You can only go so far on your own | the magic of mentors

I like to think of myself as an ‘accidental’ business owner.

Eight years ago, I started working as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at my local community centre, never thinking that I’d one day be running my own business, let alone a business that required social media savvy, an understanding of marketing, the ability to sell and the confidence to manage the behind-the-scenes workings of a website.

My online business was initially created to fill the needs of my personal training clients.

I created this site in the hopes of providing them with daily motivation and support to sustain their fitness and nutrition momentum between sessions. As my readership grew, I saw the opportunity to build my client base and expand my in-person training business to online training.

I dabbled in one-on-one online fitness coaching for a year or two. But didn’t truly fall in love with online training until I launched my 40+ women’s online group.

Working with groups is my sweet spot. The role of educator and facilitator came naturally to me. And I loved the challenge of figuring out the organizational aspects of designing, launching and delivering an online product.

Many of the skills I’ve acquired are self-taught and I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with other like-minded business women via Facebook forums and social media. I meet with two other motivated and successful online ‘solopreneurs’ bi-weekly to share resources and bounce ideas off of (we call it our ‘Mastermind’ group ;) ).

But what I really need is a local mentor. (Just like personal trainers sometimes need personal trainers, business owners sometimes need the help of other business owners) Someone who’s been where I am now and successfully navigated her business to where I envisage mine (hint, hint, I have several new programs and services that I’m hoping to launch in the months ahead…)

I’d been toying with the idea of seeking out a business coach for a month or two when the following invitation fortuitously appeared in my inbox:

Blogger Invitation: Join us for the 4th Annual Women in Biz Passion to Profit Conference Oct 19 & 20, 2014 in Vancouver

On October 19th and 20th, at the fourth annual Women in Biz Network (WIBN) conference, women from across North America will gather in the beautiful City of Vancouver for two days of networking, learning, and building relationships to help them recognize their business dreams.

Sessions will focus on mentoring (including mentor matching), round table business challenge brain storming, pod casting, building online communities, developing your story, finding your voice, smart business plan expansion planning, breaking through barriers and how to survive the business tug of war and what to do when lost.

Of course I said ‘yes’!

I’m excited to step outside of my comfort zone (and yoga pants; what does one wear to a business conference anyways?), break down some mental barriers and move closer to the business I want to create for you.

Make sure you’re following me on Instagram and Twitter, as I’ll be sharing glimpses of my Passion to Profit experience throughout the day.

Disclaimer: My registration (and that of a friend) were generously paid for by the Women In Biz Network in exchange for sharing the event with my readers. Get more information or register for the event yourself (come find me and say ‘hello’) at  http://www.womeninbiznetwork.com.

Tips for maintaining healthy knees

Knees are complicated joints.

tips for maintaining healthy knees

In addition to dynamically supporting nearly 80% of our weight while standing, they’re responsible for bending, straightening and internally rotating our legs.

Comprised of three major muscles groups (the quadriceps, hamstrings and pes anserine groups) and many ligaments and tendons, knees are inherently unstable and nearly as prone to injury as shoulders.

And they’re only more likely to act up as we agePreventing us from running and cycling and reaching that body-weight-squat goal free of pain.

The good news is, there are steps we can take before knee pain gets in the way of active living.

Pre-hab rather than rehab, as it were ;)

Tips for maintaining healthy knees:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the greater the pressure on the knees. I’ve had clients who, after losing weight, reported that their knees no longer bothered them while performing squats and lunges. And their after-weight-loss movements were more coordinated and covered a larger range of motion too. Win-win!
  2. Wear proper-fitting and supportive footwear. I’m a firm believer in seeing a specialist when purchasing new shoes for exercise. Knowing whether you pronate or supinate, whether you have a high or flat arch and where, on your foot, you place the bulk of your weight can help determine which shoe is most likely to support you properly during exercise. The better the shoe supports you, the lower the risk of knee and ankle injury.
  3. Increase exercise intensity and duration slowly. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all get stronger in response to progressive resistance training. The key is to go slowly. Whether you’re lifting weights or training for a marathon, allowing your body to adapt to and recover from a new level of stimulus is critical to avoiding injury.
  4. Warm up prior to exercise. Pre-workout warmups have several functions. In addition to preparing your cardiovascular system for the work to come, range-of-motion movements stimulate the release of synovial fluid in the joints. This lubricant makes it easier for muscles, tendons and ligaments to work together once the workout proper has begun.
  5. Strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Try adding the following supplemental exercises to your lower body strength training days. Perform 1-2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each, preferably after your warm-up but before your first working set or the start of your run.

