Create a flexible fitness plan

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

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

flexible fitness plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

flexible fitness plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flexible fitness plan

My current favourite cardio machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers

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

pre-workout warmup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The perfect exercise balance | how to find yours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The variations are as unique as the women following them.

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

perfect exercise balance

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.54.14 PM

Are you ready to find your own perfect exercise balance?

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

I’ve got two great online programs to help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven steps to midlife fitness success

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

midlife fitness success

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

She’s not a fitness model.

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

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

Seven steps to becoming a midlife fitness success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

midlife fitness success

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

Put an end to ‘getting back to fitness’

Starting a new exercise program is hard. Keeping going month after month, harder still. But the most difficult thing of all? Quitting and having to start all over again (and again and again…).

Not only do you recognize how much strength, stamina and endurance you’ve lost (the older you are and less time you’ve been exercising, the faster it all goes away), you also remember how long it took to build it in the first place.

And that realization can be frustrating and demoralizing.

If only people realized how challenging getting BACK to fitness is, they’d be more resolved to MAINTAIN their fitness and ADHERE TO that new exercise program for more than the typical month or two.

getting back to fitness

Rather than ‘getting back to fitness’, we need to find ways to incorporate movement and exercise into our daily lives now and for a very long time to come. Even during those periods of our lives when our motivation to exercise is low and time to work out is scarce.

Tips for putting an end to ‘getting back to fitness’:
  • Underwhelm yourself. Start slow. Slower than you think you’re capable of and slower than the oft-quoted recommendations for weekly exercise; sure 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week is a great goal, but maybe not for those who are currently doing nothing. You can always do more next week or the week after. Set yourself up for success by setting attainable goals. It’s okay to leave your body wanting more.
  • Find something you actually like to do. If you hate spin class don’t book a bike. Forget about what everybody else is telling you the ‘best’ way to exercise is. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. Period. Note that movement doesn’t have to be formal exercise for your body and mind to benefit from it. Your muscles don’t know the difference between lifting dumbbells in the gym and hauling dirt in the garden.
  • Identify the time of day when you’re most likely to get it done. Earlier tends to work better for most people. Before willpower and decision-making fatigue set in. Before other responsibilities overwhelm you and crowd out your plans. Planning for obstacles is a key component of developing consistency around exercise. Expect to have setbacks and know, in advance, how you’ll respond to them.
  • Document everything. Not only what you did, when you did it and how long you did it for but also how you felt before, during and after you did it. Your exercise log will allow you to look back and measure progress, as well as showing you the effects of a workout on your mood and mindset. Next time you’re tempted to miss a workout, remind yourself of how good you always feel afterwards. Buy a pretty new journal and a glitter pen if that inspires you.
  • Find someone to do it with. Humans are inherently social. Most of us enjoy spending time with others (or at least a few, well-chosen others). Finding a friend (or friends) to move with helps keep you motivated and accountable. For those of you with very full schedules, think of it as multi-tasking; you can tick ‘get together with x’ and ‘go to the gym’ off your list at the same time. Can’t enlist anybody local? Turn to your virtual friends via social media apps and online fitness communities.
  • Recognize boredom for what it is. No matter how enamoured we are with a new activity, interest often wanes over time. Rather than interpreting that lack of interest as lost motivation for exercise, recognize that it’s simply boredom with your current routine. Find something new that excites you and keeps you moving. Zoned out at Zumba? Try a TRX class. Bored of the bike? Step on the stair master. There are as many unique ways to exercise as there are exercisers.
One of the best ways to GET (and STAY) in shape? Add your name to my Online Course interest list and be the first to hear about upcoming online fitness group programming… The much-anticipated (and re-vamped) “Fight the Fluff” returns in September while the fall session of #40PlusFitness runs from October 1st through December 31st.

Exercises for re-building pelvic floor strength in midlife {Guest Post}

Whenever I instruct my group fitness class to skip, jump or perform burpees, there’s always at least one participant who decides that this is the perfect moment for a bathroom break. As a midlife mother of three, I completely understand this. It’s the reason I always make a last minute dash for the toilet before beginning a workout myself 🙂

Stress incontinence (the leaking of urine while engaging in higher impact activities, heavy lifting or in response to coughing, sneezing and laughing) is relatively common amongst women of a (ahem) particular age. Thankfully, it’s a reversible condition that can be counter-acted with some fairly simple exercises.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 9.07.14 AMToday, I’m thrilled to have my friend, neighbour, fellow fitness professional and core function specialist Krista Dennett share her thoughts and expertise on re-training your core and re-building core strength in midlife. You can read more about Krista’s background and approach to fitness on her website, KDFitness.ca.

