Archives for July 2013

Strength training for runners | an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure

Earlier this week, I was invited to speak to the participants of a local half-marathon clinic on the topic of strength training for runners.

strength training for runners

As the group was heading out for a tempo run immediately after my presentation, I didn’t want to burden them with handouts of exercise descriptions and strength training protocols. Instead, I promised to recap the talk, including our quick Q&A session here on the blog. Enjoy!

Strength training for runners: why you need it and how to do it

I’ve trained a fair number of endurance runners. Many have had to deal with injuries at one point or other. Most of their injuries can be traced back to one (or more) of the following root causes:

  • forward leaning postures; while most of us suffer from postural deviations caused by sitting too much, endurance running can exacerbate the problem if the runner consistently extends the head, neck and shoulders forward.
  • muscular imbalances; front of the body muscles become stronger than back of the body muscles leading to lower back pain and overly tight joints
  • weak lateral movement patterns; side to side and rotational motions are rarely trained, compromising agility, core strength and increasing the potential for knee and ankle injuries
  • too much of the same thing; repetitive stress injuries frequently occur once a particular ‘threshold distance’ is reached. These injuries are often difficult to rehab without completing stopping the activity that caused them.

When designing weight training programs for my runner-clients, I tend to focus on the following four muscle groups:

  1. hamstrings and gluteus maximus; due to constant forward motion, runners are often ‘quad-dominant’, that is the quadriceps are much stronger than the muscles that ‘oppose’ them.
  2. obliques and erector spinae; improving core strength can not only reduce the likelihood of lower back and hip pain, it can also improve athletic performance by making proper running posture easier to maintain. In most runners, the obliques and erector spinae (lower back) are typically the weakest link in the core-chain.
  3. gluteus medius and adductors; strengthening weak medial glutes and inner thigh muscles can help improve knee tracking, thereby reducing the likelihood of a variety of knee injuries as well as ITB syndrome (here are some ideas for working out with a knee injury)
  4. posterior deltoids, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi; strengthening the muscles of the upper back can improve posture and running form; not to mention make you look taller and five pounds lighter!

Below are a list of the exercises I recommend for strengthening the weak muscle groups described above. If you’ve ever suffered a running injury before, you’ll notice that many of the exercises I suggest are the same ones you performed during rehab; an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure!

Click through the links to see demonstrations of proper exercise form and suggestions for progression.

Hamstrings and gluteus maximus:

Obliques and erector spinae:

Gluteus medius and adductors:

Back of the shoulder and upper back:

And OF COURSE, I always remind all of my clients to spend some time foam rolling and stretching after their strength workout. Focus on stretches that target the muscles you’ve just worked, as well as any other tight spots that you’re aware of!

Strength training for runners: Q&A

Q1: How should we combine the above exercises? How many reps and sets of each?

A1: Try choosing one exercise from each of the categories above. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each, circuit-style, with minimal rest between, 2 to 3 times through.

Q2: How often should we be strength training? As our half-marathon training progresses, we don’t have much time left in our schedules for more exercise!

A2: Aim to fit your strength training workouts in twice each week. The above workout should only take 20 minutes and can be easily done at the end of one of your shorter runs (when you’re already warmed up and should be thinking about stretching anyways 🙂 )

Q3: You mentioned foam rolling after a workout. I’ve always been told to do it before my runs. Which is better?

A3: In my opinion, you can’t foam roll enough! Doing it before a run can loosen up adhesions and tight muscles; but make sure you’ve done a bit of a dynamic warm up first. I find both foam rolling and static stretching to be much more effective when performed on warm muscles, regardless of when in your workout you do it. Experiment and see which works best for you!

Thanks so much to the Port Coquitlam Running Room for inviting me to chat about one of my favourite topics!

Runners, do you include weight training in your exercise schedule?

If so, how has it affected your running?

Disclaimer: Although I am a certified Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. The exercises described above may not be the exercises YOU need to improve your running and avoid injury.


Hiking with kids | combining outdoor activity with creative pursuits

Before we had kids, my husband and I spent much of our free time in the British Columbian wilderness. Camping and hiking and exploring the beaches of the west coast. Long days on the trail, always looking ahead to the next glorious mountaintop view.


