Archives for February 2012

Tuesday Trainer stretches into Wednesday

Every Tuesday, Lindsay’s List hosts a series called ‘Tuesday Trainer‘ in which she showcases the favorite exercises and fitness moves of blogging fitness enthusiasts and personal trainers. Each week has a different theme, and if you visit regularly, you can use the videos to create your own workouts. How cool is that?

Yesterday’s theme was ‘your go-to stretch’ and I submitted this video;

Ever since I injured my lower back (an ‘overuse’ injury), I’ve been extra motivated to improve my hamstring flexibility. Tight hamstrings can pull on the hips, leading to postural deviations and lower back pain.

For lots more great stretching ideas from Lindsay and several of our FitFluential friends, head on over to ‘Tuesday Trainer‘!

P.S. If you’re interested in joining FitFluential, please click on through to their website. You don’t have to be a blogger to join. FitFluential is a community of like-minded fitness enthusiasts sharing their ideas about what it means to be fit and healthy!

Workouts stopped working? Big changes lead to big results

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~~Albert Einstein

Sometime during the last six months, I stopped seeing results in the gym.

Nothing much has changed with my diet (aside from a little sugar indulgence over the holidays 🙂 ). Nothing has changed with my workout schedule either. I teach 4-5 aerobics and spin classes and weight train (primarily body part splits) 2-3 times each week.

Yet despite all this exercise (6-8 hours weekly) and a commitment to clean eating, my jeans are feeling a bit snug and my mid-section looks ‘mushy’. My first thought was that I’m just not working hard enough in the gym. My second thought was to blame age (I’ll be 45). But there are so many fabulously 40+ fit women out there it seemed like more of an excuse than a reason ;).

So I purchased a heart rate monitor (Timex Ironman Road Trainer, watch and chest strap combo; I’ve always loved their watches for ease of use and longevity of battery) to quantify my efforts and see whether I truly had become complacent in my workouts. After a few weeks of monitoring, I can safely say that I work pretty hard, both when teaching and when lifting weights. During a typical 60-min step and sculpt class, my heart rate is in my target zone (70-75% maximum HR) for 40-45 minutes and the monitor tells me I’m burning upwards of 550 calories. Same calorie burn for 30-40 min in the gym.

After talking to a couple of fitness instructor colleagues, I realize that my situation is not unique. Aerobics instructors and other endurance athletes often lose that sharp, lean look more typical of sprinters and other athletes whose sport requires short bursts of all out effort. That’s because our bodies get good at saving energy for the duration (i.e., the third class within 24 hours). In fact, my heart rate recovers very quickly even after intense bouts of exercise, which is great for cardiovascular fitness but less so for fat loss.

Although I do include intervals and plyometrics in my training, their effects are overshadowed by the long (relatively) slow distance work that my workouts are largely comprised of.

In an attempt to stop the insanity, I’m making some big changes.

I’m ditching the body part weight training I’ve been focusing on for the last two years (I’m pretty happy with the size and strength gains I’ve made) and switching entirely to rest based interval training. Combining upper and lower body moves together and alternatively with plyometrics (think burpees, squat jumps, box jumps, skipping) to create a metabolic circuit that will keep my heart rate elevated throughout the entire workout and create an ‘afterburn’ effect (heart rate should continue to rise while you rest between exercises, resulting in an elevated metabolic rate for up to 36 hours after the workout). I’ll be posting my workouts for you to try at home and to keep me from slipping back into my old training style!

Of course, diet is key too and no matter how well we think we’re eating, there’s always room for improvement.

I’ll be following the diet plan (note, it’s not really a diet; there’s no calorie counting or weighing or measuring of food) outlined in the book ‘The Metabolic Effect Diet‘. I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for well over a year, but only recently decided that I really need to give it a try. According to their definition, I’m a ‘mixed burner’, meaning that my body can easily shift between burning stored fat and dietary sugar depending on how I’m eating and training.

The main change for me will be a further reduction in my intake of starchy carbs, including a few of my favorite fruits (the very sweet ones). But, I get to eat more nuts and nut butter than I have been, which I see as a fair trade!

I’ve taken bathing suit photos (which I’ve decided not to share, just yet…) and will do so again every four weeks until I reach my visual goal. I’m not weighing myself, but would really like to fit back into my favorite pair of Miss Me skinny jeans!

Source: Miss Me

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Metabolic Effect, check out their Facebook page.

When your workouts stop working, do you give up or change it up?

