Using the stages of change model to adopt new fitness and nutrition habits

Change is hard.

Whether it’s getting started with exercise, cleaning up your diet or giving your website a facelift (hint, hint…), changes worth making don’t happen overnight.

stages of change

And the best way to start implementing change depends on how ready you are to make it.

Despite all the motivational social media memes telling you to ‘just do it’ and ‘stop making excuses’.

And the best intentions of friends telling you that ‘the only workout you’ll ever regret is the one you didn’t do’ and that you should just ‘pull up your big girl panties’ and get on with it.

If you’re not truly ready to make change, you can’t and you won’t. It has nothing to do with willpower or excuses or fortitude and everything to do with mindset and mental preparedness.

The transtheoretical model of behaviour change (also know as the ’ stages of change’ model) is used by counsellors, psychologists and fitness professionals alike (including yours truly…) to assess an individual’s readiness to act on new behaviours. By knowing which stage of change (Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance) a person is currently in, we can identify strategies that are relevant, appropriate and most likely to be successful at guiding them towards action.

If you’re struggling with starting a new exercise program or making changes to your nutrition plan, take a minute and read the descriptions of the five stages of change below. Check out the suggestions I have for actions you can take at each stage to help you move forward and beyond the stage you’re currently stuck at. You can use these same suggestions to help a friend who’s been trying to improve their fitness and health as well!

Stages of Change

Stage 1: Precontemplation (Not Ready)

‘Precontemplators’ have no intention of altering their behaviour in the near future. In fact, many are unaware that change would benefit them at all! I don’t tend to see very many people in this stage of change; they aren’t typically the ones looking to hire a personal trainer :-)

If you suspect that you’re stuck in Precontemplation (it’s actually tough to self-assess this one…), focus on educating yourself about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Work on becoming more mindful of the choices you’re making right now and focus on the consequences of your actions. Begin to notice patterns between behavioural choices and how they make you feel.

Currently in stage 1? You might find these posts helpful >>>

 Stage 2: Contemplation (Getting Ready)

‘Contemplators’, while more aware of the benefits of making a change than ‘Precontemplators’, are still relatively ambivalent about taking action in the very near future. While they’re usually aware of the benefits of change, they still see as many ‘cons’ as ‘pros’. Moving forward requires encouragement to reduce the ‘cons’ of changing their behaviour.

If you’ve been ‘Contemplating’ starting a new exercise or nutrition program for six months or longer, your best chance of success is to surround yourself with people who have already made the change you desire for yourself. Spend time with friends who are physically active and interested in healthy eating. Ask for (and be receptive to) their encouragement. Identify the hurdles (both physical and mental) that are keeping you from getting started and actively work to eliminate them.

Stage 3: Preparation (Ready)

People at this stage are ready to start taking action, typically within the next month or so. They’re willing to take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives.

For example, they may tell their friends and family that they want to change their behaviour. They may join a gym or start a Pinterest board of healthy recipes. They might start reading nutrition labels and going for a daily walk. Most of my new clients are in the ‘Preparation’ stage. Reaching out to a fitness professional is often one of the first action steps they take.

If you find yourself in ‘Preparation’ mode, let other people know. Sharing your plans with trusted friends increases your chances of success. Identify one or two small changes you know you can be successful with. Think about possible roadblocks to success and map out a plan for dealing with setbacks.

The number one concern at this stage is fear of failure. Have a plan in place for those inevitable days when you miss a workout or ‘mess up’ your nutrition plan. The more prepared you are, the greater your chances of success.

Does stage three sound familiar? One-on-one health coaching is perfect for you >> Online Fitness Coaching with Fitknitchick

Stage 4: Action

If you’ve already started implementing small changes and are ready to keep moving ahead, you’re well into the ‘Action’ stage. The biggest challenge you face is fighting the urge to slip back into old behaviour patterns. Strengthening commitments to exercise and healthy eating are super important, as is understanding your ‘why’ (the real reason you want to make changes to your behaviour).

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behaviour with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

Action takers; surround yourself with like-minded women. Join my online monthly group training program for 40+ females >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Stage 5: Maintenance

Once you’ve mastered ‘Action’ and regular exercise and healthy eating have been part of your daily routine for at least six months, you’ve entered the ‘Maintenance’ stage. At this point, it’s important to be aware of the types of situations that may tempt you to slip back into old behaviour patterns. For example, stressful times at work, fights with loved ones, social events with certain friends or family vacations.

Again, anticipating challenges, being able to identify them when they occur and planning an appropriate response in advance can keep you from slipping back into old habits and previous stages of change.

Which ‘stage of change’ are you currently in, with respect to fitness and nutrition?

What’s keeping you from moving forward? Share your ‘obstacles’ and ‘roadblocks’ below.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the changes I’ve recently made to my website (including stepping out from behind the caricatures in my old header and presenting my bold, energetic self to the world ;-) ), check out this Vimeo reel documenting the photo shoot I participated in at phoTobin Photography.

