Archives for January 2013

I need your help | it’s blog improvement month!

It’s that time of the year…

During the month of February, I’m on a mission to improve my blog. They’ll be some visual changes, a new header and possibly some re-direction of focus. Depending on what you have to say, of course!

I’ve put together a quick survey that I’d love for you to take. Two minutes of your time is all I need, I swear.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 5.44.11 PM

The survey has 6 questions (and space for you to wax poetic about my writing, if you please…). It’s all multiple choice and there’s nothing you need to have studied before hand.

Please click on through and tell me a bit more about yourselves and WHY you read my blog.

Click here to take survey

Thanks a bunch!

Mom and baby fitness | postnatal exercise classes benefit both

I LOVE babies. Holding them, rocking them, cuddling them, patting them on the bum to calm them down, knitting cute little newborn hats for them, handing them back to their mamas when they cry…

postnatal exercise classes

While my own personal baby snuggling days are over (at 45, with 3 school aged children, I can’t imagine going back to diapers and night feeds…), I still occasionally, have the privilege of making goo goo faces at the babies in the postnatal exercise classes taught at my gym.

postnatal exercise classes

Back when my kids were babies, the only group fitness classes available to me were ‘moms only’. That meant that I dropped them off at childminding and spent most of the hour praying that the caregiver wouldn’t come and drag me out of class to breastfeed, change a poopy diaper or comfort an hysterical child.

And because these classes were not specific to new mothers, none of the pelvic floor exercises that I desperately needed to do were included in the workout.

The postnatal exercise classes that we now teach encourage moms to bring their babies to class. Pre-crawling infants (once they can crawl, safety becomes an issue) can lay or sit on padded mats only a few feet from where mom is exercising. Moms can interrupt their workouts to breastfeed and tend to babies’ needs. Some days go better than others and I’ve only ever taught one class where every single little one was wailing at the 45 minute mark (I blame it on my choice of music!).

And the choice of exercises is specific to those new moms need to be doing; upper and lower back work, core and pelvic floor strengthening, cardio intervals to help shed weight.

Benefits of postnatal exercise classes for moms?

  • a faster return to their pre-prenancy bodies (somehow, it’s never fast enough…)
  • pelvic floor training exercises (neglect these at your peril)
  • peace of mind at having baby in sight (first time moms are often anxious about using a gym’s childcare facilities and many cite childcare as a reason for not exercising during the first year post pregnancy)
  • more energy (always appreciated after a restless night)
  • stronger bodies (those muscles will be needed as baby grows and carrying infant seat to and from the car becomes a workout in and of itself!)
  • friendship, community and a sense of belonging (many of the moms in this class meet for coffee and baby play dates during the week)

Benefits of postnatal exercise classes for babes?

  • tummy time (babies need to spend time on their tummies to help strengthen the muscles necessary for crawling and walking)
  • learn to be independent from mama (she’s still visible, but not able to hold baby while exercising)
  • lots of visual and auditory stimulation (babies like to see new faces and bright colours; they love to listen to upbeat music; plus, all that stimulation tires them out!)
  • early exposure to exercise as a regular part of the day (monkey see, monkey do!)

Haven’t had your baby yet? Head on over to Fit Views where I’m talking about exercising during pregnancy. Then come back and re-read this post once you’ve welcomed your miracle to the world!

Moms, when did you return to exercise after pregnancy?

Would you have started working out sooner if a prenatal exercise class that included your baby was available?

Disclaimer: Before beginning any postnatal exercise program, please make sure your health care practitioner approves!

10 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Results in the Gym

It’s the third week of January (or at least it was when I first wrote this post 😉 )

Congratulations! You’ve been sticking to your new year’s goal of exercising regularly and cleaning up your diet. Three to 4 quality workouts a week and lots of veggies, fruits, lean protein and healthy fats.

Yet why, when you look in the mirror, do you see the very same body that you saw before Christmas staring back at you?

not getting results in the gym

Why are you not getting results in the gym?

1. You haven’t been on your program long enough. It’s simply too soon. You’ve only been working on a new program for 2 or 3 weeks. While you’re probably feeling stronger and most likely lifting heavier weights, you have yet to see that muscle definition you crave and the scale hasn’t budged.

