Creating a successful midlife exercise program | Part 2

Two weeks ago I shared the first six of twelve guidelines that I believe are essential for creating a successful midlife exercise program.

One that you can enjoy today, tomorrow and for years to come. If you missed that post, click over and get yourself up to speed before you continue reading below… there’s nothing worse than only getting half the story 😉

Tips for creating a successful midlife exercise program: Part 2
  • Pay attention to aches and pains. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something might not be quite right. Ignore it and it’s likely to come back and bite you in the butt (sometimes quite literally).

Long gone are the days where ‘working through the pain’ is an indication of your dedication to exercise.

Much of the exercise-related pain mid-lifers feel is joint-related. Knees, hips, shoulders and ankles no longer move as freely, or with as great a range of motion as they used to. And reduced bone density (osteopenia), muscles that are chronically tight and shortened (hello ‘sitting disease’) and previous injuries that may have resulted in compromised movement patterns may also play a role.

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Exercise-related injuries? I’ve had my fair share. And I’ve learned to seek help immediately to minimize my time out of the gym.

Your best strategy is avoid injury entirely. Stop when something hurts. Know the difference between a little post-workout delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and true pain. Seek professional advice to diagnose and treat the problem. And be consistent with any re-hab routines they prescribe.

Note, if you’ve already integrated my first 6 guidelines to creating a successful midlife exercise program into your routine, you’re well on your way to remaining injury-free. You’ll find more suggestions for preventing workout-related injuries here >> Tips for preventing workout related injuries

  • Take the long term view. It’s taken you half your life to get the body you have. There’s no exercise program in existence that will completely change your physique in time for your daughter’s wedding, your 30th high school reunion or your next beach holiday.

Improving health and fitness is a long term, life-long process. Even if you’re incredibly consistent with exercise and nutrition, the physical results of your efforts may not start to be visible for months.

If you’re using pounds lost or circumference measures to access your progress and those numbers don’t change in the first month or so of a new exercise program, you’ll likely get discouraged and give up. Better to pay attention to the myriad other benefits of exercise and solid nutrition; more energy, better sleep, improved libido, positive outlook on life, easier movement during day-to-day activities etc.

I like to describe my fitness philosophy as ‘training for the sport of life’. Challenging my body to move in complex and difficult ways so that I’m capable of continuing to participate in the non-workout activities (kayaking with my kids, hiking with my friends, back-country camping expeditions with my husband) I love for many years to come

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  • Plan for setbacks. When was the last time in your life everything went according to plan? Something always comes up and gets in your way of progress. Like holidays, or birthday dinners out, or a sick husband/child/pet or a busy quarter at work.

Rather than letting these obstacles derail you, expect them to happen and make a plan for how you’ll deal with them ahead of time.

For example, include a ‘flex’ day in your workout schedule. If you have to miss a planned workout, do it on your ‘flex’ day instead. More suggestions for overcoming obstacles while creating a successful midlife exercise program >> Overcoming obstacles to exercise and healthy eating

  • Enlist support. No woman is an island. Just like we rely on family and friends for help in other areas of our life (e.g., raising our children and advancing our careers), we need the support of those close to us when attempting to make healthy changes to our lifestyle.

Some of my favourite support systems?

  1. A good, old-fashioned ‘fitness buddy’. Someone who will go to the gym with you, check in to see that you’re on track with nutrition and support and encourage you when you’re having doubts. Of course, you’ll do the same for her (or him) when she needs it.
  2. Group fitness classes, both small and large. In addition to having a build-in support group, you’ll also get the benefit of having a professional design your workouts. And the positive energy of a good group fitness class just can’t be beat.
  3. Online fitness and support groups. Help is only a keystroke away, any hour of the day or night. One of the most-appreciated elements of the online fitness course I offer is the private Facebook community. Participants check in daily, sharing their successes and frustrations with one another. A perfect accountability tool.
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Friends don’t let friends go to step class alone…

  • Back up your exercise program with a solid nutrition plan. As much as many of us wish it weren’t true, in order to truly see results you need to be working as hard in the kitchen as you are in the gym.

Think about it. You need to spend an hour on the elliptical to expend 600 calories. Bet it doesn’t take you nearly as long to consume a grande pumpkin spice latte and a cranberry bliss bar….

Your body requires high quality carbs, lots of lean protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to support your strength training and cardio sessions. Give it what it needs and you’ll not only reach your aesthetic goals more quickly, you’ll also feel a whole heck of a lot better.

Not quite sure what a good midlife diet looks like? >> Hormones and weight gain at midlife: why nutrition matters even more now

  • Make time for rest and recovery. A common response to not getting results in the gym is to go to the gym more often. While this may have worked for you in your 20’s and 30’s, it’s not the best strategy for a mid-life exerciser. Why not?

