5 reasons to periodize your workouts

  • Have a hard time sticking to a workout program long enough to see results?
  • Confused as to how many sets and reps you should be doing?
  • Think that adding more repetitions means you’re making progress?
  • Unsure of when to increase the load or difficulty or an exercise?
  • Need variety in your workouts to stay motivated?

Perhaps it’s time to periodize your workouts.

Periodization refers to the process of  systematically altering your training variables (reps, sets, load and rest intervals; if you’re new to strength training, you’ll find a primer to these terms here) in order to counter the body’s natural tendency to adapt to your workout (and stop making progress).

Also called ‘cycling training’, it involves finding a balance between sticking with a program long enough to reap the benefits, but not so long that it stops working for you.

periodize your workouts

Common periodization schedules

There are many ways to periodize your workouts, the most common being:

  • linear (or classic) periodization. Begin with higher repetitions (15 to 20) and lighter weights, to ensure the development of proper form and good mind-to-muscle connections before lowering the reps (down to 6-8 by the end of the final phase) and increasing the load. Professional athletes might move through three or four periodized phases in the months leading up to an event. The rest of us will benefit from sticking to a particular rep range/load combination for a week or two, aiming to change up our routine two or three times over a four to six week period, before ‘de-loading’ (taking a week off) and starting a new, periodized program.
  • reverse periodization. Exactly the opposite progression of the classic periodization program, reverse periodization begins with very few reps (2-3 sets of 2-3 reps) performed under very high load and ends with longer sets of a more moderate load. This program works well for body builders, particularly if the final phase focuses on fatiguing the muscles within a classic hypertrophy range (8 to 12 repetitions). I don’t personally recommend reverse periodization for clients who are just beginning with strength training and/or who have weight loss and body composition change goals; both for safety reasons and because it may not be metabolic enough to aid in fat loss.
  • undulating periodization. In an undulating periodization program, training variables typically change from workout to workout. Some people alternate high and low rep workouts (performing the same exercises in each workout but adjusting their load accordingly such that their muscles are close to fatigue by the end of every set). Others vary the format of the workout, performing straight sets of each exercise one day 1 and supersets of pairs of exercises on day 2. Another way to approach undulating periodization is to have two different programs, each with a different rep and set structure, that you alternate between from one workout to the next.

5 reasons to periodize your workouts

  1. plan for success. People who plan their workouts are significantly more likely to get them done. Periodization requires that you plan your workout for 4 to 6 weeks at a time.
  2. eliminate the guesswork. Walking into the gym without a plan is a recipe for failure. When you periodize your workouts, you’ll know exactly how many reps and sets of each exercise you need to do to stay on course. No more wandering aimlessly wondering what you should do next.
  3. proven strategy for changing body composition in women. A recent study on the benefits of periodized programming on strength gains and body composition change in women revealed that those who followed a classic, linearized program for just twelve weeks, reduced their body fat and gained more muscle mass than those following a reverse periodized program.
  4. prevent boredom. People often quit exercise because they’re tired of their program. Others jump from program to program (I call this ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome) before their bodies have time to respond. Periodization provides just enough variation, from one week to the next, to keep even the most restless exerciser from becoming bored ;)
  5. quantify progress. When you constantly change your program, it’s hard to know whether you’re making progress. If you did 12 toe pushups last week and bench pressed 50 lbs for 3 sets of 8 the next, are you getting stronger? Who knows. Following a periodized program allows you to visualize your progress. Same exercise, heavier weight, fewer reps? Yep, you’re definitely making progress. Being able to see the benefits of training is a strong motivator and may just inspire you to set more challenging goals next time around.

Like this post? I’d LOVE to be your virtual healthy living coach. Sign up for free blog updates via email and never miss another post!

From knees to toes | tips for progressing your pushups

Pushup_ProgressionsMany newcomers to strength training find it difficult to progress their pushups.

After weeks of performing longer and longer sets of knee pushups, they’re often disappointed when they finally attempt and are unable to perform even a single pushup on their toes. (Of course, sometimes progress takes longer than we think it should; make sure your expectations are reasonable… ).