A PDA: Tamara’s website redesign from phoTobin photography on Vimeo.

How to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation

*** Note that the tips in this post apply equally well to the absence of your favourite group fitness instructor and/or your regular workout buddy.

It never fails. You’ve just gotten into a groove with exercise. You’re hitting the gym several times a week and starting to see and feel the results of your efforts.

Then, out of nowhere, your personal trainer (or favourite group fitness instructor or regular workout buddy) goes on holidays.

While you might be inclined to take the week off yourself, there are plenty of ways to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation.

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  • Pretend she’s there and keep your usual appointment. You know your way around the gym. And while you might miss her coaching (and charming personality ;-) ), there’s no reason why you can’t perform your usual routine on your own. Remember, one of her goals is to someday, turn you into an independent exerciser!
  • Ask her to create a special program for you to do in her absence. Have her include all of your favourite exercises (avoiding movements that require significant cueing) in an easy-to-follow circuit. If you feel confident about your ability to execute the program, you’re much more likely to do it.
  • Find somebody else to train with. This might be another trainer at your gym (a colleague and I regularly step in for each other when the other’s away from the gym and a client isn’t quite ready to train on their own), a friend or just a friendly face from the gym. Reach out to the woman who trains at the same time as you do and see if she might appreciate some exercise company. Read these suggestions for making partner training a success.
  • Try a group fitness class instead. If you’d really rather not set foot in the gym on your own, findan appealing sounding group fitness class and give it a try. Bootcamp, Circuit Training and Body Sculpt classes are all great alternatives to your usual gym workout. (If it’s your group fitness instructor who’s away, go to her class always; I bet she’s arranged a fantastic sub for you ;-) ).
  • Relax. Worse case scenario? You substitute daily walks for your strength workouts and skip the gym entirely while she’s gone. If you’ve been consistent with your workouts for any length of time, a week away isn’t likely to result in much loss of progress. And she’ll be relieved to know that she’s not the only one who’s hurting a bit the first day back…

Share your best strategies for dealing with a vacation-induced training hiatus…

Three Simple Feel-Good Steps to Conquering Consistency {guest post}

Today I have a special treat for you.

A guest post written by my friend and fellow fitness professional and wellness advocate, Meg Root. Meg and I ‘met’ (virtually of course, isn’t that how we’re all meeting these days?) on Facebook by way of our mutual friends Kymberly and Alexandra of Fun and Fit.

We are kindred spirits in fitness philosophy and the route we’ve taken to get there. Her approach to fitness is Accessible, Actionable and Achievable (in keeping with the Alliterative theme of her post…) and ‘Fitknitchick-approved’!

Just like you, I’m a big Fitknitchick fan! {aw shucks, thanks Meg…}

I loved Tamara’s recent post, “Everything You Need to Know About Being a Fitness Success.” Even a seasoned wellness pro like myself benefits from a friendly reminder that there’s no magic bullet for achieving our goals, and that most reasonable approaches work if we stick with them long enough.

Consistency. That was at the heart of Tamara’s message.

That scary “C” word that dangles out in front of us like the proverbial carrot on a stick. The closer we get to it with all our goal setting, program planning, and positive can-do attitude, the further away it slips, pushed by sick kids, overstuffed schedules, and mid-life menopausal mayhem. You even said it yourselves in the comments:

“The consistency part is the tough one.” SR

“Yes, so true! Consistency is key.” Bonnie

“Consistency and realistic expectations above all else.” CF

It’s one of those good news bad news scenarios: Do what you love and the fitness will follow! “Yay, I’ve always hated squats, I can do lunges instead.” But, you need to do it consistently. “Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. I’m too busy this week.”

We all know that until we learn how to nestle consistency inside of crazy—which is life, most of the time—fitness success will always seem out of reach.

That’s why I came up with a few “C’s” of my own to help you stay committed to your fitness journey even in the midst of life’s little (and not so little) interruptions.

This simple system, I call the Three C’s of Wellness, switches up the energy around the healthy choices you need to make, day in and day out, to reach your fitness goals. Instead of viewing them as a chore, or even an item to check off your to-do list before the real fun begins, you tap into the “feel good” potential of your choices, and use that energy to fuel your commitment.

Believe me, solving the crisis of consistency is as easy as 1, 2, 3 . . . Connect. Choose. Celebrate!

Connect

wellness feels goodSet aside your vision of fitness success for just a moment (trust me on this one), and think of a few words that describe how you want to “feel” on a daily basis. Happy? Healthy? Vibrant? Strong? These are some of the “feel-good” words on my list. What’s on yours?

Now, think of something—anything—that makes you feel like those words. Maybe it’s a long, heart pumping run outdoors, or one of Fitknitchick’s challenging Fatblaster workouts. Maybe your workouts don’t take you to that feel good place just yet, and “happy” means a walk on the beach with your family. We can all think of something that makes us feel good. Connecting with the way that energy feels, and bringing it to the choices you make, is the first step to conquering the challenge of consistency. Wellness feels good!

