5 Must-Have Exercise Books For Your Fitness Library

Whether you’re brand new to weight-lifting or a seasoned pro, getting better at your sport often means doing a little research. Spending some time watching exercise videos, or better yet, reading exercise books to learn a new exercise, improve your exercise form or find a new program to follow.

Traditionally, most of the strength training titles published focused almost exclusively on the goals and needs of men. In particular, young, virile, testosterone-fuelled men.

Don’t get distracted…Keep reading!

The needs of women were largely overlooked. Especially the needs of women who aren’t so much interested in getting ‘bikini ready’ (the focus of most fitness magazines) as ‘training for the sport of life’. Getting stronger, yes, but also becoming more capable of doing all the other activities we love, for today, tomorrow and a long time to come.

Fast forward to the mid-2000’s, where strength training titles for females exploded.

About time.

Fitnitchick’s 5 ‘must-have’ exercise books for your fitness library


Women’s Health Big Book of Exercise (2010; Adam Campbell)

A huge tome, not meant to be lugged back and forth to the gym (that would be a workout, in and of itself…), but perfect when you need to look up an exercise or find an alternative version of an old one that you’ve tired of.

The ‘Big Book’ is organized according to body part (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Quadriceps and Calves, Glutes and Hamstrings, Core and Total Body). For each major muscle group, the ‘main moves’ (that is, the fundamental moves that need to be mastered) are described first, followed by variations of each exercise that can be performed with different types of equipment (body weight, barbells, dumbbells, cable and pulley machines, stability balls and even the TRX suspension trainer).

Each and every exercise is illustrated, with easy-to-follow exercise descriptions and form cues. There’s even a section of ready-made workouts at the back (‘The Best Workouts for Everything’), including workouts for athletes, pre-natal women, body-weight only fans and my favourite, crowded gyms.


The Female Body Breakthrough (2009; Rachel Cosgrove)

One of the first strength training titles specifically aimed at getting regular women into the weight room. In addition to a 16-week, progressive resistance program (a program that I return to whenever I get tired of my own programming and want to follow somebody else’s lead…), Rachel Cosgrove’s book also includes advice about mindset, exercise nutrition, hormones, goal-setting and emotional eating.

The workouts are well-illustrated and there are plenty of testimonials to her approach scattered throughout the book; perfect for those day when you need a little motivation, inspiration and re-assurance that the program works. And for those of us who love it when fitness professionals cite actual research studies to back their claims, a list of references to original research in the fields of physiology, sports medicine and endocrinology.


The New Rules of Lifting for Women (2007; Lou Schuler with Cassandra Forsythe and Alwyn Cosgrove)

Another title dedicated to encouraging women to take strength training seriously (the subtitle of the book; “Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess”…).

This books combines 16-weeks of progressive resistance training with a wealth of information on nutrition and eating for fat loss (including a variety of sample meal plans and recipes to support them).

The workouts are functional in nature (squats, lunges, dead lifts, rows, push ups) are rely heavily on standard weight room equipment (dumbbells, benches, barbells, cable and pulley etc.).

I love that the workouts are fairly simple in their design (typically 5-8 exercises, performed in super-set style) and don’t require more than 40-50 minutes in the gym. All exercises are illustrated with detailed instructions on how to perform them safely and with good form. This is another title that I’ve used extensively in my own training.


Kettlebells for Women (2012; Lauren Brooks)

Ever since I took my first kettlebell workshop, I’ve been enamoured with this relatively new-to-the-big-box-gym-goer tool. I love how it makes me feel strong and capable and bad-ass (despite the wrinkles and grey hairs…).

Because they’re not just simply a ‘weight with handles’, I recommend that all newcomers to kettlebell training either get some in-person instruction or find a good book or video to read and study before they set up for their first swing.

I think Kettlebells for Women is the perfect place to start. Beginning with a brief history of kettlebell training, the author outlines the benefits of using kettlebells (both in addition to and in place of traditional dumbbells and barbells) and provides suggestions as to the weight of bells the user should purchase (or have available to them) to maximize the benefits of her workouts.

The remainder of the book outlines a 12-week progressive resistance program. It includes 15 different workouts (with levels from beginner to advanced) and illustrated explanations of each exercise, including the exercises most frequently associated with kettlebell training; swings, cleans, windmills, snatches and the Turkish Get-Up.