This isn’t surprising, given that a standard toe pushup requires you to be able to press approximately 65% of your body weight; more than double the 30% required by a knee pushup.

When we progress our squats and shoulder presses, we rarely increase the load by more than 10% at a time. How then does one get from knee pushups to toe pushups? Below, I share my tips for progressing your pushups.

Tips for progressing your pushups

  • work on depth (or range of motion) before increasing the difficulty. I’d rather my clients be able to perform 5, chest to the floor toe pushups than 15 shallow, elbow bends.
  • add one or two reps of a more challenging version to the beginning of each and every set. If you can perform 10 or 12 deep, chest-to-the-floor knee pushups, try beginning each set with one or two toe pushups, then dropping back to your knees to complete the remainder of your reps. Increase the number of toe pushups gradually over time, until your entire set can be performed on your toes.
  • use ‘negatives’ to increase strength and endurance. Starting on hands and toes, bend your elbows to slowly lower your body to the floor. As you do so, you’ll reach a ‘sticking’ point; the point at which your muscles are no longer strong enough to support your weight. Let yourself collapse to the ground from this point, rest and try again. With negatives, the slower you go, the more challenging the exercise. Try adding one or two ‘negative’ pushups to the beginning of your regular set.
  • vary the position of your hands to challenge different aspects of the muscle. A wider hand placement will emphasize the medial chest (as well as the front of your shoulders). A narrowed hand placement will emphasize the triceps. Staggering your hands (one slightly forward of the other) will force the top-most portion of the chest muscles to work a little harder on one side than the other.
  • elevate your toes to increase the load you’re pressing and encourage greater participation of the upper pectorals. Toes can be placed on a phone book, low step, or even a weight bench. The higher they’re elevated, the more challenging the pushup.
  • add some extra core involvement by performing your pushups on an unstable surface. For example, place your feet on a Bosu or stability ball. Or in the handles of a TRX suspension trainer. Ensure that you keep your core and gluteals muscles contracted throughout to protect the lower back.
  • rest adequately between pushups workouts. Practicing your pushups daily is counterproductive. Like any other muscle, the pectorals need time to repair and recover before they’re challenged again. Try waiting 48 to 72 hours between pushups workouts; use those days to train the opposing back muscles for improved posture, muscular balance and functionality!

Watch the video below for an explanation of three techniques that I use with my clients to get them from knees to toes!

Did you find this #trainertip helpful? Then PLEASE

SUBSCRIBE to fitknitchick on YouTube
GIVE me your FEEDBACK on YouTube or in the COMMENTS section below
LIKE and SHARE my videos with your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.



How long does it take to see the results of exercise?

You’ve recently started a new exercise program. Congratulations!

how long does it take to see the results of exercise

You’re hitting the gym regularly. Cutting back on sugar, alcohol and salty snacks. Drinking lots of water and adding more movement to your day. Yet you can’t see any change to your physique and the scale has barely budged.

You’re probably feeling frustrated, questioning whether you’re on the right program and wondering how long does it take to see the results of exercise?

Sadly, more than a few of you have probably given up because results weren’t apparent quickly enough to provide incentive and generate positive feedback.

Given the headlines that print and online media are constantly shouting at us (“Dream Body in Just 2 Weeks!”, “Drop a Jeans Size in 21 Days!”, “Shed 1 Size in Fourteen Days!”, “Drop 1o Pounds Fast!”, “1-Month Total Body Makeover!”), it’s not surprising that most people have extremely unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to see the results of regular exercise.

And if any of these program REALLY worked, they wouldn’t have to be recycled annually, at the time of year women are most vulnerable to feeling unhappy with their bodies…

If you start an exercise program believing that you’re going to see significant progress in just a few short weeks, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. While you’ll certainly experience a whole host of short term benefits (better sleep, more energy, increased strength, elevated mood, to name but a few), you’re unlikely to notice significant changes to your physique for at least a couple of months.