Monday Motivation: use music to energize and invigorate your workouts

Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.

~~~ Hunter S. Thompson

If I’m feeling draggy and leaning towards missing a workout, nothing gets me to the gym faster than the promise of a new playlist. It always amazes me how the right combination of songs can turn an otherwise uninspiring workout into something fantastic.

Music motivates! Use it to energize and invigorate your workouts!

Sunday evenings, I can usually be found on the computer, trolling iTunes for some musical motivation. Although my tastes are broad (everything from John Prine to Nickelback), when it comes to workout music I lean toward Top-40, hip hop and rap. To be considered for inclusion in my workout playlist, a song has to have (1) a good tempo and (2) a strong, driving beat.

(Ever notice how mid-tempo the music is at the mall? Your pace slows to match the music and you end up spending more time shopping than you planned?)

Yesterday, I created a new playlist for today’s spin class. We ride hard for 40 minutes and need some great tunes to push us up those hills and keep our legs moving quickly through the sprints. I combined some new downloads with some old favorites; songs that we can sing along with, if so moved (I always invite my class participants to sing along with me; it’s a great way to make sure that they’re not working too hard!).

You don’t need to be in spin class to enjoy this workout. Take it with you to the gym, hop on your favorite cardio machine (treadmill, bike, elliptical, Cybex ARC Trainer) and use the music to tell you when to vary the resistance and speed of your workout.

I’d love some ideas for great workout songs; what are your favorites?

Desert island foods: if you had to choose 10, what would they be?

Last night at dinner, my kids got to talking about living on a desert island. One asked the others which toys, books and personal affects they would take with them if they could only choose ten.

The quick and obvious answers were their (1) Nintendo 3-DS’s (of course, the oldest child was quick to ask whether or not there would be electricity on said island; we collectively decided, yes), (2) iPod Touches and (3) the family cat.

desert island foods

More slowly came (4) Lego (because you can build it over and over again), lots of (5) paper, pencils and markers (for drawing, writing stories and making treasure maps), their (6) scooters (I insisted that helmets had to come too), (7) a soccer ball, (8) buckets and beach toys because, of course, it would be a warm, sunny island, (9) lots of books for reading (in case we get bored) and  (10) money (they assumed there would be someplace to spend it!).

No mention of food or clothing. That’s mom’s jurisdiction.

The whole conversation got me to thinking about what I would bring for us to eat. But since there was no way that any 10 items would be universally approved (I have one very picky eater), I decided to make my own, personal list of desert island foods. If I had to eat only 10 things for a very long time, what would they be and why?

  1. Oats. I can’t start my morning without them. They’re filling and flavorful and versatile. I’ve even ground them into flour to bake with.dessert island foods
  2. Coffee. I can’t start my morning without it. Strong, finely ground Italian espresso is best.
  3. Raspberries. My very favorite fruit of all time. So great as a topper for oats! And full of vitamin C and antioxidants. Yum, yum!
  4. Chocolate. Just a little square after dinner a couple of nights of the week. The darker, the better and if it were to have nuts in it, I wouldn’t complain.
  5. Red peppers. I eat at least one pepper a day. Raw, with eggs, stir fried and roasted. Doesn’t really matter how. I adore them!
  6. Almond butter. A great healthy fat that works well with oats and chocolate alike. Or just by the spoonful on it’s own.
  7. Eggs. The perfect protein snack. Scrambled, fried, poached, soft or hard boiled. I like them all. Of course that means we would need
  8. Chickens to lay all those eggs. I could eat a chicken breast everyday and never get tired of them.
  9. Spinach. Raw, wilted, steamed (with almond butter sauce!). As a salad or mixed into a
  10. Whey protein shake. Hard to decide on a single flavor, but if I were limited to one, it would have to be vanilla. Goes well with everything!
desert island foods

Did you notice what’s missing from this list?

Before you go, I’ve a couple of fun announcements:

This week I’m guest posting over at Bite Size Wellness about tips for making your first personal training session a success.

And coming up in April, I’ll be leading a ‘Best Life’ series of workshops at Younique Fitness Studio. Workshops are 90 min in length and include a workout and lecture/discussion on the topics “Fitness for Fat Loss”, “Concentrate on Core” and “Perfecting your Posture”. Local Port Moody peeps, be sure to check it out!

What are you desert island foods? Foods you could eat every day without complaint?

Get out of your fitness comfort zone! Try the ‘Accumulator’ today

Yesterday, I did a scary-hard workout. Something way out of my fitness comfort zone.

A fellow Canadian Fitfluential Ambassador challenged me to try his “303 Rep Challenge”.

