Online fitness communities provide support, motivation and accountability

Birds of a feather flock together.

online fitness communities

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

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

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

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

Monkey see, monkey do.

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

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

That’s where online fitness communities come in.

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

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

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

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

#40plusfitness Monthly Online Training Group

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

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

I’ve made some wonderful connections with like-minded (with similar struggles) women. We cheered each other on, laughed at our slips and groaned together about our newly discovered muscles. 

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the facebook group, I need more motivation, input and support then I realized. It felt good to hear others with the same challenges..I am NOT alone in this journey…this program was incredible and VERY valuable. Thanks!!

There really are no words to describe the Facebook group…what an awesome group of ladies! The motivation and support I found there was worth the price of admission!! I feel blessed to have been on this journey with each of them.

Thank you Tamara for putting this program together. You have a vey well laid out, very balanced program and I am very happy with my results. The motivation and support you provided throughout this program was amazing! Awesome job!!

This was a great program and I would highly recommend it to friends who are ready to put in the work.

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

online fitness communities

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

Kettlebell training for beginners

Let me start with a Disclaimer :)

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

kettlebell training for beginners

Why kettlebells?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considerations when choosing a kettlebell

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

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

Tips for incorporating kettlebell moves into your workout

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

Kettlebell training for beginners: five moves to master

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite kettlebell exercise?

 

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

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

Benefits of deloading

Deloading: what is it?

Deloading is simply a planned period of recovery from training.

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of deloading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever deloaded or ‘tapered’ your training?

Did you experience any of the above benefits of deloading? 

What I read on my summer vacation | fitness book reviews

Disclaimer: Ulysses Press sent me a free copy of Special Forces Fitness Training to review here. No other compensation was provided, and as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all mine.

Way back at the beginning of the summer I shared my summer fitness reading list. The fitness books that I planned on reading over the holidays. Books that might introduce me to new exercises and ideas to share with my clients and readers.

SummerFitnessBooks

I didn’t manage to get through them all.

Alas, the overwhelming urge to re-read the entire Outlander series before the television show debuted got in my way (I managed to get through 4 of the 8 books; well, 5 really, as I read the final book before I started my do-over…).

In my defence, reading about Jamie and Claire’s exploits did make me think a lot about exercise (or at least the strong, lean, muscular body that a “born and bred” Highlander must have given all of the horse-back riding and sword-fighting and caber-tossing and other forms of ‘physical exertion’ they perform…) ;)

But I digress…

Never one to beat myself up for what I didn’t accomplish, I’m sharing my thoughts about the titles that I did manage to finish reading; two are from my original list of five, the third is a bonus.

What I read on my summer vacation: fitness book reviews

1. Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age by Vonda Wright.

Of all the books I unearthed when researching the pitch for my own book on fitness after 40, this one seemed the most promising. Fitness After 40 is written by a female, over-40, orthaepedic surgeon with a specialization in sports medicine and a proven track record with over-40 athletes. Her approach focuses primarily on four components of fitness; flexibility, cardiovascular training, resistance training and equilibrium or balance training. While I found the sections on flexibility and balance training to be universally applicable (and I found several new exercises to share with my clients), the recommendations for resistance training were more ‘gentle’ in nature than those I give even my beginner clients.

Although the book states that it’s written for individuals of all fitness levels, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the book was aimed at ‘elite’ or ‘masters’ athletes. Individuals who have trained hard for years, often at the national level, and required rehabilitation for exercise-related injuries. While a focus on injury prevention is wise when it comes to training middle-aged and older adults, it seems a bit off-putting if one’s goals are to simply increase activity levels in the general population.

Recommendation: Unless you’re an over-40 elite or masters athlete who needs specific information about continuing with your training, borrow this one from the library.

2. Special Forces Fitness Training: Gym-free Workouts to Build Muscle and Get in Elite Shape by Augusta Dejuan Hathaway.

Members of the military’s most elite units need to be in incredible shape. Often times, though, they don’t have access to full service gyms, thereby requiring a strength and conditioning program that relies on minimal equipment and body weight exercises. In Special Forces Fitness Training you’ll find 30 such programs, including whole body workouts (‘King of the Jungle’), workouts that target the upper body (‘Get a Grip’), core workouts (creatively named ‘Core Workout I, II and III) and cardio workouts. They can be performed in isolation, or combined, depending on the time you have available for exercise and your fitness level.