The only downside to kettlebell training? The expense of the equipment. And the more frequently you do the workouts, the more quickly you’ll outgrow your equipment 😉


Ultimate Booty Workouts (2013, Tamara Grand aka Fitknitchick 😉 )

If you’re a relatively new visiter to this website, you won’t know that I published my first ever fitness title a little over a year and a half ago. Although titled ‘Ultimate Booty Workouts’, the book is much more than just an exercise program for building a better butt.

In it, I outline my fitness philosophy for women, including the importance of goal setting, tips for finding motivation, non-aesthetic benefits of strength training, nutrition to support your efforts in the gym as well as tips for measuring progress off and on the scale.

The program itself focuses on the core and lower body (hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads), with suggestions for incorporating upper body training and cardio into the 12-week program. All exercises are illustrated (you may recognize one of the models… hint, hint), as are the suggested warm up moves, stretches and foam rolling exercises. There are even blank workout templates for you to photocopy and take with you to the gym.

Curious as to what it was like to actually write a fitness book AND model for the photo shoot? I shared my experiences here and here, respectively.




Books make great Christmas presents. Especially the last one 😉

Do you have any titles to add to my fitness library?

Any books that have been particularly helpful to you as you progress with strength training?

5 Exercises for a Strong Lower Back

Whether you’re brand new to strength training or have been lifting weights for years, chances are you’ve had some experience with lower back pain. (If you are a newbie, congrats!  Here are some great ‘get started’ with weight lifting posts for you to read).

exercises for a strong lower back

Not the ‘OMG I can’t move my legs’ pain; that’s indicative of a serious injury and needs medical attention stat.

But rather that nagging ache that comes and goes and forces you to take a few days off training, seek some relief on the heating pad and pop an Advil or two before bed.

Most lower back pain is mechanical in nature. Meaning that it’s not caused by injury per se, but  by muscles that are weak, inflexible or out of balance with the muscles around them.

The most likely culprits?

Weak or inhibited glutes, weak abdominals, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. The very same muscles that are required to perform the exercises that form the foundation of most strength training programs; squats, lunges, dead lifts and overhead presses.

exercises for a strong lower back

Ineffective recruitment and coordination of the lower body’s ‘power muscles’ increases the stress and force on the lower spine, setting the stage for a variety of conditions ranging from mild muscular strain to ruptured disks.

The good news is, most lower back pain is preventable. Try adding the following five exercises to your regular strength training program to strengthen your lower back and reduce your risk of injury.

The added bonus of a strong lower back? Your’ll likely be able to squat heavier and dead lift more.

exercises for a strong lower back

5 exercises for a strong lower back

Bird dog

Come on to all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tighten abdominals and simultaneously lift and extend the right arm and left leg so that they’re both parallel to the ground. Keeping hips square and level, hold for 3 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Pause and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating until you’ve competed a total of 8 to 10 repetitions.

exercises for a strong lower back

Hip bridges

Start by laying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Tighten your bum cheeks and belly to lift your torso up and off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Lower, rest and 8 to 10 times.
exercises for a strong lower back

Modified clam shells

Lay on your side with hips and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Top knee and ankle should be directly over the bottom knee and ankle. Flex your feet and using the side of the top leg, lift the top leg up to open the hip. Imagine that your bent legs are the top and bottom shells of a clam and your pelvis, the hinge. Slowly lower and repeat. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.

exercises for a strong lower back

Front plank

Come into forearm plank, on either knees or toes. Forearms will be on the floor, parallel to one another, with elbows directly underneath shoulders. Tighten abdominals and glutes to lift and hold your body in a straight line. Keep shoulder blades retracted to encourage the muscles of your upper back to participate in the exercise. Hold for 30 s. Rest and repeat twice more. (Once your toe plank is solid, you can make this move more challenging by lifting one foot off the ground and turning it into a 3-point toe plank).


Prone chest raise

Lay face down on a yoga mat, with legs wider than hip distance apart and feet flexed. Place hands behind your head, with elbows bent and fingers interlace. Inhale, then exhale as you use your glutes and lower back to lift your chest up and off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering yourself back to the ground. Rest and repeat for a total of 8 to 10 reps. (Once you get good at this one, you can progress to the back extension machine in the gym).


Of course, don’t forget to book-end your workout with some stretching for those overly-tight hamstrings and hip flexors. You can find sample hamstring stretches here as well as the essential stretches every midlife exerciser needs to be doing here.

