Archives for April 2016

5 moves to master in midlife | exercising for form and function

When I first started lifting weights in my mid-thirties my goals were all about aesthetics.

I wanted that (photo-shopped) body on the cover of Oxygen magazine and focused more on how weight training could re-shape my body than on how it might improve my overall fitness and health.

While I still like to look my best (don’t we all?), these days I care more about how much energy I have, what my sleep is like and that I’m able to help lift the kayaks onto the roof rack (and my luggage into the overhead bin…) than whether I have a visible six-pack (I don’t) or ‘boulder shoulders’.

Form still matters to me, but function matters even more.

I want to be able to continue doing the activities I love with minimal pain and for many years to come. Regularly performing variations of the following five ‘moves to master in midlife’ not only helps me maintain a strong, lean physique, it also keeps me in the condition I need to be to hike, backpack, kayak and cycle with my friends and family.

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5 moves to master in midlife

1. Hip hinges

Hip bridges, hip thrusts and dead lifts are your body’s (and booty’s…) best friends.

They strengthen the largest muscle groups in the body (hamstrings and gluteals) without the knee pain many of us experience when squatting and lunging. Strong glutes and hamstrings can improve your posture, reduce lower back, hip and knee pain, and even reduce that stubborn middle-of-the-body ‘menopot’. They can also enhance your running and cycling performance.

moves to master in midlife

Setting up for a barbell dead lift

Even better?

Because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, increasing lower body muscle mass via hip hinge movements can accelerate fat loss and help keep it off. Try single leg versions of the above exercises to further challenge your balance; another key component of fitness that tends to decline with age.

2. Push-ups

Looking to increase your upper body strength, tighten your core and tame that back-of-the-arm wobble? Drop and give me 12 (a great goal for all midlife women to strive for).

When performed properly, a push-up does more than just work the chest. It’s a whole body exercise that requires the coordinated efforts of your arms, shoulders, chest, abdominals, back (both upper and lower), gluteals, hamstrings and calves.

moves to master in midlife

Push-ups from knees (top) and toes (bottom)

Try varying your hand placement (narrow, wide, staggered) and angle of incline (hands on the wall, hands on a bench, toes on a bench) to increase the dimensionality of the exercise.

Concentrate on maintaining perfect plank alignment (flat back, tight belly and bum, shoulders pulled back and down) and increasing the depth to which you can drop before adding more reps. Muscle range of motion shrinks as we get older; don’t hasten it by doing only half the exercise 😉

3. Rows

Combine hours of sitting with excessive front of the body loading (I mean boobs, which, by the way, are a load that gets closer to the floor as we age…). Throw in a past pregnancy or three. And mix with a whole lot of mid-life stress. The perfect recipe for rounded shoulders and forward leaning posture.

Strengthening the upper back is key to standing tall and resisting the effects of gravity. Upright rows, bent-over rows, cable and pulley rows, plank rows; all are great exercises for offsetting our body’s increasing tendency to pitch forward as we age.

moves to master in midlife

Single arm bent-over row

Concentrate on maintaining a flat back (chest out, shoulders back and down), an engaged core (think “tighten your corset”) and a long neck (draw your shoulders down and away from your ears) as you pull the weights towards your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position (don’t let gravity ‘grab’ it) and repeat.

Remember to switch arms and work the other side too; gotta keeps things even, you know.

4. Rotational core exercises

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. I like to think of them as ‘nature’s corset’.

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, see photo below). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.

moves to master in midlife

Note that the farther you extend your hands away from your body, the more challenging rotational exercises become (remember grade nine physics? the lever principle?).

5. Anti-rotational core exercises

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.

And even static stabilization exercises like the plank (shown below), can be turned into anti-rotational challenges by performing them on an unstable surface (e.g., a stability ball, Bosu or balance board).

moves to master in midlife

Feet-elevated stability ball planks require strong anti-rotation muscles

Putting it all together

  1. Grab your calendar. Find two or three, 30-minute blocks of free time over the next week (don’t tell me you can’t find the time, we all have 30 minutes of poorly used time in our day).
  2. Create your workout. Choose one exercise from each of the above ‘moves to master in midlife’ categories.
  3. Warm up and work out. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise you’ve chosen, one after the other, with as much or as little rest time as you need. Take a break, grab some water and repeat the circuit.
  4. Stretch and get on with your day.

