Archives for 2017

Strength training equipment | choosing the right tool for the job

If we’re going to carve out time to exercise, we want to ensure that we’re getting the best results possible for our efforts.

And that means choosing the right tool for the job.

With so many different exercise tools available (dumbbells, barbells, stability balls, resistance bands, Bosu balance trainers, TRX suspension trainers, medicine balls and cable and pulley machines, to name a few), it’s not surprising that even long-term exercisers get confused.

For example, squats (an exercise used to strengthen the legs, glutes and core) can be performed with body weight only, against the resistance of a band, with dumbbells held down by your sides or at shoulder height, with a barbell across the back or front of your shoulders or with the aid of a suspension trainer (just a handful of the hundreds of squat options available; see my favour 5 squat variations here).

Different goals, fitness levels and physical limitations (not to mention different muscle groups) require different tools to get the job done.

That being said, for many exercises, it matters less which tool you use than that you’re working your muscles to near-fatigue and making regular changes to those exercises to accommodate increases in strength and endurance.

Things to consider when choosing which exercise tool is best for the job
  • fitness level, physical ability and comfortable with using ‘gym’ equipment: When choosing which tools to include in a client’s strength program, I always consider their fitness level, how much experience they have with weight lifting and whether they have any physical weaknesses or limitations (e.g., previous injuries, limited range of motion, underdeveloped mind-to-muscle awareness, etc.).

Resistance bands are often the easiest way to introduce people to strength training. For many exercises, the band is only a small step up from performing the body weight version of the exercise. And the fact that there’s no ‘number’ on the band means that exercisers learn to listen to their body as they find the level of tension (or ‘load’) that’s just right for them.

They also provide continuous resistance, in both the ‘up’ (or working phase) and ‘down’ (or non-working phase) of an exercise, allowing you to harness the benefit of both concentric and eccentric contractions. Just make sure you keep tension on the band at all times.

Dumbbells are also fairly ‘easy entry’. They come in small sizes and are simple to use. For individuals that have marked left-right strength asymmetries, using dumbbells for exercises like presses and pulls will force the ‘weaker’ side to improve more quickly than using resistance bands or barbells might (the latter often mask muscular imbalances, as the stronger side takes on some of the weaker sides load without having to decrease the overall weight used).

The TRX suspension trainer is a more advanced tool, in that exercisers often need to have a reasonable amount of core strength in order to compensate for the lateral shifting of the handles that occurs during many exercises.


Regardless of the tool you use, it needs to challenge your muscles, preferably long before you’ve performed 30 or 50 repetitions :-).

  • program goals: We all have different fitness goals (hence the need for a personalized and individualized program). Some tools work better than others for certain goals.

For example, I might favour dumbbells and barbells over resistance bands or the TRX for a female client of intermediate fitness whose primary goal was to build muscle mass. Why? Hypertrophy training relies on fatiguing the muscles in a fairly short period of time (6 to 12 reps). While resistance bands might get the job done early in this client’s training history, as she gets stronger and out-grows the bands, her muscles (in particular the ‘bigger’ ones) will no longer be challenged and she’ll stop seeing progress.

For a client who was more interested in improving body composition without building overly noticeable muscles, I might use a combination of resistance bands, dumbbells and stability balls (among others). The emphasis would then be on higher reps and timed intervals, with lighter weights and less resistance overall.

And for the client who’s looking to improve their performance in a particular sport? Tools that emphasize core stabilization, like the TRX suspension trainer or the Bosu or a balance board, would be used to challenge the body in a manner similar to the way it’s challenged during the game itself.

  • exercise goals: Just like program goals vary from woman to woman, so do the goals of individual exercises. Depending on which tool we use for the job, the focus (and difficulty) of the exercise changes.

Imagine that we wanted to work the muscles of our chest. There are lots of ways to accomplish this. We can use body weight only (e.g., push-ups). We can use anchored resistance bands (e.g., chest flys and chest presses). We can use dumbbells and barbells. We can even use the TRX.

Each of the above exercises and variations of the exercise has there own unique place in a strength training program. Often times, different equipment is used as a means of progressing an exercise.