Yep. I said it. A couple of months (give or take; we all progress at different rates)

How rapidly your body responds to a new exercise program depends on a number of factors including;

  • Your goals. While weight loss can occur almost immediately (a simultaneous change in exercise and diet will almost always result in rapid water loss), improving flexibility, increasing cardiovascular endurance and building muscle all take considerably longer. Don’t expect to make physically noticeable changes for at least a month (and don’t be surprised if it takes upwards of two).
  • Where you’re starting from. If you’re brand new to exercise, you’ll likely notice change more quickly than if you begin at a more advanced level. Similarly, the more weight you have to lose, the more rapidly those first ten pounds will come off. If you have an injury that requires working around, you may find your progress to be a little slower than your able-bodied workout partner.
  • How consistent you are. Obviously, the more consistent your workouts and the closer you adhere to your nutrition plan, the more rapidly you’ll see the results of your labours. Even still, don’t expect to put on more than a pound of muscle each month (if you’re a woman; men can add between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds of muscle every month as a consequence of their higher testosterone levels).
  • The intensity of exercise. If you want to see results, you must exercise at a level of intensity that’s higher than what you’re currently doing. Same effort, same results (or lack there of). There are many different ways to increase the intensity of your workouts, many of which don’t require that you spend hours at the gym.
  • What you’re eating. Many people undermine their gym efforts by making less-than-healthy choices in the kitchen. If you’ve ever watched the calorie count on a cardio machine, you’ll know that it takes much longer to burn 500 calories in the gym than it does to eat them at the local coffee shop. For the fastest results, pair regular exercise with a clean, balanced diet.
  • Whether you’re getting adequate rest. Rest, both between sets and workouts, as well as at night, is vital for proper muscular recovery and hormonal balance. Make the mistake of exercising too frequently or not getting enough sleep and overtraining will keep you from seeing the results of our workouts for much, much longer.
  • Genetics. If your parents and siblings have bodies that are slow to respond to exercise and healthy eating, chances are yours is too. When all else fails, blame mom, right? ;)

Now before you go getting all depressed and cancel your gym membership, remember that stopping and starting an exercise program won’t get you there any faster. Focus on the day-to-day challenges of getting to the gym and making wise nutritional choices and before long, you (and everybody else) will be wowed by the results of your efforts!

To receive bi-weekly fitness and health motivation and inspiration directly in your inbox add your email to my subscriber list. Chat with you soon!


Progressing your at-home beginner strength workout

Congrats! You’ve spent the last month working through the at-home beginner strength workout I created for you way back in February, right?

You’re probably feeling stronger. A little less post-workout fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness. Maybe you’ve even increased the weight on your rows and shoulder presses.

It’s time to up the ante and progress your beginner program.

Why? Your body has likely become adapted to the exercises you’ve been doing. They’re just not challenging you the way they used to and if you want to keep seeing the benefits of strength training, you need to make your body work a little harder. You need to keep progressing your at-home beginner strength workouts.

Each of the six exercises in the workout below builds on the foundation you’ve created over the past month. Rather than teach you all new exercises, I’ve increased the level of difficulty of the original workout. I’ve removed the ball from the ball squats. Challenged you to advance your knee pushups and planks to the toe variation. Added movement to the lunges. Etc.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite ready to progress each and every exercise; toe pushups and planks are much harder than the knee variations. And of course, feel free to use heavier dumbbells than you did last month; increasing the load is a tried-and-true way to progress any workout.

at home beginner strength workout

1. Start with a light, 5 minute warmup. Include movements like walking, marching, arm swings, stair climbing, low impact jumping jacks and cross-country skis.

2. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise (except the plank; just hold it as long as you can), one after the other, with a short break between exercises. Move slowly and through as big a range of motion as is comfortable.

3. Take a quick break and repeat the entire circuit. If you’re ‘done’, skip to step 5.

4. If you have a bit more energy, repeat the circuit a third time, then stop and stretch.

5. Finish your workout by stretching the muscles of your thighs, chest, back, glutes and shoulders. Not sure what to stretch (or why you’re stretching at all)? Read this post and watch the imbedded video.