Relax and stay the course. Don’t expect to see bigger guns, tighter glutes or a smaller belly until you’ve been consistently and progressively training for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

2. You’ve been on your program too long. Although this is unlikely to be true for those of you just getting going (see point number 1), if you’ve been exercising regularly for awhile and haven’t changed your routine in a couple of months, you’ve probably stopped seeing results and may even be losing ground.

To continue to make progress, your body needs a change. New exercises, a new ordering of the old exercises, a different body part split, or at the very least, making the old program more challenging. Bodies are inherently efficient (or lazy, as it were), doing as little as they can in an attempt to protect and minimize energy expended.

3. You’re on the wrong program. Enrolling in a zumba class won’t help you build upper body strength. Single joint exercises performed with light weights won’t significantly contribute to weight loss. Matching the program to your individual fitness goals is key to getting the results you want in a reasonable amount of time.

Don’t know where to start? Hire a personal trainer to create a program specifically designed for YOU. (Why not try online personal training?)

4. You’re not lifting heavy enough. If you want to build a stronger, leaner body, you must lift heavy. Not HEAVY, heavy, but HEAVIER than you think. The only way to stimulate muscle growth (and a leaner physique) is to work with loads that are heavier than your body is used to. Hint, if your handbag weighs 10 pounds, bicep curling with 5’s isn’t gonna build muscle.

5. You’re not lifting often enough. You need to train each body part at least once per week to see results. Any less and you’ll be hard pressed to increase the weight on any particular exercise. Weight training is based on the principle of progressive resistance; you need to keep making things more challenging to see changes in your physique. Most beginning lifters find that 3-4 days of strength training per week is ideal.

6. You’re lifting too often. Beware, when it comes to weight training, there IS too much of a good thing. Muscle fibres need time to rest and repair between workouts. That’s when growth occurs. Train too often and you risk injury, fatigue, failure to progress and sometimes even losing ground in the weight room. Overtraining is to be avoided.

7. You’re not eating the right food. Food is fuel, and as such, not all fuels are created equal. You’ve all heard the phrase ‘you can’t out train a bad diet’. It’s true. Your body needs lean protein, healthy fats, lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre and a bit of starchy carbohydrate to function well while you’re training as well as to translate that training into physical change.

8. You’re eating too much food. Even if your diet is ‘clean’, you may still be eating too much. Excess calories are stored as fat, regardless of whether they come from chicken breasts or donuts. Pay attention to portion control and resist the urge to use exercise to rationalize overeating.

9. You’re not eating enough food. It may sound counter-intuitive, but eating too little can be just as detrimental to your fitness goals as eating too much. Your body requires a certain number of calories each day just to carry out it’s basic functions. For most women, this number will be in the 1200-1400 calorie range. Eat less than this, for too long and your body will do everything it can to hold onto those energy stores. Starvation mode is to be avoided.

10. You’re paying attention to the wrong metrics. While the bathroom scale can give you a general indication of your health and fitness level, it is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to measuring progress in the gym. Why? Body weight can fluctuate by up to 5 pounds within a day, depending on when and what you’ve eaten, as well as how hydrated you are and what day of your cycle it is (why do we all jump on the scales first thing in the morning? It’s when we weigh the least!).

Better indicators of progress towards your goals include circumference measurements (abdomen, hips, thighs), body fat estimates, the fit of your clothes (use your favourite skinny jeans!), the weight you’re lifting in the gym, how many good form pushups you can do and how long you can go on the elliptical.

not getting results in the gym

Have you stopped getting results in the gym?

Do any of the items on my list sound like they could be the culprit?

Never fear. Those who add themselves to my e-newsletter list make better progress in the gym than those who don’t! (Actually, there’s no scientific data to back up this claim, but better to be safe than sorry… 😉 )

Knee injury? 7 workout ideas to try while you recover

Sore, achy and injured knees top the list of reasons why my clients and class participants can’t give it their all while working out.

knee injury

Habitual high heel wearing, too much tension in spin class, excessive pounding of the pavement, failure to stabilize during heavy lifts and plain old extra weight are all common reasons for a knee injury.