In addition to increasing your risk of injury (see above), it may also increase your body’s production of cortisol (aka the ‘stress’ hormone). High levels of circulating cortisol, combined with lower estrogen and progesterone set the stage for fat storage, in particular, the middle-of-the-body type. Add in a little insulin resistance courtesy of a high sugar diet and your ‘mummy-tummy’ may turn into full blown ‘menopot’.

Keeping workouts shorter and scheduling rest days between heavy strength days is a smarter way to exercise in midlife. Just think of all the other things you’ll be able to accomplish in your newly found spare time!

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Did I miss something? Something that’s been instrumental to your midlife exercise success?

 I welcome your comments below!

Creating a successful midlife exercise program | Part 1

This post is the first in a two-part series. Partly because it’s a long one to write (and hence, read…), but also because twelve things is a lot to do at once. I challenge you to start implementing the points outlined below right now, before reading the follow up post and acting on the rest.

It’s a common lament among the 40-plus crowd; weight gain, muscle loss, lack of energy and injuries that just won’t go away.

Even women who’ve exercised for years and long followed sound nutritional practices complain that their trusted routines are no longer working to keep ‘menopot’ at bay.

While it’s true that midlife hormonal fluctuations can negatively effect metabolism, (how your body burns and stores the calories you eat), there are things you can do to mitigate their effects. ‘Tweaks’ you can make to your fitness program that maximize your results (and the likelihood that you’ll be able to keep on exercising safely for years to come).

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Strength training: the secret to midlife fitness success 😉

Below, I share my six of my top twelve recommendations for creating a successful midlife exercise program (you’ll have to come back next time for the remainder).

Note that the general principles are applicable to all exercisers, at all ages and stages of life, even if the specifics are aimed at peri-menopausal women :-).

Tips for creating a successful midlife exercise program
  • Understand your midlife body. Information is power. The more you know about what’s happening to your body, the easier it is to work with the changes rather than against them.

Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone frequently start to decline around age 40. As a consequence, calories are more readily stored as fat, fat is less easily accessed as fuel and muscles become harder to build.

Changing the emphasis of your fitness routine from cardio to strength training may help preserve muscle mass and metabolism, as well as reducing midlife bone density loss.

Get the full hormone story here >> Hormones and weight gain after 40 | The biology of aging

  • Create goals that aren’t just about weight loss. Changing hormones and a slower metabolism means that weight loss won’t happen as easily or as quickly as it might have happened in your 20’s and 30’s. Focusing solely on the bathroom scale is likely to leave you feeling frustrated and ready to give up.

In addition to body composition change goals (weight loss, % body fat), I encourage my clients to also create Habit and Performance goals.

Habit goals (for example, exercising three times per week, drinking 32 ounces daily, eating breakfast every morning, walking for 30 minutes each day) are often the easiest to achieve and make us feel successful and empowered.

Performance goals (for example, running a 5k, doing 12 consecutive toe pushups, squatting your body weight) push us to become ‘more’ and are tangible evidence of improved fitness.

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Four of my ’50 by 50′ goals are Performance-based

And the best thing? When we achieve our Habit and Performance goals, body composition change tends to follow.

Need some help developing your new habit? >> The science of creating new health and fitness habits

  • Get your mindset right. The body achieves what the mind believes. Limiting beliefs and negative thinking will only get you more of the same. Creating a successful midlife exercise program often requires a shift in how we think.

A common midlife mindset around exercise and nutrition is what I call the ‘all or nothing’ approach. As in, ‘If I can’t get a full hour’s workout in, there’s no point in going to the gym’ OR ‘I’ve already wrecked today’s meal plan, might as well have dessert tonight and start again in the morning’.

All or nothing usually leads to nothing. Followed quickly by a feeling of defeat and then actual giving up.

Try these adopting these mindset shifts as part of your new exercise plan. Think of it as fitness for your brain >> Mindset shifts for midlife fitness success

  • Focus less on what works for everybody else and more on figuring out what works for you. Sometimes it feels like everybody else has figured out the key to midlife fitness success but us. Surely, if we do what she’s doing (Crossfit, Pilates, carb-cycling, intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet or two hours of cardio each day), we’ll get the same results.

The thing is, we’re all unique individuals, with unique goals, fitness levels, hormonal profiles, likes, dislikes and abilities. What’s popular isn’t necessarily the program or plan that will work for you. You may not enjoy it. It may fall out of vogue. You may get injured doing it. Fitness doesn’t need to be fashionable to work.

successful midlife exercise program

While flipping tires may work for her, Crossfit may not be the best workout for you…

It does, however, need to be sane, safe and pleasurable >> Everything you need to know to be a fitness success

  • Harness the power of your calendar. When you schedule an appointment with your dentist or doctor you write in on your calendar. In part, so you don’t forget to go (since they’re nearly impossible to re-schedule promptly…), but also, because you value the service your dentist and doctor are performing for you.

Why not value the service exercise does for you equally?

