Archives for 2015

Why wait until the new year? Register for the 40+ Fitness Winter Session today

Registration for the 2016 Winter Session is now closed. Wishing you a peaceful and joy-filled holiday season with family and friends.

January is just around the corner.

If you’re like many of my clients and group fitness participants, you view the beginning of the year as the natural time to re-define your fitness goals and re-commit to an exercise plan.

While I’m not a huge believer in there being a ‘best’ time to start making healthy changes in your life (the best time is always today….), reality is, January 1st offers a ‘clean slate’, so to speak, and a time of higher motivation and commitment that’s worth capitalizing on.

Rather than go it alone, I invite you to join my 40+ fitness online community. A fitness and healthy living program for women 40 and older; women dealing with challenging schedules, changing hormones and often, ‘rear-view mirror’ mindsets about what constitutes health and fitness at this stage of their life.

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It’s a 3-month subscription program that includes
  • monthly workouts (with modifications for multiple fitness levels)
  • exercise demonstration videos (available only to participants of this program)
  • weekly coaching emails
  • and membership in a private Facebook group full of honest, intelligent, funny, motivating and inspiring women just like you (perhaps the best perk of the program)

You can read more details about the program (and answers to FAQ’s) here >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Registration is open until Sunday, December 20th at 6 pm PT. After that, I’ll be on hiatus over the holidays. Trying to find some peace and creating new traditions with my husband and boys.

I’d love it if you’d join us.

 

Nutrition and grief | tips for helping those suffering from loss {Guest Post}

From Tamara ~ My family and I are truly grateful for all of the meals and snacks and foodie gifts of love and comfort that our friends and family provided in the weeks following my daughter’s death. I’ve asked my friend, fellow blogger and Registered Dietician Melanie, of Nutritious Eats to share some ideas about nutrition and food prep during periods of grieving; so you’ll be ready to step in and help out a friend in need when the time arises. Thanks so much Melanie for your willingness to share your thoughts (and recipes!) with us.

From Melanie ~ I have had the pleasure of getting to know Tamara through blogging and social media and am struck by her grace, positivity and beauty inside and out. I truly wish it were under different circumstances that I would be providing this guest post, but Tamara and I believe that this information might help someone else during such a tragic time.

Providing food for someone who is grieving with the loss of a loved one is one of the simplest ways to show how much we care. At such a devastating time it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything to help. Although we can only imagine all the emotions the family is going through, one thing we can be certain of is that cooking is far from their minds. But people don’t bring meals forever and the grieving process doesn’t have a definitive time period. Unfortunately the need to consume food isn’t going to just go away.

Today I am providing a few nutrition and meal prep tips to help families get through this extremely difficult and stressful time, as well as tips for friends and family members who want to help.

Nutrition and grief: Tips for Grieving Families 
  • Keep meal prep simple. Think of it in terms of food groups- make a batch of whole grains like quinoa, a lean protein like some grilled chicken or fish, a batch of hard-boiled eggs, a couple of vegetables (one could be salad which will keep in the fridge for days undressed), fruit and dairy.
  • Rely more on convenience items like canned beans, jarred tomato sauce, pre-shredded cheese, pre-cut vegetables
  • Buy a few healthy condiments like pesto, salsa, guacamole or a fresh dressing to jazz up those basic foods you’re preparing
  • It’s important to eat 3 meals a day to keep your blood sugars stable and avoid binging on junk food
  • Caffeine has negative side affects on the brain and nervous system if used in excess so try to keep consumption at ~2 cups a day
  • Don’t omit fat, stress will cause you to crave it, but rely on healthy fat like avocado, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon
  • Lean proteins will assist in growth and tissue repair- focus on lean beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, shrimp, eggs, nuts and seafood
  • Getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids can help with our response- focus on fish, nuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables
  • Get your Vitamin C which protect the immune system so stock up on citrus fruits and vegetables like broccoli and potatoes
  • B vitamins are essential for coping with stress as they are used in building up your metabolism

It’s common to want to provide something delicious and comforting that the family will love, but the high carb, high fat “comforting” fare, along with ample desserts and wine can eventually catch up with anyone. Food affects the way we feel, our energy, our skin, or digestive system, so it’s important we are providing our loved ones with proper nutrition to help nourish their body, mind and spirit.