Additionally, you may find that performing a TRX exercise (for example, a TRX pushup, see below) feels a little different than performing the exercise with another piece of equipment (in this case, a standard floor pushup). Switching tools from time to time forces the body to use different stabilizing and supporting muscles (you’ll be able to tell when you notice a little extra delayed onset muscle soreness the day after you perform your regular workout with different equipment).


Looking to add some variety to your workouts? You’ll find dozens of free workouts (and workout videos) here, in my Workout Library.












Create healthy living habits from the ground floor up | 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp reprise

Changing our habits around eating and exercise is hard. (If it wasn’t, we’d all be elite athletes with fabulous blood pressure and cholesterol counts…).

So hard, in fact, that there’s an entire sub-discipline of psychology devoted to studying how best to develop new habits (as well as eventually ridding ourselves of the old).

What those studies tell us, in a nutshell, is that we’re doing it all wrong. Making grandiose resolutions, setting unattainable goals and generally, adopting an ‘all or nothing’ mindset. A mindset that ultimately leads to yo-yo dieting, dust-gathering dumbbells, feelings of defeat and often, abandoning those new habits before they’ve had time to become routine.

If you’re looking to increase the chances of making those new health and fitness habits ‘stick’ try the following:


1. Choose a single, small habit to adopt.

Practice it daily until it’s no longer a chore. This might take a week. It might take a month. Commit 100% to it’s practice. Remind yourself that you can do anything for a week or two.

Once you’ve mastered it, choose another single, small habit to adopt. The trick is to retain the first habit while cultivating the second. And so on.

Think of each tiny habit as a step on your path to improved health and fitness.


2. Associate that habit with contextual cues.

Do it at the same time of day (morning workouts set the stage of healthy decision-making the rest of the day). Or in the same place (create a ‘workout corner’ in your spare bedroom or basement).

Use something to trigger the habit’s occurrence.

For example, set your workout clothes out the night before. Put them on as soon as you get up. The clothes are your contextual reminder to head to the gym.

Leave the blender and the ingredients for your morning green smoothie out, on the counter, where you’ll see them before you’re tempted by the left-over pizza or scones your hubby brought home from the bakery.


3. Reward yourself immediately.

Humans are driven by positive rewards. The more immediate the reward, the stronger its effect on the likelihood that you’ll repeat the behaviour. Note that this doesn’t mean you need to buy yourself a pair of Fluevogs every time you successfully hit the gym.

Try creating a ‘star’ chart. Once you’ve earned 10 stars, treat yourself to something special; a book, a manicure, movie night with a friend. Just make sure the reward doesn’t undermine the new habit; i.e. a piece of chocolate cake isn’t a great reward for successfully eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables 😉


4. Regularly reflect on your progress and adjust your approach, if necessary.

For example, if eating 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is the habit you’re trying to create, yet after a week or two of practice you only ever manage to eat 5, change your target habit to what you’re capable of repeatedly doing. Chances are those 5 servings are significantly greater than the 1-2 you were eating before.

Scaling back on goals isn’t a sign that you’re weak, merely an indication that you understand you’re more likely to succeed if the goal is small and do-able.

Once you’ve mastered this simplified version of the habit you’ll be ready to tackle a slightly bigger bite.


5. Share your practice with others.

Tell people what you’re intending to do and why. Enlist their support. Find an accountability tribe (in real life or online) and check in daily.

Research shows keeping behavioural change a secret significantly reduces the likelihood of the new health and fitness habit ‘sticking’, thereby accounting for the popularity and success rates of group weight loss programs and exercise classes.

These are the exact same approaches I share with my personal training clients and the basic philosophy of my 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

Over the past two years, this program has helped hundreds of women jump-start their journeys back to regular exercise and a healthier way of eating. In the words of the participants themselves;

“The 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp was a great kickstart to strength training”

“…it helped me get out of my funk and off the couch”

“My fitness goal was to reduce the pain/weakness I felt getting up and down from the floor with my toddler/baby and have more energy. After only 2 weeks, I was feeling better!”