Just getting started with exercise? Or coming back to it after time off due to injury? My 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp is the perfect, low-intensity, short-duration, whole-body workout program to help get you on track. Click here to purchase and get started today!

10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Physiotherapists, kinesiologists, strength and conditioning coaches and pelvic floor specialists are all in agreement; regular and excessive performance of sit-ups and abdominal crunches can place un-due stress on the lumbar spine, exacerbate tight hip flexors and lead to destabilization of the pelvic floor.

Just what we fabulous over-40 women need right? Lower back pain, poor posture, urinary incontinence and pelvic organ (i.e., vaginal) prolapse (as if hot flashes, muscle loss and menopot weren’t indignities enough…).

Still not convinced to give sit-ups a rest (or at least downplay their role in your workouts)?

What if I told you that sit-ups and crunches will only lead to a visible ‘six pack’ if you’re able to get your body fat percentage down into the mid-teens. (For reference sake, female body builders are around 10-12 %.)

And that they won’t really improve your athletic performance or prevent those injuries caused by the activities of every day life?

Suddenly crunches aren’t sounding all that great, are they?

Try working the muscles of your core the way nature intended them to be used; as spinal stabilizers (both with and without movement), spinal flexors and extenders and rotational powerhouses.

Below you’ll find 10 of my favourite “crunch-free” exercises for a stronger core; two for each of the five primary core functions.

Choose one exercise from each category. Hold the static stabilization move as long as you can, then perform 8 to 10 repetitions (on each side, where applicable) of each of the other four exercises, one after the other, circuit-style. Beginners may find one round challenging enough. More advanced exercisers can repeat a second and even a third time.

10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Static stabilization:

1. Plank: Planks can be performed on forearms or hands (aka ‘high’ plank) and from knees (less challenging) or toes (more challenging). When holding a plank, concentrate on bracing through your midsection, squeezing your glute cheeks tight, pulling shoulders back and down and maintaining a straight line from your knees (or heels, depending on the variation) to your neck. If your lower back starts to curve or your shoulders creep up towards your ears, come on down. Never sacrifice good form just for the sake of extending your plank another few seconds.

Plank options - exercises for a stronger core


2. Resistance band anti-rotation hold: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy, vertical support. Stand at 90 degrees to the anchor point, feet shoulder width apart and with a slight bend in your knees. Grab both handles of the band in your hands, extend arms in front of you at belly button height and step away from the post to create resistance on the band. The greater the resistance, the more you’ll be working your anti-rotation muscles. Concentrate on keeping your torso upright, without leaning in towards the post. Hold for as long as you can. Switch sides and repeat. You can perform a variation of this exercise on a cable and pulley machine, using a standard D-ring and adding as much weight to the stack as necessary to generate an appropriate resistance on your obliques.

Dynamic stabilization:

3. Walk-up-walk-down plank: The exercise can be performed on the floor or with hands placed on either a weight bench (less challenging) or the dome side of a Bosu (more challenging). Come into forearm plank position, on either knees or toes. Bracing through your midsection, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, up until you’re in a high plank position. Without rotating through your torso, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, back down into forearm plank. Continue ‘walking’ up and down, alternating which hand you’re leading with.

'Walking' plank - exercises for a stronger core

4. Side plank and row: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy support at floor level (I’ve used the leg of a heavy sofa, in a pinch). Come into side plank, with either your legs fully extended and stacked one on top of the other (more challenging) or with knees bent and feet behind you (less challenging), forearm on the floor, with elbow directly under your shoulder  Make sure you’re far enough from your anchor point that when you grab the handle of the resistance band and extend your arm directly out in front of you, there’s already considerable resistance on the band. Maintain a perfect side plank (shoulders stacked one on top of the other, hips stacked one on top of the other, lower hip up and off the floor) and row the handle of the band in towards your underarm. Slowly return to starting position and repeat, making sure that you’re not giving in to the urge to rotate the upper body towards the anchor point. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. This exercise can also be performed on a standard cable and pulley machine, using a D-ring and with the cable set at the lowest position.


5. Stability ball roll-in or pike: Come into a high plank, with hands directly underneath shoulders and feet resting atop a stability ball (make this exercise a little easier by placing the ball under your shins or even your thighs). Keeping upper body stationary, roll ball in towards your chest, either bending at the knees (a roll-in’) or keeping legs straight and lifting hips up into an inverted ‘V’ (pike). Return ball to starting position and repeat.

