Archives for February 2014

New to strength training? An at-home beginner workout just for you

A couple of weeks ago, one of my Twitter followers asked me if any of my free at-home workouts were appropriate for beginners.

Although I regularly work with strength training ‘newbies’, I’ve somehow neglected this group when creating workouts for readers of Fitknitchick. (Thanks Brittany @AHealthySlice for the heads up!)

Below, you’ll find a short, whole-body, at-home beginner workout. (If you’ve trained with me in-person, you’ll recognize this circuit; I almost always use it during our first ‘assessment’ session because it includes all of the functional movements that need to be mastered before you can progress to more challenging, and FUN, exercises).

The only equipment you’ll require is a stability ball and a pair of dumbbells (3, 5, 8 or 10 pounds, depending on your upper body strength). Focus on form before attempting to increase the difficulty of the move or the amount of weight you’re lifting. Watch the video at the bottom of the post for a demonstration of each of the 6 exercises in the circuit.

At-home beginner workout

1. Start with a light, 5 minute warmup. Include movements like walking, marching, arm swings, stair climbing, low impact jumping jacks and cross-country skis.

2. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise (except the plank; just hold it as long as you can), one after the other, with a short break between exercises. Move slowly and through as big a range of motion as is comfortable.

3. If one circuit completely poops you out, stop and stretch (see 5. below).

4. If you have a bit more energy, repeat the circuit a second time, then stop and stretch (see 5. below).

5. Finish your workout by stretching the muscles of your thighs, chest, back, glutes and shoulders. Not sure what to stretch (or why you’re stretching at all)? Read this post and watch the imbedded video.

6. Perform this workout two to three times per week for a minimum of three weeks before trying to make the exercises harder. Consistency trumps progression when you’re new to strength training!

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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.


Health benefits of chocolate | a potential remedy for peri-menopause too?

Confession: I began researching and writing this post for purely selfish reasons. I love chocolate and wanted to rationalize enjoying it daily.

health benefits of chocolate

The more I read, the more I realized that the purported health benefits of chocolate may also be relevant to the symptoms of menopause and peri-menopause.

In particular, challenges that hormonal changes bring to cardiovascular health, weight management, insulin sensitivity, mood disorders and loss of short term memory.

Maybe it’s time to re-think those hormonally-induced chocolate cravings….

Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate. All are derived from the bean of the cacao plant. A tiny nugget jam-packed full of health-giving chemicals including flavanoids (antioxidants which increase the flexility of veins and arteries), theobromines and caffeine (both stimulants which increases cardiorespiratory response), cacao has been ground, roasted and consumed by humans in dozens of cultures for hundreds of years.

Recent studies suggest the following health benefits of chocolate:

  • better cardiovascular health. A long term Swedish study of more than 30, 000 women demonstrated a significantly reduced risk of heart failure in those who regularly consumed dark chocolate. Daily consumption may also reduce blood pressure, lower LDL and total serum cholesterol as well as decrease risk of heart attack and stroke, the leading cause of death in North American women age 50 and over
  • improved insulin sensitivity. Chronic consumption of high sugar foods can lead to insulin resistance; a condition whereby the pancreas no longer produce enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels and excess sugar is stored as fat. Insulin resistance can be improved by the presence of nitric oxide, a by-product of flavanol consumption. The caveat? Make sure you’re not undermining the insulin-improving benefits of chocolate by choosing the least sweet option available.
  • positive effects on cognition. Studies on the effects of chocolate consumption on brain activity demonstrate both short and long term benefits. Consuming a square or two of chocolate before a challenging mental task increases blood flow to the hippocampal region of the brain (the region responsible for learning and memory), resulting in improved attention and performance. And seniors who regularly consume foods high in flavanols score higher on cognitive function tests than their chocolate-deprived counterparts.
  • enhanced mood. Daily consumption of chocolate may reduce the production of stress hormones and improve your sense of well-being, thanks to the physiological and psychoactive effects of theobromine.