[Note that the following exercises are preventative in nature. If you're experiencing knee pain, please see your primary health care specialist for an in-person, hands-on diagnosis and stretch and strength recommendations specific to your injury. Performing the wrong exercises can exacerbate knee pain and lengthen the recovery period.]

Stability ball-against-the-wall squats. This exercise targets the quads, glutes and hams; muscles that must work together to properly flex and extend the knee. Focus on keeping the torso upright, with eye focus forward and shoulder blades down and back. Position your feet far enough from the wall so that when your thighs are in the parallel-to-the-floor position, knees remain back behind your toes. Push forcefully through the heels to return to standing.

Inner thigh ball squeeze. Use an under-inflated soccer or basketball to strengthen the medial (inner) aspect of the knees. You may perform the exercise seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place the ball between your thighs, where the femur meets the knee joint. Keeping toes pointing forward (and a slight bend in the knees if standing), engage the inner thighs and squeeze the ball for a count of 10. Release and repeat.

Lateral band hold. Strengthen the lateral (outer) aspect of the knees by wrapping a resistance tube or band around both knees. Make sure that the loop is small enough that you immediately feel resistance on the outside of the legs. Again, this exercise can be performed seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place your feet about hip width apart (keep a slight bend in the knees if standing) and engage the outer thighs, pressing both legs outwards against the resistance of the bank. Hold for a count of 10. Release and repeat.

Resistance band leg extension. Use the resistance of the band to increase your quad strength and improve knee stability under load. Start by laying down on the floor, face up, with one leg extended and resting on the floor, the other with knee bent and shin parallel to the floor. Loop your resistance band around the shoe of the elevated foot. Hold the ends of the band at chest height so that there’s very little slack in the band. Flex your foot and press it away from your body, extending the leg as fully as you can against the resistance of the band. Pause at the end of the movement before slowly returning to the start position. Complete all reps on one leg before switching to the other.

If these prevention tips are too late for you and you’re dealing with less than healthy knees, the above exercises may be among those you’re already doing under the watchful eye of your physiotherapist.

Need a few other workout ideas to  keep you feeling fit and energetic while you recover?  Have a look at the exercises I shared here >>> Knee injury? 7 Workout ideas to try while you recover

Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers

If you’re like me (and many of my clients), you’re often so tired (or pressed for time) by the time your workout’s over that you bypass the stretching corner of the gym in your rush to reach the shower (and get on with your over-full day).

stretches for mid-life exercisers

The shower that tempts me to end a workout quickly…

While regular stretching should be a part of everybody’s exercise routine, mid-life exercisers may benefit more than most by spending a little more post-workout time on their mat.

Along with muscle loss, weight gain, declining metabolism and lower bone density, the aging process also bestows upon us the gift of reduced flexibility. Our muscles are no longer able to fully lengthen and thus, prevent our joints from moving through their full range of motion.

In addition to its positive effects on posture, athletic performance, economy of movement, injury prevention and post-workout soreness, maintaining flexibility may also improve short-term memory (a challenge for many perimenopausal women…) and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke (flexibility training reduces arterial stiffness).

Not to mention the deep relaxation that can occur when you still your mind and body.