“I loved how the exercise chunks were small enough to feel doable, even though they were still quite a 15-minute challenge for me at first!”

The 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp has been on hiatus for the summer. In part, because I was out of town on holidays and I like to be around to support my participants.

But also, because the program was ‘stand alone’.

Participants signed up for and executed the program on their own, whenever it suited their schedule.

While this worked well for some individuals, others mentioned that they would clearly have benefited from going through the program with a group of like-minded others. They wanted an accountability group, as described by my point #5 above!

Because September is often a time of ‘starting over’ (all those years of sending kids off to school after summer vacation kind of makes ‘September the new January’…), it seems like the perfect time to update the program and offer a synchronized AND fully supported session of the 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

In addition to the 3-weeks worth of habit-building workout and nutrition exercises in the original program, you’ll also have access to a private Facebook accountability and support group. A safe place to ask questions, share challenges and brainstorm solutions with all the other women in the program.

Registration opens later this week. I’ll be sending out invitations with enrolment instructions to my email list first, then sharing on my social channels. Questions? Send me an email and I’m happy to answer!











Tips for returning to your fitness routine after a holiday

In a perfect world, holidays wouldn’t disrupt our fitness routine.

We’d plan on staying in hotels with exercise rooms.

This was Vegas. Lots of great hotel exercise rooms in Vegas.


We’d pack our resistance band or do mini body-weight workouts in our B&B’s before the children awake.

B&B push-up workout in Bath


We’d research local gyms and spinning studios in advance and add them to our itinerary.

We’d pass up daily pints at the pub and scrutinize the menu for healthier options.

Not a meat pie 🙂 at the Tollhouse Tavern, Edinburgh


We’d build lots of movement into our adventures.

The best way to see York? Walk the old city walls.


And return home in the same shape we’d left, with a couple of personal bests to boot.

One of my personal bests (the standing stones at Clava Cairns; gateway to my book boyfriend…)


Because my world (like yours) is less-than perfect, I’m sharing my best tips for returning to your regular fitness routine after a holiday. The exact same tips that I’ve been following for the past 5 days (and will continue to follow because #jetlagisreal ).

Do you know where this photo was taken? Hint: I’m a huge fan-girl of the books and TV show…


Tips for returning to your fitness routine after a holiday


  • Return to routine ASAP

Regardless of how many time zones you crossed to return home (8 for us), the best way to get back to routine is to get back to routine.

That means eating, sleeping and exercising at the same times you normally would. Even if it feels like you’re heading to the gym at three in the morning and having dinner for breakfast.

One of the best ‘breakfasts for dinner’ I had in England. At the Corbridge Larder, in Corbridge, England


Don’t delay that first trip to the gym. Act like you’re back in your usual routine and you soon will be.

  • Re-set your circadian rhythm

That’s the clock in your head that tells you what time of day it is, energizes you accordingly and gets your digestion moving again (a common problem when travelling, especially to places that don’t have the same quality and quantity of fresh fruits and veggies as you’re used to…).

Indoor plumbing comes to the White Tower


Early-in-the-day exercise is a great way to re-set your clock (and if you’ve just travelled west, it will never be easier than this to be the first one at the gym).

  • Dial it back at bit

You can’t expect to take several weeks away from formal exercise and maintain your strength and muscle mass; even if you were super active on vacation and walked 15 to 20K steps each day.

The top of Arthur’s Seat, in Edinburgh (but who can tell in the fog…)


Some deterioration is bound to occur.

Thankfully, I don’t look as decrepit as Nunney Castle…


Check your ego at the gym door, pick up lighter weights than you’re accustomed to lifting, and shorten the length of your usual workout.

Your initial task is simply to re-build the habit; lifting too heavy or too long during those first few workouts only increases your risk of injury and undermines your return to regular exercise.

Save the heavy lifting for another day (the stones at Castlerigg Circle haven’t moved for years; I don’t suspect these guys will budge them an inch)


  • Be gentle with yourself

Expect to feel like a beginner and experience some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) the first week or so back.