Now most of my workouts are in the 8-10 rep range, so the title scared me a bit. Fortunately, the exercises maxed out at 50 reps (which is still an awful lot for me!). Check out the YouTube link below (and for more information about the program, click through to Brad Gouthro’s website; feel free to admire his abs, but don’t tease him about them!).

I did the ‘Spartan Advanced Female’ program with a few modifications. I used a band for my pullups and I split the program in two, doing half the required number of repetitions for each exercise in the circuit repeated twice (same volume, just breaking it up a bit). It took me 23:45 and my legs were toast by the end.

BUT, I felt great AFTER it was all over. Sometimes you need to get out of your fitness comfort zone to keep moving toward your goals!

With that thought in mind, I put together an extra challenging workout for my morning boot campers. I called it ‘The Accumulator’. The workout involved eleven exercises and only required some dumbbells, a step and a mat (you could easily do this at home!).

The format of the class was quite simple. Round 1, perform 16 reps of exercise 1. Round 2, perform 16 reps of exercise 1, perform 16 reps of exercise 2. Round 3, perform 16 reps of exercise 1, perform 16 reps of exercise 2, perform 16 reps of exercise 3. And so on.

By the end of the 11th round, you’ve done 176 reps of the first exercise. You might need to lower your weights or take an easier progression as the workout proceeds. The best thing about this style of training is the ever-increasing ‘break’ between sets of the same exercise (my class didn’t see this as a positive 🙂 ). I gave water breaks at the end of exercises 3, 7 and 10 each round.

If you like the workout, please feel free to ‘pin it’ and leave your comments below.

Enjoy the rest of your week and get out of your fitness comfort zone!

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Cybex ARC Trainer review: my cardio machine of choice

I’m not a huge fan of cardio machines. I find most of them boring and repetitive. I prefer to get my cardio done through metabolic strength training.

I can handle the treadmill and the rowing machine for short bursts. Warmups, cool downs and some HIIT (high intensity interval training) on those days when I’m not teaching step or spin.

If, however, I’m feeling like I need some extra, plain old cardiovascular training on a non-weight training day (like maybe the week after Valentine’s Day…), you’ll find me on the Cybex ARC Trainer.

Cybex ARC Trainer review

Kind of  like a cross between a stair climber, an elliptical and a good old Nordic track. It’s gliding motion is comfortable on the knees and ankles and it provides enough resistance to significantly elevate my heart rate. The Cybex ARC Trainer’s stride length seems to be longer than the average elliptical’s and I never feel like the handles are jerking my arms unnaturally.

It has an adjustable incline, allowing the user to mimic climbing a steep hill and changing the primary working muscled from quads to glutes. The 2:1 and 1:1 interval programs are my favorite.

Cybex ARC Trainer review

Last week, a 20-min interval workout (30 s high resistance, 60 s lower resistance, repeated again and again and again…) at a moderate intensity burned just over 260 calories.

Now calorie burn is not my primary focus when I’m working out (unless I have 1/2 pound of chocolate to ditch). But many of my clients pay close attention to the calorie display on cardio machines. Several of them have told me that they prefer the Cybex ARC Trainer over the alternatives specifically because they feel that it’s the best calorie-burner in the gym.

Usually I remind them that it’s not a good idea to compare workouts across machine types (or even machines; one elliptical may give you a completely different report than another). Bikes, ellipticals, treadmills and ergometers require your body to move in different ways, and as such, each machine uses a particular set of muscles to power the workout. Depending on which muscles are used (big vs. small), a similar length workout on two different cardio machines might be expected to result in vastly different caloric expenditures.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this articleHendrickson, K., Porcari, J.P. and Foster, C. Relative exercise intensity, heart rate, oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure when exercising on various non-impact cardio trainers. (Note: although I did find the article on Cybex’s website, the research was conducted independently and the science seems sound).

Here’s a recap;

Researchers took 16 people and familiarized them with three pieces of cardio equipment; the Cybex ARC Trainer, the Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer and the Precor Elliptical Trainer.

On each of three separate days, each subject completed a 30-minute, high intensity workout on one of the three machines (the order of exercise devices was counterbalanced across all subjects). Every 5 minutes, researches collected three pieces of information; (1) rate of perceived exertion, (2) heart rate and (3) oxygen consumption and calories burned.

The results surprised me.

  • RPE was virtually identical for all three machines (no subject felt that one machine was harder than an other)
  • Heart rate was similar for the ARC trainer and Adaptive Motion Trainer, but lower on the Elliptical. This, despite the same perceived effort as reported by the test subjects.