 

Fitknitchick: Other than stress incontinence, what are some other symptoms of a weak or dysfunctional pelvic floor?

Krista Dennett: While leaking is the most common form of core dysfunction (affecting approximately 1 in 4 women over the age of 35), there are several other issues that can seriously impact our quality of life.

If you have incontinence, or are experiencing any of the issues I’m discussing below, it’s in your best interest to seek the help of a pelvic floor physiotherapist. As well, you need to take a step back with some exercises and learn to re-connect and retrain your core for it to work correctly in movement.

  • Low Back Pain and Hip Pain

Often where we feel the most pain in our back is directly related to the weakest point of our abdominal area in the front. Without strength and support of the deep internal abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominals, and a lack of proper alignment from poor posture – we place constant strain on our back.

Poor posture plays an integral role in our core function, as our internal core team of muscles can’t function in an optimal manner when out of alignment. We tend to rest the weight of our bodies on our joints, particularly our hips and knees, which contributes to our weakened core muscles.

Hip pain can be a result of several issues. Particularly scar tissue from a C-section or on the pelvic floor muscles caused from natural birth. These are both very common, and fortunately they can be reversed. A form of massage called myofascial release, softens the scars tissues. Allowing the pelvic floor muscles to working correctly, promotes core support and allows your hips to move freely.

  • Diastasis Recti Admonis (DRA)

DRA is the separation of your rectus abdominis muscles, and is the common trait of a ‘mummy tummy’ pooch. This separation happens naturally in pregnancy, as the connective tissues holding our abdominals together relax and stretch over 9 months. The connective tissue can regain its integrity and strength, provided we re-connect and retrain our internal core system of muscles. Rushing back into exercise too quickly can prolong and even prevent these tissues returning to their pre-pregnancy state.

  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP)

POP occurs when the bladder, uterus or bowel presses against the vaginal wall and ‘fall out’. One of the roles of the pelvic floor muscles is to keep our pelvic organs in place. Signs or symptoms of POP may be frequent trips to the bathroom and peeing for short periods of time, you may also experience an intermittent stream of urine, or when you stand up you feel like you still need to go. You may also feel pressure in your pelvic floor, or the sensation that something is falling out.

 

FKC: What are the primary causes of pelvic floor dysfunction in midlife women?

KD: One of the most common causes of pelvic floor dysfunction in aging women occurs as a result of hormonal changes during the perimenopause phase, which cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken. Without continually connecting to and strengthening the pelvic floor, over time women will experience issues such as leakage, back pain and prolapse.

Other factors that can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction include obesity, build-up of stool in the bowel (constipation), bladder infections and high impact exercises (including jumping, running and burpees 😉 )

 

FKC: What are ‘kegels’ and how effective are they for strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor?

KD: Kegels are definitely the buzzword among doctors and fitness professionals. While the kegel is a good thing, it’s very limiting and not necessarily the right thing for all women.

First, it’s very common for women to clench their anus and butt cheeks and hold their breath when performing a kegel. Coordination of breath and core activation are key when learning to activate the pelvic floor muscles.

Second, kegels are an isometric contraction, meaning they are typically done without any movement in the rest of the body. We need to learn to activate our core in movement.

Learning how to activate your core correctly first requires an understanding of what makes up your true internal core system of muscles, how posture and breath play an integral role in performing a contraction correctly, and how the contraction should actually feel.

Here is a quick tip to get you on the right track to learning core activation:

  • lie on your back with knees bent
  • place one hand on your belly and one hand on your rib cage
  • breath in filling your belly with air and feeling your rib cage expand
  • as you exhale, draw your belly button in gently and imagine you’re gently picking up a blueberry with your vagina

 

FKC:  What are your ‘go-to’ exercises for improving pelvic floor strength and function? 

KD: Our core is the stabilization centre of our body and responsible for all movement. Therefore, pretty much every exercise will require some level of core activation and strength.

As a Bellies Inc. Core Trainer, I’ve been using the ‘core confidence program’ with my clients for 2-1/2 years. The purpose of the program is to re-connect to your internal core system, and improve pelvic floor strength. Through my experience of working with women one-on-one, and using the Bellies Inc. philosophy for core exercise, I’ve created an 8-week program to achieve foundational core function. The base of the program is broken up in to three areas of focus:

  • Release Work: identifying and releasing overworking muscles taking over for our dysfunctional core team
  • Core Connection: a series of core connection exercises to correct posture and pelvis alignment, build a mind-connection to your core, and teach activation in movement
  • Core Strength: progressive exercises that are safe and effective in building your core strength from the inside-out

Here are three moves, one from each of these categories that will help you start building a connection to your true core system:

C-Stretch (Release Work)

The most common muscle group to take over for a dysfunctional core system is our obliques; these are part of the abdominal family that run down the sides of our torso. As well, tight hip flexor muscles pull our pelvis out of alignment and affect the optimal function of our core. The C-stretch is great to release these overworking muscles.

