Archives for March 2012

Guess what came in the mail? My ‘Foodie Pen Pal’ package!

When I was a child, I had pen pals all over the world. England, Scotland, California and even Australia. I loved keeping in touch with them and nothing made me happier than coming home from school and finding a long-awaited letter or package from one of my friends (we used to trade stationery and stickers!).

With the advent of email and smart phones and social media, we no longer have to wait more than a few hours to hear back from friends and family. Despite the convenience of modern communications, I sometimes miss the feeling of anticipation that comes with handwritten letters and thoughtfully assembled care packages.

Enter ‘Foodie Pen Pals’!

Foodie Pen Pals is the brain child of Lindsay (of The Lean Green Bean fame). Each month, she collects the names of bloggers and blog readers who are interested in exchanging food-themed care packages. Each participant is given the name and email address of their pen pal; the person that they’ll be preparing a foodie package for. Participants are encouraged to contact their pen pal in advance to ask questions about food allergies and preferences. The spending limit is $15 and each participant must cover the cost of shipping their package.

On the last day of the month, bloggers are asked to write about the care package they received, swooning over the contents and thanking their pen pal for their generosity.

So that’s what I’m going to do!

I received a decadent, treat-filled package from my new blogger friend Jennie (she blogs about fitness and running and life here). She’s clearly read my blog, as she knows what my weaknesses are!

She chose a pretty, polka-dotted box to wrap my treats up in and included a lovely, handwritten note (you know how much I love handwritten notes!).

“Welcome to your desert island survival kit! This could very well be MY survival kit with the inclusion of the jelly beans! The coffee is from a local roasting coffee shop which I frequent. I hope you enjoy it (and that the smell doesn’t cause any problems at the post office…). 

I tried to think of a broccoli recipe for you [you’ll remember that I’m working on liking broccoli…]… but I haven’t actually cooked broccoli since I moved in with my broccoli-hating spouse [Jennie, have you tried the recipe that changed it all for me?]. 

I hope you enjoy the treats!” 

Enjoy? Absolutely! I love chocolate, the darker the better. My husband ‘helped’ sample that one and it disappeared in a flash. The coffee is a wonderful, medium to dark roast. I could smell it through the wrapped package and have been enjoying it as my after-lunch cuppa. My boys and I took the jelly beans with us bowling last week and had a fabulous time guessing what the flavors were as we ate them (‘no looking at the package Mom’). Luna bars top my list of after-workout treats (love the caramel nut brownie). She also managed to find a Lara bar flavor that I haven’t tried. Very yummy!

Thanks so much Jennie! You made my first Foodie Pen Pal experience a great one! I’ve already signed up for April and am looking forward to finding out who I’m shopping for!

Wanna know who I got to shop for? Hop on over to Amy’s blog; she’ll be revealing the contents of her package today!

If you’re interested in participating for April, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

You must submit your information by April 4th as pairings will be emailed on April 5th!

Who knows? Maybe we’ll get to be pen pals!

Have you ever had a pen pal?

Are you signing up for April’s Foodie Pen Pals?

Tips for making indoor cycling more enjoyable (really!)

Today, I wrote a guest post for Trainer Kim about spinning. More specifically, about why I think spinning is a great workout for just about everybody!

I thought I’d follow up with some specific tips for making indoor cycling more enjoyable.

