Archives for May 2014

Easy ways to add balance training to your workouts

Many of my clients groan when we get to the balance training portion of their workout.

Balance training is more than simply a party trick. It’s one of the key elements of a well-rounded program, helping you to become stronger, healthier and more resistant to injury.

Benefits of balance training

  • a stronger core. Standing with feet close together or one foot off the floor, reduces your base of support thereby requiring the activation of your deep core stabilizers. Try performing bicep curls, lateral raises and shoulder presses with feet close together or while balancing on one foot. You should feel an increased engagement of the muscles of your core, including your rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques and the smaller, quadratus lumborum (lower back)
  • increased leg strength. Performing exercises from a split stance position requires one leg to lift a greater share of the load. Without adding any additional weight to an exercise, a simple front to back food stagger will increase the effort required by one leg. Over time, such unilateral efforts will be rewarded with increased strength. Examples of split stance exercises include stationary lunges, Bulgarian split squats and stability ball or TRX single leg knee drives.

balance training

  • better overall body awareness. Poor balance is often caused by under-developed kinesthetic awareness; the knowledge of where various parts of your body are in space. Rapidly growing teenagers often suffer from this effect. You’ll notice that they’re more likely to walk into walls, miss bottom steps and hit their head on overhead objects than usual. This is because their brains have yet to catch up with changes in the location of their extremities. Balance training reduces ‘clumsiness’ by teaching the brain to rapidly locate the parts of the body farthest from it.

Easy ways to add balance training to your day

  • practice standing on one foot. You can do this while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. While you’re talking on the telephone. While standing in line at the bank. Extend your arms out at your sides to enhance your stability. Once you get good at this trick, try lowering your arms to your sides. From there, close your eyes. Surprise! Much harder than it sounds!
  • perform upper body strength exercises while standing on one foot. Bicep curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises and upright rows are all more challenging when you offset the load by removing one foot from the floor.
  • try a 3-point plank. From either a knee plank or toe plank position, lift one leg off the floor and hold for as long as you can. Lower and repeat with the other leg. Once you get good at this, try lifting and extending one arm in front of you while you attempt to keep your hips and shoulders squared to the floor.

More challenging forms of balance training

  • take your workout onto a Bosu balance trainer. To begin with, just standing on the dome side of the Bosu will be challenge enough. Once you’ve become comfortable with this tool, try squatting and pressing while balancing on top. Get tips and tricks for mastering the Bosu here. For an even greater challenge, flip the Bosu over and try balancing on the platform side.

balance training

  • practice split stance exercises with the rear foot elevated. Progress your stationary lunges to Bulgarian split squats by placing the back foot (toes or shoelaces) on a low step or weight bench. Concentrate on using only the supporting leg to return to standing. Once you’ve gotten good at these, add some instability to the move by placing the back foot on a stability ball or in the handles of a TRX suspension trainer.

balance training


  • give single leg squats and dead lifts a try. If you’re not quite ready to progress to complete single leg squats, start by sitting on a bench and practicing coming to standing using only one leg. Slowly lower your bum back down to the bench without touching the non-working foot to the floor. Learn to perform single leg dead lifts by standing next to a wall or chair. Place your fingers lightly against the wall or on the chair back as you hinge at the hip and use the hand opposite the working leg to lower a dumbbell towards the floor.

Tips for staying safe during balance training

  • be aware of your surroundings. Make sure the floor around your workout space is clear and that there are no objects you might trip on or bump into should you lose your balance. Leave plenty of space between yourself and the person working next to you at the gym.
  • pick a focal point and stare at it. Many people find that focusing their gaze on a non-moving object several yards in front of them helps with balance. Make sure that there aren’t people walking between you and your focal point; the movement may disrupt your concentration and balance.
  • lighten the load. When using weights on an unstable surface or performing moves on one leg, start with a lighter weight than you’d normally use. Focus on form before adding increased resistance to prevent injury.
  • move slowly and with purpose. As you move a weight up and over your head, your centre of gravity shifts. Do this quickly and on an unstable surface and you’re likely to topple over. Concentrate on using your muscles, rather than momentum, to slowly raise and lower the weight.
  • work both sides of the body evenly. Most of us have a ‘dumb’ side; one side of our body that’s weaker or more balance-challenged than the other. Make sure to perform split stance and single leg exercises on both sides of the body. Try starting with your weaker side to help reduce the left-right balance imbalance!
  • have an exit strategy. Make sure you’ve thought about how’ll you get off the Bosu or stability ball and out of the TRX suspension trainer before you get on. Aim for a ‘graceful’ dismount to minimize your risk of injury and preserve your dignity 😉

Above all, remember that the point of balance training is to enhance your overall fitness and ability to perform the activities of daily living. If you get really good at it, you might send Cirque du Soleil your resume…

How’s your balance?
Do you incorporate balance training in your workouts?




