No time to exercise? All you need is 15 minutes

Somedays it seems like there’s just no time to fit in a workout. With work, family responsibilities and driving kids to after-school activities, it might seem impossible to find time to exercise.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating; you don’t find time to exercise, you make time.

What’s more, you only need to carve out 15 minutes to reap many of the benefits of exercise; better sleep, elevated mood, fewer sugar cravings, less-frequent injuries and perhaps, if you make time daily, weight loss and increased lean muscle mass.

Aren’t convinced that you can earmark 15 minutes of your day to workout?

  • How much time to you spend on Facebook? Twitter? Reading blogs (okay, read mine before you exercise okay)?
  • How much television do you watch? An hour? Two or more?
  • Can you get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning?
  • Do you need to spend an hour at the coffee shop with your friends, or will 45 minutes suffice?
  • Do you have ‘time to kill’ while your children are at soccer/piano/ballet/hockey practice?

We can all make room in our day for 15 minutes of exercise.

I’ve put together three 15-minute workouts (the first of which I did today, in the 15 minutes available between dropping my son off at school and teaching my morning small group training class; very effective, too, I might add!).

Two require equipment; depending on what type of workout tools you have at home, they could be done without leaving your house (saving you even more time) or at the gym. The third requires no equipment at all. You can do it anywhere (home, park, backyard, parking lot, behind the bleachers), anytime.

All three workouts have the same structure; perform each exercise for 45 s then rest for 15 s before starting the next exercise. Work through the number of cycles indicated (this is key!) without a break. If you can’t complete 45 s of a particular exercise, stop early and add the remainder of the work time to your next rest interval.

I like to use my trusty Gymboss interval timer, set for 15 intervals of a 45/15 s cycle. It does all the counting for me!

Before starting your workout, familiarize yourself with the exercises and perform 10-15 reps of each at a warmup level (toe pushups would be warmed us as wall pushups; dumbbell squats would be warmed us as body weight squats; pull ups would be warmed up as a dead hang etc.). Click on the links below to see descriptions and demonstrations of the most basic form of each exercise; make sure to use the equipment and perform the add-ons that I describe below!

Ready, set, go!

Workout #1 (equipment: 1 set of dumbbells, 1 pull up bar)

  1. Pull ups (assisted, regular, weighted, wide grip, narrow grip; your choice)
  2. Dumbbell front squats (hold dumbbells slightly in front of shoulders; add a shoulder press on the way up if you want)
  3. Pushups (against the wall, from knees, on toes, spiderman; your choice)
  4. Dumbbell straight leg deadlifts (heels elevated or not)
  5. Burpees or squat thrusts
Workout #2 (equipment: 2 sets of dumbbells, stability ball, flat bench)
  1. Walking lunges with dumbbells held at side (or alternating forward lunges if you don’t have the space)
  2. Low ab pull ins/pushup combo over the ball (1 pushup, 1 pull in, repeat; if you can’t perform the combo in good form, choose one of the two movements and do this instead)
  3. Dumbbell deadlift/bent over row combo (descending phase of deadlift, hold position and row dumbbells up to armpits, finish the row then the ascending phase of deadlift; if you can’t perform the combo in good form, choose one of the two movements and do this instead)
  4. Holding a V-sit on bench, extend arms down to the floor, bicep curl to shoulder press (if the V-sit bothers your lower back, place one or both feet on the floor)
  5. Bench hop-overs (straddle bench, place hands on bench at one end of the bench, hop both legs back and forth over the bench; you should look like an antelope!)
Workout #3 (equipment: none, although an exercise mat may make things more comfortable when performing pushups and planks)

  1. Body weight squats, hands behind head (keep chest forward, bum back and knees behind toes)
  2. Pushups (whichever variety you like; add intensity by placing feet on a book or step)
  3. Alternating backward lunges or lunge jumps (aim for 90 degrees at both knees at the bottom of your lunge)
  4. Plank (from knees or toes, forearms on the ground with elbows under shoulders; tummy and bum should be held tight the whole time)
  5. Imaginary skipping (for non-skippers, this is way more effective than trying to manage a rope!)
Disclaimer: These workouts may or may not be for you, depending on your age, weight and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before you begin a new exercise program.