Instead of feeling poorly about the fitness you’ve lost, let your less-than-stellar performance motivate you to create a workout schedule and stick to it.

Find that competitive spirit and let it propel you upwards and onwards.


Summertime fitness reads to keep you on track

I hope this post finds you happy and enjoying all that summer has to offer.

Not just the holidays and warm weather and sweet treats, but the extra hours in the day. Hours that are just perfect for squeezing in a little exercise.

Whether that’s a formal gym session or some out-of-doors physical activity. All types of movement count when it comes to reaching your health and fitness goals.

As I’m busy doing exactly this for most of the month of July, today I’m sharing with you a handful previously published summertime fitness posts.

If you’re new to my site, you aren’t likely to have discovered them yet. If you’re a long-time reader, consider them a quick refresher course.

Regardless, make sure you’re on my email list so you don’t miss the new posts coming in August >> Subscribe to Fitknitchick updates

Summertime fitness reads to keep you on track

I forward to catching up with you in August!



Creating a successful summertime fitness plan

Only a few more days until school lets out around here.

While I love having my kids home for the summer, their schedules can sometimes impinge on my rest-of-the-year fitness routine.

Workouts need to be juggled with family outings and kids’ camps.

Not to mention the challenges that vacations present.

Be honest. Which one would you rather be hanging from?

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, failing to make a plan is akin to planning for failure.

So what can you do to ensure that all of your September to June successes continue through the summer?

Three steps to creating a successful summertime fitness plan
  • Make a schedule. Grab your calendar and box out days you know you’ll either be away from your usual workout space or too busy juggling work, kids and life to squeeze some exercise in.

successful midlife exercise program

Take a look at what remains and pencil your workouts in (it’s actually better if you use pen, pencil is too easy to erase….).

Tally them up.

If you’ve scheduled at least 3 workouts a week for 3 out of the 4 weeks in each of July and August you’re good. Even if this is less than you’re currently doing.

More exercise isn’t always better, especially when it’s keeping you from participating in other activities that energize and fill you up. (Even better when those other activities are physical 😉 ).

Go and enjoy your summer knowing that you’ll be maintaining the fitness status quo and will arrive in September without any noticeable loss of strength or endurance.

 If your schedule is looking a bit sparse, read on.

  • Expand your horizons. We all have our preferred place to exercise. Mine is the gym. Others prefer their basement exercise space. It’s easy to think that if we’re not able to access our ‘happy place’, we won’t be able to work out.

While it’s true that there’s ‘no place like home’, there are certainly lots of places that are just about as good.

Most hotels have fitness centres.

While they many not have as much equipment as you’re used to working with, even the most basic hotel gyms tend to have cardio machines and a modest range of dumbbells. (If you’re lucky, they’ll be a stability ball and a bench too.)

My favourite thing about hotel gyms? I usually have the place to myself 🙂

And of course, there are always body weight workouts in a pinch. Here’s a list of body weight exercises that I like to string together on vacation (especially if I’m not at a hotel and don’t have any equipment to work with) >> Use your own body weight to get strong and lean

  •  Adopt a ‘shades of grey’ mindset. Many of us take a ‘black and white’ approach to fitness and health. If our workouts aren’t long, frequent and exhausting we think “what’s the point”.

If you’ve ever skipped a gym session because you didn’t have an hour and a half free or abandoned a program because you missed the first week your ‘all or nothing’ mindset might be holding you back.

Short workouts are always better than nothing. In some cases, they may actually help you reach your goals more quickly than those which consume the better part of your morning.

You can easily shorten your current workouts by eliminating an exercise or two, cutting back on a set or doubling up on isolation moves.

Find ways to exercise at home, thereby saving travel time (and the ever-present temptation to chat with fellow gym-goers) and money.

Go back to your calendar and pencil in a few more short workouts. Twenty to 30 minute pockets of time are all you need for a whole-body, compound exercise workout, like the one below.

For more short, whole-body workouts you can do at home, check out my free Workout Library >> Fitknitchick’s Workout Library



Fitting in fitness when life is unpredictable

Don’t you love it when everything goes according to plan?

