A change is as good as a rest!

As a personal trainer at a public facility, I have a lot of occasional or sporadic clients (somehow the word ‘irregular’ doesn’t seem quite right…). Clients who see me not for regular training sessions, but for a new program to do on their own.

Inevitably, the question ‘how long should I stay on this program‘ arises. Now of course, the answer depends on the client’s individual training goals and how frequently (and with what intensity) they execute their program. But in general, I suggest that they should be ready to have their program ‘tweaked’ in about 3 weeks and overhauled in 5 to 6.


Source: http://www.medichere.com/wp-content/uploads/wt.jpg

The human body adapts very quickly to any new demand placed upon it. While our muscles are initially challenged by a new exercise or an increase in load or volume (more reps or sets), within as little as two weeks, our muscles may stop responding unless further challenged. That’s why weight training is also called ‘progressive resistance’ training. In order to continue make gains, you need to continually increase the challenge to your body.

In addition to hitting physical plateaus, it’s also easy to become bored with your exercise routine. In my experience, psychological plateaus usually kick in at the 3-4 week mark. When my clients become bored with their programs, they find reasons to stop coming to the gym. Or worse yet, I find them pounding out miles and miles on the treadmill or the elliptical, often while reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Not my idea of a high intensity workout and completely contradictory to my views on the relative value of strength training and cardio (but that’s a post for another day…).

In my own training, I aim to stick with a planned program for 4 to 6 weeks. While this is a longer programming interval that I recommend to my clients, I make small changes to my program on a weekly basis. I increase load or advance at least one exercise every 2nd or 3rd workout. I change the angle of my bench to target different muscle fibers. I add longer bouts of plyometrics every week or two. In effect, my program is continually changing. (Not to mention that I teach 4-8 group fitness classes per week, never repeating a workout; my body never knows what’s going to hit it next!)

I’ve spent the last few months working through phases 1 and 2 of the New Rules of Lifting for Abs.

It’s been a great program. My core strength has definitely increased and I’ve regularly upped my weights on all of the exercises except one (after I hurt my knee doing heavy step ups, I backed off on the load and just concentrated on proper form). There is a phase 3, but I’m ready for a break from whole body, core-based training. I’m a bit bored with it!

For the next little while, I’ll be returning to a more classic way of training, working 2 or 3 body parts at a time for a total of three days per week in the weight room. That means I’ll only be training shoulders, say, once per week. My reps will be in the 8-10 range and I’ll be using a super- or tri-set approach, as is appropriate for my current goal of putting on a bit more size. As long as my weights are heavy enough, I’ll continue to burn fat. I’ll get my cardio done on the step and in the spinning studio.

Out of necessity (three school age children on summer holidays!), I’ll need to switch it up again in about 5 weeks. Too difficult to get to the gym regularly, I’ll most likely revert to my summer approach of TRX-ing in the backyard and working extra hard in the classes I teach (participants be warned!).

Shall I put together some sample at-home workouts to get you through the summer?

Remember, change is as good as a rest!

P.S. Day 12 of the No Sugar Challenge and counting…

The knee bone’s connected to the…

Well, my knee is still a bit wonky. I taught Step classes Sunday and Monday morning. Both were pretty high energy but didn’t seem to bother it. I laid off the lunges and limited my range of motion during squats. So far so good.

Monday’s lunch time spin class, however was another story.

Low tension was fine. Sprinting was fine. Standing climbs were okay… until I hit about 75% of maximum tension. Ouch. Not a sharp, piercing ouch, just a dull, back off kind of ouch. So I did. More ice and ibuprofen last night helped.

This morning I was determined to get back to my training. Phase 2, Workout A of NROL for Abs. Lunges, 2-point bent over rows, dead lifts and chest presses. Lunges felt okay (although I admit to being extremely cautious with the positioning of my knee). Surprisingly, it was the bent over rows that got me!

No, not my knee, my lower back. Specifically, the same lower back pain that sidelined me about 20 months ago. Why the back now?

