Archives for January 2016

Core training | 5 moves for a stronger midsection

After taking nearly nine weeks away from regular and consistent exercise, I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I needed some accountability and support to make fitness a priority again in my life.

I’m three weeks into a strength and conditioning program at a gym where nobody knows my story. I’m a participant, not a trainer, and as such welcome getting feedback on form from the three coaches that lead the workouts.

While my overall strength and cardiovascular conditioning are already starting to improve (thanks to a lot of agility drills with hurdles, cones and ladders and speed work on the Bosu), I’m noticing that certain exercises and lifts are still weak.

During Saturday’s class, coach Mark commented on my execution of three exercises; tricep pushups, Romanian dead lifts and bent-over rows. My lower back started to curve after only three pushups (pushups should look like planks), my knees were bending too much during the dead lifts (bending the knees transfers the work from the hamstrings to the quads) and I was ‘bouncing’ at the bottom of my rows (in effective, using momentum instead of muscle to pull the weight back up).

We talked for a minute about what these three exercises had in common and came to the conclusion that my core was weak. Not only had I not been training it during my hiatus from exercise, I had also spent a lot of those nine weeks sitting around, hunched over my knitting and slouched in front of the television and computer keyboard.

He asked me what I was going to do about it (note to self: this is a great coaching question).

Although my three-times-a-week workouts do include some core work, he suggested that I needed to do a bit more, both to improve my core strength and to ensure that I kept progressing on my other lifts (it’s hard to squat, push, pull and lift more weight when your core is weak).

Knowing that he was right, I’ve decided to add two more days of core training to my week. I’ll be focusing on the important core exercises; the ones that are functional and relevant to training for daily life (i.e., NOT crunches, which is why you won’t see ‘flexion’ in the list below).

Core training: 5 moves for a stronger midsection
  • static stability; basic plank and side plank holds require isometric contraction of the entire core (as well as the shoulders, upper back, glutes and hamstrings). I’ll be working up to 3 sets of 60 s in each position, focusing on keeping the abs and glutes tight and shoulders drawn back and down.
  • dynamic stability; adding movement to basic planks and side planks forces the muscles of the core to work a bit harder to remain stable in the face of external forces. Side planks with cable and pulley rows and front planks on the ball while either pushing the ball slightly away from the body or ‘drawing circles’ with it are all examples of dynamic stabilization exercises. I’ll be combining one front plank static exercise with one side plank dynamic exercise on my first day of core training then switching to the opposite combo (side plank static, front plank dynamic) on the second day.
  • rotation; rotational exercises typically target the external obliques. The muscles that cut across the front and back of your body, from hip to rib and enable you to rotate your torso without damaging your spine. My favourite rotational exercises are wood choppers (kneeling or standing, with a weight or a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine) and Russian twists (on the floor or on the ball). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.
  • anti-rotation; the ability to keep your torso (and spine) from twisting in response to an unexpected external force (for example, catching a heavy object, slipping on a wet surface, lifting a bag that was much heavier than you though it would be) requires strengthening of the inner obliques. Anti-rotation exercises are frequently absent from workouts shared on Facebook and Pinterest. My favourites include variations of the Paloff press, plank rows and kneeling cross-body lifts with either a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine. (If you’re new to strength training and the names of these exercises are unfamiliar to you, check out the website BodyBuilding.com. They have high quality, good-form video demonstrations of almost every exercise known to man 🙂 ).
  • extension; most core workouts focus primarily on the muscles of the front side of the body (the ‘six-pack’ muscles and the obliques), ignoring the importance of strengthening their back-side-of-the-body counterparts. Anterior and posterior muscle groups work together to keep the body in front-to-back balance and alignment. In my case, a weak lower back is contributing significantly to my poor dead lift range of motion and my ability to perform more than four good-form tricep pushups. Lower back extension exercises don’t require any fancy equipment; yoga poses including cobra and sphinx can be performed anywhere, as can ‘super mans’ (on the floor or the ball, if you have one) and weighted hip thrusts.
Need a few more core exercise options? Here are two of my favourite core training videos:

Note that while there IS a crunch variation in the video below, elevating the feet and keeping the lower back firmly on the mat will ensure that flexion is minimized and the risk to the lower back is minimal. If you suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia (or your doctor has told your NOT to perform any version of a crunch, skip it; the other 4 exercises are workout enough).

Tough love Tuesday | motivation doesn’t grow on trees

I’m not the kind of instructor, trainer or coach who yells at or belittles her clients. I believe in setting a positive example and providing education, encouragement and a little ‘reality check’ when it’s needed. The following post is about the closest that I ever get to a ‘rant’. Know that it was written with love, in the hopes that it will help you move forward towards your health and fitness goals ~ Tamara

Lately, I’ve been blessed with a large number of new subscribers to this website. (Thank you all for deeming my content worthy of your time 🙂 If you’re not subscribed, you can do it now!).

