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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Choose a single, small habit to adopt.

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

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

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

 

2. Associate that habit with contextual cues.

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

Use something to trigger the habit’s occurrence.

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

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

 

3. Reward yourself immediately.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

5. Share your practice with others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summertime fitness reads to keep you on track

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summertime fitness reads to keep you on track

I forward to catching up with you in August!

 

Creating a successful summertime fitness plan

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

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

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

Not to mention the challenges that vacations present.

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

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

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

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

successful midlife exercise program

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

Tally them up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most hotels have fitness centres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still not sure how to structure your summer fitness time? Need ideas for short and effective workouts? Craving the inspiration, support and accountability of others? My 40+ Online Women’s Fitness Group is currently accepting new members for the Summer 2017 Session. Click the link below for program details, participant testimonials and a link to claim your spot today.
Registration closes Wednesday, June 28th at 6 pm PT.

 

Online Fitness Training for Midlife Women – Register now!

 

 

Fitting in fitness when life is unpredictable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a ‘flexible schedule’

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

Embrace all definitions of ‘flexibility’

  • Recognize the potential for interruptions

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

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

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

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

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

  • Draft a plan ‘B’

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

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

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

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

  • Include a ‘flex’ day

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

Flexing on ‘flex’ day 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above housekeeping chores (they never end anyways…)

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

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

Scan the horizon for obstacles

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

  • create a plan for navigating them

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

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

Pack your skipping rope and resistance band.

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

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

  • let go of what you truly can’t control

Sometimes obstacles truly are unpredictable.

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

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

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

  • get back on course as soon as you can

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

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

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

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

 

My 40+ Women’s Online Fitness group is gearing up for our Summer 2017 Session.
Three months of workouts (with lots of modifications to truly make the workout your own), nutrition and lifestyle info that’s uniquely relevant to the challenges of the peri-menopause years, a private support and accountability group, as well as bonus holiday workouts and Facebook Live events to help keep you motivated and enthusiastic about exercise even when life is unpredictable. 
Invites go out to women on my Course Interest list June 22nd.
Add your name via the form below to ensure you don’t miss out on this incredible program.

Why many mid-life women don’t lift weights | overcoming common objections

Despite understanding the myriad benefits of strength training, many midlife women still aren’t lifting weights.

While cardio workouts and yoga classes are important components of a well-rounded midlife fitness program (I do both and encourage my clients to do so as well), they just don’t stimulate muscle growth, enhance metabolism and slow bone density loss the same way a good old-fashioned weight lifting session does.

In my experience, the objections women typically have to strength training can be grouped into three categories; worries about ‘bulking up’, fear of injury and a simple lack of knowledge about where to start and how to progress their workouts.

Below I’ve expanded on these three objections and made some suggestions for overcoming them.

Read, comment, share and meet me in the weight room 😉

 

Why many midlife women don’t lift weights: common objections and how to overcome them

 

  • Fear of ‘bulking up’.

The word ‘bulky’ means different things to different people. Suffice it to say, the word is rarely used as a compliment.

Many women aren’t interested in developing the physique of either a body builder or a power lifter and believe that this is what will happen if they lift weights.

Most would prefer the ‘fitness model’ physique and don’t understand that the women in fitness magazines have to lift weights (and lift ‘heavy’) to get that look.

By ‘heavy’ I mean choosing a weight that allows you to perform only 8 to 12 good form repetitions before your muscles fatigue. (Read more about choosing the right weight for you here >> How much weight should I be lifting?)

Depending on the exercise, your fitness level and your experience with strength training, ‘heavy’ might be 5, 10 or 50 pounds. It’s all relative.

Midlife women have to work hard in the gym to build visible muscle mass, let alone ‘bulk up’. I regularly lift ‘heavy’ and have never been referred to (at least to my face. 🙂 …) as ‘bulky’.

  • Fear of injury

While strength training does have a risk of injury (let’s face it, any form of physical activity can lead to injury if you’re not careful…), the primary reason to lift weights at midlife is to create a body that’s more resistant to injury during every-day-living, as well as during the pursuit of all the other physical activities we love.

The key is to go slow. Start with simple movements with little to no load. Body weight exercises are a great place to begin.

Learn proper form. Read a book, watch a video or hire a coach (I currently have room for two new clients in my online coaching practice) if you need help. Watch yourself in the mirror. Create a strong mind-to-muscle connection.

Progress when your body is ready to. You’ll know it’s time to choose a heavier weight or a more challenging version of the exercise when you could easily perform a bunch of extra repetitions without losing form or feeling tired.

Always warm-up before you begin lifting. Spend time practicing the movements you’ll be doing in the workout. Cool down and stretch when you’re done.

And make sure you’re getting adequate rest between sets and sessions.

  • Lack of knowledge

If you’ve never lifted weights before, the gym can be an intimidating place. There’s lots of strange-looking equipment. And depending on where you work out, the sex-ratio in the free-weights section of the room may be heavily male-biased.

Remind yourself that we all start as beginners. And the only way to progress beyond your beginner status is to begin 🙂

For many women, group fitness classes are the perfect place to start their strength-training journey. Choose a class that includes a strength component (for example, bootcamp, body sculpt, lift and pump etc.) with an instructor who looks like she lifts weights. Pay attention to the form cues she gives you and don’t be afraid to approach her after class with your questions. Many of us relish the opportunity to turn other women on to strength training 🙂

Hire a personal trainer for a few sessions. She’ll help you figure out where to start, create a program that’s specific to your fitness level and goals, and tell you how and when to progress your workout.

Hanging with her in the gym will help you overcome those initial feelings of intimidation and start you on your way to feeling ‘at home’ in the gym.

