Tips for progressing your planks

I include planks in every single group fitness class I teach and almost every program I write for clients. Front planks, side planks, feet-elevated planks and walking planks, to name but a few.

This is me, planking in Las Vegas (apparently what happens in the gym in Vegas, doesn’t stay in Vegas…)

I love that you can do them just about anywhere, with or without equipment, and that there are enough variations to keep even the most easily bored exerciser happy for months on end.

The key to continue getting the most bang for your plank-buck? Progress them over time.

Being able to do a 5-minute plank is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are better ways to use those precious minutes in the gym once you’re regularly hitting the 1-minute mark.

Benefits of including planks in your workouts
  • Planks are a whole-body exercise that require simultaneous contraction of the glutes, abdominals, quadriceps, chest, shoulders and back. They are the precursor to performing a push-up and will aid in your quest for a pull-up.
  • They increase your ability to perform activities of daily life (lifting groceries, shovelling snow and carrying children around).
  • They improve your performance in the weight room and during other forms of physical activity (running, cycling, kayaking, golfing, step aerobics) by strengthening your core. A stronger core is key to better movement in all directions.
Mastering the basics: planking 101

Whether performing the plank from knees or toes, from forearms or hands, with hands or feet elevated or with the help of an unstable exercise tool, the following cues will improve your plank and minimize your risk of injury:

  • Maintain a straight line from the back of your head to the back of your heels (or knees, when performing the simplest version of the plank). Bending at the hips reduces the effectiveness of the exercise (we’ve all seen people plank with their butts in the air; FYI a plank is a straight board…).
  • Engage abdominals and gluteal muscles to protect your lower back. Clenching your bum cheeks will reduce the tendency for the hips to drop towards the floor and a curve to appear in your lower back.
  • Pull elbows close to the body and shoulder blades back and down. Doing so will reduce the pressure on your shoulders and increase the contribution of your back muscles to the exercise. Remember, planks are just as much about the back side of the body as they are about your ‘abs’.
  • Keep forearms parallel to one another. When you clasp your hands together in front of you your arms form a triangle with your clavicle. In addition to looking desperate (praying for the exercise to be over), planking in the clasped hands position tends to lead to rounding of the shoulders. By separating the hands we facilitate shoulder retraction and encourage the back to help hold us in the plank.
  • Maintain a neutral neck. That means you don’t want to look down at the floor (this results in rounding of the shoulders; see point above) or crank your head up to look across the room (this will create tension in the neck and likely lead to dropped hips and an exaggerated curve in your lower spine).

Progressing your planks

There are lots of fun and creative ways to progress the basic plank.

Below are some of the techniques I use to progress my clients’ planks, ordered according to (approximately) increasing difficulty. Depending on your upper body strength and your innate sense of balance, some progressions may be more challenging than others.

  • Increase the lever length; if you’ve mastered the knee plank it’s time to lengthen the lever and come to toes. Just like pushing a child on a teeter-totter; the longer the lever, the more challenging the exercise.
  • Change the incline; Not quite ready to go from knees to toes? Try varying the incline to find a middle ground. Place your hands on a bench or box, with hands directly under shoulders and come to toes. Need to make a toe plank more challenging? Reverse the incline so that feet are elevated above the head; perhaps on a bench, or a stability ball when you’re ready to add dynamic stabilization to the mix (see below).
  • Lift a hand or foot; by decreasing the number of points of contact your body makes with the floor, you’re not only forcing the remaining limbs to take on a greater load, you’re also working on balance and anti-rotational core strength.

Start by lifting one foot about 4 inches off the ground (see right panel in the photo above). Aim to keep your hips level and toes turned down. Hold for as long as you can then switch. You might also choose to lift one hand and extend the arm in front of you, parallel to the floor. As you get better with your 3-point plank, try cycling through all four limbs, one at a time, holding each for as long as you can and immediately moving to the next limb when you can’t hold the previous one off the floor for another second.