Choose

You make hundreds of choices everyday. Imagine what would happen if you prefaced each one with the question, “What could I do right now to feel happy, healthy, vibrant, strong?” and then made a choice based on that?

wellness feels goodFor example, choosing a breakfast of oatmeal, chia seeds, and blueberries propels me into my day feeling energized and fueled for wellness. Grabbing a muffin and a designer double latte . . . not so much. Sure it’s hard to get to the gym after a long tiring day at work. But you have to admit, getting your body moving has a better chance of reversing feelings of anxiety and fatigue, than plopping down in front of your Facebook feed with a glass of wine. Really, it does!

Begin to NOTICE how each one of your choices either takes you closer to your wellness zone or further away. With practice, you’ll discover that you have more control over the way your life looks and feels than you think.

Celebrate!

When you make a choice that leads to one of those “wellness feels good” moments, Celebrate! Say “Yes!” out loud and pump your fist the way athletes do after making a great play. Don’t laugh—this is based on real science. And it works.

All good habits are validated and strengthened when there is a reward at the end—an acknowledgement that you did well and you’re moving in the right direction. Tapping into the positive energy of wellness makes consistency a no brainer. Feeling good FEELS SO GOOD, you become willing to do anything to hold on to your wellness.

So, Back to Consistency

Connect, choose, celebrate . . . repeat. Filling your life up with “wellness feels good” moments is that simple. And it’s the connection to how good your choices make you feel that keeps you committed in the midst of your crazy busy life.

I agree that striving for fitness success is a healthy, even noble goal. But don’t stop there. Why not shoot for living your best life? That’s what the energy of wellness feels like. It feels good! And when we feel good, we do good—consistently.

wellness feels goodI’d love to hear what your favorite wellness words are, and how you conquer consistency when the pressure is on.

Meg Root loves to write and speak about all things wellness. Her positive, feel-good approach to wellness is a product of years spent living and working at some of North America’s premiere destination spas, where every day feels like a spa day! You can follow her wellness updates on her website, MegRoot.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

The dark side of wearable fitness trackers

*** This blog post evolved out of a conservation I had with some friends in my Facebook community. They have given me permission to share their thoughts below***

Pedometers. Smartwatches. Health monitors. Wearable fitness trackers. They’re all part of the emerging landscape of wearable technology. A landscape which promises to change the way we exercise and communicate with one another about fitness.

wearable fitness trackers

A tracker for every mood…

 

Many will keep track of your daily steps, calories burned and pattern of sleeping. Most can connect with your phone, be it Android or OS. Some can track your heart rate in real time and even provide statistics on elevation gained and distance travelled during exercise.

While I love that more and more people are wearing these devices and becoming increasingly aware of their daily level of physical activity, and that many devices have built in accountability and support communitiesI do think that there’s a dark side to wearable fitness trackers.

I recently participated in a two-week ‘step challenge’ with a dozen other bloggers. Despite my relatively active lifestyle, I finished near the middle of the pack, literally hundreds of thousands of steps behind the winners.

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This experience made me stop and question the general value of wearable fitness trackers.

While I appreciate the potential benefits of tracking one’s daily activity (heck, my favourite way to use mine is as a reminder to get up and move on those days when I’ve been sitting at my computer too long), I also believe there’s the possibility that they may discourage some people from making appropriate fitness choices.

The dark side of wearable fitness trackers
  • Might some people benefit more from them than others? I think wearable fitness trackers are a fantastic accountability tool for those just getting started with fitness (or those who have no idea what their day’s activity looks like). But for those who are already fairly active, the information they provide is unlikely to result in behaviour change. Sure, it’s nice to feel that little vibration when you’ve hit your daily step count and great to see your weekly activity report showing that you’re ‘in the blue’ most days, but are there other ways you can measure your progress that don’t involve counting steps?

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  • Is the emphasis on step count, above all other activity, misleading when it comes to improving health and fitness? Although there are numerous studies linking increased daily step counts with a variety of health improvements (increased weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood cholesterol levels, to name a few), the same benefits (and more) can also be achieved by swimming, cycling, yoga and lifting weights. Does encouraging people to achieve 10 000 steps a day (which requires most of us to include at least an hour long walk in our already full days) lead to them prioritizing walking over other activities? Activities whose contributions to health and fitness might be more important to them, depending on age, health and goals.

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  • Is it useful to categorize a person’s activity level by simply the number of steps they take in a day? According to the activity categories of the ’10 000 steps a day’ campaign, many very physically fit people would be categorized as ‘sedentary’ or only ‘moderately active’ only because they choose to spend their daily exercise time doing something other than walking. Take me, for example. After an hour of heavy strength training, I’ll typically have racked up only 1000 or so steps. If I had spent the same 60 minutes walking the treadmill (without building muscle or improving bone density), my count would have been pushing my daily 10 000 steps goal. Given the push to share one’s activity tracker data via social media, there’s the potential for feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or even worse, the feeling like one needs to do more to avoid appearing slothful.