That’s how the human body works. It’s one long kinetic chain. Everything is connected. When something isn’t working, another body part will happily help out, sometimes to it’s detriment.

In my case, being protective of a sore knee resulted in me lifting with my back rather than with my legs. Bending over to pick up 30 pound dumbbells incorrectly led directly to strain on my lower back.

I’m thinking that the remainder of this week will be about rest and recovery, which means, of course, that my nutrition must be bang on; and with Easter just around the corner.

A tough week to have to hold back on training. I’m down 3 pounds in a week due to dialing in my nutrition and meeting my exercise goals and I don’t want to lose steam.

How’s your week shaping up?

How do you deal with setbacks?

Two great days of spot-on nutrition and great workouts! Feeling like I can soooo do this! Then, whammo, the unexpected; injury.

I was working through my third set of dumbbell step ups (25 lbs per hand), concentrating really hard on not cheating, feeling that lovely, near exhaustion burn in my left quad when, boing, my knee turned ever so slightly in. You just tweaked it, I told myself. Try one more. Ouch!

Okay, more than a tweak. Probably a twist or a mild sprain. I attempted to work through the rest of my push presses, but even that little half squat was causing pain. I finished early, iced and ibuprofened and hoped it would feel better in the morning.

It’s morning now, and although it does feel less swollen, I’m walking down stairs gingerly and thinking that it’s a good thing I don’t have to spin this morning!

Today was to have been another NROL day, and since I’m out with girlfriends tonight and planning on cashing in a splurge or two :), I really need to get some sort of a workout in today.

My plan? Combine the upper body portions of yesterday’s and today’s workouts (minus the squat on the push press) and add in some no-impact cardio on the Arc trainer. Then, rest, ice and ibuprofen again so I can teach step on Sunday morning.

Have you had a minor set back in your training? How did you deal with it?

The Last 10 Pounds

So, I have a confession to make. I’ve been cheating. I have strayed from my nutrition plan and have payed the price.

Hanging my head in shame.

Over the last 8 months, I’ve gained about 10 pounds on the scale. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was lifting fairly heavy weights 3 or 4 times a week. I was teaching my usual 3-4 cardio classes as well. My clothes still fit. Nobody was telling me I looked fat (not that my husband would ever dream of making a comment like that; although my 8-year old daughter would, she still has the brutal honesty of the young…).

I had almost convinced myself that I was putting on muscle (but really, 10 pounds of muscle on my frame, come on), when I decided to do a little reality check. I got out the tape measure and camera. Gulp.

Weight; 147 lbs
Height; 5’7″
Chest; 36″
High waist; 28.5″
Abdomen; 30″
Hips/butt; 39″

Using my standard method of estimating per cent body fat (not BMI; BMI only considers height and weight, not body composition or the relative proportion of your total body weight that is fat), I was carrying around 31.3 pounds of fat (21.3% body fat)! That’s a lot for me, personally. I feel best at 18-19% body fat, which corresponds to approximately 136-138 lbs (of course that depends on how much muscle mass I’m carrying).

When I put on my favorite bathing suit and took some quick pics in the mirror (pardon the splatter marks that I forgot to clean off first!), it became immediately obvious to me just where that extra 10 pounds had accumulated. A little bit too much junk hanging out of the bottom of the bathing suit. A small spare tire around the middle. (Note that these photos are not meant to be gratuitous bikini shots, but rather, a tool to motivate myself to do better. Skip them if you’d prefer not to look!).

By my calculation, I’ve got about 10 weeks until summer holidays start. I want to look and feel great at the beach. Taking little bits and pieces from all my favorite fit females (Rachel Cosgrove, Tosca Reno, Jillian Michaels and MizFit, to name a few), I’ve put together a plan. I’m going to share it with you as a means to stay accountable and perhaps, to help any of you who are also on a mission to shed those last 10 pounds. Note that this plan is based on my goals, my body, my schedule and most importantly, my ability to stay focused and on course. If you join me, your results may differ from mine.