C-Stretch

  • Lie on your back with your legs and arms outstretched.
  • Move your shoulders over to the right and use your right hand to gently pull the left arm into an arc towards the right.
  • Move your feet to the right and cross your left ankle over the right. Do not allow your left side to lift – gently press your left hip into the floor.
  • Hold the stretch until you feel tension start to release.
  • Without changing position, switch ankles so your right ankle is over your left, and again hold the stretch until you feel a change.
  • Imagine the side of your body getting longer and releasing out of your hips.
  • Feel length along the entire left side, holding for 60 to 90 seconds or more if needed.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
Bridge with Ball (Core Connection)

This exercise is the first move in the Bellies Inc. Core Confidence series, and is the first step to help you connect to your core and activation in move.

Bridge with Ball B1

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor pelvis width apart. Spine is in neutral, there should be a gentle curve in your low back with your pubic bone in the same line as your hip bones.
  • Place a ball between your knees.
  • Exhale to engage using the core visualization indicated above, and then lift bum off the floor pressing the hips up to the ceiling keeping bum untucked.
  • Inhale down and release the engaged pelvic floor
Crouching Tiger (Core Strength)

This move is ideal as the first step to teaching your core to activate in a plank position. The crouching tiger reduces the amount of load on your core. In doing so, you can better prepare your core to support this exercise as you progress to planks in the future.

The purpose of this move is to create a strong, stable platform. Imagine placing a rectangular piece of foam on the legs of a table, without strength it dips in the middle. The crouching tiger helps you start firming up the ‘table top’ and creating an overall strong core from front to back.

Crouching Tiger 1

  • Get onto all 4s with a neutral spine, hands under shoulders and knees under hips
  • Place a ball or towel between your knees
  • Using core breath, exhale using your core cue to engage/activate your transverse abdominals and squeeze the ball lifting knees 2 to 3 inches off the floor
  • Inhale to expand and release, and lower your knees to start

To progress this move, start holding it for 5 to 30 seconds. Be sure to breath through the move, gently contracted and release your pelvic floor as you inhale and exhale. Once you can comfortably hold this move with little pressure on your wrists and toes, you are ready to progress to planks!

FKC: How might women incorporate these exercises into an existing strength and conditioning program?

KD: The release and core connection exercises can be done daily as a way of solidifying the mind-body connection to your core system. In the 8-week core training program I include a variety of release exercises depending on your body’s needs and overworking muscles; and the core connection exercises progress from lying, seating to standing moves. This program is not meant to replace your workout, but rather compliment any exercise you’re currently doing.

As for the core strengthening exercises, I always do them at the beginning of a workout after warm up. Since our core is working in almost every exercise, it can get tired by the end of the workout. So, to build core strength focus on it first.

The best method to prevent or eliminate common pelvic floor dysfunction issues, such as leaking, is to re-train and re-connect to your internal core system. Our core works without us even knowing it, and anticipates our every movement. If the right muscles aren’t doing their job, the wrong ones automatically take over.

If you’re experiencing leaking, back or hip pain, or pressure on your pelvic floor, it’s advisable you stop doing any high impact exercise moves, seek help from pelvic floor physiotherapist, and learn how to train your core correctly. By taking the time to address the issues, you will be able to reduce and even eliminate them, and get back to doing the exercises you enjoy.

You can find foundational information, and build a better understanding of the importance of core function, in my eBook ‘Finding Your Core Strength, What every women needs to know.’

And coming this fall, my 8-week core program ‘Finding Your Core Strength: Building Your Foundation’ will be available online for everyone!

(You can sign up for email updates to Krista’s newsletter and be the first to hear about registration for this brand new program here >> KDFitness)

Customizing online workouts to make them work for you

As a personal trainer and fitness aficionado, I spend a lot of time searching online for workout ideas and new exercise combinations.

I include them in my own workouts, as well as those of my clients.

I have Pinterest boards full of online workouts I’ve pinned for a later day (including workouts I’ve shared here, with my readers. Recognize any of them?).

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The thing is, most online workouts weren’t put together with YOU in mind. Your unique body. Your fitness level and experience. Your performance, aesthetic and lifestyle goals. Not to mention you may not have the equipment required to complete the workout in its entirely.

