Archives for August 2014

The Miracle Marathon | a family-friendly fitness fundraiser

This post is part of a sponsored campaign for the Miracle Marathon; a virtual fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across North America. I encourage you to participate in this most worthy cause by joining my team or donating to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital closest to you. See below for details.

Surprisingly, one of my biggest challenges as a parent is making sure my kids get enough physical activity.

family fitness

I say ‘surprisingly’ only because I don’t recall my mom ever telling my sisters and I to go outside and play  (she may recall otherwise 😉 ).

We had no computers or handheld devices and the daytime television options for kids were almost non-existent (Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch and The Monkees were our favourites; yours too?). Playing outdoors was just what we did. Regardless of the weather.

Remaining inside during recess and lunch break were rare occurrences and we thrilled at the opportunity to run, jump, spin, twirl and kick-the-can once freed from the classroom.

Although my husband and I do our best to model an active lifestyle and include our children in many outdoor pursuits, many days they struggle to get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity.

This is of particular concern for our 12-year old daughter.

As a consequence of being born with a hole in her heart, she has chronic pulmonary arterial hypertension. She struggles with cardiovascular-based sports and avoids activities that involve running. They exhaust her and leave her breathless well beyond the time it takes for you and I to recover.

The thing is, in order for her heart to stay strong and continue to service her lungs, she needs to move more.

I’d been wracking my brains for months trying to come up with a fitness plan for her. Something that wouldn’t seem like work (a personal trainer’s kids can smell a ‘workout’ a mile away 😉 ). Something with a focus on fun, rather than fitness. Something we could do together, just ‘us girls’.

We love our ‘girl time’!

As luck would have it, I was chosen to be one of 21 lead bloggers for this fall’s Miracle Marathon, a virtual marathon that requires no running (hooray) and is completed in daily one mile increments over 27 consecutive days. Not only is this the perfect activity for my daughter and I, it’s also a fundraiser for the very hospital in which her heart surgeries were performed and where she continues to visit twice yearly for checkups and prescription updates.

Miracle Marathon 2014

From September 16th through October 12th we’ll be walking one mile a day, then completing the final 1.2 miles of the marathon (that’s 26.2 miles plus one for the kids) on October 13th at 2:27 EST together with each and every one of this year’s Miracle Marathon participants.

I’d love for you to join us in supporting BC Children’s Hospital or another Children’s Miracle Network hospital of your choice (search their website to find the hospital closest to you). You can do so by:

  • registering to walk, jog or run the 27.2 miles yourself (make it a family affair). Join my team, Fitknitchick, and use the code ‘MiracleTamara’ when you register to save 10% off the registration fee
  • donating to my campaign (every little bit helps me to say ‘thank you’ to BC Children’s Hospital for the outstanding care and attention my family has received there for the past 12 years)

Keep your eyes on my Facebook and Instagram feeds once the marathon begins; we may just need some encouragement along the way 😉

3 Strength-Training Upgrades for Goddesses {guest post}

I’ve got the best surprise for you today.

A guest post from my friend, fellow fitness professional, sister in strength and muscle-builder extraordinaire. Honestly, if you’re a woman looking to build a killer physique,  Suzanne Digre’s (aka Workout Nirvana) your girl.

Suzanne and I met a few years back at a fitness blogger’s conference. We bonded over a glass of wine and have kept in touch ever since via Skype, email and social media. Can you tell that she’s my not-so-secret ‘blogger crush’? 😉

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Let’s say you’ve been designing your own strength-training routines for awhile now, but you still aren’t seeing the results you want. You have a basic knowledge of what to do and you change things from time to time, so why aren’t you getting that sculpted, lean look you want?

As an online coach and trainer I talk to a lot of women who are in your shoes. And I’ve actually been there myself – stuck, frustrated, and almost ready to give up.

So let’s cut to the chase: Exactly how long do you have to stick with weights before you have a masterpiece of a body that could rival a goddess’?

Alright, maybe your aspirations aren’t even that high – you just want more definition in your arms and shoulders and you want to lift and shape your butt. Calves to die for and lovely legs wouldn’t hurt either. And a chiseled back – don’t forget that.

