Cowshed spa, Primrose Hill

As you may know, I am a huge fan of spa breaks – scheduled time to relax, rest and recuperate before heading back into the real world. However, sadly it’s not always possible to take off so much time for some R&R. We all need something that will do the trick and fit into your life. This is where day spas and treatment rooms come in. They’re aid out for maximum relaxation, but without demanding a full day to experience everything – and without the price tag of a full weekend away, too.

I headed to the Cowshed spa on a Thursday evening after work, excited by the prospect of a relaxing evening of ‘me time’. Cowshed has spas in Soho, Shoreditch and Primrose Hill, meaning that for Londoners, there’s always something nearby. I would recommend their Primrose Hill branch though, as it’s reported to be the most aesthetic (I can confirm that it was super cosy and pretty this Christmas time!). Upstairs in the spa is a café, and next door was the manicure and pedicure room – although I didn’t use them I imagine they’re perfect for spending time with friends or mother-daughter time over a mani/pedi.

I headed downstairs to the treatment rooms after filling in a short form about my health, and waited a short while on the downstairs sofas. My treatment started a little late, but wasn’t cut short, so I didn’t mind too much. The treatment started by telling the therapist what I wanted from the session – for me, my body was really sore from some heavy training, so I asked for a massage to relax my muscles. I chose my favourite scent from a selection (all of them were nice, but it’s nice to be able to choose your preferred one!).

I’ve had a lot of massages from lots of different places and the massage I got wouldn’t go at the top of my list, although it was still a very relaxing 45 minutes. However, the therapist did something I’ve never had before – she went through some of my pressure points and pushed on them. It wasn’t pleasant, but MY GOD the next day my DOMS had all gone. This has never happened to me before, even with a massage, so whilst this massage wasn’t top of my relaxing list, it was absolutely top of my effectiveness list. It was so good! I also bet that if I had asked for a soft, relaxing massage, the massage would have been much more relaxing than it was.

I would recommend Cowshed as a cute afternoon/evening activity for a catch up with a friend over a mani/pedi, or for some ‘me time’ after a hard week of working/training. You can’t deny the effectiveness of a massage for relaxation, and this one did just the trick 🙂

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Their upstairs cafe is my ideal kind of place for writing blog posts!

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The upstairs manicure and pedicure area – prefect for catching up with friends!

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The treatment room where I had my massage

The Malvern hotel and spa

After a very exhausting and mentally draining week, I was unbelievably excited to head to The Malvern for a weekend (two days, one night) of relaxation, good food and some peace and quiet. Nestled at the base of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, The Malvern spa looks nothing special from the outside, but when you step inside it’s a totally different matter.

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There’s nothing better than jumping onto a warm and comfy bed after a long day!

Fiann and I arrived at The Malvern at lunch time, and although our room wasn’t ready (they’re not prepared until 3pm), we were given robes and towels and allowed access to their spa and wellness areas. There’s not much that’s more rewarding than heading to the spa after a long drive, and it was so nice to jump straight into relaxation to start the weekend right 🙂

After spending just over 2h between the gym and spa, Fiann and I headed for our afternoon tea, booked in advance. I told the restaurant (a little/very last minute) that we were vegetarian and they managed to pull together a huge and delicious spread of sandwiches, cakes and other desserts (with a decaf soya flat white, of course). The waiters were more than a little surprised when Fiann and I managed to demolish the entire 2 slates of food, without much effort – for 2 VERY hungry people post-gym session, the amount was perfect! For anyone else it would have been a bit much, but they did offer us doggy bags to take away any we didn’t eat (obviously none).

Having finished tea, we were taken up to our room, which was small but perfectly formed. I think the bed is definitely one of the comfiest I have ever slept on, and (possibly helped by the relaxation from the spa), I slept almost 9.5h in the night!

As part of our stay we were offered breakfast and a three-course dinner, both of which were impressive, although they could have done with some more vegetarian and vegan options. As vegetarians we were limited to 2 options for both starter and main, although they were VERY good! The food quality was 5* throughout, but range of healthy options could be bigger.

