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!

How much weight should I be lifting?

One of the biggest challenges women face when they start a strength training program is figuring out how much weight they should be lifting. (New to strength training? Here’s a list of posts I’ve written to help you get started).

how much weight should I be lifting via fitknitchick.com

Most err on the size of caution, lifting less weight that they’re capable of either because they fear getting ‘bulky’ or they just don’t realize how strong their bodies actually are (how heavy is your purse? your groceries? your toddler? that giant bag of dog food you carried from the car to the house?).

The thing is, muscles require adequate stimulation to get strong.

They quickly adapt to the loads we lift regularly and stop increasing in size and strength unless we consistently up the challenge (we all hit plateaus from time to time; here are tricks for busting through them).

Given that loss of muscle mass contributes to midlife weight gain, you want to be sure that you’re lifting heavy enough to actually see the results of your efforts in the gym.

Most of the women I work with via my online fitness groups and 1-on-1 fitness coaching program have two primary goals; to build muscle and lose body fat. (If you’re looking for an online fitness coach who specializes in midlife women, I’m your girl and just happen to have two spots opening up in my practice later this month. Click through the link to read about the service and apply to work with me).

As a consequence, I typically program them in the 8 to 12 (or ‘hypertrophy’) repetition range.

That is, I ask them to perform somewhere between 8 and 12 good form repetitions of each exercise in their workout (the exact range depends on what we’re focusing on in each particular phase of their program; lower rep ranges for strength phases, higher rep ranges for muscle building and leaning out).

how heavy should I be lifting via fitknitchick.com


Because I don’t train my clients in person, I give them detailed instructions to determine whether their weights are heavy enough.

How much weight should I be lifting?

For example, during week 1 of a program that requires a client to perform 10 to 12 dumbbell chest presses I’d ask them to do the following;

  • choose a weight that they think they can manage 12 repetitions with (most will under-estimate)
  • attempt to perform 12 good form repetitions
  • evaluate their performance and adjust accordingly
  • if they managed all 12 repetitions and feel that they could easily have performed at least 4 or 5 more, increase their weight on the next set, attempting to find a weight that they can just reach 12 reps with (I usually recommend increasing weights by no more than 10% at a time; of course, depending on the dumbbell options available to you, this may not be possible).
  • if they were only able to perform 8 good form repetitions, stick with the same weight until they’re consistently reaching the upper value of the repetition range (12 reps) for the required number of sets
  • if they managed fewer than 8 good form repetitions, lower their weight on the next set, again attempting to find a weight that they can just reach 12 reps with

Note that this is a bit of an iterative process. Sometimes it will take you several sets (and more than one workout) to determine your current ‘best’ weight for an exercise.

Think of this period of figuring things out as additional preparation time. You’re teaching your body how to properly perform the exercise and learning how to listen to any messages it’s sending you about joint mobility, range of motion, bilateral asymmetry and weakness.

After several workouts, you’ll probably notice that you’re able to perform more repetitions with the weights you’ve chosen. That’s great! A sure sign that you’re getting stronger. And an indication that you need to progress your workouts.

Rather than simply performing more repetitions with the same weight (remember the number of repetitions you perform is specific to your goals), try increasing your load.

You may find that the new, heavier weight only allows you to complete 6 or 8 or 10 good form repetitions.

That’s okay. Continue with this weight until you can again, perform 12 reps (or the upper limit of your prescribed rep range) for the required number of sets.

A couple of caveats:
  • DON’T try to increase weights on every exercise in your workout at once. That’s a recipe for exhaustion and injury! I typically try to progress 1 to 3 exercises per workout. Some weeks I’m more successful than others.
  • DON’T sacrifice form for reps. Doing extra repetitions with poor form will only slow your progress.
  • DON’T expect gains to be linear. Sometimes a big weight increase will be followed by a month-long plateau. And holidays and illness will frequently force you to return to a lower weight than you’d been lifting previously.
  • DO view lifting heavier as a good thing. Increasing muscle mass and functional strength are important contributors to overall health and aging well!