While they’re fun to do in a pinch (when you’re on the road or ready for a new exercise program) and may have been written by a personal trainer (someone who’s educated in the principles of workout design), chances are, you’ll need to modify most workouts you see online to address your own unique goals and needs.

Common reasons for modifying an online workout (with suggested work arounds) include:
  • arthritis in the hands and wrists: substitute supine bench exercises with dumbbells like triceps skull crushers and bench press for tricep dips and pushups, respectively. If you have access to a Smith machine, try placing your hands on the bar while you perform your pushups (this is also a great way to progress from knee to toe pushups!).
  • ‘achey’ knees that prevent pain-free squats and lunges: substitute supine hip thrusts, lateral band walks and hamstring curls on the ball to effectively target the legs and butt.
  • excess body weight, poor level of fitness or joints that restrict your ability to include high impact moves: substitute high knees walking-in-place for running or jumping jacks; step, rather than jump back into the high plank portion of a burpee; stationary cycling for the upright elliptical and treadmill (of course, losing weight will help reduce the stress of performing these exercises and may be all you need to improve the function and health of the joints 🙂 )
  • not enough time: shorten online workouts by reducing the number of sets by one or the duration of intervals by 25-30%, rather than skipping the workout entirely or by-passing much-needed post-workout stretching
  • limited equipment: substitute dumbbells for kettlebells, sandbags and barbells (you may need to modify the exercise slightly as well); use a stability ball in lieu of a workout bench; many cable and pulley exercises can be approximated with a resistance band; bottles of milk, water and diet pop can also work as hand weights in a pinch!
  • too many reps: lots of online workouts are high volume in nature. Performing hundreds of pushups, squats and crunches isn’t necessarily the best way to improve your fitness level. Reduce the number of reps and perform the exercises with heavier weights than suggested. You’ll not only shorten the workout, you’ll also build strength more quickly (and see muscle development faster).

One of the skills that I strive to teach my group fitness participants and personal training clients (both in person and those who belong to my online training group) is to listen to their bodies.

Pay attention to and avoid movements that cause pain. Choose more challenging versions of an exercise if it feels too easy. Substitute alternative movements for those that don’t serve you, rather than performing them incorrectly or skipping over them entirely.

Always make the workout your own.

Below is a sample of the types of workouts I share with my monthly #40plusfitness women’s online training group (not a member? Registration for the July through September Summer Session is now open You can find more information here >> 40+ Online Fitness Group and a direct link to the registration form here >> Summer 2016 Registration Open Now.

Each exercise has two modifications; one that’s slightly less challenging, one that’s slightly more challenging.

Make this online workout your own by choosing the modification of each exercise that allows you to (just) complete 12 good form repetitions. And feel free to mix and match from the three levels shown; chances are you’ll find some of the middle column options too easy while other will be too difficult.

If you’re brand new to exercise (and/or strength training), one set of each exercise pair is likely enough. More experienced? Need a bit more of a challenge? Try a second (and even a third) time through each super-set.

The key is to listen to your body and work at a level that’s challenging, leaves you feeling like your had a good workout and lets you walk up and down the stairs the next day without too much discomfort :-).

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My clients performed this workout 3-4 times weekly for an entire month. (I gave them weekly progressions, including the plyometric moves between the exercise pairs during weeks 3 and 4. Feel free to include these or not, depending on whether 60 s of jumping jacks, burpees or skipping rope meets your fitness needs and abilities.)

Not sure about the correct way to perform the above exercises?

Take a peak at the Demonstration Videos that I usually only share with my monthly peeps. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video? Closer to a million 😉

Do you regularly perform workouts you’ve found online?

If so, do you modify them to address your own unique fitness goals and needs?

What might you accomplish in a year | my ’50 by 50′ fitness goals

It’s been a long time since I set myself any specific fitness goals.

My primary goal this year was just to get back regular exercise after a post-trauma-induced hiatus from exercise.

I’m happy to say that I’ve more than met that goal. A minimum of 3 workouts per week (most often 5) every single week since January 1st (with the exception of the ten days I spent in Hawaii over spring break).

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By recognizing that I needed a coach of my own (someone else to program for me and keep me accountable; even coaches need coaches 🙂 ) and a supportive community to exercise with (props to my Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday morning Twist buddies), I’m once again feeling strong and capable in the gym. Feelings that often spill-over into the rest of my day and help me manage the sadness and loss that seem to be becoming permeant fixtures of the ‘new’ me.

So what’s next? The prospect of setting new goals in the gym got me thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in other spheres of my life.

