Archives for October 2014

4 exercises that are harder than they look

Have you ever watched someone perform a new-to-you exercise, thought ‘that looks easy’, tried it yourself and utterly failed?

Chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done it.

As with most physical tasks, it requires practice before a new exercise can be executed fluidly and with apparently little effort. The mind and the muscles need to connect. Assisting and stabilizing muscles need to be woken up and recruited. Range of motion needs to be explored, often a little bit at a time.

The following 4 exercises are harder than my video demonstration of them would have you believe; trust me, I’ve had to work hard to make them look effortless 😉

4 exercises that are harder than they look

1. Bosu sit-to-stand crunch
SitToStand

How it’s done: Start by sitting on the dome side of a Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Slide down until your bum is just two or three inches from the floor. With knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lean back until the Bosu meets the curve of your lower back. Tighten your abdominals and extend your arms (and the weight) in front of you to pull yourself sitting. Continue on to standing by pushing through the soles of your feet. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat.

Why it’s hard: The exercise requires you to be able to get up off the floor without using your hands. It requires a strong core and the ability to generate power by the hip flexors.

What it’s good for: Developing a functionally strong core that will allow you to get up off the floor and out of bed for many years to come. Building strong abdominal muscles without putting the lumbar spine at risk.

2. Bosu weighted squat jumps
BosuSquatJumps

How it’s done: Start by standing just behind the Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Make sure the handles of the Bosu are facing north and south to minimize the risk of landing on one or the other. Extend arms (and weight) out in front at mid-chest height. Bend your knees, hips and ankles and drop down into a partial squat before propelling yourself forward and up onto the dome. Land with knees slightly bent and pause briefly, ‘sticking’ the landing, before stepping back down. Repeat.

Why it’s hard: Jumping onto an unstable surface and stopping requires you to be able to accelerate and decelerate quickly. Extending the arms away from the body forces both the legs and core to do more work. In addition to being physically challenging, this exercise is psychologically challenging for many.

What it’s good for: Building power in the legs, strengthening the deep core stabilizers and improving balance and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). When done quickly, elevating the heart rate and burning calories.

3. Hamstring curls on the ball
HamCurls

How it’s done: Start by laying face up on the floor, with legs extended and feet resting on the top of a stability ball. Extend your arms straight up over your chest and lift your hips up and off the ground. Dig your heels into the ball and bend your knees and ankles to roll the ball in towards your torso. Roll the ball back to the starting position and repeat, without letting your bum touch the ground between reps.

Why it’s hard: The ball wants to move under your feet. With only your shoulders touching the floor, the muscles of the core and lower body must work together to stabilize you and keep you from rolling off the ball.

What it’s good for: Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, calves, abdominals and lower back. Improving balance and proprioception.

4. Shifting 3-point plank
3pointplank

How it’s done: Place 2 or 3 light dumbbells (or weight plates) on the floor in a vertical line. Come into a forearm plank such that the weights are directly above your right hand. Keeping back flat and hips facing downwards, use your left hand to move the weights, one at a time, across the mat to just above where the left hand will be when you return it to the floor.

Why it’s hard: When you lift your hand off the ground, your body wants to compensate for the lost support by rotating. Forcing the hips to remain facing downwards requires the obliques and glutes to work harder than they would in a standard plank.

What it’s good for: Improving anti-rotational core strength, learning to engage your glutes and enhancing chest and shoulder stability. I also find that the task of moving the weights makes me forget about watching the clock while I plank 😉

As with all challenging exercises, practice them regularly to improve your execution. Focus on form before increasing intensity, volume or load.

And remember, once you’ve mastered them, others will be copying YOU in the gym (although modelling your workouts on those of your fellow gym-goers isn’t necessarily a great idea…).

 

Have you ever been surprised by how challenging an exercise was?

What was the exercise?

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#SilkCreamyCashew | a Silk Cashew review (and a pumpkin recipe too)

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Silk Canada. They provided me with coupons to purchase the product and compensated me for writing this post. Faithful readers of this blog will know that I don’t write sponsored posts very often. And that when I do, the reviews are always balanced and the opinions entirely my own.

When it comes to food, I’m a fairly boring eater.

I like what I like and I eat pretty much the same thing day in, day out.

