Archives for October 2015

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?

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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).

21DayPlankDemo

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).
ProneChestRaise

 

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.

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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!

Enjoy this post? Make sure you don’t miss the workouts, motivation and inspiration I dish up ‘on the reg’. Add your name to my blog updates list and you’ll also be the first to hear about upcoming programs and course offerings!

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How much weight should I be lifting?

One of the biggest challenges women face when they start a strength training program is figuring out how much weight they should be lifting. (New to strength training? Here’s a list of posts I’ve written to help you get started).

how much weight should I be lifting via fitknitchick.com

Most err on the size of caution, lifting less weight that they’re capable of either because they fear getting ‘bulky’ or they just don’t realize how strong their bodies actually are (how heavy is your purse? your groceries? your toddler? that giant bag of dog food you carried from the car to the house?).

The thing is, muscles require adequate stimulation to get strong.

They quickly adapt to the loads we lift regularly and stop increasing in size and strength unless we consistently up the challenge (we all hit plateaus from time to time; here are tricks for busting through them).

Given that loss of muscle mass contributes to midlife weight gain, you want to be sure that you’re lifting heavy enough to actually see the results of your efforts in the gym.

Most of the women I work with via my online fitness groups and 1-on-1 fitness coaching program have two primary goals; to build muscle and lose body fat. (If you’re looking for an online fitness coach who specializes in midlife women, I’m your girl and just happen to have two spots opening up in my practice later this month. Click through the link to read about the service and apply to work with me).

As a consequence, I typically program them in the 8 to 12 (or ‘hypertrophy’) repetition range.

That is, I ask them to perform somewhere between 8 and 12 good form repetitions of each exercise in their workout (the exact range depends on what we’re focusing on in each particular phase of their program; lower rep ranges for strength phases, higher rep ranges for muscle building and leaning out).

how heavy should I be lifting via fitknitchick.com

 

Because I don’t train my clients in person, I give them detailed instructions to determine whether their weights are heavy enough.

How much weight should I be lifting?

For example, during week 1 of a program that requires a client to perform 10 to 12 dumbbell chest presses I’d ask them to do the following;

  • choose a weight that they think they can manage 12 repetitions with (most will under-estimate)
  • attempt to perform 12 good form repetitions
  • evaluate their performance and adjust accordingly
  • if they managed all 12 repetitions and feel that they could easily have performed at least 4 or 5 more, increase their weight on the next set, attempting to find a weight that they can just reach 12 reps with (I usually recommend increasing weights by no more than 10% at a time; of course, depending on the dumbbell options available to you, this may not be possible).
  • if they were only able to perform 8 good form repetitions, stick with the same weight until they’re consistently reaching the upper value of the repetition range (12 reps) for the required number of sets
  • if they managed fewer than 8 good form repetitions, lower their weight on the next set, again attempting to find a weight that they can just reach 12 reps with

Note that this is a bit of an iterative process. Sometimes it will take you several sets (and more than one workout) to determine your current ‘best’ weight for an exercise.

Think of this period of figuring things out as additional preparation time. You’re teaching your body how to properly perform the exercise and learning how to listen to any messages it’s sending you about joint mobility, range of motion, bilateral asymmetry and weakness.

After several workouts, you’ll probably notice that you’re able to perform more repetitions with the weights you’ve chosen. That’s great! A sure sign that you’re getting stronger. And an indication that you need to progress your workouts.

Rather than simply performing more repetitions with the same weight (remember the number of repetitions you perform is specific to your goals), try increasing your load.

You may find that the new, heavier weight only allows you to complete 6 or 8 or 10 good form repetitions.

That’s okay. Continue with this weight until you can again, perform 12 reps (or the upper limit of your prescribed rep range) for the required number of sets.

A couple of caveats:
  • DON’T try to increase weights on every exercise in your workout at once. That’s a recipe for exhaustion and injury! I typically try to progress 1 to 3 exercises per workout. Some weeks I’m more successful than others.
  • DON’T sacrifice form for reps. Doing extra repetitions with poor form will only slow your progress.
  • DON’T expect gains to be linear. Sometimes a big weight increase will be followed by a month-long plateau. And holidays and illness will frequently force you to return to a lower weight than you’d been lifting previously.
  • DO view lifting heavier as a good thing. Increasing muscle mass and functional strength are important contributors to overall health and aging well!

 

Which exercises have you progressed your weights on lately?

 

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