5 training elements to include in every workout

Most weeks I create a dozen or more workouts. For my group training clients, my group fitness participants and of course, myself!

In addition to including strength and cardiovascular components, each workout typically includes the following five training elements; power training, speed and agility work, unilateral (or offset load) exercise, core work and flexibility training.

Although the relative importance of each element varies with the type of class I’m teaching and each client’s unique goals, if functional fitness is your goal (and it should be if you want to be able to keep doing the things you love for another 20 or more years…) including a few minutes of each in your workout is the best way to ensure a well-rounded fitness program.

1. Power training

Power is the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction in an explosive burst of movement. Not something that you’ll need to do often, but when it’s necessary (like getting out of the way of an oncoming car or dodging a flying object aimed at your head) you’ll be glad you spent a little time training for it. In addition to improving your reaction time, power training is also a great way to increase strength, burn a few extra calories and improve your cardiovascular function.

Try adding in one or two power moves after your warmup, but before the strength component of your workout. I like to alternate upper and lower body power moves from one workout to the next.

Power it up workout from

2. Speed and agility work

Unlike power training, speed and agility work focuses on rapid, unweighted movements, most often forward and backward or side to side. If you have small children, you’ll recognize the value of being able to rapidly change direction so as not to trip over the toys that inexplicably get left on the stairs.

Aim for short bursts of intense effort, choosing simple movements that don’t require much concentration. For example, fast feet or lateral hop squats on the Bosu balance trainer. Even more fun? Grab a skipping rope and re-connect with your inner child.

Bosu balance trainer workout from

3. Unilateral or offset load exercises

Whenever you ask one side of your body to do something different from the other, you’re performing a unilateral or offset load exercise. Benefits include improved balance and kinesthetic awareness, reduced left-right side imbalances (we all have ‘dumb’ side…) and a little extra core training. Make sure to switch sides between sets so as not to exacerbate the difference between your strong and weak sides!

Offset load workout from

 4. Core or abdominal work

I have yet to meet a client who doesn’t want to firm up their midsection. Although many of the strength exercises I prescribe are core-based (for example, the unilateral and offset moves described above), adding a few isolated abdominal exercises at the end of the workout is a great way to cool down and transition from the strength component of the workout to flexibility training. Here are a few of my favourite stability ball core moves.

5. Flexibility training

For many, stretching is the reward at the end of a challenging workout. Time to slow down, focus on lengthening the muscles and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. For best results, ease into each stretch, hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds, avoid bouncing, breath-holding and pain. Choose at least one stretch for each of the muscle groups you worked. Add a second stretch for joints that are particularly tight (chests, shoulders and hips are the ones I typically see needing attention).

5 Reasons to Stretch more often from

What are your favourite training elements? Is there one that you always include in your workouts? One that you need to include more often? 😉



Baby it’s hot outside | tips to keep cool during summer workouts

We Canadians love to talk about the weather.

That would be degrees Celcius...

That would be degrees Celcius…

And what a weather week it’s been! Record temperatures up and down the west coast. Unseasonable heat and humidity. No leisurely stroll from spring to summer this year! No sir-ree. Straight into the dog days of summer and the extra challenges heat brings to our workouts.

When exercising in an environment that’s warmer than the body is accustomed to, tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin open to make it make it easier for heat to leave the body and maintain homeostasis. Consequently, both stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each beat) and venous return (the amount of de-oxygenated blood returning from the body to the lungs via the heart) decline. In order to satisfy the muscles’ need for oxygen, heart rate will increase above what it would if you were performing the very same exercise at a lower temperature.

The bottom line? Your workout will feel more difficult than usual and you’ll most likely tired more rapidly.