The most common muscle groups that need attention in mid-life are:

  • hamstrings:
  • pectorals (in concert with the anterior deltoids): frequent keyboarding and texting keep our head, shoulders and chest tilted forward and down.
  • hip flexors: ‘sitting disease’ leaves the hip flexors in a constant, shortened state.
  • neck and top of the shoulders: many of us carry stress along the sides of our n
  • lower back: again, constant sitting prevents us from engaging our core and maintaining a neutral pelvic tilt.

Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers:

All of the stretches below use a stability ball as a prop. Not only is the ball useful for providing support for poses that you can’t quite get into, it’s also a useful tight-muscle-prophylactic. Use it instead of a desk chair to promote proper posture and you’re less likely to suffer from a tight chest and lower back to begin with!

Always perform static stretches after your muscles have been warmed up, either at the end of your workout, or after a hot bath or shower.

Hold stretches for approximately 30 s. When you begin a stretch, you’ll feel your body resist. Heed this message. Relax for a moment before trying to intensify the stretch. Stretches should never be painful or ballistic (bouncing) in nature. If you’re extremely tight, repeat each stretch a second time, always after allowing your muscles to relax first.

  • Supine hamstring stretch. Start by laying face-up on a mat, both feet on the stability ball. Extend one leg straight up towards the ceiling. Flex the foot and use your hands to pull the leg towards your torso. In order to maximize the benefit of this stretch, focus on keeping the knee as straight as possible (without locking it). Repeat on the other leg.
Stretches for mid-life exercisers

Supine hamstring stretch

  • Passive chest stretch. Start by sitting on the ball. Walk your legs away from you until your head and shoulders are resting on the ball. Extend arms and legs, forming the letter ‘T’ with your body. Drop you head back and feel the opening in your chest and front of the shoulders. If you’re worried about falling off the ball, increase your base of support by taking a slightly wider stance with your legs.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Passive chest stretch

  • Supported hip flexor stretch. Start by kneeling on a mat directly behind your stability ball. Step forward with one foot such that your front knee is bent at an approximately 90 degree angle. Using the ball for support, shift your weight forward, opening up the front of the hip on the back leg. Make sure that your hips are ‘squared'; both should face forward. Repeat on the other leg.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Supported hip flexor stretch

  • Seated head tilt. Start by sitting tall on the ball. Shoulders should be back and down with abdominals engaged. Feet can be placed as wide as necessary to promote balance. Hands will be placed at your sides. Tilt your right ear down towards your right shoulder. Turn your head slightly to look at your right knee. Keeping your left arm straight and your palm turned down, lift your arm until you feel the muscles along the left side of your neck and top of the shoulder lengthen. If you feel any tingling in your fingers, lower the arm slightly. Hold and repeat on the other side.
  • Child’s pose. Start by kneeling on the mat with the stability ball in front of you. Drop your bum down until it’s resting on your heels (or as close as you can get). Place your hands on the top of the ball, palms down. Move the ball away from your body and lower your head between your straightened arms. Feel the release of tension in the low back, as well as the back of the shoulders and the sides of the body.
stretches for mid-life exercisers

Child’s pose on the ball

Need more stretching ideas?

Here’s a video-guided stretch (for those needing some soothing verbal cueing…)

And some specific stretches for those who sit (or knit) a lot!

 

Lifting weights to failure | why you don’t need to

In the strength training world, ‘failure’ is often seen as a good thing.

Lifting weights to failure

It means that you’ve pushed your body to the point of being unable to perform even one more repetition and is based on the idea that muscle fibres must be broken down in order to get make progress in the gym.

The thing is, while it is necessary to progressively overload your muscles to get bigger and stronger, lifting weights to failure each and every time you strength train is, for many of us, counter-productive.

[Note that occasionally going to failure can be a useful tool for the experienced lifter. But only if proper form can be maintained through the last rep AND there's a spotter available if dropping the weight is likely to result in injury.]