You can have this kind of body, along with strength you didn’t even know you were capable of, all with an effective strength-training program. So today on T’s blog I’m going to give you my favorite tips for upgrades you can start using today.

Upgrade #1: Branch Out

Occasionally a woman will come to me asking for an “exciting” routine that has a lot of “variety.” There’s nothing wrong with variety, but cool-looking exercises aren’t what get you more muscle.

Instead of aiming for novelty, you should rely primarily on foundational muscle-building exercises, like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. For variety and to hit all the muscles, integrate exercises like these into your muscle-sculpting program:

Upper Body

  • Pull ups (primarily Latissimus Dorsi, and also many other back muscles, pectorals, and arms). Pull ups are hands-down the single best exercise to build muscle in your upper body. If you’re relatively fit and aren’t doing pull ups, you need to ask yourself why. Why?
  • Rows (middle back, Latissimus Dorsi, arms). I’m not referring to cute little combo exercises using your whole body and three-pound weights. I’m talking about cable rows, bent-over rows, and inverted rows and all their glorious variations. They’ll help you get to pull ups faster and get that fabulous V-taper.
  • Rear lateral raise (rear deltoids). One of the least trained areas on a woman’s body, the rear delts need to be isolated to add symmetry to your upper back and shoulders.

Upper body strength exercises

Lower Body

  • Barbell hip thrusts (glutes, hamstrings). Once you’ve mastered the glute bridge and its progressions, it’s time to add weight. Do not fear the barbell hip thrust – it builds your glutes nicely. Plus, who cares if people wonder what the hell you’re doing? You’re a badass woman lifter – own it.
  • Bulgarian split squats (quads, glutes, hamstrings). Also called rear-foot-elevated split squats, this squat variation helps take the load off your back. Plus they’ll increase your strength, size, balance, and hip flexibility.
  • Sumo deadlifts (hamstrings, glutes, middle and lower back, quads, traps). A shorter range of motion makes this deadlift variation a little easier for many women. Sumo’s are fun and build whole-body strength and muscle.

Barbell hip thrust progressions from WorkoutNirvana.com

Upgrade #2: No Tweaky-Tweaky

When you’re not seeing results, you tweak your workouts, right? Change a little of this, add a little of that. Maybe this and that together will do the trick!

Instead, you’ll get better results by simply sticking to the same workouts for 6-8 weeks. I’m not saying to do the same exact workouts week after week – you need built-in progressions, and that happens by increasing the weight.

You can also add variation by using different hand positions, a machine instead of a barbell, standing instead of seated, longer or shorter rests, slower or faster tempo – you get the picture.

If you switch programs or exercises frequently, you will not, and I repeat NOT ever attain gorgeous, cut muscles that scream, I am a goddess!! (And a damn savvy lifter, too.)

Upgrade #3: Aim for Symmetry

I know you’re most likely not a bodybuilder or you wouldn’t be reading Tamara’s blog (no offense T!) {no offence taken; we build bodies here, but focus on fat loss not on big muscles 😉 }. But that does not mean you shouldn’t train all sides of your muscles in a balanced manner.

For example, did you know you have:

  • Lateral, posterior, and anterior deltoids
  • Short and long heads in both your biceps and hamstrings
  • Three heads in your triceps
  • Three distinct gluteal muscles

Training your muscles at different angles helps you build a symmetrical, athletic, and feminine physique. I’m not saying you have to study anatomy to strength train, but if you want standout muscle definition, you need to know the muscles each exercise hits. So when you’re choosing exercises for your workouts, do the extra legwork and know the primary muscles they train.

(Incidentally, on my blog last week I posted photos of my arm before I started training all the angles and after. The difference is a little embarrassing, frankly, but I’m also grateful that I learned the proper way to train!)

There you have it – three of my favorite upgrades for the woman who lifts. Or to be more precise, three upgrades for women who want the sculpted body of a goddess. You can have it, you know.

What are your pain points with designing your own strength training program?