This post evolved from a recent Periscope broadcast of mine. Click on the image below to watch it where it’s been saved on Katch.me.

How much weight should I be lifting?

Never heard of Periscope? It’s a new social media platform that allows me to interact, in real-time, via video with my followers and clients. My show, “Fit Tips for Midlife Chicks” broadcasts live on M/W/F at 1:30 pm Pacific Time.

To catch the next episode all you need to do is:

  • download the Periscope app on your smartphone
  • log in with your Twitter handle
  • find and follow me @fitknitchick_1
  • open the app M/W/F at 1:30 pm PT and click on the link to my show

Which exercises have you progressed your weights on lately?


The “All you need is a bench (and your smartphone)” Workout

Disclaimer: The post (and the accompanying video workout) was sponsored by Corning® Gorilla® Glass. As always, opinions, errors and bad puns are my own.

There are three things that I never set foot on the gym floor or in the aerobics studio without;

  • A written plan; Whether it’s an outline to a group fitness class, a new program for a personal training client or my own workout for the day, having a plan is key to keeping the intensity up, the chit-chat down and the workout on track.
  • Water; I use workout time to fit in 1/2 to 3/4 of a litre. I sweat a lot when I’m exercising and use rest breaks between sets to rehydrate and stay energized.
  • My smartphone; Used for playing music and timing intervals in group fitness classes, tracking clients’ measurements and appointments and jotting down the reps, sets and loads completed in my own workouts, my phone is never more than an arm’s length away.

bench workout

Given the intensity of my workouts, the hard surfaces I often train on and the record number of people in the gym this time of year, I know that it’s only a matter of time before my phone goes flying off the back of the treadmill, gets dropped mid-burpee or stepped on by the guy on the bench next to me.

bench workout

Since my phone is essentially my brain’s back-up drive, containing not only all of my professional contacts’ information, but the calendars of my husband’s travel schedule and three children’s activities, I do worry about the potential damage such drops might cause. (Although I’m always up for an ‘excuse’ to upgrade my device… 😉 ).

Apparently, I’ve been worrying needlessly.

Turns out that the touch screen on my phone has Corning® Gorilla® Glass; a strengthened material that’s made by dipping glass into a molten salt bath of potassium nitrate. Potassium ions in the salt bath diffuse into the glass, creating a hardened compression layer on the surface. A layer that helps to protect the phone from damage when dropped.

In lab tests, Gorilla Glass 4 survives up to 80% of the time when dropped from a height of three feet (about the distance from the ‘phone ledge’ on most treadmills and ellipticals to the floor) and boasts improved damage resistance against sharp contact (like drops on the concrete in my carport, where today’s workout video was filmed).

The “All you need is a bench (and your smartphone and Gorilla Glass 4)” Workout

Today’s workout requires only that you have access to a bench and a smartphone; the bench for the workout itself and the phone to time your work and rest intervals.

Set your interval timer for 9 rounds of 45 s work and 15 s rest (18 intervals if you’re planning on going through a second time).

Perform AMRAP (as many reps as ‘pretty’) of each of the following exercises in the allocated interval (45 s), rest (15 s) then move on to the next exercise. See the video below for demonstrations of each exercise and my favourite coaching cues.

  • Lateral bench step ups (left foot on bench)
  • Bench push ups
  • Lateral bench step ups (right foot on bench)
  • Bench tricep dips
  • Split lunges (left foot on bench)
  • “Walking” plank
  • Split lunges (right foot on bench)
  • V-sit with leg lifts
  • Box jumps

Always begin each workout with a brief warm up (5 minutes or so of light calisthenics and range of motion joint movements). End with a stretch, focusing on the major muscle groups, including glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back and shoulders.


If you’ve enjoyed this workout, please take a minute to ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’. Positive feedback makes the world go ’round!