My desert island foods haven’t changed much in the past 8 or 9 years.

I’m always late to the new-food-trend-party. And I’m okay with that.

Having a consistent set of go-to meals supports my workouts, saves time in the kitchen and keeps me from needing to buy new jeans (unless of course, I want to buy new jeans 🙂 ).

I do, however, like to keep things interesting by making little tweaks to my favourite recipes.

Like subbing pumpkin for bananas in baking. Flax seed for whole wheat flour in pancakes. Cacao nibs for dried fruit in yogurt. And Silk Cashew for almond or coconut milk in smoothies, oatmeal, grain-free cereal bowls, pasta, curries and baking.

Silk Cashew

Like almond milk, cashew milk is a great non-dairy alternative for those who can’t, or choose not to drink cow’s milk.

With as much calcium as dairy milk (30% of your recommended daily allowance) and only 60 calories per serving (that’s 35% fewer calories than skim milk), it’s also an efficient way for us sun-deprived northerners to get a little extra Vitamin D (45% RDA) and Vitamin B12 (50% RDA).

Like coconut milk, cashew milk is a great thickener for curries and pasta sauces, but with less fat and a more subtle flavour (my children are particularly sensitive to the smell and taste of coconut 😉 ).

It’s creamy texture (much creamier than almond milk) was a welcome addition to my morning oats and made my post-workout smoothies thicker and more milkshake-like (yum!).

I did, however, find it to be sweeter than the unsweetened almond milk I usually buy.

While Silk Cashew only contains 8 g of sugar per 1 cup serving, I needed to dilute it 1:1 with water to keep my palate happy and my daily sugar intake where I like it to be (that just means the carton lasts longer 😉 ).

I’d love to see them come out with a no-sugar-added option for those of us trying to tame a sweet-tooth.

Since we’re still smack-dab in the middle of pumpkin season, I thought I’d try adding it to one of my favourite savoury dessert recipes; a 2-serving, pumpkin mug cake. Enjoy!

Silk Cashew

Fitknitchick’s Creamy Cashew Pumpkin Mug Cake

  • 2 Tbsp Almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut flour
  • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup Cashew Silk
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
  1. Lightly grease a large mug (or small bowl) with coconut oil or butter.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except chocolate) and mix well.
  3. Pour into greased mug and microwave on med-high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes (or until firm but not crispy).
  4. Remove from microwave and sprinkle chocolate on top.
  5. Return to microwave and cook for an addition 30 s.
  6. Let cool completely before sharing with a friend.

Currently, Silk Cashew is only available for purchase in Canada. Follow Silk Canada on Facebook for more delicious ways to incorporate it in your family’s healthy meal plan.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

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3 ‘all-or-nothing’ healthy living mindsets debunked

We’ve all got that little voice in our heads. The voice that undermines our best intentions and rationalizes the making of poor choices when it comes to fitness and nutrition. The voice that says ‘why bother’ or ‘what’s the point’ or ‘I’ll start next Monday’.

healthy living mindsetsFor many women, that voice reflects an underlying ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset. The attitude that only full-on-balls-to-the-walls effort is worth the time. That small steps don’t matter. That perfection trumps progress.

I’ve heard many variations on this theme from my clients and group fitness participants and have been known, on occasion, to utter the same words to myself

Below, I share the 3 most common examples and the arguments I’ve found to be helpful in moving myself and others past our ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset barriers.

3 ‘all-or-nothing’ healthy living mindsets debunked

This month is crazy busy at home/school/work; I’ll get back to exercise when things slow down.

This mindset is based on the assumption that tomorrow will be easier than today. That you’ll have fewer commitments and responsibilities in the future than you do now. That there’s a ‘perfect’ time to start an exercise program and clean up your diet.

In my experience, tomorrow never comes. The current crisis or workout passes, only to be replaced by another. Next month will be just as busy as this month (know the saying, ‘tasks expand to fill all available time’?) and before you know it, another year has passed without any appreciable progress towards your health and fitness goals.

The perfect time to make change is always right now. The path to progress is many small steps, repeated daily. Start by incorporating just one or two short workouts in your week. No more than 30 minutes and nothing that requires you to get dressed and drive someplace. Maybe all you have time for is a walk at lunch. That’s great. Start small and build from there; that way ‘when things slow down’, you’ll be ready to ramp it up 😉

Check out my YouTube channel for examples of short and efficient workouts you can do at home.