While most of the programs offer direction for multiple levels (Levels 1, 2 and 3), a few differentiate the workload and duration by sex. A minor criticism (and perhaps one that simply reflects different performance standards in the military for men and women), but slightly off-putting when one notes that the recommendation for reps/sets/duration of many exercises is dramatically different for men and women. I have many women clients who are capable of doing the “men’s” workouts… #justsayin

With illustrations for every exercise (including those described in the warmup and stretch sections of the book), Special Forces Fitness Training makes a great resource book for the moderately-fit to advanced exerciser (regardless of whether they’re in the military or not). In particular, for those who work out at home and have limited access to equipment.

Recommendation: If you’re a group fitness or personal trainer looking for bootcamp-style training ideas, buy yourself a copy. It’s great value for the price point.

3. Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind by James Fell.

Let me start by saying ‘I love James Fell’. He has the very rare ability to read, digest and transform the results of scientific studies for the non-scientific reader all while being witty, self-deprecating, irreverent and ENTERTAINING. He’s not a fan of ‘pseudo-science’, celebrity trainers or magic fixes. In an industry plagued by fear-mongering and false promises, he’s brave enough to admit that weight loss is a long, slow process and that most who try, will ultimately fail. That being said, his approach is sound and easily accessible to anyone who truly wants to improve their health and is willing to do the ‘mindset’ work required to get there. Interested in understanding how brain chemistry, human evolution, cognitive behavioural change therapy and the food industry all conspire to make weight loss hard? This is the book for you.

Recommendation: If you’re tired of dieting, like knowing how your body and brain work and are ready to make a longterm investment in your health, download a copy right now.

Have you read any of the books I reviewed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Any titles I should add to my fall fitness reading list?

 

 

3 Strength-Training Upgrades for Goddesses {guest post}

I’ve got the best surprise for you today.

A guest post from my friend, fellow fitness professional, sister in strength and muscle-builder extraordinaire. Honestly, if you’re a woman looking to build a killer physique,  Suzanne Digre’s (aka Workout Nirvana) your girl.

Suzanne and I met a few years back at a fitness blogger’s conference. We bonded over a glass of wine and have kept in touch ever since via Skype, email and social media. Can you tell that she’s my not-so-secret ‘blogger crush’? ;)

IMG_3376

Let’s say you’ve been designing your own strength-training routines for awhile now, but you still aren’t seeing the results you want. You have a basic knowledge of what to do and you change things from time to time, so why aren’t you getting that sculpted, lean look you want?

As an online coach and trainer I talk to a lot of women who are in your shoes. And I’ve actually been there myself – stuck, frustrated, and almost ready to give up.

So let’s cut to the chase: Exactly how long do you have to stick with weights before you have a masterpiece of a body that could rival a goddess’?

Alright, maybe your aspirations aren’t even that high – you just want more definition in your arms and shoulders and you want to lift and shape your butt. Calves to die for and lovely legs wouldn’t hurt either. And a chiseled back – don’t forget that.

You can have this kind of body, along with strength you didn’t even know you were capable of, all with an effective strength-training program. So today on T’s blog I’m going to give you my favorite tips for upgrades you can start using today.

Upgrade #1: Branch Out

Occasionally a woman will come to me asking for an “exciting” routine that has a lot of “variety.” There’s nothing wrong with variety, but cool-looking exercises aren’t what get you more muscle.

Instead of aiming for novelty, you should rely primarily on foundational muscle-building exercises, like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. For variety and to hit all the muscles, integrate exercises like these into your muscle-sculpting program:

Upper Body

  • Pull ups (primarily Latissimus Dorsi, and also many other back muscles, pectorals, and arms). Pull ups are hands-down the single best exercise to build muscle in your upper body. If you’re relatively fit and aren’t doing pull ups, you need to ask yourself why. Why?
  • Rows (middle back, Latissimus Dorsi, arms). I’m not referring to cute little combo exercises using your whole body and three-pound weights. I’m talking about cable rows, bent-over rows, and inverted rows and all their glorious variations. They’ll help you get to pull ups faster and get that fabulous V-taper.
  • Rear lateral raise (rear deltoids). One of the least trained areas on a woman’s body, the rear delts need to be isolated to add symmetry to your upper back and shoulders.