No work dramas, family emergencies or exploding appliances to interrupt the workouts you scheduled for the week.

Great sleep and lots of energy to support your efforts in the gym.

Knees, hips and shoulders that squat, lunge, push and pull with nary a complaint.

If you’re like most midlife exercisers, this ‘perfect’ week is the exception rather than the rule.

Wait for it to appear before you start your next exercise routine or nutrition program and you’re likely to be waiting awhile…

More often, unpredictably is the norm and learning to fit in fitness despite upheaval and chaos is an important strategy to long-term health and wellness.

Here are three approaches to fitting in fitness when life is unpredictable (that is, most of the time…):

Create a ‘flexible schedule’

‘Flexible schedule’. Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But being flexible with your workout plans is the best way to maintain the consistency required to develop a long-term exercise habit.

Embrace all definitions of ‘flexibility’

  • Recognize the potential for interruptions

When you create your weekly workout schedule, look for days when things might not go according to plan. They’re usually pretty easy to spot.

An early morning workout scheduled after a late night work function.

An evening workout scheduled for a night when there are lots of kids’ activities on tap.

A long strength session at the end of a busy week.

Workouts that might be abandoned because life ‘got in the way’.

  • Draft a plan ‘B’

Having a back-up plan in place before chaos erupts reduces the chance that you’ll miss your scheduled workout.

Sub an at-home body-weight workout for your planned gym visit when time is tight.

Reduce your recommended number of sets from 3 to 2 (or even 1; 1 is always better than none).

Walk the track while you wait for soccer practice/swim team/dance class to end.

  • Include a ‘flex’ day

Look to the end of the week and see whether there’s a pocket of time that might work as a ‘make-up’ session. Label it ‘flex’ time and plan on keeping it free just in case you need to squeeze a missed workout in.

Flexing on ‘flex’ day 😉

And if you end up having one of the rare perfect weeks? Use it to catch up on Netflix, do a little knitting or sit in the sun and daydream 🙂

Adopt a ‘me-first’ mindset
  • Stop thinking of self-care as ‘selfish’

Remind yourself that to be able to rock at all the other things you do in life you need to take care of your mind, body and spirit.

Fitness doesn’t just help you reach your aesthetic and body composition goals, it helps to reduce stress, improve sleep, increase creativity and mitigate many of the symptoms of peri-menopause.

All things that will enhance your ability to succeed at life.

  • move fitness and self-care to the top of your ‘to-do’ list

Above housekeeping chores (they never end anyways…)

Before supervising your kids’ homework (teach them to become self-directed learners early…)

Prior to hanging out on Facebook or chillin’ with Netflix on the couch (the best way to tell that you actually have more time to exercise than you think? Look at your internet data usage for the month…)

Scan the horizon for obstacles

Holidays, month-end deadlines, weekend-long soccer tournaments, visiting in-laws; you know that they’re about to happen and are likely to interfere with your exercise routine. Design an alternate course around the obstacle BEFORE it happens and finish the course strong (and consider yourself lucky you’re not a Spartan Race participant; they perform 30 burpees for each missed obstacle 🙂 ).

  • create a plan for navigating them

If the obstacle takes you far from your gym (or home exercise equipment) look for other ways to fit fitness in.

Book a hotel with a proper gym (most hotel websites include photos of their exercise room). Try one of these three minimal-equipment workouts for home or holiday.

Pack your skipping rope and resistance band.

Check out that boutique cycling studio down the street from your daughter’s dance class.

Worry less about getting your usual workout in and more about maintaining your exercise momentum.

  • let go of what you truly can’t control

Sometimes obstacles truly are unpredictable.

Life throws us curves that we never expected and we’re not always in the best emotional place to consider exercise.

Recognize these rare events for what they are. Don’t add guilt to the list of difficult emotions you’re experiencing.

Pay attention to what your body wants. Move in ways that honour and serve you. Trust that you’ll find your way back to fitness again.

  • get back on course as soon as you can

Remind yourself that you’ve been consistent with exercise in the past and are completely capable of returning to that routine again.