Let me know which one you like/hate the most?

Do you make time in your day for exercise?

The same, but with a twist; little changes can lead to big results

I am a creature of habit.

I love routine.

My days and weeks run smoothly when I stick to a schedule.

I eat better and workout more consistently when I do cardio on Mondays and Fridays, strength train on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get to a yoga class Saturday morning.

That’s pretty much what my schedule looked like last week, with a few minor changes. The same, but with a twist.

On Friday, I participated in a spin class led by another instructor. Leisha’s classes are always fabulous, but this week, she tried something new. Instead of varying speed and resistance with each song (a fairly traditional way of organizing a spin class), she held us at a single resistance level for about 10 minutes, incorporating speed and movement drills at that same level of resistance before asking us to increase our tension for the next 10 minutes.

By the end of the class, we had increased our tension four times (no touching that dial!), ending with maximum resistance. My legs felt like jelly! A totally different workout than my body was used to and much more of a challenge too (I told her I’d be copying this format and using it in my own class; imitation being the highest form of flattery).

Saturday morning, I headed to my favorite Hatha yoga class. 75-min of gentle movement and breathing. A little bit of balance and a lot of core strength. After the first few minutes of focusing our breath, with standard, new-agey yoga music in the background, Chris switched playlists. When Doves Cry, by Prince, Crabs in the Bucket, by K-OS, some soul, some rhythm and blues and some good old eighties rock and roll. Not exactly the type of music you’d expect to help you reach nirvana.

But it worked! I felt more relaxed and less worried about my breathing listening to this non-traditional playlist than the usual birdsongs and waterfalls. I even managed to get into and hold crow pose for a short time. Maybe it wasn’t the music. Maybe I’m just getting better at balance poses. But surely, anything that helps you relax during exercise is bound to affect performance in a positive way.

The lesson?

Continue to schedule exercise and plan meals. Knowing what you’ll be doing each day of the week increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it. But don’t be afraid to make small changes; a new class type, a new instructor, a new playlist of your own as you set out on your morning run.

Surprise yourself with the changes that results from the same, but with a twist.

Do you create and stick to an exercise schedule?

How do you deal with unavoidable changes to your routine? Complain or embrace?

Where’s the starch? Non-starchy carbs can be just as satisfying

Join me on the Friday Fitness Blog Hop! Make sure you come back here for some delicious fall recipes!

Fitness Friday Blog Hop

When I’m trying to lean out and really see the results of my strength training workouts I make two primary changes to my diet. I (1) eliminate added sugar and (2) reduce my consumption of starchy carbs (note, I still eat lots of carbohydrates in the form of fruits and veggies; see below).

Source: http://www.superskinnyme.com/Weight%20Loss/Nutrition/Types_Of_Carbohydrates.html

Going sugar-less doesn’t bother me nearly as much as cutting back on bread, oats, rice, cereal, pasta and sweet potatoes. I don’t buy many products that have added sugar and as long as there’s no chocolate (or chocolate chip cookies!) in the pantry, I really don’t miss sweet. It’s the starchy carbs that are so difficult to avoid. They act as comfort foods when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter. Not so easy to just leave them on the shelf at the grocery store; they are also the mainstay of my children’s diets.

Like most of you, I don’t have time to cook one meal for myself (and my husband; he’s easy to please!) and another for my children. After-school is chaos at the best of times, and easy, one-dish meals are usually the only thing I have enough time to make.

For the last few years, I just ate half the meal; the half without the pasta, bread or rice. But somehow, I always felt like I was only getting half a meal. Like I was on a d–t (a bad word in my house). Recently, I’ve started experimenting with ways to make my meals feel more complete, substituting fibrous carbohydrates for the rice and pasta in traditional starch-laden meals.