  • Add instability to the mix; the moving 3-point plank, as described above is the easiest way to introduce a stability (read ‘balance’ ) challenge to your plank. Stability balls, Bosu balance trainers, balance boards and the TRX suspension trainers are all good options too.

Performing the basic plank with hands or feet elevated on any of the above tools will force stabilizing muscles in your shoulders, core and legs to work harder to maintain the static hold. You may need to revert to a shorter lever plank (i.e., a knee plank) when you first introduce instability. Don’t think of this as back-sliding, but re-inforcing the foundation you need to tackle the more challenging exercise.

 

  • Add movement to your plank; when we add movement to an static stabilization exercise like the plank, we’re asking the body to maintain stability in the face of an external force. This is good training for life 🙂 , especially if you’ve noticed your balance getting worse with age. These moving plank variations will require you to continually fight for stability, using many small muscles whose existence you may have been previously unaware of (but will undoubtably feel tomorrow).

Some of my favourite ‘moving planks’? Roll-outs and roll-ins on the ball, TRX suspension trainer ‘plank to knee-ins’, side planks with core rotation and plank rows (to name a few).

I find it helpful to include a variety of plank progressions in every workout. Some simple plank holds to work on form and endurance, an unstable plank or two to focus on balance and unilateral strength and a moving plank to further challenge balance and make my clients have to really think about what they’re doing (exercise is good for the brain, too 🙂 ).

Looking for more information about building a rock-solid core? You might be interested in the following posts:

10 Crunch-free exercises for a stronger core

5 Moves to Master in Midlife – Exercising for Form and Function

Exercises for Re-building Pelvic Floor Strength in Midlife

Core Training – 5 Moves for a Stronger Midsection

5 reasons women find it difficult to build muscle at midlife

I talk a lot about the value of building muscle with my midlife female clients.

Note that for the most part, we’re not talking big, bulging biceps here, (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not a common goal amongst the women I work with 🙂 ) rather, arms that have some definition, legs that show the outline of the underlying muscle, a back that’s flattered by a halter-style dress and just enough of a six-pack that we’re comfortable being in a bathing suit (not necessarily a bikini) in public.

Not only does having muscle make the day-to-day chores of living easier (think hauling grocery bags, moving heavy furniture, slinging your roller bag into the overhead bin), it elevates metabolism (the number of calories your body burns at rest) and allows us to keep enjoying the activities we love (golfing, kayaking, cycling, bouldering, hiking) without fear of pain or injury.

It makes us smile when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror (flex, anyone?).

And the act of building it helps to reduce the body’s natural tendency to lose bone density as we get older.

But, just like keeping those middle-of-the-body pounds at bay, it often gets harder to build muscle as we age.

5 Reasons Women Find it Difficult to Build Muscle at Midlife
  • The body naturally loses muscle mass with age.

Research shows that, unless we do something about it, we’ll lose 1-2% of our muscle mass annually between the ages of 40 and 50. 

Once we hit 50, the rate of loss increases, by some estimates, to as much as 3% per year.

This means that by the time we reach 60, we might only have half the muscle mass that we did in our 30’s. (This statistic alone makes me wish that I hadn’t waited until I was 40 to get serious about strength training…)

The good news is you can stave off age-related muscle mass loss with as little as two days of whole-body strength training per week. (Not sure where to start? Why not try one of my beginner strength workouts >> Beginner At-Home Strength Workout and Progressing Your Beginner At-Home Strength Workout)

For those of you looking to do more than just ‘run to stay in place’, you’ll need to add an extra day or two of strength training, experiment with body part splits vs whole-body workouts (what’s best for your exercise buddy may not be what works best for your body), be strategic with your choice of exercises and of course, address the four issues below… (I’d recommend starting here before you completely overhaul your strength program 🙂 ).

  • Muscle-building hormones decline with age.

In addition to contributing to hot flashes, night sweats, libido loss and middle-of-the-body weight gain, the fluctuating and decline hormones of perimenopause may also make it more difficult to build significant muscle.