Know that the first week or two of exercise after a hiatus will humble you. You’ll feel like a beginner again and experience the same post-workout aches that you did way back at the beginning of your journey.

Be comforted by the fact that delayed onset muscle soreness and cardiovascular de-conditioning will be over soon and that your body will quickly regain any fitness you’ve lost.

And use this period of returning to fitness to remind yourself of the most important reason for sticking with it for the long haul; it’s harder to get fit than to stay fit!



Mobility training for midlife exercisers | what, why and when

You lift weights Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Go to spin class on Tuesday and Thursday. And squeeze in some yoga time wherever you can. You warm-up before you exercise and stretch at the end.

All the things the professionals tell you you should be doing to keep your midlife body healthy, supple and strong.

Yet despite regularly conquering the three main components of a well-rounded fitness program, you still suffer from occasional joint pain and find certain exercises awkward.

In particular those exercises that require good range of motion at the shoulders, hips and ankles (e.g., squats, lunges, dead lifts, shoulder presses, push-ups).

Due to a combination of too much sittingpoor postural patterns, age-related joint deterioration and not enough rest and recovery between workouts, many midlife exercisers suffer from restricted mobility.

That is, they’re not capable of moving their joints through as wide a range of motion as they could when they were younger.

Maintaining good joint mobility is particularly important as we age:

  • It reduces your risk of injury.
  • It reduces minor aches and pains.
  • It improves your athletic performance (both in the gym and while engaging in other non-workout activities like tennis, golf, kayaking and cycling).
  • It enhances your body awareness.
  • It makes the movements of day-to-day life easier and more fluid.

Note that while mobility and flexibility training are related, stretching alone isn’t enough to improve joint mobility.

We stretch to lengthen muscles (preferably by holding static poses after a workout or in a slow, Yin-style yoga class).

We train for mobility to increase the degree to which our joints can move before they’re restricted by the surrounding ligaments, tendons, muscles and nervous system controls (ideally prior to a workout or as a workout, in and of itself once or twice a week).

Recently, I’ve started incorporating more mobility work in my warm-ups.

And on weeks when I’m teaching a lot (or my body just feels tired), I substitute a longer mobility workout for a scheduled strength session.

Already I’m noticing an improved range of motion in my squats (bye-bye ‘butt wink’), better balance in my lunges and an increased ability to stabilize my shoulders during push-ups, chin-ups, bent-over rows and overhead presses.

All requirements for lifting heavier without injury.

Mobility training for midlife exercisers: 5 moves for better all-over movement

Before your next strength training session, perform the following sequence of mobility exercises, one after the other, circuit-style.

Aim for 1 minute of movement per exercise, with 15-30 s rest between exercises. Repeat a second time, then get on with your lift.

  • Body weight squats

Start with feet under hips. Sit your bum down and back as if you were perching over a port-a-potty. Push through the heels to return to standing. Use arms to counterbalance. Work on increasing depth over the duration of the interval.


  • Walk-out plank

Walk hands out into high plank. Retract shoulders, tighten belly and contract glutes to keep your body in a straight line. Pause before walking hands back in towards feet and returning to standing.


  • Lunge plus rotation

Step forward into a lunge. Drop back knee down towards the ground. Place back leg hand on the floor to the inside of the front foot. Extend opposite hand towards the ceiling, rotating to open the chest and the front of the shoulder. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.


  • Lateral bear crawls

Come on to all fours, hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Keeping back flat and bum down, walk hands and feet to the right (either a set number of ‘steps’ or using as much space as you have). Switch directions, walking hands and feet back to your starting position.


  • Fast feet in-and-outs

Stand with your feet together. Quickly step right foot out to the right, then left foot out to the left. Step right foot back to start, then left foot back to start. Move as quickly as you can. Switch lead legs half-way through the interval.

Looking for more pre-workout warmup ideas? >> A real-time pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers

Need some ideas for post-workout stretches? >> Essential stretches for  midlife exercisers

For more great resources, make sure you’re on my email list. Subscribers never miss a blog post and get advance notification about upcoming courses and opportunities! Get me on the list >> CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE


5 must-have images for your fitness vision board


Visualizing your goals and the path to achieving them is a powerful tool for effecting change.

Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference. – Joel Barker


For many people, creating a physical representation of their goals and the steps they’ll take to get there helps keep them motivated and inspired.

The thing is, so many of the fitness vision boards I come across are full of negative language and unrealistic images.

Language that equates exercise and good nutrition with punishment and deprivation. Phrases that use guilt and shame to goad us into action.

Not to mention that they focus primarily on aesthetic outcomes; washboard abs, ripped delts, glutes of steel and Linda Hamilton arms.

(Confession: Linda Hamilton’s arms did motivate me to start lifting weights ten years ago, but they’re not the reason I continue to do so today 🙂 .)

It’s like the creators of these vision boards skipped Goal-Setting 101. (Making me wonder if they ever attained their goals, or gave up feeling depressed and small when they realized they’d never measure up to the impossible standards they set for themselves).

Goals, and the images we use to represent them need to be realistic, attainable and time-bound.

They should also be couched in positive, can-do language.

They should evoke positive feelings and emotions, inspire us to push through when things get difficult and make us feel capable and strong.

I don’t know about you, but phrases like “sweat like a pig to look like a fox” do nothing for me.

She does have lovely, glossy fur…


Looking to create a fitness vision board that will actually motivate and inspire you?

Try focusing on what you want to feel like, rather than what you want to look like.

Achieve the former and the latter is often a happy by-product!


My 5 must-have images for your fitness vision board


  • a photo of a woman doing something physical that you’d like to be able to do (soon and for many years to come).

For example, a woman crossing the finish line of a marathon, carrying her kayak from the shed to the lake, flipping a monster tire or climbing a mountain with her family. Ideally, she’ll be closer to your age range than your daughter’s ;-). Although photos of women who are older than we are doing the things we long to be able to do can also be a great source of motivation.

successful midlife exercise program

I’ve never flipped a tire. I’d like to flip a tire.


  • a photo of yourself looking happy, proud, content, strong, capable or whatever feelings you associate with reaching your goals

Perhaps it’s an old photo of you and your children. Or the day you graduated from university. Or got promoted. Or completed your first 5K. This photo doesn’t need to be fitness-related. It’s meant to remind you how you’ll feel when you reach your goal.

My first and only 5K. All the sweeter because I did it with Clara


  • a photo of your body (or a part of your body) that you love

This might be a picture of you rocking your favourite jeans (those ones that you know you’ll be able to fit in with a little focused attention on exercise and diet). Or a close-up of your eyes. Or a bicep-flexing pic from Instagram. We’ve all got at least one body part that we adore. Show it (and yourself) some love.

I have great hair. I love my hair. I need to wash my hair more often…


  • a photo of you doing something physically challenging

This needn’t be current, although chances are the feats of physical daring you were capable of in your 20’s and 30’s may not be as easily attained now. Keep it motivating, but keep it real 🙂

I used to be able to do pull-ups. I am working on getting back to this place.


  • words or phrases that focus on positive feelings including self-acceptance, self-improvement, perseverance, resilience and pride

Search for motivating and inspiring quotes online. Notice them when they pop up in books, magazines and newspaper articles. Make them up yourself. Personal mantras can be very powerful.


Here’s what my current fitness vision board looks like.

The perfect blend (for me) of uplifting quotes, photos that make me smile and reminders of why fitness, strength and health are important to me.



Do you have a fitness vision board?

If so, tell me about the images you’ve chosen to help propel you towards your goals.


4 Strength Training Principles You Need to Know

Confused about how ‘heavy’ you should be lifting?

Wondering why the strength training program you’re following is no longer producing results?

Not sure which exercises to include in your program? Or what order to place them in?

You’re not alone.

While the internet has made information easier to access, when it comes to fitness and healthy living, more info isn’t necessarily better 🙂

The good news is, answers to the above questions (as well as to most of the questions readers ask me daily) are all based on an understanding of four fundamental principles of strength training:

Below I describe each principle and explain how to make it work for you and your fitness goals.