For the less experienced weight lifter (that’s me and you ;) ), regularly lifting weights to failure can lead to:

  • Poor form. I’m a firm believer in the value of perfecting form before increasing load. Perform an exercise with poor form for very long and you’re likely to end up injured. When you push your body to failure, it’s easy to sacrifice form on the last rep or two.
  • Risk of injury. In addition to poor-form-related injuries, pushing to the point of being unable to complete your last rep can result in dropped weights and other equipment gaffes. Ever see somebody pinned by the bar on the bench press? Chances are they attempted to work to fatigue (and without a spotter).
  • Over-training. When you stimulate your muscles by lifting heavy weights the central nervous system (CNS) needs times to recover. The closer you push yourself to fatigue, the longer the recovery time required. For those of us who enjoy our gym time, it can be difficult to stay away from the gym for the extra day needed for recovery. Frequently lifting to fatigue without scheduling adequate rest and recovery can result in over-training syndrome. How can you tell if you’re overtraining? Weight gain, constant fatigue, strength plateaus and even loss of muscle mass.

Rather than lifting weights to failure on each and every set, try one of the following approaches to maximize the benefits of your strength training program without incurring the risks described above:

  • Lift to failure on your last set only. Choose a weight that allows you to perform the prescribed number of good form repetitions plus an additional two or three. Perform the prescribed number of reps for all sets except the final set. On the last set, push through until you can’t perform any more good form reps. Don’t feel you need to do this for each and every exercise in your workout. Choose exercises that are unlikely to result in injury or poor form when pushed to fatigue (e.g., bicep curls, lateral raises, dead lifts).
  • Increase your load from one set to the next. Choose a weight that allows you to perform the prescribed number of good form repetitions plus an additional two or three. Use this weight for your first set. Increase the weight lifted by no more than 10% and perform a second set. Don’t worry if you can’t complete as many reps. Stop before your form is compromised. Increase the weight lifted again and perform a third set. Expect to perform fewer and fewer reps of the exercise as the load increases.
  • Alternate high rep-low load and low rep-high load workouts. Keep your muscles guessing and prevent them from adapting to your workouts by mixing up your reps and weights. Using the same exercises, alternate high and low rep days. High rep workouts (12-15 repetitions) will typically use lighter loads than low rep (6-8 reps) workouts. Adjust your weights so that you can just perform the prescribed number of good form reps. And give yourself a little bit more time between sets on days you’re lifting heavier.
  • Try pre-exhaust super-sets. Combine two exercises for the same muscle group; one that uses the target muscle in isolation and one that lets another muscle or two help out. Perform the two exercises as a super-set (all reps of one followed immediately by all reps of the other). Pre-fatigue the target muscle by starting with the isolation exercise. See this post for examples of the technique (and a photo or two of the results it’s produced for me).

Do you ever lift to fatigue?

What are your favourite exercises to push yourself on?

Five reasons to keep a fitness journal

Many people who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off swear by a food journal. The act of recording what they eat helps them to be mindful, pay attention to the choices they’re making and understand why they’ve dropped (or gained) a couple of pounds over the last week.

The very same tool also works for exercise. Keeping a fitness journal has myriad benefits, in addition to making you look like you’re hard-core to the muscle heads in the weight room ;)

If you lift it, log it

1. Increase motivation and accountability. Ever gone to the gym without a specific workout in mind? Wandered aimlessly around wondering which exercise you should do next? Left a set or three early because you just weren’t feeling it? We’ve all done it (and hopefully learned from the experience…).

The number one reason to keep a fitness journal is to make sure that none of the above ever happens. The simple act of creating a plan will keep you on track and increase your motivation to get it done.

Make sure to jot down how many reps and sets of each exercise you perform, including the load lifted and how you felt. I often include comments like ‘last set was tough’ or ‘ready to increase weights on this next time’ to help me keep track of when it’s time to progress an exercise.

2. Improve exercise adherence. New behaviours don’t become habits overnight. It takes discipline and perseverance to stick with exercise long enough for it to become a regular part of your day.

Keeping track of your workouts is a great way to develop a routine around exercise. Just seeing your fitness journal in your workout bag (or on your phone, if you prefer keeping track of things digitally) may be the prompt you need to get to the gym after a challenging day at work.