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  • Is there the potential for wearable fitness trackers to trigger the same ‘compulsiveness’ some experience around calorie counting and the bathroom scales? As a scientist, I value data. It allows us to quantify our behaviour and make changes if that behaviour is not leading us towards our goals. Not everyone is capable of such an un-emotional response to numbers. Many people, women in particular, become obsessive about tracking the number of calories they consume and let the number on the bathroom scale dictate their mood for the day (I know, I’ve been there). I believe there’s a real possibility that fitness activity trackers could trigger the same response in some individuals, resulting in a negative effect on physical activity and fitness in general.

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  • Is there a subconscious tendency to consume more calories later in the day because our wearable fitness tracker says we burned ‘x’ number of calories? I believe so, given the ‘how many burpees do I need to do to burn off a Mars bar’ mindset I see so often on social media. Combine this ‘reward’ philosophy with the notoriously inaccurate counts generated by most calorie counters (i.e., they almost always over-estimate how many calories burned and we, as humans, tend to under-estimate how many we consume…) it’s easy to undermine the metabolic benefits of exercise.
  • Are people actually using all the data they’re generating to make changes to their behaviour? While data is great to have, unless you’re actually doing something with it, what’s the point? When scientists design experiments, they collect only the data they need to test their hypothesis (collecting more is expensive and often, it’s impossible to determine outcomes and effects if there are too many variables to include in the analysis). Other than using their pedometers as a reminder to get up and walk around the office, I’ve seen very little evidence that the massive amounts of data being collected are actually changing people’s behaviour around fitness.

I’m curious what a longer term study of the effects of wearable activity trackers on health and obesity will reveal. Given the challenge of working with human subjects (we’re terrible at sticking to plans and have a lot of correlational variables that need to be statistically accounted for), I’m betting we won’t have a clear answer for many years to come…

Do you wear an activity tracker?

Which metrics do you pay attention to and how do they affect your behaviour?

 

Everything you need to know to be a fitness success

High rep strength training, cardio intervals, HIIT, Tabata, Crossfit, Bootcamp, Insanity, P90X, 21-DayFix, hot yoga, barre, Piyo, Zumba. What type of exercise should you do to improve your fitness?

Should you follow a low carb diet? Eat paleo? Attend Weight Watchers? Cycle your carbs? Fast intermittently? Exercise on an empty stomach? Stock up on Shakeology?

With so many options out there, is it any wonder that newcomers to exercise (or those returning to healthy living after a hiatus…) have no idea where to start?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably tried more than a few of the above approaches. Perhaps you’ve stuck with one long enough to see results. More than likely though, you’ve jumped from program to program, attracted by the ‘next best thing’ and it’s promises of fat loss, muscle gains, more energy, six-pack abs and dropped dress sizes.

fitness success

Shhh!

 I’m going to tell you a secret.

There’s nothing magical about any of the programs I listed above. (Think about it, if there were, everybody would be doing that program to the exclusion of all other programs and those of us espousing a different approach would be out of business ;-) ).

Unless you’re a long-time exerciser with very specific performance goals, it doesn’t really matter which approach you take. Stick with any program long enough and you’re bound to become a fitness success.

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Everything you need to know to be a fitness success

  • It doesn’t really matter what workout program you follow, as long as you follow it consistently. For general fitness improvement, the best thing you can do is find something you enjoy and will do regularly. Take a look at the fittest women you follow on Facebook. Chances are some of them are runners, some are barre fanatics and some lift weights exclusively. There’s more than one path to fitness. Find yours.
  • It doesn’t really matter what diet plan you follow, as long as you follow it consistently. When it comes to eating for health (including weight loss and performance gains), the biggest predictor of success is adherence. Find an approach that you enjoy and can see yourself following for years to come. If it feels too restrictive, it probably is.
  • Own your choices and the consequences. Remind yourself that you have control over every single fitness-related decision you make. Those 24-hours in the day? Yours to spend as you choose. What to put in your grocery cart? Entirely your decision. There’s nobody who can do this for you. The good news? When you’re successful, there’s nobody else to share the credit with!
  • Be confident in the knowledge that you’re the expert of you. Who’s know you longer than you? If you’ve tried a variety of exercise and nutrition programs, you’ll already know which approaches suit your lifestyle best and are most likely to be sustainable. Pay attention to how your body responds to food and exercise. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than the ‘experts’ suggest. You’re the expert of you.
Although I offer an online fitness program catering to the specific needs and goals of women in their 40’s and 50’s, my clients don’t follow a cookie-cutter program. Together, we learn to listen to our bodies and practice ‘being the detective’ to determine our own specific formula for fitness success.
If this sounds like a group of women you need to be a part of, consider joining in for the last two months of the current session. Details and registration info can be found here >> #40plusfitness Online Training Program.