Below you’ll find two recipes, both of which I made yesterday. Each can be served two ways; with and without starchy carbs. One meal that everyone can eat (except for my picky eater…) and feel satisfied upon leaving the table. Enjoy!

(Note that nutritional information is only an approximation and will depend somewhat on the brand of the ingredients you use).

Veggie, Chicken and Cashew Stir Fry on Wilted Greens (or rice if you prefer)

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c sliced onion
  • 1 c sliced mushrooms
  • 1 c julienned peppers
  • 1 c julienned zucchini, skin on
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 6 oz diced, cooked chicken breast
  • 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 c raw spinach leaves
  • 1/4 c chopped cashews
  1. Heat oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, mushrooms, peppers and zucchini. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are almost cooked.
  2. Add ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Cook 2 min.
  3. Add chicken. Cook until warmed through.
  4. Place 1 cup of spinach leaves on each of two plates. Top each with half of the chicken and veggie mixture.
  5. Sprinkle with cashews.
Serves 2. Nutrients per serving: Calories, 344; Carbohydrates,  18.6 g; Total Fat, 14.4 g; Sat. Fat, 2.7 g; Protein, 36.8 g; Dietary Fiber, 4.1 g; Sugars, 7.7 g.

Adding 1/2 cup cooked brown rice to the meal will add 108 calories and 22.4 g of carbohydrates.

Spinach and Beef Tomato Sauce on Spaghetti Squash (or in pasta shells if you prefer)

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin (or turkey, if you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1-10 oz pkg frozen spinach (you could easily use fresh; I ate all of mine with lunch, see above)
  • 1 jar clean eating tomato sauce (no added sugar, salt or preservatives)
  • 1 small spaghetti squash, roasted and shredded with a fork to resemble spaghetti (see video below for how to’s)

  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and ground beef. Stirring frequently until meat is cooked through.
  3. Add garlic, frozen spinach and tomato sauce. Continue heating until spinach is thawed and sauce is bubbly.
  4. Place 3/4 c shredded spaghetti squash on each plate, top with 1/4 of the spinach and beef tomato sauce.
  5. Season with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 4. Nutrients per serving: Calories, 398; Carbohydrates,  34.6 g; Total Fat, 14.4 g; Sat. Fat, 4.1 g; Protein, 32.2 g; Dietary Fiber, 13.9 g; Sugars, 16.3 g.

Adding 1/2 cup cooked, whole wheat pasta to the meal will add 103 calories and 20.7 g of carbohydrates.

From now until Christmas; exercise switch up

I like to switch up my weekly training schedule every few months. It keeps things fresh and helps me avoid plateaus in fitness and fat loss.

For me, the challenge is to balance my own workouts with my teaching schedule.

Although technically, I am working out when I teach, my fitness goals are not necessarily the same as those of my participants. Since they’re the ones paying for the workout, I tend to focus on their needs; whole body, metabolic style training, with moderate weights and relatively high repetitions for most exercises. My in-class workouts tend to be more about endurance than strength.

For the past few years, my primary fitness goals have been to (1) increase muscle size and (2) improve muscle definition through fat loss. The tools that have worked best for me are a combination of heavy strength training and high intensity cardio intervals.

From now until Christmas, I’ll be following a fairly rigid workout schedule. Two days of heavy lifting, two days of cardio intervals and core training and a once-a-week visit to the yoga studio (in addition to teaching 3-5 classes with body cardio and strength components).