6. Perform this workout two to three times per week for a minimum of three weeks before trying to make the exercises harder.

Did you like this workout? Then PLEASE

  • WATCH and DO the workouts with me
  • SUBSCRIBE to fitknitchick on YouTube 
  • CHECK OUT the #FatblasterFriday Playlist for more, real time workouts
  • PIN the above WORKOUT PHOTO
  • GIVE me your FEEDBACK on YouTube or in the COMMENTS section below
  • LIKE and SHARE my videos with your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter


Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

10 reasons women over 40 should lift weights

I have a confession to make.


Unlike many of my fitness friends and colleagues who’ve been lifting weights forever, I didn’t start taking strength training seriously until I was in my 40′s.

Oh sure, I lifted weights during the step classes I participated in. But never managed to progress past the 5- and 8-pound, plastic coated dumbbells in the aerobics studio. Not surprisingly, I never got any stronger, nor did I manage to change the way my body looked (in or out of clothes ;) ).

What changed? (1) I decided to become a certified fitness professional, (2) I met with another personal trainer to set up a strength training program of my own and (3) I hit 40 and discovered that my body no longer looked and behaved as if it were 20.

Now, in addition to hitting the gym three or four days a week for my own strength workouts, I’m passionate about sharing my recently-found love of weight training with my female clients (most of whom are in their 40′s and 50′s), and educating them about all the reasons they should continue to lift weights as they age.

10 reasons women over 40 should lift weights

  1. Increased muscle mass. Muscle mass naturally declines with age, starting in the late 30′s and continuing until we leave this life. We all need muscle to continue to enjoy the activities of daily living. Don’t want to have to call for help when it’s time to move the couch? Lifting weights is your answer.
  2. Enhanced metabolic rate. Unlike fat, muscle is metabolically active. Build more muscle, burn more calories; both while you’re working out and for the remainder of the day as well. Lifting weights can combat age-related weight gain.
  3. Slow down and reverse loss of bone density. Bone density naturally declines with age. Weak and brittle bones are not only more prone to fractures, they’ll also limit your mobility and negatively impact posture. And it’s never too late to start; even women who wait until their 60′s and 70′s to begin weight-bearing exercise show improvement in bone mass and bone density.
  4. Improved hormonal balance. In the years leading up to menopause, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all decline. Alas, they don’t always do so proportionately, leaving many women in a state of hormonal imbalance. Strength training can help re-balance hormones by stimulating testosterone production and increasing the amount of progesterone available to offset the dominant effects of estrogen, via it’s stress-reducing effects.
  5. Better sleep. One of the most common complaints of the menopause and peri-menopause years is still disruption. Difficulty falling asleep. Difficulty staying asleep. Middle-of-the-night insomnia. Exercise of all types is known to improve sleep, but strength training is particularly beneficial for 40+ women, due to it’s hormone-balancing effects.
  6. Increased energy. It sounds counterintuitive, but lifting heavy weights can actually increase your energy levels and mood. Once again, due to the hormone-balancing effects of exercise, in general and strength training, in particular, after a week or two of regular workouts your mood will elevate and energy levels will rise. Sure, you’ll be tired by the end of each workout, but recoup that lost energy 10-fold, later in the day!
  7. Improved health markers. Study after study has demonstrated the importance of strength training for lowering triglycerides, blood pressure, resting heart rate and insulin sensitivity. Given that these markers are related to a woman’s risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, all of which are serious (and expensive) conditions, why not take a preventative maintenance approach and add a day or two of resistance training to your exercise routine?
  8. Reduced cancer risk. While the evidence is less specific on the benefits of weight training on cancer risk, exercise in general is known to lower the risk of certain cancers via it’s effect on the immune system. For example, women that exercise for 30-60 minutes per day decrease their risk of breast cancer by 20-30 percent.
  9. Enhanced self-confidence and improved body image. Let’s be honest, the number one reason people lift weights is to look better. Leaner, stronger, more defined. As a by-product of these physical changes, self-confidence increases and (if we work hard at it), our inner critic quiets. It always amazes me how much more appreciative women are of their bodies once they switch their focus from ‘the number on the scale’ to ‘the number on the bar’.
  10. Increased libido. Many peri-menopausal women complain about being less interested in sex than they were in their 20′s and 30′s. We’ve already seen that strength training positively influences energy levels, sleep quality, body image, testosterone production and estrogen balance, each of which, in turn, can lead to an increased appreciation for bodily pleasures. (And that is all I have to say about this topic ;) ).