Making an exercise appointment with yourself indicates that you recognize and value the role of fitness in your life. Make that appointment and keep it. (Again and again and again if you’re serious about making the exercise habit a regular part of your life.)

successful midlife exercise program

Schedule your workouts in pen; so you can’t erase them!

For tips on creating an exercise schedule that works for you click here >> Get out your calendar now

  • Emphasize the warmup and stretch. Now, more than ever, your body needs a proper warmup before you exercise and lots of time for gentle stretching when you’re finished. Not only to prevent injury, but also to counteract our modern sedentary lifestyle and the shortened muscles it creates.

The good thing about warmups and time on your mat? They tend to be more pleasurable activities than burpees or H.I.I.T. :-).

For an in-depth explanation of the benefits of a good pre-exercise warmup (and a link to a real-time video warmup you can follow along with) click here >> A pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers

Need some suggestions for post-workout stretches? Here are a few of my favourites >> Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers

Click here to read the second post in this series “Creating a successful Midlife Exercise Program: Part 2”. Six more suggestions for helping you start and stick with a fitness program through midlife and beyond…

Have you found an approach to fitness and exercise at midlife that’s working for you?

Have you used any of the above six guidelines to help you create a successful midlife exercise program?

5 must-have home exercise tools

Many of the women I train work out at home. (And were kind enough to share photos of their workout spaces with us.)

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Wonder what Janna’s thinking about during her workouts? (A fellow beer lover I see 🙂 )

The combo workout-crafting room of my client Nikki (now this is my kind of home gym ;-) )

The combo workout-crafting room of my client Nikki (now this is my kind of home gym 😉 )

 

They find it less expensive, less stressful and more convenient (not to mention less time-consuming) than driving to the gym.

It’s also pretty nice not to have to share a bench with a sweaty dude (unless he’s YOUR sweaty dude and you’re into that…), or fight for access to weights or machines.

 

Darleen may not have an indoor workout space, but she’s done a great job of co-opting the garage…

I’m envious of Robin’s weight and kettlebells stands. Way to keep things organized!

 

The workouts I provide create for my online clients (both 1-on-1 and 40+ women’s group) can all be performed at home, with a minimal amount of equipment, in a fairly small space.

Although having a few more ‘toys’ to play with (and a bit more room to work out in) can help keep exercise fun and variable (see the bottom of the post for more exercise tool suggestions).

Note that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have a complete and functional home gym. (Heck, I could create a workout for you with just a one of the items below 🙂 ). The key is to choose versatile pieces that you can upgrade as you get stronger and your need for variety increases.

Looking to create a great workout space at home? Here are five home exercise tools to get you started!

5 Must-Have Home Exercise Tools
  • Dumbbells; you’ll need at least two sets of these (but the more, the merrier) to get started; one ‘heavy’ and one ‘light’ in weight.

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The terms ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ will mean different things to different people. Test them out by finding a weight you can do 10-15 bicep curls with and another than you can perform a similar number of bent-over rows with. These will be your starter ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ sets, respectively.

You’ll buy new, heavier weights as you progress; either gift them to yourself or ask for them as Christmas and birthday presents.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of buying only one set of weights and using them for every single exercise; different muscles differ in their strength and strength potential. Under-tax a muscle group and you won’t see results. Over-tax a muscle group and you’re likely to end up injured. 

  • Stability ball; one of the most versatile tools in your fitness toolbox, the stability ball can be used for core work, to challenge your balance, as a prop for stretching, in place of a stability bench and as a desk chair, when you’re not exercising.

Look for a quality ball. The cheapo ones tend to be made of very thin materials that stretch and pop over time. If you’re tall (> 5’8″, choose a ball that inflates to 75 cm in diameter. If you’re short (< 5’2″), opt for the 55 cm version. Somewhere in the middle? The 65 cm ball will be just right.

  • Yoga mat; it’s always nice to have a cushy surface to do core work and stretch on. Most mats can be stored by rolling them up tightly and stashing them in a closet. Make sure you wipe it down with a soapy cloth from time to time; some fabrics will soak up your sweat and start to smell funky after awhile…

They come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses; it’s best to buy 2 or 3 in varying thicknesses (some distributers sell them as kits to further reduce the cost). The thicker the band, the greater the resistance (and the more effort it will be for you to perform an exercise with it).

Oh and you can skip on the fancy door fasteners sporting goods stores often try to sell you. For most exercises you’ll simply anchor the band with your hand or foot or around a fixed pillar (like the railing in my carport, below) or the handle of a door.

  • Skipping rope; if you don’t have room for a cardio machine (or can’t find it under the heap of laundry it’s attracted), a skipping rope is a great addition to your home gym. It’s inexpensive, fun and portable. Again, something you can take with you on holidays to fit in a little extra cardio or HIIT training.