Upper body strength exercises

Lower Body

  • Barbell hip thrusts (glutes, hamstrings). Once you’ve mastered the glute bridge and its progressions, it’s time to add weight. Do not fear the barbell hip thrust – it builds your glutes nicely. Plus, who cares if people wonder what the hell you’re doing? You’re a badass woman lifter – own it.
  • Bulgarian split squats (quads, glutes, hamstrings). Also called rear-foot-elevated split squats, this squat variation helps take the load off your back. Plus they’ll increase your strength, size, balance, and hip flexibility.
  • Sumo deadlifts (hamstrings, glutes, middle and lower back, quads, traps). A shorter range of motion makes this deadlift variation a little easier for many women. Sumo’s are fun and build whole-body strength and muscle.

Barbell hip thrust progressions from WorkoutNirvana.com

Upgrade #2: No Tweaky-Tweaky

When you’re not seeing results, you tweak your workouts, right? Change a little of this, add a little of that. Maybe this and that together will do the trick!

Instead, you’ll get better results by simply sticking to the same workouts for 6-8 weeks. I’m not saying to do the same exact workouts week after week – you need built-in progressions, and that happens by increasing the weight.

You can also add variation by using different hand positions, a machine instead of a barbell, standing instead of seated, longer or shorter rests, slower or faster tempo – you get the picture.

If you switch programs or exercises frequently, you will not, and I repeat NOT ever attain gorgeous, cut muscles that scream, I am a goddess!! (And a damn savvy lifter, too.)

Upgrade #3: Aim for Symmetry

I know you’re most likely not a bodybuilder or you wouldn’t be reading Tamara’s blog (no offense T!) {no offence taken; we build bodies here, but focus on fat loss not on big muscles ;) }. But that does not mean you shouldn’t train all sides of your muscles in a balanced manner.

For example, did you know you have:

  • Lateral, posterior, and anterior deltoids
  • Short and long heads in both your biceps and hamstrings
  • Three heads in your triceps
  • Three distinct gluteal muscles

Training your muscles at different angles helps you build a symmetrical, athletic, and feminine physique. I’m not saying you have to study anatomy to strength train, but if you want standout muscle definition, you need to know the muscles each exercise hits. So when you’re choosing exercises for your workouts, do the extra legwork and know the primary muscles they train.

(Incidentally, on my blog last week I posted photos of my arm before I started training all the angles and after. The difference is a little embarrassing, frankly, but I’m also grateful that I learned the proper way to train!)

There you have it – three of my favorite upgrades for the woman who lifts. Or to be more precise, three upgrades for women who want the sculpted body of a goddess. You can have it, you know.

What are your pain points with designing your own strength training program?

Suzanne Digre of WorkoutNirvana.comSuzanne Digre is a mentor and motivator for women who want to OWN IT in the weight room and beyond. Suzanne’s home base is workoutnirvana.com, where she coaches, blogs, and leads Fierce Definition, an online training program that helps women lifters sculpt muscle definition and a leaner physique. A NASM-certified personal trainer, Suzanne also coaches clients on Fitocracy.com. She’s been pumping iron for over 15 years and never plans to stop. You can follow Suzanne on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s sometimes better to keep quiet

I love that many people view their gym or workout studio as a community.

That they support and encourage their fellow gym-goers. Share workout tips and tricks. Are quick to offer a spot when need be. Share equipment when it’s busy. Express concern if an exercise looks like it might result in an injury. Offer advice for improving the benefits of an exercise.

However, there’s a fine line between being helpful and being critical.

advice in the gym

Not a kettlebell, not a clear shot. Go ahead. Critique me ;)

Imagine, for example, that you see a woman performing a kettlebell swing.

Based on what you’ve been taught, she’s swinging the bell too high.