I’ve already derailed today’s healthy meal plan; might as well have another glass of wine/helping of dessert/handful of chips.

This mindset is built on the false premise that your body resets it’s metabolic clock at midnight. That today’s less-than-healthy choices are wiped clean by the act of going to sleep and getting up in the morning. That you won’t feel any worse or any less energetic tomorrow because of your overindulgence. That you can’t ‘eat just one’ and feel satisfied.

It often goes hand in hand with the “I’ll start my diet on Monday” mindset. Post-poning the opportunity to make small, healthy decisions today; decisions that will only become habit if you practice them consistently.

 I don’t have time for an hour-long spin class/bootcamp/gym session today; I’ll make it up later in the week.

A classic example of ‘go hard or go home’ thinking, this mindset is probably the most challenging to overcome. Thanks to the constant barrage of magazine headlines and social media posts encouraging us to work ‘harder-faster-longer-more’ and wondering ‘what’s your excuse’ when we don’t, is it any wonder we doubt the benefits of a mere fifteen minutes of movement?

The thing is, 15 minutes of exercise will always be better than nothing. Better than spending the same amount of time sitting in the car, on the couch or in front of the computer (unless you’re reading encouraging blog posts, like this one…). Find two 15-minute stretches of time in your busy day and all of a sudden you’re fitting in 30 minutes of fitness.

Is your ‘all or nothing’ healthy living mindset holding you back?

Enter your email address below to receive a free copy of my ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness. It’s full of actions you can take today to overcome mindset challenges and move you closer to your health and fitness goals.

 

 

 

 

You can only go so far on your own | the magic of mentors

I like to think of myself as an ‘accidental’ business owner.

Eight years ago, I started working as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at my local community centre, never thinking that I’d one day be running my own business, let alone a business that required social media savvy, an understanding of marketing, the ability to sell and the confidence to manage the behind-the-scenes workings of a website.

My online business was initially created to fill the needs of my personal training clients.

I created this site in the hopes of providing them with daily motivation and support to sustain their fitness and nutrition momentum between sessions. As my readership grew, I saw the opportunity to build my client base and expand my in-person training business to online training.

I dabbled in one-on-one online fitness coaching for a year or two. But didn’t truly fall in love with online training until I launched my 40+ women’s online group.

Working with groups is my sweet spot. The role of educator and facilitator came naturally to me. And I loved the challenge of figuring out the organizational aspects of designing, launching and delivering an online product.

Many of the skills I’ve acquired are self-taught and I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with other like-minded business women via Facebook forums and social media. I meet with two other motivated and successful online ‘solopreneurs’ bi-weekly to share resources and bounce ideas off of (we call it our ‘Mastermind’ group 😉 ).

But what I really need is a local mentor. (Just like personal trainers sometimes need personal trainers, business owners sometimes need the help of other business owners) Someone who’s been where I am now and successfully navigated her business to where I envisage mine (hint, hint, I have several new programs and services that I’m hoping to launch in the months ahead…)

I’d been toying with the idea of seeking out a business coach for a month or two when the following invitation fortuitously appeared in my inbox:

Blogger Invitation: Join us for the 4th Annual Women in Biz Passion to Profit Conference Oct 19 & 20, 2014 in Vancouver

On October 19th and 20th, at the fourth annual Women in Biz Network (WIBN) conference, women from across North America will gather in the beautiful City of Vancouver for two days of networking, learning, and building relationships to help them recognize their business dreams.

Sessions will focus on mentoring (including mentor matching), round table business challenge brain storming, pod casting, building online communities, developing your story, finding your voice, smart business plan expansion planning, breaking through barriers and how to survive the business tug of war and what to do when lost.

Of course I said ‘yes’!

I’m excited to step outside of my comfort zone (and yoga pants; what does one wear to a business conference anyways?), break down some mental barriers and move closer to the business I want to create for you.

Make sure you’re following me on Instagram and Twitter, as I’ll be sharing glimpses of my Passion to Profit experience throughout the day.