If you have a few extra dollars to spend, I’d recommend by-passing the plastic versions and splurging on a real ‘rope’ rope. One with weighted handles that pivot at the join. You’ll be surprised at how much better your skipping becomes when you use a higher quality tool.

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Putting together a home workout space needn’t be expensive. Focus on a few varied and versatile tools, learn a handful of ways to use each of them and add new pieces of equipment to your gym (my 2nd tier suggested purchases include Kettlebells, a Bosu, a chin up bar with bands and a TRX suspension trainer…) as you get fitter, stronger and more confident with your training!

Do you have a home gym?

What are your favourite home exercise tools?

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Walk this way | Tips for creating a weekly walking group

Walking.

One of the simplest ways to start moving towards your health and fitness goals. All you need is a good pair of running shoes. No gym membership required.

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I have another pair that matches these perfectly 😉

In addition to simply getting you moving more, regular brisk walking has many health benefits including:

  • strengthening muscles and bones
  • improving weight loss and weight loss maintenance
  • reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke
  • enhancing mood
  • reducing stress and
  • improving sleep

Hmm, these all sound like familiar ‘symptoms’ of perimenopause, don’t they….

Because I like to multi-task, my preferred way of walking is with a group. Combining exercise with the camaraderie of friends (and their canine companions). My weekly walking group gets together nearly every single Friday to chat, walk or hike, confess, listen and lift each other up. Kind of like my beloved group fitness classes.

It’s like a combined workout and therapy session all in one :-). I never fail to leave a Friday hike without a smile on my face and a spring in my step (except for maybe after that epic South Beach hike that was pretty much vertical the entire way…).

Interested in creating your own weekly walking group (or other fitness-themed group if walking’s not your jive)? Here are some tips that have helped our group stick together for over a year now.

Tips for creating a weekly walking group
  • start spreading the word; identity a handful of women who are likely to be interested in regularly getting together to explore the out-of-doors. These might be friends or colleagues or other moms you’ve noticed heading off to walk the dog after dropping kids at school. Initially, I simply created a Facebook post asking if anybody was interested in getting together once a week to walk or hike the local trails. Encourage your friends to ask their friends and so on. This is a great way to meet people you many not yet have crossed paths with.

 

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  • create a virtual ‘meeting’ place to post outing details; for our group, the obvious choice was a private Facebook group (we were already on Facebook and used it regularly), but you might choose to communicate via email or a local ‘Meet up’ website. The important thing is to have a place to share details of upcoming outings that isn’t visible to the general public. Especially if your outings are to places that are remote or ‘off the beaten path’. We also use our Facebook group to RSVP for each outing. That way nobody gets left behind if they’re running a few minutes late 🙂

 

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  • establish a regular schedule; having a regular day and time for your weekly meet up will make it easier to organize, as well as making it more likely that you’ll get a good turn-out. You might decide on the day and time as a group, or include the option that works best for you and a few others in the initial invitation. After a year of walking together, many of the women in my group have started scheduling their other activities around our Friday morning walks.

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  • consider the fitness level of participants; depending on the size of your group, it’s likely that your members will vary in their fitness levels. Take care to consider the fitness level of your participants when choosing weekly outings. While it’s okay to tackle a challenging hike from time to time, know that if every walk is a forced march you’re likely to lose some of your less fit members. Because the focus of our group is on friendship, fun and fitness, we tend to opt for less challenging routes; hikes that allow us to bring the dogs, walk two abreast and chat the entire way.

 

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  • encourage everybody to take a turn suggesting an outing; just because you’ve brought the group together doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for each week’s agenda. Our group takes turns suggesting locations for our weekly hikes. Not only does this keep the group from becoming ‘work’ for you, it also provides the opportunity for members to share their favourite trails; trails that other members of the group may not even be aware of. Though this group I ‘discovered’ a handful of local trails that I’d never stumbled upon before. New trails to share with my family on our weekend walking adventures.

 

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And, unless you don’t mind photos that are slightly askew, you might want to invest in a selfie-stick. Not every great viewpoint has the perfect place to prop your smart phone against…. 🙂

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Reverse-engineering | a strategy for reaching your fitness goals

A few weeks back a friend asked me how I was doing with my ’50 before 50′ list (the list of 50 experiences, goals and tasks I’m planning on accomplishing before my 50th birthday).

Not surprisingly, I’ve crossed off many of the ‘fun’ items on my list.

Backcountry camping trip with the boys. Check.

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Getting my first tattoo. Check.

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Going on a wine-tasting tour with my sisters. Check.

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Experiencing a hot stone massage. Check. (I was so relaxed I neglected to ask the masseuse to take a photo. That’s probably a good thing, right?).

Yet the four goals in my ‘fitness’ category sit untouched. Probably because they require much more preparation than simply calling the spa and showing up 🙂

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I started thinking about how I was going to reach those goals by next June.

