Book Launch Day

Today is the day that ‘The Lance Grows Rusty’ is available to everybody.   All of the spearopt1profits are going to go back to medical research so please go ahead and buy a copy.

The story is a fictional tale inspired by my ten years in research labs prior to joining the University of Edinburgh.  If you have ever worked in research science then something in this book will resonate.  If you have ever worked with me then maybe a wry smile of remembrance will cross your lips as you read.

There are two options.  You can get a kindle version here.  (£1.70 of your £2.99 will go to medical research)

Or you can go to the just giving page  and donate at least £2.99 for a copy of the PDF. (95% of your donation will go to medical research).

Please be aware that there is a 24 hour delay with the justgiving page and you need to give your permission for us to contact you otherwise they withhold your email address.

(If you have donated anonymously on that page and want a copy of the book then please get in touch telling us when and what you donated and we will send you a copy.)

Please spread this message as far and as wide as you can and let’s see how much we can raise.

Consider it like a fund raising raffle but you have already won a book to read in your coffee break.

What does it profit a man…

Publishing is not the way to make money, unless you have a block buster of course.

The Lance Grows Rusty is not likely to be that.  I found the manuscript as we moved house.  With a little bit of rewriting, I had a book that the proof readers seemed to enjoy and so I thought, why not publish it as an e book and put the profits back into medical research.

I would love there to be enough funds to send some deserving researcher off to a conference, maybe a summer studentship, a PhD stipend, but to be truthful if it made enough to purchase one pot of restriction enzymes I would be happy.

The manuscript was edited, proof read, converted into kindle format and put up for pre order.  It’s priced at £2.99.  Of that, only £1.70 goes into the donational account held at the University of Edinburgh (where I have already negotiated having complete control over where it goes).  There had to be a better way.

Two meetings with the excellent Kerry in Development and Alumni and we have an answer.  If you go to the just giving page  and donate at least £2.99 then you will be sent the PDF.  This can be opened as an i book and has a linked contents page so works pretty much like an e-book.  This way all of your £2.99 will go into the medical research fund.

if you want an actual book then get in touch because some are in production.

The official launch date is 1st August.

Lets see how much we can make.  Research scientists helping themselves.

The Lance Grows Rusty

The new book is ready for pre order on Amazon.spearopt1

Although a fictional tale it is inspired by the years in research labs (before I moved to the University of Edinburgh – that bit is important to say, apparently).

If you have ever worked in a research environment then something in this book will resonate with you.  If you have ever worked in research science in Edinburgh then it may spark a few memories and if you have ever worked in research science in Edinburgh with me then maybe a wee wry smile might cross your face.

All of the profits from the sale of the book are going to go back into medical research so please help me get the message out there.  Profits aren’t that great on Amazon so I need the message to get as far and as wide as possible.

If you know anyone who could help in any way then please get in touch.

Shape of things to come

I was recently asked about the shape of the spine.  Did I think the shape of the spine had changed?

Now this question was in relation to the evolution of Pilates so it should be caveated with ‘Did I think the shape of the spine had changed since the 1940’s?’  It was a question as to whether the original Pilates exercises developed by Joseph Pilates were still relevant today.

My gut reaction was there had been no change…because nothing changes that quick.  I’m sure that, if time travelled allowed, I was presented with the spines from someone from the 1950’s and someone from the 2010’s I would not be able to tell the difference.  I started to dig a bit more and found a lovely illustration by De Vinci of a spine from 1500’s.spine

You can see it has the same curves as the spine today.

When you understand where the curves come from then its obvious.  The spine in the chest and sacral area curves out towards the back in what is called a kyphotic curve.  This is the natural curve that we all have as we develop as a baby – the natural rounding of the back.

Once we are born we start to try and hold our head upright.  This develops the secondary curve at the neck, a lordosis, a curving towards the front of the body.  Its a lot easier to balance something if you can get the support under the weight of it and so the spine curves forwards to balance the head on top of the spine.

A little while later we start to stand.  We now need to balance the top half of the body on top of the legs and so we develop a secondary lordotic curve in the lower back so that we can stand.

If a person is bipedal (walking on two legs) and has their head is upright then they will have these same curves in their back.


Joseph Pilates wasn’t doing exercises on dead bodies.  The shape of a spine might not have changed but what we do with it whilst we are alive has changed.

Again, if time travel allowed, if you showed me a person from the 1950’s and someone from 2010’s I would definitely be able to tell the difference.  The posture would be different and it’s the posture caused by those surrounding muscles that Pilates, and other exercise programmes, need to work with.

Are the exercises still relevant today? I would say so.  They might be more challenging today because we don’t have as ‘good’ a posture but should we modify exercises to accommodate the fact that we slouch?  Our basic underlying anatomy hasn’t changed.  We should still be striving for good form in our exercises.  Modifications to allow for poor posture are a slippery road to injuries, I suspect.

