Archives for May 2013

How to get arms like Michelle Obama without resorting to plastic surgery

Last week, one of my clients mentioned to me a story that she’d seen on a popular evening entertainment show. A story about women flocking by the thousands to their plastic surgeon’s offices because they wanted arms like Michelle Obama.

arms like Michelle Obama

I don’t have photo rights to any pics of Michelle Obama’s arms, so you’ll have to look at mine instead

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year more than 15 000 people (98% of them women) elected to undergo ‘brachioplasty’ to remove excess skin and fat from the back of their upper arms. Compare that to the year 2000, when only about 300 surgeries were performed nation wide. That’s an increase of nearly 4 400% in just over 10 years!

While I’m not surprised to learn that women want to improve the look and tone of their triceps, I AM surprised to see that so many have chosen a surgical route to reach their goals. Surgery is expensive (nearly $4 000 for this procedure), leaves visible scars and can result in unexpected complications and infection during the recovery period.

Want arms like Michelle Obama without going under the knife?

  • eat clean and pay attention to portion sizes. Fat accumulates all over the body, including the back of the upper arms, when we consume sugar, alcohol, fatty and processed foods. Educate yourself about portion sizes and eat within your caloric requirements.
  • move more. The more your move, the more calories you burn. Daily calorie deficit leads to fat loss. Movement doesn’t need to be fast to be effective; start by adding a 15 minute walk to your day.
  • strengthen your largest muscles. Whole body strength training builds metabolically active muscle; muscle that will continue to consume calories long after your workout. Don’t limit your weight lifting to upper body exercise; your legs and butt are large, powerful muscles and will contribute more to your daily energy budget than the smaller muscles of your arms.
  • follow an upper body strength training plan. Michelle Obama clearly works out. I’m guessing that she spends 30 minutes a day, perhaps 3 days a week, training her upper body. No doubt she works in the 6 to 12 repetition range (the ‘hypertrophy’ range) and lifts weights heavy enough to fatigue her muscles by the end of each set.

If a client came to me wanting arms like Michelle Obama, here’s a program I would suggest they start with, 3 days per week, every other day.  

arms like Michelle Obama

 Have a favourite arm exercise that I’ve missed? Feel free to share and link up below in the comments!


#FatblasterFriday | a Mother’s Day workout just for you

I know that it’s only Friday, but I’m guessing that many of you will be celebrating Mother’s Day with a calorie-laden brunch, barbecue or dinner out. (Alas, my hubby is away and my mom lives across the country, so unless my children have secret plans, I’ll be cooking dinner myself and sticking to my usual meal plan)

Regardless, this week’s #FatblasterFriday is a MOTHER of a workout. My Mother’s Day workout is designed to work all of your major muscle groups in as little time as possible. Do it alone, or convince your mom (if you’re a kid) or kids (if you’re a mom) to do it with you. They’ll thank you when it’s over 🙂

Only 12 repetitions of each of 6 exercises, done in circuit-style, twice through and you’re free to enjoy the rest of your day.

All you need is a set of dumbbells (go heavy, or go home!), a yoga mat and a stool or bench (heck, even a staircase will do).

Are you in?

Fitknitchick’s Mother’s Day Workout

And for those of you who like to ‘pin’ things for later…

Mother's Day workout

I makes my heart SING when you

  • WATCH and DO the workouts with me
  • SUBSCRIBE to fitknitchick on YouTube 
  • CHECK OUT the #FatblasterFriday Playlist for more, real time workouts
  • PIN the above WORKOUT PHOTO
  • GIVE me your FEEDBACK on YouTube or in the COMMENTS section below
  • LIKE and SHARE my videos with your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter

Wishing all my ‘mom’ readers a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Does your family have any special Mother’s Day traditions?

Would you punish your husband for leaving you alone with three children over the Mother’s Day weekend?

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.

Hit a strength training plateau? Try pre-exhaust supersets

The other day I wrote about the pitfalls of high repetition strength training.

One of my commenters pointed out that done on an occasional basis, a day or two of high repetition workouts can sometimes help you push past a stubborn strength training plateau. (You know, that exercise that you just can’t increase your weights on no matter how hard you try).

While I agree that this is a reasonable use for high rep training, my go-to ‘strength training plateau buster’ workout  is a pre-exhaust superset.

Let me explain. Compound exercises (which we should all be doing….) require the use of more than one group of muscles. However, not all muscles are created equal. Some are larger, and hence, potentially stronger than others. Often times, it’s the smaller, weaker muscle required for a particular exercise that ‘exhausts’  before the larger, stronger muscle, preventing us from progressing on the lift.

strength training plateau

Take chest presses as an example. Although chest presses target the pectoral muscles, the triceps are needed to extend the arms fully and complete the lift. The smaller, weaker triceps are fatigued at a much lighter load (or volume of repetitions) than required to fatigue the pecs. Unless you work to increase the strength of your triceps, you’ll hit a strength training plateau on this exercise.

