Here are two of my all time favourite gym accessories to transform ANY workout or training plan. As a keen marathon runner and gym-bunny, I recommend giving these a go when you're next at the gym and consider buying them as they are unbelievably versatile and can be used in pretty much any exercise or position.
You might have gathered my slight addiction to foam rollers through my published fitness articles on various websites and magazines. Save your money on physio and get yourself a foam roller. You can thank me later when you've saved £££'s.
What is it?
Pay caution to the name... It might say 'foam' but this will be one of the most painful things you try out (keep at it - it gets easier). Unsurprisingly, it's a roll of hard-celled foam, which can be bought in different lengths and circumferences in different textures ('normal'/flat, or the grid rollers which look tortuous). By purchasing a 'normal' foam roller, you are by no means ‘chickening out’. I own one, and hold no regrets.
What do I do with it?
This is a great accessory to transform your warm-ups and (more importantly) your cool-downs. Some leg muscles and ligaments (such as the iliotibial band - known as the dreaded ‘IT band’ by most runners) are prone to shortening, and are difficult to effectively stretch out. Cue the foam roller. This is the equivalent of having an intense deep-tissue massage at the end of every workout, without the large bill and awkwardness when the masseuse goes that bit too far up your leg. Lying on your side, use your own body weight to sandwich the roller between the body’s soft tissue (e.g. the side of your leg) and the floor. Once a sensitive spot is hit (usually around the knee area), concentrate on this area for a bit until you feel a release of tension.
Moves to try...
Aside from rolling away injuries, foam rollers are useful for a variety of exercises, including core-strengthening and stabilising postures and movements. This can be used before competing, or at night whilst watching TV.
To stretch out quadriceps, lie on your stomach with a roller placed under the front of your thigh. Slowly roll up and down from the bottom of your hip to the top of your knee, pulling yourself forward and back with your resting elbows.
When I was training for the Brighton Marathon 2013, I started to experience pain in my the side of my leg and around my knee which made going on long runs really difficult. By speaking to other runners, I realised I was suffering from IT-band syndrome, an injury that often causes pain on the outside of the knee, common in runners, cyclists and hikers.
My personal trainer showed me how to use a foam roller, and it was so good that I went and bought one for myself to use at home after every run or workout. Despite being made from foam, it can be really painful to use if you have lots of muscle tension. Once I’d started using it though, the speed in my recovery was amazing and since then I’ve never experienced pain around my knee again! I’d definitely recommend it to anyone doing a sport which puts pressure on the knees, and it’s cheaper than any sports therapist.
If I was on a desert island, one of the three things I would take with me is a medicine ball. They’re like a kettlebell and a free-weight rolled into one, making toning exercises fun to do whilst providing many other benefits to keeping fit and trim.
What is it?
A medicine ball looks like a netball, but you’ll get a nasty shock if you drop one of these on your foot! They come in different weights from 1-20kg, so you can find the perfect one for you. Suitable for all ages, fitness levels and sizes, a weighted ball can add great intensity to any workout by increasing your range of motion and making the body build muscle faster. Instead of isolating certain muscle groups, you are able to train different core muscles at once with the medicine ball.
What do I do with it?
There are hundreds of exercises to explore, all which improve core strength, balance, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, and upper and lower body strength. Transform those boring squats and lunges by holding a medicine ball at arms length in front of you to increase the intensity of the exercise.
Moves to try...
My favourite exercise with a medicine ball is doing crunches - it really helps revolutionise such a mundane and daily exercise. Hold the ball above your head when positioned on the floor with your legs bent, and then as you lift your shoulders up into a crunch, bring the medicine ball above your head, finishing the crunch with your back upright and the ball held up in the air above your head. Be sure to keep your movements smooth and maintain good posture. Using the ball to transform crunches will help work your core muscles even more, as well as tone up your upper arms.
features writer & lifestyle blogger and avid shoe wearer.