Personally, I love seeing the pages fill up; proof that I’ve been consistent in working towards my health and fitness goals.

3. Provide feedback. No matter how diligent you are with exercise, you’re not likely to see the results of your efforts immediately. I typically find that newcomers to exercise feel the benefits of their workouts long before they (and other people) see them.

Keeping a fitness journal provides quantitative proof that you’re making progress in the gym. Although you may not yet have lost inches or pounds, your notes on reps, sets and load demonstrate that your body is stronger and more capable than it was last month.

A detailed fitness journal can tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Use it as feedback as you refresh and refine your program.

4. Progress your workouts. I don’t know about you, but my memory just isn’t good enough to remember how many reps and sets I performed during my last workout, let alone how many pounds I lifted for each of the 8 to 10 exercises my typical workout consists of. Recall that your muscles need a regular increase in the load you’re lifting to continue increasing in size and strength.

My fitness journal is like an external hard drive for my brain; it stores the data that I can’t store in my head, making it easier for me to see that it’s time to progress an exercise (or add a new one because the old one has plateaued).

5. Quantify progress towards your goals. It’s hard to tell if you’re making progress towards your health and fitness goals if you’re not measuring anything. We can tell we’ve lost pounds or inches by weighing or measuring ourselves. Determining whether you’re getting stronger or faster also requires quantification. The easiest way to do that is to write down the details of each and every workout.

Working towards being able to do full pull-ups? Seeing that the offset load on the assisted pull-up machine has shifted by 30 pounds over the last month is concrete proof that you’re getting closer to your goal.

Looking towards building up cardio endurance? Keeping track of the speed and duration of your treadmill workouts will allow you to visualize the progress you’re making.

There are many options when it comes to choosing a fitness journal. From simple, old-school pen and paper to spiral-bound fitness diaries to smartphone apps. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose as long as you use it consistently.

For several years I was a devoted Fitbook fan. I loved that the book had room for both workout and nutrition details. And that it encouraged me to make a weekly plan as well as reflecting on my accomplishments via a ‘weekly wrap-up’ page. But with only room for twelve weeks worth of workouts, it seemed like I was always running out to buy a replacement journal. And they aren’t cheap.

fitness journal

One of many ‘filled up’ Fitbooks

I’ve also used  loose-leaf workout templates like the one I give my online training group participants. There’s room to fill in the details of 3 or 4 workouts per sheet and no need to carry more than a single piece of paper around the gym. Store them in a plastic sleeve (helps to protect them from sweat and leaking water bottles…) and take them out to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over any time you need to feel good about your progress.

fitness journal

Sample blank workout template given to my online women’s training programworkout

Lately, I’ve been using a digital fitness journal. The app is simply called ‘Strong’ (note that it’s initially free to download, but once you’ve logged 4 workouts, you’ll be prompted to purchase the full version; at $5.99 it’s still a steal compared to the cost of repeatedly purchasing even the cheapest spiral-bound notebooks). I like that I can choose from their list of exercises, as well as enter new ones of my own. While I haven’t found a way to create super-set or circuit-style workouts (the default seems to be to list all exercises as straight sets), there’s a ‘notes’ section below each exercise where I keep track of the organizational aspects of my workouts.

My favourite feature has to be the ‘Personal Records’. I love knowing which exercises I’ve recently PR’d on (as well as seeing the total number of pounds lifted to date).

reasons to keep a fitness journal

Output from my new favourite digital fitness journal, ‘Strong’

Just like I watch the odometer on my car for ‘big numbers’, I’ll be watching the statistics screen of my ‘Strong’ app to see when I’ve lifted 100K pounds. I’ll be sure to let you all know on Instagram!

Do you use a fitness journal?

Are you ‘old school’ or ‘state of the art’?

Have a favourite that you’d like to share with me?

 

Online fitness communities provide support, motivation and accountability

Birds of a feather flock together.

online fitness communities

Hoping my friends don’t ‘unfriend’ me for sharing this sweaty post-step-class selfie!

