Archives for July 2012

Intercostal muscle strain: nothing to sneeze at

This is the first post of several about an intercostal muscle strain I experienced when performing my job as a personal trainer. The injury occurred 5 1/2 years ago and I’m happy to report that I’m now fully recovered.

After you finish reading this post (about the initial injury, what it felt like and how I treated it), you might like to click through and read the follow up posts:



About three weeks ago, I woke up to a sharp pain at the bottom of my right ribcage. It was tender to the touch (“don’t hug me!”) and hurt when I twisted from side to side. It felt like my ribs were bruised or out of alignment. Coughing and sneezing were nearly as painful as giving birth.

recovering from muscle strain

I could think of nothing that I’d done to precipitate the injury and wondered briefly, if my hubby had accidentally walloped me in his sleep. (He assures me that he didn’t and besides, there was no visible bruising…)

A week went by. I couldn’t sleep comfortably on my right side, so I iced and popped some painkillers. I continued to teach and train, thinking that the pain would go away on it’s own. Of course it didn’t and I finally booked an appointment with the chiropractor at my local sports injury clinic. (This was my first ever visit to a chiropractor and I was a bit apprehensive about it.)

After asking me a bunch of questions (location and intensity of pain? movements causing pain? pain up waking? what I do for a living?) and putting me through some range of motion exercises (touching toes, side bending, lifting of arms up and overhead, deep breathing and breath holding), Aaron gave me his diagnosis; severe intercostal muscle strain.

He did some Active Release Therapy (ART; which hurts like the dickens), a couple of adjustments of my thoracic spine and then rubbed me (hard!) with a metal tool (which left a mark!). [Edited to add: I’ve since learned that this therapy is called the Graston Technique and spoiler alert, it has helped tremendously with the healing process. Check out the follow up post for details on the Graston Technique and it’s use as a treatment for intercostal muscle strain]

treatment for muscle strain

The intercostals are a group of muscle fibres that run between your ribs. They function to expand and contract the chest cavity as you inhale and exhale.

Injuries of the intercostal muscles are usually caused by rapid twisting of the torso and are most frequently experienced by athletes like basketball and baseball players, but can also occur as a consequence of tripping or falling. LIGHT BULB!

The day before I first experienced pain, I was training a client in the close quarters of her home gym. As I backed away from the elliptical, I tripped and fell, bum first, onto a treadmill. At the time, I thought I had recovered gracefully, as I was able to reach behind myself with my right hand to break my fall, landing ever-so gently on my derriere.

Apparently not.

Combine my chronically tight spinal and rotator cuff muscles (likely due to overtraining and under-stretching) with a minor twisting fall and bingo; intercostal muscle strain.

So, the good news is I know how I injured myself.

The bad news is, intercostal muscle strains often take many, many weeks to heal completely. Best case scenario is complete recovery in about three weeks. Worst case is 6 months. (It’s been 3 1/2 weeks already…)

Given how physical my job is and how intensely I teach and train, it frustrates me to have injured myself in such a stupid fashion. Way better to strain a muscle while achieving a personal best, don’t you think? And I’m really upset with having to take a break from strength training. My muscles already feel smaller (and my tummy bigger).

How am I treating the strain?

  • icing for 20 minutes, 3-4 times per day
  • taking Ibuprofen for pain management and to reduce inflammation
  • subbing out my group fitness classes (sorry guys) and missing my own workouts (making me crazy!)
  • minimizing pushing, pulling and reaching motions with my right arm (tough, because I’m right handed)
  • taking lots of long walks around my neighbourhood to help prevent joint stiffness

Oh, and yes, I’m getting a lot of knitting done (if you’re lucky, some of it may be headed your way). When I can’t exercise, knitting becomes my primary form of productivity and relaxation.

Have you ever experienced a muscle strain? Were you doing something awesome or something stupid when it happened?

How long did it take for you to recover completely?

Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter; the place where I share tips and tricks for staying healthy in and out of the gym!


Short and sweet lower body workout: 6 moves for great glutes and lovely legs

Tanned, toned legs are the best summer fashion accessory, don’t you agree? Get yours with my short and sweet lower body workout!

