel good and look good addition to your lifestyle so give personal training a try.  

All details on the above topics are listed on www.tomcharman.com


How to Stay Warm in Winter Training


How to Stay Warm in Winter Training

Over the past week the weather has been pretty nippy!  I know that my clients have all been mentioning it. 

I have the pleasure of having to train outdoors a lot of the time and come rain or shine I will be there with my clients.  This is fine in the summer and even the winter if it is not cold and frosty but when it rains non-stop and you have 4 sessions outside in one day it can be quite comical.  I would never cancel or miss a session for bad weather but some clients might be less motivated to train if they have to leave the comfort of their warm house. 

So what can you do to stay motivated and able to train as a client??  These are some of the points I consider:

1.     Work indoors near any suitable shelter form the weather like trees or band stand like structures

2.     Wrap up warm- it is much better to take layers off as you get warm than to wish you had more on.  Wear a base layer under your tops to regulate your temperature and sweat levels

3.     Wear the correct footwear- trail running shoes are amazing in the winter as they give you more stability and confidence in your training thanks to having grippy soles and often waterproof properties.  I have a pair and swear by them in the winter months Check these out http://www.startfitness.co.uk/mens/footwear/offroad-trail/adidas-kanadia-trail-6-mens-running-shoes-m17442.html 

4.     Get a good waterproof/windproof jacket or just go old school and wear a bin liner if it’s raining so you can stay dry as possible and warm: http://www.startfitness.co.uk/mens/clothing/jackets-gillets.html?dir=asc&order=price 

5.     Have a dry top in a kit bag that you can put on after your session if you get caught in the rain.  Cooling down and staying wet are not good conditions for recovery

6.     If you don’t like trackpants for training, then leggings are perfect and can go under shorts for the more discreet look.  These will keep the wind off your legs during a session.

7.     Keep moving throughout the session- double win for you (the client) as you burn more calories and stay warm.  Sounds simple, but add in shuttle runs, skipping or dynamic moves during rest periods to keep warm

8.     Wear gloves and a hat- if you have warm hands you feel better and you lose most of your body heat through your head so keep a lid on it 

9.     Just think of the benefits before you wimp out- fresh air, vitamin D, exercise and energy levels will all be increased as a result of you getting out there and getting on with it.

10.  Shivering and being cold burns calories!  Your metabolism works harder to keep you warm so embrace the cold! 

11.  If you are cycling keep your head, hands and toes warm and dry as well as your body! Gloves, toe covers and snoods make a huge difference in keeping you comfortable on the bike. These toe warmers are a life saver: http://startcycles.co.uk/clothing/footwear/overshoes/craft-rain-bootie-cycling-overshoes-1900035-1999.html 

12.  Play a team sport- the more fun and involving a game is the less aware you are of the elements.

So… No excuse, get out and get training you will feel better for it and deserve bragging rights!

Good luck.


Outdoor Fitness Training. Is it Better than the Gym?


Outdoor Fitness Training. Is it Better than the Gym?

Outdoor exercise has become more and more popular over the past few years for many reasons.  The emergence of outdoor exercise classes and personal training has seen many people shift their focus away from the gym to the great outdoors.  So in the debate on Outdoor Fitness Vs The Gym, who comes out on top?

The truth is that each has their pros and cons.

The gym will have a mixture of cardio vascular and resistance equipment along with free weights and other bits and pieces so that you can pretty much do whatever you need to train effectively and functionally.  There is also often staff on hand to help with training programs and advice if needed.  But it may be limited in terms of space, crowding, price and availability of equipment to use at any one time.  Often in cities and towns across the country, gyms on the high street will be brimming with people between 6am and 10am and 5pm and 10pm as people train before or after work.  Some people love this routine and others find it a stressful grind that adds to the stress of a hectic day. 

The outdoors and local parks provide many natural obstacles, challenges and tools to make exercise effective and functional.  There will be slopes, hills, benches, trees and other things to use to spice up a training session.  Local authorities have also been installing outdoor exercise equipment in parks for people to use like they would in a gym.  The most obvious advantage to the outdoors is the space.  You may be the only person within 1 mile of another so you can relax and train without the fear of losing the treadmill or machine you were waiting for.