We humans love to hang around with other humans. Many of our waking hours are spent in the company of others. And, no surprise here, the people we spend the most time with have the biggest effect on our behaviour; including our eating and exercise habits.

Find the right circle of friends and you’ll find sticking to an exercise schedule or diet much easier. That’s one of the reasons organized weight-loss groups and exercise classes are so popular and result in better exercise adherence and weight loss.

In addition to the motivation, accountability and support such groups provide, members also benefit from observational learning; we change our behaviour as a simple consequence of watching the actions and outcomes of others’ behaviour.

Monkey see, monkey do.

If she can do I pullup, I can do one too!

Not everyone has access to a local, in-person support group. Some of us live in small communities where such groups don’t exist. Others have difficulty finding a local tribe of like-minded individuals. Often times, group meetings don’t mesh with our work and family schedules.

That’s where online fitness communities come in.

They allow us to connect with like-minded people both near and far.

We can check in when it’s convenient or when we need an extra shot of encouragement and support.

We can access a fitness professional whose interests and experience are similar to our own.

And we can do it all from the comfort of our home (and home gym).

#40plusfitness Monthly Online Training Group

I run a monthly online training group for women in their 40’s and older. (REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED for the Fall session. Check back mid-January for details about registering for Spring 2015)

One of the key elements of this program is membership in a private Facebook group. A place where participants meet daily to encourage and uplift one another (as well as to vent and share TMI tidbits about their lives). Many members have commented that, in addition to the workouts I provide, participation in the Facebook group is what’s kept them coming back to the program month after month.

I’ve 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 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!!

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.

We’d love to have you join us! Make sure you’re on my email list to be among the first to receive details about registration for the spring 2015 session! And as a special bonus, when you enter your name and email address BELOW, you’ll receive a free copy of my e-book “5 Steps to Finding your Exercise Happiness”.

online fitness communities

Looking forward to being a part of YOUR virtual support system!

Kettlebell training for beginners

Let me start with a Disclaimer :)

Although I am a certified Personal Trainer, I am not certified in Kettlebell training. This is important to RKC Kettlebell trainers, but probably not to most people who are simply interested in incorporating kettlebells in their recreational workouts. As always, focus on form before adding load, choose an option that works with your body and if it hurts, stop immediately.

kettlebell training for beginners

Why kettlebells?

If you’re looking for a fun way to add whole body, multi-joint exercises to your workout (and love the idea of burning a ton of calories, often in less time than a traditional strength workout takes), you need to give kettlebell training a try.

Originally developed as a strength and conditioning tool in the Russian ‘strongman’ community, kettlebells first came to the attention of North Americans during the 1980 Summer Olympics. The Russian track and field trained with kettlebells and won all of their throwing events.

Popularized in the late 1990’s in the US by Pavel Tsatsouline (a trainer for the Soviet Special Forces), kettlebells can now be found in most big box gyms and training studios.

Unlike a traditional dumbbell, the kettlebell has a handle. As a consequence, the bulk of the weight is condensed into a central ball, rather than being equally distributed at either end of a fixed rod.

This unique shape allows the bell to become an extension of your body. Held loosely in your hand, the legs, hips and core are required to do more work than the arms, in particular, when performing ballistic exercises like the hip thrust and swing. The handle allows for easy passing between right and left hands, thereby increasing the length of time an exercise can be performed. Transitioning between different movements is easy and fluid, thereby allowing many combination lifts to be incorporating into a single training session.

When done correctly, kettlebell training blurs the lines between strength and cardiovascular training.

Considerations when choosing a kettlebell

Good quality kettlebells are expensive. Given that you really only need two bells to get started (a lighter bell for upper body work and a heavier bell for squats, dead lifts and swings), I recommend investing in the best quality you can afford.