You don’t know this woman from Adam. Do you interrupt your own workout to walk over to her and voice your concerns? Telling her why you don’t think she should be performing the movement the way she is? Asking her where she learned to swing like that? Citing your experience to ensure that she understands why your approach is better than hers?

Even if your intent is truly to be helpful, your advice may have other unexpected consequences.

Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s often better to keep your comments to yourself

  • people are much more likely to respond positively to unsolicited advice when they know the person offering it. If you see somebody you don’t know performing an exercise you don’t think is safe or effective, a comment from you, a stranger, is unlikely to convince them to change what they’re doing. At best, you’ll have wasted your time. At worst, you’ll have alienated a potential friend and workout buddy.
  • receiving unsolicited advice can be embarrassing. For newcomers to exercise or those who already feel uncomfortable exercising in front of others, having their ‘mistakes’ pointed out publicly can lead to feelings of incompetence and low self-worth. It may reinforce the feeling that they don’t belong at the gym. It may make them think twice about coming tomorrow. Your good intentions may undermine their fitness journey, rather than enhance it.
  • exercise science is not black and white. Even certified fitness professionals don’t always agree on the ‘best’ way to perform a given exercise and frequently admit that what’s good for one person’s body may not be beneficial for another. Sharing your favourite version of an exercise may contradict what her trainer has shown her to be an appropriate movement for her body and fitness goals. Don’t become a ‘my way or the highway’ cliche.
  • if you’re a fitness professional, unsolicited advice may be interpreted as ‘pushy’ or ‘sales-y’. Most people don’t want to be ‘pitched’ when they’re exercising. We all get enough of that via e-mail ;)  (Warning, if you sign up to receive a copy of my free e-book ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness’ below, you’ll only receive invites to programs you’ll love)

Have you ever been given un-asked for advice at the gym?

How did it make you feel?

 

 

A DIY 30-minute whole body workout

Despite what we personal trainers would like you to think ;) , workout design isn’t rocket science.

30-minute whole body workout

Sure, you need to know about muscles and joints and planes of motion. A bit of information about reps and sets and loads doesn’t hurt either. Throw in a cursory understanding of the types of movements our bodies were designed for and the patience to demand good form of yourself and creating a 30-minute whole-body workout is within almost anybody’s reach.

Note that I’m NOT talking about a PROGRAM designed to meet specific and individualized goals (that’s when having access to a personal trainer’s education, knowledge and experience comes in handy), but rather, a fill-in-the-gaps workout when you don’t have time to get to the gym, don’t know what to do once you get there or just need a change to your regular routine.

A DIY 30-minute whole body workout

Most of the programs I design are based on a finite number of basic movements; squats, lunges, hinges, pushes, pulls, rotations and static holds.

Each of these basic movements has a nearly endless number of variations; variations which differ in complexity, difficulty and the equipment required to perform them.

By simply choosing one of the exercise options from each of the basic movement categories listed below, you’ll have created your own 30-minute whole body workout. Make sure the choices you make challenge you and reflect your current fitness level. If something hurts, don’t do it.

Instructions:

  1. Spend 5-10 minutes warming up. (See this post for my favourite warmup exercises)
  2. Choose one exercise from each of the categories listed below.
  3. Perform 10-15 good form repetitions of each of your chosen exercises, one after the other, in the order listed.
  4. Make sure you choose a weight or variation that makes it difficult for you to complete the last few repetitions.
  5. Rest when necessary; both between exercises and at the end of the circuit.
  6. Repeat the entire circuit once.
  7. Spend 5-10 minutes stretching. (See this post for a video-guided stretch)

Note: Exercise options are listed in order of increasing difficulty, with the least challenging option first and the more challenging options last.

whole body workout

Like this post?

Please SHARE it with your friends (you know the ones; they need a little kick to get moving)

PINNING the above image would be ‘grand’ (no pun intended)

Clicking on the EMBEDDED TWEET would make my day (go ahead, make my day…)

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.

Pre-strength training warm-up | favourite warm-up exercises

We all know how important it is to start each and every workout with a proper warm up.