Disclaimer: Although I am a Certified Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer ;-). Interested in working with me? Check out the online fitness services I offer. I’d love to work with YOU!

Corning® Gorilla® Glass has been used on nearly 4 billion devices from 40 major brands. Is it on yours? Click here to find out.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Corning® Gorilla® Glass. The opinions and text are all mine.

How to become more consistent with exercise

Last spring, I started asking new newsletter subscribers to share their biggest fitness and nutrition challenges with me.

consistent with exercise

Want to see the entire email? Sign up for blog updates and advance notification of new online courses by clicking this image.

(Thanks to all of you who’ve responded; it’s been wonderful to get your emails and to have actual conversations with so many like-minded women; the life of a blogger can sometimes be a bit isolating. Not a new newsletter subscriber? Feel free to share your ‘pain points’ in the comments section at the bottom of the page. And you can always, you know, subscribe 😉 ).

One of the most common responses I’ve had to date has been about the challenge of becoming more consistent with exercise. Here’s a sample;

Consistency. Some weeks I am great with exercise…and then I fall off the wagon and don’t work out…!!!

Number one thing I struggle with; consistency.  I work out for four days, quit for two weeks, and back again.  I know I need to develop a real routine…

Biggest struggle is getting my head back in the game…once I fall off the wagon.

You’ve probably experienced the same challenge at some point in your fitness career; post-holiday, post-injury, post-baby… I certainly have.


As a fitness coach, I often share my strategies for improving exercise consistency with my clients; after all, without consistency and progression to your program, you’re unlikely to ever reach your fitness goals.

How to become more consistent with exercise
  • Create a schedule. Take a look at your calendar. Identify two or three chunks of free time in your week. Write the word ‘Exercise’ in pen. Treat this appointment with yourself the same way you treat your appointments with your doctor, dentist and manicurist. You may think I’m trying to be funny. I’m not. Scheduling works. Commit to it for an entire month.

How to get more consistent with exercise via fitknitchick.com

  • Set yourself up for success. Many people undermine their attempts to make regular exercise a priority. They choose activities that they don’t really like. They plan to work out alone even though they require accountability and support. They schedule early morning workouts despite their night owl tendencies. They have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they’re likely to see results. Spend a little time reflecting on what you truly need to successfully stick with your plan. Make sure all the components are in place before you step into the gym (or pool or the spinning studio etc.). Need a little more help with this? Check out the free download below; “5 Steps to Exercise Success”.
  • Anticipate obstacles. The road to consistency is never smooth. Obstacles and road blocks will always be present. The key is to anticipate them and have a back-up plan ready to implement. For example, kids get sick and somebody has to stay home with them. If that somebody is you, how will you make up your missed workout? Can you do something else at home? An exercise DVD? A short, body-weight workout? Is there a ‘flex’ day in your schedule for playing ‘catch up’ later in the week?

How to get more consistent with exercise via fitknitchick.com

  • Celebrate small victories. Most humans respond well to rewards :-) . Keep your motivation up by regularly reflecting on what you’ve done well and treating yourself to something small and enjoyable. A new  headband to keep your hair off your face during workouts. A box of your favourite specialty tea bags. That Kindle title you’ve been dying to read. Or even a simple gold star on your workout calendar. Celebrating small victories takes your mind off the bigger victories that are still off in the distance (and reminds you that you’re making progress, no matter how small).
  • Remind yourself of how hard it is to start all over again. Most of us also try to avoid punishment. Tap into your psyche and remind yourself how difficult it is to get back to exercise after a hiatus. Not just physically, but also psychologically. Our bodies struggle with things they once did with ease. We have to lower the weights, take longer breaks between sets and huff and puff through our step class or run. Maintaining a positive mindset about exercise becomes more difficult with every repetition of the ‘start and stop’ cycle.

Remember that consistency doesn’t happen overnight or without real effort. But once you get there, exercise becomes infinitely easier (at least until you up your weights or your trainer adds burpees to your program 😉 ).

Do you struggle with exercise consistency?