Already have a little experience with strength training? Prefer working out at home? Looking to join a group of like-minded midlife women striving to be the healthiest, happiest and strongest version of themselves possible?
My 40+ Online Women’s Training group is about to get started with a new 3-month program.
Registration for the Spring 2017 session opens next week. Add your name to my Course Interest list (below) to ensure you get the details as soon as they’re available (and an early registration offer that I don’t share anywhere else).

 

5 reasons you’re not loving your workouts (and what to do about it)

Not everyone loves to exercise.

Even those of us whose livelihood depends on working out go through periods when exercise is not our favourite thing to do.

Days when we’d rather hit the snooze button than go to the gym.

Weeks where we have to have a stern chat with ourselves before each and every workout session.

There are lots of reasons why you might not be loving your workouts. Here are the five most common and some suggestions for getting past them.

5 reasons you’re not loving your workouts (and what to do about it)
  • You’re new to exercise (or returning from a hiatus). Making change is hard. Especially when that change requires you to move your body in ways it’s not used to. Or carve out time in an already busy schedule.

Newcomers don’t know how good regular exercise feels, so they often give up before they get to the stage of noticing the difference. Remind yourself that change takes time and that often, we might not enjoy the initial stages of developing a new habit.

That’s okay. Try focusing on all the positives that regular exercise brings to your life and trust that it will get easier and more fun if you keep at it.

  • You’ve chosen the wrong mode of exercise (for you). Not all types of exercise are equally appealing to all people. Sure, you can learn to like (and even love) a new form of exercise over time, but choosing a mode of exercise that’s in complete opposition to your preferred form of movement (not to mention your personality) is bound to lead to a lack of exercise love.

Need the accountability and energy of others? You’re probably better off choosing a group fitness class than heading into the weight room on your own.

Prefer the forest to the gym? Take your run out-of-doors to avoid the boredom of the treadmill.

And don’t discount the value of cycling to library or doing your errands on foot. Exercise comes in many different forms and as long a you’re moving your body regularly and at an intensity that’s a little higher than your normal mode of locomotion you’re doing something good for your body. Why not create your own weekly women’s hiking group?

Hiking with friends (and canines) is a great non-traditional form of exercise

  • You’re been doing the same thing for too long. Don’t confuse dislike with boredom. If you’ve been going to the same group fitness class forever or haven’t changed up your strength exercises for a month or two, chances are the reason you’re not loving your workouts is pure and simple boredom. Guess what? Your body is probably just as bored as your mind.

Try switching up the exercises in your workout. Or venturing into a different instructor’s class. (Don’t worry; we never take it personally when our regulars decide to try a new class 🙂 ).

It’s possible that a complete change of venue is what you really need to re-kindle your love of working out. Many gyms and boutique fitness studios offer introductory specials to newcomers. Use this as an opportunity try out that new kick-boxing facility or indoor cycling class for a week or two before committing to a longer term membership.

This is what I did in January 2016. It was exactly what I needed to re-discover my love of movement and weight-lifting (and paved the path for me to return to my first exercise love, strength training for muscle growth).

  • You’re feeling discomfort. By ‘discomfort’ I don’t mean pain. If exercise is painful, you need to stop immediately and make an appointment with your primary health care provider to figure out what’s up and how to fix it.

Instead, I’m referring to that feeling of doing something far enough outside of what you usually do that your brain tries to convince you to stop.

We all like things that are easy for us. Activities that are within our comfort zone. Things that we’re already good at. It’s the reason we push back when our trainer gives us a challenging workout. Or switches the order of our lifts. Or asks us to start our training session with core activation exercises rather than leaving the floor work until the end…

Exercise should push you slightly beyond your comfort zone. If it doesn’t, you won’t get faster, stronger, leaner or healthier.

Identify what’s causing the discomfort. Is it something you can sit with until it goes away? If not, and you’re actively avoiding it, try placing it higher on your priority list and get it done earlier in the workout, day or week.

This is what I’ve done in my own training. I strength train four days per week. The fourth workout of the week focuses on hamstrings and glutes; my least favourite muscles to exercise. Why? Because they’re the weakest muscles in my body and every exercise in this workout is hard for me.

Setting up for a barbell dead lift

After about a month on my current program, I realized that I purposefully placed this workout at the end of the week because it’s the one I’m most likely to blow off. I’ve since moved it to the top of the workout week, getting the discomfort out of the way before I move to the more ‘fun’ workouts.

  • You aren’t seeing results. I frequently hear from women who are frustrated and discouraged because they’re not seeing the results of their exercise efforts. As a consequence, they begin to loathe their workouts, viewing them as a waste of time and not worth doing.

Often this is because the only measure of progress they’re looking at is the bathroom scale.

© Okolaa | Dreamstime.com - Feet On Bathroom Scale With Scared Cute Face Photo

Changing your mindset about exercise is crucial to becoming someone who enjoys working out. Finding other ways to measure progress not only increases your enjoyment of exercise, it also helps you sit with discomfort long enough for the work to become less uncomfortable (and to start seeing the results your desire).

Try taking measurements. Or trying on the same pair of ‘thermometer’ jeans (you know, the ones you can just about get in to…) at regular intervals. Keep track of how many good form toe pushups you can do. Or how much weight you’re squatting. Give yourself a ‘star’ on the calendar for every workout you do and reward yourself at the end of the month for sticking with the program.

Remember that it takes longer to build muscle, lose weight and improve flexibility at midlife. We don’t have all those great hormones working in our favour the way we did in our 20’s and 30’s.

That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, just that we need to be realistic about our expectations, consistent with our routines and more patient with our bodies.

And remember that we’re in it for the long haul, not just to fit into a bathing suit next summer 😉

 

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.

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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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!

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