Archives for April 2014

Samsung Gear Fit activity tracker and Galaxy S5 phone giveaway

Disclaimer: Telus generously provided me with a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and Gear Fit activity tracker for my personal use (as well as a matching set for one lucky reader) in exchange for sharing my thoughts about the new technology on my blog. No other compensation was provided. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine.

Not a bad daily step count, 'eh?

Not a bad daily step count, ‘eh?

Last week, Telus invited me to get together with a few other local social media peeps to learn about Samsung’s newest fitness device; the Gear Fit activity tracker (made specifically to sync with Samsung Galaxy mobile phones).

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Still smiling even AFTER we finished our burpees!

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I wear a pedometer to track my daily steps, with the goal of accumulating at least 10 000 a day. Some days this is easier than others 🙂 Up to this point, my activity tracking has been fairly low tech. Strap on the watch. Glance at the step count periodically. Get up from my desk and take a walk around the block. Snap a photo of my daily count. Post it on Instagram. Go to bed and do it all over again the next day. I’d heard of people who wore trackers that synced with their computers and phones. People who loved comparing yesterday’s workout with that of the day before. Those who got excited about seeing their running pace increase. Mostly engineers and accountants and scientists, I figured. Numbers geeks. That was before I strapped on the Gear Fit and initialized my new Galaxy S5.

Gear Fit activity tracker

This die-hard iPhone girl is doing some serious thinking…

My favourite features?

  • low profile, sleek style; it looks and feels like a bracelet and isn’t so raised that it catches on sleeves
  • easy to use keypad; just swipe your finger across the surface to change functions (clock, notifications, settings, timer, stopwatch, sleep, pedometer, exercise and heart rate) and up and down to look at details of your workouts (as well as incoming text messages and social media alerts)
  • history function; compare today’s workout stats to yesterday’s and the day’s before. Historical data is also available for the pedometer, sleep and heart rate functions.
  • customizability; not only can you change the background of your clock to match your outfits (I like the blue wallpaper myself), you can also customize the orientation of the text, which arm you’ll be wearing the tracker on and the font size (great for those of us who need numbers to be a bit on the large side to make them out…)
  • heart rate monitor; unlike many heart rate monitors, this one actually picks up my pulse (I’ve customized the ‘on’ button such that a double tap automatically wakes up the heart rate monitor, allowing me to quickly assess my effort while I’m teaching fitness classes)
  • media controller; in addition to controlling the music you’re playing on your phone, there’s also a great auto responder feature. Out for a run and get a notification that someones trying to call you? Hit the auto respond button to send a customized message (“Out for a run, call you when I’m done”)
  • water resistant; although it’s not made for swimming (sorry tri-athletes), both the Gear Fit AND the Galaxy S5 are water proof for 30 minutes and up to 1 m depth; perfect if you frequently forget to take your watch off before you hop in the shower or bath

I’d love it even more if:

  • the activity tracker’s battery life were a bit longer; when I wear it to bed, to track sleep, I need to remember to re-charge it before I leave the house the next morning (the Gear Fit comes with it’s own charger, separate from that of the phone). Otherwise I find myself without a watch by the middle of the afternoon.
  • it tracked a few more types of workouts; there are options for tracking walking, running, hiking and cycling, but not step aerobics. Doesn’t everybody do step aerobics 😉
  • I could get the phone away from my kids and actually explore all of it’s features; apparently it’s got a fantastic camera and the display is perfect for showing off the spinning Tardis wallpaper my daughter has downloaded…
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My mini-me (with MY phone…)

Guess what? Telus wants to give one of YOU a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and Gear Fit activity tracker of your very own. That’s a prize package worth $950 retail. Generous, I know!

Just leave a blog comment telling me which feature of the activity tracker you’re most excited about and enter the giveaway via the Raffelcopter widget below. Other options for earning additional entries include following Telus and fitknitchick on Twitter and Tweeting about the giveaway to your friends and colleagues (make sure you come back and paste the Tweet URL in the widget for the entry to count : ) ).

Contest is open to Canadian residents only and runs from 12 am Wednesday, April 30th through to 12 am Sunday, May 4th, 2014. The winner will be contacted via email and have 48 hours to claim their prize. Note that the prize package does NOT include phone service or a SIM card. Both can be purchased via the winner’s local Telus provider.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The benefits of active rest | what it is and why you need more of it

With exercise, as with many things in life, more is not always better

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Can you ever post TOO many photos of your cat to Instagram? I think not…

No matter how much you love to exercise, your body needs regular time away from formal workouts to rest, recover and rebuild. Depending on how intensely you train, you may need anywhere from 1 to 3 days off, each and every week, with an additional, extended rest, or de-loading week every second or third month.