  • Oxygen consumption was significantly higher on the ARC trainer than on either of the other machines at the same perceived effort.
  • Over 30 minutes of exercise, the ARC trainer burned 16% more total calories than the Elliptical and 9% more calories than the Adaptive Motion Trainer at the same relative workout intensity.

Wow! My clients were right. The Cybex ARC trainer is the champion calorie-buster in the gym!

Note: I have no relationship whatsoever with Cybex. All opinions expressed in the post are mine and mine alone. If however, they wanted to send me an ARC trainer, I wouldn’t say ‘no’ and I’d happily wax poetic about them another time!

Do you do your cardio on a machine? Which one?

Have you ever tried the Cybex ARC trainer?

Monday Motivation: healthy choices slow down aging

Happy Monday! Time for your weekly motivation.

We are all aging, every minute of every day. There’s nothing we can do to stop the clock, but making simple lifestyle choices, including exercising daily and eating well can slow down the aging process. Did you know that,

  • exercising vigorously for 3 hours each week reduces your biological age by as much as 9 years (as measured by telomere length; the protective ends of your chromosomes that shorten as you age)
  • adding just 2 servings of fruits and vegetables daily can improve the odds that you’ll maintain functional health (i.e., be able to get out of bed in the morning and bend down to reach the newspaper) as you age

The possibility of aging slowly and well motivates me to prepare healthy meals and get to the gym regularly.

My parents are a perfect example of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle on aging.

My dad recently turned 70, yet spends time walking and cycling most days of the year. He’s an active gardener (volunteering at local gardens in both his summer and winter home towns) and enjoys a leisurely swim when the weather is warm enough. He is trim, in part, due to his love of movement, but also because he follows a strict diabetic diet (he’s been insulin-dependent for nearly 50 years).

Years before it became the healthy thing to do, my father served up home-made meatloaf and ‘ham’burgers made from ground turkey. Fat-free milk was a staple when I was growing up. (Although I was often embarrassed to bring my friends home for dinner on hamburger night, I now appreciate the healthy eating habits he modeled for my sisters and me; thanks Dad!)

My mom is 68. She retired early because work interfered with golf. She typically spends 5 days a week on the golf course, most of the time walking the entire 18 holes. In addition to the physical activity itself, the friendships she’s made on the course are key to her youthful approach to life.

My interests in cooking and baking stem directly from her; she refused to purchase packaged treats for us as children, preferring to bake her own cookies, breads (believe it or not, there’s an entire series of homemade bread photos in our family photo album; foreshadowing her blogging daughter’s future, perhaps?) and ‘health food brownies’ (I can visualize the recipe card with instructions for adding wheat germ and wheat bran to the chocolate treats; wonder where it went?). I do the exact same thing when baking for my family!

Although she has struggled with her weight for much of her adult life, the Weight Watchers point system has helped her shed over 20 pounds in the last two years. Way to go Mom!

I can only hope that the lifestyle choices my husband and I are making now will translate into continued health and activity as we age. Come back in 20 years and find out!

Does slowing down the aging process affect the choices you make today?

Tenll me about someone you know who’s aging well and happily!


The tyranny of perfection: why fitness, food and knitting slip-ups no longer faze me

Years ago, I was a perfectionist.

I held high expectations for myself and all of my endeavours. Workouts had to be all or nothing. If i missed one, I was ‘lazy’ and ‘soft’. Diets had to be adhered to ‘to the letter’ or abandoned entirely. Recipes had to be tried and perfected before serving to company. An accidental right slanting decrease rather than an SSK in my knitting? Rip it all out and start again.

Then I had children. The perfect anti-dote to perfectionism. They remove your ability to control the world around you. You can fight it, but it is an tireless and insanity-making battle. Embrace the chaos they embody or go mad.

Evidence that I’ve moved beyond perfectionism?

This week, I missed my Friday workout due to (yet another) Pro-D Day, Saturday yoga because I slept in (an extremely rare occurrence) and Sunday step class (sorry guys, I’ll be back next week) out of sheer exhaustion. No worries. There’s always tomorrow and sometimes rest is as good as a change. No one de-conditions over the weekend :).

Valentine’s Day chocolates tempted me to relent on my ‘no sugar’ meal plan. I enjoyed each and every one of the nut and caramel-filled treats, without guilt or worry that I would immediately revert to my old ‘sugar filled’ ways. (And more importantly, without running to the bathroom scale to see whether I’d gained weight)

I finally finished the sweater I’ve been knitting and cast off only to discover a mis-crossed cable. I decided to leave it there in the age-old tradition of quilters who purposefully make one mistake per quilt just to acknowledge that no one’s perfect.