Suzanne Digre of WorkoutNirvana.comSuzanne Digre is a mentor and motivator for women who want to OWN IT in the weight room and beyond. Suzanne’s home base is workoutnirvana.com, where she coaches, blogs, and leads Fierce Definition, an online training program that helps women lifters sculpt muscle definition and a leaner physique. A NASM-certified personal trainer, Suzanne also coaches clients on Fitocracy.com. She’s been pumping iron for over 15 years and never plans to stop. You can follow Suzanne on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Make your own meal plan | benefits of a boring diet

Back when I started paying attention to nutrition I craved structure.

A meal plan that I could follow as I learned the in’s and out’s of fuelling my body so that it performed well, looked good and felt great.

For a couple of months, I swore by Clean Eating Magazine’s bi-weekly plan. I posted it on my fridge, used it as a guide to grocery shopping and ate (mostly) the three prescribed meals and snacks.

benefits of a boring diet

But as I started to lift heavier in the gym and read more widely about sports nutrition, I came to realize that it wasn’t the plan for me.

  • Too few calories (my body needs more than the 1400-1600 most days’ menus provided).
  • Too many grain-based carbs (I tend to gain weight around my mid-section if my diet includes too many starchy carbs).
  • Too many processed foods (even ‘healthier’ versions of bars, cereals and crackers typically have too much sugar).
  • Too many different ingredients required to prepare the varied menu (the more ingredients required, the less likely I am to follow the recipe).
  • And not enough protein (protein has been a game-changer for me, helping me put on muscle, reduce body fat and feel satiated between meals).

[Note, that the very first sentence of the last paragraph included the words ‘for me‘. It might be a great meal plan for you. The only way you’ll know is if you follow it and pay attention to how your body responds. ‘Be your own detective’]

Over time, I’ve developed my own, personalized meal plan.

It consists of a handful of options for each of the mail meals of the day. I have three standard breakfast meals that I choose from. Lunch is always a giant salad; 3-5 servings of veggies plus lean protein. Dinner is a bit more varied (but the variation mainly comes from the way the way the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients). And I have a dozen or so between-meal snacks that I rotate among depending on how many days it’s been since I’ve been to the grocery store.

It’s really very boring. And it totally works for me.

benefits of a boring diet

Nobody ever said boring couldn’t be delicious!

 

4 benefits of a boring diet

1. You always know what you’ll be eating. For many of us, paying attention to how we’re fuelling our bodies can lead to food anxiety. Stressing over how much of what to eat when. Trying to come up with new, creative ways to put food on the table for our families. Worrying about hidden ingredients that might be undermining our health and fitness goals. Having a list of ‘pre-approved’ go-to meals  means that you’ll only need to decide between a small number of options at any given meal.

2. Daily food tracking becomes less important. While keeping a food journal is a great way to learn how best to fuel your body, most of us don’t want to have to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Although I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off for years, I use it mainly as a menu planner and a way of calculating the calorie and macronutrient content of my go-to meals. Once I know that a breakfast of a spinach and pepper omelette, with avocado and strawberries supports my goals for the day, I don’t need to input it day after day.

[Note: If food journalling works for you, by all means continue to do it. Adopting a boring diet just makes it easier 😉 ]

3. A boring diet makes grocery shopping a snap. Just like my diet, my route through the grocery store is boring and predictable. I buy the same items (and the same quantity of those items) week in, week out. I’m much less likely to forget an important recipe ingredient and less tempted to travel down the supermarket’s ‘danger’ aisles. And I can be in and out of Superstore (having easily spent $300…) in less than an hour.

benefits of a boring diet

Yes, we eat bacon. And a LOT of eggs…

4. Restaurant meals are more fun. Most of us have difficulty sticking with our healthy eating plans when dining out. Portions are typically larger than we’d serve ourselves at home. Multiple courses are the norm. Even the healthiest options can contain hidden sugar, salt and fat. And there’s so much choice! Following a boring diet has helped me wade through the minefield of restaurant menus. I simply look for a meal that’s close to what I’d be eating at home and ask my server for modifications, if need be. Dressing on the side, extra veggies instead of potatoes, grilled instead of fried.

Plus, choosing wisely with my main course lets me enjoy a glass of wine or dessert if I’m in the mood 😉

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Are you a boring eater too?

What are your favourite benefits of a boring diet?