Tips for getting more health-bang for your chocolate-buck

health benefits of chocolate

  • darker is better. The higher the percentage of cocoa (or cacao), the less sugar, butter and milk (and hence, calories) in the chocolate. Aim for 70% or higher. Not only will it contain more health-improving flavanoids, it’s more satiating than milk chocolate and may actually diminish cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
  • pay attention to serving size. The recommended daily dose of dark chocolate for improved health is a mere one to two squares. Not a whole bar. If you can’t bear to put an opened bar back in the cupboard, choose individually wrapped, single ounce servings.
  • no need to get fancy. While nuts and seeds and dried fruit are a tasty addition to chocolate (and may  have their own health benefits), they also increase its salt, sugar and calorie content and may just trigger that ‘bet you can’t eat just one’ response. Stick with plain, dark chocolate to maximize health benefits.

To quote Charles M. Schulz on this Valentine’s Day;

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

health benefits of chocolate


4 Benefits of Turkish Get Ups

Recently, I participated in a kettlebell workshop for fitness professionals.

benefits of Turkish get ups

Perfect your form with light weights before progressing to heavier bells

In addition to learning proper cueing techniques for hip hinges, dead lifts and kettlebell swings, we were also introduced to an exercise with a strange sounding name; the Turkish get up.

Originating as an exercise for wrestlers in the Middle East, Turkish get ups (TGU’s) are now commonly incorporated in functional strength workouts the world over. Although TGU’s sound simple (lay down, press a weight over your head, come to standing then return to laying down, all the while keeping the arm extended and the weight over head), done properly, they provide a full body workout, building strength, endurance and improving overall mobility.

And they are harder than they sound or look. MUCH HARDER 🙂

Here’s a peek at where I am currently in my TGU training; note that I’m only using a 5 pound dumbbell and that I need to improve the fluidity of my movements before I switch to a heavier kettlebell.

Note that there are many accepted variations to the move (single vs double arm, getting up from a squat vs a lunge, using a hip bridge vs. swinging your back leg through). None are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and all confer similar strength and conditioning benefits. Find the variation that works for YOU and focus on perfecting form BEFORE adding or increasing load.

4 Benefits of Turkish Get Ups

  • improved shoulder strength and stability. TGU’s move your shoulder through it’s entire range of motion; all while keeping the arm extended under a static load. With little to no load, they’re both the perfect warmup to an upper body lifting routine and as part of a shoulder rehabilitation program. Trainer Tip: Concentrate on keeping your arm fully extended, with the weight held directly above the shoulder and eye focus on the weight during the ‘up’ and ‘down’ portions of the exercise.
  • increased core strength and endurance. While the TGU may not look like a typically ‘abdominal’ exercise, break down the movement sequence and you’ll find that it requires activation and stabilization of the entire core complex. The farther a heavy load is held from the centre of the body, the more it taxes the muscles of the core. The slower you perform the sequence, the longer those muscles will remain under tension. Trainer Tip: Concentrate on keeping glutes and abdominals engaged throughout; stability supports movement and helps prevent injury. 
  • correct left-right movement pattern asymmetries. Most of us have a ‘stronger’ side. As a consequence, movement patterns will be easier to perform on one side of the body than the other. Practice TGU’s on both sides of the body to improve the ease with which you can perform day-to-day movement patterns (e.g., getting in and out of a car), as well as those required during recreational sports (e.g., kicking a soccer ball). Trainer Tip: When performing unilateral exercises, always start with your weaker, less coordinated side; focus on reducing the left-right imbalance before progressing the exercise.
  • whole body, metabolic exercise. The more muscle groups required to perform an exercise, the more the exercise will elevate your heart rate and the more calories you’ll burn during (and perhaps after) the workout. Trainer Tip: Combine TGU’s with three or four other compound whole body exercises (for example, pushups, pull ups, dead lifts and push presses) for an efficient metabolic style workout.

Do you include Turkish Get Ups in your strength workouts?

If so, what variation do you prefer?

IMG_3876For more exercise tips and strength training suggestions, check out my new book, Ultimate Booty Workouts. Available now at Amazon.caAmazon.comBarnes and Noble and Chapters/Indigo