Traumatic events not only affect one’s emotional state, but also their metabolic and hormonal state. The amount of stress that their bodies go through can play havoc on their health. For example. when the stress hormone cortisol is elevated it can contribute to fat accumulation, usually around the abdomen or in the blood vessels and if stress is prolonged, which of course it would be if you lost a loved one, possible health effects such as high blood pressure, chronic muscle tension, headaches can also occur. Unhealthy food will just make it worse.

Nutrition and Grief: Tips for Providing Meals to Grieving Loved Ones
  • Make sure your dish or meal is well-balanced and nutrient-dense. Offer a few different food groups with your meal.
  • Use lean meats and seafood instead of higher fat cuts of meat
  • Avoid recipes that call for too much butter, cheese and/or cream or whole milk
  • Offer healthier baked goods like whole grain muffins using nuts and fruit which are perfect for the freezer too
  • Also consider bringing healthy snacks like date and nut energy bites
  • Bring something light such as a grilled chicken salad along with a hearty soup which can be used as a freezer meal for a later date if needed
  • Warm foods like soups and stews are very comforting and can be packed with heart-healthy vegetables
  • Provide food in disposable containers or tupperware they can keep so there doesn’t need to be any coordination of returning dishes
  • Use a calendar to share amongst friends to avoid duplication and to cater to the family’s likes and dislikes (more information below)
Nutrition and grief; Registered Dietician-suggested recipes for healthy, tasty and nourishing meals

Vegetarian Chili

This hearty bowl of vegetables will provide plant-based energy and fiber. Pack mini tupperware containers with all the fixings.

Vegetarian Chili | Nutritious Eats

Saucy Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs

Who doesn’t love a slow cooker recipe? You could pack some cooked veggies or a salad on the side and a healthy grain like quinoa or a high fiber pasta to go with it.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

This is made with lean ground turkey and veggies and is a great option to spoon over pasta or steamed cauliflower.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

Hearty Vegetable Soup

This is my go-to soup recipe not only when I am under the weather, but when I am craving something healthy and satisfying.

Chicken Fajita Bowls

Fajita bowls are great because they can be customized per person and are very well balanced. It also is perfect for leftovers and I think they are well liked by most people. You could do lean beef or strictly vegetarian too.

Chicken Fajita Bowls | Nutritious Eats

Chipotle Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili 

Another chili recipe because chili makes a great comforting meal, it’s even better leftover and freezes well! This one uses a learn protein, turkey, along with the super nutritious sweet potato.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

This makes the perfect light lunch and will last in the fridge all week. It makes a good amount and is packed with nutritious goodness from the high-protein quinoa, the antioxidant and vitamin/mineral rich kale and almonds.

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Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork

This is another versatile dish that can be served with the lettuce wraps, a tortilla or spooned over brown rice.

Apple Pie Walnut Donuts With Vanilla Glaze

It’s natural to want to provide something sweet during stressful times, but you can find lighter options. These donuts are made with yogurt, whole wheat flour and almond milk and will still satisfy that craving without as much fat and calories.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

Providing something to be eaten for breakfast or snack is helpful too. These are the perfect thing and super easy to make (one-bowl required!)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars | Nutritious Eats

I strongly encourage you to set up a online calendar which can make providing food or other helpful services so much easier. I have used CareCalendar before which is very convenient. This is how it works: one person will set up the calendar for the person or family in need. You can chose a date range for how long help is needed, for example one month. Then just fill in information such as the recipients usual meal time, dietary preferences like dislikes and favorite foods, and other helpful info like if they have freezer space available. This information will help the giver quite a bit!

Another great thing about sharing a calendar with the friends and family of the recipient is then other people can see what type of meal you are providing which reduces duplication. That way not everyone brings a lasagna. I also love that this online calendar is not limited to just meals- you can have friends or family sign up to help with yard work, errands such as grocery shopping, babysitting, etc. We all can imagine just how difficult day to day tasks are when you have just lost a family member or loved one and I think any help would be appreciated.

I hope this was helpful and remember that no one knows what the grieving family needs so it’s okay to ask. While one family might need meals for a month, another might need help for much longer. It’s never too late to get this set up to help those we love.

Keep those healthy meals coming!

MelanieF.-1-200x300Melanie is a Registered Dietitian and mom of four, with extensive experience in wellness and weight management. By combining her passion of food, nutrition and exercise, Melanie encourages her clients to have a healthy and happy relationship with food. She is the author of the blog Nutritious Eats where you can find healthy family recipes, nutrition and fitness tips and more. When she is not cooking or blogging, you can find her drinking coffee on the porch, chasing her children around, running, doing yoga, and practicing photography. You can follow her on twitter , instagram or Facebook.