Stability ball roll-in - exercises for a stronger core

6. Lateral trunk flexion: Start by standing with feet hip distance apart holding a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in each hand, down by your sides. Hinging at the hip, lean upper body down and to the right, feeling a pinch between rib and hip. Engage through your core and use the muscles on the opposite side of your body to pull yourself back up to the starting position. Concentrate on slow, controlled, full range of motion movements, resisting the urge to lean forward or backwards.


7. Prone chest raise: Lay on your mat, face down, with arms at your sides, hands directly underneath shoulders. Spread your legs slightly, placing the tops of your feet firmly on the mat. Take a deep breath as you tighten your quads and glutes, lifting your chest up and off the floor with the muscles of your lower back. Avoid pushing with your hands and hyper-extending the back; you needn’t lift more than six inches off the floor to feel the effects of this movement. Slowly lower yourself to the ground, pause and repeat.

Prone chest raise - exercises for a stronger core

8. Back extension machine: Position yourself over the back extension machine, such that the cushions rest just below your hip bones. Lock your heels under the foot rest. Placing hands across your chest (or holding a weight plate at chest level, for more challenge), relax your calves, hamstrings and glutes as you bend at the hip to lower your upper body towards the floor. Engage the muscles of the lower back to lift your torso just high enough that your body forms a straight line from the back of your ankles to the back of your neck. Avoid lifting more than 10 degrees about 180; hyperextending the back can lead to rapid fatigue and injury.


9. Medicine ball diagonal rotation: Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, toes pointed forward or a little bit out. Holding a medicine ball (or dumbbell if you don’t have access to a ball) between your hands, bend slightly at the knees and rotate your torso to the left. Energetically lift the ball diagonally across your body, from outside the left knee to above and beyond the right shoulder. Pivot on the left foot and rotate the torso as you do so. Return to the starting position and complete all reps before switching sides. The focus of this move should be on the upwards phase of the lift.

10. Russian twist on the ball: Start by coming into ‘table-top’ position on a stability ball; your head and shoulders will be resting on the ball, feet will be on the floor with knees bent and hips pressed up towards the ceiling. Holding a single dumbbell between your hands, extend arms directly up and over your chest. Rotate arms and torso down to the right, shifting your weight so that the ball rolls under the right shoulder.  Brace your core and return arms and weight to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating until all repetitions have been completed. Concentrate on keeping your arms long and holding the weight as far from your body as you can. Beginners should limit their range of motion until they become confident in their ability not to fall off the ball.

Russian twist on the ball - exercises for a stronger core

The above essay is part of YakkaFit’s monthly “10 on the 10th” blog link-up series. I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow bloggers came up with this month!

I regularly share fitness tips, exercise tricks and nutritional information with my readers and blog subscribers. Get on the list, avoid FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and grab a copy of my FREE e-book (“5 Steps to Exercise Happiness”) by leaving your name and email below.

4 exercises that are harder than they look

Have you ever watched someone perform a new-to-you exercise, thought ‘that looks easy’, tried it yourself and utterly failed?

Chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done it.

As with most physical tasks, it requires practice before a new exercise can be executed fluidly and with apparently little effort. The mind and the muscles need to connect. Assisting and stabilizing muscles need to be woken up and recruited. Range of motion needs to be explored, often a little bit at a time.

The following 4 exercises are harder than my video demonstration of them would have you believe; trust me, I’ve had to work hard to make them look effortless 😉

4 exercises that are harder than they look

1. Bosu sit-to-stand crunch

How it’s done: Start by sitting on the dome side of a Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Slide down until your bum is just two or three inches from the floor. With knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lean back until the Bosu meets the curve of your lower back. Tighten your abdominals and extend your arms (and the weight) in front of you to pull yourself sitting. Continue on to standing by pushing through the soles of your feet. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat.

Why it’s hard: The exercise requires you to be able to get up off the floor without using your hands. It requires a strong core and the ability to generate power by the hip flexors.

What it’s good for: Developing a functionally strong core that will allow you to get up off the floor and out of bed for many years to come. Building strong abdominal muscles without putting the lumbar spine at risk.

2. Bosu weighted squat jumps

How it’s done: Start by standing just behind the Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Make sure the handles of the Bosu are facing north and south to minimize the risk of landing on one or the other. Extend arms (and weight) out in front at mid-chest height. Bend your knees, hips and ankles and drop down into a partial squat before propelling yourself forward and up onto the dome. Land with knees slightly bent and pause briefly, ‘sticking’ the landing, before stepping back down. Repeat.

