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).

moves to master in midlife

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?

Feeling Uninspired? The Truth About Motivation At Midlife {Guest Post}

This week I’m doubly fortunate. Grateful for (1) the invitation of a friend to join her at an all-inclusive fitness and wellness resort and (2) the offer of another to cover for me here, while I’m away. Pamela Hernandez is a personal trainer, online fitness coach and motivator extraordinaire. She’s sharing some truths about keeping motivated at midlife (and beyond).

You will never be 24 again.

Neither will I. I will never be the same as I was the year I started my fitness journey. I can never go back to the amazing beginner potential and relatively stress-free life I had then. If only we had known how golden those days were when we had them, right?

I can only speak for myself when I say I might have been too busy being self-conscious and critical of myself to listen even if someone had told me how special that time was. However, I do not miss it. The awkwardness and insecurity of my 20s is something I do not wish to go back to. I love how 40 feels. I know myself so much better than I did then.

Midlife brings wisdom and a new awareness of what our bodies need. I certainly feel stronger than I did at 24 but I am also very aware of how different my body is. I don’t know about you but I make sure to go to the bathroom before too many burpees or jump squats. Anyone else proud to be asleep by 10 pm?

So if we know our bodies aren’t the same why do we keep expecting our motivation to work the same way? We’ve changed our workout routine (maybe?) but we haven’t taken a good hard look at our goals, our motivation and why we need to commit to a healthy and fit life in perhaps a very long time. Life has changed and probably so has our WHY.

Get Inspired

This is why you can’t stay motivated like you used to. You didn’t lose your motivation. You forgot to create it.

I wrestled with a motivational funk myself last summer, just as I was turning 40. As a personal trainer and health coach, I am 100% committed to a healthy lifestyle. Yet I found myself unfocused during my own workouts, uninspired with my clients and overwhelmed by the challenges of mid-life and owning my own business. What turned me around came some from a process of self-examination so I could get acquainted with my motivation again.

It started with a 100 Dreams List.

A friend recommended a book to me called 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam. Early in the book she asks you to make a list of 100 Dreams. It’s a purposefully big number so you have room for all things, not matter how far-fetched or mundane. (I wanted to just once make my own nut butter.) Once you have your list, you can look for underlying themes and the places were your passion truly lies. It helps find a compass for life when things may have gotten off track. My list was both enlightening and energizing. I was in a rut and it gave me things to STRETCH for again. Plus now I get a little jolt of satisfaction every time I cross something off the list.

Pamela Hernandez

The AFTER photo!

I found myself a coach.

I normally stay away from online challenges but the Ultimate Oxygen Challenge appeared at just the right time. I tried to hide behind the idea that it was “research”. Inside I knew to get out of this rut I needed to turn myself over to someone else’s way of doing things. I also made a deal with myself that no matter what happened I had to take AFTER pictures to send in to Oxygen Magazine’s Future of Fitness section. (#38 on my 100 Dreams List.) It was amazingly freeing to have someone else laying out the plan, teaching me new things and pushing me out of my comfort zone. I joined the private Facebook group as just another women trying to win a cover spot, not as the expert giving the advice. I needed to feel like a beginner again and it worked. Hiring a personal trainer or health coach can give you some needed accountability and challenge old ways of thinking.

Are your “good” habits holding your back?

When good habits go bad it’s called tightening. When habits get so constricting that they keep you from enjoying life or moving forward they become a big problem. Check yourself for habits that are outdated, no longer make sense and stand in the way of joy instead of bringing it. A great example for me was multi-tasking during my workouts by listening to podcasts. When I started going to the gym many years ago I would crank up my favorite tunes and lose myself. I don’t know how I got away from music but now I save Serial for coloring and groove to Elle King and Robyn in the gym. I found a lot of habits that I thought were healthy for me but needed to go: how much and what I was eating for breakfast, my sleep schedule and my cardio choices to name a few.

I felt like a beginner again and it made all the difference. It’s not that I went back to 24 because we know that can’t happen. I just found a map to a new destination that made sense for my life as it is TODAY.

If you need a new map to motivation at midlife, let me help you create it.

MotivationMade

I invite you to read my NEW book, Motivation Is Made Not Found. It’s a collection of lessons I’ve learned on motivation and commitment with action steps for you to use to help you be your own motivation coach. Use them as a way to look at your journey anew (or perhaps really look at it for the first time). It’s on sale for a special price until February 29, so don’t wait too long.

Check it out and me know what you think. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Let me know what’s your biggest motivation challenge.