Returning to fitness as a beginner

For the past week, I’ve been trying to decide what to focus on as I return to fitness after the loss of my daughter.

I know that I need to get back to regular strength training (I can already see muscle loss and a quick push-up test confirmed that I’ve lost strength as well).

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I know that I need to challenge my heart and lungs (while daily walks are a great way to add movement and reduce stress, they aren’t quite intense enough to stave off cardiovascular de-conditioning).

I know that I need to stretch more (my lower back has been bothering me from too much sitting and my achilles tendonitis has been flaring up despite having been away from step class for a month).

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I know that I need to return to a more balanced way of eating (the past month has been fuelled primarily by comfort foods; breads, pasta, baking and way too much wine).

I know that I’m not drinking enough water (it’s easy to tell; just check the colour of your urine).

I’ve been looking over past programs that I’ve written for myself and I have to say, my heart just isn’t into body-part splits or HIIT or pre-exhaust supersets. Not to mention that I’ve de-conditioned enough to make those inappropriate until I’m stronger and have more energy.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to start is back at the beginning.

Returning to fitness as a beginner. Following a program that’s short in duration and doesn’t require more than two or three days a week. Focusing on simple nutritional swaps and being more mindful of my body’s need for water and whole foods. Re-creating the exercise and eating habits that have kept me healthy and happy for many years. One step at a time. Day by day.

Rather than look elsewhere for the ‘perfect’ program, I’m following my own 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

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Three week of ‘easy entry’ workouts, daily coaching emails, health-promoting recipes and information to keep you motivated and sticking with your healthy habit goals.

(You can read all about it here >> 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp; just make sure you use the form below to register or you’ll miss my gift of a price reduction..).

Not too short, not too long and exactly what I need during the three weeks leading up to Christmas (our first without Clara). I’ll admit that it will be a bit odd getting daily emails from myself,  but it’s been a while since I wrote them, so I’m sure they’ll see fresh enough 😉 .

All proceeds from this week’s registrations will be donated to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Clara’s name. We are so grateful for the loving and compassionate care they’ve provided us with, from her first visit to cardiology as a 4-month old baby right through to her final days in I.C.U.

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Not only will participating in this program help you to improve your own life, it’ll help another child and her family in their time of need.

UPDATE: I’d like to thank all of you who signed up for this program during the week of December 1 through 6. Altogether, we raised $880 dollars for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. I’ll be donating these monies in Clara’s name and attributing the donation to ‘Fitknitchick’s Friends and Followers’. 

 

 

 

A compassionate approach to exercise

The response to last week’s post, Returning to Fitness After Loss, was both comforting and overwhelming.

While I read every single comment and email and Facebook post, I found myself unable to respond to them, grief being still so very fresh. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic look or a gentle hug to start the tears flowing again.

Thank you all for taking the time to offer condolences, share experiences and suggest ways in which I might use exercise to help heal myself and move forwards, towards a ‘new normal’ with my family.

Some of you shared with me how running or yoga helped you through a period of loss.

Others suggested simply walking in nature as a soothing way to nourish both spirit and body.

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A few told stories of stopping exercise and abandoning healthy eating for as long as a year after the death of a loved one. And how they returned once again to fitness, when the time was right.

A close friend suggested an obvious solution to my anxiety about going back to a gym where I know everybody (and even in the absence of personal tragedy, can barely get through a workout without stopping to chat and acknowledge clients, class participants, colleagues and friends…); switch gyms for awhile. Brilliant!

Another friend suggested I just ‘do it’. (No offence, but Nike slogans don’t motivate me at the best of times 😉 ).

Many of you posted variations on the themes of ‘give yourself time’, ‘practice self-compassion’, ‘celebrate the small victories’ and ‘what you can, when you can’. Sound familiar?

Surprisingly, even though these themes focus prevalently in my fitness coaching practice, I’ve failed to apply them to myself. Sometimes the teacher needs to becomes the student.

I took all of your suggestions to heart, but in the end, realized that my biggest challenge right now is to reconcile the fact that what I need exercise for right now, is completely different for the reasons I needed it in the past.

Now is the time for finding joy in movement, feeling better in my body and minimizing the aches and pains that set in when I’m not exercising regularly. Bicep development, bench press PR’s and pull-up progress seem unimportant these days.

And that’s okay.

