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 :-).

SampleProgram-886x1024

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.

Our 2016 Summer session is scheduled to begin July 1st. Early registration materials will be available mid-June. Add your name to the e-mail list below to avoid missing out!

The Forces behind Obesity: Why Tackling the Issue Goes beyond the Individual Alone {Guest Post}

This week, I’m thrilled to share with you a guest post written by a woman I’ve known virtually for many years. She’s  and author, physician, public health advocate, humor blogger, mother, wife, fitness enthusiast . . . and introvert (although you’d never know it from her Tweets 🙂 ). Thanks Carrie for an insightful and thought-provoking post! 

Telling people they’ll be thin if they eat less and exercise more is like telling them they’ll be astronauts if they apply to NASA. Neither happens that effortlessly. Many factors and outside forces weigh into the equation and make the journey difficult.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the past thirty years, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has more than doubled in adults and children. It has quadrupled in adolescents.

People didn’t suddenly lose their willpower since the 1980s. Certainly we’re more sedentary than we used to be, a product of both our built environment and our increased reliance on technology. Furthermore, our food environment has exploded with processed food, excessive portion sizes, and easy access to high-calorie, low-nutrient fare. But research suggests there is even more at play, including genetic, hormonal, environmental, chemical, and maybe even infectious factors.

We also now better understand the addictive nature of food high in fat, sugar, and salt. Few of us would binge on broccoli or carrot sticks, but give us a bag of salty potato chips or candy bars, and we can’t get enough. Not with all that feel-good dopamine swimming around in our brains. In fact, simply seeing images of junk food triggers dopamine release, much like seeing white powder does to a cocaine addict.

Add in hormones, human biology that encourages our bodies to store fat and resist weight loss, and an environment full of quick-fix foods, portion distortion, and poor walkability, and you have an issue much more complex than calories-in minus calories-out.

One thing is clear, however: a multifactorial problem requires multilevel interventions. Only when we target all the forces behind obesity will we see any lasting change. Yes, the responsibility ultimately falls on the individual, but to ignore these other forces is to invite failure.

After all, how’s it been working for us so far?

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 9.07.55 AMCarrie Rubin is a physician, public health advocate, and medical thriller author. Her newest novel, Eating Bull, explores fat-shaming, food addiction, and the food industry’s role in obesity.

5 moves to master in midlife | exercising for form and function

When I first started lifting weights in my mid-thirties my goals were all about aesthetics.

I wanted that (photo-shopped) body on the cover of Oxygen magazine and focused more on how weight training could re-shape my body than on how it might improve my overall fitness and health.

While I still like to look my best (don’t we all?), these days I care more about how much energy I have, what my sleep is like and that I’m able to help lift the kayaks onto the roof rack (and my luggage into the overhead bin…) than whether I have a visible six-pack (I don’t) or ‘boulder shoulders’.

Form still matters to me, but function matters even more.

I want to be able to continue doing the activities I love with minimal pain and for many years to come. Regularly performing variations of the following five ‘moves to master in midlife’ not only helps me maintain a strong, lean physique, it also keeps me in the condition I need to be to hike, backpack, kayak and cycle with my friends and family.

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5 moves to master in midlife

1. Hip hinges

Hip bridges, hip thrusts and dead lifts are your body’s (and booty’s…) best friends. (For a glute-specific workout program, check out my book, Ultimate Booty Workouts).

They strengthen the largest muscle groups in the body (hamstrings and gluteals) without the knee pain many of us experience when squatting and lunging. Strong glutes and hamstrings can improve your posture, reduce lower back, hip and knee pain, and even reduce that stubborn middle-of-the-body ‘menopot’. They can also enhance your running and cycling performance.

moves to master in midlife

Setting up for a barbell dead lift

Even better?

Because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, increasing lower body muscle mass via hip hinge movements can accelerate fat loss and help keep it off. Try single leg versions of the above exercises to further challenge your balance; another key component of fitness that tends to decline with age.