 

Three things my Fitbit Charge taught me {sponsored post & giveaway}

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably already know that I’m the proud new owner of a Fitbit Charge.

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It was given to me by Telus as part of their #EveryStepCounts campaign (along with a second Fitbit Charge for me to give to one of my readers… more on that later). To be totally honest, I had no real need or want for the device, given that I already possess two perfectly functional (although admittedly, less attractive) pieces of wearable tech.

What did catch my attention was the possibility of winning one of three Samsung Galaxy tablets (thereby making me ‘supermom’ when I gifted my 10-year old son with it on his upcoming birthday). Fifteen bloggers were invited to participate in the campaign, with the three accumulating the most steps over a two-week period claiming the prize. Given that I lead a pretty active lifestyle, I joined in thinking (mistakenly) the whole thing would be a ‘walk in the park’.  Fast forward to the end of the challenge and notice my position on the leaderboard;

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Sixth place and waaaaaay behind the top walkers (and winners; congrats guys!). While sad that I didn’t win the tablet (and scrambling to come up with another idea for a birthday present), upon reflection I realized that I learned three important lessons from the #EveryStepCounts challenge.

Three things my Fitbit Charge taught me
    • I’m a pretty competitive person (for better or for worse). Comparing my progress to the progress of my challengers kept me going on days where I could very easily have chosen to pass on an after dinner walk. For the first week, I hovered around the third place mark, neck in neck with another blogger. Every time I saw her cumulative step count surpass mine, I hustled to get more steps in. Even when this meant passing up mother-daughter time, an evening out with friends or a strength training workout (this is probably the only time in my life where I prioritized cardio over weights…). About half-way through the challenge I realized that obsessing about steps was undermining my every-day approach to health and fitness, hence the 6th place finish (and the DOMS I’m still feeling from my first day back on the strength training floor…).
    • I am not nearly as active as I think I am. Given that I teach (and participate in) several group fitness classes each week, hit the gym another 3 or 4 times for my own workouts and am on my feet most of the day with clients and children, I assumed that my activity level would be fairly high. I very quickly discovered that without hitting the treadmill at the gym for a 45 minute walk before I started work AND heading out again in the evening for a neighbourhood stroll, I’d barely make my 10K daily step goal. This realization made me wonder how many steps people who work in more sedentary jobs get in a day. And how on earth the leaders in this challenge were racking up so many steps (I’m thinking treadmill desks?).
    • I long to live in a more pedestrian-friendly community. My family lives in suburbia. While I’m grateful for the home and property we’ve been able to purchase, there are no services or amenities a walk-able distance from our home. All three of my children need to be driven to school. The gym where I work, as well as coffee shops, grocery stores and the public library are all 4 km away. The #EveryStepCounts challenge made me realize that I do very little walking other than for the explicit purpose of taking a walk. My husband and I are about 10 years away from our youngest child leaving the nest. We’ve already starting talking about what we’d like our life to be like then. Living closer to amenities, in a more pedestrian-friendly community is top of the list. Someplace where it’s easy to get 10K+ steps a day, just by going about your neighbourly business.

Now for the giveaway.

Telus has generously offered to send one of my Canadian readers (apologies to my US friends) their very own Fitbit Charge.

Enter by telling me, in the comments section at the bottom of the page, how many steps you THINK you get in a day, then completing the Rafflecopter entry form below.

I’ll be closing this giveaway at 12 am PST Monday, February 23rd, 2015. The winner will be notified via email (so make sure you leave one) and will have until 5 pm PST Tuesday, February 24th to respond (otherwise, I’ll choose another winner). Your Fitbit Charge will be shipped directly from Telus, once I’ve handed over your contact info.

Wishing you all the best of luck! And looking forward to hearing what your Fitbit Charge teaches you!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Body part splits or whole body workouts | the pros and cons

The other day (a very observant) someone asked me why I give most of my clients whole body workouts when they see me performing body part splits.

  • Do I think one type of workout is intrinsically better than the other? (No)
  • Is one ‘harder’ than the other? (Not necessarily)
  • Under what circumstances would I provide a client with a body part split? (Read on…)

body part splits or whole body workouts: which is better? via http://fitknitchick.com

Whole body workouts are exactly what they sound like.

A workout in which all of the major muscles of the body are trained. Whole body workouts tend to focus on compound, multi-joint exercises, exercises which are often described as ‘functional’ in nature (meaning that they mimic the types of movements our bodies were designed to engage in daily). Smaller muscles (think triceps and calves) are trained in conjunction with bigger muscles, rather than via isolation or ‘vanity’ exercises (e.g., tricep kickbacks and seated calf raises).

In contrast, body part splits involve splitting the major muscle groups up and training them on separate days.