My three-pronged approach:

1. Exercise; I’ve been following the NROL for Abs and have been pleased with the results I’m getting. My core strength has improved immensely. I’m lifting heavier and doing more of the metabolic intervals each week. I’m currently half-way through Phase 2 and plan to continue with this program as it’s written. In addition to 3 days of weight training, I also do cardio intervals on the spin bike two times a week.

2. Water; While I’m usually fairly well hydrated, increasing water consumption will help elevate my metabolism and burn more fat. It will also make me feel fuller between meals. I’m aiming for 75-80 ounces a day (1/2 ounce per pound of body weight). I always drink an 8 ounce glass immediately after my morning coffee to help counter-act the diuretic effects of the caffeine and to get my insides moving!

3. Nutrition; This is where I really need to re-tool. I’ve been having way too many splurges (cookies, wine, chips, cake) to look and feel my best. My first week’s goal is to eliminate these from my diet, along with all pre-packaged, processed foods (including bread, pasta and cereals other than oats and low-fat granola). The fewer ingredients on the package, the better. Getting rid of processed foods will also help eliminate sugar.

I’ll be eating 3-4 ounces of lean protein at each meal (5 small meals per day), along with a fruit (no more than 3 per day) or vegetable (as many as I want) and a healthy fat (olive oil, coconut oil, flax or chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews). In addition to choosing the right fats, the key to losing fat while eating fat is to limit serving size (1 tablespoon of oil or seeds, 1/4 cup of nuts).

I’ll be timing my starchy carbohydrates; one serving at breakfast (oats, clean cereal, quinoa, ezekial bread) and one at my post-workout meal (sweet potato, brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole grain couscous). Again, I’ll be watching serving sizes here, even clean carbs have calories that add up quickly.

Limiting my splurges to 3-4 per week. A glass of wine is a splurge. A cookie for dessert is a splurge. A half of a bagel or a muffin is a splurge. I will be planning these so they are not wasted on things that are not an absolute party in my mouth.

So, are you in?

Love to hear how it’s going; comments below, please!

Keep your chin up!

No, this isn't me; I slurped it from the Web.

Chin ups and pull ups; thought by many to be the holy grail of fitness. Lifting your own body weight, against gravity, using only your back and biceps. Excellent for building strength and burning fat, in particular, that difficult-to-budge fat around your middle.

This week, I started Phase 2 of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Workout B includes mixed-grip chin ups. (Instead of gripping the bar with both palms facing in, one palm faces out, thereby forcing the core to work harder to keep the body facing forward). Three to four sets of 8 mixed-grip chin ups, to be exact.

How did I fare? 3, 1 and 5 assisted (I couldn’t face not being able to do a single rep in my final set so I placed my foot, very lightly against the wall and gave myself a little help; this is widely accepted way to improve your chin up, or pull up, strength). Not great, but on the upside, lots of room for improvement!

Chin ups are not a beginner’s exercise. A moderate level of strength and experience with weight training is required. Men can typically begin adding chin ups to their training program sooner than women (can’t get around biology). Want to learn to do chin ups and impress your friends?

Rather than starting out at the chin up bar, we’ll begin at the Smith or assisted squat rack. Place the bar at approximately the level of your hip. Lie down under the bar and reach up to grab it, palms facing in (towards your face). Your arms should be in a straight line, with shoulders directly under elbows and wrists. Extend your legs (if this is too hard, your can begin by bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor). Engage your abdominals and pull your torso (shoulders to knees) off the floor, so you’re hanging from the bar.

Take a deep breath in, retract your shoulder blades and using your back and biceps, pull your chest towards the bar. Exhale as you pull up. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.

In the beginning, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps, resting for 60 s between sets. Once you’re able to do 2 sets of 8-10 reps you’re ready to move on (if you started with legs bent, progress to the straight leg version described above).