When the deadline for a good is a long way off it’s easy to postpone getting started. And then panic when the deadline gets close. (I bet you’ve been there before too…).

Yet all four of them require regular, consistent training if I want to reach them in time and injury-free.

My youngest son’s obsession with increasing the range of his Nerf guns gave me a strategy for reaching my fitness goals.

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He spent much of the summer amassing a Nerf artillery, not for the purpose of harassing his older brother, but because he wanted to know how they worked and whether there was a way to make them work better (i.e. shoot farther).

He discovered that the best way to figure out how to build something is to take it apart.

Start with the final product, disassemble into smaller and smaller pieces and put it back together. It’s an approach known as ‘reverse engineering’ and one that can easily be used as a strategy to reach your fitness goals.

Reverse-engineer your health and fitness goals
  • Start with where you want to be. This is your goal. It might be a fitness event (like running a 5 or 10K), it might be a specific exercise accomplishment (like my 5 unassisted pull-ups), it might be a macronutrient goal (like eating 40/30/30 carbs/protein/fat), it might be a workout schedule (like 5 days of exercise per week).
  • Break down the goal into ‘mini-goals’, steps you’ll need to reach before you can reach your final goal. For example, walking a 5K, performing 1 unassisted pull-up, getting 20% of your daily calories from protein, exercising 3 days per week.
  • If the mini-goals still seem too big, repeat the step above. Continue breaking down your end goal until you’ve reached a mini-goal that you can consistently meet. For example, alternating 1 min walking and running intervals for 15 minutes, performing 2 sets of 5 band-assisted pull-ups, eating protein at breakfast time, exercising 2 days per week. Hint: the smaller the mini-goal, the more likely you’ll reach it. Small steps repeated over time lead to big change.
  • Work towards the next mini-goal. Once you’ve consistently met your ‘first step’ mini-goals, set the bar a little higher.

I’m currently using the ‘reverse engineering’ approach to help me get back to my goal of eating 5-7 servings of veggies per day (I’ve been battling the call of comfort food for the past 11 months and am yearning to get back that energetic and ‘clear’ feeling good nutrition gives me).

I know that going from where I am (2 servings on a good day) to where I want to get to (7 servings each and everyday) requires building new habits. My experience with habit formation tells me that trying to do it all at once is unlikely to be successful. So I’ve reverse engineered the process.

This week, I’ve replaced my lunchtime panini (high on carbs, low on veggies) with a salad. Two servings of veggies at lunch, with a serving of healthy fats and lots of protein.

Once I’ve got this habit well established I’ll go back to adding vegetables to my breakfasts. Cutting back on those pancake mornings and re-introducing veggies to my eggs.

The final step will be to replace the pre-dinner glass of wine with fresh raw vegetables. Something to munch on while I prep dinner for the family and catch up with my husband’s day.

Do you have current health and fitness goals that might benefit from a reverse engineering approach?

What’s one small step you could make towards those goals today?

Create a flexible fitness plan

There’s nothing worse than arriving at the gym, detailed workout plan in hand, only to find the equipment you need already occupied.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting a few minutes for your turn. Or asking the woman resting between sets of lat pulldowns if you can ‘work in’.

flexible fitness plan

She looks super friendly. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask to ‘work in’!

Other days, you can just tell that the guy in the squat rack plans on doing his entire workout there.

And those times when the gym is so crowded there’s no space left to claim? Super frustrating.

For many of us, just getting to the gym is a big deal (feeling a bit of ‘gymtimidation’? Here are some tips for increasing your confidence in the weight room). Having to then figure out what to do in place of the program we’d planned on is enough to discourage us from getting off the elliptical or even starting our workout in the first place.

The best solution to all of the above challenges? Creating a flexible fitness plan.

In this case, ‘flexible’ doesn’t refer to how ‘bendy’ you are (although stretching does need to be a regular part of your exercise routine). Instead, it means being creative and knowledgable enough to modify your program on the fly.

Let me explain.

Olympic bar back squats are the first exercise on your program. But ‘squat rack guy’ is doing five hundred sets of dead lifts there (and then plans of staying put for a biceps workout…). Today, you might substitute another squat for your back squat, looking around to see what other equipment is available to get the job done. Sure, your dumbbell squats might not be as heavy as you’d like, but you can always perform some extra reps or slow the tempo down to achieve the same result. (Need some alternate squat suggestions? Here are a few of my favourite squat variations).

Next you’re headed to the lat pulldown machine. But your gym only has one and it seems like there’s always somebody sitting on it. You can perform the same exercise on a cable and pulley machine or by wrapping a band around the chin-up bar and banging out a few assisted pull-ups. (Here’s a short video demo of band-assisted pull-ups).

flexible fitness plan

I’m still working on these. They’re one of my ’50 before 50′ goals

The key is to know which muscle group(s) a particular exercise is working and being armed with a few alternatives before you get to the gym.