Anatomy is everywhere



I recently went on a training session at Brew Lab.

If you live in Edinburgh then I really recommend you get some friends together and book a session in their training lab.  It was great and opened my eyes as to how complicated coffee can get.

However, our trainer was telling us about how she had had to change the way she presses coffee down into the espresso machine.

Note her alignment here on the left, her wrist is directly above her hand and her forearm directly above that.  Nice straight alignment of the joints.  The only way is could be better is if it was lower and her whole arm was straight below her shoulder joint – not a very practical way to make coffee!

Why had she gone to this method?

She had managed to damage her joints by doing it out of alignment and had spent ages with a splint on her wrist.

A little anatomical knowledge can always make things better – even your coffee!

Hands up for Anatomy


How many times have you been in an exercise class and heard the phrase ‘lower your shoulders from your ears.’  It’s quite common.  People put their hands above their heads and end up with their shoulders up around their ears.

I was approached in my yoga class the other month by someone whose other yoga instructor was telling her that her arm position in downward facing dog was wrong and try as she might, this person could not correct her pose.

‘Show me how you are getting there.’  I said, and there in lay the problem.  Depending upon how you take your arms above your head, your shoulder position will differ.  One way your shoulders will end up around your ears and it will then be difficult to bring them down or to move your shoulder blades around on your back, as needed for many yoga asana.  The other way of getting your arms above your head will result in your shoulders being lower and more mobile.

So, what’s going on?

The bone in your arm, your humerus, has two large ridges towards the top of it, your greater humerus2and lesser tubercules.  These are the sites for a lot of muscle attachments, in fact the whole of your rotator cuff inserts around these as does your chest muscles and your back muscles (pecs and lats).

Just above the top of your humerus you can see we have the tip of the acromium process of your scapula and the end of your clavicle.

The acromium is the continuation of the spine of your scapula, the bony part you can feel on most peoples shoulder blades.

If you lift your arm straight out to the side you will reach a point, just above horizontal, where the tubercules of your humerus meet your acromium process and then the two things (your arm and your shoulder blade) move as one.

If you’ve been to a yoga class then your instructor might have told you that as you take your arms up above your head you should rotate your arms outwards so that your palms end up facing upwards.  They might have told you that this is something to do with spiral anatomy or to do with spirals that are established in the development of the foetus.  They aren’t entirely wrong.

Why is this a better way to get your arms above your head?  As you rotate your arm outwards you move the tubercles of your humerus so that the arm can lift higher before the bone meets the acromium process.  Your shoulders stay down.

There is nothing magic about it – you just need to understand the shape of your bones.


A Little Knowledge …not always a good thing

Let me start this by saying that I believe that any movement is good.  That is not the issue.

The issue is people saying one thing and then doing another.  That is an issue generally in life but I have a particular problem when the anatomical and exercise world collide.

If you scroll back through my tweeter feed you will find the video I sent to one of the Doctors on Operation Ouch when he was using the terms ‘jumping jacks’ and ‘star jumps’ interchangeably.  They are two different exercises.  To be fair he changed the voice over and now a generation of kids know the difference.  (That exercise mix up is my number one pet peeve closely followed by people who tell you how they are really sticking to their paleo lifestyle as they get into their BMW and drive down to Waitrose.)

Following the last post I have been in lots of conversations about ‘lateral leg raises’.  No problem with that term – moving your leg out to the side – that generally describes what people are doing when they perform that movement.

My issue is with hip abduction.  Now we get into specifics.  You’ve narrowed it down to one joint and you’ve narrowed it down to a very specific term that means moving away from the mid line.  It’s a common exercise, usually performed lying down so that you can work against gravity and you see some excellent trainers making sure that their clients are pointing their toes down towards the ground so that the only movement happening is hip abduction – its not a big movement.leg

Hip abduction should never lead to the movement pictured, where your toes point over your head.  That’s not hip abduction. That is a mixture of hip abduction, lateral rotation, hip flexion and arguably circumduction, which is an all encompassing term.  There is nothing wrong with that movement if that is what you are trying to do.  Its a compound movement using lost of muscles and arguably more of a functional movement than isolated abduction.

Sometimes one leads to the other because the body is a clever thing and will attempt to expend as little energy as possible.  Why use the small muscles at the side of your hip when it can use the big muscles at the front?  All it has to do is twist your hips slightly so that they are no longer stacked one on top of the other and hey presto, it looks like hip abduction but its much easier and it looks so much more impressive because the range of motion is greater.  The toe position gives it away.

As I said, any movement is good.  My issue is with trainers (and it tends to be the more expensive ones) who throw in anatomical terms like hip abduction and then get you to do an exercise that is not hip abduction.  Their clients are impressed because they sound like they know what they are talking about and the myth of what the movement is called is perpetrated.  More anatomical input into exercise professional education is what is needed.  I live for the day when no one is told that they over pronate their foot.