Why it’s hard: Jumping onto an unstable surface and stopping requires you to be able to accelerate and decelerate quickly. Extending the arms away from the body forces both the legs and core to do more work. In addition to being physically challenging, this exercise is psychologically challenging for many.

What it’s good for: Building power in the legs, strengthening the deep core stabilizers and improving balance and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). When done quickly, elevating the heart rate and burning calories.

3. Hamstring curls on the ball

How it’s done: Start by laying face up on the floor, with legs extended and feet resting on the top of a stability ball. Extend your arms straight up over your chest and lift your hips up and off the ground. Dig your heels into the ball and bend your knees and ankles to roll the ball in towards your torso. Roll the ball back to the starting position and repeat, without letting your bum touch the ground between reps.

Why it’s hard: The ball wants to move under your feet. With only your shoulders touching the floor, the muscles of the core and lower body must work together to stabilize you and keep you from rolling off the ball.

What it’s good for: Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, calves, abdominals and lower back. Improving balance and proprioception.

4. Shifting 3-point plank

How it’s done: Place 2 or 3 light dumbbells (or weight plates) on the floor in a vertical line. Come into a forearm plank such that the weights are directly above your right hand. Keeping back flat and hips facing downwards, use your left hand to move the weights, one at a time, across the mat to just above where the left hand will be when you return it to the floor.

Why it’s hard: When you lift your hand off the ground, your body wants to compensate for the lost support by rotating. Forcing the hips to remain facing downwards requires the obliques and glutes to work harder than they would in a standard plank.

What it’s good for: Improving anti-rotational core strength, learning to engage your glutes and enhancing chest and shoulder stability. I also find that the task of moving the weights makes me forget about watching the clock while I plank 😉

As with all challenging exercises, practice them regularly to improve your execution. Focus on form before increasing intensity, volume or load.

And remember, once you’ve mastered them, others will be copying YOU in the gym (although modelling your workouts on those of your fellow gym-goers isn’t necessarily a great idea…).


Have you ever been surprised by how challenging an exercise was?

What was the exercise?

4 Benefits of Turkish Get Ups

Recently, I participated in a kettlebell workshop for fitness professionals.

benefits of Turkish get ups

Perfect your form with light weights before progressing to heavier bells

In addition to learning proper cueing techniques for hip hinges, dead lifts and kettlebell swings, we were also introduced to an exercise with a strange sounding name; the Turkish get up.

Originating as an exercise for wrestlers in the Middle East, Turkish get ups (TGU’s) are now commonly incorporated in functional strength workouts the world over. Although TGU’s sound simple (lay down, press a weight over your head, come to standing then return to laying down, all the while keeping the arm extended and the weight over head), done properly, they provide a full body workout, building strength, endurance and improving overall mobility.

And they are harder than they sound or look. MUCH HARDER :)

Here’s a peek at where I am currently in my TGU training; note that I’m only using a 5 pound dumbbell and that I need to improve the fluidity of my movements before I switch to a heavier kettlebell.

Note that there are many accepted variations to the move (single vs double arm, getting up from a squat vs a lunge, using a hip bridge vs. swinging your back leg through). None are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and all confer similar strength and conditioning benefits. Find the variation that works for YOU and focus on perfecting form BEFORE adding or increasing load.

4 Benefits of Turkish Get Ups

  • improved shoulder strength and stability. TGU’s move your shoulder through it’s entire range of motion; all while keeping the arm extended under a static load. With little to no load, they’re both the perfect warmup to an upper body lifting routine and as part of a shoulder rehabilitation program. Trainer Tip: Concentrate on keeping your arm fully extended, with the weight held directly above the shoulder and eye focus on the weight during the ‘up’ and ‘down’ portions of the exercise.
  • increased core strength and endurance. While the TGU may not look like a typically ‘abdominal’ exercise, break down the movement sequence and you’ll find that it requires activation and stabilization of the entire core complex. The farther a heavy load is held from the centre of the body, the more it taxes the muscles of the core. The slower you perform the sequence, the longer those muscles will remain under tension. Trainer Tip: Concentrate on keeping glutes and abdominals engaged throughout; stability supports movement and helps prevent injury. 
  • correct left-right movement pattern asymmetries. Most of us have a ‘stronger’ side. As a consequence, movement patterns will be easier to perform on one side of the body than the other. Practice TGU’s on both sides of the body to improve the ease with which you can perform day-to-day movement patterns (e.g., getting in and out of a car), as well as those required during recreational sports (e.g., kicking a soccer ball). Trainer Tip: When performing unilateral exercises, always start with your weaker, less coordinated side; focus on reducing the left-right imbalance before progressing the exercise.
  • whole body, metabolic exercise. The more muscle groups required to perform an exercise, the more the exercise will elevate your heart rate and the more calories you’ll burn during (and perhaps after) the workout. Trainer Tip: Combine TGU’s with three or four other compound whole body exercises (for example, pushups, pull ups, dead lifts and push presses) for an efficient metabolic style workout.