Oh, and did I mention that if you’re prone to peri-menopausal hot flashes, elevated body temperature often acts as a trigger? Nice, ‘eh? (Click on over to my resource page for ‘hot chicks’ to see how exercise, sleep and nutrition can help with your ‘favourite’ menopausal symptoms…)

Want to get the most out of exercising in the heat? Give the following ‘keep cool during summer workouts’ tips a try:

  • choose cooler times of the day to exercise; even if you exercise in an air-conditioned gym, as the temperature outside increases, the temperature and humidity inside will as well. Switch your workout times to earlier in the morning or later in the evening to take advantage of the coolest times of the day. Even more important if you exercise out-of-doors.
  • replenish fluids regularly during your workout; aim to drink 7 to 10 ounces of water ever 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. Cooler water is best as it empties more quickly from the stomach to where it’s absorbed in the intestines.
  • maximize the evaporation of sweat; sweating is one of the ways in which your body regulates its internal temperature. For sweat to lower body temperature, it must evaporate. Minimize clothing when exercising in hot weather to maximize the evaporation of sweat. Choose lightweight, wicking fabrics over cotton and rubberized materials. Light colours reflect heat better than dark colours. And wearing a light-coloured hat can help you from absorbing heat through the top of the head.
  • temporarily reduce your workout intensity; if your regular workout feels too difficult to perform when the temperature soars, reduce the intensity. That might mean slowing your cardio pace, performing few sets of strength training exercises with longer rests between sets or even reducing your weekly workouts by one. Remember that your heart is working harder than it would be if you were doing the very same workout on a cooler day.
  • swap ‘hot’ workouts for ‘cool’ workouts; if you have access to a swimming pool or ice arena, try changing your activity for the duration of the heat wave. Being immersed in water moderates your body’s internal temperature. And there’s nothing like the initial shock of entering a skating arena on a hot day to energize and invigorate. In addition to cooling you off, spending time in the pool or on the ice is a great way to introduce more variety to your exercise routine.

If all else fails, set up your sprinkler in the front yard and practice squatting, jumping and sprinting through the spray. Just make sure to tell the kids it’s your workout time and they’ll need to wait their turn 😉





5 Steps to Finding Exercise Happiness {Free digital download}

When I ask people who don’t exercise (or have a history of starting and stopping exercise over and over again) what’s holding them back, after ‘lack of time’ and ‘lack of knowledge’, the most common response I hear is ‘I just don’t enjoy it’.

And let’s face it, given all the other more entertaining things we could be doing with our time, if we can’t find ways to make exercise fun, we’re not very likely to do it.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.37.30 PMIn an attempt to help my clients and readers who might be facing this obstacle, I’ve put together a little guide that I’m calling “5 Steps to Finding an Exercise Routine that You’ll Actually Stick With (and perhaps even learn to love)”.

Grab your copy (and be sure to share this post with friends who might also need a little nudge) today by adding your name and email to the form below. Your download link will arrive via email in just a minute or two.

Note that when you hit ‘submit’, you’ll also be signing up to receive updates to this website and the occasional announcement that I share only with subscribers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about my ‘Exercise Happiness’ guide. Feel free to share your responses to the ‘action items’ in the comments section below.

Happy Exercising!

Group fitness class etiquette | instructors appreciate respect too

group fitness class etiquette

I teach a weekly Bootcamp group fitness class. The group is large, enthusiastic, hard working and always appreciative of the workout I create for them. I genuinely look forward to Wednesday mornings 🙂

This class is unique in many ways. There’s no fancy choreography. It’s the only class I teach that’s likely to have a man or two in attendance (often in the back corner, but that’s okay…). The diversity in fitness level is huge. And the participants range in age from late teens to mid-sixties.

Each of the above, on it’s own, makes the class challenging to teach.

For the past few weeks a handful of participants have made the challenge even greater.

I’m a firm believer in giving people a road map to my class. I like to spend the minute or two before the music comes on introducing myself, welcoming newcomers to the class, letting participants know what equipment they’ll be needing, giving a few safety reminders and outlining the format of the day (it changes from week to week).

While I do so, I expect participants to give me their full attention. Their full and QUIET attention.

Now I know that many people come to group fitness classes for the social component. And honestly, while the class is running, particularly if we’re doing circuits, stations or partner work, I ENCOURAGE participants to interact with one another. Doing so makes builds camaraderie, motivates people to work harder and is just plain more fun.

But during those first two or three minutes of the class, the microphone is mine and I expect them to respect my position as the instructor and LISTEN UP.

group fitness class etiquette

NOT the face of a megalomaniac…

This week, the beginning-of-class chit chat was excessive. When I put on my microphone and started my ‘welcome’ spiel, I expected the chatter to taper off. It did not. I spoke louder to be heard over the din. The chatter continued. I stopped speaking, hoping that might send a message. No such luck. I made a joke about needing to clap my hands like the kindergarten teachers do to get the attention of a room full of 5-year olds. Nada.

I gave up trying to speak over the 4 or 5 people who continued to talk, turned the music on and started the class.