Upper-lower splits are common; all of the muscles of the upper body are trained together, with lower body muscles trained on a separate days. Core training can be done on either the upper or lower body day, although most people prefer to train core and legs together to equalize training time across days.

Push-pull, movement pattern splits are popular too; muscles involved with pushing exercises (e.g., chest, anterior delts, quads, calves and triceps) are trained on the same day, pulling muscle (e.g., back, biceps, hamstrings, posterior delts and abs) exercises are trained on another.

Other configurations of body part splits can be created depending on the exerciser’s goals, their desired frequency of training and how much experience they have in the gym. (My last 3-day body part split had me training chest and back on day 1, legs and core on day 2 and shoulders, biceps and triceps on day 3).

Whole body training has many benefits:
  • it’s generally more metabolic in nature than body part splits (i.e., burns more calories)
  • it’s typically a more functional type of workout and can easily incorporate speed, agility and balance training in addition to muscular strength and endurance
  • you don’t necessarily need dumbbells, barbells and a weight bench to get a good workout; Google ‘body weight exercises’ and see how much variety there is
  • missing a workout isn’t as much of a concern when you’re training all muscle groups each time you exercise
The downside of whole body training?
  • workout length tends to be longer than for body part splits, as you’re targeting all of the major muscle groups in one workout
  • you may not be physically able to perform the same workout on two adjacent days (when you train a muscle to near failure or fatigue, it may require 48 hours before it’s ready to be trained again)
  • doing the same workout 3, 4 or 5 days a week can get boring and potentially lead to injury and over-training
Whole body training is perfect for people who…
  • have only 2 or 3 days a week for exercise
  • are new to strength training and need to focus on learning form and creating an exercise habit
  • have weight or fat loss as their primary goal

The majority of my personal training clients fall into the above category, hence the reason why I create whole body training programs for them.

Body part training has many benefits too:
  • workouts can be as short as 30 minutes; great if you’re pressed to find time for exercise in your day
  • there’s adequate time to train each muscle from a variety of different angles; body part workouts typically include 2 to 3 exercises per body part within the same training session (no more having to choose between chest presses and flys)
  • when carefully designed, you can completely rest a muscle group before working it again; for example, an upper/lower split might have you training legs on Monday and Thursday (great for building muscle size as most growth happens during the recovery phase)
  • depending on your body part split, you can train up to 6 days per week (some of us need our daily stress reliever…)
The downside of body part splits?
  • if you miss a workout day, you miss a body part (and may not end up training it again for another whole week)
  • if your goals include fat loss, you may not create enough of a ‘metabolic disturbance’ to see an effect on the scales
  • muscles may be quite sore the day following the workout, especially if you’ve performed 3 or 4 different exercises and worked to fatigue
  • you may need to train 4 or 6 days each week to fit all of your exercises in
Body part splits are perfect for people who…
  • have muscular hypertrophy as their primary training goal
  • prefer more frequent, shorter workouts to less frequent, longer sessions
  • are disciplined enough not to miss a workout (or be able to make it up immediately so as not to leave a body part behind… ;-) )
  • have sufficient experience with strength training to choose appropriate combinations of exercises (and know how many reps and sets of each to perform)

A few of my clients fall into the above category (you know who you are :-) ). Depending on their preference (and their primary hypertrophy goals), I tend to favour upper/lower and push/pull splits.

Body part splits or whole body workouts: what’s best for you depends on…
  • your goals (hypertrophy, fat loss, health, aesthetics, overall fitness)
  • how much time you have available for exercise (both workout length and how many days a week you’ll be training)
  • your experience level (beginners often do better with whole body workouts while more experienced lifters can get great results from body part splits)
  • how much variety you require in your workouts to maintain your exercise habit (note that those following a whole body training style can alternate between 2 or 3 different whole body workouts to keep their interest level and motivation high)
One final thought…

In my own training, I use a mix of the two. Twice a week I participate in whole body training while teaching Bootcamp and Group Step. The three or four days I’m in the gym, my workouts consist of body part splits.

For me, it’s a great balance between hypertrophy training and training for fat loss. It also keeps me from getting bored. And because the strength workouts are each only performed once a week, I only have to write myself a new program once every 2nd month.

Some might argue that by combining the two, I’m undermining the separate effects of each type of training. But experimenting with my body and learning what works best for ME has shown me the exact opposite!

body part splits and whole body training

Body part splits AND whole body training FTW

 

Do you have a preference for body part splits of whole body training?

What’s your current body part split?

10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Physiotherapists, kinesiologists, strength and conditioning coaches and pelvic floor specialists are all in agreement; regular and excessive performance of sit-ups and abdominal crunches can place un-due stress on the lumbar spine, exacerbate tight hip flexors and lead to destabilization of the pelvic floor.

Just what we fabulous over-40 women need right? Lower back pain, poor posture, urinary incontinence and pelvic organ (i.e., vaginal) prolapse (as if hot flashes, muscle loss and menopot weren’t indignities enough…).