Despite what the fashion industry says about the arrival of fall (can you believe Old Navy is already selling wool sweaters and corduroy jeans?), there’s still plenty of time to work on (and show off!) your lower half.

exercises for legs and glutes

The key to building great glutes and lovely legs?

Lift a little heavier and a little more often!

Try this lower body workout twice a week (with a least one day of rest between), making sure to add weight to at least one exercise every time you train. And don’t forget the cardio (at least 30 minutes each day, 5 days per week); you need to burn fat to reveal the muscles underneath!

Fitknitchick’s Short and Sweet Lower Body Workout

Start by warming up the muscles and joints of your lower body by performing 10 to 12 repetitions of each of the following movements. Use your body weight only!

  • squats
  • alternating forward lunges
  • X-over lunges
  • Curtsey lunges

The workout itself consists of three lower body supersets and a plank finisher.

Perform 3-4 sets of  10-12 repetitions of each pair of exercises (on each side, when appropriate). Rest only after completing all sets and reps of the pair. For each exercise, choose a weight that allows you to complete only 10-12 repetitions in good form.

Remember, if the weight isn’t challenging, you won’t see results!

exercises for legs and glutes

Finish with a plank; on knees or toes, your choice. Time yourself and hold as long as you can. Rest for the same amount of time  that you were able to hold your plank and repeat.

If you liked this workout, I’d love it if you’d subscribe to my blog (see subscription box below) and my YouTube Channel! I post lots of free workouts and it’d be a shame for you to miss out! As always, your comments make my day!

Note: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level.



Avoiding overtraining syndrome: tips for the fitness professional

Overtraining syndrome –  

a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes. ~ Wikipedia

Recently, my friend and fellow fitness professional Suzanne (of WorkoutNirvana fame!) asked me a question on Twitter;

overtraining symptoms

Personal trainers and group fitness instructors frequently suffer from overtraining. They teach a lot of classes. They repeatedly demonstrate the same exercises. They insist on fitting in their own training (like they’re not already working out enough!).

Typical overtraining syndrome symptoms include (but are not limited to); weight loss or gain, fatigue, plateaus or loss of strength gains, persistent muscle soreness, joint aches and pains, elevated resting heart rate, sleep difficulties, depression, suppressed immunity and an increased incidence of illness and injury.

avoiding overtraining syndrome

overtraining injuries

Danny-J, of The SweatyBetties joined in the conversation;

overtraining prevention

overtraining symptoms

overtraining symptoms

symptoms of overtraining

Our conversation got me thinking about how fitness professionals might reduce their risk of developing overtraining syndrome. Of course, the following suggestions are also relevant to those of you who aren’t fitness professionals, but spend a lot of time at the gym… (you know who you are!);

  1. Limit the number of classes you teach (or attend). In the summer time, this is particularly difficult. Many of your colleagues will be taking time off for vacation and looking for subs to cover their classes. Don’t over-volunteer.
  2. If you do agree to sub extra classes, don’t participate fully in each one. Remember, when you’re teaching, it’s not your workout (unless you’re spinning; it’s really hard to fake your participation on a spinning bike!). I know that participants like to see their instructors participating, but it doesn’t need to be at your highest intensity.
  3. If you do consider some of your classes to be a ‘personal workout’, make sure you count them in your weekly workout schedule. I know many instructors who teach 6-8 classes each week and still feel the need to get another 3 or 4 of ‘their own’ workouts in.
  4. Choose lighter weights when teaching a class than you would when doing your own workout.
  5. Same with demonstrating exercises for your personal training clients. Many movements can be demonstrated without any added weight at all.
  6. Make sure you’re not always demonstrating exercises with the same side of your body. When I teach group fitness, I face my class and always ‘concede the dominant’ to them. That means that I start unilateral exercises with my left arm or leg. Because I usually put my weights down after 5 or 6 reps and walk around the class coaching, my left side gets over-used relative to my right.
  7. Plan at least 1 day away from the gym or studio each week. It not only aids your physical health, it’s good for you psychologically as well.
  8. Treat your body well. Get lots of sleep and pay attention to nutrition.
  9. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) and glucosamine may speed up muscle recovery between classes and reduce joint pain and inflammation.
  10. See your doctor or physiotherapist at the first sign of an injury. Ignore little pains and clicks at your peril…
  11. Plan on a rest week every 3 months or so. No teaching, no clients, no working out. (This is probably the most difficult suggestion of all!).