I need to take a compassionate approach to exercise.

I need to be gentle with myself and avoid comparisons of past progress and goals with where I am right now.

I need to plan a small number of short, weekly workouts and be willing to adjust my schedule depending on how I’m feeling on any particular day. Alas, I still can’t predict how I’ll feel by lunchtime, let alone tomorrow or the end of the week.

I need to keep up the daily walking routine my husband and I have created. Revisiting the paths and trails that Clara loved. These hand-in-hand outings provide the opportunity to talk about how we’re feeling and to shares thoughts and memories our beloved daughter. We recognize that tragedy can destabilize a marriage and are determined that ours remains strong.

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I need to let movement soothe me and still the blender of thoughts in my head.

I need to let members of my community share their condolences and sadness with me, knowing that even though it may move me to tears, others are hurting as well and only want to offer comfort and support.

I’m hopeful that by meeting myself where I am, doing less than I think I should and being present in the simple task of moving my body, I’ll be setting myself up for longterm healing and success. (This approach, coincidentally, is what I recommend for anyone just getting started with exercise, or returning to it after a hiatus…).

At least that’s the plan. A compassionate approach towards exercise.

And since it’s always worked for my fitness coaching clients, I’m hopeful that it will work for me, too.

 

 

 

 

Returning to fitness after loss

On Friday, November 6th the unimaginable happened. My beautiful, smart, funny, quick-witted, caring and joy-filled 13-year old daughter passed away.

Clara lived with pulmonary hypertension (you can read more about her story here); a disease that we always knew would shorten her life. What we didn’t expect was for it to happen at such a young age.

After being admitted to hospital Tuesday with a suspected case of appendicitis. Her condition deteriorated quickly and with each test, the news, and prognosis got worse. An asymptomatic, previously undiagnosed kidney tumour had ruptured and reduced her heart-lung function to the point that the only option the medical team had was to try and stabilize her long enough to remove the kidney. She suffered a cardiac arrest during the cardiac catheterization procedure and never recovered.

To say that my husband, two sons and I are devastated is an understatement. We are gutted and heart-broken and inconsolable, trying to reconcile what’s happened with the future we had envisaged for our family.

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Needless to say, exercise and healthy eating have been the farthest thing from my mind.

While I know that movement and energy-giving food will help me to deal with grief, the fact of the matter is, my heart aches, my lungs hurt and my body is incredibly weary right now.

I have very little appetite and am thankful for the friends who’ve stepped up to provide us with hot meals for today and for the freezer. I’m not eating my greens. Or getting enough protein. Remembering to drink water is an issue too.

I had no idea that grief could cause such a rapid loss in weight, muscular strength or fitness.

This week, my husband and I have committed to daily walks around the neighbourhood. Right now, the hills are almost more than I can manage and I have a much better understanding of how Clara must have felt when she accompanied us on walks that were challenging to her heart and lungs.

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I’m sharing this here because I know that many of you will have experienced a similarly debilitating grief and have found your way back to fitness after loss.

I would love to hear what helped you regain your physical strength, not to mention your courage to go back into the gym and feel the gaze of people who know your story and may not know whether to approach you or to talk with you about it.

I know that grief has no map and that it may be awhile before I’m able to teach group fitness, blog regularly and support my clients.

But I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best; motivating and inspiring others to live a life full of movement and health and joy.

And taking care of my boys. Making sure they feel loved and supported as they move through their own experiences with grief and the relatively rare experience of losing a sibling in childhood.

xo ~ Tamara

 

How to eat carbs and still lose weight {Guest Post}

Dear readers. Despite receiving offers from dozens of aspiring writers each week, I rarely accept guest posts. When I do they are always fellow fitness professionals, to ensure that you guys continue to get well-researched, factual information from somebody who knows their stuff.

That’s why I’m thrilled that the author of this week’s post reached out to me and asked if he could share his knowledge about carbohydrates and weight loss with us. What’s more, he’s a specialist in women’s health and fitness AND has much experience (both personally and professionally 😉 ) with helping perimenopausal women figure out their weight loss issues. Please welcome Howard Standring!

 

Good old carbohydrates get a real bad deal these days.

In every magazine or new diet book, we hear – ditch the carbs and eat the fats and all your weight loss prayers will be answered.

But is this necessary to lose weight? Are we all doomed to be eating low carb for the rest of our days?

Certainly, a carbohydrate-restricted diet can result in a loss of body fat.

However, as effective as lower carb diets are for losing weights there is a payback.