Testosterone (commonly referred to as the ‘male hormone’) is the primary hormone responsible for building bone and muscle. By the age of 40, a typical woman’s testosterone level will have fallen to half of what it was in her 20’s and continue to drop as she ages.

Estrogen is an ‘anabolic’ (or ‘building’) hormone. It’s promotes the growth of neutrons, cells, tissues and organs, including hair, skin, bone and muscle. It’s also a natural energy booster. With lower levels of circulating estrogen, not only can it be more challenging to exercise at the same intensity we used to, our bodies can’t create new tissue at the same rate as they did when we were younger.

If you suspect that hormonal imbalance is impeding your progress in the gym, see your doctor or naturopath and ask them to test your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid levels.

  • Weight loss strategies often undermine muscle gain.

Many midlife women adopt a ‘move-more, eat-less’ strategy to offset weight gain during perimenopause. They simultaneously increase the frequency, duration and intensity of exercise and reduce calories not realizing that the body’s natural response to stress of this sort is to tighten its hold on fat stores.

In many cases, this approach generates too much of a calorie deficit for putting on any appreciable muscle and can sometimes result in the body using precious muscle tissue for fuel.

  • Protein intake is inadequate to support building muscle.

In order to build muscle your body requires fuel. Both in terms of the absolute number of calories you’re consuming (you can’t build something from nothing) and the percentage of those calories that come from protein.

The long term recommendation that midlife women consume a minimum of 0.8 g of protein per kg body weight per day (that’s only about 55 g for a 150 pound woman) has often been challenged. Recent studies suggest that increasing protein intake above this minimum not only benefits weight loss and weight loss maintenance, it can also help ‘slow gainers’ to get better results from their strength training programs.

Note that protein doesn’t have to come from animal sources to help build muscle. Need ideas for increasing your protein intake? I’ve got you covered.

  • Rest and recovery are under-valued.

As a consequence of adopting a ‘more more, eat less’ strategy, many women just aren’t giving their bodies enough time to rest and recover. While it can be scary and counter-intuitive  to ‘do less’, it may be exactly what your body needs to build the muscle you’re looking for.

Strength training involves the breaking down and re-building of muscle fibres. Rush the process and you’re unlikely to see growth (and much more likely to injure yourself or just plain old burn out from over-exertion).

Many midlife women suffer from disordered thyroid and adrenal glands. Exhaustion and over-training are significant contributors. If you’re someone who feels the need to hit the gym daily, try substituting a yoga class or long walk in nature for at least one of your weekly workouts. Pay attention to how your body feels. And make sure you’re tracking your gains. Sometimes less really can be more 🙂

Need some help in the muscle-building department? I’ve just opened up two new spaces in my Online Fitness Coaching practice and would love to be your midlife-muscle-up-guide. You’ll find more details about this service here >> 1-on-1 Fitness Coaching. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page and complete the online application form; this lets me know you’re serious about enlisting me as a coach 🙂

Have you found it more challenging to build muscle at midlife?

If so, what strategies have you tried and found successful?

Finding and giving value in 2017

The first post of the year.

For a fitness blogger, the topics are fairly predictable; how to get back to exercise after the holidays, tips for reducing added sugar, finding new motivation in a new year, tricks for creating attainable goals and making new habits stick, strategies for dealing with the January gym rush etc.

Not that these posts aren’t helpful. Heck, I’ve written many of them myself, and if that’s what you’re looking for, just click on the links above and get inspired.

This year’s first post is more personal.

Twenty-sixteen was a challenging year for me.

The plans that I’d made for family, fitness, business and personal development didn’t all pan out. Some of that was on me and some of it was completely beyond my control.

I didn’t get to the gym as much as usual. I indulged in alcohol more frequently than I typically do. I cancelled an online program due to lack of interest. I took things personally way more often than is typical of me.

There were periods of stillness, punctuated by tentative steps forward.

I joined a new gym. I took on new fitness coaching clients. I attended a midlife bloggers conference. I went to a health and wellness spa. I revitalized my newsletter. I blogged regularly. I travelled a fair bit and spent lots of time hanging with my family and friends.