Activities that we set aside until our children were old enough to join in and strong enough to carry their own day packs (as opposed to being carried by us…).

hiking with kids

Unlike their parents, however, these children are not so easily entertained by the thrill of an empty path and the promise of ‘what might be’ over the next ridge. Accustomed to the fast pace of team sports, video games and television shows, there just wasn’t enough ‘excitement’ in the out-of-doors to capture their attention for long.

And we all know how important it is to keep our children physically active!

To be honest, sick and tired of the complaints (‘can we go back now?’, ‘this is boring’, ‘how much longer?’) we’d almost given up on hiking with kids until the day our oldest son happened to bring his camera with him on an outing.

The transformation was magical.

He ran ahead of us on the path looking for plants and animals and views to photograph. His siblings scampered behind pointing out potential shots and begging for their turn with the camera.The hike ended not because we’d reached the usual 60 minute mark, but because his battery died and he hadn’t thought to bring a replacement.

Not surprising, our younger two children asked for point-and-shoots for their upcoming birthdays and to this day, we continue the tradition of always bringing cameras when hiking with kids.

No more complaints about outdoor activities and squabbles are limited to occasions when one blocks the ‘photo opp’ of another.

One of about 500 pictures taken of the Columbia ground squirrels at Manning Park…

Happily, the children are much better photographers than we are (how’s that for hope for the future of blogging?)…

Source: 10-year old daughter

Of course, now that we own kayaks and our outdoor adventures frequently involve water, speed and daring, it just might be time to invest in a Go-Pro…

hiking with kids

Do you have any tricks and tips for hiking with kids?





Working out while injured | Focus on what you CAN do

Exercise regularly? Chances are you’ll experience a workout-related injury at some point or other. How can you continue working out while injured?

I’ve certainly had my share of injuries; shoulder impingement, intercostal muscle strain, undiagnosed “sore” knees and most recently, Achilles tendonitis.

Giving up my workouts is not an option. Not only do I have classes to teach and clients to train, exercising is my number one strategy for dealing with stress and maintaining a sense of balance in my life.

Each and every time I’ve been injured, I’ve had to figure out a way to balance the conflicting demands of maintaining the momentum of my training with resting and rehabilitating my injured body part. Not always an easy thing to do, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  • get a proper diagnosis. See your health care provider (doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist) for a proper diagnosis and, when applicable, treatment. Self-diagnosis via Dr. Google doesn’t count. (I’m currently seeing a physiotherapist for icing, ultrasound, acupuncture and KT taping)

working out while injured

  • determine which movements you shouldn’t be performing. Along with a diagnosis, your health care provider will make recommendations about movements to avoid. (Right now, step class and plyometrics are at the top of my ‘no no’ list)
  • switch up your training priorities. Lower body out of commission? Now’s a great time to work on upper body strength and all-over flexibility. (Need some workout ideas? Check out all the free workouts here on my blog)
  • find movements that don’t involve your injured body part. Knowing a bit of exercise physiology definitely helps, but going slowly, limiting range of motion and listening to your body will help you to find movements that you CAN perform pain free and without aggravating your injury.

After a bit of experimenting, I’ve found two movements that I CAN perform pain-free and that allow me to both train my legs and get a bit of a cardio workout in (step class is my primary form of cardio and although I don’t love cardio, my body needs it for sleep and weight management…).

Watch the two short videos below to see how I’m working out while injured!

Apparently, I’ve written about injuries a lot 🙂  Check out the following posts if you need ideas for exercises you can do while recovering from a knee injury or an intercostal muscle strain.

Workout ideas while recovering from a knee injury

Workout ideas while recovering from intercostal muscles strain

Have you ever been side-lined by a workout-related injury?

What did you do?

I’d love it if you’d share your tips and exercise suggestions for working out while injured; you never know who they might help! 



Hormones and weight gain after 40 | why nutrition matters even more now

Several weeks ago, I initiated a conversation about hormones and weight gain after 40.

In that post, I highlighted the physical changes women can typically expect to face during peri-menopause and the menopause transition itself. The picture I painted wasn’t pretty and many of you wrote to say that you’ve experienced the changes I described, including muscle loss, weight gain, insatiable food cravings and a belly or ‘muffin top’ that won’t go away.

hormones and weight gain

I promised to do some research and come back and share what I discovered about the effects of exercise, nutrition and overall lifestyle on the challenges we’re all facing.