Do you include Turkish Get Ups in your strength workouts?

If so, what variation do you prefer?

IMG_3876For more exercise tips and strength training suggestions, check out my new book, Ultimate Booty Workouts. Available now at Amazon.caAmazon.comBarnes and Noble and Chapters/Indigo

Use unilateral exercises to shake up your workouts

I love exercises that require the left and right sides of my body to perform different tasks. What can I say, I’m happiest when multi-tasking :)

My favourite unilateral exercise? The offset load squat.

unilateral exercises

Yes, I know that I’m using an 8 pound and a 15 pound weight…

Rather than holding two, equal weight dumbbells at shoulder height, try holding a heavy weight over one shoulder and a lighter weight over the other. Ignore anyone in the gym who’s giving you strange looks, assuming that you don’t realize you’re using two different dumbbells…happens to me all the time!

Feel how one side of the body is working harder than the other. Note the difference in the way the left and right sides of your core are working as you drop down into the squat. Pay attention to how your left and right legs and glute cheeks work as you press back up to standing.

Neat, huh? (Just make sure you switch the weights and perform an equal number of reps on the other side so as not to leave the gym lop-sided 😉 ).

Incorporating unilateral exercises in your workout is a great way to

  1. increase strength on the weaker side of your body. Often our non-dominant arms and legs are lacking in strength not only because we use them less in every day life, but also because during traditional gym workouts we unconsciously let our stronger side take over. Forcing each side of the body to work differently and separately immediately highlights any muscular weaknesses and imbalances that may be affecting our progress in the gym as well as our day-to-day functionarily.
  2. improve balance and kinesthetic awareness. Unilateral exercises require a strong kinesthetic awareness; the knowledge of where, in space, your limbs are relative to your torso. Next time you trip and ‘catch’ yourself before falling, congratulate yourself on your well-developed kinesthetic sense. Asking the left and right sides of your body to simultaneously perform different tasks forces you to create and strengthen mind-to-muscle connections that you might not otherwise use.
  3. incorporate extra core training in your workout. Whenever we ask the right and left sides of our body to perform different movements we turn on our deep core stabilizers; the muscles that help support the spine and protect it from being injured by external forces. For example, lifting a single, heavy weight up and over your head requires the obliques on the opposite side of your body to contract and engage in order to keep your torso upright.
  4. push through training plateaus. Sometimes we get stuck at a particular weight or progression of an exercise. No matter how hard we try to progress it, we can’t seem to increase the difficulty or the load. Unilateral exercises can help you push through plateaus by forcing the weaker side of the body to become stronger (see 1. above) as well as providing a slightly different stimulus to the body (akin to changing the angle of your chest press or the stride length of your lunge). Doing things a little differently is often the key to moving forwards (but in a round-about way; kind of like life).

Here’s a quick, whole body workout that incorporates unilateral exercises. Aim for 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise on each side of the body. Beginners should complete the circuit once through, more advanced exercisers can shoot for 2-4 sets of each. As always, choose a weight (or progression) that allows you to complete all repetitions in good form; if you can’t get to the end of the set, you probably need a slightly lighter weight.

Offset load squats: Start by standing with feet under your hips (or slightly wider apart), toes pointed forward (or angled out a bit), one heavy dumbbell held over your right shoulder, one light dumbbell held over your left. Drop your bum down and back (as if you’re squatting over a port-a-potty). Push through your heels, keeping core tight and eye focus forward to return to standing. Switch sides with the weights and repeat.