Disclaimer: My registration (and that of a friend) were generously paid for by the Women In Biz Network in exchange for sharing the event with my readers. Get more information or register for the event yourself (come find me and say ‘hello’) at  http://www.womeninbiznetwork.com.

Tips for maintaining healthy knees

Knees are complicated joints.

tips for maintaining healthy knees

In addition to dynamically supporting nearly 80% of our weight while standing, they’re responsible for bending, straightening and internally rotating our legs.

Comprised of three major muscles groups (the quadriceps, hamstrings and pes anserine groups) and many ligaments and tendons, knees are inherently unstable and nearly as prone to injury as shoulders.

And they’re only more likely to act up as we agePreventing us from running and cycling and reaching that body-weight-squat goal free of pain.

The good news is, there are steps we can take before knee pain gets in the way of active living.

Pre-hab rather than rehab, as it were 😉

Tips for maintaining healthy knees:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the greater the pressure on the knees. I’ve had clients who, after losing weight, reported that their knees no longer bothered them while performing squats and lunges. And their after-weight-loss movements were more coordinated and covered a larger range of motion too. Win-win!
  2. Wear proper-fitting and supportive footwear. I’m a firm believer in seeing a specialist when purchasing new shoes for exercise. Knowing whether you pronate or supinate, whether you have a high or flat arch and where, on your foot, you place the bulk of your weight can help determine which shoe is most likely to support you properly during exercise. The better the shoe supports you, the lower the risk of knee and ankle injury.
  3. Increase exercise intensity and duration slowly. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all get stronger in response to progressive resistance training. The key is to go slowly. Whether you’re lifting weights or training for a marathon, allowing your body to adapt to and recover from a new level of stimulus is critical to avoiding injury.
  4. Warm up prior to exercise. Pre-workout warmups have several functions. In addition to preparing your cardiovascular system for the work to come, range-of-motion movements stimulate the release of synovial fluid in the joints. This lubricant makes it easier for muscles, tendons and ligaments to work together once the workout proper has begun.
  5. Strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Try adding the following supplemental exercises to your lower body strength training days. Perform 1-2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each, preferably after your warm-up but before your first working set or the start of your run.

[Note that the following exercises are preventative in nature. If you’re experiencing knee pain, please see your primary health care specialist for an in-person, hands-on diagnosis and stretch and strength recommendations specific to your injury. Performing the wrong exercises can exacerbate knee pain and lengthen the recovery period.]

Stability ball-against-the-wall squats. This exercise targets the quads, glutes and hams; muscles that must work together to properly flex and extend the knee. Focus on keeping the torso upright, with eye focus forward and shoulder blades down and back. Position your feet far enough from the wall so that when your thighs are in the parallel-to-the-floor position, knees remain back behind your toes. Push forcefully through the heels to return to standing.

Inner thigh ball squeeze. Use an under-inflated soccer or basketball to strengthen the medial (inner) aspect of the knees. You may perform the exercise seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place the ball between your thighs, where the femur meets the knee joint. Keeping toes pointing forward (and a slight bend in the knees if standing), engage the inner thighs and squeeze the ball for a count of 10. Release and repeat.

Lateral band hold. Strengthen the lateral (outer) aspect of the knees by wrapping a resistance tube or band around both knees. Make sure that the loop is small enough that you immediately feel resistance on the outside of the legs. Again, this exercise can be performed seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place your feet about hip width apart (keep a slight bend in the knees if standing) and engage the outer thighs, pressing both legs outwards against the resistance of the bank. Hold for a count of 10. Release and repeat.

Resistance band leg extension. Use the resistance of the band to increase your quad strength and improve knee stability under load. Start by laying down on the floor, face up, with one leg extended and resting on the floor, the other with knee bent and shin parallel to the floor. Loop your resistance band around the shoe of the elevated foot. Hold the ends of the band at chest height so that there’s very little slack in the band. Flex your foot and press it away from your body, extending the leg as fully as you can against the resistance of the band. Pause at the end of the movement before slowly returning to the start position. Complete all reps on one leg before switching to the other.

If these prevention tips are too late for you and you’re dealing with less than healthy knees, the above exercises may be among those you’re already doing under the watchful eye of your physiotherapist.