  • Choose metal over plastic. I had a client whose sand-filled plastic bell exploded upon hitting the concrete floor in her basement. Given the relative density of metal and plastic, the metal bell will always be smaller, and thus, easier to handle and control.
  • The more spherical the better. Choose a near perfect sphere with a small, flat bottom. The more expensive bells will retain this spherical property regardless of weight making it easy to progress to heavier bells without having to alter technique.
  • Handle size matters. Look for a handle that’s wider than one hand width and allows you to make the ‘okay’ gesture (thumb over the tip of the index finger) when your hand is wrapped around it. If the gap across the handle is too wide, your transitions will be sloppy. Handles that are too thick will quickly fatigue your grip (see my suggestions for strengthening a weak grip, here).
  • Try before you buy. Make sure you try a kettlebell out before purchasing, to see how it feels in your hand and to ensure that you buy the correct size. Kettlebells are expensive; you don’t want to buy a bell that you’ll quickly outgrow. I’ve found that most of my female clients can start with 4 (9 lb) or 6 (13 lb) kg bells for upper body work and 8 (18 lb) to 12 kg (25 lb) bells for hip hinges, squats and dead lifts.

Tips for incorporating kettlebell moves into your workout

  • Start slow. Kettlebells take practice. Rather than attempting an ‘all kettlebell’ workout your first time out, try adding one or two moves to your regular routine. Continuing adding exercises (or more challenging modifications of the same exercises) as you become stronger and more confident with the bell.
  • Form before load. As with all new exercises and equipment, focus on perfecting your form before you increase the load. Start with a bell that feels a bit light. Concentrate on creating a fluid movement pattern and making a strong mind-to-muscle connection. You’ll be lifting heavier before you know it.
  • Front-load your workout. Place new exercises at the beginning of your workout, before your body and brain get tired and sloppy. Physical and mental fatigue often precede injury.
  • Go bare. If you usually wear gloves when lifting weights, try going without when using kettlebells. I find going ‘bare’ helps me feel more connected to the bell (plus, you’ll develop some awesome-looking callouses…). Some experts also recommending ditching the shoes during kettlebell training. Note that this is probably not an option if you train at a gym or recreation centre (hygiene, you know).
  • If in doubt, ask. As with any exercise tool, the potential for injury is there if you use it incorrectly. Ask a trainer at your gym to observe and critique your form. Practice in front a mirror until you’re used to how each exercise is supposed to feel.

Kettlebell training for beginners: five moves to master

Below is a list of five kettlebell moves appropriate for beginners (but also beneficial to more advanced lifters as well). Watch the linked videos for instructional technique and examples of good form execution of each movement.

  • Hip Hinge. The hip hinge is the foundation of a good swing. Master this movement before progressing to Dead lifts and Hip Swings.

  • Turkish sit up to bridge. Begin by practicing this movement pattern without a bell. Once you’re able to move into and out of the bridge with arm fully extended throughout, add load and progress to a full Turkish Get Up.

  • Goblet squat. A safe way to add load to your beginner squat without having to enter the squat rack.

  • Windmill. An excellent exercise for shoulders, hips and obliques. As with the Turkish sit up, start with body weight only, adding a light kettlebell once you’ve mastered the movement pattern.

  • ‘Clean’. While technically a movement used to safely bring the kettlebell into ‘rack’ position (resting on the outside of the forearm at shoulder height), the ‘clean’ is also an effective exercise in and of itself. Once you’ve mastered this movement, you’ll be reading to add a Shoulder Press from the ‘rack’ position.

Do you have a favourite kettlebell exercise?

 

Making online workouts your own

If you’re into fitness (raises hand) and spend a lot of time online (guilty again), your news feed is probably bombarded with YouTube exercise videos and ‘Pinnable’ workouts (I know mine is and hopefully, some of the workouts in your news feed are ones I’ve created…).

online workouts

I ‘pin’ a ton of workouts. Do you?

The thing is, those online workouts weren’t put together with you in mind. Your body. Your fitness level. Your goals.

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 them to address your own unique needs.

Common reasons for modifying a workout (with suggested work arounds) include:

  • shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injuries: substitute bent arm lateral raises for overhead work
  • 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
  • ‘achy’ 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
  • 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!