This is what my weeks will look like;

Sunday: Teach Cardio Crunch

Monday: Teach Total Body Conditioning and Spin and Abs (Cardio and core workout #1)

Tuesday: Chest/back/triceps supersets; 3-4 exercises per body part, 8-10 reps x 4 sets

Wednesday: Teach Boot Camp then Yoga or Rest

Thursday: Legs/shoulders/biceps supersets; 3-4 exercises per muscle groups, 8-10 reps x 4 sets

Friday: Cardio/core workout #2 (either intervals on the ARC trainer or a Spin class)

Saturday: Rest or Yoga

I’ll be keeping track of how much I’m lifting and re-assessing body fat periodically.

Remember, you need goals and a way of measuring progress unless you enjoy feeling like you’re spinning your wheels!

What’s your current exercise schedule look like?

Simply “irresistabubble”? Strategies for avoiding Hallowe’en weight gain

Ever since I was a kid, Hallowe’en has been my favorite holiday of the year.

Is it the pumpkins that make it so special? Although I love cooking with pumpkins, I don’t particularly care for carving them.

How about the costumes? Nope, more stressful than fun really (so much pressure to come up with a really unique, show-stopping costume, year after year).

The candy? You guessed it! More specifically, the chocolate.

Mmmmm. Those teeny, tiny squares of chocolaty perfection. There’s chocolate with peanut butter. Chocolate with marshmallow. Chocolate with almonds. Chocolate with coconut. Chocolate with caramel. Chocolate with bubbles. Chocolate with chocolate! Each one, a little bite of heaven in a crinkly wrapper.

A little bite with a whopping 40-80 calories and 5-15 grams of carbohydrate!

Not so bad if you only have one. But who ever stops at one? (If you’re one of the few who really and truly can, you need not read any further; the rest of you? Read on.)

Over the years, I have developed some strategies to save me from Hallowe’en weight gain. Here’s hoping you find something on this list to help you out this year!

  • wait until the very last minute to purchase the treats you’ll be handing out to the goblins and witches that ring your doorbell. Don’t worry that the stores will run out (they won’t) or that you’ll forget (as if you’re children will let you). I used to buy early, but always ended up having to buy ‘replacement’ candy at the last minute (once the big bag is open, I lose all sense of self control)
  • don’t buy your favorites. Always give away something you don’t really like. Something that won’t tempt you while you wait for the next round of trick-or-treaters to arrive. Black licorice and gummy body parts are my treats of choice; I wouldn’t eat either unless absolutely starving, and maybe not even then.
  • give generously on Hallowe’en night. A handful or two to each child. Aim to have nothing left at the end of the evening. If you run out early, blow out the pumpkin, turn off the lights and treat yourself to some air-popped popcorn.
  • send leftovers to work with your husband (not for him to eat, but to leave in the lunch room to tempt his co-workers)

OR

  • throw out the extra. Not just in the kitchen garbage. Take it immediately to the curb where you will be much less likely to try and retrieve it later. Imagine what your neighbors would say if they saw you foraging in the trash can. If this last one is difficult for you because you grew up in a household where wasting food was a mortal sin, remind yourself that candy is NOT REAL FOOD.

What about the pillowcases full your children will bring home?

My strategy is to let them eat what they want for the first week or so (only after a healthy dinner) then hide the rest for another week or so (just in case they remember that there’s still some left), before sending it to work with hubby or throwing it out.

If you can’t resist sneaking a piece or two, remember to count it as one of your 3 or 4 weekly ‘treats’. Then, go brush your teeth before you cave and raid your children’s stash.

Do Hallowe’en treats tempt you?

What’s your favorite childhood candy?

Fake it til you make it!

At some point or other, we all misplace our desire to exercise.

To get to the gym. To pull out those old exercise DVD’s so you don’t have to get to the gym. To lace up your running shoes and take a brisk walk around the block. To do a few pushups and planks after your bath. To stretch before you finally tumble into bed after a Very. Long. Day.

Last Friday, my husband had surgery to remove a tumor from his small bowel (the prognosis is guardedly optimistic; still waiting on the final pathology report, I’ll keep you posted).