  1. Prepare yourself for fun. That’s right. Arrive on your bike, expecting to have a great time. Nothing puts a damper on an enjoyable workout faster than a negative attitude.
  2. Don’t ride the horn. You know, the front part of your seat? Horn riding not only takes the fun out of your workout, it also makes for sore ‘lady parts’ the next day. Enough said.
  3. Dress the part. Long, flared pants are not only too warm for spinning, they also run the risk of getting caught in pedals and wheels. I’ve seen this happen and it’s not pretty.
  4. On the other hand, full coverage of your upper torso (especially if you’re large chested), will make you (and your instructor!) feel less self-conscious when you lean forward over the handle bars in ‘aggressive’ stance.
  5. Bring your singing voice. I love to sing in spin class. It not only makes the time go by more quickly, it makes me feel happy!
  6. Pedal with a flat foot. Pointing your toe will reduce the power of your stroke as well as lead to sore calves the next morning.
  7. Pull on your pedals as much as you push. Pushing from the top of the stroke down targets your quads. Pulling up from the bottom of the stroke targets your hamstrings and glutes; you know, the part of your body people look at when you walk away from them.
  8. Drink lots. You can expect to sweat more than usual while spinning. Make sure you’ve got at least 750 ml of water to replenish as you go. If there’s not a puddle under my bike at the end of class, I know I’ll be dehydrated later that day.
  9. Go at your own pace. Ignore your neighbour. Unlike a road bike race, indoor cycling has no destination so it doesn’t matter who gets ‘there’ first.
  10. Adjust your tension accordingly. While you needn’t add as much tension as your instructor requests (particularly if you’re new to spinning or just tired from a late night out), it’s really boring to spin at the same tension for the entire class. Variety will make the workout infinitely more enjoyable.

And finally,

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t love it the first few times on the bike. When I started spinning, my instructor told me that many participants hate it for the first 5 or 6 classes. It’s a challenging workout and even those who exercise regularly find it very different from running and group aerobics. I considered myself lucky, in only hating the first 3 classes I took 🙂

How do you make exercise more enjoyable?

Off to a great start: 5 things that make for a happy day

I can always tell, within an hour of waking up, what type of day it’s going to be. Calm and relaxed or frenzied? Energetic or tiresome? Happy or not-so-much.

For me, the activities that I engage in before 9 am have a tendency to set the tone for the day. I know it will be a great one if the following five things happen;

1. I awake before the alarm and my husband brings me coffee in bed (he’s been doing this for 18 years now; I know, I’m spoiled).

2. I have time to sit down to a healthy, satisfying breakfast (instead of feeding myself while standing at the counter and preparing breakfast and lunch for everyone else). This morning, I had overnight oats topped with Holy Crap cereal and strawberries. Yum!

3. I remember to take my GNC vitamins.

4. My children awake happy and allow themselves to be hugged and kissed by mom.

5. I have an exercise plan. Today is my day away from teaching and training clients and I’m excited to try a new Hatha Flow class at Kushala Yoga.

What needs to happen in your morning for your day to be a happy one?

Hanging around with Tuesday Trainer and my TRX

One of my all time favourite fitness tools is the TRX. Five pounds of sturdy, nylon webbing, comfortable foam handles and a mesh, drawstring bag to keep it all neat and tidy when it’s not giving me a fabulous workout.

I’ve used mine at the gym, the playground and hanging from the swing set in my backyard. It’s lightweight and portable, making it the perfect holiday fitness tool. Taking up less room than a pair of shoes, it’s easily packed in your luggage. And talk about a conversation starter! People always ask what I’m doing when they see me working out with my TRX.

Today, I’m demonstrating two exercises using the TRX over on Tuesday Trainer. This week’s focus is super sets; check out the other trainers’ moves and the workout Lyndsay creates out of them.

Then, give this quick workout a try and tell me what you think! (Don’t have a TRX? We have them at my gym! Book a personal training session with me and I’ll be happy to show you in person!)

Have you used a suspension trainer before?

What are you favourite TRX exercises?

Monday Motivation: exercise makes you happy!

Last week, while navigating children and luggage towards our departure gate at LAX, I realized that I nothing to read on the plane ride home. Although I had yarn and needles for sock knitting (scroll down to see the yarn…), I was in a reading mood. I dashed into Borders and quickly scanned the bestseller rack for something suitable.