In retrospect, I think I did pretty damn well, all things considered.

For the first time in fourteen months I find myself looking forward with hope and possibility. And the realization that 2017 can only be an improvement on 2016 if I’m clear on what I want from it.

It’s been years since I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. Not doing so has worked well for me, so I’m inclined to continue the lack of tradition 🙂

Setting ‘goals’ isn’t quite right either, as what I’m seeking isn’t material or measurable. (Don’t get me wrong, I have goals, they’re just not associated with the start of a new year…).

While vision boards work for many, I’m just not motivated by looking at pictures or motivational phrases.

What I’m after is a feeling. And that feeling is ‘value’.

  • I want to feel valuable to others. That what I give to my family, friends, clients and online community is of value. I want to know that when I write a blog post or share a personal story or help someone make a positive change in their life that my contribution is valued.
  • I want to value myself and my time more. Enough to put my own needs at least on par with the needs of others and spend less time on activities that aren’t adding value to my life or my business.
  • I want to make others feel valued. Letting people know I appreciate the time and energy they share with me. And that their actions have impacted me as an individual or an online community that they’re a part of.
Creating this feeling of ‘value’ is going to require change.

Some of those changes will be related to this blog and my activity on social media.

I’ve already implemented the first one. Every day in January, I’ll be sharing a ‘workout-let’ on my Instagram and Facebook fan pages; a short workout designed to help you get back to exercise after the holidays in a safe, sane and enjoyable fashion. (Make sure you’ve ‘liked’ my Facebook page and are ‘following’ me on Instagram to ensure you see them all and if you value the content I’ve shared, please pay it forward by sharing with your own friends and followers.)

Newsletter recipients will see a change in the frequency of emails from me. While I’ve enjoyed communicating twice-weekly in this less ‘formal’ fashion with my followers, the low rate of responses and overall engagement on this platform has led me to question whether it’s a valuable use of my time (and whether the recipients who do engage are receiving much value from my musings..).

I’ll be phasing out a program that’s helped many beginners to fitness and working on creating something new that will be considerably more valuable to my ‘ideal reader’ (midlife women with the goal of becoming the strongest, healthiest and happiest version of themselves possible).

While blogging will remain on my list of ‘valued’ activities, I’d like to tailor my posts to the topics of most value to my midlife female readers rather than those most ‘valued’ by search engines 🙂

Take a minute and help a girl out? 

Of the information I’m already sharing here, what types are most valuable to you? (e.g., workouts, how-to posts, fitness and nutrition information, motivational kicks in the butt etc).

Are there other types of posts that would be even more valuable to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks to all of you who regularly (or semi-regularly 😉 ) read, comment on and share my online offerings. You make me feel valued. I hope that I do the same for you.

5 midlife fitness posts you need to read before January 1st

In a perfect world, we’d all maintain our regular fitness routines and healthy ways of eating through the December holidays.

Nobody would gain an ounce and gyms wouldn’t be any busier January 1st than they were the week before.

Fitness professionals wouldn’t need to launch new programs aimed at ‘resolutioners’ and nobody’d be looking for Boxing Day sales at Lululemon.

In reality, the average North American will have gained 5-7 pounds during the month of December and be looking for ways to take it off and improve their fitness come New Year’s Day.

But starting and sticking with a new fitness and nutrition program is never easy.

Not only does it require persistence and perseverance, but preparation of the mental kind.

If you’re planning on heading back to the gym next week and want to maximize your chances of success, you’ll want to read the following posts. Particularly if you’re a midlife exerciser wanting to avoid injury and frustration because you’re not seeing results as quickly as you’d like to.

Get your mindset right, your expectations in check and you can’t help but reach your goals!