What is active rest?

Put simply, active rest involves replacing your formally scheduled workout with another, less intense form of movement. Not to be confused with complete rest, an active rest day doesn’t involve sitting on the couch, catching up on House of Cards (although that’s sounding good to me, right about now) and tossing back Cracker Jack.

Schedule your active rest days when you schedule your workouts, making it a regular part of your periodized plan.

4 benefits of active rest

  • aids recovery and decreases delayed onset muscle soreness. If you’re working hard in the gym, lifting heavy, moving with purpose and intensity, your body needs times to recover. Recovery involves moving waste products out of the muscle, repairing minor tears in the muscles and supportive tissues and replenishing depleted glycogen stores.
  • reduces over-use and repetitive strain injuries. Over-use injuries are caused by doing too much of the same thing too often. Simply swapping the offending exercise (or workout) for an alternative can ease the burden you’re placing on the affected muscle or joint as well as strengthening the muscles that oppose and assist the injured one.
  • increases exercise enjoyment. Do too much of anything and you’re likely to become bored of it (this is even true of knitting…). Spending time away from the environment you usually do your workouts in is a great way to maintain your enthusiasm for exercise and keep you coming back for more.
  • bolsters the immune system. Intense exercise can tax the body’s immune system by triggering an over-production of  stress hormones. When stress hormone production remains elevated for too long, our susceptibility to colds and flus increases. Time away from exercise can improve immune function by returning stress hormone levels to normal.

Examples of active rest

When it comes to active rest, the only limitation is your imagination. Choose from the following list of ideas, depending on your interest and the intensity of your regular workouts; the more intensely you train, the more ‘restful’ your active rest should be and the more frequently your body will benefit from taking an active rest day.

  • Low intensity cardio
  • Walking out of doors
  • Ice or inline skating
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Golfing
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Massage

Whether you’re aiming to increase muscular size, strength or endurance, taking a day off between workouts is a great strategy for avoiding plateaus, maintaining momentum and ultimately, reaching your health and fitness goals sooner.

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5 reasons to periodize your workouts

  • Have a hard time sticking to a workout program long enough to see results?
  • Confused as to how many sets and reps you should be doing?
  • Think that adding more repetitions means you’re making progress?
  • Unsure of when to increase the load or difficulty or an exercise?
  • Need variety in your workouts to stay motivated?

Perhaps it’s time to periodize your workouts.

Periodization refers to the process of  systematically altering your training variables (reps, sets, load and rest intervals; if you’re new to strength training, you’ll find a primer to these terms here) in order to counter the body’s natural tendency to adapt to your workout (and stop making progress).

Also called ‘cycling training’, it involves finding a balance between sticking with a program long enough to reap the benefits, but not so long that it stops working for you.

periodize your workouts

Common periodization schedules

There are many ways to periodize your workouts, the most common being:

  • linear (or classic) periodization. Begin with higher repetitions (15 to 20) and lighter weights, to ensure the development of proper form and good mind-to-muscle connections before lowering the reps (down to 6-8 by the end of the final phase) and increasing the load. Professional athletes might move through three or four periodized phases in the months leading up to an event. The rest of us will benefit from sticking to a particular rep range/load combination for a week or two, aiming to change up our routine two or three times over a four to six week period, before ‘de-loading’ (taking a week off) and starting a new, periodized program.
  • reverse periodization. Exactly the opposite progression of the classic periodization program, reverse periodization begins with very few reps (2-3 sets of 2-3 reps) performed under very high load and ends with longer sets of a more moderate load. This program works well for body builders, particularly if the final phase focuses on fatiguing the muscles within a classic hypertrophy range (8 to 12 repetitions). I don’t personally recommend reverse periodization for clients who are just beginning with strength training and/or who have weight loss and body composition change goals; both for safety reasons and because it may not be metabolic enough to aid in fat loss.
  • undulating periodization. In an undulating periodization program, training variables typically change from workout to workout. Some people alternate high and low rep workouts (performing the same exercises in each workout but adjusting their load accordingly such that their muscles are close to fatigue by the end of every set). Others vary the format of the workout, performing straight sets of each exercise one day 1 and supersets of pairs of exercises on day 2. Another way to approach undulating periodization is to have two different programs, each with a different rep and set structure, that you alternate between from one workout to the next.