Still not convinced to give sit-ups a rest (or at least downplay their role in your workouts)?

What if I told you that sit-ups and crunches will only lead to a visible ‘six pack’ if you’re able to get your body fat percentage down into the mid-teens. (For reference sake, female body builders are around 10-12 %.)

And that they won’t really improve your athletic performance or prevent those injuries caused by the activities of every day life?

Suddenly crunches aren’t sounding all that great, are they?

Try working the muscles of your core the way nature intended them to be used; as spinal stabilizers (both with and without movement), spinal flexors and extenders and rotational powerhouses.

Below you’ll find 10 of my favourite “crunch-free” exercises for a stronger core; two for each of the five primary core functions.

Choose one exercise from each category. Hold the static stabilization move as long as you can, then perform 8 to 10 repetitions (on each side, where applicable) of each of the other four exercises, one after the other, circuit-style. Beginners may find one round challenging enough. More advanced exercisers can repeat a second and even a third time.

10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Static stabilization:

1. Plank: Planks can be performed on forearms or hands (aka ‘high’ plank) and from knees (less challenging) or toes (more challenging). When holding a plank, concentrate on bracing through your midsection, squeezing your glute cheeks tight, pulling shoulders back and down and maintaining a straight line from your knees (or heels, depending on the variation) to your neck. If your lower back starts to curve or your shoulders creep up towards your ears, come on down. Never sacrifice good form just for the sake of extending your plank another few seconds.

Plank options - exercises for a stronger core

 

2. Resistance band anti-rotation hold: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy, vertical support. Stand at 90 degrees to the anchor point, feet shoulder width apart and with a slight bend in your knees. Grab both handles of the band in your hands, extend arms in front of you at belly button height and step away from the post to create resistance on the band. The greater the resistance, the more you’ll be working your anti-rotation muscles. Concentrate on keeping your torso upright, without leaning in towards the post. Hold for as long as you can. Switch sides and repeat. You can perform a variation of this exercise on a cable and pulley machine, using a standard D-ring and adding as much weight to the stack as necessary to generate an appropriate resistance on your obliques.

Dynamic stabilization:

3. Walk-up-walk-down plank: The exercise can be performed on the floor or with hands placed on either a weight bench (less challenging) or the dome side of a Bosu (more challenging). Come into forearm plank position, on either knees or toes. Bracing through your midsection, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, up until you’re in a high plank position. Without rotating through your torso, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, back down into forearm plank. Continue ‘walking’ up and down, alternating which hand you’re leading with.

'Walking' plank - exercises for a stronger core

4. Side plank and row: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy support at floor level (I’ve used the leg of a heavy sofa, in a pinch). Come into side plank, with either your legs fully extended and stacked one on top of the other (more challenging) or with knees bent and feet behind you (less challenging), forearm on the floor, with elbow directly under your shoulder  Make sure you’re far enough from your anchor point that when you grab the handle of the resistance band and extend your arm directly out in front of you, there’s already considerable resistance on the band. Maintain a perfect side plank (shoulders stacked one on top of the other, hips stacked one on top of the other, lower hip up and off the floor) and row the handle of the band in towards your underarm. Slowly return to starting position and repeat, making sure that you’re not giving in to the urge to rotate the upper body towards the anchor point. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. This exercise can also be performed on a standard cable and pulley machine, using a D-ring and with the cable set at the lowest position.

Flexion:

5. Stability ball roll-in or pike: Come into a high plank, with hands directly underneath shoulders and feet resting atop a stability ball (make this exercise a little easier by placing the ball under your shins or even your thighs). Keeping upper body stationary, roll ball in towards your chest, either bending at the knees (a roll-in’) or keeping legs straight and lifting hips up into an inverted ‘V’ (pike). Return ball to starting position and repeat.

Stability ball roll-in - exercises for a stronger core

6. Lateral trunk flexion: Start by standing with feet hip distance apart holding a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in each hand, down by your sides. Hinging at the hip, lean upper body down and to the right, feeling a pinch between rib and hip. Engage through your core and use the muscles on the opposite side of your body to pull yourself back up to the starting position. Concentrate on slow, controlled, full range of motion movements, resisting the urge to lean forward or backwards.

Extension:

7. Prone chest raise: Lay on your mat, face down, with arms at your sides, hands directly underneath shoulders. Spread your legs slightly, placing the tops of your feet firmly on the mat. Take a deep breath as you tighten your quads and glutes, lifting your chest up and off the floor with the muscles of your lower back. Avoid pushing with your hands and hyper-extending the back; you needn’t lift more than six inches off the floor to feel the effects of this movement. Slowly lower yourself to the ground, pause and repeat.