Core training | 5 moves for a stronger midsection

After taking nearly nine weeks away from regular and consistent exercise, I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I needed some accountability and support to make fitness a priority again in my life.

I’m three weeks into a strength and conditioning program at a gym where nobody knows my story. I’m a participant, not a trainer, and as such welcome getting feedback on form from the three coaches that lead the workouts.

While my overall strength and cardiovascular conditioning are already starting to improve (thanks to a lot of agility drills with hurdles, cones and ladders and speed work on the Bosu), I’m noticing that certain exercises and lifts are still weak.

During Saturday’s class, coach Mark commented on my execution of three exercises; tricep pushups, Romanian dead lifts and bent-over rows. My lower back started to curve after only three pushups (pushups should look like planks), my knees were bending too much during the dead lifts (bending the knees transfers the work from the hamstrings to the quads) and I was ‘bouncing’ at the bottom of my rows (in effective, using momentum instead of muscle to pull the weight back up).

We talked for a minute about what these three exercises had in common and came to the conclusion that my core was weak. Not only had I not been training it during my hiatus from exercise, I had also spent a lot of those nine weeks sitting around, hunched over my knitting and slouched in front of the television and computer keyboard.

He asked me what I was going to do about it (note to self: this is a great coaching question).

Although my three-times-a-week workouts do include some core work, he suggested that I needed to do a bit more, both to improve my core strength and to ensure that I kept progressing on my other lifts (it’s hard to squat, push, pull and lift more weight when your core is weak).

Knowing that he was right, I’ve decided to add two more days of core training to my week. I’ll be focusing on the important core exercises; the ones that are functional and relevant to training for daily life (i.e., NOT crunches, which is why you won’t see ‘flexion’ in the list below).

Core training: 5 moves for a stronger midsection
  • static stability; basic plank and side plank holds require isometric contraction of the entire core (as well as the shoulders, upper back, glutes and hamstrings). I’ll be working up to 3 sets of 60 s in each position, focusing on keeping the abs and glutes tight and shoulders drawn back and down.
  • dynamic stability; adding movement to basic planks and side planks forces the muscles of the core to work a bit harder to remain stable in the face of external forces. Side planks with cable and pulley rows and front planks on the ball while either pushing the ball slightly away from the body or ‘drawing circles’ with it are all examples of dynamic stabilization exercises. I’ll be combining one front plank static exercise with one side plank dynamic exercise on my first day of core training then switching to the opposite combo (side plank static, front plank dynamic) on the second day.
  • rotation; 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. 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). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.
  • anti-rotation; 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. (If you’re new to strength training and the names of these exercises are unfamiliar to you, check out the website BodyBuilding.com. They have high quality, good-form video demonstrations of almost every exercise known to man 🙂 ).
  • extension; most core workouts focus primarily on the muscles of the front side of the body (the ‘six-pack’ muscles and the obliques), ignoring the importance of strengthening their back-side-of-the-body counterparts. Anterior and posterior muscle groups work together to keep the body in front-to-back balance and alignment. In my case, a weak lower back is contributing significantly to my poor dead lift range of motion and my ability to perform more than four good-form tricep pushups. Lower back extension exercises don’t require any fancy equipment; yoga poses including cobra and sphinx can be performed anywhere, as can ‘super mans’ (on the floor or the ball, if you have one) and weighted hip thrusts.
Need a few more core exercise options? Here are two of my favourite core training videos:

Note that while there IS a crunch variation in the video below, elevating the feet and keeping the lower back firmly on the mat will ensure that flexion is minimized and the risk to the lower back is minimal. If you suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia (or your doctor has told your NOT to perform any version of a crunch, skip it; the other 4 exercises are workout enough).

Tough love Tuesday | motivation doesn’t grow on trees

I’m not the kind of instructor, trainer or coach who yells at or belittles her clients. I believe in setting a positive example and providing education, encouragement and a little ‘reality check’ when it’s needed. The following post is about the closest that I ever get to a ‘rant’. Know that it was written with love, in the hopes that it will help you move forward towards your health and fitness goals ~ Tamara

Lately, I’ve been blessed with a large number of new subscribers to this website. (Thank you all for deeming my content worthy of your time 🙂 If you’re not subscribed, you can do it now!).

Many of them have emailed me to tell me about their biggest challenges with fitness and healthy living (I ask for and welcome these interactions as they give me a better idea of the topics that readers are most interested in hearing about).

While I typically respond to as many of these emails as I can, I will admit to having failed to answer a single respondent citing ‘lack of motivation’ as their biggest hurdle to exercising regularly and making healthier choices in the kitchen.