Pre-exhaust training offers a solution. Perform two exercises for the target muscle group, super-set style, in the 8 to 12 rep range. (Hint: choose a weight heavy enough to exhaust the target muscle by the end of the set, otherwise you’ll never get over your plateau).

The first exercise of the pair will be an isolation exercise; one that doesn’t require the assistance of the smaller, weaker muscle that’s inhibiting progress. Work to failure and then immediately follow with a compound exercise targeting the same muscle group. The larger muscle, although temporarily fatigued, will be assisted by the smaller muscle, allowing you to continue stressing it and ultimately, increasing its strength.

I use pre-exhaust training in my own workouts every few months, for a week or two at a time (caution, if you overuse the technique, like any other form of training, your body will adapt to it and it won’t have the same benefits). I’ve found it a particularly useful technique for overcoming strength training plateaus of the chest, back and biceps.

Try the following exercise combinations and see if the pre-exhaust method doesn’t make a difference in your training.

Chest: Incline dumbbell flys (isolation) followed by chest (or incline) chest presses (compound)

Back: Seated row (isolation) followed by barbell bent over row (compound)

Biceps: Preacher curl (isolation) followed by under hand grip chin ups (compound)

strength training plateau

Have you ever tried pre-exhaust training?

What’s your go-to strength training plateau busting technique? 




High rep workouts | Why you don’t need to do 500 squats or hold a 7-minute plank

I work in a gym.

I’ve seen a lot of people perform exercises and follow programs that aren’t terribly beneficial. Programs that don’t stimulate much in the way of muscle growth, calorie burn or improved function (the three main reasons people participate in an exercise program). But unless they’re my clients (or I think they’re about to hurt themselves) I don’t bother correcting or suggesting an alternative.

Lately, however, I’ve been seeing an awful lot of extremely high rep workouts and fitness challenges popping up online. And because my clients have been asking me what I think about programs like ‘200 squats’, ‘100 pushups’ and ‘plank-a-day’, I’m assuming that you might be curious too.

Let’s start by talking a bit about the science behind repetition ranges.

Almost every program you’ll see that’s written by a fitness professional will suggest that you perform between 1 and 20 repetitions of a particular exercise. That’s because exercise scientists have discovered that certain repetition ranges are best for certain goals.

  • Looking to improve your maximum strength? Choose a heavy enough weight (or a challenging enough version of the exercise) so that you’re able to perform ONLY 1-8 good form repetitions before hitting complete muscular fatigue (or ‘failure’). Rest for 2-4 minutes and repeat for 3 to 5 sets.
  • If muscular hypertrophy (size and definition) is your goal, the appropriate repetition range is a bit higher; 8 to 12 reps with 60 s or so rest between sets for 2 to 4 sets. Note that the weight required to fatigue your muscles in this rep range will be a bit lighter than that used when training for pure strength.
  • Training for muscular endurance typically calls for higher reps at an even lighter weight and with relatively little rest between sets; 12-20 repetitions and 1-3 sets with about 30 s rest between. (Note that many trainers feel that even 20 repetitions is too many and muscular endurance is better trained in the 12-15 rep range).

Note that none of these three fitness goals prescribes anywhere near the number of reps suggested by the extremely high rep workout ‘programs’ and challenges described above.

Not only will high rep workouts NOT help most people reach their fitness goals, they may actually hinder your progress via;

  • overuse injuries. Several summer ago I started the 100 pushups program (just for fun…). I was about half way through the program (128 pushups over 5 sets with 90 s break between sets) when I aggravated an old shoulder injury. I wisely decided that being able to use my shoulder for other things was more important than being able to complete 100 pushups in a row.
  • muscular imbalances. While holding a good form plank for a minute or two is a great way to improve your anterior core strength, good posture and function require that you work your muscles in a balanced fashion. Spend half your time planking and the remainder perfecting your bridging technique. And even better yet? Progress that static plank by adding movement to engage even more muscles.
  • missed program elements. The ‘specificity of training’ principle recognizes that a body only gets stronger at movements it regularly trains. Regularly perform 500 body weight squats and get good at performing body weight squats (not barbell squats or lunges or pushups or pull ups or dead lifts). Unless you have a lot of time for exercise, those 500 squats are going to eat into the 45 minutes you scheduled for your workout and keep you from fitting in any of the other elements required of a balanced fitness program.

While it’s great to aim for personal bests and sometimes it’s fun to challenge ourselves, there are better ways to improve your fitness and reduce your risk of injury. Try training in a rep range that’s conducive to reaching your goals. Need some advice or a program that’s tailored to YOUR specific fitness goals? Hire a certified personal trainer; I’d love to help!

What’s your favourite repetition range to work in?

Does it mesh with your fitness goals?