Prone chest raise - exercises for a stronger core

8. Back extension machine: Position yourself over the back extension machine, such that the cushions rest just below your hip bones. Lock your heels under the foot rest. Placing hands across your chest (or holding a weight plate at chest level, for more challenge), relax your calves, hamstrings and glutes as you bend at the hip to lower your upper body towards the floor. Engage the muscles of the lower back to lift your torso just high enough that your body forms a straight line from the back of your ankles to the back of your neck. Avoid lifting more than 10 degrees about 180; hyperextending the back can lead to rapid fatigue and injury.

Rotation:

9. Medicine ball diagonal rotation: Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, toes pointed forward or a little bit out. Holding a medicine ball (or dumbbell if you don’t have access to a ball) between your hands, bend slightly at the knees and rotate your torso to the left. Energetically lift the ball diagonally across your body, from outside the left knee to above and beyond the right shoulder. Pivot on the left foot and rotate the torso as you do so. Return to the starting position and complete all reps before switching sides. The focus of this move should be on the upwards phase of the lift.

10. Russian twist on the ball: Start by coming into ‘table-top’ position on a stability ball; your head and shoulders will be resting on the ball, feet will be on the floor with knees bent and hips pressed up towards the ceiling. Holding a single dumbbell between your hands, extend arms directly up and over your chest. Rotate arms and torso down to the right, shifting your weight so that the ball rolls under the right shoulder.  Brace your core and return arms and weight to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating until all repetitions have been completed. Concentrate on keeping your arms long and holding the weight as far from your body as you can. Beginners should limit their range of motion until they become confident in their ability not to fall off the ball.

Russian twist on the ball - exercises for a stronger core

The above essay is part of YakkaFit’s monthly “10 on the 10th” blog link-up series. I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow bloggers came up with this month!

I regularly share fitness tips, exercise tricks and nutritional information with my readers and blog subscribers. Get on the list, avoid FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and grab a copy of my FREE e-book (“5 Steps to Exercise Happiness”) by leaving your name and email below.

Taming evening food cravings and the after-dinner munchies

Eat breakfast like a queen*, lunch like a princess*, and dinner like a pauper.

*With apologies to Adelle Davis

taming evening food cravings

Recent studies have shown that eating the lioness’s share of your daily calories early in the day is a sound strategy for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Turns out that the body’s circadian rhythms (the biological processes that the body follows over a 24-hour period) influence hormone release, which has implications for fat burning, fat storage and perceived hunger levels.

Not only do big breakfast eaters have an easier time losing and maintaining their weight, they also exhibit  lower levels of insulin, glucose, and fat in their blood, which may help reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease.

I’m a strong advocate of this ‘inverted’ approach to meals and often suggest it to weight-loss clients whose food journals reveal that they typically consume most of their calories after 5 pm.

Their biggest challenge in making the switch? Evening food cravings and the feeling that they’re going to bed hungry.

Tips for taming evening food cravings and the after-dinner munchies

1. Spend a day or two tracking your food. Compare your total caloric intake to your goal (remembering that cutting calories by more than 500 per day below maintenance can, counterintuitively, undermine weight loss). If you’re not eating enough, you’ll be hungry in the evening, regardless of when, during the day, you’re consuming the bulk of your calories. Add those extra calories in at breakfast and lunch.

2. Increase your protein intake. Because protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, a few ounces of roast chicken breast will satisfy you longer than a cup of rice or sweet potatoes. In addition, protein has less of an effect on your body’s blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the likelihood that you’ll crave starchy carbs later in the evening. Pretend you’re a lucky pauper who’s just come across a chicken in the road.

3. Drink more water. Sometimes our brains mix up our body’s hydration and hunger signals. Try increasing your water intake throughout the day. Don’t wait until the after-dinner munchies strike to grab an extra glass or two; chances are your sleep will be interrupted by a middle-of-the-night trip to the loo.

4. Make TV-time, veggie-time. It’s easy to fall into the mindless eating trap when you’re marathoning through Game of Thrones. Swap cold, crunchy, raw veggies for your usual TV snack. In addition to helping you increase your daily water intake, the fibre they provide will fill you up without adding extra calories.

5. Sip on flavoured, decaffeinated tea. Sometimes all we’re really craving is flavour. I keep a stash of flavoured herbal teas on hand to satisfy flavour cravings and give my hands something to do when I’m not really hungry, but thinking about food, none-the-less (knitting helps with this too). My current favourite? A black, decaf chocolate mint tea; particularly helpful with PMS chocolate cravings!

6. Go to bed earlier. If you eat dinner at 6, but don’t go to bed until midnight, chances are you’ll end up hungry before bed. Six hours is a long time to go without eating. Try hitting the sack an hour or two earlier. Not only will it prevent you from heading to the pantry, studies have shown that chronic, short-duration sleep is linked to sugar cravings and middle-of-the-body fat deposition. If you can’t possibly go to sleep any earlier, consider shifting your dinner hour closer to bedtime.

What’s your favourite tip for taming the after-dinner munchies?