Every environment is different in your local park which means your training is only limited by your imagination.  Hopefully by the end of this article you will feel inspired to explore the possibilities available to you! 

The added bonus of being outside is the fresh air which will help you shrug off the bind of city commuting and sweaty, peak time gym sessions that can become monotonous.  Training in a basement gym, with no natural light or air is not that good for you.  Your body needs sunlight for vitamin D to boost immunity so getting sunlight during training sessions will really perk you up. 

Another fundamental advantage to outdoor exercise is the cost.  Depending on whether or not you want to buy special equipment and clothing it is FREE!  No gym can boast the same price tag.

The only cons of outdoor fitness training are the weather, the temperature and the risk of stepping in something the neighbor’s dog left for you.  But if you prepare well then you should be fine. 

In my opinion, there are two pieces of essential kit that would enable anyone to make the most of an outdoor workout:

  • A resistance tube- easy to find in most sport shops or online.  Typically they will have varying strength levels allowing you to choose a weight that suits you.
  • A mat- rolled up easily for storage and able to provide you with a dry, soft and durable base to lie on outdoors.

1.  Push up: A great upper body exercise that will also strengthen the core muscles.  Start lying down on your chest with your hands in line with chest and shoulders.  Keep your back straight and your core muscles engaged and push up to extend your arms.  Hold and return to the start slowly and repeat.  To make the exercise easier, put your knees on the floor.

2. Squat:  A complete lower body exercise to target the glutes and thighs, but also the core muscles. With shoulder width feet, keep your chest up and body tall.  Sit back bending the hips and knees to lower your bum to the floor.  Push up through the heel and outside of the foot to standing position and repeat.  To add more resistance use the band by standing on it and holding each end up on your shoulders.

3.  Lunge: Another lower body winner that focusses on the thigh and glute area while also helping balance and coordination. Step forward loading the front leg and bend both knees to 90degrees and push back up extending the front leg and repeat slowly.  You should be feeling the resistance through the front thigh and buttock.  Do the same number of repetitions on the other leg. Progress by alternating legs.

4. Row with band:  An exercise designed to strengthen the upper back and arms works well when mirrored with push ups.  Either seated or standing, loop the band around a tree or post.  With each end of the band in your hands keep your chest up and shoulders back and pull the band towards your body.  Hold and return to the start before repeating.  Be careful that the band is secure and the object it is not sharp or loose.

5. Step up to bench: To add to the lower body repertoire, step ups will work the entire lower body and improve balance and coordination.  Find a park bench or high step and simply step up onto it and back down.  Keep your body tall with your shoulders back and down.  Try to focus the step phase being forced through the heel of the leg and don’t push up with the foot that is on the floor.  Only the lead leg.

6.  Push Press with band:   A total body exercise that will start with the lower body and finish with the upper body.  Brilliant for power training. Get into the same position as you were from the squat and have the band positioned under your feet and up to your shoulders.  Squat as you did before and then explode upwards extending the arms at the final point.  Make sure you control this on the way down and repeat.

7.  Hill Sprint:   A simple way to add resistance to your running and develop speed and power out of the blocks.  Working to your maximum will put your heart rate through the roof. Find a hill…. Run up it as fast as you can to the top.  Make sure you are running on your toes and your arms are working in time with your legs.  Jog back down to the start and repeat as many times as you can handle.

8. Burpee: A brilliant exercise that will build all over strength, power and cardio vascular stamina if done effectively.  Start standing, crouch down hands to the ground, kick legs back so that you are prone to the floor, drive the knees back in to the chest and jump up reaching for the sky.  Land and repeat.  Be careful not to let your back sag or drop to the floor. Progress by including a push up in the prone phase.

9. Plank:  A total body strength and stabilisation exercise that will target your core muscles and stabilise your spine. Lie on your stomach prone to the floor and place your elbows under your shoulders.  Engage the core muscles and extend your body so that you are on your toes and elbows only.  Keep your back as straight as possible and hold for up to 30 seconds.  Progress by lifting a leg and holding it.