5 reasons to periodize your workouts

  1. plan for success. People who plan their workouts are significantly more likely to get them done. Periodization requires that you plan your workout for 4 to 6 weeks at a time.
  2. eliminate the guesswork. Walking into the gym without a plan is a recipe for failure. When you periodize your workouts, you’ll know exactly how many reps and sets of each exercise you need to do to stay on course. No more wandering aimlessly wondering what you should do next.
  3. proven strategy for changing body composition in women. A recent study on the benefits of periodized programming on strength gains and body composition change in women revealed that those who followed a classic, linearized program for just twelve weeks, reduced their body fat and gained more muscle mass than those following a reverse periodized program.
  4. prevent boredom. People often quit exercise because they’re tired of their program. Others jump from program to program (I call this ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome) before their bodies have time to respond. Periodization provides just enough variation, from one week to the next, to keep even the most restless exerciser from becoming bored 😉
  5. quantify progress. When you constantly change your program, it’s hard to know whether you’re making progress. If you did 12 toe pushups last week and bench pressed 50 lbs for 3 sets of 8 the next, are you getting stronger? Who knows. Following a periodized program allows you to visualize your progress. Same exercise, heavier weight, fewer reps? Yep, you’re definitely making progress. Being able to see the benefits of training is a strong motivator and may just inspire you to set more challenging goals next time around.

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From knees to toes | tips for progressing your pushups

Pushup_ProgressionsMany newcomers to strength training find it difficult to progress their pushups.

After weeks of performing longer and longer sets of knee pushups, they’re often disappointed when they finally attempt and are unable to perform even a single pushup on their toes. (Of course, sometimes progress takes longer than we think it should; make sure your expectations are reasonable… ).

This isn’t surprising, given that a standard toe pushup requires you to be able to press approximately 65% of your body weight; more than double the 30% required by a knee pushup.

When we progress our squats and shoulder presses, we rarely increase the load by more than 10% at a time. How then does one get from knee pushups to toe pushups? Below, I share my tips for progressing your pushups.

Tips for progressing your pushups

  • work on depth (or range of motion) before increasing the difficulty. I’d rather my clients be able to perform 5, chest to the floor toe pushups than 15 shallow, elbow bends.
  • add one or two reps of a more challenging version to the beginning of each and every set. If you can perform 10 or 12 deep, chest-to-the-floor knee pushups, try beginning each set with one or two toe pushups, then dropping back to your knees to complete the remainder of your reps. Increase the number of toe pushups gradually over time, until your entire set can be performed on your toes.
  • use ‘negatives’ to increase strength and endurance. Starting on hands and toes, bend your elbows to slowly lower your body to the floor. As you do so, you’ll reach a ‘sticking’ point; the point at which your muscles are no longer strong enough to support your weight. Let yourself collapse to the ground from this point, rest and try again. With negatives, the slower you go, the more challenging the exercise. Try adding one or two ‘negative’ pushups to the beginning of your regular set.
  • vary the position of your hands to challenge different aspects of the muscle. A wider hand placement will emphasize the medial chest (as well as the front of your shoulders). A narrowed hand placement will emphasize the triceps. Staggering your hands (one slightly forward of the other) will force the top-most portion of the chest muscles to work a little harder on one side than the other.
  • elevate your toes to increase the load you’re pressing and encourage greater participation of the upper pectorals. Toes can be placed on a phone book, low step, or even a weight bench. The higher they’re elevated, the more challenging the pushup.
  • add some extra core involvement by performing your pushups on an unstable surface. For example, place your feet on a Bosu or stability ball. Or in the handles of a TRX suspension trainer. Ensure that you keep your core and gluteals muscles contracted throughout to protect the lower back.
  • rest adequately between pushups workouts. Practicing your pushups daily is counterproductive. Like any other muscle, the pectorals need time to repair and recover before they’re challenged again. Try waiting 48 to 72 hours between pushups workouts; use those days to train the opposing back muscles for improved posture, muscular balance and functionality!

Watch the video below for an explanation of three techniques that I use with my clients to get them from knees to toes!

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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.

 

 

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How long does it take to see the results of exercise?

You’ve recently started a new exercise program. Congratulations!

how long does it take to see the results of exercise

You’re hitting the gym regularly. Cutting back on sugar, alcohol and salty snacks. Drinking lots of water and adding more movement to your day. Yet you can’t see any change to your physique and the scale has barely budged.