Many of them have emailed me to tell me about their biggest challenges with fitness and healthy living (I ask for and welcome these interactions as they give me a better idea of the topics that readers are most interested in hearing about).

While I typically respond to as many of these emails as I can, I will admit to having failed to answer a single respondent citing ‘lack of motivation’ as their biggest hurdle to exercising regularly and making healthier choices in the kitchen.

Why?

Because motivation isn’t something I can give them. (Or you.)

 

Neither money nor motivation grow on trees…

 

Motivation doesn’t grow on trees. It won’t magically appear on your doorstep. It won’t reveal itself to you in a dream. You won’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel motivated to go for a run.

Sharing the things that motivate me won’t necessarily help you find what motivates you. It’s personal. It requires some insight, some self-reflection, a mindset shift and some thinking about the future. Some good, old-fashioned hard work.

If journalling helps you think and reflect, go for it!

 

Finding your motivation isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s down-right difficult. You might think you’ve figured it out only to realize you’ve ventured down a blind alley and need to back-track a bit to get back on course. But it’s always worth the effort. Always.

Those of us who know WHY we want to be healthy and fit find it easier to start and stick with the behaviours required to be healthy and fit. (Need some help with finding your ‘why’? Here’s a little how-to book I’ve written on the subject, with step-by-step instructions > 5 Steps to Finding Your Exercise Why)

Perhaps my new readers’ biggest obstacle isn’t really “I’m not motivated enough to exercise and eat better” but rather, “I haven’t yet figured out what will motivate me to make healthier choices”. 

Cancer is hard. Divorce is hard. Losing a loved one is hard.

Exercising and eating well so that you have more energy, sleep better, a stronger immune system, balanced hormones, are able to keep up with your kids and continue enjoying the activities you love for many years to come isn’t. 

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It’s all about perspective.

Valuing yourself, wanting to be the best version of ‘you’ possible and desiring to live a full, adventure-filled life.

In the wise words of a friend:

“Yesterday, I was at an event where several of the 50+ aged women there don’t exercise regularly and most were not fit but were talking about knee surgeries, bad health issues… it made me realize the #1 reason I excercise is so that I can continue to be fit and healthy in my later years! There’s your motivation…”

I’d love to hear what motivates YOU! Perhaps your unique motivators will help another reader figure out hers.

Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

automating exercise and eating

Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 

 

 

You are your client | why trainers need trainers too

Recently, I’ve been re-watching a favourite television show of mine from the early 2000’s; Being Erica.

It’s the story of a 30-something, Toronto-dwelling woman named Erica and her relationship with a non-traditional psychotherapist, Dr. Tom.

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Dr. Tom has the power of time-travel (if I were to have a super-power, this would be it). Erica’s ‘sessions’ consist of re-visiting pivotal moments in her past, seeing them through a different lens and applying the lesson learned to current-day challenges.

In one of my favourite episodes, Dr. Tom attempts to teach Erica about compassion for others.

He quotes the line ‘you are your patient’ and illustrates how, in order to truly help a patient, the therapist must recognize that they share the same challenges, obstacles, hurts and regrets as their patient does.

And letting the patient see how they’ve dealt with these hurdles in a non-pedagogical way is not a sign of weakness, but rather instrumental in their patient’s healing.

While re-watching this episode, I was struck by the similarities between the therapy-patient relationship and the relationships I share with my fitness coaching clients. And reminded of the importance of sharing my own struggles with them, and by extension, with readers of my blog.

Trainers need trainers too

Like many of my clients, when they first come to me, I am currently struggling with motivation.

Since the recent death of my daughter, I can’t seem to find my ‘why’.

While I know that regular exercise and good nutrition will give me the energy I so often lack, my usual strategies just aren’t working.

I head to the gym, quasi-regularly. But instead of mindfully executing a pre-planned program, I hop on the treadmill for a while, head on over to a weight bench and half-heartedly perform several sets of three or four random exercises.

I spend too much time chatting with friends and colleagues (often recounting the story of my daughter’s death to those who don’t know or are seeing me for the first time since that day) and leave feeling deflated and sad.

What I need is exactly what my clients need from me.

  • Someone to plan a program for them.
  • Someone to cheer them on and keep them accountable.
  • Someone to give a little ‘tough love’ when need be.
  • Someone to suggest solutions to obstacles and help them move forward.
I am my clients and I need a coach too.

That’s why I’ve signed up for a 6-week Kickstarter Strength and Conditioning program at a fitness facility other than the one I work at.

A place where nobody knows me and there’ll be no distractions from the task at hand. A place where I can get back to a regular and consistent routine of strength training at a intensity level that makes me feel confident, strong and capable of handling the challenges that life has thrown at me. A place where I’m expected to show up, cheer members of my group on and get the job done.

Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing updates on my progress. And would love to hear updates on yours.

What are you doing to make 2016 your happiest, healthiest, strongest and most capable year yet?