We miss eating them because they taste good.

Our moods may suffer – Eating carbs can lift up your mood because they help produce the feel good chemical serotonin.

Stress levels can increase Limiting carbs for long periods may elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation, reduced muscle mass and hunger cravings.

Less energy – if you are active then low carb dieting can diminish energy levels and affect your workouts and motivation levels.

Therefore, I believe that maintaining a certain level of carbs in your diet is important for our overall well-being and if you manage them right you can still get the fat loss results you want.

Carbohydrates and Insulin

As you probably know when you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels increase in relation to the type of foods you have just consumed.

In response, insulin releases from the pancreas to remove the blood sugar (glucose) and use it immediately for energy to function or store it in your muscles or fat cells for later use.

Insulin also tells the body to stop burning fat and use the new energy source that is readily available.

So large spikes of insulin on a regular basis is not ideal when trying to lose body fat, because not only is your ability to burn fat decreased but there is a greater potential for fat storage from the excess glucose in your blood stream.

This is why carbohydrates get such a hard time, because they are responsible for increasing blood sugars the most when eaten therefore increasing the release of insulin. The more insulin you release over time the more chance you have of becoming resistant to it. The more insulin resistant you become, the harder it becomes to manage body fat levels.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a whole other topic and out of the scope of this article but it´s a problem we need to address.

Insulin resistance occurs when the regular cells in the body stop responding to insulin and won´t allow glucose to be absorbed into the cells. This forces the body to produce even more insulin and we have a viscous cycle of high insulin and high blood sugar that if left untreated can lead to diabetes.

Along with diet there a whole host of factors that can contribute to insulin resistance such as genetics, obesity, reduced muscle mass through lack of exercise or natural aging and for women the onset and beginning of menopause.

Approaching and going through menopause causes an imbalance of hormones and one result of this is less tolerance to carbohydrates. Many women complain about weight gain especially around the abdomen during this time and this resistance to carbohydrates is often the culprit.

The good news is controlling your carbohydrate intake can significantly help you overcome this issue.

How Many Carbs You Need To Eat

If you think that insulin resistance is a problem for you, then the first thing is to be tested. You can do this with your doctor or purchase a glucose testing kit.

You perform the test in a fasted state and an ideal reading is between 70-90mg/dl. If you are over 90 then you need work on improving your insulin sensitivity.

With regard to how many carbs to eat for improving insulin sensitivity and losing body fat I have put together a set of guidelines you can use.

These are by no means set in stone or backed up by some scientific research. These are just recommendations I make based on years of working with female clients.

Everybody is different with unique circumstances so I would recommend using this as a starting point then make adjustments based on result.

When talking about carbohydrates we often focus on the refined and starchy carbs such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, biscuits, cereals etc.

However, carbohydrates come in many different forms and they all count to your daily totals so it´s important to be aware of them.

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Vegetables – most vegetables are low carb in nature and do not need to be restricted. The only vegetables to moderate are those classed as root vegetables and peas.

Fruit – Fruit is a carbohydrate that many people consumed without any real control because it is healthy and pretty low in calories. But because of its sugar content (fructose) restrict the fruits you eat to the low-carb variety until insulin sensitivity has improved.

Starch based vegetables and grains are high in carbs so track them carefully and maybe avoid altogether.

All processed, packaged carbs , like breads, cakes, biscuits, crackers are be severely restricted or avoided completely when trying to improve insulin sensitivity and lose weight. Save them for an occasional treat if you need one.

Liquid Carbohydrates – Avoid all liquid carbohydrates such as soda´s fruit juice and energy drinks.

Ok, here are my guidelines for how to eat carbs and still lose weight based on your situation now.

Scenario A – You are doing little or no exercise and need to lose quite a bit of weight.

If you are just starting out with a lot of weight to lose then insulin resistance is probably high. At this stage, severely restrict carbs to allow insulin sensitivity to improve.

Aim for 50 g per day. The bulk of your carbs will come from vegetable sources. Restrict fruit and only eat those with a low GI rating such as berries. All other carbs are to be avoided or eaten in a cheat meal once a week.

Going this low is tough especially if your diet now is high in carbs. My advice is eliminate all the refined and processed carbs from your diet. Once you have achieved this focus on reducing daily totals until you hit 50 gram per day.

Scenario B – You are exercising regularly but still overweight.