And I just have to add one more; it feels pretty darn great when a 20-year old asks you for a spot on his bench press!

Pretty compelling reasons, don’t you think (especially number 10 ;) )?

If you’re new to strength training (or returning to it after a long hiatus) and excited to get started RIGHT NOW, grab a set of dumbbells and try your hand at this at-home-beginner-strength workout.

Drop me a line and let me know how YOU’VE benefited from strength training!

10-Week Online Fitness Program for Women over 40 | the 3rd and final round

online fitness program for women over 40

  • Are you a 40+ female?
  • Struggling with weight gain, muscle loss and the dreaded ‘menopot’?
  • Usual workouts and nutrition plan stopped working?
  • Get up and go, got up and went?
  • Carbohydrate cravings out of control?
  • Looking for answers, accountability and support?

Online Group Training may be just the kick start you need

Join this FINAL*** session of my 10-week, online fitness program for women over 40; specifically those dealing with the challenges of mid-life hormonal change. Exercise programs, nutritional advice, accountability tools and healthy living tips are all based on the most recent scientific research; research based on fabulous, real, prime-of-their-life women.

[*** Now that I've have 100+ women work through the course and provide me with constructive feedback, I'm planning to update and re-launch a brand new version next fall, adding lots of new 'extras' including regular 'face time' sessions with small groups of participants; watch out for details early this summer]

That’s ten weeks of workouts, nutrition and life-style change tools to help offset the havoc hormonal fluctuations can wreak on your energy levels, body image and physique.

This program is appropriate for all fitness levels and for gym-goers and home exercisers alike. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

[dropshadowbox align="none" effect="lifted-both" width="750px" height="" background_color="#c7e8f5" border_width="6" border_color="#dddddd" inside_shadow="false" ]Note, this program is NOT for women looking to (1) drop 2 dress sizes in a month, (2) ‘tone’ up for bikini season, (3) lose 20 pounds by the May long weekend, (4) build ‘buns of steel’ or (5) carve ‘6-pack abs’. Many other programs make such claims and will happily take your money to help you do so[/dropshadowbox]

What does the 10-week 40+ Female Group Training program include?

  • bi-weekly, individually customizable workouts (including modifications for varying fitness levels and abilities)
  • access to a participants-only video exercise demonstration library (so you can make sure you’re doing the exercises properly)
  • membership in a private Facebook group (to get quick answers to questions and to provide accountability and a sense of community)
  • goal setting, nutrition planning and fitness assessment tools (and other assorted homework; yes, there will be homework!)
  • summaries of the latest scientific research about exercise, nutrition, lifestyle and hormonal change (translated into every day language :) )
  • 24/7 e-support (or as close to it as I can manage given that one of the most important tools for dealing with hormonal issues is adequate sleep!)

How much does it cost?

  • Cost: $70  for 10 weeks (that’s only $1 a day…)
  • Payment via PayPal only

When does it start?

  • Program dates: Sunday, April 13th, 2014
  • Registration dates: Sunday, March 30th through Wednesday April 9th, 2014

What do past participants have to say about it?

I completed the program feeling stronger, rejuvenated and just plain healthier. I also made some wonderful connections with like-minded (with similar struggles) women. We cheered each other on, laughed at our slips and groaned together about our newly discovered muscles. I highly recommend this program to any woman over 40, looking for a new, healthier and happier outlook on her health.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the facebook group, I need more motivation, input and support then I realized. It felt good to hear others with the same challenges..I am NOT alone in this journey…this program was incredible and VERY valuable. Thanks!!

