Create a flexible fitness plan

There’s nothing worse than arriving at the gym, detailed workout plan in hand, only to find the equipment you need already occupied.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting a few minutes for your turn. Or asking the woman resting between sets of lat pulldowns if you can ‘work in’.

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She looks super friendly. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask to ‘work in’!

Other days, you can just tell that the guy in the squat rack plans on doing his entire workout there.

And those times when the gym is so crowded there’s no space left to claim? Super frustrating.

For many of us, just getting to the gym is a big deal (feeling a bit of ‘gymtimidation’? Here are some tips for increasing your confidence in the weight room). Having to then figure out what to do in place of the program we’d planned on is enough to discourage us from getting off the elliptical or even starting our workout in the first place.

The best solution to all of the above challenges? Creating a flexible fitness plan.

In this case, ‘flexible’ doesn’t refer to how ‘bendy’ you are (although stretching does need to be a regular part of your exercise routine). Instead, it means being creative and knowledgable enough to modify your program on the fly.

Let me explain.

Olympic bar back squats are the first exercise on your program. But ‘squat rack guy’ is doing five hundred sets of dead lifts there (and then plans of staying put for a biceps workout…). Today, you might substitute another squat for your back squat, looking around to see what other equipment is available to get the job done. Sure, your dumbbell squats might not be as heavy as you’d like, but you can always perform some extra reps or slow the tempo down to achieve the same result. (Need some alternate squat suggestions? Here are a few of my favourite squat variations).

Next you’re headed to the lat pulldown machine. But your gym only has one and it seems like there’s always somebody sitting on it. You can perform the same exercise on a cable and pulley machine or by wrapping a band around the chin-up bar and banging out a few assisted pull-ups. (Here’s a short video demo of band-assisted pull-ups).

flexible fitness plan

I’m still working on these. They’re one of my ’50 before 50′ goals

The key is to know which muscle group(s) a particular exercise is working and being armed with a few alternatives before you get to the gym.

Not sure what to substitute? If you’re working with a trainer, ask her for exercise alternatives (I give my 40+ Online Fitness clients a choice of three moves per exercise; moves that often include different equipment, as well as different levels of intensity). If not, find an online resource (I like Bodybuilding.com) or a book (Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises illustrates dozens of variations of the ‘big’ lifts) and do a little research.

Other suggestions for creating a flexible fitness plan?
  • alter the order of your exercises; just because back squat is the first exercise in your program doesn’t mean that you always need to start with it.

While your trainer (or program writer) had a good reason for placing it there, switching up the order of exercises from time to time won’t hinder your progress. Better to do those squats later on in the program (even if it means your legs have been pre-fatigued by another exercise and you don’t add as many plates to the bar) than to skip them entirely.

You may notice that certain exercises become more (or less) challenging when you vary their order in your workout. Personally, I enjoy it when I feel an exercise a little bit more than usual 🙂

  • switch up cardio and strength workouts; if you perform cardio and strength workouts on separate days, substitute one for the other on a day when either the cardio machines are full or there’s no room on the weight room floor.

If you perform them both within the same workout, switch the order to maximize your access to the equipment. Although there are circumstances in which the order you perform these components of your workout makes a difference, if your options are ‘reverse the order’ and ‘skip weights (or cardio) entirely’, worry less about the effects of order and more about getting the whole workout done.

flexible fitness plan

My current favourite cardio machine

  • take it to the halls (or track or out-of-doors); many gyms and rec centres have alternate places you can perform your workout. If space is limited in the gym, grab a few pieces of equipment (again, you’ll need to know which exercises to substitute for the exercises in your program that require barbells, cable and pulley machines and the squat rack) and head out into the hall or up to the walking track.

Some facilities will even let you take equipment outside (walking lunges in the parking lot or TRX training at the soccer field, perhaps). Check with the weight room attendant before you make off with equipment though; we want to ensure that your membership doesn’t get revoked…).

  • jump into a group fitness class instead; most gyms offer group fitness and spinning classes in addition to cardio machines and a weight room. Typically, these will be happening at the same times the gym is busy (mornings and evenings are the most popular times for exercise and facilities managers schedule their classes accordingly). If you’re new to strength training, group fitness classes are a great place to start.

Given the popularity of resistance training, it’s a good bet that many of the classes your facility offers will include (or consist entirely of) a strength training component. Turn the frustration of a busy gym into an opportunity to learn some new moves and get instruction on proper form.