At this stage insulin sensitivity is improved but carb intake should remain low. Increase carb intake to between 50 g-100 g per day. You want to find the point where you are losing fat consistently and have good energy levels.

Carbs to include:

  • All the leafy greens and low carb vegetables you want
  • Low-carb fruit within reason
  • Introduce a serving or two of starch-based carbs such as sweet potatoes or wild rice.

If you are, eating this amount of carbs and exercising but not losing much weight then reconsider your fitness program. A program based around weight training and some higher intensity cardio will not only accelerate your results but also greatly improve your insulin sensitivity. It also means you can introduce more carbs into your diet.

Scenario C – You are active and pretty lean – (between 24-18% body fat)

If you very active and following a fitness program that includes resistance training and some high intensity work then you should be eating more carbs. At this stage you should find it easy to maintain your weight on between 100-150 g per day. In fact depending on your how insulin sensitive you have become and other factors such as your size, muscle mass and training regime you can still be losing body fat if that is your goal.

Carbs to include:

  • 
All the vegetables you want.
 All the low-carb fruit you want plus 1-2 pieces of high carb fruits
  • Starchy foods but measured out
  • Refined carbs as an occasional treat or in a cheat meal.
In summary
  • Going low carb is effective for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity and depending on your situation is the best choice for you to take.
  • However, if your goal is to build muscle, strength and fitness levels then you can and should be eating more carbs in your diet.
  • Remember when cutting carbs you need to increase protein and fats to compensate for the reduction in calories, keep you satisfied and maintain lean muscle mass.

 

Howard Standring is Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with over 10 years professional experience.

He runs the female fitness site ThinkFitNotThin, aimed at helping and encouraging women
over 35 to get strong, fit and healthy.

5 Must-Have Exercise Books For Your Fitness Library

Whether you’re brand new to weight-lifting or a seasoned pro, getting better at your sport often means doing a little research. Spending some time watching exercise videos, or better yet, reading exercise books to learn a new exercise, improve your exercise form or find a new program to follow.

Traditionally, most of the strength training titles published focused almost exclusively on the goals and needs of men. In particular, young, virile, testosterone-fuelled men.

Don’t get distracted…Keep reading!

The needs of women were largely overlooked. Especially the needs of women who aren’t so much interested in getting ‘bikini ready’ (the focus of most fitness magazines) as ‘training for the sport of life’. Getting stronger, yes, but also becoming more capable of doing all the other activities we love, for today, tomorrow and a long time to come.

Fast forward to the mid-2000’s, where strength training titles for females exploded.

About time.

Fitnitchick’s 5 ‘must-have’ exercise books for your fitness library

 

Women’s Health Big Book of Exercise (2010; Adam Campbell)

A huge tome, not meant to be lugged back and forth to the gym (that would be a workout, in and of itself…), but perfect when you need to look up an exercise or find an alternative version of an old one that you’ve tired of.

The ‘Big Book’ is organized according to body part (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Quadriceps and Calves, Glutes and Hamstrings, Core and Total Body). For each major muscle group, the ‘main moves’ (that is, the fundamental moves that need to be mastered) are described first, followed by variations of each exercise that can be performed with different types of equipment (body weight, barbells, dumbbells, cable and pulley machines, stability balls and even the TRX suspension trainer).

Each and every exercise is illustrated, with easy-to-follow exercise descriptions and form cues. There’s even a section of ready-made workouts at the back (‘The Best Workouts for Everything’), including workouts for athletes, pre-natal women, body-weight only fans and my favourite, crowded gyms.

 

The Female Body Breakthrough (2009; Rachel Cosgrove)

One of the first strength training titles specifically aimed at getting regular women into the weight room. In addition to a 16-week, progressive resistance program (a program that I return to whenever I get tired of my own programming and want to follow somebody else’s lead…), Rachel Cosgrove’s book also includes advice about mindset, exercise nutrition, hormones, goal-setting and emotional eating.

The workouts are well-illustrated and there are plenty of testimonials to her approach scattered throughout the book; perfect for those day when you need a little motivation, inspiration and re-assurance that the program works. And for those of us who love it when fitness professionals cite actual research studies to back their claims, a list of references to original research in the fields of physiology, sports medicine and endocrinology.

 

The New Rules of Lifting for Women (2007; Lou Schuler with Cassandra Forsythe and Alwyn Cosgrove)

Another title dedicated to encouraging women to take strength training seriously (the subtitle of the book; “Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess”…).