Afterwards, several of my regulars came up to speak to me about what had happened. They were upset, annoyed and wanted me to say something to the offenders. At that point, it was too late. People had already left the aerobics studio and I wasn’t completely sure who was even responsible.

I spent much of the remainder of the day thinking about the situation. In all of my years of teaching group fitness, I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so disrespected by members of a class.

Was I being unreasonable expecting silence and attention from the entire group? (I don’t think so; a big part of my job is making sure that my classes are fun and safe and proceeding without instruction undermines those goals)

Is it too much to assume that people behave respectfully in a group learning environment? (Why should it be? We expect our children to behave respectfully in their school classrooms)

Should I have singled out the offenders and admonished them in front of the class? (I’m not a big believer in public shaming; when my children misbehave in public, I take them aside and speak quietly so as not to embarrass them in front of their peers)

After chatting with two fellow instructors, I’ve decided to share my feelings with the class next time we meet.

Not in a judgmental or de-moralizing way, but plainly remind them that I’m a fitness PROFESSIONAL and that my job requires that I create a safe and welcoming environment for them to exercise in.

That other members of the class want and need to hear my opening instructions to get the most out of their group fitness experience.

That once I’m finished with my introductory comments, they’re welcome to chat amongst themselves (although too much chatting tells me that I’m not working them hard enough and need to throw in an extra burpee Tabata interval….).

That I’ll continue treating them in a respectful manner (arriving early and staying late to answer their questions, giving them modifications for exercises when they ask, being friendly, making eye contact with them during class and taking the time to learn their names…), if they’ll only extend me the same courtesy.

And if they can’t conduct themselves in a respectful fashion, they’ll be asked to leave 🙂

P.S. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Group fitness participants; have you ever been to a class where you couldn’t hear the instructor over other participants talking? How did it make you feel? What did your instructor do about it?

Group fitness instructors; has this ever happened to you? How did you respond?





The truth about women and cellulite (and no, I won’t be trying to sell you a cure…)

Despite being strong, fit and fairly lean, I, like many women my age (47 next month) and younger, have cellulite on the back on my legs. (There, I’ve said it)

For much of the year, I forget about it. (How often do you actually see the back of your own thighs?)

It doesn’t affect my day-to-day life. My legs are strong and get me through many classes and workouts each week. My kids could care less (as long as I can walk and bike and kayak with them). My husband still thinks I look hot (TMI? Sorry 😉 )


17 years ago this August…

I wear form-fitting exercise clothes in public and don’t worry about what I look like at all. (Perhaps I should care more? Especially those days when I’ve gone directly from teaching group fitness, training clients in the gym and getting my own workout done to grocery shopping and after school pickup, all without fixing my droopy pony-tail or re-applying deodorant…).

I’m even comfortable wearing a bikini at the beach and the local pool (bathing suits are a great equalizer when everyone’s wearing them).

The only time I give it a second thought is when the weather suddenly warms up and the aerobics studio becomes too hot to wear capris during class.

strength training for women

My usual teaching attire

Because I teach a good portion of my classes facing the mirror and typically have 30 to 36 pairs of eyes watching my every move, I’m very self-conscious about wearing shorts when I teach.

Silly, I know; given that most of my class participants are probably paying more attention to their workout than my legs.

Because I know how ridiculous I’m being (and that comfort during a workout is much more important than fashion and bodily insecurities), I’ve pulled out my copy of Ultimate Booty Workouts to remind myself that since there’s no scientifically-based cure for it (despite the daily onslaught of ads to the contrary in my Facebook feed…), completely unworthy of my attention.

Sure, you can reduce it’s appearance by adopting a fit, healthy lifestyle (exercise to build muscle and burn fat, increase hydration and eliminate sugars and processed foods), but even women with body fat percentages in the lower teens may still have visible cellulite due to the structure of the collagen fibres in their connective tissue and the prevalence of fat-binding receptors in their lower bodies.

To quote myself 😉

Cellulite is caused by “herniation” of the fat within the body’s fibrous connective tissues. Essentially, it’s fat that has escaped the tissues that normally contain it…It’s partly genetic, meaning that if your mother had noticeable cellulite, chances are you will as well. But it’s also affected by hormones, nutrition, and exercise… [Cellulite can, however, be made] less noticeably by reducing overall body fat and “plumping” up the underlying muscle via strength training. Flattering clothing and a bit of a tan can help too.