Need a few other workout ideas to  keep you feeling fit and energetic while you recover?  Have a look at the exercises I shared here >>> Knee injury? 7 Workout ideas to try while you recover

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Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers

If you’re like me (and many of my clients), you’re often so tired (or pressed for time) by the time your workout’s over that you bypass the stretching corner of the gym in your rush to reach the shower (and get on with your over-full day).

stretches for mid-life exercisers

The shower that tempts me to end a workout quickly…

While regular stretching should be a part of everybody’s exercise routine, mid-life exercisers may benefit more than most by spending a little more post-workout time on their mat.

Along with muscle loss, weight gain, declining metabolism and lower bone density, the aging process also bestows upon us the gift of reduced flexibility. Our muscles are no longer able to fully lengthen and thus, prevent our joints from moving through their full range of motion.

In addition to its positive effects on posture, athletic performance, economy of movement, injury prevention and post-workout soreness, maintaining flexibility may also improve short-term memory (a challenge for many perimenopausal women…) and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke (flexibility training reduces arterial stiffness).

Not to mention the deep relaxation that can occur when you still your mind and body.

The most common muscle groups that need attention in mid-life are:

  • hamstrings:
  • pectorals (in concert with the anterior deltoids): frequent keyboarding and texting keep our head, shoulders and chest tilted forward and down.
  • hip flexors: ‘sitting disease’ leaves the hip flexors in a constant, shortened state.
  • neck and top of the shoulders: many of us carry stress along the sides of our n
  • lower back: again, constant sitting prevents us from engaging our core and maintaining a neutral pelvic tilt.

Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers:

All of the stretches below use a stability ball as a prop. Not only is the ball useful for providing support for poses that you can’t quite get into, it’s also a useful tight-muscle-prophylactic. Use it instead of a desk chair to promote proper posture and you’re less likely to suffer from a tight chest and lower back to begin with!

Always perform static stretches after your muscles have been warmed up, either at the end of your workout, or after a hot bath or shower.

Hold stretches for approximately 30 s. When you begin a stretch, you’ll feel your body resist. Heed this message. Relax for a moment before trying to intensify the stretch. Stretches should never be painful or ballistic (bouncing) in nature. If you’re extremely tight, repeat each stretch a second time, always after allowing your muscles to relax first.

  • Supine hamstring stretch. Start by laying face-up on a mat, both feet on the stability ball. Extend one leg straight up towards the ceiling. Flex the foot and use your hands to pull the leg towards your torso. In order to maximize the benefit of this stretch, focus on keeping the knee as straight as possible (without locking it). Repeat on the other leg.
Stretches for mid-life exercisers

Supine hamstring stretch

  • Passive chest stretch. Start by sitting on the ball. Walk your legs away from you until your head and shoulders are resting on the ball. Extend arms and legs, forming the letter ‘T’ with your body. Drop you head back and feel the opening in your chest and front of the shoulders. If you’re worried about falling off the ball, increase your base of support by taking a slightly wider stance with your legs.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Passive chest stretch

  • Supported hip flexor stretch. Start by kneeling on a mat directly behind your stability ball. Step forward with one foot such that your front knee is bent at an approximately 90 degree angle. Using the ball for support, shift your weight forward, opening up the front of the hip on the back leg. Make sure that your hips are ‘squared’; both should face forward. Repeat on the other leg.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Supported hip flexor stretch

  • Seated head tilt. Start by sitting tall on the ball. Shoulders should be back and down with abdominals engaged. Feet can be placed as wide as necessary to promote balance. Hands will be placed at your sides. Tilt your right ear down towards your right shoulder. Turn your head slightly to look at your right knee. Keeping your left arm straight and your palm turned down, lift your arm until you feel the muscles along the left side of your neck and top of the shoulder lengthen. If you feel any tingling in your fingers, lower the arm slightly. Hold and repeat on the other side.
  • Child’s pose. Start by kneeling on the mat with the stability ball in front of you. Drop your bum down until it’s resting on your heels (or as close as you can get). Place your hands on the top of the ball, palms down. Move the ball away from your body and lower your head between your straightened arms. Feel the release of tension in the low back, as well as the back of the shoulders and the sides of the body.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Child’s pose on the ball

Need more stretching ideas?

Here’s a video-guided stretch (for those needing some soothing verbal cueing…)

And some specific stretches for those who sit (or knit) a lot!

 

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