This books combines 16-weeks of progressive resistance training with a wealth of information on nutrition and eating for fat loss (including a variety of sample meal plans and recipes to support them).

The workouts are functional in nature (squats, lunges, dead lifts, rows, push ups) are rely heavily on standard weight room equipment (dumbbells, benches, barbells, cable and pulley etc.).

I love that the workouts are fairly simple in their design (typically 5-8 exercises, performed in super-set style) and don’t require more than 40-50 minutes in the gym. All exercises are illustrated with detailed instructions on how to perform them safely and with good form. This is another title that I’ve used extensively in my own training.

 

Kettlebells for Women (2012; Lauren Brooks)

Ever since I took my first kettlebell workshop, I’ve been enamoured with this relatively new-to-the-big-box-gym-goer tool. I love how it makes me feel strong and capable and bad-ass (despite the wrinkles and grey hairs…).

Because they’re not just simply a ‘weight with handles’, I recommend that all newcomers to kettlebell training either get some in-person instruction or find a good book or video to read and study before they set up for their first swing.

I think Kettlebells for Women is the perfect place to start. Beginning with a brief history of kettlebell training, the author outlines the benefits of using kettlebells (both in addition to and in place of traditional dumbbells and barbells) and provides suggestions as to the weight of bells the user should purchase (or have available to them) to maximize the benefits of her workouts.

The remainder of the book outlines a 12-week progressive resistance program. It includes 15 different workouts (with levels from beginner to advanced) and illustrated explanations of each exercise, including the exercises most frequently associated with kettlebell training; swings, cleans, windmills, snatches and the Turkish Get-Up.

The only downside to kettlebell training? The expense of the equipment. And the more frequently you do the workouts, the more quickly you’ll outgrow your equipment 😉

 

Ultimate Booty Workouts (2013, Tamara Grand aka Fitknitchick 😉 )

If you’re a relatively new visiter to this website, you won’t know that I published my first ever fitness title a little over a year and a half ago. Although titled ‘Ultimate Booty Workouts’, the book is much more than just an exercise program for building a better butt.

In it, I outline my fitness philosophy for women, including the importance of goal setting, tips for finding motivation, non-aesthetic benefits of strength training, nutrition to support your efforts in the gym as well as tips for measuring progress off and on the scale.

The program itself focuses on the core and lower body (hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads), with suggestions for incorporating upper body training and cardio into the 12-week program. All exercises are illustrated (you may recognize one of the models… hint, hint), as are the suggested warm up moves, stretches and foam rolling exercises. There are even blank workout templates for you to photocopy and take with you to the gym.

Curious as to what it was like to actually write a fitness book AND model for the photo shoot? I shared my experiences here and here, respectively.

 

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Books make great Christmas presents. Especially the last one 😉

Do you have any titles to add to my fitness library?

Any books that have been particularly helpful to you as you progress with strength training?

5 Exercises for a Strong Lower Back

Whether you’re brand new to strength training or have been lifting weights for years, chances are you’ve had some experience with lower back pain. (If you are a newbie, congrats!  Here are some great ‘get started’ with weight lifting posts for you to read).

exercises for a strong lower back

Not the ‘OMG I can’t move my legs’ pain; that’s indicative of a serious injury and needs medical attention stat.

But rather that nagging ache that comes and goes and forces you to take a few days off training, seek some relief on the heating pad and pop an Advil or two before bed.

Most lower back pain is mechanical in nature. Meaning that it’s not caused by injury per se, but  by muscles that are weak, inflexible or out of balance with the muscles around them.

The most likely culprits?

Weak or inhibited glutes, weak abdominals, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. The very same muscles that are required to perform the exercises that form the foundation of most strength training programs; squats, lunges, dead lifts and overhead presses.

exercises for a strong lower back

Ineffective recruitment and coordination of the lower body’s ‘power muscles’ increases the stress and force on the lower spine, setting the stage for a variety of conditions ranging from mild muscular strain to ruptured disks.

The good news is, most lower back pain is preventable. Try adding the following five exercises to your regular strength training program to strengthen your lower back and reduce your risk of injury.