Armed with the above information, an increased motivation to stay away from sugar and processed foods, a brand new strength training program (stay tuned for news as to how you can join my monthly online training group) and much support from my friends and colleagues in the health and fitness community (check out Girls Gone Sporty’s ‘Bikini body link-up’), I’ll be “turning the other cheek” and sporting a pair of leg-baring workout bottoms in class.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 1.26.43 PM

Just as soon as it warms up. I promise.


Do you pay any attention to the back of your group fitness instructor’s legs?

What’s your favourite “cellulite cure”? Body wraps? Electronic vibration machines? Plant stem cell creams?

Favorite squat variations

I include squats in every single group fitness class I teach and almost every program I write for clients. Barbell squats, dumbbell squats, TRX squats, plie squats, sumo squats and bodyweight squats, to name but a few.

I love that you can do them just about anywhere, with just about any type of equipment, and that there are enough variations to keep even the most easily bored exerciser happy for months on end 😉

favorite squat variations

Benefits of including squats in your workouts

Squats are a functional movement that require coordinated flexion of the ankles, knees and hips, thereby challenging all of the major muscles in the lower half of your body, including your core stabilizers and anti-rotators.

  • They increase your ability to perform many activities of daily living (lifting groceries and children)
  • They improve your performance in sport and other forms of exercise (running, cycling, step aerobics)
  • They super-charge your metabolism, increasing your fat-burning potential (muscle burns more calories at rest than fat)
  • And of course, they make your legs and butt look great in (and out of) jeans

Show me a woman who’s super-confident in her body and I’ll show you a woman who squats!

Favorite squat variations

Although I never get tired of a good old Olympic bar squat, more often than not the squat rack is occupied when I’m with a client or training on my own (be warned, if you’re doing bicep curls in the squat rack, you can bet that I’ll ask you to move 😉 ).

Rather than omit squats from the workout, I substitute one or two of my favorite squat variations, depending on the fitness goals of my client and the equipment available to us.

Dumbbell front squat
favorite squat variations

Dumbbell Front Squat

Holding the dumbbells at shoulder height, and slightly in front of the body increases the challenge of a basic dumbbell squat (in which weights are held down by your sides). Focus on keeping the dumbbells from resting on your shoulders and maintaining an open chest and engaged core. If you like adding a bit of upper body work to your squats, this is the perfect variation to combine with a shoulder press.

Dumbbell offset load squat

Rather than using two, equal-weight dumbbells, hold a heavy dumbbell in one hand and a light dumbbell in the other. The greater the disparity between the two weights, the greater the challenge on your core stabilizers and anti-rotator muscles. Weights can either be held down at your sides, or up, at shoulder level, as described above for the Dumbbell front squat. Perform all reps on one side, then switch sides with the weights and complete the set, keeping shoulders square, chest facing forward and resisting the temptation to let your body lean towards the side holding the heavier weight.

Braced squat

Set yourself up as if you were about to perform a body weight squat; feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, with toes turned slightly out. Grab a dumbbell, medicine ball, kettle bell or weight plate in both hands, extending your arms out in front of you such that arms are held at the height of your bottom ribs. The farther you hold the weight from your body, the more you’ll feel this exercise in your abdominals. Make sure to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears and your core engaged throughout.

Goblet squat
Goblet Squat with Kettlebell

Goblet Squat with Kettlebell

Goblet squats are a great way to increase the emphasis placed on the inner thigh and medial glute muscles. Start in a wide-legged stance, with toes turned out and holding a single, heavy weight at chest height. Drop your butt down towards the floor, letting elbows brush the insides of the knees before pushing forcefully through the heels of your feet to return to standing. Make sure that your torso remains nearly upright, with chest open and eyes facing forward.

Bulgarian Split Squat
Favorite squat variations

Braced Bulgarian Split Squat

Want to challenge your balance and improve your single leg strength? Try adding Bulgarian split squats to your program. Start by standing with your back to a weight bench or low step. Extend one leg backwards and place your toes (or the laces of your shoe; this is more challenging) on the bench. Hop your front leg forward far enough that the knee stays behind the toes as you drop the back knee down towards the floor. Push through the foot on the floor to return to standing (resisting the temptation to let the back foot help out). Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. Once again, your torso should remain upright, with chest open and eyes facing forward. Once you’ve mastered the body weight split squat, make it more difficult by holding dumbbells at your sides, at shoulder level (as described above for the Dumbbell Front Squat) or out in front of you (as described for the Braced Squat).



Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 1.14.51 PMLooking for more exercises to shape and strengthen your legs, core and derriere? Order a copy of my 12-week fitness program “Ultimate Booty Workouts” today!