2. Push-ups

Looking to increase your upper body strength, tighten your core and tame that back-of-the-arm wobble? Drop and give me 12 (a great goal for all midlife women to strive for).

When performed properly, a push-up does more than just work the chest. It’s a whole body exercise that requires the coordinated efforts of your arms, shoulders, chest, abdominals, back (both upper and lower), gluteals, hamstrings and calves.

moves to master in midlife

Push-ups from knees (top) and toes (bottom)

Try varying your hand placement (narrow, wide, staggered) and angle of incline (hands on the wall, hands on a bench, toes on a bench) to increase the dimensionality of the exercise.

Concentrate on maintaining perfect plank alignment (flat back, tight belly and bum, shoulders pulled back and down) and increasing the depth to which you can drop before adding more reps. Muscle range of motion shrinks as we get older; don’t hasten it by doing only half the exercise 😉

3. Rows

Combine hours of sitting with excessive front of the body loading (I mean boobs, which, by the way, are a load that gets closer to the floor as we age…). Throw in a past pregnancy or three. And mix with a whole lot of mid-life stress. The perfect recipe for rounded shoulders and forward leaning posture.

Strengthening the upper back is key to standing tall and resisting the effects of gravity. Upright rows, bent-over rows, cable and pulley rows, plank rows; all are great exercises for offsetting our body’s increasing tendency to pitch forward as we age.

moves to master in midlife

Single arm bent-over row

Concentrate on maintaining a flat back (chest out, shoulders back and down), an engaged core (think “tighten your corset”) and a long neck (draw your shoulders down and away from your ears) as you pull the weights towards your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position (don’t let gravity ‘grab’ it) and repeat.

Remember to switch arms and work the other side too; gotta keeps things even, you know.

4. Rotational core exercises

Rotational exercises typically target the external obliques. The muscles that cut across the front and back of your body, from hip to rib and enable you to rotate your torso without damaging your spine. I like to think of them as ‘nature’s corset’.

My favourite rotational exercises are wood choppers (kneeling or standing, with a weight or a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine) and Russian twists (on the floor or on the ball, see photo below). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.

moves to master in midlife

Note that the farther you extend your hands away from your body, the more challenging rotational exercises become (remember grade nine physics? the lever principle?).

5. Anti-rotational core exercises

The ability to keep your torso (and spine) from twisting in response to an unexpected external force (for example, catching a heavy object, slipping on a wet surface, lifting a bag that was much heavier than you though it would be) requires strengthening of the inner obliques.

Anti-rotation exercises are frequently absent from workouts shared on Facebook and Pinterest. My favourites include variations of the Paloff press, plank rows and kneeling cross-body lifts with either a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine.

And even static stabilization exercises like the plank (shown below), can be turned into anti-rotational challenges by performing them on an unstable surface (e.g., a stability ball, Bosu or balance board).

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Feet-elevated stability ball planks require strong anti-rotation muscles

Putting it all together

  1. Grab your calendar. Find two or three, 30-minute blocks of free time over the next week (don’t tell me you can’t find the time, we all have 30 minutes of poorly used time in our day).
  2. Create your workout. Choose one exercise from each of the above ‘moves to master in midlife’ categories.
  3. Warm up and work out. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise you’ve chosen, one after the other, with as much or as little rest time as you need. Take a break, grab some water and repeat the circuit.
  4. Stretch and get on with your day.

Not quite ready to go it alone? Need a little more motivation, inspiration and instruction? Make sure you’ve ‘liked’ my Facebook page. The daily sharing and conversation over there may be just the push you need to get started!

Questions? Feel free to hit me up in the comments section below.

Using social media as a fitness accountability tool

Social media often gets a bad rap.

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I am certainly guilty of this some days…

Parents complain about their teenagers spending too much time on Snapchat. Mom gets angry with dad for constantly checking the hockey scores. Dad wishes mom didn’t feel the need to check in with her Facebook friends before she’s even finished her coffee. Friends tease friends about their habit of uploading food photos to Instagram. Non-users complain about the rest of the world being tethered to their phones.