My gaze was immediately drawn to this book;

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. I particularly liked the sub-title, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

The book is autobiographical, and describes the steps taken by the author to become happier in her work, home and relationships. She identifies 12 aspects of her life that she feels would benefit from improvement, tackling one each month and beginning the year with ‘Vitality’. Her reasoning? Having more energy makes it easier to engage in activities that increase happiness. 

But how to become more energetic? Rubin chose to focus on getting more sleep and exercising regularly (along with cleaning out her closets and faking it on days she didn’t feel very energetic!).

“There’s a staggering amount of evidence to show that exercise is good for you. Among other benefits, people who exercise are healthier, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. Regular exercise boosts energy levels; although some people assume that working out is tiring, in fact, it boosts energy, especially in sedentary people…”

You know she’s right! When I’m feeling crabby and grouching at my kids (yes, I do this too) a trip to the gym is the only thing that turns my mood around. My family recognizes this and gladly sends me on my merry way, knowing that I’ll return calmer, happier and more likely to let them stay up past bedtime!

Tell me about your favourite happiness-inducing exercise!

P.S. I liked this book so much, I’ll certainly be writing about it again soon.

P.P.S. I’m extra happy today because children have gone back to school after nearly three weeks off! I know a lot of other moms who are happy about this too!

‘Spring’ into spring: plyometric training and why you should be doing it

Well, spring has finally arrived. Hooray! No more snow for the Pacific Northwest (except for the little bit that surprised us on Wednesday), longer days and a hint of warmth in the air. My cherry trees are almost in bloom and the hummingbird feeders are full and awaiting their first visitors.

plyometric training

It’s the perfect time to add some ‘spring’ to your training!

Plyometric, or ‘jump training’, is defined as ‘any exercise that enables a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible’. It involves first stretching (or lengthening) the muscle then rapidly shortening (or contracting it), producing a more powerful muscular contraction than a simple concentric muscle contraction. Think about an elastic band; the band (analogous to your muscle), when stretched, has the potential to rapidly and powerfully return to its original length upon release.

The key is to be quick; spend as little time with your feet in contact with the floor as possible. Feet should be nearly flat in all landings and the elbows should be brought behind the midline of the body so the arms can be rapidly moved forward to help with ‘lift off’.

Examples include;

  • jumps-in-place (forwards and backwards, laterally, single and double footed, tuck jumps and split squat jumps)
  • standing jumps (long jump, jumping over barriers, jump up and reach)
  • multiple jumps (hopping over cones or hurdles, helicopter squat jumps, stadium or stair hops)
  • box drills (single leg push-offs, lateral step ups, box jumps, lateral box jumps)
  • depth jumps (jump from top of box, incline pushup depth jump)
  • bounding (skipping, backward skipping, forward or lateral bounding with arm action,
  • upper body medball exercises (underhand/overhand throws, side throws, slams, chest passess)

The benefits of including plyometrics (or ‘plyos’ as they’re sometimes referred to) in your regular training program include;

  • improved speed and agility
  • increased bone density
  • integration of speed with strength (producing more powerful movements)
  • elevated fat burning

Although frequently performed by competitive athletes wanting to improve their sport, even relatively new exercisers can incorporate plyometrics into their training if they pay special attention to the following points;

  • choose a soft surface to train on (grass or rubber rather than concrete or cement)
  • start slowly, interspersing a few repetitions of a plyometric move between sets of your regular strength training exercises
  • build intensity (how high you jump), volume (how many repetitions you perform), duration (the length of the plyometric interval) and frequency (how many times per week you do plyos) as your body gets stronger and adapts to the new load
  • rest adequately both immediately after a plyometric interval and between plyometric workouts
  • always perform a full body warmup before jumping (you should warm up before any type of workout, but plyometric training requires extra attention to knee and ankle mobilization)
  • stretch big muscles afterwards and replenish fluids immediately

Excited to ‘spring’ into action? Try the plyometric circuit below. Feel free to share it with your friends, ‘Pin it’ on your boards and tell me how you did, in the comments section below!

plyometric training

Coincidentally, I came across another blog post on plyometric training just yesterday with a title similar to mine (I guess ‘Spring into spring’ is an obvious name for a post about jump training!). Check out Bonnie and Steve’s plyo workout here.