I loved this course! My main goal at the start of this program was just to feel better. Goal achieved! I was so tired of feeling run down and “out of it”.

The workouts you provided helped guide me back into a strength training routine that I had gotten out of. I used muscles I had not used in a long time and have rediscovered my enjoyment of strength training!

There really are no words to describe the Facebook group…what an awesome group of ladies! The motivation and support I found there was worth the price of admission!! I feel blessed to have been on this journey with each of them.

Thank you Tamara for putting this program together. You have a vey well laid out, very balanced program and I am very happy with my results. The motivation and support you provided throughout this program was amazing! Awesome job!!

This was a great program and I would highly recommend it to friends who are ready to put in the work.

How do I sign up?

All you need to do is fill out your contact details below and click on through to PayPal to secure your spot in the program. (Apologies for the ‘captcha’ code; it saves me a lot of sorting through spam replies if you take a minute to confirm that you’re a real person :) ).

Once your payment has been verified, you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail with additional detailsEasy-peasy.

If a past participant referred you to this program, make sure you include her name on the form (she’ll get a discount next time she registers for one of my programs).

Group Training Spring 2014

  • Price: $ 70.00 CAD

Are you as excited as I am to get started?

Grips and angles | two simple ways to progress your workouts

One of the keys to making progress in the gym is, surprise, progression. Continuously challenging your body to do a little bit more than it did last year, last month and even last week.

progress your workouts - pushups

The most obvious way to progress your workouts is to add more resistance to your exercises; take knee pushups to your toes, add dumbbells to your lunges, move the weights from the side of your body to shoulder height during your squats. [Incidentally, if you've been doing the At Home Beginner Strength Workout I shared a couple of weeks ago, it's time to start making at least a few of the exercises a bit more challenging ;) ].

But progression doesn’t always mean upping the load.

When we focus on increasing the weight that we can move while performing a particular exercise, we’re still stimulating the same group of muscle fibres through the same range of motion. While this approach will initially reward you with strength gains, at some point you may plateau due to weakness in the adjacent muscle fibres and the smaller muscles that assist and stabilize the lift.

Two simple ways to jumpstart progress (or just keep it interesting if you’re easily bored by your workouts ;) )? Vary your grips and angles.

Get a (new) grip

‘Grip’ refers to how you hold the weight. Do your palms face up (below on the left) or down (on the right)? Forwards or back? The same way or in different directions (a ‘mixed’ grip)? Switching your grip is the easiest way to work your target muscle from a different direction; both engaging more muscle fibres and recruiting stabilizing muscles to assist.

progress your workouts - vary your grip

Take, for example, the dumbbell bicep curl. The basic movement requires that you start with dumbbells at your sides, palms facing forwards. As you curl the weights up towards your shoulders, palms will be facing the ceiling (and eventually, you). This exercise is great for building the largest muscle in your upper arm, the Biceps brachii, but not so great for building the smaller, Biceps brachialis and Brachiradialis. Change the grip to ‘neutral’, or palms facing your sides (aka a ‘hammer’ curl) and presto, the Brachiradialis get a chance to shine, as do your forearm flexors (which, for most women, are quite weak and often limit the loads we can press and pull). Combine both into a ‘supinating’ bicep curl (start with palms facing in at the bottom, rotating to palms facing up at the top) and you’ll hit all three. Win-win-win!

progress your workouts - biceps in progress

A bicep in progress :)

Other examples of exercises that can benefit from a change in grip?

  • shoulder presses (palms facing forward vs. palms facing your ears)
  • barbell bent over rows (palms facing up vs. palms facing down vs. mixed grip)
  • lat pulldowns (palms forward vs. palms facing one another; you’ll need the triangle attachment to make this one work)
  • barbell dead lifts (palms up vs. palms down vs. mixed grip)

I like to vary my grip from workout to workout and often find that the weight I’m able to lift varies with the grip I’ve chosen. Try it yourself and feel the difference!