Today’s post will focus on nutrition, which means we’ll be once again talking about the hormones estrogen and insulin. (And just a head’s up, they’re just as important to the upcoming posts on exercise and lifestyle change, so pay attention 🙂 ).

Many (if not all) of my 40+ female clients lament the fact that they can no longer eat the way they did in their 20’s and 30’s and zip up their favourite jeans. Gone are the days when a weekend of pizza, chips and beer had no effect on your body come Monday morning.

We’ve already touched on the primary reasons why people (both men and women) tend to gain weight as they age, but decreased physical activity and loss of muscle mass are only part of the story.

For women entering their peri-menopausal years, the frequently-observed increase in ‘middle of the body adiposity’ is directly tied to lower estrogen levels.

Estrogen is a most interesting hormone. In our reproductive years, it initiates breast development and helps to maintain pregnancy and kickstart the development of fetal organs.

Evidence from animal models tells us that estrogen also plays a role in

  • feeding behaviour (estrogen-depleted mice consume significantly more food than their ‘normal estrogen profile’ counterparts)
  • the uptake of lipids from the circulation (lower estrogen levels result in greater lipid uptake and ‘middle of the body’ fat storage)
  • the development of insulin resistance (recall that insulin’s function is to remove excess sugar from the blood; when you become resistant to the effects of insulin, your body stores that excess sugar as fat)
  • physical activity and energy expenditure during physical activity (estrogen-depleted mice move less and burn fewer calories while engaged in ‘exercise’ than ‘normal estrogen profile’ mice)

“Eat more, move less” is almost always a recipe for weight gain, regardless of whether you’re “mice or (wo)man”!

So, what does this all have to do with nutrition? How can we take this information about hormones and turn it into a plan for counteracting their effects on mid-life weight gain?

The following list will be familiar to you if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile 🙂 (And if you haven’t, take a minute and enter your email in the box at the top right to get an alert every time I publish a new post. Alternatively, you can also follow my blog on Bloglovin’; click on the ‘Follow this Blog on Bloglovin’ box, midway down the right sidebar)

It’s based on the premise of clean eating. With a little tough love. If you’re serious about losing or maintaining weight through the menopause years you can’t keep eating the way you have been and expect to see any changes in your body.

  • eliminate processed foods and added sugar. Without estrogen around to help you out, excess dietary sugar will be transformed into fat, in particular, belly fat. The high sodium count in most processed foods will also lead to water retention which only contributes to that puffy look.
  • pay attention to serving size. Educate yourself about what a serving of lean protein looks like. Do the same for grains and healthy fats. Weigh or measure portions until you can do it on your own. Given that energy expenditure during exercise can decline with estrogen levels, keeping your calorie count in check is more important now than ever.
  • notice how you feel before, during and after a meal. Keeping a food journal is always helpful when trying to lose weight, but even more helpful when you’re experiencing food craving and lack-of-estrogen feedback about satiation. Pay attention to your trigger foods and learn about your body’s response to carbohydrates.
  • re-think that drink. Alcohol is a sugar and your body metabolizes it as such. Still can’t give up your weekend wine binge? Don’t expect to lose your belly bulge.
  • experiment with reducing grains and dairy. I’m not suggesting that you ‘go paleo’ here or jump on the gluten free bandwagon. However, many women find that reducing their consumption of these two food groups helps with both overall weight loss and abdominal fat loss. Grains, in particular, will raise blood sugars and trigger an insulin response. Remember to journal your ‘experiment’; it’s the only true way you’ll have of knowing whether this strategy works for you.
  • embrace vegetables. They’ll fill you up (dietary fibre for the win!) and help ensure that you get the calcium and magnesium you need to help offset age-related losses in bone density. In order to meet your daily requirement of 7 to 10 servings, make sure you’re adding a veggie or two to every single meal.

[Here’s where I remind you that I’m NOT a registered dietician or nutritionist, so my suggestions are based on MY OWN research and the strategies that I’ve found to work for MYSELF and MY clients. Remember that there is no single diet that is better than all others for losing weight or maintaining weight loss; finding something that works for you and sticking with it over the long haul is key.]