10. Tricep dip:  Designed to target the upper body and in particular the arms and shoulders.  If done correctly it can really enhance your upper body performance across the board. Find a park bench or step and place your hand palm away from you, on the edge of the bench under your shoulders.  Edge your bum off the bench and lower your body to the floor with your arms bending at the elbow and shoulder.  Extend and repeat.  Keep your chest up and back straight but remember this is an upper body exercise so the legs are merely there to anchor you.  Progress by extending your legs.

Each one of these exercises is easily progressed or regressed depending on your ability, plus they are all highly functional and will increase performance in everyday life.  The key is to start gently and build up!  But remember to look around you at the natural landscape and environment you are in and see what you can use to enhance your exercise and build on your fitness.

Coming back to the argument of Outdoor Fitness Vs The Gym I want to make it clear that neither is best.  They each have benefits and draw backs and the bottom line is that if you can’t train anywhere but in a gym then great.  You are still making the effort to exercise and stay healthy so keep it up.  However, if you get the chance then get out in the wild and try a session outside. 



Hypertrophy Training Explained- The Process of Building Bigger Muscle


Hypertrophy Training Explained- The Process of Building Bigger Muscle

Hypertrophy refers to the growth of the cross sectional area of skeletal muscle.  


It is caused by the muscle adapting to overload, which in this case is an increased weight being lifted.

This post will explain the types of hypertrophy and the process needed to follow to achieve it.

Hypertrophy occurs when the muscle is required to lift more weight than can comfortably be lifted.  This overloading will cause the muscle to become damaged and over time and through training it will rebuild with more strength and size in order to overcome the weight.

 The 2 types of hypertrophy are Myofibrillar and Sarcoplasmic.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy occurs when a weight lifted causes damage and overloading to the muscle causing the body to recruit more muscle fibers and more importantly more Myofibrils.  These are the contractile part of the muscle and contain the active protein Actin and Myosin.  The muscle will increase the density and number of these myofibrils which will in turn increase the strength of the contraction and the size of the muscle belly.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy occurs as a result of training or lifting to fatigue.  When a weight is lifted for a number of repetitions that lasts longer than 10 seconds the fuel in the muscle is spent.  This fuel and energy is contained in the sarcoplasm (fluid part) of the muscle and will be increased in volume in order to maintain a contraction for a longer period.  This increase in sarcoplasmic volume will lead to increased muscle belly size and improve time to fatigue because more fuel available.

The easiest way to visualize the difference between the 2 types is to compare a body builder to a powerlifter.  They are both muscular in shape but possess different weight lifting abilities.  A power lifter will require Myofibrillar hypertrophy to complete powerful fast movement of heavy weight.  Their aim is lifting the maximum weight possible.

A body builder will need to lift less heavy weight but for sets to failure in order to increase size of muscle rather than maximal strength.  The aim is to increase size not necessarily strength.  This would require sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Always bear in mind that neither form of hypertrophy will be possible without a good nutrition regime and a well-designed training program. 

If you are aiming for powerlifting strength and size plan your training on the following basis:

 ·      Lifting weight that is 85-90% of your 1 Rep max

·      Lifting for 5-8 reps

·      Resting for 60+ seconds per set

 If you are aiming for bodybuilder sized muscles then try this:

 ·      Lifting weight that is 70-75% of your 1 Rep Max

·      Lifting for 10-15 reps- Aiming to fail on the last rep

·      Resting for up to 60 seconds per set

 But what gives you the complete package of strength and size?

 ·      Lifting weight that is 75-85% of your 1 Rep max

·      Lifting for 8-12 reps

·      Resting for 30-60 seconds per set

 This is a very brief overview of what hypertrophy is and how to apply it to training programs.

To conclude, hypertrophy is the process by which the muscle belly increases in size due to increased exertion or weight lifted.  The 2 types differ where sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases the volume of sarcoplasm to delay onset of fatigue and myofibrillar hypertrophy increases the maximal strength of the muscle.  Both however will increase the size of the muscle belly over time and with effective training and nutrition.