Technology certainly is not without its drawbacks.

As with everything, however, it’s how you use the tool that matters.

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Maybe not the best way to use a megaphone…

My favourite way to use social media is as a fitness accountability tool.

Checking in with friends and clients via Facebook, Instagram, Evernote, Twitter and good old-fashioned e-mail (at least my kids tell me it’s old-fashioned; they never manage to respond to anything I send them…) keeps me accountable to my goals and them to theirs.

Social media sharing is particularly beneficial to those who don’t have a local, in-person group of friends to support their fitness, nutrition and health goals.

Find the right circle of online friends — your own personal support group — and sticking to an exercise schedule or diet becomes easier. Hence the popularity of online weight-loss groups (e.g., DietBet) and exercise programs (my 40+ Fitness Group Training program, for example 😉 ).

Furthermore, research demonstrates that just having a weight-loss or fitness support system in place results in better adherence to diet and exercise and more pounds shed and kept off over the long term.

The following are some of my favourite ways to keep my clients and myself accountable to our fitness and nutrition goals.

Ways to use social media as a fitness accountability tool

  • Facebook: I use both my Facebook business page and my 40+ fitness group page (shh, that’s a secret one) to share workout schedules and planned trips to the gym. Friends and clients often tell me that just seeing my post kept them from bailing on their evening workout. I tell them that it goes both ways 🙂 (sometimes trainers need motivation too…)
  • Instagram: I love to post a quick picture or video of an exercise that I’ve just incorporated in my workout. Hearing other’s comments about the exercise, suggestions as to ways to make it more challenging and even the occasional ‘dang girl, you be strong’ makes me feel good about my accomplishment (and may even motivate a client to challenge themselves a bit more too). Some fitness peeps ‘Instagram’ their meals too, in part to remain accountable to their followers, but also to help motivate themselves and others to make healthy choices on a daily basis. Follow me on Instagram (I almost always follow back) >> fitknitchick_1
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Make this move even more challenging by lifting one foot off the bench!

  • Twitter: This “micro-blogging” sits is informal and fast-paced, with nearly instantaneous feedback. Use Twitter to find friends with similar health and fitness goals. Follow links to motivational photos, low-calorie recipes and workouts you can do at home. Tweet when you feel the urge to eat and you’re guaranteed to get a helpful response in a minute or two. And Twitter chats are a fabulous way to connect with an already established healthy living tribe. You can find me on Twitter at fitknitchick_1
  • MyFitnessPal: Although most people think of MyFitnessPal as a personal nutrition diary, it’s also possible to ‘friend’ your friends and encourage their daily food journalling habit. Even better, if you’re willing to make your diary ‘public’, those friends will also have access to the details of your daily eats. My clients tell me how surprised they are to discover that simply knowing I’ll be looking encourages them to make healthier choices in the kitchen.

The key to using social media as a fitness accountability tool?

It’s right there in the name: SOCIAL media! Interact, participate and engage your way to a healthier, fitter you!

Do you have a favourite social media app that helps you with fitness motivation and accountability?

9 reasons to plan an active vacation

I had planned on including lots of references to recent scientific studies to support the claims made below. But getting organized for an active vacation took precedence 😉 .

Instead, I’m basing this post on my own personal experience and those of my group fitness participants and fitness coaching clients. I bet that many of my reasons for planning an active vacation will ring true for you as well…

Some people are great at sticking to their regular gym routine while on vacation. I’m not one of them 🙂

But that doesn’t mean that I spend all of my time lounging by the pool, trashy book and fruity drink in hand (although I can’t say enough about the restorative powers of a hammock…).

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Experience has taught me that inactivity detracts from many of the benefits of taking a holiday in the first place.

I want to return home feeling relaxed, recharged and re-invigorated. Staying active on vacation helps me achieve that goal.

While I usually visit my hotel’s weight room once or twice during a week away, I keep formal workouts short and sweet (like this or one of these) and get most of my ‘exercise’ through exploration and play.