What strategies have you implemented to become more consistent with exercise?

Grips and angles | two simple ways to progress your workouts

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

progress your workouts - pushups

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

But progression doesn’t always mean upping the load.

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

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

Get a (new) grip

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

progress your workouts - vary your grip

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

progress your workouts - biceps in progress

A bicep in progress :)

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

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

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

What’s your angle?

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

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

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

progress your workouts - change your bench angle

Incline bench at approximately 60 degrees

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

 Other exercises that can be performed on an incline?

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite incline bench exercise?

New to strength training? Terms you need to know

Like most sports and creative pursuits, strength training has a language of its own. Learning the lingo is sometimes as difficult as learning the exercises themselves (except for dead lifts; they’re definitely more challenging than simple vocabulary…).


What the what?

Becoming comfortable in the gym requires not only learning how to operate the equipment, but becoming familiar with the terms that you’ll hear your trainer and fellow gym-goers bandy about. Reps, sets, load (knit, purl, SSK 😉 )…

The following is a list of terms that I always spend time explaining to new clients and new-comers to my group fitness classes. How many are you already familiar with?

  • Reps. The number of repetitions of an exercise to be performed before resting or moving on to another exercise. Most strength training programs will provide a ‘rep range’; the minimum and maximum number of repetitions that should be performed. If you can do more than the maximum with the weight you’ve chosen, pick up a heavier weight. If you can’t quite complete the minimum number of reps required, go lighter. Different rep ranges are prescribed for different strength goals. 
  • Sets. The number of times you’ll perform the required number of reps. Sets can be performed ‘straight’ (complete all reps, rest for the amount of time indicated, complete all reps again etc.) or as ‘super sets’ by alternating one set of exercise A with one set of exercise B. Rest time is usually minimized when super sets are used.
  • Load. The amount of weight lifted for a particular exercise. Sometimes varying the load requires performing a different version of the exercise. For example, to increase the load on a pushup one can place a sandbell across the upper back or  elevate the feet on a step or stability ball.
  • Rest. The length of the break taken between sets. Usually, the fewer the repetitions in a set, the heavier the load lifted and the longer the rest between sets. Rest breaks typically range from 15-30 s for a high repetition/low load set to 2-3 mins for a low repetition/high load set.
  • Circuit. A circuit is a series of exercises, performed one after the other, with little or no rest in between. Some circuit programs specify the number of repetitions of each exercise to be performed. Timed circuits require you to perform as many good form repetitions as you can in the specified period of time (for example 45 s or 1 min).
  • Range of motion. The angle through which a joint allows its segments to move. As a consequence of taking your time with each repetition, you’ll be more likely to work your muscles through their entire range of motion, thereby maximizing the number of muscle fibres recruited.
  • Tempo. How rapidly one performs the working (concentric) and non-working (eccentric) phase of an exercise AND how much of a pause one takes between the two. Beginners will typically use a 2-0-2-0 tempo for most exercises. For example, when performing a bicep curl, both the curling and the straightening phase of the exercise will take about 2 counts, with no pause at either the top or the bottom of the move. More advanced exercisers may shorten the working phase and lengthen the non-working phase to increase their time under tension (and facilitate faster strength gains).

Think you’ve got it figured out? Why not test yourself by performing the following workout?


Are there other terms you’ve heard mentioned in the gym that you’d like me to clarify?

Need a lower body program to complement the above workout? Check out my new book, Ultimate Booty Workouts; a 12-week, progress-resistance training program for legs, glutes and core.

#FatblasterFriday | A Badass Birthday Workout

“Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday, dear Tamara,

Happy birthday to me!”

badass birthday workout

Last week on Facebook, I suggested to some personal trainer friends and fellow FitFluential ambassadors, that, in lieu of a birthday present, I’d love it if somebody would design a workout just for me. Although I certainly know what exercises I should be doing, sometimes trainers need trainers too!