Come on over to the chin up bar! Place a bench or step below it. The bench should be high enough that you can reach the bar. Standing on the bench, reach up to the bar, palms facing in and attempt to pull yourself up. Use your legs as little as possible to assist. Again, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with 60 s rest between sets. Get yourself up to 2 sets of 8-10 before you move on.

Ready for the next progression? Get rid of the bench. Jump up, grab the bar using a palms-in grip and place one foot against the wall at about waist height. Bend your knee, so that you’re still hanging directly under the bar. Using your leg as little as possible (but you will use it by pushing slightly into the wall with your food), attempt to pull yourself up. (Alternately, if you have a training partner, you can simply bend both knees and have them hold your ankles while you pull up, see photo to the left). Once again, you’re aiming for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with appropriate rest between.

Now you’re ready to go it alone (for 1 rep, anyways!). Jump up, grab the bar, starting from the bottom of the range of motion (arms fully extended), cross your ankles and up you go. You’ll likely only be able to do 1 completely unassisted chin up the first time. That’s fine. Place your foot against the wall and continue your set. Your goal here is to eventually be able to do both sets (as many as you can) completely unassisted.

In order to help develop the muscles you need to perform unassisted chin ups (and pull ups), you should make sure you’re including bicep curls and bent over rows in your workouts. Use dumbbells, barbells, cable and pulley machines, whatever you have available.

Putting it all together? Start your workout with chin ups. Give your back and biceps a break by working another muscle group for a bit (legs, core, chest; you choose), then finish with isolation exercises for back and biceps (rows, curls, lat pullovers and pull downs). Take a day off between strength workouts; your chin ups won’t get better if you attempt them daily.

My goal? To be able to do 3 sets of 5-6 unassisted chins by June 15th (my estimated date of completion of this phase of the program).

Let me know how you’re doing, and of course, keep your chin up!

February already?

Wow! January sure flew by this year! Lots of new personal training clients. Classes full and over-full. Lots and lots and lots of new faces at the gym.

It’s great to see so many people committing to exercise and a healthier lifestyle!

Me? I’ve been steadily working away at Phase 1 of the New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Today I finished my eighth of 12 workouts. I’ve noticed a considerable improvement in my core strength. Although the core exercises in this phase are all stationary (i.e., there is no movement), my entire midsection is shaking and tired by the end of each workout.

I’ve progressed my planks up to 90 s and my side planks to 60 s (both with at least one limb off the ground for about half of the total time).

My dead lifts, both standard and single leg have gotten better and I’m not noticing any strain in my lower back (I injured it a couple of years back and have tended to “baby” it ever since). I’m now doing full pushups with my toes on a stability ball and looking for ways to make this exercise harder. All in all, I’m quite pleased with where I’m at.

I’ve even snuck a peek at Phase 2 and am excited to get going on it!

Now if only I could get my nutrition nailed down we might finally see a six pack. While I’ve been great with my protein and veggies, and have worked hard to switch from “white” to whole grain, I’ve been having a really tough time with sugar.

I. Crave. It.

Mid afternoon, I find myself reaching for a cookie or some chocolate or a sugary granola bar (if I lived alone those things wouldn’t even be in the house, but my family is still a bit resistant to the whole “clean eating” thing). Not sure if it’s the time of year (low light levels and cold temperatures leave our bodies craving seratonin boosters) or the intensity of the workouts (I’m really hungry on workout days), but sugar is my siren song.

Starting tomorrow, I plan on using the Tap and Track ap on my iPhone to document my daily food intake. Usually seeing those numbers (I ate how many grams of sugar and saturated fat today?!?) is enough to set me back on the straight and narrow.

We all know that journaling helps to reduce caloric intake by making us more accountable to ourselves.

Why don’t you join me?


Pro-D Day.

Three little words that many moms of school-age children dread. I know, some of you really relish the extra time to spend doing something meaningful with your children. It’s not that I don’t, but rather, feel that I make a better mom when I have balance between being with them (i.e., cooking and cleaning and entertaining and refereeing and social directing etc.) and being on my own.