What’s your angle?

Many traditional strength training exercises are performed on a flat bench, either face up (chest press, lat pullovers, tricep skull crushers) or face down (reverse flys, YTWL’s).

Increasing your load on flat bench exercises will certainly increase the size and strength of the target muscle, but because the ‘line of pull’ remains the same (the force of gravity always pulls the weight directly downward), your muscles will only get stronger at this particular angle (fitness peeps call this the ‘principle of specificity’).

By simply changing the angle of your weight bench, you can target your muscles from a different angle, recruit adjacent muscle fibres and stabilizer muscles and promote a more balanced, symmetrical physique (which, in addition to looking great, also functions better during the activities of daily life).

progress your workouts - change your bench angle

Incline bench at approximately 60 degrees

Most benches offer a variety of inclines, ranging from 30 to 60 or 70 degrees. Make sure you choose an angle appropriate for the particular exercise you’re doing to get the most out of the exercise while preventing injury. Always ensure that your feet are placed firmly on the ground and your back remains in contact with the bench throughout the entire exercise. If you find your back arching away from the bench or your feet lifting up off the floor, try perfecting the move with a lighter weight.

 Other exercises that can be performed on an incline?

  • chest press and chest fly (a moderate incline, 30 to 40 degrees, shifts the emphasis to the upper chest)
  • reverse fly (a 45 to 60 degree incline can reduce the lower back pain some people experience while performing this exercise in the fully bent over position)
  • bicep curls (try a 45 degree incline to shift the focus to the long head of the Biceps brachii; you’ll also be able to extend the range of motion of your curls in this position)

I alternate between flat bench and incline bench with my own upper body workouts. The incline sessions, although performed with slightly lighter loads, are helping me to progress my workouts and improve my upper body strength through a bigger range of motion. 

When was the last time you changed your ‘grips’ or your ‘angles’?

Do you have a favourite incline bench exercise?

Tips for preventing workout-related injuries

In my roles as a regular exerciser and fitness professional, I’ve seen many workout-related injuries.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.43.13 AM

Both my own (Achilles tendonitis and Intercostal muscle strain; thankfully, not at the same time…) and those of my clients and group fitness participants (knees and shoulders tend to top the list…). 

The thing is, most people who exercise regularly will experience a workout-related injury at some point or other.

Many occur as a consequence of over-use; repeatedly doing the same form of exercise for too many days, weeks and months in a row. Others are due to hasty progression; adding too much weight too soon and compromising form in the process.

Because my preference is always to work on ‘prehab’ rather than ‘rehab’ ;), I give you;

Tips for preventing workout-related injuries

  • tailor your warmup to fit the workout. Every workout requires a warmup. Five to seven minutes spent preparing the body for the workout to come. In addition to slowly elevating your heart rate, body temperature and general circulation, the warmup will also stimulate the release of synovial fluid in the joints; fluid which helps to improve range of motion. Ideally, warmup movements will mimic the exercises to be performed in the workout itself. For example, a kettlebell workout warmup might include body weight lunges, lateral lunges and squats to help open up the hips before the swinging starts.
  • build a solid foundation. You can’t run before you learn to walk and expect to do it injury-free. Learning proper exercise form, without the addition of weights or external resistance, is essential for preventing workout-related injuries. Paying attention to which muscles are working during a particular exercise will help you build the mind-body awareness crucial to gaining strength and remaining capable of working out for many years to come. If you don’t know where to start, hire a personal trainer (or check out my at-home, beginner workout)
  • err on the side of ‘too easy’. There’s far too much emphasis placed on ‘hard’, ‘balls to the wall’ style workouts. If you’re new to exercise in general, or to a specific form of movement, scale back. Forget the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ and bypass the workouts labelled ‘killer’ and ‘insane’. Remind yourself that you’re in it for the long haul and being side-lined by an injury induced by an ‘extreme’ workout will only undermine your health and fitness goals.
  • pay attention to your body. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that you’ve injured yourself or are about to. Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. Know the difference between muscular fatigue and muscular pain. The former is a signal to scale back, the latter a big red stop sign. Recognize that ability and performance vary from workout to workout and that not every gym session will be full of personal bests. Challenge yourself on days when you’re feeling strong and energetic, pull back on days when you’re not. Reducing your squat load or cutting a workout short are not signs of failure, but an indication that you care about your body enough to protect it from injury.