symptoms of overtraining

Make sure to follow us all on Twitter (fitknitchick_1, WorkoutNirvana and SweatyBetties) and join in with your thoughts next time you see us conversing!

Have you ever experienced the symptoms of overtraining?

How do you avoid overtraining?

Teff: a tiny grain with big health benefits

As much as I love my morning oats, some days I feel the need to change it up. My back-up grain of choice?

cooking with teff


‘What?’ you say. ‘Never heard of it.’

Teff is an ancient grain, native to Ethiopia and related to amaranth. The word ‘teff’ means ‘lost’; presumably due to its extremely small size. Nearly impossible to pick up grain by grain if you spill it on the floor (ask me how I know…).

cooking with teff

Teff has a texture similar to poppy seeds and a nutty, grainy taste. It cooks in just 5 minutes (great if you don’t have much time to prepare breakfast) and can be added to home baked recipes (pancakes, muffins, cookies, protein bars) for a little extra nutritional punch.

Reasons to add teff to your diet?

  • it’s high in calcium. The calcium content in teff significantly surpasses that of all other grains (123 mg per cup cooked)
  • it’s an excellent source of vitamin C (most grains contain very little)
  • it’s gluten-free
  • it’s high in ‘resistant starch’, a type of dietary fiber that helps to stabilize blood sugars (super important for weight management and diabetes prevention) and improve colon health
  • it’s high in protein. Because teff is too small to process, the entire grain is eaten, including the protein-packed bran and germ

I prepare teff almost exactly like I’m cooking oatmeal.

I combine equal parts grain and liquid (for me, 1/3 cup teff and 1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk), as well as a dash of cinnamon, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, lid off, stirring regularly for about 5 minutes.

cooking with teff

Because the cooked mixture tends to be quite thick on it’s own (yes, I know what it looks like; I have two boys, 8 and 13…),

cooking with teff

I top my teff with a little bit more almond milk then decorate with fruit and nuts.

cooking with teff

1/3 cup teff + 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk  + 1/2 cup raspberries + 1/8 cup slivered almonds = breakfast bliss!

 (And contains 291 calories, 10 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 6 g total fats, 3 g sugar, 10 g fiber)

Look for teff in your favourite organic grocery store or health food shop!




5 Easy Breakfast Ideas for the Time-Crunched

Almost every new personal training client I see needs to be convinced of the benefits of eating breakfast.

  • your body needs energy after a 10-12 hour fast
  • eating breakfast reduces mid-morning food cravings
  • missing breakfast often leads to over-eating later in the day
  • breakfast eaters are more successful at losing weight and maintaining weight loss than non-breakfast eaters
  • starting your day with a healthy meal will set the stage for healthy choices the rest of the day

Many complain that they don’t have time to prepare and eat a meal in the morning. Those that do make time for breakfast typically eat toast and jam or cold cereal with milk. Better than nothing, but too much sugarnot enough protein and unlikely to keep them from reaching for coffee cart pastries mid-morning.

Week one’s homework? Eat breakfast every day, incorporating complex carbohydrates (for energy and fiber), lean protein (for muscle building and satiation) and a little, healthy fat (too many benefits to list!).

Here are 5 easy breakfast ideas, listed in order from the least to the most time-consuming. The first two can even be made the night before and eaten while you check your email or during your morning commute. And if you’re really clever, you can do a little of the prep work for 3, 4 and 5 the night before as well.

breakfast ideas in a hurry

1. Overnight oats (3 minutes prep, the night before)

Combine 1/3 cup large flake oats, 1/3 cup non-fat Greek yogurt, 1/3 cup water or unsweetened almond milk and 1 Tbsp almond butter in a jar or glass pyrex container. Refrigerate overnight. Microwave 45 s and top with a handful of your favourite fruit, fresh or dried.