The added bonus of a strong lower back? Your’ll likely be able to squat heavier and dead lift more.

exercises for a strong lower back

5 exercises for a strong lower back

Bird dog

Come on to all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tighten abdominals and simultaneously lift and extend the right arm and left leg so that they’re both parallel to the ground. Keeping hips square and level, hold for 3 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Pause and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating until you’ve competed a total of 8 to 10 repetitions.

exercises for a strong lower back

Hip bridges

Start by laying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Tighten your bum cheeks and belly to lift your torso up and off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Lower, rest and 8 to 10 times.
exercises for a strong lower back

Modified clam shells

Lay on your side with hips and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Top knee and ankle should be directly over the bottom knee and ankle. Flex your feet and using the side of the top leg, lift the top leg up to open the hip. Imagine that your bent legs are the top and bottom shells of a clam and your pelvis, the hinge. Slowly lower and repeat. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.

exercises for a strong lower back

Front plank

Come into forearm plank, on either knees or toes. Forearms will be on the floor, parallel to one another, with elbows directly underneath shoulders. Tighten abdominals and glutes to lift and hold your body in a straight line. Keep shoulder blades retracted to encourage the muscles of your upper back to participate in the exercise. Hold for 30 s. Rest and repeat twice more. (Once your toe plank is solid, you can make this move more challenging by lifting one foot off the ground and turning it into a 3-point toe plank).

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Prone chest raise

Lay face down on a yoga mat, with legs wider than hip distance apart and feet flexed. Place hands behind your head, with elbows bent and fingers interlace. Inhale, then exhale as you use your glutes and lower back to lift your chest up and off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering yourself back to the ground. Rest and repeat for a total of 8 to 10 reps. (Once you get good at this one, you can progress to the back extension machine in the gym).
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Of course, don’t forget to book-end your workout with some stretching for those overly-tight hamstrings and hip flexors. You can find sample hamstring stretches here as well as the essential stretches every midlife exerciser needs to be doing here.

Just getting started with exercise? Or coming back to it after time off due to injury? My 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp is the perfect, low-intensity, short-duration, whole-body workout program to help get you on track. Click here to purchase and get started today!

5 Signs your Fitness Mindset is Holding you Back

Do you ever find yourself wondering why other women seem to be more successful than you at reaching their health and fitness goals?

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Why your best friend can enjoy wine and dessert without ever gaining a pound, while you diligently stick to your lunchtime salad and can’t lose one? Why the woman on the spin bike next to you hardly breaks a sweat during a steep climb, while you’re barely keeping up and there’s a lake under your bike at the end of class? How the woman who’s always in the squat rack at the gym never seems to miss a day of training, while you struggle week after week with consistency?

Chances are your mindset is holding you back. Those unspoken beliefs about yourself, your abilities and your capacity for change.

Wondering if your head is hampering your progress?

Here are 5 signs your fitness mindset is holding you back:
  1. You’re resistant to trying a new approach, even when the old approach isn’t working (what’s that quote about the definition of insanity?)
  2. You use limitations as excuses (time, energy, equipment, injury…)
  3. You have unrealistic expectations and are quick to judge yourself
  4. You’re threatened by other women’s successes
  5. You’ve been convinced by the media that weight loss and muscle gain are easy (lose 10 pounds in a week!)

In my experience, women who make consistent progress towards their health and fitness goals share a few key attitudes;

  • They focus on change and growth, rather than restriction and limitation. Exercise isn’t viewed as simply a way of cutting calories. Food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad‘, just a way to fuel your body to perform well and feel good. If the old approach to eating and exercise stops working (as it often does for women in their 40’s), they’re open to exploring new solutions. They see change as potential, not something that threatens and scares them.
  • They concentrate on what they can do, rather than what they can’t. Limitations can either stop you cold or force you to work around them. Whether you’re working through a knee injury, don’t have much time for exercise or are travelling and don’t have access to your regular workout equipment and foods, focusing on the things you have control over and letting go of those you don’t is key to feeling good about the process.
  • They aren’t threatened by the success of other women. Success isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because your girlfriend can squat 100 pounds doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to some day as well. Her victory doesn’t come at the expense of yours. Celebrate the successes of other women and use them as motivation and inspiration rather than letting them trigger thoughts of inadequacy and failure.
  • They don’t expect it to be easy and aren’t afraid of hard work. The biggest myth perpetuated by the fitness and weight loss industry is that results are yours for the taking. ’21 days to a bikini body’, ‘drop 2 dress sizes in a month’, ‘lose 10 pounds in a week’ headlines trick us into thinking that our goals can be met quickly and without very much effort. Expect the work to be challenging, but rewarding. Both during the process and ideally, for the rest of your life.

Remember, you already know everything you need to do to successfully reach your health and fitness goals. Don’t let your fitness mindset hold you back!

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