Since then, my days have been spent in a whirlwind of childcare (get up, empty dishwasher, feed and clothe children, rush out to pick up the babysitter, inundate said babysitter with directions of feeding and clothing of children in my absence), hospital visits (drive 35 minutes to hospital, fetch ice and blankets for hubby, check in with nurses and resident doctors, ‘walk’ hubby around and around and around the nursing station, drive 35 minutes home, stop to pick up groceries and other necessities if time permits) and more childcare (clean up the mess made while I was out, start the laundry, prepare dinner, clean up dinner, run the dishwasher, prep meals for the next day, get children to bed), before collapsing in bed, exhausted, but unable to sleep. (Come to think of it, it’s not much different from my usual routine, except for the additional stress, of course).

Friends and family have been great, helping out when they can, but it was a holiday weekend (many were busy with Thanksgiving plans of their own) and flu season seems to be getting an early start (two of the four families that are helping me tend to my children were ill, as well as my oldest son and very possibly dear daughter…), so it’s mainly been up to me to keep the show running. I’m completely exhausted and we have at least another four days of the same routine to get through before hubby comes home (and a whole new tiring schedule begins).

Not that I’m complaining; I’m very grateful that the prognosis is as good as it is and that we have so many people that are willing to help us out. But it hasn’t been easy (and I’m generally a  very organized and positive person).

Notice that I didn’t once mention working out in my list of activities? That’s right, I haven’t been to the gym in almost a week. In fact, I haven’t done any more exercise than walk from my car to the hospital (albeit, it is a 10 minute walk and mostly uphill, but not really the same as a strenuous workout in the gym) and back.

Tomorrow that will change. My bag is packed and already in the trunk of the car. Even if I don’t feel like it, I will go to the gym. Sometimes you have to ‘fake it til you make it’.

That’ll be me tomorrow, the big faker on the ARC trainer (although I’m hoping that the ‘faking’ part will only last a few minutes and that once the endorphins kick in, I’ll be truly happy to be there!). I’ve got an hour in my day, and know that lifting weights will lift my spirits as well.

If you see me, be sure to smile and give me a ‘thumbs up’. I’m needing all the encouragement I can get!

What’s your strategy for getting in a workout when you really don’t feel like it (although you know you won’t regret it after it’s done)?

Thanksgiving leftovers? Make soup!

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving.

I know. We celebrate it early. But there’s something to be said about a harvest festival being timed to coincide with the harvest!

At my house, we celebrated Thanksgiving last weekend; my sister and her girls were in town to run the CIBC Run for the Cure and my husband will be in hospital over the actual holiday weekend, missing his favorite turkey dinner.

Although we did a pretty good job on our 16 pound bird, there was still enough for two ‘leftover’ meals and some turkey soup. Now I always make turkey soup after Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I don’t always write down the recipe, making it hard to re-create the occasional masterpiece that comes out of my kitchen.

This year, I decided to take some notes while I was cooking, on the off chance that this year’s soup would be a winner and something I’d like to make again. Turns out that it was and I will!

Here’s my 2011 Thanksgiving Turkey Soup recipe (makes 8 generous servings)

Ingredients:

  • diced leftover turkey (I used about 600 g; if you have more, feel free to use it; note that the calorie count and protein content per serving will go up)
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 3 leeks, white ends and some green, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 cups low sodium turkey stock (I made mine by boiling the turkey carcass for about 2 hours and running the liquid through a colander to remove any remaining skin and bones)
  • 2 Tbsp basil pesto (mine was home-made, you can used pre-made if you like)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot.
  2. Add leeks, mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened.
  3. Add stock, pesto and turkey. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for 30 min.
  4. Add cooked rice. Heat thoroughly and serve. Very, very yummy!
Nutritional info (per serving); Calories, 227; Total Fat, 6 g; Sat. Fat, 1.7 g; Carbohydrates, 17.1 g; Fiber, 1.8 g; Sugar, 2.2 g; Protein, 6.4 g.