Principle #1: Muscular Overload

In order to develop muscular strength, one must apply a force greater than that which the muscle is accustomed to

In other words, the weights you lift need to be heavier than your handbag.

Overloading the muscle leads to several physiological adaptations that allow it to grow in size and increase in strength.

Regardless of whether you’re lifting for power (4-6 reps), hypertrophy (8-12 reps) or endurance (15-20) reps, if the weight isn’t heavy enough to nearly fatigue the muscle by the end of the set, it’s not heavy enough to achieve your goals.

While lifting ‘light’ is a good strategy for beginners (whose initial focus should always be on proper execution of the movement) or those rehabbing an injury (and are looking to avoid prolonging it), progressing to an appropriately heavy weight after a week or two is the only way to get stronger.

This principle also explains why ‘body weight’ exercises alone might not lead to muscular gains (or at least continue to lead to muscular gains after your muscles get used to performing the movement without additional resistance; see point #4 below).

Principle #2: Specificity of Training

In order to produce a training effect, exercises should be relevant and appropriate to the goals for which the individual is training

More simply put, you need to match your exercise choice to the desired outcome.

Looking to build stronger legs? Squats, lunges and dead lifts will help; bicep curls, shoulder presses and lat pull downs won’t.

Toe push-ups a goal? Include them in most of your workouts and supplement the chest, shoulders and upper back with incline presses, chest flys and seated rows.

The specificity principle also applies to increasing strength for improving a specific sports skill (e.g., soccer kick, tennis serve, canoeing stroke). In addition to strengthening the relevant muscle groups (e.g., soccer players need to squat and lunge, tennis players should develop their upper backs and shoulders), ‘motor skill’ specificity is also enhanced by practicing the movement patterns specific to the sport.

Note that the specificity principle does not, alas, apply to fat loss. That is, you can’t reduce belly fat by simply performing abdominal crunches (that requires exercising your willpower and strengthening your meal planning skills…).

Principle #3: Exercise Order

In order to ensure proper overload of larger muscle groups, exercise them before smaller muscle groups

A comprehensive strength training program needs to include exercises for all your major muscle groups. But not all muscles have the same capacity for strength and growth.

Smaller muscles tend to fatigue sooner and more easily than larger muscles.

In addition, many large muscle exercises require the assistance of smaller muscles for stabilization and support. Fatigue the small muscle first and you’ll limit its ability to act as an accessory to the larger muscle exercises, thereby limiting your ability to overload the larger muscle group.

Barbell bench press

For example, the bench (or chest) press is often chosen as an exercise to develop the large muscles of the chest. But the smaller triceps muscles are needed to help with extension of the elbow. Perform tricep dips or skull-crushers before your bench press and your pre-fatigued triceps will limit your ability to fully overload the chest.

Principle #4: Progressive Overload

In order to continue getting stronger, you must gradually increase the exercise demand on your body

If you’ve ever lifted weights before, you’ll have noticed that, what was once a challenging weight for an exercise becomes easier over time. That’s because the muscles have physiologically adapted to the load by becoming stronger and better able to endure time under tension.

In order to keep them growing and getting stronger it’s necessary to periodically and gradually increase the load.

This doesn’t mean that you need to choose a heavier weight each and every time you perform your workout (that’s a recipe for injury and over-training). By keeping track of how much weight you lift during a workout, and how many reps and sets of an exercise you’re able to perform with that weight, you’ll know when it’s time to increase the load.

The advice that I give my clients? When you’re able to perform all of your prescribed repetitions of an exercise and feel as if you could knock out an additional 3 or 4 without sacrificing form, it’s time to try a slightly heavier weight. Try the next size up dumbbell or move the pin on the cable and pulley stack one plate down; if that’s too light, increase again until you find an appropriate weight for the exercise.

In general, you can expect to be able to increase weights on an exercise every 3rd or 4th workout. But some muscles are slower to adapt than others and may require more ‘experience’ with an exercise before they’re ready to progress.

Still not sure what you need to be doing?
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