Bet you can’t even spot it (okay, maybe you can, but I’m not going to worry about it!).

Pattern is Irish Coffee knit in Madelintosh Vintage (Briar colorway); ’cause I know that somebody will ask!

My children have taught me that life is TOO SHORT to fill it up with negative thoughts about errors and might-have-beens. A little imperfection is a small price to pay for a more relaxed, enjoyable life!

Enjoy the rest of your perfectly imperfect weekend; I know I will!

The Vega Sport performance system: a way around whey

One of the perks of being a fitness blogger and FitFluential Ambassador is the opportunity to try new workout products.

Several weeks ago, Vega Sport emailed me asking if I might be interested in trying their sports nutrition system; a combination of supplements to support the nutritional needs of athletes before, during and after their workouts. The products are completely plant-based making them appealing to athletes looking for an alternative to whey.

Given that (1) they’re a local company (Vancouver, B.C.), (2) my friend Mel had just finished raving to me about their protein bars and powders and (3) I’ve been looking for a product to help me get through the second of two back-to-back cardio classes, I was happy to agree!

The box that arrived in the mail was quite small, but ingeniously packed. Check out this video for my initial reaction.

Inside I found enough product to Prepare (pre-workout energy powders), Sustain (gels, electrolyte hydrators, bars) and Recover (recovery accelerator, performance protein powder, protein bars) for three complete workouts, and then some.

Along with the product was a small manual explaining what each product was for and when (before, during or after a training session) it should be taken. (This is a big selling point for me; I’m one of those people that reads the manual cover to cover before trying to set up the new PVR machine. I appreciate a well-written manual!).

The handy guide suggested that since I typically work out for under 90 minutes at a moderate to high intensity, I should take a pre-workout energizer (20 min prior), the post-workout recovery accelerator (immediately after) and protein powder (60 minutes later). On days when I teach two classes back-to-back, I can also include one of the sustain products (between classes).

Click on the photo to see the entire chart

The verdict?

To be honest, I didn’t notice much of an effect of the pre-workout energizer. This might be because I’m usually jacked up on espresso before a morning workout. It might also be due to the energy-enhancers in my daily GNC multivitamin. There’s only so ‘up’ I can get!

However, I loved the protein powders (chocolate > vanilla > berry). I tried two of them shaken with water and the third blended into my standard fruit and spinach shake. I found the powders to mix well and not to have that chalky flavor that cheaper brands often do. What’s more, they weren’t as sweet as some others I’ve tried (they’re sweetened with Stevia rather than sucralose or sugar). I can’t stand an overly sweet after-workout drink.

What’s different about Vega’s Performance Protein (in addition to it being plant- rather than whey-based and being gluten and soy free) is the inclusion of recovery enhancing BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids; 5 500 mg) and glutamine (5 000 mg per serving).

While I already include glutamine in my post-workout recovery plan, this is the first time I’ve tried BCAA’s. Surprisingly, the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) that I usually experience the day following a heavy leg workout was greatly reduced. Coincidence? I think not!

While I like the idea of a recovery accelerator, and I’m sure it played a part in the enhanced recovery I experienced, I found it a pain to have to wait another hour after taking it before drinking my protein shake. For me, it would be easier to have those products combined; I’m usually with a client or teaching a class an hour after my workout and am unable to eat or drink then. I’m wondering if it’s possible to mix up both in the same drink (providing of course, one chooses complementary flavors; Tropical + Chocolate anyone?).

If you only try one product from this line, it’s got to be the Recovery Protein Bars. Both flavors (Chocolate Coconut and Chocolate SaviSeed) were out of this world! I felt like I was having a ‘cheat’ meal. Probably because they were sweetened with sugar (which I’m not supposed to be eating anymore 🙂 ) and had calorie-counts in the low 200’s. For long distance runners or cyclists, those extra calories are unlikely to be a problem and the 15 g of protein and 30 g of carbs a great way to recover from a long workout.

I didn’t try the gel or electrolyte replenishers. Frankly, I’m not an endurance athlete and didn’t see them as necessary for me. I’ll be passing them on to the husband of a client who’s training for an Ironman (and is already a big fan of Vega Sport!).

Do you currently take sports nutrition supplements?

Have you ever tried any of Vega Sport’s products?

Disclaimer: Vega Sport generously provided me with samples of their sport performance system. All comments and opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.