 

Today’s Friday (again!). That means it’s time for the weekly Friday Fitness Blog Hop. Click on the picture below and be amazed at where you end up!

Fitness Friday Blog Hop

Sometimes new things are hard

If you’ve ever left one of my group fitness classes feeling frustrated because you couldn’t follow me, I apologize.

As hard as I try to keep my classes ‘all levels’, sometimes I forget that you’re brand new to step class OR you just had a baby OR you’re overweight and self conscious about exercising in public OR the moves are too physically challenging for you OR it takes you a while to learn new choreography.

Maybe none of the above apply to you and sometimes new things are just hard.

Yesterday, I tried a new (to me) style of yoga; hatha flow. I’ve been attending regular hatha classes for a month now, and think that I’m doing okay with the basic poses (if you’ve been silently watching me from the back row, please don’t shatter my confidence by saying anything to the contrary).

I no longer have to look at the instructor when asked to move into downward dog, plank pose, cobra, child’s pose, or warrior I, II or III. Not to say that I don’t need some reminders about form ;) , but I’m at least feeling competent and able to keep up with the rest of the class.

Not so yesterday. While the poses were the same, the speed with which we moved between poses was not. Nothing was held for more than a few seconds (this is actually not a bad thing; nothing worse than poses that are held for what feels like an eternity!). The instructor was fabulous at describing the poses and correcting mistakes, but spoke quickly and too softly for me to hear over the background music. Regular participants were able to follow, but I spent much of the class craning my neck to see what I was supposed to be doing. I left feeling more harried and less relaxed than when I arrived. Precisely the opposite effect I expect yoga to have.

Despite not ‘getting my peace on’ for the day, the class made me stop and think about what it must feel like to be a newcomer in my classes. Yes, sometimes new things are hard, but my job is to make you feel like you had a successful workout, regardless of your fitness level and past experience with exercise.

As much as I encourage new exercisers to enjoy themselves and not get too hung up on the patterns, I understand the desire to ‘get it’, to be able to participate fully and feel good about your effort at the end of the class and how easy it is to get frustrated when you can’t follow along.

I will certainly try hatha flow again; there’s nothing I love more than a physical challenge! Please make sure you rise to the challenge too and come back and see me in step class.

Sincerely,

Your recently ‘enlightened’ instructor

Have you ever left a group fitness class frustrated and angry?

Did you go back?

Wednesday is for baking; pumpkin protein bars

Well, I was craving something savory to accompany my mid-afternoon coffee and found this yummy sounding recipe online; Pumpkin Chocolate Granola bars. I love pumpkin protein bars!

Given that this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving (up north, we celebrate Thanksgiving when the fall harvest is actually coming in ;) ) and that I happen to have a few cans of pumpkin puree in my cupboard, I thought I’d get a jump on the holiday weekend baking.

Pumpkin protein barsI made a few substitutions to the original recipe to satisfy my need for extra protein (hence the whey powder and egg whites) and less sugar (reduced honey and no chocolate; sorry!). I’ll give you my version of pumpkin protein bars, with nutritional info at the end. Enjoy! (I know that I did!).

Fitknitchick’s Pumpkin Protein Bars

  • 3 cups large flake oats (not instant)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (no sugar added)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 4 scoops protein powder
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 by 8 inch glass pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, protein powder and spices together.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk pumpkin, applesauce, honey and egg whites together until smooth. Pour over the oat mixture and mix well. Stir in almonds.
  4. Evenly press mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Cool and slice into 12 squares.
Pumpkin protein barsNutritional info (per 1/12th of recipe); Calories, 155; Carbohydrates, 22.3 g; Dietary Fiber, 2.8 g; Sugar, 6.7 g; Total Fat, 2.2 g; Sat. Fat, 0.2 g; Protein, 12.1 g.

I love pumpkin! Do you have a favourite pumpkin recipe?

Any special meal plans for the holiday weekend? (American friends, you can tell me your plans for November early!)