So instead of trotting off to the gym this morning for my 7th of 12 Phase 1 NROL workouts, I stayed home in my PJ’ and made peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies with my 8-year old daughter. She’s at the age where she no longer gets disgusted by the raw eggs. Ingredients stay on the counter, not the floor. She can use the beaters without spraying cookie dough on the kitchen ceiling. She remembers not to stick her fingers in the batter, lick them and stick them back in. She even offers to clean up! All in all, she’s the perfect age for mother-daughter baking dates.

Our cookie recipe? An old family favorite, that I’ve ‘cleaned up’ so that I can rationalize eating a few myself. White flour replaced by a combination of whole wheat flour, bran flakes and flax seed. Natural, no-sugar, no-salt peanut butter to replace the Skippy. Dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate. A really fabulous treat; nutty, not too sweet and fewer calories than the original recipe (although still probably somewhere around 125 calories per cookie).

All in all, not a bad cheat snack, unless you eat three four FIVE of them. My brain is buzzing from the sugar. I’m wearing black to camouflage the tummy bulge. All my carbs for the day gone in 10 minutes. And the worst thing of all is that I’ve blown my Friday-night-glass-of-wine-with-my-hubby splurge.

At least I’m heading out to teach a Bosu class tonight. Maybe I’ll sneak in 20 minutes on the ARC trainer while I’m there…

Sleep-deprived; curse you paperboy!

4:45 am; Wham! Newspaper thuds against front door. I sit up in bed, wide awake two hours before the alarm is scheduled to go off silently cursing our newspaper delivery boy. Kiss your Xmas tip goodbye, buddy!

5:15 am; Up I get. Can’t get back to sleep so I might as well knit something. Coffee in hand, I make my way wearily to the couch. Nothing too challenging; just simple back and forth knitting.

7:00 am; The rest of the household awakens and the morning bustle begins.

9:00 am; I hit the gym, hoping that a good workout will energize me for the day ahead. It’s Phase 1, Workout B, 3rd time through. Upped the time on my planks, increased the weight on my dead lift, had to sub in real pull-up for the inverted row (all the squat racks were taken). Not bad! Felt pretty good, all things considered.

2:00 pm; Crash. A quick nap on the couch followed by a good strong cup of espresso and I’m ready for the afternoon crunch.

5:30 pm; Off to teach my Bosu class. Feeling a bit wobbly; could be either the poor night’s sleep or the dead lifts I did earlier in the day. Stretching at the end felt great!

Early to bed tonight! Looking forward to rest day tomorrow…

New Rules; Phase 1, Day 1

After re-reading The New Rules of Lifting for Abs (see my previous post for a review), I decided to start the program today, with the goal of completing Phase 1 before we go on holiday to Florida next month. That means that I need to squeeze in three weight room workouts a week, on top of the 4-6 classes I’m already teaching. Scheduling will be a challenge, but I’m holding the reward of a new Lululemon hoody up as motivation!

Today I completed the first session of Phase 1, Workout A. I challenged myself on every single exercise, and although there were only six (and I was familiar with them all), every major muscle group in my body was worked to fatigue. I attempted 3 sets of 12 reps per exercise, but had to cut the inverted row reps short in the third set.

The entire workout, including a (slightly too short; running late to pick up children at school) stretch, took just under an hour. And I was not even tempted to throw in a few ‘body part’ exercises (I usually train two body parts per workout, performing 3-5 different exercise per body part).

I. Was. Completely. Finished. In fact, I needed an after dinner nap; something I haven’t done since my kids were little and woke me up several times a night!

I’m planning on tackling Workout B tomorrow and taking a much-needed rest day on Saturday.

P.S. If you decide to join me, you can find free workout training templates like the one above here. You still need to buy the book to get the workout, but Schuler and Cosgrove provide the down-loadable templates free of charge.