You’re probably feeling frustrated, questioning whether you’re on the right program and wondering how long does it take to see the results of exercise?

Sadly, more than a few of you have probably given up because results weren’t apparent quickly enough to provide incentive and generate positive feedback.

Given the headlines that print and online media are constantly shouting at us (“Dream Body in Just 2 Weeks!”, “Drop a Jeans Size in 21 Days!”, “Shed 1 Size in Fourteen Days!”, “Drop 1o Pounds Fast!”, “1-Month Total Body Makeover!”), it’s not surprising that most people have extremely unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to see the results of regular exercise.

And if any of these program REALLY worked, they wouldn’t have to be recycled annually, at the time of year women are most vulnerable to feeling unhappy with their bodies…

If you start an exercise program believing that you’re going to see significant progress in just a few short weeks, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. While you’ll certainly experience a whole host of short term benefits (better sleep, more energy, increased strength, elevated mood, to name but a few), you’re unlikely to notice significant changes to your physique for at least a couple of months.

Yep. I said it. A couple of months (give or take; we all progress at different rates)

How rapidly your body responds to a new exercise program depends on a number of factors including;

  • Your goals. While weight loss can occur almost immediately (a simultaneous change in exercise and diet will almost always result in rapid water loss), improving flexibility, increasing cardiovascular endurance and building muscle all take considerably longer. Don’t expect to make physically noticeable changes for at least a month (and don’t be surprised if it takes upwards of two).
  • Where you’re starting from. If you’re brand new to exercise, you’ll likely notice change more quickly than if you begin at a more advanced level. Similarly, the more weight you have to lose, the more rapidly those first ten pounds will come off. If you have an injury that requires working around, you may find your progress to be a little slower than your able-bodied workout partner.
  • How consistent you are. Obviously, the more consistent your workouts and the closer you adhere to your nutrition plan, the more rapidly you’ll see the results of your labours. Even still, don’t expect to put on more than a pound of muscle each month (if you’re a woman; men can add between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds of muscle every month as a consequence of their higher testosterone levels).
  • The intensity of exercise. If you want to see results, you must exercise at a level of intensity that’s higher than what you’re currently doing. Same effort, same results (or lack there of). There are many different ways to increase the intensity of your workouts, many of which don’t require that you spend hours at the gym.
  • What you’re eating. Many people undermine their gym efforts by making less-than-healthy choices in the kitchen. If you’ve ever watched the calorie count on a cardio machine, you’ll know that it takes much longer to burn 500 calories in the gym than it does to eat them at the local coffee shop. For the fastest results, pair regular exercise with a clean, balanced diet.
  • Whether you’re getting adequate rest. Rest, both between sets and workouts, as well as at night, is vital for proper muscular recovery and hormonal balance. Make the mistake of exercising too frequently or not getting enough sleep and overtraining will keep you from seeing the results of our workouts for much, much longer.
  • Genetics. If your parents and siblings have bodies that are slow to respond to exercise and healthy eating, chances are yours is too. When all else fails, blame mom, right? 😉

Now before you go getting all depressed and cancel your gym membership, remember that stopping and starting an exercise program won’t get you there any faster. Focus on the day-to-day challenges of getting to the gym and making wise nutritional choices and before long, you (and everybody else) will be wowed by the results of your efforts!

 

 

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Progressing your at-home beginner strength workout

Congrats! You’ve spent the last month working through the at-home beginner strength workout I created for you way back in February, right?

You’re probably feeling stronger. A little less post-workout fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness. Maybe you’ve even increased the weight on your rows and shoulder presses.

It’s time to up the ante and progress your beginner program.

Why? Your body has likely become adapted to the exercises you’ve been doing. They’re just not challenging you the way they used to and if you want to keep seeing the benefits of strength training, you need to make your body work a little harder. You need to keep progressing your at-home beginner strength workouts.

Each of the six exercises in the workout below builds on the foundation you’ve created over the past month. Rather than teach you all new exercises, I’ve increased the level of difficulty of the original workout. I’ve removed the ball from the ball squats. Challenged you to advance your knee pushups and planks to the toe variation. Added movement to the lunges. Etc.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite ready to progress each and every exercise; toe pushups and planks are much harder than the knee variations. And of course, feel free to use heavier dumbbells than you did last month; increasing the load is a tried-and-true way to progress any workout.

at home beginner strength 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. Take a quick break and repeat the entire circuit. If you’re ‘done’, skip to step 5.