On the second morning Fiann and I were booked in for our treatments – a 75 minute back, face and scalp treatment, involving ESPA products that you can choose yourself with a little guidance at the beginning. The treatment area is ridiculously relaxing, with a ‘waiting room’ with a fire, fountain and comfy furniture all around. I nearly fell asleep multiple times in my treatment and it was amazing for removing tension built up from work and the gym. Getting rid of tension and tightness in your muscles is very important so you’re less likely to injure yourself through reduced flexibility, especially if you’re working at a desk most of the day and leaning over your screen. Stretching and massages are helpful if you struggle with tightness and pain in your lower back, shoulders and chest.

It would seem silly to not check out the hills themselves whilst in the area, so Fiann and I checked out of the room at 11am on the Sunday and asked directions to the nearest hills. A short drive later and we were walking up some of the steepest but most beautiful British countryside hills I’ve ever been up. It was a clear day (and icy cold) so we could see all the way across three counties (although which ones and where exactly they were I’m still not sure, but it’s the idea that counts!).

For anyone who lives in the west or south-west, the Malvern is one of the top spa destinations around. I would 100% recommend having a visit and would personally recommend staying for the night – whilst you can’t go to your room until 3pm on your first day, you can use the spa facilities from midday, giving you an excuse to relax before you’ve even made it to the room! You also get more for your money, with lots of the deals including a three-course dinner and two-course breakfast. Total review? A roaring 5* – the best weekend I’ve had in a while.

View the website here.

Disclaimer: The Malvern spa and hotel invited me to try their facilities free of charge, but as always, all opinions are my own.

K West Hotel and Spa

This week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the K West Spa and Hotel for an afternoon of relaxation and sister time with Grace. We arrived at 12 and were shown around the spa and gym facilities and shown all the rooms they have on offer. Now I’m a massive fan of spa days, but I’m used to the basic swim, sauna, shower, out. K West is NOT one of those spas! Let me tell you why:

Grace and I were shown the best order to do things in. I wasn’t aware that there WAS an order, because usually you can see everything you want to use in the same room and you sort of just potter about until you’re stressed by being so relaxed and then leave (or at least that’s me). At K West we arrived and were taken down to the spa floor, which is a long corridor of different rooms with different functions.

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Hydrotherapy pool/100% best photo opportunity ever

Our first room was the main spa room, where we sat in the (huge) hot tub/jacuzzi (which I was told was the ‘hydrotherapy pool’), which is heated to body temperature and is gorgeously warm and relaxing (not to mention beautiful, with the starry ceiling). After the spa we had a footbath with salts to ‘cleanse and relax’.

Feeling slightly too relaxed, Grace and I decided to brave the cold and headed to the snow room, which is literally a giant freezer, chilled to -15. However, the benefits are real – moving from hot to cold can increase circulation, decrease respiratory problems and boost your immune system. After all, if the Scandis do it, there must be something to it! After Grace locked me in for a few seconds too long, we escaped and ran to the sauna, for a nice warming lie-down.

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A bright sauna! Most relaxing one I’ve ever been in (no joke)

Most saunas I go to are quite small and dark, making an already hot and slightly uncomfortable experience even hotter and claustrophobic. However, both Grace and I noticed the light glass walls and open feel to the sauna – no uncomfortable feelings of being trapped in a coffin in the desert were felt.

We had been shown to a door down the main corridor at the beginning, and told to arrive there at 2pm for our ‘treatment’. With the enticing name of sun meadow, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but happily arrived at 2pm on the dot. To explain, the sun meadow is a vitamin D therapy room, where you lie on a bed (literally a bed on the floor) and are gently warmed with artificial sunlight (after putting on eye protection of course!). No harmful UV rays are used (which also means no tan) but the light is enough to promote the production of vitamin D in your body and reduce the effects of S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder), which many people in the UK suffer from to a varying degree due to the lack on sunlight over the winter months.