Less than five minutes later, I had two offers; both of whom I knew were fully capable of kicking my butt. When each asked me how old I was turning, the alarm bells started ringing. Fitness instructors love to design workouts around numbers.

I briefly contemplated lying and telling them I was turning 30, but my conscience got the better of me (and anybody who looks at my about me page and sees that I have postgraduate degrees and three kids could quickly do the math and see me for the liar I was) and I gave up my real age.

46 years young today.

Because I’d like to live to see my 47th birthday, I decided to do one workout with you this week and save the other for next (when the lactic acid finally dissipates and my DOMS is gone…).

Today’s #FatblasterFriday workout comes to you (and me!) courtesy of Shannon of badassfitness. (Now you see why I was afraid). She may look sweet, but man, she’s one tough cookie (just look at those shoulders!).

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To join me in the “badass birthday workout”, all you’ll need is a set of hand weights (don’t go heavy here; it’s an endurance style workout) and a bench, step or secure ottoman. Feel free to modify the workout by either performing a slightly easier variation of the exercises, or limiting your reps to YOUR age (if you’re older than I am, you can stop at 46 with me; you’re welcome).

Thanks so much Shannon! You know that I was feeling my butt for a good two days after I filmed this workout, right?

Make sure you check out Shannon’s YouTube channel for more challenging, but fun workouts :)

badass birthday workout

Up next Friday (once I’ve recovered…) is Dai from The Moose is Loose. Be warned, he’s an avid CrossFitter!

Did you like the “badass birthday workout”? Then PLEASE

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


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

Hit a strength training plateau? Try pre-exhaust supersets

The other day I wrote about the pitfalls of high repetition strength training.

One of my commenters pointed out that done on an occasional basis, a day or two of high repetition workouts can sometimes help you push past a stubborn strength training plateau. (You know, that exercise that you just can’t increase your weights on no matter how hard you try).

While I agree that this is a reasonable use for high rep training, my go-to ‘strength training plateau buster’ workout  is a pre-exhaust superset.

Let me explain. Compound exercises (which we should all be doing….) require the use of more than one group of muscles. However, not all muscles are created equal. Some are larger, and hence, potentially stronger than others. Often times, it’s the smaller, weaker muscle required for a particular exercise that ‘exhausts’  before the larger, stronger muscle, preventing us from progressing on the lift.

strength training plateau

Take chest presses as an example. Although chest presses target the pectoral muscles, the triceps are needed to extend the arms fully and complete the lift. The smaller, weaker triceps are fatigued at a much lighter load (or volume of repetitions) than required to fatigue the pecs. Unless you work to increase the strength of your triceps, you’ll hit a strength training plateau on this exercise.

Pre-exhaust training offers a solution. Perform two exercises for the target muscle group, super-set style, in the 8 to 12 rep range. (Hint: choose a weight heavy enough to exhaust the target muscle by the end of the set, otherwise you’ll never get over your plateau).

The first exercise of the pair will be an isolation exercise; one that doesn’t require the assistance of the smaller, weaker muscle that’s inhibiting progress. Work to failure and then immediately follow with a compound exercise targeting the same muscle group. The larger muscle, although temporarily fatigued, will be assisted by the smaller muscle, allowing you to continue stressing it and ultimately, increasing its strength.

I use pre-exhaust training in my own workouts every few months, for a week or two at a time (caution, if you overuse the technique, like any other form of training, your body will adapt to it and it won’t have the same benefits). I’ve found it a particularly useful technique for overcoming strength training plateaus of the chest, back and biceps.

Try the following exercise combinations and see if the pre-exhaust method doesn’t make a difference in your training.

Chest: Incline dumbbell flys (isolation) followed by chest (or incline) chest presses (compound)

Back: Seated row (isolation) followed by barbell bent over row (compound)

Biceps: Preacher curl (isolation) followed by under hand grip chin ups (compound)

strength training plateau

Have you ever tried pre-exhaust training?

What’s your go-to strength training plateau busting technique?