What types of experiences would I like to have with my family? How can I create a legacy for my daughter?  How can I give back to my friends and community? Are there areas of personal growth and self-care that need attention? In what direction do I want to take my online business? Are there ‘fun’ things that I think everybody needs to do in life that I still haven’t done? (Zip-lining, anybody?).

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Inspired by a friend’s recent ’40 by 40′ list (a kind of bucket list of things she wanted to experience and accomplish before her 40th birthday), I decided to start my own ’50 by 50′ project.

A list of 50 experiences, goals and accomplishments that I’d like to work through over the next 365 days. (Yep, today’s my 49th birthday). It feels like the right approach to keep me moving forward and creating little slivers of happiness in my life.

At first, the task seemed daunting. I couldn’t think of more than half a dozen items to add to the list.

But when I broke it down into categories (Arts, Crafts and Culture, Community, Friends and Family, Physical Fitness, Indulgences, Professional Accomplishments, Personal Affairs, Books and Movies, Experiences and Travel), I suddenly had more items than necessary (and more things than I could possibly accomplish in one short year).

Note that these aren’t all ‘feel good’ things.

Some are simply tasks that I’ve been putting off for way too long; #40 and #44 respectively, update our wills and paint the inside of the house. Satisfying, yes, but not nearly as exciting as #46, driving in a convertible with the top down or #48, taking a winery tour.

I won’t share my entire list here, it’s very long and has some items that are quite personal and not at all related to fitness, nutrition or health. But I will share with you (for accountability and perhaps, to inspire you to imagine what you might accomplish in a year…) the five that fall under the rubric of fitness and health.

What might you accomplish in a year?
  • perform 5 unassisted pull-ups; currently I can’t even do one, but have been working on resistance-band assisted chin-ups and pull-ups and have a training plan for reducing the resistance over time.

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  • squat my body weight (3 sets of 5 reps at 150 pounds); as I’m neither trying to lose or gain weight (I like to say that I’m training for the sport of life 😉 ), this goal will be fixed.
  • dead lift my body weight (3 sets of 5 reps at 150 pounds); this will be more challenging for me than the squat goal, both because I have some weakness in my lower back and I’m a bit afraid of triggering and old injury. Slow and steady progressions on this one should get me there.
Setting up for a barbell dead lift

Setting up for a barbell dead lift

  • run a charity 5k (preferably for a charity that Clara would find worthy); as many of you know, I’m not a runner. So while I’m pretty sure I could just go out and run 5k, I’d like to do it well and without injury. This will require a bit of training, starting in the fall, once the weather’s a bit cooler. Know of a charity 5K that might be appropriate? I’m open to suggestions!
  • go on a yoga/meditation retreat; while this experience isn’t as purely ‘physical’ as the above four, it still falls within the realm of fitness and wellness. Ideally this will be something local, although I’m always up for a fun travel experience if the opportunity presents itself.

I’d love to know what you’d put on your “50 by 50” list (or “X by X” list, depending on which decade is your next big one 😉 ).

 

 

The best way to eat and exercise for weight loss | you’re the expert of you

We live in an era of information overload.

Every time we open our e-mail, check our Facebook newsfeed or open Instagram to see what our friends are up to we are inundated with messages (messages that are often conflicting) about the best way to eat and exercise for weight loss and long-term health and fitness.

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 get fit?

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 absolutely no idea where to start?

(Indeed, one of the most common responses I get from new newsletter subscribers is “I’m so confused about what I should be doing for exercise and nutrition. Help!”)

If you’re like most of us, 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.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

the best way to eat and exercise for weight loss

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 😉 ).

There is no best way to eat and exercise for weight loss.

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.

the best way to eat and exercise for weight loss

The best way to eat and exercise for weight loss (FOR YOU):
  • 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 wary of whom you trust. Sometimes people have an agenda. Many popular fitness and nutrition programs use network marketers to sell their products. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever worked with a fitness or nutrition coach who’s required (or strongly recommended) that you purchase a particular nutrition supplement through them or had you follow an exercise program that was designed by somebody else. In addition to the money they’re charging you for their services, they’re also earning an income on the product you’ve purchased. Do your research and make sure you’re working with a professional who places your best interests above their bottom line.
  • Be confident in the knowledge that you’re the expert of you. Who’s known 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. Remember, you’re the expert of you.

Follow the above steps to determine your own unique best way to eat and exercise for weight loss, weight loss maintenance, fitness and general health. Then stick with it, modifying as necessary, for the months and years to come.

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 nor are they required to purchase nutritional supplements to see results. Together, we learn to listen to our bodies and practice ‘being the detective’ to determine our own specific formula for fitness success.

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