4. If you have a bit more energy, repeat the circuit a third time, then stop and stretch.

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.

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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.

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10 reasons women over 40 should lift weights

I have a confession to make.

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Unlike many of my fitness friends and colleagues who’ve been lifting weights forever, I didn’t start taking strength training seriously until I was in my 40’s.

Oh sure, I lifted weights during the step classes I participated in. But never managed to progress past the 5- and 8-pound, plastic coated dumbbells in the aerobics studio. Not surprisingly, I never got any stronger, nor did I manage to change the way my body looked (in or out of clothes 😉 ).

What changed? (1) I decided to become a certified fitness professional, (2) I met with another personal trainer to set up a strength training program of my own and (3) I hit 40 and discovered that my body no longer looked and behaved as if it were 20.

Now, in addition to hitting the gym three or four days a week for my own strength workouts, I’m passionate about sharing my recently-found love of weight training with my female clients (most of whom are in their 40’s and 50’s), and educating them about all the reasons they should continue to lift weights as they age.

10 reasons women over 40 should lift weights

  1. Increased muscle mass. Muscle mass naturally declines with age, starting in the late 30’s and continuing until we leave this life. We all need muscle to continue to enjoy the activities of daily living. Don’t want to have to call for help when it’s time to move the couch? Lifting weights is your answer.
  2. Enhanced metabolic rate. Unlike fat, muscle is metabolically active. Build more muscle, burn more calories; both while you’re working out and for the remainder of the day as well. Lifting weights can combat age-related weight gain.
  3. Slow down and reverse loss of bone density. Bone density naturally declines with age. Weak and brittle bones are not only more prone to fractures, they’ll also limit your mobility and negatively impact posture. And it’s never too late to start; even women who wait until their 60’s and 70’s to begin weight-bearing exercise show improvement in bone mass and bone density.
  4. Improved hormonal balance. In the years leading up to menopause, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all decline. Alas, they don’t always do so proportionately, leaving many women in a state of hormonal imbalance. Strength training can help re-balance hormones by stimulating testosterone production and increasing the amount of progesterone available to offset the dominant effects of estrogen, via it’s stress-reducing effects.
  5. Better sleep. One of the most common complaints of the menopause and peri-menopause years is still disruption. Difficulty falling asleep. Difficulty staying asleep. Middle-of-the-night insomnia. Exercise of all types is known to improve sleep, but strength training is particularly beneficial for 40+ women, due to it’s hormone-balancing effects.
  6. Increased energy. It sounds counterintuitive, but lifting heavy weights can actually increase your energy levels and mood. Once again, due to the hormone-balancing effects of exercise, in general and strength training, in particular, after a week or two of regular workouts your mood will elevate and energy levels will rise. Sure, you’ll be tired by the end of each workout, but recoup that lost energy 10-fold, later in the day!
  7. Improved health markers. Study after study has demonstrated the importance of strength training for lowering triglycerides, blood pressure, resting heart rate and insulin sensitivity. Given that these markers are related to a woman’s risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, all of which are serious (and expensive) conditions, why not take a preventative maintenance approach and add a day or two of resistance training to your exercise routine?
  8. Reduced cancer risk. While the evidence is less specific on the benefits of weight training on cancer risk, exercise in general is known to lower the risk of certain cancers via it’s effect on the immune system. For example, women that exercise for 30-60 minutes per day decrease their risk of breast cancer by 20-30 percent.
  9. Enhanced self-confidence and improved body image. Let’s be honest, the number one reason people lift weights is to look better. Leaner, stronger, more defined. As a by-product of these physical changes, self-confidence increases and (if we work hard at it), our inner critic quiets. It always amazes me how much more appreciative women are of their bodies once they switch their focus from ‘the number on the scale’ to ‘the number on the bar’.
  10. Increased libido. Many peri-menopausal women complain about being less interested in sex than they were in their 20’s and 30’s. We’ve already seen that strength training positively influences energy levels, sleep quality, body image, testosterone production and estrogen balance, each of which, in turn, can lead to an increased appreciation for bodily pleasures. (And that is all I have to say about this topic 😉 ).

And I just have to add one more; it feels pretty darn great when a 20-year old asks you for a spot on his bench press!

Pretty compelling reasons, don’t you think (especially number 10 😉 )?

If you’re new to strength training (or returning to it after a long hiatus) and excited to get started RIGHT NOW, grab a set of dumbbells and try your hand at this at-home-beginner-strength workout.

Drop me a line and let me know how YOU’VE benefited from strength training!

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