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? I’ll be opening up registration for the October through January session next week. Bookmark this site or subscribe to my newsletter to ensure you remain in the loop).

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 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.

SampleProgram

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 ‘Pin’ online workouts to do later?

Do you ever modify them to address your own fitness level, abilities and goals?

Deloading | what is it and how might it benefit your training?

Body builders do it. So do long distance runners, cyclists and professional athletes of all kinds. Even weekend warriors and recreational athletes can benefit from it.

Benefits of deloading

Deloading: what is it?

Deloading is simply a planned period of recovery from training.

A ‘rest’ or ‘taper’ week. A period of reduced intensity that occurs as part of a well-designed training plan, rather than from boredom or injury or overtraining.

Deloading prepares the body for the increased demand of the next phase of training, be it running a marathon, switching from hypertrophy to power training or being called up to the NHL.

Note that deloading isn’t synonymous with spending a week on the couch.

It can vary from taking a complete break from training (but continuing with activities of daily living, like walking and hiking and kayaking) to switching training modalities (runners might focus on knee and ankle strengthening exercises, body builders might head to the yoga studio, NHL players might head out on the golf course) to simply reducing the frequency, intensity and duration of your usual training sessions (for example, swapping five days of heavy body part strength training for three days of shorter, lighter, whole body exercises).

When I deload, I take a week away from strength training in the gym, but continue to teach my group fitness classes and accumulate my daily 10 000 steps.

Benefits of deloading

  • break through plateaus; runners, swimmers and body builders who taper or deload in the weeks before competitions often go on to PR at the event itself. Studies have shown that deloading can result in up to a 20% increase in strength and power when the athlete returns to regular training. Take a break to get stronger? I’ll take it!
  • create a new workout plan or redefine your fitness goals; often, taking time away from an activity that’s no longer moving us towards our health and fitness goals is exactly what’s required to refocus and redirect. Plan your training in phases and incorporate a period of reflection at the end of each phase.
  • renewed enjoyment of exercise when you return; humans love novelty. Repeating the same activity over and over again often leads to boredom, even with exercise. Taking planned time away from training (ideally, before you’ve lost your enthusiasm for it) often leads to renewed enjoyment upon your return. This is the main reason I cut back my group fitness teaching in the summer. When fall arrives, I’m excited to get back to it and my students know it.
  • spend time doing things that you’re usually too busy for; we’re all busy. Things fall through the cracks. Use the hours that you’d usually be training to get caught up on things that exercise has bumped down your to-do list. Being healthy and fit isn’t just about muscles and speed. It’s also about feeling connected to your family, friends and community. And perhaps, having time to de-clutter your house (my go-to de-training week activity).
  • reduced levels of stress hormone; exercise causes stress on the body. Over time, an excess of stress hormones can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and weight gain. Studies have shown that regular reductions in exercise intensity can return stress hormone levels to within normal ranges, thereby improving sleep, reducing anxiety, elevating mood and turning weight gain around.

How long should you deload and how frequently should deloads be incorporated in your training schedule?

Deloads are typically a week in duration. But depending on the athlete and their goals, can be as little as 5 days in length or as long as 3 weeks. In general, the more intense your training, the longer (and  more frequent) your deloading period should be. Note also, that older athletes may need to deload more frequently than younger athletes (oh those aching joints…).

If you’re regularly upping the intensity of your training (and you should be; the best way to keep making progress towards your health and fitness goals is to challenge your body regularly with new loads and exercises…), try taking a deload week every 3rd or 4th month.

Keep track of how you feel before, during and after the deload. Did you come back feeling refreshed? Were you stronger upon your return than you thought? Did it leave you hungry for exercise? Any effect on nagging injuries?

And remember; if fat loss is your primary fitness goal, you need to scale back on the nutritional side of things too. Eating for a high intensity training week when you’re deloading is a quick way to put on pounds and make you feel like deloading is the wrong approach for you.

Have you ever deloaded or ‘tapered’ your training?

Did you experience any of the above benefits of deloading?