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.

Want to meet your favourite health and fitness bloggers in real life? Go to a conference!

Before I became a fitness professional and blogger, I spent many years as an academic researcher. One of my favourite parts of the job was travelling to conferences to present my research and meet others who shared the same interests and passions that I do.

I recently discovered that conferences are not unique to the academic world. Health and fitness bloggers have them too! I’d love to attend this June’s Fitness and Health Bloggers Conference in Denver, Colorado, in part, because I’ve never visited Denver before, but also because FitFluential will be there to talk about blogging and branding and social media. How fun would it be to meet up with some of my new, online blogging friends!

Even more exciting is the possibility of winning a scholarship that covers the cost of registration to the three-day event! Refuel With Chocolate Milk is graciously sponsoring 40 FitFluential members to attend the conference. Perhaps I’ll be one of them?

On that note, I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite ‘double-header fitness days’  shakes. The one I drink in the hour between my Monday Step & Pump and Spin classes. It’s got carbohydrates to refuel after the first class, protein to stabilize blood sugars, potassium to aid muscle recovery and caffeine to pump me up before I get on the bike!

Fitknitchick’s Chocolate Espresso Energy Shake:

  • 1 cup low fat milk or chocolate milk
  • 1 Tbsp no sugar, no salt added peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup espresso
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1/2 banana
  • ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. I like to leave it in the freezer for an hour before I leave the house; by the time I get to drink it, it’s slightly slushy and icy cold!

What’s your favourite way to enjoy milk?

Sunshine, spontaneity and surprises; family holiday recap

When it comes to vacations, my husband is a planner. Long before we’ve even packed our bags, he’s scoured the internet for information on things to do, places to eat, trails to hike and museums to visit. He laboriously prints out Google maps outlining the best routes to take from airport, to hotel, to attraction and back. He organizes it all by date and has a general sense of what we ought to do each day of our trip, weather-dependent, of course.

I LOVE that he’s so organized, because although I’m a planner and a list-maker in all other areas of my life, when I’m on holiday, I crave spontaneity and surprise (and sunshine, of course).

My favorite thing to do upon reaching our destination is plunk myself down (preferably with a glass of wine) and gorge on the travel brochures the hotel has thoughtfully left out for my reading pleasure. I happily bookmark and make notes until I’m told it’s time to think about heading to lunch or dinner or the pool. (Note, that while this strategy works well when traveling with a planner, using it when your travel mates are also ‘spontaneous’ sometimes results in visiting a museum on the one day during the week it’s closed; alas, I’ll have to see the Guggenheim on my next visit to NYC…)

We had a wonderful eight days visiting Southern California; Los Angelos, Santa Monica, San Diego and La Jolla. The weather was sunny and warm and we managed to squeeze in visits to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the Zoo itself, The Fleet Science Center and The Birch Aquarium.

We watched Born to be Free, an incredible IMAX film about orphaned elephants and orangutans and the two women who dedicated their lives to raising and returning these orphans to the wild.

We sea-kayaked at La Jolla (which, it turns out, I didn’t enjoy all that much; too many waves and a terrified child in the front of my kayak), beach-combed at Torrey Pines and hung out with relatives in Santa Monica (those are pelicans down below; my husband’s relatives are somewhat better looking ;)).