Not sure what to substitute? If you’re working with a trainer, ask her for exercise alternatives (I give my 40+ Online Fitness clients a choice of three moves per exercise; moves that often include different equipment, as well as different levels of intensity). If not, find an online resource (I like Bodybuilding.com) or a book (Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises illustrates dozens of variations of the ‘big’ lifts) and do a little research.

Other suggestions for creating a flexible fitness plan?
  • alter the order of your exercises; just because back squat is the first exercise in your program doesn’t mean that you always need to start with it.

While your trainer (or program writer) had a good reason for placing it there, switching up the order of exercises from time to time won’t hinder your progress. Better to do those squats later on in the program (even if it means your legs have been pre-fatigued by another exercise and you don’t add as many plates to the bar) than to skip them entirely.

You may notice that certain exercises become more (or less) challenging when you vary their order in your workout. Personally, I enjoy it when I feel an exercise a little bit more than usual 🙂

  • switch up cardio and strength workouts; if you perform cardio and strength workouts on separate days, substitute one for the other on a day when either the cardio machines are full or there’s no room on the weight room floor.

If you perform them both within the same workout, switch the order to maximize your access to the equipment. Although there are circumstances in which the order you perform these components of your workout makes a difference, if your options are ‘reverse the order’ and ‘skip weights (or cardio) entirely’, worry less about the effects of order and more about getting the whole workout done.

flexible fitness plan

My current favourite cardio machine

  • take it to the halls (or track or out-of-doors); many gyms and rec centres have alternate places you can perform your workout. If space is limited in the gym, grab a few pieces of equipment (again, you’ll need to know which exercises to substitute for the exercises in your program that require barbells, cable and pulley machines and the squat rack) and head out into the hall or up to the walking track.

Some facilities will even let you take equipment outside (walking lunges in the parking lot or TRX training at the soccer field, perhaps). Check with the weight room attendant before you make off with equipment though; we want to ensure that your membership doesn’t get revoked…).

  • jump into a group fitness class instead; most gyms offer group fitness and spinning classes in addition to cardio machines and a weight room. Typically, these will be happening at the same times the gym is busy (mornings and evenings are the most popular times for exercise and facilities managers schedule their classes accordingly). If you’re new to strength training, group fitness classes are a great place to start.

Given the popularity of resistance training, it’s a good bet that many of the classes your facility offers will include (or consist entirely of) a strength training component. Turn the frustration of a busy gym into an opportunity to learn some new moves and get instruction on proper form.

While it’s always a good idea to have a written workout plan before you hit the gym, there are days when you’ll need to be flexible to get it done. A flexible fitness plan, as it were!

P.S. I’ve recently made a change to my newsletter frequency. Instead of writing only when I publish a new blog post, I’m challenging myself to share more regularly. Add your name to my newsletter list and you’ll receive twice weekly emails from me. More conversational, off-the-cuff, personal story stuff than I share here, with the goal of engaging more with all of you.

Not on the list? Click this link and watch for your first email from me >> Fitknitchick Email Updates

A pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers

A proper warmup goes a long way when it comes to making exercise more enjoyable and avoiding exercise-induced injuries. It’s even more beneficial as we get older and our joints require a bit more ‘coaxing’ before they move fluidly through the entire range of motion they’re supposed to.

pre-workout warmup

Yet many of us rush our warmups, hopping on a treadmill for a few minutes, anxious to get to the ‘meat’ of our workout (and be finished and out of the gym sooner).

The best warmups start slowly and end up being almost indistinguishable from the workout itself. (Just ask my Bootcamp class if they can pinpoint the moment we shift from warming up to working out; I bet they can’t 😉 ).

Read through the list of pre-workout warmup benefits below and join me in a real-time warmup by clicking the video link that follows.

Benefits of a pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers?
  • gradually increasing your breathing rate. Lungs provide oxygen to your muscles. During exercise, muscles increase their demand for oxygen. Gradually increasing your breathing rate will allow you to continue meeting your body’s oxygen demand without the premature accumulation of lactic acid. ‘Feeling the burn’ is great, but not at the beginning of your workout…
  • increasing blood flow to your muscles. Blood carries oxygen from your lungs to your muscles. In order to meet their increased demand for oxygen, blood flow must increase as well. Rhythmic, low intensity movements stimulate the increased flow of blood to muscles and extremities.
  • elevating your heart rate. Your heart serves to pump oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. An elevated heart rate is often the most obvious sign that your body is starting to work a bit harder (a light sheen of perspiration is another). Aim to increase your heart rate to 60-65% of your heart rate maximum by the end of your warmup.
  • increasing the temperature of your muscles (especially important in cool weather). Warm muscles are more efficient at contracting than cold muscles. They’re also less likely to be injured. I’ll do just about anything to prevent repeating past injuries, you know?
pre-workout warmup