2. Fruit and protein smoothie (3 minutes prep, evening or morning)

Place 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 Tbsp ground flax or chia seed and 1 cup water or iced green tea in a blender. Mix. Drink immediately. (Smoothies can also be prepared the night before and refrigerated until morning).

3. Egg and veggie omelette (8 minutes prep)

Chop 1 cup of mixed vegetables (I prefer peppers, mushrooms and onions). Lightly oil a non-stick pan and sauté veggies until soft; about 5 min. Crack two or three eggs into pan and whisk until cooked through. Garnish with fruit of your choice.

**Speed up your morning prep time by cooking veggies the night before. I’ve been known to add leftover roast veggies to my morning omelette.

4. Protein pancakes (8-10 minutes prep)

Combine 1/4 cup commercial pancake mix (I use Coyote Whole Grain), 1 Tbsp each of wheat germ, wheat bran and ground flax seed, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 egg and 1 scoop protein powder. Mix with a fork and add enough water to create a thick, pourable batter. Heat and lightly oil a non-stick pan. Spoon batter into pan (this recipe makes 2 pancakes) and cook until bubbles appear on the surface of cakes. Flip and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Serve with non-fat Greek yogurt and berries. No syrup needed!

**Shave 3-4 minutes off your pancake prep time by making the batter the night before. Make sure to leave it in the fridge overnight.

5. Cooked grains (8-10 minutes prep)

Combine 1/3 cup of your favourite grain (I prefer either large flake/steel cut oats or teff) with 1/3 cup water, non-fat milk or unsweetened almond milk and 2 egg whites. Mix in a dash of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp honey (optional). Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is almost absorbed. Decorate with your favourite healthy toppings; fresh or dried fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, granola, non-fat yogurt and/or nut butter (but take care; toppings add flavour, but they also add lots of calories!).

**I like to make a big batch of steel cut oats on the weekend and store the leftovers in an air-tight container for quick and easy breakfasts during the week. Just place a 1/2 of cooked oats in a microwave-proof dish, top with a little milk or almond milk, heat and stir. Ready in less than 2 minutes!

Voila! Five easy breakfast ideas, regardless of how busy your morning is!

Now you tell me your favourite quick and easy breakfast recipes? I’d love to add to my morning repertoire!



Spartacus Workout for Women: tighten those trouble spots

I love the Spartacus workouts. All three of them (although my personal favourite is 1.0; lots of legs!).

When I teach them, though, my group fitness participants will often complain that they don’t target their “trouble spots” enough. Women always want more moves for triceps, tummy, tush and inner thigh 🙂

Spartacus workout for women

The problem is, if we don’t do the high-intensity-big-muscle-calorie-burning work, we’ll never see the lovely muscles underneath!

My solution is a workout that incorporates both big muscle and plyometric movements with the isolation exercises known to tighten up triceps, tummies, tushes and inner thighs. The Spartacus Workout for Women (although men are welcome to join in, there’s nothing ‘girly’ about it!).

The format?

  • 8 moves; 45 s work, 15 s rest
  • No breaks until the end of the 8 minute circuit
  • Three of the exercises (#4, #6 and #8) are done on one side at a time. The first time through the circuit, perform all reps on one side; next time through, switch sides (much more tiring than alternating sides within a set : ) )
  • Repeat for a total of 4 or 6 rounds (don’t stop at 3 or 5; you’ll be lop-sided for the rest of the day…)


  • 2 sets of dumbbells
  • a mat
  • an interval timer
  • a bench or step to place your foot on and to dip from.

The Spartacus Workout for Women

  1. Plie squat plus triceps french press
  2. Burpee plus pushup plus overhead press
  3. Alternating plank row (from knees or toes)
  4. Split lunge plus tricep kickback (same leg and arm behind; switch sides next round)
  5. Weighted squat jumps
  6. Side plank plus weighted core rotation (switch sides next round)
  7. Tricep dips
  8. Side lunge plus reach (switch sides next round)

Feel free to Share, Tweet and Pin the photo version of the Spartacus Workout for Women!