What’s particularly frustrating is that the movements we usually associate with losing fat, gaining strength and elevating our heart rates frequently involve the knees.

Squats, lunges, dead lifts, jumping jacks, burpees, stair running, high impact, plyometric movements. All are difficult to impossible to perform with knees that are less than healthy.

Assuming that you’re dealing with whatever’s causing your pain (you’re still doing those physio exercises, right?), here are 7 knee injury workout options that will keep you moving toward your ‘lean and strong’ goals!

Note that I’ve listed them from lowest to highest knee involvement; the healthier your knees, the farther down the list you’ll be able to progress.

  • Ergometer. You’ve probably seen people using this and wondered what type of workout they could possibly be getting by sitting on their butts and cycling with their hands. The answer? Probably not much. But push the seat away and crank up the resistance and you can get a very decent metabolic strength workout. The secret? Maintain a fast-paced, steady rhythm and make sure you’re pushing AND pulling on the handles. That’s right. Use the arms and the BACK to up your calorie burn.
  • Cybex ARC Trainer. I introduce all of my ‘pain in the knee’ clients to this cardio machine and they all report the same thing; no knee pain as long as the resistance stays under 70 (it scales from 0 to 100). Even my heaviest clients happily (?) use the ARC trainer, claiming that it’s gentle gliding motion is more similar to their natural stride than an elliptical’s. Try the pre-set interval programs for some heart rate-elevating HIIT!

knee injury

  • Incline treadmill walking. Unlike trail walking, with it’s hard and uneven surfaces, treadmill walking usually causes very little knee pain. Increase the incline to ensure that your workout is more than a walk in the park. Higher inclines not only elevate your heart rate, they also target the muscles on the backside of your body. The very same muscles the squats and dead lifts sculpt!
  • Kettle bell or dumbbell swings. Done properly and with a heavy enough weight (try 15-20 pounds to start), kettle bell hip swings are a fantastic metabolic strength exercise. Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hips, toes turned out to 11 and 1. Holding the kettle bell (or dumbbell, if you don’t have a kettle bell) in one hand (or in both hands, for variety) with arm long, push hips back and down as you reach the weight between your legs. Forcefully push your hips forward to raise the weight up to chin height. Make sure to tighten your glutes and engage your abs. Try 10-20 then rest and repeat.

  • Med ball floor slams. Grab a heavy med ball. I like at least 16 pounds for this exercise. Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hips and toes turned out (as for the kettle bell swings, above). Holding the ball in both hands, at chest height, slam ball towards floor by pushing down with the arms and chest and bending knees slightly to assist. Catch the ball just under your chin (don’t let it hit your!) and immediately repeat. I find that a series of 20-30 med ball floor slams is a great way to elevate my heart rate (and work out some frustrations at the same time!)

  • Power push ups. A great, near-whole body metabolic strength move. These can be done from both knees and toes, although the full on toe version is a much better heart rate accelerator than the short lever version. I like to use a cushioned bench, not only to reduce the impact on my wrists (exercises for sore, achy wrists is another post 🙂 ), but also because it allows me to catch a bit more ‘air’ on the way up! Try 5 or 6 in a row, catch your breath and repeat.

  • Jumping pull ups: Although this move requires jumping, the impact to knees is still fairly minimal when compared to a full on squat jump or split lunge jump. To do it, you’ll need a fixed, horizontal bar at a height that you can just reach when standing tall, arms over head. I like to use the Smith squat rack when I’m doing jumping pull ups. Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you). Bend knees a smidgeon (that’s a very small amount….), push through your heels, spring up, transferring the work from legs to arms and back, as your chin reaches the bar. Drop immediately to floor and repeat. Aim for a fast tempo here; momentum will help if your muscles aren’t strong enough to do a regular, dead hang pull up. Aim for a set of 15-20 in 30-40 seconds.

Remember that you still need to strengthen the muscles associated with your knee injury; they will not get stronger on their own! Persistent knee pain should always be diagnosed and treated by a health care professional.

Can you think of any other workout options for someone with a knee injury?

Are there exercises that you don’t do because of joint pain?