Apparently, I’ve had my fair share of workout-related injuries…

  • lubrication of your joints. As you begin to move, your brain signals the release of synovial fluid within your joints. This fluid acts like a lubricant, allowing the joints to move more smoothly and through an increasingly larger range of motion. You may notice that it takes a bit longer to warm up those joints now, in midlife, than it did when you were younger…
  • enhancing proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space. It’s a fundamental requirement of strength training, particularly when you’re performing single-sided and balance exercises.
  • rehearsing the movements that you’ll be performing during the workout itself. Performing body weight versions of the exercises you’ll be doing during your workout proper is a great way to prepare your body for the work to come. Not only does it help to create a mind-to-muscle connection, it also gently stretches the muscles and ligaments around the joint, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.
Try this real-time warmup with me before your next strength workout (or if you’re entirely new to exercise, let it BE your workout 🙂 ).

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I regularly share motivational, educational and inspirational health and fitness content that’s relevant to women over 40 striving to be the best version of themselves possible.

 

The perfect exercise balance | how to find yours

I run two online group fitness programs that regularly generate email inquiries.

Nearly every would-be participant who reaches out to me wants to know how deviating from the planned workouts and nutrition approach will affect her results. And whether the program will still work for her if she does it a bit differently than everybody else.

This program sounds perfect for me. However, I will be travelling for two weeks in the middle (won’t be able to get to a gym) and also have a Dragonboating competition coming up that I need to practice for. Can I still join in even if I won’t be able to do all of the workouts?

My answer almost always includes the reminder that every single participant in my programs has different goals, different obstacles, comes from a different fitness background and is at a different fitness level.

We are all balancing on our own unique tightropes and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

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As such, I design my programs so that each and every member can find her own perfect exercise balance; the frequency, intensity and type of workouts that promote better fitness and health, improved sleep and higher energy levels and can be adhered to for years and years to come.

For some women, that means strength training four days a week.

For others, two days of strength and two days of distance running work.

Still others need a mix of solo gym days, a group fitness class or two and an evening yoga practice.

And I’ve had many clients who regularly substitute family cycles, kayak trips, mountain climbs, golfing and trampoline fun for their workout ‘proper’ without seeing any negative effects on their fitness goals.

The variations are as unique as the women following them.

What isn’t unique is the magic that happens when each finds her own personal perfect exercise balance.

perfect exercise balance

 

All of a sudden, everything becomes easier. Missed workouts becomes less frequent. Movement becomes an integral part of the day. Struggles over finding time to exercise diminish. And ‘have to’ becomes ‘want to’.

The perfect exercise balance: how to find yours
  • choose a program (any program) and get started; finding your perfect exercise balance is a trial and error procedure. If you don’t try (and err), you’ll never know what elements yours needs to contain.

Initially, you’ll want to follow the directions your coach, trainer or group fitness instructor gives you. Pay attention to how it feels to do things their way. Notice any ‘push back’ feelings (for example, ‘you want me to run again tomorrow?’) and contemplate the reasons for them.

Commit to following the program for several weeks, jotting down your thoughts and feelings about the activity itself (you do keep a fitness journal, don’t you?) , your energy levels before and after you perform it and any mental barriers to getting the workout done. Your perfect exercise balance will consist of both things your like to do and things you need to do.

  • modify the program to make it ‘easier’ to follow; by ‘easier’, I don’t necessarily mean less intense 🙂 . Rather do what you need to do to reduce any resistance or barriers you have to following it.

If that means shortening the strength workouts from 3 to 2 sets, so be it. Using the rowing machine for intervals rather than the treadmill, go ahead. Replacing one of your gym session for some time on your yoga mat, relax away. Exercising at home instead of the gym, good for you.

Just make sure the choices and substitutions you’re making are consistent with what your body needs to feel good and your long term goal of integrating regular exercise into your schedule for many years to come.

  • acknowledge that things will change and you’ll need to adjust; just when you think you’ve found your perfect exercise balance, something in your life will change and it will no longer be the combination you need.

Maybe your workout buddy moves away. Or your favourite group fitness instructor goes on a long vacation. Or you experience a tragedy in your life that leaves you craving softer, more gentle forms of exercise.

Rather than feeling discouraged about this disruption to your perfect exercise balance, consider it an opportunity to try something new. Find a new workout friend. Or brave the gym on your own. Try a new instructor’s class. Or join an online fitness group.

When I was too sad to continue training on my own, I joined a strength and conditioning class where I was unlikely to know anybody. Together, the combination of great coaches, not having to plan my own workouts and the camaraderie of small group training helped me to rediscover my own perfect exercise balance.

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Are you ready to find your own perfect exercise balance?

Not sure what components to include and how much of each your body needs to feel good? Looking to connect with like-minded midlife women who are still motivated to work towards their health and fitness goals despite the hormonal challenges of peri-menopause?