Struggling with a workout-related injury despite following the above tips? Check out the following posts!
Share your workout-related injury below; misery loves company ;)


Why I prefer free weights over weight machines

Last week, I was approached by a new gym member who wanted to know how to use the ‘glute machine’.

He appeared surprised when I told him that despite having walked by the machine in question almost daily for the past six years, I had no idea how it worked. Do you?

[Now that's not entirely true; I've seen people using it and there are instructions printed on the front of the machine that I'm entirely capable of reading and interpreting, but I've never actually climbed into it myself, nor instructed any of my clients in its use.]

I suggested that he either wait for the weight room attendant to return from lunch and ask her (in my gym, weight room attendants are required to know how all of the equipment works; personal trainers are not ;) ) or follow me over to the free weights section of the gym where I’d teach him to how to become his own, personal ‘glute machine’ (i.e., to squat, lunge and dead lift).

why I prefer free weights over weight machines

Alas, he declined my offer, preferring to remain near the weight machines he was so obviously comfortable with. Our conversation, however, got me thinking about why so many gym goers are hesitant to step away from the weight machine circuit and pick up a barbell or a set of dumbbells.

Perhaps it’s because they’re new to strength training and believe that machines are easier to use (although I’ve seen enough people using them incorrectly to no longer believe this myself…)

Or they’re self-conscious when they exercise and don’t want anyone to watch them work out (it’s much harder to ‘blend in’ on the weight training floor…)

It may be that they think the machine circuit is the best way to get a whole body workout (it can be, if you don’t miss a machine and are happy to work one muscle group at a time…)

In my opinion, though, the most likely explanation is simply lack of information.

Sure, there are times when a weight machine should be used; rehabbing an injury, breaking through a plateau, addressing left-right muscle imbalances, or bringing up a ‘lagging’ body part when training for a figure, physique or body building competition, for example.

However, the majority of the people I see regularly using the weight machine circuit aren’t using them for any of those reasons. They’re using them because nobody’s ever told them that they’d move towards their weight loss and muscle gain goals faster if they’d just get off their butt ;)

3 reasons why I prefer free weights over weight machines
  1. Increased muscular involvement with each exercise. Most weight machine exercises are performed seated. When you sit you relax the muscles of your core, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. My preference is always to move as many muscles as possible during an exercise. By trading the seated shoulder press machine for a standing overhead press, I’m challenging my core, legs and back at the same time.
  2. More natural movement patterns. Weight machines move joints through a fixed plane of motion. If the machine’s plane of motion isn’t the same as your body’s natural plane of motion, injury is a very real possibility. While free weights require more attention to form, they also allow for smaller stabilizer muscles to participate in the exercise, leading to increased strength and improved function over time.
  3. Improved workout efficiency. Free weights are portable. You can easily move them to a corner of the gym and complete your entire workout without being interrupted by another patron who wants to ‘work in’ with you on a machine. Less waiting time between exercises means a shorter, more intense workout.

Does this mean that I never use weight machines?

Not at all. There are a few that I quite like and regularly include in my own training and when training clients. But always interspersed with lots of body weight and free weight exercises. 

Still wanna know how the ‘glute machine’ works? ;)

Do you use weight machines?

Which one is your favourite? Which one do you just not ‘get’?

Ultimate Booty Workouts by Tamara GrandIf you’re really serious about building your glutes, make sure you pick up a copy of my new release Ultimate Booty Workouts. A full 12-week progressive resistance training program for sculpting and defining your legs, core and derriere, without the use of a single weight machine!