While it’s always a good idea to have a written workout plan before you hit the gym, there are days when you’ll need to be flexible to get it done. A flexible fitness plan, as it were!

P.S. I’ve recently made a change to my newsletter frequency. Instead of writing only when I publish a new blog post, I’m challenging myself to share more regularly. Add your name to my newsletter list and you’ll receive twice weekly emails from me. More conversational, off-the-cuff, personal story stuff than I share here, with the goal of engaging more with all of you.

Not on the list? Click this link and watch for your first email from me >> Fitknitchick Email Updates

Seven steps to midlife fitness success

I have a client. Her name is Jill. And to me, she’s the epitome of midlife fitness success.

midlife fitness success

This is not Jill. But it could be. She loves to hike.

She’s not a fitness model.

Although she’s strong, she doesn’t have six pack abs or buns of steel. While she enjoys hiking, cycling and weight lifting, she doesn’t run marathons or do triathlons or spend excessive hours in the gym. While focusing on a mainly healthy diet, she still enjoys marshmallows and chocolate and breadsticks at Ruby Tuesdays.

She possesses all of the characteristics I believe one needs to make fitness a life long habit and is the perfect example for becoming a raging (in the ‘good’ way, not the other, more ‘hormonal’ way) midlife fitness success.

Seven steps to becoming a midlife fitness success

Sself-motivated. Jill has goals and knows why those goals are important to her. She doesn’t need daily reminders to fit her workouts in and plan healthy meals. She’s an independent exerciser who just needs to know that somebody has a long term plan for helping her progress towards those goals and is checking in with her regularly for accountability. I’m happy to be that person for her.

Uunafraid. She’s not afraid of trying new things. Many of us get stuck in a fitness rut. We do the same things over and over again, even if those things don’t seem to be moving us any closer to our goals. In the year we’ve been working together, I’ve given Jill lots of new things to try; new exercises, new ways of putting those exercises together, new ways of approaching nutrition. She’s willingly tackled them all (although she usually has lots of questions about the new approach first, see Ccurious, below…). I love that becoming stronger motivated her to plan and set out on her first solo overnight backpacking trip (too bad about the raccoons 😉 ).

Cconsistent. She rarely misses a workout. Even when she’s on holidays, at the lake or in the midst of the ‘busy time of year’ at work. Sometimes those workouts are shorter than planned, but she knows that doing something is better than doing nothing. She’s also got the longest MyFitnessPal streak I’ve ever seen; over 360 days without missing a log-in!

Ccurious. Jill loves to read about nutrition and exercise. She often emails me with questions about things she’s read. Sometimes I have an answer, other times her query motivates me to do a little research myself. Her inquisitiveness shows me that she takes ownership of her health and fitness; a key component to becoming a long term regular exerciser.

E easy-going. She’s patient and realistic about how long it really takes to see the results of regular exercise and good nutrition. She’s kind to herself when she stumbles and is able to laugh at small setbacks and behaviours that seem hard to change. While her goals are important to her, they aren’t all-consuming. Fitness and nutrition are priorities, but they don’t over-shadow the other priorities in her life (the perfect recipe for making oneself crazy and alienating those closest to us).

Ssnaps back quickly. Jill is resilient. When she gets off track (typically with nutrition, as is the case for most of us), she rebounds quickly. Re-commiting herself to whatever our current nutritional goals are and planning and prepping meals to support those goals. I appreciate her dedication to reducing packaging wherever possible and making things ‘from scratch’ rather than buying ready-made!

Sself-reflective. One of the things I love most of all about Jill is her willingness to self-reflect and anticipate and ask for exactly what she needs. During our bi-weekly coaching calls we often look back on how much has changed over the year we’ve been working together, particularly when it comes to mindset and expectations. We’ve moved from focusing primarily on weight loss (25+ pounds in a year) and muscle ‘toning’ to setting new performance standards on her ‘big lifts’. I’m looking forward to seeing where she’ll go with her (current) 135 pound dead lift!

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of our coaching relationship. I’d like to congratulate Jill for all of the successes she’s had this year and wish her many more in the year to come!

midlife fitness success

Happy Anniversary Jill! Enjoy your cake. Note the serving size and the fruit 😉

Returning to fitness as a beginner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

 

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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).

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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).
ProneChestRaise

 

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.

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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!

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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

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(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.

Screen-Shot-2014-03-29-at-7.07.48-PM

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?