The gym is my ‘happy place’

Last week I received some upsetting news. News that made me feel sad, worried and more than a little bit helpless. (I can’t share details here; it’s not my story to tell. Don’t worry, my hubby, kids and I are all fine.) 

I debated cancelling some clients and subbing out my classes, but didn’t really feel like hanging around the house by myself either.

Instead, I put on my workout clothes, headed to the gym and spent the day teaching, working with personal training clients and lifting weights.

 

happy place

 

Best. Decision. Ever. The gym is definitely my ‘happy place’.

You know, that place where you can’t help but feel better? The place where just stepping in the door lightens your mood? The place where ‘everybody knows your name’?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

It’s not just that exercising makes me feel better  (’cause you know it does).

It’s the camaraderie. The sense of community. The sharing of common goals.

(The women in my class who set up my step and have my equipment all set out before I’ve even laced up my running shoes 🙂 )

I GO to the gym to exercise, I STAY there because it feels like home.

Do you have a ‘happy place’? A place that instantly elevates your mood when you step in the door?

Is exercise your ‘best medicine’ too?

 

#FatblasterFriday | A little power training goes a long way

Did you know that there are 9 components of physical fitness?

Strength, agility, balance, flexibility, local muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, strength endurance, coordination and power? How many do you include in your training?

power training

While my weekly workout routine tends to be varied and fairly comprehensive, until recently, I had overlooked power training.

Power:  the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movements. The two components of power are strength and speed. (e.g. jumping or a sprint start) 

The benefits of including power training in your workouts?

  • improved reaction time (think of dodging an off course baseball or keeping a wayward toddler from the path of an oncoming car)
  • enhanced cardiovascular function (power training typically results in heart rates higher than 85% of maxHR)
  • increased strength (one of the components of power)
  • elevated calorie burn both during the workout (using big muscles explosively burns a ton of calories) and up to 24 hours later (the “afterburn” effect)

But a little power training goes a long way. When done correctly, training for power should involve near maximal effort. You shouldn’t be able to do very many reps.

I like to place my power exercises near the beginning of my workout, always after a proper warmup and before the muscles needed for speed and strength are already tired.

Today’s #FatblasterFriday workout combines 2 power training moves with 4 whole body strength moves.

All you’ll need is a box, bench or step and a moderately heavy set of dumbbells. Let’s power it up!

power training

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Do you incorporate power training in your workouts?

What’s your favourite type of workout?

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.

 

Favourite music to exercise to? Share and share alike!

I teach 3-5 group exercise classes a week. Always to music. It invigorates and energizes me. And of course, aids my choreography and cueing 😉

My favourite music to exercise to? Gaga, Kanye, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Will I Am, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Usher, to name a few. I’m a ‘pop’ girl; top 40 for the win. 

music to exercise to

We all know a good exercise playlist when we hear it, but choosing the right music to exercise to can do more than just put you in a good mood. It can improve your stamina and performance!

Join me over at the Gaiam Blog where I’m talking about the science behind music and exercise; tips for creating a great workout playlist!

What’s your favourite music to exercise to?

Low sugar and sugar free dessert recipes | we’re sweet enough

Today is day 11 of my family’s post-holiday-sugar-detox. (Follow the link for  tips on how to detox your family 🙂 )

All in all, we’re doing fairly well. Dear daughter has almost completely given up Nutella (we’re now blending it with natural peanut butter…) on her morning pancakes. The boys are no longer asking whether it’s ‘dessert night’ before eating their vegetables. Hubby hasn’t had ice cream (at least not when I’ve been around) for a week. And I’ve only slipped up once or twice, caving in to the siren song of the last Christmas Toblerone bar…

We would all, however, occasionally like a little taste of something sweet after dinner or with afternoon tea. And I know at least 200 DietBetters that might also be interested in low sugar, low calorie ways to enjoy dessert while still losing weight!

sugar free dessert recipes

So I asked some of my fellow health and fitness bloggers for their favourite low sugar and sugar free dessert recipes. And just because I’m trying to retrain my family’s palates to accept ‘less sweet’ alternatives, I also stipulated no agave nectar, stevia or fake sugar alternatives.