Why?

Because motivation isn’t something I can give them. (Or you.)

 

Neither money nor motivation grow on trees…

 

Motivation doesn’t grow on trees. It won’t magically appear on your doorstep. It won’t reveal itself to you in a dream. You won’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel motivated to go for a run.

Sharing the things that motivate me won’t necessarily help you find what motivates you. It’s personal. It requires some insight, some self-reflection, a mindset shift and some thinking about the future. Some good, old-fashioned hard work.

If journalling helps you think and reflect, go for it!

 

Finding your motivation isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s down-right difficult. You might think you’ve figured it out only to realize you’ve ventured down a blind alley and need to back-track a bit to get back on course. But it’s always worth the effort. Always.

Those of us who know WHY we want to be healthy and fit find it easier to start and stick with the behaviours required to be healthy and fit. (Need some help with finding your ‘why’? Here’s a little how-to book I’ve written on the subject, with step-by-step instructions > 5 Steps to Finding Your Exercise Why)

Perhaps my new readers’ biggest obstacle isn’t really “I’m not motivated enough to exercise and eat better” but rather, “I haven’t yet figured out what will motivate me to make healthier choices”. 

Cancer is hard. Divorce is hard. Losing a loved one is hard.

Exercising and eating well so that you have more energy, sleep better, a stronger immune system, balanced hormones, are able to keep up with your kids and continue enjoying the activities you love for many years to come isn’t. 

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It’s all about perspective.

Valuing yourself, wanting to be the best version of ‘you’ possible and desiring to live a full, adventure-filled life.

In the wise words of a friend:

“Yesterday, I was at an event where several of the 50+ aged women there don’t exercise regularly and most were not fit but were talking about knee surgeries, bad health issues… it made me realize the #1 reason I excercise is so that I can continue to be fit and healthy in my later years! There’s your motivation…”

I’d love to hear what motivates YOU! Perhaps your unique motivators will help another reader figure out hers.

Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

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Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 

 

 

Returning to fitness as a beginner

For the past week, I’ve been trying to decide what to focus on as I return to fitness after the loss of my daughter.

I know that I need to get back to regular strength training (I can already see muscle loss and a quick push-up test confirmed that I’ve lost strength as well).

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I know that I need to challenge my heart and lungs (while daily walks are a great way to add movement and reduce stress, they aren’t quite intense enough to stave off cardiovascular de-conditioning).

I know that I need to stretch more (my lower back has been bothering me from too much sitting and my achilles tendonitis has been flaring up despite having been away from step class for a month).

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I know that I need to return to a more balanced way of eating (the past month has been fuelled primarily by comfort foods; breads, pasta, baking and way too much wine).

I know that I’m not drinking enough water (it’s easy to tell; just check the colour of your urine).

I’ve been looking over past programs that I’ve written for myself and I have to say, my heart just isn’t into body-part splits or HIIT or pre-exhaust supersets. Not to mention that I’ve de-conditioned enough to make those inappropriate until I’m stronger and have more energy.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to start is back at the beginning.

Returning to fitness as a beginner. Following a program that’s short in duration and doesn’t require more than two or three days a week. Focusing on simple nutritional swaps and being more mindful of my body’s need for water and whole foods. Re-creating the exercise and eating habits that have kept me healthy and happy for many years. One step at a time. Day by day.

Rather than look elsewhere for the ‘perfect’ program, I’m following my own 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

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Three week of ‘easy entry’ workouts, daily coaching emails, health-promoting recipes and information to keep you motivated and sticking with your healthy habit goals.

(You can read all about it here >> 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp; just make sure you use the form below to register or you’ll miss my gift of a price reduction..).

Not too short, not too long and exactly what I need during the three weeks leading up to Christmas (our first without Clara). I’ll admit that it will be a bit odd getting daily emails from myself,  but it’s been a while since I wrote them, so I’m sure they’ll see fresh enough 😉 .

All proceeds from this week’s registrations will be donated to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Clara’s name. We are so grateful for the loving and compassionate care they’ve provided us with, from her first visit to cardiology as a 4-month old baby right through to her final days in I.C.U.

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Not only will participating in this program help you to improve your own life, it’ll help another child and her family in their time of need.

UPDATE: I’d like to thank all of you who signed up for this program during the week of December 1 through 6. Altogether, we raised $880 dollars for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. I’ll be donating these monies in Clara’s name and attributing the donation to ‘Fitknitchick’s Friends and Followers’.