Do you like real time workout videos? Every Friday, I post a NEW, REAL TIME workout video on YouTube. Check out my #FatblasterFriday series here, on the blog, and on my YouTube Channel. (There’s even a video version of the Spartacus Workout for Women…).

 Spartacus workout for women

Have you tried any of the Spartacus workouts?

What’s your preference? Compound or isolation exercises?


Get more from your plank-a-day; bridge for balance

I love all the plank-a-day Tweets filling up my Twitter stream.

plank a day on twitter

I’m amazed to see how long people are able to hold their planks and am excited to see their plans for progressively increasing those times.

plank a day on Twitter

Planks are a fabulous exercise for strengthening the muscles of the core, in particular the rectus abdominus (the ‘six pack’ muscles) and  transverse abdominus (the ‘lower abs’). In fact, many fitness professionals now prefer them over standard crunches or sit ups for increasing abdominal strength.

‘Spinal stabilization’ is the new sexy!

proper plank form

But bodies work best when opposing muscle groups are balanced in strength. Front body (anterior) muscles need to precisely balance back body (posterior) muscles for optimal function and long term lack of pain.

Show me a body builder with well-developed pecs and forward sloping shoulders and I’ll show you someone with an under-developed back! (Hint: you should be able to pull as much as you can push)

Want to get more from your plank-a-day? Add a bridge-a-day to your routine!

Bridges are essentially reverse planks.

Rather than contracting your anterior core muscles to hold your body in a straight line, bridging requires you to activate the deep muscles of your mid and lower back; your quadratus lumborum, multifidus and erector spinae. Bridging also requires the use of your glutes and hamstrings; both important muscle groups for stabilization of the lower back and pelvis.

To perform a bridge, begin by laying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, approximately hip distance apart.

Beginners will extend their arms out to their sides, in ‘T’ formation. Intermediate exercisers may lay arms alongside their torsos.

  1. Taking a deep breath in, pull your belly button towards your spine
  2. Squeeze glute cheeks together
  3. Push through the heels of your feet
  4. Exhale as you raise your hips off the ground until
  5. Your body forms a straight line from chest to knees
  6. Hold for up to 30 s (please continue to breathe!)
  7. Gently lower to starting position, rest and repeat

core strength training

Ideally, you should be able to hold your bridge (or reverse plank) as long as you can hold a regular plank!

plank-a-day + bridge-a-day = unsurpassed core strength and spinal stability

Need more challenge? Try one of the following;

  • Extend arms straight up over your chest (less contact with the floor)
  • Place feet on a stability ball (unstable surface)
  • Lift one foot off the floor, extending leg straight up (reduced base of support)
  • Place a weight plate or sand bell across your hips (increased resistance)
  • Perform a hamstring curl on the ball (dynamic instability)
core training exercises


I’d love to see you Tweet your #BridgeADay #PROOF as well! Let’s see if we can get the #BridgeADay hashtag trending!

Watch for mine tomorrow!

Raw kale salad recipe: massage your greens

My husband is an urban gardener. Each spring, he trundles off to the nursery, returns home with a trunk full of baby green plants and lovingly transfers them to the raised beds at the side of our house.

kale salad

While he always plants a variety of salad greens, the only ones that don’t seem to attract the slugs and deer are the kale.

kale salad

Consequently, during the summer months we eat a lot of kale! Kale chips, kale sautés and stir-fries, kale in our scrambled eggs and omelettes and smoothies. And now, kale as a replacement for romaine (darn slugs) in our caesar-style raw kale salad!

The trick to eating kale raw is to massage it!