Yet many of us, myself included, often rush through, excited to get to the fun part before we’ve really prepared our bodies for the work to come.

favourite warm-up exercises

Me, before a workout!

Goals of a warm-up include:

  • gradually increasing your breathing rate. Lungs provide oxygen to your muscles. During exercise, muscles increase their demand for oxygen. Gradually increasing your respiration will allow you to continue meeting your body’s oxygen demand without the premature accumulation of lactic acid. ‘Feeling the burn’ is great, but not at the beginning of your workout.
  • increasing blood flow to your muscles. Blood carries oxygen from your lungs to your muscles. In order to meet their increased demand for oxygen, blood flow must increase as well. Rhythmic, low intensity movements stimulate the increased flow of blood to muscles and extremities.
  • elevating your heart rate. Your heart serves to pump oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. An elevated heart rate is often the most obvious sign that your body is starting to work a bit harder. Aim to increase your heart rate to 60-65% of your heart rate maximum by the end of your warmup.
  • increasing the temperature of your muscles. Warm muscles are more efficient at contracting than cold muscles. They’re also less likely to be injured. I’ll do just about anything to prevent repeating past injuries.
  • lubrication of your joints. As you begin to move, your brain signals the release of synovial fluid within your joints. This fluid acts like a lubricant, allowing the joints to move more smoothly and through an increasingly larger range of motion.
  • enhancing proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space. It’s a fundamental requirement of strength training, particularly when you’re performing single-sided and balance exercises.
  • rehearsing the movements that you’ll be performing during the workout itself. Performing body weight versions of the exercises you’ll be doing during your workout proper is a great way to prepare your body for the work to come. Not only does it help to create a mind-to-muscle connection, it also gently stretches the muscles and ligaments around the joint, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.

My favourite warm-up exercises:

I always begin my warm-up with 4 or 5 minutes of light, whole body movement.

Typically, I hop on the ARC trainer or the rowing machine because they require both my upper and lower body to move in synchrony. I keep the tension low and remember that the level of intensity I work at shouldn’t leave me sweating or out of breath.

Depending on whether I’m planning a upper body, lower body or whole body strength workout, I perform a series of body weight only exercises, working on form, keeping speed low, and increasing my range of motion with every repetition.

Currently, I’m loving the following five warm-up exercises.

Try performing 8 to 10 of each (on each arm or leg, where appropriate), in the order indicated:

1. Toe-touch-bum-drop-hands-up-squat-to-stand. Start by standing with feet hip distance apart. Bending at the waist (and slightly at the knees, if necessary), reach down to touch your toes. Lower your bum toward the floor. From this position, extend both arms straight up overhead. Push through your heels to return to standing. I don’t have a better name for this movement. Suggestions?

favourite warm-up exercises

squat to stand

 

2. Body weight squats. Start with feet slightly wider than hip distance, toes turned out just a bit. Bend at the knees and hips to drop your bum down and back. As you do so, extend your arms straight out in front of your, keeping your eye focus across the room and your chest ‘proud’. Push through your heels to return to standing, lowering your arms to your sides as you do so.

3. Arm windmills. Kinda like they sound. Stand tall, with feet under hips, a slight bend in the knee and core held tight. Windmill your straight arms forwards (one arm will be at the top when the other is at the bottom). Change directions and repeat.

4. 1/4-of-the-hour clock lunges.Start by standing with feet together and hands at your sides. Step forward with your right foot, into a high lunge position. This is 12:00. Step back to the starting position before stepping your right leg out to the side, dropping your bum into a lateral lunge. You’re now at 3:00. Step back to the starting position before stepping your right leg (still) backwards into a back lunge. 6:00 and counting. Step back to the starting position before crossing your right leg over your left and dropping into a x-over lunge. You’ve reach 9:00. Repeat several times with the right leg before switching to the left. (Note that the order of movements on the left will be 12:00, 9:00, 6:00 and 3:00 for the x-over lunge).

favourite warm-up exercises

1/4 of the hour clock lunges

 

5. Walk-out planks.Start by standing with feet together, hands at your sides. Bend at the knees, hips and ankles to place your hands on the ground, as close to your feet as possible. Walk your hands forward until they’re directly under your shoulders. You’re now in high plank position. Walk hands back in towards your feet, bending at the knees, hips and ankles to return to standing.

favourite warm-up exercises

I finish my warm-up by performing a warm-up set of my first lift or two (today, that means I’ll be starting with dumbbell chest presses and bent over rows). Try 10-15 repetitions at 50% of your working load before your start your set proper (and note, the warm-up set doesn’t count as part of your workout ;) ).