Most use fruit to sweeten their baking; unsweetened applesauce, bananas and raisins. Some include a bit of chocolate (the darker the better and you can always choose to leave it out!). And those calling for sugar use very little in comparison with standard dessert recipes.

sugar free dessert recipes

Quinoa Breakfast Bars (I substituted almond flour for chickpea, honey for cane sugar and quinoa flakes plus 1/4 cup water for cooked quinoa)

I’ve only had time to try the first (Lindsay’s Quinoa Breakfast Bars; which I’ve been enjoying with my afternoon coffee), but they all sound delicious. Don’t you agree?

  • Quinoa Breakfast Bars for Lindsay of the Lean Green Bean Blog – A great blend of quinoa (protein), oats (carbs) and peanut butter (fat) for breakfast or with afternoon coffee. I made a single batch, cut it into twelve portions and froze them. They didn’t last the week!
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Blondies from Lori and Michelle of Purely Twins – These look very brownie-like, but incorporate a variety of healthy foods like chia and coconut oil. You can keep the sugar load down by using the darkest chocolate you can find! Yum!
  • Chocolate Dipped Fig Kisses – I’ve never before tried figs, but this recipe, from Monica, of Moni Meals has definitely piqued my interest. Adding chocolate to fruit is a great way to get me (and my kids) to try something new!
  • Poached Pears with Pomegranate Mascarpone Sauce courtesy of The Fit Fork – A decadent sounding dessert; fancy enough to share with my adult friends at our next dinner club evening! I won’t tell them it’s low sugar if you won’t! Thanks Jennifer!
  • Healthy Apple Crisp from Nicole at Apples and Arteries – My family loves fruit crisps! This recipe calls for a bit of molasses and applesauce to sweeten it up. I think you could also substitute berries without compromising the integrity of the dish (gotta use up those 60 pounds of frozen berries in my freezer before summer!).
  • Carrot and Oat Raising Cookies courtesy of Laura at Mommy Run Fast – This one has no added sugar at all! Sweetened with bananas and raisins and cleverly incorporating carrots (a great way to get another serving of veggies in). I’ll be making these to send in my children’s lunches soon.

Need a few more ideas? Check out the low sugar and sugar free dessert recipes that have passed my family’s taste test; cheesecake, bread pudding, scones and more!

Have any favourite low sugar or sugar free dessert recipes that you care to share?

Please do so in the comments box below!

#FatblasterFriday | Metabolic hotel gym workout

Often, when my personal training clients go on travel, they ask me to give them a hotel gym workout. Something short, whole body and metabolic in nature that can be easily adapted to the sometimes limited types of equipment available in hotel gyms.

hotel gym workout

In other words, nothing that requires a Bosu, TRX, chin up bar, Smith or cable and pulley machine 😉

Most hotel gyms have a couple of pieces of cardio equipment (a treadmill or two, perhaps a bike and an elliptical; alas, never my beloved Cybex ARC trainer), some dumbbells, a flat or incline bench and perhaps a stability ball or two. More bare bones than you might be used to and perhaps a little tight on space, but certainly enough for a whole body, metabolic style workout.

Last week, my family and I headed to Seattle for a few days away at the end of the Christmas break. I purposefully booked a hotel with a gym and packed my exercise clothing. My plan was to fit in at least one hotel gym workout in while we were there.

I did and I filmed it, just for you!

Yes, the film quality is less than great (recorded on an iPhone under glaring fluorescent lights), but just like doing a hotel gym workout, I worked with what I had!

#FatblasterFriday Metabolic Hotel Gym Workout

Equipment required:

  • cardio machine of choice
  • incline bench (can also be done on a flat bench, if need be)
  • dumbbells (1 set of moderate weight, 1 single heavy weight)
  • med ball (the heavier the better; a stability ball can be substituted in a pinch)

Instructions:

  • perform 10 minutes of light to moderate cardio as a warmup
  • go through 3-exercise circuit 3-4 times (it took me 20 minutes to get through it 3 times)
  • rest briefly between circuits (NOT exercises)
  • if you’ve got time and energy, add your favourite body part strength moves at the end (I added chest and back and a bit of core work)
  • stretch and head to dinner!

hotel gym workout

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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.