Learning how to create healthy meal plans is only one of the many lessons I’ll be teaching in my upcoming online group training program for over-40 women. Make sure you add your name to my email list so as not to miss the registration announcement!

 

 

Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s sometimes better to keep quiet

I love that many people view their gym or workout studio as a community.

That they support and encourage their fellow gym-goers. Share workout tips and tricks. Are quick to offer a spot when need be. Share equipment when it’s busy. Express concern if an exercise looks like it might result in an injury. Offer advice for improving the benefits of an exercise.

However, there’s a fine line between being helpful and being critical.

advice in the gym

Not a kettlebell, not a clear shot. Go ahead. Critique me 😉

Imagine, for example, that you see a woman performing a kettlebell swing.

Based on what you’ve been taught, she’s swinging the bell too high.

You don’t know this woman from Adam. Do you interrupt your own workout to walk over to her and voice your concerns? Telling her why you don’t think she should be performing the movement the way she is? Asking her where she learned to swing like that? Citing your experience to ensure that she understands why your approach is better than hers?

Even if your intent is truly to be helpful, your advice may have other unexpected consequences.

Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s often better to keep your comments to yourself

  • people are much more likely to respond positively to unsolicited advice when they know the person offering it. If you see somebody you don’t know performing an exercise you don’t think is safe or effective, a comment from you, a stranger, is unlikely to convince them to change what they’re doing. At best, you’ll have wasted your time. At worst, you’ll have alienated a potential friend and workout buddy.
  • receiving unsolicited advice can be embarrassing. For newcomers to exercise or those who already feel uncomfortable exercising in front of others, having their ‘mistakes’ pointed out publicly can lead to feelings of incompetence and low self-worth. It may reinforce the feeling that they don’t belong at the gym. It may make them think twice about coming tomorrow. Your good intentions may undermine their fitness journey, rather than enhance it.
  • exercise science is not black and white. Even certified fitness professionals don’t always agree on the ‘best’ way to perform a given exercise and frequently admit that what’s good for one person’s body may not be beneficial for another. Sharing your favourite version of an exercise may contradict what her trainer has shown her to be an appropriate movement for her body and fitness goals. Don’t become a ‘my way or the highway’ cliche.
  • if you’re a fitness professional, unsolicited advice may be interpreted as ‘pushy’ or ‘sales-y’. Most people don’t want to be ‘pitched’ when they’re exercising. We all get enough of that via e-mail 😉  (Warning, if you sign up to receive a copy of my free e-book ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness’ below, you’ll only receive invites to programs you’ll love)

Have you ever been given un-asked for advice at the gym?

How did it make you feel?

 

 

Why 40 is NOT the new 70* | fitness after 40

*with apologies to my 70-year old clients who are nowhere near ready for chair aerobics either…

Earlier this summer, I pitched a draft of a book I’d like to write on the topic of fitness for the over-40 female crowd.

BookPitchScreenShot

While the pitch wasn’t accepted, I’m still convinced that it’s a project worth doing…

In the process of outlining the book, I spent considerable time scouring the internet to see what people think women’s fitness after 40 looks like and what other titles might already exist on the topic.

Surprisingly, I found only a dozen or so, despite the fact that (a) we’re the fastest growing demographic in North America, (b) mid-lifer women are flocking to the gym in record numbers and (c) as a group, we’re quite happy to spend money on books that help us live longer and healthier lives.

Even more surprising than finding so few titles addressing women’s fitness after 40 was the type of exercise typically prescribed;

All in stark contrast to the type of work my over-40 group fitness participants, personal training clients and fellow gym-goers do.  And certainly not the way I train myself.

fitness after 40

While I appreciate that bodies in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s may no longer function as efficiently as they did in their younger years, barring illness or injury, there’s no reason they need to be relegated to light weights, machine workouts and the treadmill.

My 40+ female clients and I all squat, lunge, deadlift, push-up, pull-up and interval train. We rarely use the plastic dumbbells in the gym. And we’re sometimes asked by the young, buff guys to spot for them on their heavy lifts. We are not bulky or masculine.

We are why 40 is not the new 70.

My monthly online training group for 40+ women will be opening for registration mid-September. Sign up to be the first to get the registration info AND watch for details about a brand new online training program coming this fall…