The whole routine takes me 10 minutes or so. Then I’m warm enough to move on to the ‘fun’ part of my workout!

What does your typical warm-up look like?

Do you include any of my favourite warm-up exercises in your workout?

Tips to break through strength training plateaus

We’ve all been there before.

strength training plateaus

Despite training regularly, giving yourself adequate rest and recovery and following a sensible nutrition plan, we stop making gains in the gym.

Identical weight on our shoulder press for weeks at a time. Can’t manage a single more pushup than we were doing a month ago. Leg day still leaves us limping and sore. Measurements not budging an inch (or even a quarter or an inch).

The good news is, sometimes all we need is a little change to our routine to start making progress, once again.

Below, you’ll find a list of suggestions for ‘tweaking’ your strength training program to push past plateaus.

Note that none of these tweaks will help you, if your primary reason for stalling out is lack of consistency. (Read more about the importance of consistency and progression here.).

Get consistency working for you first, then try one (or more) of the following (the easiest tweaks are listed first, with progressively larger  programming changes listed later).

Tips to break through strength training plateaus:

  1. Swap out an exercise or two. Stalling out on pushups? Try subbing in bench presses instead. Pull-ups still a pipe-dream? Lat pull downs may be just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, all our bodies need to break through a plateau is a slight variation on the exercise theme.
  2. Change the order of your exercises. Always finish chest before shoulders? Try reversing the order. Oftentimes, it’s the smaller, stabilizer muscles that limit our ability to progress with a lift. You may be fatiguing the muscles that stabilize and assist the lift with an exercise performed earlier in your program.
  3. Switch up the tempo of your lifts. Many people naturally perform strength exercises using a 2-0-2-0 tempo; 2 seconds to lift the weight, 2 seconds to lower the weight, with no pause at either the top or the bottom of the movement. Try slowing down the working (concentric) phase of your lifts or pausing for a second at the top. Both will change the amount of time that your muscles remain under tension; a critical factor in increasing muscle strength and size.
  4. Try using a different grip. When you change the grip you use to perform an exercise, you recruit new muscle fibres (and sometimes entirely new muscles); fibres (and muscles) that, when strengthened, may improve your ability to lift a heavier load. Here’s a more detailed description of grips and angles (with examples of exercises where this approach can be extremely beneficial).
  5. Switch your bench from flat to incline (or decline). Just like changing grips, modifying the angle of your weight bench will also lead to the activation of additional muscle and muscles fibres. Make sure to move the weights  perpendicular to the floor to get the greatest benefit from this approach (and to protect your shoulders during presses, flys and rows).
  6. Vary your reps, sets and load. If you always perform 3 sets of 10 reps using the same weight, your body will get used to the routine and stop being stimulated to change by it. Try periodizing your workout, changing reps, sets and load in a linear and progressive fashion. Or alternate high rep/low load and low rep/high load workouts. You can even combine low and high rep exercises within a workout. When it comes to varying reps, set and load, you’re only limited by your imagination.
  7. Change your training style. If you’ve stalled out on body part splits, change the way your pair them. Alternatively, try a whole body program for a month or two and see if that makes a difference. Vice versa works too.
  8. Overhaul your program. If you’ve been doing the same program consistently (there’s that word again) for a month or more, a new program may be just what your body needs to kick start progress. Not sure where to start? Hire a fitness professional to create a program that addresses your individual goals, abilities and training schedule.

I’ve had success with each of the above ‘tweaks'; both in my own training and when training clients in the gym.

I’d love to hear your success stories.

Which of the above ‘tweaks’ have you employed to successfully work through a strength training plateau?

Have you used a technique that’s not on my list? Please share it with me and my readers!

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