I’ve got two great online programs to help.

Fight the Fluff V2.0 is a 12-week, online, gym-based fitness and nutrition program for midlife women who want to build some muscle, lose some fat and have a whole lot of fun. While the program prescribes 3-4 days of strength training and an extra day of cardio, participants are encouraged to find their own best way to implement it.

Whether that means cutting back on strength by a day per week or substituting a group fitness class for one of their workouts, my goal is to help each participant figure out how to make the most of her exercise time. Ditto for the approach we’ll be taking to nutrition.

You can read more details about the program (and the dates of the next session) here >> Fight the Fluff V 2.0.

My Monthly 40+ Fitness Program continues year-round and is always open to new membership beginning the first of each month. The workouts are designed to be performed at home, with very little equipment other than a few pairs of dumbbells, a stability ball, a resistance band and a yoga mat.

It’s a great program for those new to strength training because it includes multiple levels for each exercise AND a private YouTube video library where you can watch me performing (and cueing) each and every exercise.

You can read more details about the program here >> 40+ Fitness Online Training and email me (tgrand@telus.net) directly if you’re interested in joining us next month.

Questions about either program? Hit me up in the comments below or send me an email and I’ll get back to you just as soon as possible.

Seven steps to midlife fitness success

I have a client. Her name is Jill. And to me, she’s the epitome of midlife fitness success.

midlife fitness success

This is not Jill. But it could be. She loves to hike.

She’s not a fitness model.

Although she’s strong, she doesn’t have six pack abs or buns of steel. While she enjoys hiking, cycling and weight lifting, she doesn’t run marathons or do triathlons or spend excessive hours in the gym. While focusing on a mainly healthy diet, she still enjoys marshmallows and chocolate and breadsticks at Ruby Tuesdays.

She possesses all of the characteristics I believe one needs to make fitness a life long habit and is the perfect example for becoming a raging (in the ‘good’ way, not the other, more ‘hormonal’ way) midlife fitness success.

Seven steps to becoming a midlife fitness success

Sself-motivated. Jill has goals and knows why those goals are important to her. She doesn’t need daily reminders to fit her workouts in and plan healthy meals. She’s an independent exerciser who just needs to know that somebody has a long term plan for helping her progress towards those goals and is checking in with her regularly for accountability. I’m happy to be that person for her.

Uunafraid. She’s not afraid of trying new things. Many of us get stuck in a fitness rut. We do the same things over and over again, even if those things don’t seem to be moving us any closer to our goals. In the year we’ve been working together, I’ve given Jill lots of new things to try; new exercises, new ways of putting those exercises together, new ways of approaching nutrition. She’s willingly tackled them all (although she usually has lots of questions about the new approach first, see Ccurious, below…). I love that becoming stronger motivated her to plan and set out on her first solo overnight backpacking trip (too bad about the raccoons 😉 ).

Cconsistent. She rarely misses a workout. Even when she’s on holidays, at the lake or in the midst of the ‘busy time of year’ at work. Sometimes those workouts are shorter than planned, but she knows that doing something is better than doing nothing. She’s also got the longest MyFitnessPal streak I’ve ever seen; over 360 days without missing a log-in!

Ccurious. Jill loves to read about nutrition and exercise. She often emails me with questions about things she’s read. Sometimes I have an answer, other times her query motivates me to do a little research myself. Her inquisitiveness shows me that she takes ownership of her health and fitness; a key component to becoming a long term regular exerciser.

E easy-going. She’s patient and realistic about how long it really takes to see the results of regular exercise and good nutrition. She’s kind to herself when she stumbles and is able to laugh at small setbacks and behaviours that seem hard to change. While her goals are important to her, they aren’t all-consuming. Fitness and nutrition are priorities, but they don’t over-shadow the other priorities in her life (the perfect recipe for making oneself crazy and alienating those closest to us).

Ssnaps back quickly. Jill is resilient. When she gets off track (typically with nutrition, as is the case for most of us), she rebounds quickly. Re-commiting herself to whatever our current nutritional goals are and planning and prepping meals to support those goals. I appreciate her dedication to reducing packaging wherever possible and making things ‘from scratch’ rather than buying ready-made!

Sself-reflective. One of the things I love most of all about Jill is her willingness to self-reflect and anticipate and ask for exactly what she needs. During our bi-weekly coaching calls we often look back on how much has changed over the year we’ve been working together, particularly when it comes to mindset and expectations. We’ve moved from focusing primarily on weight loss (25+ pounds in a year) and muscle ‘toning’ to setting new performance standards on her ‘big lifts’. I’m looking forward to seeing where she’ll go with her (current) 135 pound dead lift!

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of our coaching relationship. I’d like to congratulate Jill for all of the successes she’s had this year and wish her many more in the year to come!

midlife fitness success

Happy Anniversary Jill! Enjoy your cake. Note the serving size and the fruit 😉