We hike, walk and rent bikes. We try new activities like SUP, snorkelling or kayaking. If there’s a local ‘yoga on the beach’ class, we might join in. Active vacations keep us learning and growing as a family.

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They also make it easier to get back to your health and fitness routine once the holiday’s over…

8 reasons to plan an active vacation
  • More movement leads to better sleep. I never sleep well when I’m away from home. At least for the first few nights. The more active I am, the better I sleep. And the more my family and I can enjoy our time together 😉
  • Active exploration enhances the cultural experience. For me, travel is all about experiencing a different culture. Different foods, different forms of entertainment, different plants and animals and different views. Differences that are more fully experienced on foot than through the a car window.

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  • Staying active keeps holiday food indulgences from coming home with you. While I don’t view exercise as punishment for eating ‘off plan’, it does help your body burn the extra calories you’ve sipped and munched on during the day. And let’s face it, new food experiences are a big part of holiday travel 🙂
  • Movement energizes. You know how tired you feel after a weekend Netflix marathon? Same thing happens when you spend too many days laying on the beach. I’ve found movement to be the best way to generate the sustained energy I need to experience all of the activities on my vacation ‘to do’ list. Plus, it’s a natural mood enhancer; a definite plus when you’ve spent too many days in close quarters with your family 😉
  • Being active and making healthy food choices go hand in hand. Ever notice how much easier it is to stick with your nutrition plan when you work out early in the day? I find that when I’m physically active I’m more aware of the choices I make at mealtimes; choices that will support, rather than undermine the time I’ve already spent moving.

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  • Fitness gains are quickly lost. Ever notice how hard exercise feels after you’ve taken a week or two off? Fitness gains are all too quickly lost. Even as little as a week away from cardio can leave me huffing and puffing when I return to step class. Oh and did I mention that de-training effects are magnified by age? Don’t lose it, use it (even if it’s via ‘unconventional’ exercise).
  • Fitness habits are lost even more rapidly. Not only do we lose fitness when we take a break from regular exercise, we lose the habit of fitness. Alas, abandoning good habits is much easier than developing them in the first place. If you’re relatively new to exercise, ensure that you nurture your fitness habit my incorporating lots of movement and activity in your holiday itinerary.
  • You get to test your ‘gym’ progress in a real-world setting. All of those squats and pushups and planks you’ve been performing? Notice how they translate into easier hiking, paddling and golfing; not to mention your enhanced ability to lift your carry-on into the overhead bin.
  • You meet the most interesting people. This is probably my favourite reason for planning an active vacation. The more you’re out and about, the more people you’re likely to meet. People who’re also interested in health and fitness and exploration; people just like you.

 

Tips for making the most of your health and fitness spa vacation

Recently, I had the incredible good fortune to have been invited by a friend to spend a week with her at Rancho la Puerto, a destination health and fitness spa.

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Coming back from an early morning meadow hike

Surprisingly, it was my first time taking a vacation whose sole focus was on exercise, healthy eating and self-care.

Given that the demographic of guests was primarily women in the 45-65 age range (the very same demographic as readers of Fitknitchick…), I’m guessing that more than a few of you have experienced a health and fitness spa vacation.

Perhaps you’ve even been to the Ranch yourself.

While many guests visit the Ranch to kick-start healthy habits and indulge in spa treatments, it’s also the perfect place for the already-fit to visit and be reminded of why they’ve chosen the lifestyle they lead. (Hint: the first day’s hike won’t leave you sore and too tired to participate the following morning).

With a range of fitness class styles, lengths and intensities (Bosu Fit, Circuit Training, Dance:Striptease, Pilates Mat, Tennis Clinic, TRX Basics and Yoga Fundamentals were all on offer during Tuesday’s 10 am time slot), there’s truly something for everybody.

And when you’re tired of formal exercise, there’s always the option of taking a swim, wandering through the miles of meandering trails on the property or retiring to your casita for a nap.

I found it easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and activities. Not only were there hundreds of fitness classes to choose from, there were hikes and lectures and art classes too.