5 midlife fitness posts you need to read before January 1st
  • Create a flexible fitness plan > Given that the gym is likely to be a busy place for the next month or two, give some thought beforehand as to how you might have to adapt and modify your program if space is tight and equipment unavailable. You’ll be less likely to ditch the gym if you have a backup plan in place.
  • Essential stretches for midlife exercisers > Stretching is really just another component of a comprehensive fitness program. Spend as much time stretching post-workout as you do warming up pre-workout. Heading to a group fitness class? Don’t duck out before the instructor finishes with ‘mat time’ 🙂

Need a little help figuring out how to put it all together?

My online fitness program for women over 40 is all set to begin a new 3-month session. Registration is open now, with January 1st programs set to go out December 31st. (Click here for more details about the program, happy client testimonials and a link to the registration form >> 40+ Online Group Registration)

A winning combination of professional exercise instruction, life-stage-specific nutritional guidance, unparalleled group support and accountability and a coach who isn’t shy about challenging limiting beliefs and helping her clients recognize the many positive changes they’re making to their lives.

Why finishing 2016 strong is your best new year’s fitness strategy

This is the time of year when all good fitness bloggers share their strategies for getting through the holidays without gaining too much weight or losing too much ground at the gym.

Much of this advice centres around tips for navigating party food (‘eat before you go out’, ‘alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks’, ‘avoid second helpings’, ‘offer to bring a salad’…) and squeezing in short bouts of non-exercise movement under the guise of having family fun (‘go skating together’, ‘climbing a tobogganing hill burns 300 calories an hour’, ‘ head to an indoor pool and swim laps while the children play’…).

While I believe these bits of advice can be helpful (and I’ve written many posts myself, chock full of tips for avoiding holiday weight gain and carving out time for your Christmas-day workout…), I also think that they completely miss the mark when it comes to really helping people stay focused on their fitness and health goals for the long term. Helping them find not just a new year’s fitness strategy, but an approach that will work for months and years to come.

Most of us start the year off strong.

successful midlife exercise program

That’s why the gym is so full in January and your Facebook feed has been covered with ‘New Year’s Fitness’ offers for the past month.

We implement the tips and ‘micro’-strategies offered up, but can only do so for so long before we begin to lose motivation and revert to our previous state.

As the year draws to a close, we fizzle out, hoping, at best, to ‘maintain the status quo’ at the gym or strive for ‘zero net gain’ on the scale.

What if we finished the year as strong as we began it?

What if we shifted our mindset to value seeing a project through to the end?

What if we recognized the importance of being someone who finishes what she starts?

What if we no longer created a ‘new year’s fitness strategy’ each and every year?

I’m guessing that January would be just another month on the calendar. (And we’d see improvement in a lot of other areas in our lives…)

successful midlife exercise program

A month in which we’d continue to progress our workouts, improve our health and see the numbers on the scale shift in the direction we’d like. Without the dramatic increase (and subsequent equally dramatic decrease…) in the number of people at the gym.

I challenge you to think back to your January 2016 goals, intentions and resolutions. Be it weight loss, improved health, squatting your body weight or doing five consecutive push-ups.

Remind yourself why those goals were important to you.

If they’ve become less of a priority as the year elapsed, re-instate them to the top of your to-do list for the remainder of the month.

By the time 2017 arrives, you’ll already be well on your way to have re-established positive habits. Long before the January exercisers have done their thing; starting and stopping for another year.

Finishing the year strong is surely your best strategy for ensuring a fit, healthy and successful 2017 and beyond…

P.S. Although the next session of my 40+ Online Women’s Fitness program does begin on January 1st, it’s by no means a ‘seasonal’ program. We’re just continuing on with the work we’ve been doing all year. New participants ‘arrive’ monthly, start by setting some goals, and choose versions of the exercises and workouts that are appropriate for their fitness level.
If you register now, you’ll instantly receive an introductory workout you can use to ‘finish 2016 strong’ and be ready to hit the ground running in the new year. Details and a link to the registration form can be found here >> 40+ Online Fitness Training

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.

creating a successful midlife exercise program

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.
creating a successful midlife exercise program

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).

successful midlife exercise program

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.

successful midlife exercise program

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.

home exercise tools

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.

home exercise tools

 

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.

weekly walking group

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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