Standing single arm shoulder press: Stand as described above for the offset load squat. Maintain a slight bend in your knees and tighten your belly and butt to protect your lower back. Hold two equal weight dumbbells at shoulder height. Extend both arms up and over your head, keeping weights slightly in front of your head. Keep non-working arm fully extended while you lower the working (weighted) arm towards your shoulder. Press back up to the starting position. Complete all repetitions on one side then switch to the other.

unilateral exercises

Single arm chest press on the ball

Single arm chest press on the ball: Start by sitting on a stability ball (or a weight bench if balance is challenging for you). Holding a pair of equal weight dumbbells in your hands, walk yourself down until your head and shoulders are supported by the ball. Your lower body should be lifted into a reverse bridge, with hips up and feet wide apart. Extend both arms up straight over your chest, with palms facing away. Keep non-working arm fully extended while you lower the working arm towards your chest. Press back up to the starting position. Complete all repetitions on one side then switch to the other.

Single leg dumbbell dead lift: Start by balancing on one foot. The other knee will be bent with foot help slightly above the ground. Hold a single, heavy weight in the hand of the non-working leg. Keeping eye focus forward and back flat, bend working knee, hip and ankle to lower yourself towards the ground, reaching across your body with the weight as you descend. Use your glutes, hamstrings and lower back to pull yourself back up to standing. Complete all repetitions on one side then switch sides.

unilateral exercises

Three-point plank

Three-point plank. Come into a low plank, with weight on your toes and forearms. Maintain a straight line from the back of your neck to the back of your heels, lift one foot up and off the ground (6 to 8 inches is far enough). Hold for as long as you can before switching sides. Try and keep your hips facing forward the entire time.

unilateral exercises

Which muscles, other than the target muscles, did you feel during each of the above exercises?

Were you surprised at how much more challenging unilateral exercises are than their more traditional counterparts?

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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.

Get more from your plank-a-day; bridge for balance

I love all the plank-a-day Tweets filling up my Twitter stream.

plank a day on twitter

I’m amazed to see how long people are able to hold their planks and am excited to see their plans for progressively increasing those times.

plank a day on Twitter

Planks are a fabulous exercise for strengthening the muscles of the core, in particular the rectus abdominus (the ‘six pack’ muscles) and  transverse abdominus (the ‘lower abs’). In fact, many fitness professionals now prefer them over standard crunches or sit ups for increasing abdominal strength.

‘Spinal stabilization’ is the new sexy!

proper plank form

But bodies work best when opposing muscle groups are balanced in strength. Front body (anterior) muscles need to precisely balance back body (posterior) muscles for optimal function and long term lack of pain.

Show me a body builder with well-developed pecs and forward sloping shoulders and I’ll show you someone with an under-developed back! (Hint: you should be able to pull as much as you can push)

Want to get more from your plank-a-day? Add a bridge-a-day to your routine!

Bridges are essentially reverse planks.

Rather than contracting your anterior core muscles to hold your body in a straight line, bridging requires you to activate the deep muscles of your mid and lower back; your quadratus lumborum, multifidus and erector spinae. Bridging also requires the use of your glutes and hamstrings; both important muscle groups for stabilization of the lower back and pelvis.

To perform a bridge, begin by laying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, approximately hip distance apart.

Beginners will extend their arms out to their sides, in ‘T’ formation. Intermediate exercisers may lay arms alongside their torsos.

  1. Taking a deep breath in, pull your belly button towards your spine
  2. Squeeze glute cheeks together
  3. Push through the heels of your feet
  4. Exhale as you raise your hips off the ground until
  5. Your body forms a straight line from chest to knees
  6. Hold for up to 30 s (please continue to breathe!)
  7. Gently lower to starting position, rest and repeat

core strength training

Ideally, you should be able to hold your bridge (or reverse plank) as long as you can hold a regular plank!

plank-a-day + bridge-a-day = unsurpassed core strength and spinal stability

Need more challenge? Try one of the following;

  • Extend arms straight up over your chest (less contact with the floor)
  • Place feet on a stability ball (unstable surface)
  • Lift one foot off the floor, extending leg straight up (reduced base of support)
  • Place a weight plate or sand bell across your hips (increased resistance)
  • Perform a hamstring curl on the ball (dynamic instability)
core training exercises


I’d love to see you Tweet your #BridgeADay #PROOF as well! Let’s see if we can get the #BridgeADay hashtag trending!

Watch for mine tomorrow!

New to weight training? Use your own body weight to get strong and lean

For many reasons, people (women in particular) are intimidated by dumbbells (that aren’t pink…), barbells and squat racks. Rather than cross over to the free-weight section of their gym (where the ‘gym rats’ hang out), they head for the machines (hamstring curl, leg extensions, seated shoulder press, chest press and row, to name a few).