After a day of trying to do too much, I realized that the key to a successful (and restful) week was to pick and choose from the many experiences the Ranch had to offer, savour them fully and let go of the feeling that I needed to ‘do it all’ (a classic mindset-myth of the midlife woman).

Below are my best tips for making the most of a health and fitness spa vacation. I’ll definitely be implementing them the next time I go; fingers crossed it’s as either a guest instructor or presenter!

Making the most of a health and fitness spa vacation:

  • Try new things, but not too many; I quickly learned that the key to truly enjoying the Ranch is to spend a few minutes each evening looking over the following day’s agenda and highlighting three or four activities to participate in. I tried to include both classes that were new to me (Meditation, Ranch Ropes) and those I was already familiar with (Bosu Fit, TRX Combo), in the hopes that I might learn a few new moves to take back to my classes and clients. I made sure not to load my schedule up with all high intensity classes, leaving room for Restorative Yoga and Balance & Coordination (taught by the lovely and entertaining Kymberly) later in the day.
  • Schedule time for relaxation and rest; progress towards your health and fitness goals doesn’t happen without adequate rest and recovery. I made a point of scheduling in time for sun-bathing (SPF 30 of course), lounging in one of the many hammocks scattered around the property, relaxing in the hot tub and walking the meditative labyrinth. I was in bed before 10 pm each night in order to be able to get up early and participate fully in the daily sunrise hikes.
  • Get out in nature; hotels and resorts and spas all look rather similar on the inside. Spending time out of doors lets you experience the locale more fully. Not only does walking from place to place get you moving more (my FitBit tells me I walked, on average, 20K steps per day at the Ranch), it lowers your blood pressure and slows your racing thoughts. One of my favourite parts of Ranch life was the morning hikes; a great way to work up an appetite for a nourishing breakfast!
  • Make new friends; At the Ranch, classes and hikes and meals are all opportunities to meet new people. People just like you. People very different from you. Sharing your story with others is a powerful way to get to know yourself better. To learn by listening to others. To feel validated and part of something bigger. To know that your struggles are shared by many. To challenge your self-confidence and truly grow as a person. Stopping to rub bellies is optional 😉
  • Explore your creative side; think of creative pursuits as the ‘yin’ to your exercise ‘yang’. Using your brain rather than your body. One of the things I loved the most about the Ranch was the abundance of public art; yarn paintings in every building (created by one of the Ranch’s ‘artists in residence’), sculptures scattered around the grounds, traditional folk art carvings in the lounge and the dining hall. And the opportunity to take classes in water colour painting and jewellery design.
  • Fuel your body well; It’s easy to eat well when somebody else shops for, plans and prepares your meals. Just as it excels with its diverse menu of fitness choices, the Ranch never fails to delight at mealtime. Meals were primarily plant-based, created from a wide assortment of fruits, vegetables and greens grown at its own organic garden (if you go, don’t miss the Organic Garden hike; a lovely 2.2 mile hike up to the gardens with an exquisite breakfast as the reward). Desserts were only offered at dinner time, and even then, were perfectly portioned and none-too-sweet. (And because I know somebody will ask, wine was only served with dinner on the last night 🙂 ).
  • Bring a little bit of the spa home; For most of us, seven days isn’t quite enough to cultivate new habits. Indeed, many of the guests remain for a second week or plan on returning later in the year for another ‘kick start’. Rather than treating your fitness and health spa vacation as a simple week’s holiday, why not plan on bringing a little bit of the spa home with you.

While away, I began a daily meditation practice. That’s something I intend to build on now that I’m home (when I close my eyes I visualize one of my favourite paths at the Ranch; it helps me to slow my breathing, quiet my mind and think of my daughter with a smile).

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I’m also committed to continuing including more plant-based meals in my diet. While we did enjoy seafood on three occasions, the focus on beans, vegetables, grains and spices made me feel lighter and more well-nourished than I have in a long time.

Have you ever taken a health and fitness spa vacation?

What new habits did you return home with?