If you want to read more about hip movements I published an article at yogamoo about hip rotation
Thanks to my model who would never perform a lateral leg raise like that if left to her own devices.

Can you help?

 Can You Help Me?

I recently moved house and discovered some manuscripts that I wrote over 20 years ago.  They tell the tale of a group of research scientists.  I worked on it over Christmas and it has just come back from the proof reader.

She really enjoyed it!

‘Just the right mix of humour and drama!’

Here is the plan.  I am going to publish it later this year as an E book and feed all of the profits back into research science.

If you have ever worked in research science then someone thing in this book will resonate with you.

If you have ever worked with me, or research science in Edinburgh, then you might even recognise some of the events and incidents that have helped fuel the story.

If it could raise enough money to buy a few plastic tubes I would be happy but why think small?  Could it raise enough to send someone to a conference or inspire someone to become a research scientist?  Could it even support a summer studentship, a PhD?

I would like to see how many research labs and Universities we can get this publication into.  A countdown to publication will appear on this site as we get closer to the date.

What would be really great is if everyone could spread the word as far as possible and we can coordinate everybody downloading it in the first week.  That might cause a blip on amazon and people might start looking at why scientists are essentially having to crowd funding research.

Why I started this

 I returned to the gym this month after a considerable absence and I was reminded why I started down this anatomical journey.

I came from an exercise background and I felt that people were maybe missing out on the possibilities of exercise because they didn’t have a complete understanding of their bodies.

Boy was I reminded of that this week!

I went into the gym with the intention of just doing my own little workout but quickly got drawn into the observation of others. (You know what gyms are like.)

The person to my side took quite a bit of observation. Was that a plank? Was that a push up?  I honestly couldn’t tell.  If you can’t do a press up, and God knows a lot of us can’t, then there are other ways to work your chest.  Maybe they would have been better off doing those.

The two people to my other side were the epitome of what I was hoping to help resolve.  The two of them were doing lunges.  They started with normal lunges, only one of the participants was maybe demonstrating 10 or 15 degrees of motion.  They then decided this was too easy so did it with weights in each hand and then progressed to Bulgarian split lunges with their back leg raised off of the ground.  Nothing wrong with that, a normal progression through the possibilities with lunges.  If you can only demonstrate 10 degrees of movement at your knee joint with a lunge then why make it harder following a progression like that?  Why not just add more motion to the basic exercise?  If you have some pathology that means you can’t get a greater range of motion then don’t pile weights on it?  Or maybe you don’t appreciate what the exercise is doing.  You don’t have the understanding to work around it.

The last case – and the real epitome, if you can have two – was the person who was doing what I have recreated in the picture at the top.  Lying on their side they were raising their leg.  I presume they were working on their leg adductors.  They progressed this by adding a weight.  Look where the weight is.  They added the weight to above the fulcrum of the motion.  That position is above the belly of the muscle they are trying to work.  That weight is doing nothing!  Maybe they were training for some new sport of balancing weights on their hips and this was a thoroughly thought out gym session.  I suspect not!  I suspect that they don’t actually know which muscles they are trying to work and hence have no idea how to progress it.

Back to the gym next week.  My greatest exercise at the moment is trying to keep my mouth shut.

Knees and Winter Holidays


I was recently on a winter holiday.  As I broke my wrist at the beginning of January, I was not participating in some of the more adventurous winter sports leaving me lots of time to eat coffee and cake at the top of some beautiful ski resorts.

It was whilst at the top of a ski lift at Adelboden that I started watching the snowboarders.  They fell into two groups; the experienced ones who seemed to have the ability to get off of the chair lift, place their back foot on the board, although not secured in position, and slide along to the start of the run, and the others who ended up trying to manoeuvre their board with their back foot whilst the front one was strapped in place.

This looked horrible – see the picture above.

This group then further divided into two.  We shall call them the group who are going to be able to walk at the end of the day, and the group of inexperienced people who are going to go home complaining about snowboarding.

The group who are going to be able to walk at the end of the day manage to get into the position above by internally rotating their femurs.  The second group get into this position by trying to twist their knees.

I’m reminded of a talk by Leslie Kaminoff where he tried to look at how we should protect our knees by coming at it from the other angle; how would we try to damage our knees.

He suggested that the first thing we should remove is the protection that the ankle joint and the flexibility of the foot afford us.  Often on uneven ground the twists and turns never make it as far as our knee because the foot and ankle accommodate these movements.  Let’s remove that protection by clamping those joints in place.  Then let’s look at a way we can amplify those twists.  We could attach a massive lever to the end of the stabilised joint.  That would be a sure fire way to do maximum damage to the knee joint.  Obviously, what is described there is a ski boot with a ski attached.

I’m on a mission now to find a snowboard instructor and see how they explain what this movement should be to those learning to snowboard.

Is this yet another example of where a little anatomical knowledge could make life more fun?