The week was full of surprises:

  • turns out that my brother-in-law is somewhat of a gourmet chef. His idea of a fun weekend is to spend the morning scouring the local farmer’s market for in-season delicacies and the afternoon conjuring up a dinner worthy of any 5-star restaurant. I was tutored in the fine art of pasta making and the proper way to season skirt steak.
  • my 12 year old son and nephew bonded over X-Box Kinect and fart jokes. They were inseparable for the entire weekend and talked about spending time together over the summer holidays (my son doesn’t typically make friends this easily; it was wonderful to see them connect so quickly)
  • on our flight home, I recognized Birute Galdikas (the orangutan researcher in the above-mentioned film) at the airport. She boarded our flight and we spoke to her enroute to our seats (my husband had met her before, as they are both professors at the same university)

and an equal measure of spontaneity:

  • while strolling through La Jolla after a dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we wandered past a gallery displaying a large lithograph of The Lorax. Given my children’s love of Dr. Seuss, we decided to take a peek inside. Turns out we had stumbled upon a new Seuss exhibit that included not only well-known works, but also pieces that never appeared in his books. We spoke to the curator who told us that Seuss had lived in town for many, many years and that La Jolla, was in fact, ‘Who-ville’ and that Seuss and Gregory Peck had been buddies (known for complaining that they were the only gentlemen in La Jolla; several paintings depicted the local ladies as Seussian-like birds)

  • a much-protested, last-minute visit to a cave that resulted in us finding the most amazing, sandy beach, where the children spent a wonderful afternoon running from waves and burying themselves in the sand

  • desperate for something to read on the plane ride home (I finished The Hunger Games, 206 Bones and some detective book hubby handed me when I complained about being out of reading material), I grabbed the first thing I saw at the airport newstand; The Happiness Project. I haven’t been able to put it down and will definitely be blogging about it soon.

P.S. You’ll notice that this summary of our holiday is positive and upbeat. That’s not to say that there wasn’t lots of bickering and squabbling, a child vomiting in the back seat the entire 2 and 1/2 hours between LA and San Diego, much pre-teen sullenness at having to go to the zoo with his family, a soft, sagging bed that will take at least 2 massages to recover from, copious quantities of carbs consumed, an inaugural visit to Trader Joe’s limited to 15 minutes (!) and an un-inspiring hotel exercise room (internet photos lie).

There was, but I’m preferring to remember the fun, lest I boycott future family vacations!

Tuesday Trainer and my spring teaching schedule

This week, the Tuesday Trainers are taking a break from exercise and instead, are sitting down to answer some questions about themselves. After you finish up here, head on over to Lindsay’s List and get to know the other Tuesday Trainers!

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be re-capping my recent family vacation to sunny, southern California. Today, I’d like to fill you in on some upcoming fitness programs that I’ll be offering to local peeps this spring.

  • Bosu Blast; a 1-hour, small group, non-choreographed class, combining strength, balance, core, speed and agility training, all on the Bosu (a half stability ball). It’s running out of the Port Moody Rec Center for 5 weeks, at 10:30 Sundays, beginning April 15. You can register on-line or by calling 604-469-4556.
  • Effective Stretching and Core Strength; a 1-hour, registered program, designed to teach you how to effectively engage your core and improve your flexibility. Also at the Port Moody Rec Center, Sundays at 11:45 from May 6 until May 27th.
  • Yes We Can; a 6-week, small group training program with a focus on weight loss. We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 7 pm at the Port Moody Rec Center. In addition to the 12 group training sessions, participants will meet with a nutritionist to discuss healthy, weight-loss promoting diets. Sessions run from April 3rd to May 10th. If evenings aren’t your thing, there’s also a group running Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9 to 10, April 4th to May 11th (I’m teaching this one too).
  • Younique Spring Fitness Workshops; a 3-part series of workshops, each combining a workout and a lecture/discussion component. Topics include ‘Fitness for fat loss’, ‘Perfecting your posture’ and ‘Concentrate on core’. For details, please visit Younique Fitness Studio’s website.

If you don’t live in the Tri-Cities (you should; it’s beautiful here!) and are interested in training with me, I also offer online personal training via email and Skype. For details, please check out my training page.

Have you ever participated in a small group personal training program before?

If so, tell me about your experience!