That’s right, squeeze and rub the leaves (after they’ve been washed and the thick, centre spines removed) in your hands until they wilt. Three cups of fresh, raw kale will quickly reduce by about half after handling.

kale salad

Raw kale salad with pine nuts and avocado

  •  6 cups kale leaves, washed and de-stemmed
  • 1/3 pine nuts
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  1. Chop kale leaves into bite size pieces. Massage, by the handful, until wilted and pliable. Place in serving bowl.
  2. Place pine nuts on a non-stick baking sheet and ‘toast’ until golden in a 350 degree oven. Watch them carefully; I have burned more than a few batches.
  3. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and parmesan in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Pour dressing over kale. Toss to combine. Decorate with avocado slices and serve.
kale salad
Voila! A beautiful, healthy, raw kale salad!

Given the abundance of kale we have in our garden, I’d love to try some new kale recipes!

Do you have a kale recipe to share?

Please do! I’d love to do a ‘kale recipe round-up’ post and include your favourites! 




Weight loss vs. weight loss maintenance: different strategies for different goals

On Tuesday, I wrote about weight loss. Specifically, what I learned about the best diet for weight loss at the recent Fitness and Health Bloggers Conference. Today, I’d like to expand on that post and compare it to the very different strategies required for weight loss maintenance. Indeed, weight loss and weight loss maintenance are two very different beasts.

To summarize my previous post;

To lose weight, worry less about macronutrient composition (fats vs. carbohydrates vs. protein) and more about cutting calories. None of the popular diets are superior to all others when it comes to dropping pounds. Choose a nutritional plan that you can follow until the weight is off. And a little exercise won’t hurt.”

If you read the post, you’ll remember that the focus was on restricting calories, rather than on increasing activity. Of course, movement and exercise are important for other reasons (improved cardiovascular health, injury prevention, mood elevation, to name a few), but for those who have lots of weight to lose, portion control and caloric restriction are key.

To lose weight –>> eat less, move a little

But what about once the excess weight is lost? Should you continue to ‘diet’? Will you need to count calories for the rest of your life? What role should exercise play in the maintenance of weight loss?

According to recent research, exercise is more important than caloric restriction for weight loss maintenance. In order to keep the weight off, you need to incorporate 30-60 minutes of physical activity into your schedule, most days of the week.

Of course, we’re all familiar with the saying “you can’t out train a bad diet”. So continuing to focus on reasonable size portions of the healthiest foods you can will go along way to keeping the pounds at bay :).

However, increased activity requires you to up your caloric intake. Not by a lot; perhaps a couple of hundred calories more per day than you were consuming during your weight loss phase.

To maintain weight loss >> eat a little more, move a lot

Why such different strategies? It’s all about the numbers.

Each of the following ‘treats’ equals about 500 calories:

  • grande Starbucks Cookie Crumble Frappuccino
  • 9 Oreo cookies
  • 1 large bagel plus 2 Tbsp Skippy peanut butter
  • small, butter popcorn at the movies

Yet to burn 500 calories through exercise, you’ll need to spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes exercising (calories burned through exercise depend on a number of variables including weight, sex, age, muscle mass and exercise intensity; the more you weigh, the harder you work and the manlier your are, the higher your rate of calorie burn. Not fair, but that’s the way it is).

For many overweight people, sustaining exercise for long enough to burn 500 calories is physically impossible. And most of us, regardless of weight, would rather skip the cookies than head to the gym 😉

As the pounds come off, it becomes harder and harder to shave calories from the diet.

In fact, most nutritionists recommend not letting daily calorie intake fall below 1 200 calories; not only is it hard to stick to such a low calorie diet without experiencing intense food cravings and extreme lethargy, over time, your metabolism may even slow down, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off once you return to a higher calorie intake

So how to keep the hard-earned lost pounds at bay? Up your level of physical activity and eat a little more!

Near daily exercise will not only burn calories, it will build muscle and stimulate your metabolism to burn calories at a higher rate. You’ll need to up your food intake by a bit; the only way to know how much is to journal both food and exercise and pay attention to how your clothes fit!

What’s the bottom line? Lose weight by eating less and moving a little. Maintain the weight loss by eating a little more and moving a lot! Need some workout ideas? Visit my free workout library!

Have you lost a significant amount of weight and been able to sustain it long term?

What tips and strategies did you find most helpful?