I’ve never seen somewhere that offers such an innovative number of treatments and rooms – although Grace and I stayed for around 3h, we didn’t even visit all the rooms, although we were very impressed with the ones we did see!

With the hustle and bustle of life in London, it’s often hard to take time out to relax, but it is SO important (see my post on how to relax). K west offers a tranquil break from the hectic rush of everyday life. With express treatments such as the nail bar, express facial and back massage, it can also be a short wind down between meetings (or, more likely, after a stressful day sale shopping in the nearby Westfield).

If you’re keen to visit, check out their website

Rest days – why and how ?

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Put your feet up and relax – you’ve earned it!

For those of us who train hard, it’s often difficult to force ourselves to rest, especially if we’re not feeling overly tired or stiff. However, going without a rest day can cause injuries, exhaustion and other symptoms of over-training. A lot of us have the mind-set of all or nothing – it’s so hard to push ourselves to go to the gym everyday, that once we’re in a routine we don’t want to break it, and therefore taking a day off can feel like you’re falling behind. However, first hand experience has shown me that rest days are PART of an exercise routine, not just a day off. Here’s why:

Rest prevents injury

Our bodies are only built for a certain amount of strenuous activity. This level can be built up over time, but try to build it up too quickly and you’ll likely injure yourself. This is for a number of reasons, from the increase of tiny muscle tears that aren’t given time to recover, to the loss of form of a tired body. After intense exercise, our main muscle groups become tired and lazy, meaning poor form in further exercises. Poor form can lead to injury. On a side note, this is how I managed to get IT band syndrome on BOTH my legs only 4 months apart, putting me out for around a year off and on. Whilst I wasn’t training as much as others, the intensity of training was too much too soon, and caused my form to get worse, causing long term injuries. You really, REALLY don’t want this.

Allows the build-up of muscle

When we workout, we cause tiny muscle-fibre tears, that can thankfully be repaired by our immune system and adequate amounts of protein in our diet. However, this takes time and rest, and as above, without this tears can accumulate, leading to bigger muscle tears and injury. Rest days are needed to build back up muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissues. This is why it’s important to stagger muscle-group workout days, not working out the same muscle group for around three days after you last worked it out.

Better sleep

Interestingly, middle amounts of exercise help sleep a huge amount, but too much exercise can actually negatively affect sleep. Over-training increases the hormone, which is not only the stress hormone, but also the hormone that wakes you up in the morning. Having too much of it will wake you up in the night and keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep. You can find out if this is happening to you by measuring your resting heart rate (RHR) on a day you’re well rested and again when you think you might be over training. A raised RHR is a telltale sign that your body is on high alert, which could be due to over-training.

Better resistance to illness

Your immune system takes a hit when you’re tired, as it has to work extra hard to repair muscles and joints, alongside its usual job of fighting off millions of pathogens everyday. More rest gives your immune system a break too, meaning it’s better able to fight off any lurgies that are around.

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Nutrition is as important (if not more) on rest days as workout days. Pack in the protein! 

The reasons why you should rest vary a little depending on why type of exercise you do – lifting weights causes different issues to running long distance, but the essential point remains: rest is essential to progress. Rest days don’t have to involve hours of inactivity – getting up and walking around is important to keep muscles warm and your heart healthy. However, if your workouts are usually light to moderate intensity, rest days can involve a little more physical activity, for example yoga, pilates, a (very) slow and short jog or a longer walk. Food wise, you’ll need a little less food on your rest day but don’t be fooled: you may not be working out that day, but our bodies still burn more calories the day after a heavy session, meaning that you’ll require more food than if you had taken the whole day off.

 

Prescription for rest day:

  • Lots of protein
  • Slightly less carbs than usual
  • No intense exercise – a light jog at most, but don’t overdo it!
  • This is NOT a cheat day: using your rest day as a cheat day won’t do your body or mind any favours. Plan it like a training day and nourish yourself accordingly.
  • Stretch and foam roll

 

Finding out what works for you may take a bit of time and fiddling, but making sure you keep a track of how you feel will mean you can ace your rest day like any other day of training.

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Sleep is life