To read the first part in this series go here >>> Hormones and Weight Gain after 40: the biology of aging

To read the third part in this series go here >>> Hormones and Weight Gain after 40: exercise for hormonal balance


Watch for parts 4 and 5; the effects of stress and lack of sleep on weight gain after 40…

Now it’s your turn. Share YOUR nutrition tips and tricks for dealing with weight gain after 40.

Anything that hasn’t worked? I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences! 


What makes a workout a workout?

Monday’s post about ‘2-a-day’ workouts generated a lot of comments. (Hooray, I love comments!)

what makes a workout a workout

Clearly we had a lot to say about this one!

While some of you agreed with me (yes, you can exercise too much), many of you shared that you regularly work out twice a day and don’t see anything wrong with it. (Double hooray, I love differing opinions!)


Thumbs up to differing opinions!

As I read through your comments, I realized that perhaps we’re not all in agreement about what a ‘workout’ entails.

If you spin in the morning and take a walk with your family in the evening, have you worked out twice in a day?

What about boot camp and yoga?

Or strength training followed by some treadmill time?

For me, a ‘workout’ has the following characteristics:
  • it’s a single session that may incorporate multiple fitness components, including cardio, strength training, balance, speed and agility, stretching and foam rolling
  • my level of intensity is significantly higher than any other time of the day; being sweaty and out of breath is a must
  • a workout requires that I wear exercise clothes; a long walk in my Fluevogs is not exercise FOR ME, just a part of daily active living

Because we all have different fitness levels and abilities, an activity that’s not a workout for you, may very well be a workout for me (and vice versa)!

Your turn. What makes a workout a workout to you?

Want to read more on the subject? Check out this recent article on (which I didn’t happen to see until just this morning, but makes some very good points too!)

Want to chat more? Make sure you’ve ‘liked’ my Facebook page to keep the conversation going!


Twice a day workouts | potential consequences of exercising too much

Is it just me, or has there suddenly been an increase in the number of people doing twice a day workouts?

twice a day workouts

I see it daily on social media; Facebook status updates, Tweets, weekly workout recap blog posts.

I see it frequently in the gym; back to back spin classes, upper/lower-morning/evening body part splits.

I’ve  had clients ask me to program twice a day workouts for them. And group fitness participants head to the weight room immediately after an exhausting Bootcamp class for another hour of lifting weights.

There’s even a hashtag for the movement: #2adays (captured from my Twitter stream with handles removed to protect the innocent…)

twice a day workouts

twice a day workouts

twice a day workouts

twice a day workouts

Proponents of ‘2-a-days’ argue that they’re a great way to jump start weight loss, work through strength plateaus and put on loads of muscle fast.

What do I think about twice a day workouts?

In my opinion, unless you’re a professional athlete (meaning you earn money for your efforts and you have coaches carefully monitoring your program) OR your twice a day workouts are very short in duration (meaning you get up from your desk to do some squats, lunges, pushups and planks a few times a day), ‘2adays’ are more likely to undermine your health and fitness goals than propel you towards them.


  • exercising too frequently can lead to overtraining syndrome (think weight loss plateaus, weight gain, fatigue and loss of strength)
  • repetitive strain injuries often result from performing the same movements over and over (especially if those movements involve impact)
  • improvements in strength and increases in muscle mass require rest (24 to 72 hours between workouts, depending on your goals)
  • metabolic adaptations to longer, more frequent workouts can lead to fat storage rather than fat burning (the body learns to make fuel last longer to ensure that you don’t run out before your workout is over)
  • hormonal responses to longer, more frequent workouts can lead to fat storage rather than fat burning (the body perceives exercise as ‘stress’ and increases it’s production of cortisol, a fat storage hormone)
  • twice a day workouts are not sustainable for most people (setting yourself up for success by creating a workout schedule that you can consistently follow is the best way to achieve your long term health and fitness goals)

Still not convinced? Perhaps you need to ask yourself whether you’re ‘exercising to live’ or ‘living to exercise’… And whether there’s something else you could be doing with all that ‘spare’ time 😉

How frequently to you work out?

Have you ever done twice a day workouts? I’d love to hear your thoughts.