Not quite ready to go it alone? Need a little more motivation, inspiration and instruction? Make sure you’ve ‘liked’ my Facebook page. The daily sharing and conversation over there may be just the push you need to get started!

Questions? Feel free to hit me up in the comments section below.

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Using social media as a fitness accountability tool

Social media often gets a bad rap.

fitness accountability tool

I am certainly guilty of this some days…

Parents complain about their teenagers spending too much time on Snapchat. Mom gets angry with dad for constantly checking the hockey scores. Dad wishes mom didn’t feel the need to check in with her Facebook friends before she’s even finished her coffee. Friends tease friends about their habit of uploading food photos to Instagram. Non-users complain about the rest of the world being tethered to their phones.

Technology certainly is not without its drawbacks.

As with everything, however, it’s how you use the tool that matters.

fitness accountability tool

Maybe not the best way to use a megaphone…

My favourite way to use social media is as a fitness accountability tool.

Checking in with friends and clients via Facebook, Instagram, Evernote, Twitter and good old-fashioned e-mail (at least my kids tell me it’s old-fashioned; they never manage to respond to anything I send them…) keeps me accountable to my goals and them to theirs.

Social media sharing is particularly beneficial to those who don’t have a local, in-person group of friends to support their fitness, nutrition and health goals.

Find the right circle of online friends — your own personal support group — and sticking to an exercise schedule or diet becomes easier. Hence the popularity of online weight-loss groups (e.g., DietBet) and exercise programs (my 40+ Fitness Group Training program, for example 😉 ).

Furthermore, research demonstrates that just having a weight-loss or fitness support system in place results in better adherence to diet and exercise and more pounds shed and kept off over the long term.

The following are some of my favourite ways to keep my clients and myself accountable to our fitness and nutrition goals.

Ways to use social media as a fitness accountability tool

  • Facebook: I use both my Facebook business page and my 40+ fitness group page (shh, that’s a secret one) to share workout schedules and planned trips to the gym. Friends and clients often tell me that just seeing my post kept them from bailing on their evening workout. I tell them that it goes both ways 🙂 (sometimes trainers need motivation too…)
  • Instagram: I love to post a quick picture or video of an exercise that I’ve just incorporated in my workout. Hearing other’s comments about the exercise, suggestions as to ways to make it more challenging and even the occasional ‘dang girl, you be strong’ makes me feel good about my accomplishment (and may even motivate a client to challenge themselves a bit more too). Some fitness peeps ‘Instagram’ their meals too, in part to remain accountable to their followers, but also to help motivate themselves and others to make healthy choices on a daily basis. Follow me on Instagram (I almost always follow back) >> fitknitchick_1
fitness accountability tool

Make this move even more challenging by lifting one foot off the bench!

  • Twitter: This “micro-blogging” sits is informal and fast-paced, with nearly instantaneous feedback. Use Twitter to find friends with similar health and fitness goals. Follow links to motivational photos, low-calorie recipes and workouts you can do at home. Tweet when you feel the urge to eat and you’re guaranteed to get a helpful response in a minute or two. And Twitter chats are a fabulous way to connect with an already established healthy living tribe. You can find me on Twitter at fitknitchick_1
  • MyFitnessPal: Although most people think of MyFitnessPal as a personal nutrition diary, it’s also possible to ‘friend’ your friends and encourage their daily food journalling habit. Even better, if you’re willing to make your diary ‘public’, those friends will also have access to the details of your daily eats. My clients tell me how surprised they are to discover that simply knowing I’ll be looking encourages them to make healthier choices in the kitchen.

The key to using social media as a fitness accountability tool?

It’s right there in the name: SOCIAL media! Interact, participate and engage your way to a healthier, fitter you!

Do you have a favourite social media app that helps you with fitness motivation and accountability?

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