While machines have their place in some people’s fitness programs (correcting muscular imbalances, rehabilitating injuries, improving range of motion and breaking through plateaus are how I typically use them with my clients, when I use them at all…), they’re not so great for metabolism raising, fat burning or improving day-to-day functional movements. The three primary reasons people choose to exercise.

Why? Because you sit at machines, rather than standing on your own two feet. Sitting does not require you to activate your glutes or engage your core to any great extent, both of which will dramatically improve your posture, fitness level and caloric burn.

For those of you who are still not convinced that you need to learn to love free weights (or get to the gym in the first place), I’ve put together a list of my favorite body weight exercises. Exercises that can be done at home with minimal equipment, or at the gym in the corner or in the ‘stretching’ section of the weight room.

These are all ‘bang for your buck’ exercises, in that they use multiple muscle groups and require you to stabilize your shoulder girdle and core throughout. When done correctly and at a good tempo, they’ll also elevate your heart rate, blurring the lines between ‘cardio’ and ‘strength training’.

A word of warning; some of these exercises are not for beginners. Just because you’re not lifting dumbbells or barbells doesn’t mean the exercise is easy; pushups and pull ups require you to push and pull 75-100% of your body weight (dumbbells are starting to sound like a good idea after all, aren’t they!).


That being said, there are modifications that you can do as you progress towards full pushups and pull ups. I’ve written previously about learning to do chin ups; you can apply the same rules in your quest for the pull up, just widen and reverse your grip (palms face forward). Check back tomorrow for ways to progress your ‘knee’ pushups to full on ‘toe’ pushups. Click on the links below for exercise descriptions and images.

Fitknitchick’s best body weight exercises

  • Source


  • Pull ups or chin ups
  • Planks (of all type)
  • Squats (there are tons of great variations)
  • Lunges (again, variations aplenty)
  • Bird dog (looks easy, but isn’t and is extremely beneficial to all)
  • Back extensions (on the ball, floor or the back extension apparatus)
  • Burpees (half or full-on)
  • Skipping rope
Are you already doing some of these exercises in your daily workouts?

Anything I missed?

As always, I love to hear from you!

Chair lifts and zip lines and high wires, oh my! The last play-out of the summer

Summer holidays are essentially over. ‘Boo!’ say the children. ‘Hooray!’ says the mom. (Picture that Staples commercial; you know the one. Dad and kids shopping for back to school supplies. Kids looking downcast. Dad looking gleeful. The song ‘The most wonderful time of the world’ playing in the background).

Egged on by the good weather, we decided to take one last spur-of-the-moment, end-of-summer-vacation vacation. We had already taken one very long road trip early in the summer, so it had to be someplace close by. Given that my children aren’t happy relaxing by the pool for more than an hour at a time, there needed to be lots of exciting activities within an easy walk or car ride from the hotel. The opportunity for exercise out of doors is a must. Family-friendly restaurants and ice cream shops are important. A great yarn shop would be wonderful too!

Everyone we asked for suggestions said the same thing; Whistler!

Given that Whistler is primarily a winter sports destination, there were lots of summer time hotel deals to be found on-line. We managed to find a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo with kitchen, hot tub and heated swimming pool right at the base of the mountain for next to nothing. It had a gym, but I didn’t set foot inside it; too many fun ways to exercise out of doors!

We were only a 5-minute walk (or scooter ride, if you prefer) from the Kid Zone, the upper village and the chair lift to the top.

We luged,

We gyroscoped,

We bungeed,

We dared to scooter at the skateboard park (the most awesome skate park I’ve ever seen!),

When we got tired of the Kid Zone, we visited Monkido, an outdoor, treetops adventure course with ropes, aerial swings and ziplines. Talk about a workout! Two and a half hours on the course made a Bosu class seem like a piece of cake.

Yep, that’s me coming down the final zipline…

Our last day was spent taking the chair lift to the top of Blackcomb Mountain, connecting to the Peak to Peak Gondola over to Whistler Mountain then up the last, open t-bar chair lift to the peak. Awesome rocks, great hike and amazing views!

Alas, no yarn shop to be found (I checked the Yellow pages under ‘yarn’, ‘wool’ and ‘craft supplies’ but got nothing), but I brought a relaxing, mindless knit to keep me busy on the drive and poolside.

I’m feeling refreshed and ready for the challenges September will bring. How about you?