Category Archives: strength training

The Beginner’s Guide To Going To The Gym

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gym

I didn’t name this a “guide to the gym.” I named it a “guide to going to the gym.” See, it’s nice to want to learn about machines and exercises, about gym etiquette and basic rules. But to wrangle those things we first have to tackle the very real fact that most people never actually set foot in a gym. Imma help with that.

That’s why I came up with this handy-dandy guide intended to help you get your butt out the door and actually in the gym; to finally shut up that jerk of a voice in your head telling you you’ll look ridiculous and out of place, so why bother going at all. Enough of that shit.

And why should you listen to me?

Because this is what I do for work and how I earn a living. I have insider information.

And also because once upon a time I was in your exact same shoes.

Which brings me to The Things You Should Know #1: Every single gym rat, buff guy/girl and fitness enthusiast you may ever come across, has at some point in their lives started off as a newbie. Just like you. We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable feeling of stepping into new territory, the self-consciousness of knowing we’re going to mess up and be ridiculed, the awkwardness of thinking we don’t fit in, so sure that others will see right through our pretending, sorry asses. Actually (and you have my permission to laugh. Because, really.) I want you to know that I was in your shoes just two years ago– and I was already a personal trainer! Even though I was a fitness professional, I had lots of experience, I knew all the ropes… I couldn’t help but feel scared when the time came to start training at my new place of work. You would imagine that with all I knew and the cred that comes from having put your fair amount of time training yourself and others I would be immune to the mental B.S. But I wasn’t. Because when push comes to shove, survival instincts kick in and fear of the unknown is a very real defense mechanism. It took me one week to finally walk down that narrow hall into the weights area, the lonesome girl amidst the lifting guys. And it got better. Real quick, actually.

That fear you feel is normal.

You got that? It’s normal. 

It’s actually kind of natural, expected and even somewhat healthy to feel this way. Back in the days when our survival depended on our awareness and familiarity with our surroundings, our monkey brain evolved to be uncomfortable and hyper-aware in new situations. Although our lives have drastically changed, to this day that part of our brain feels threatened as we experience something new, as though we were in great danger, and is trying to kick us into fight or flight mode. I mean, what if a sable-tooth tiger jumps out from behind the leg press machine, right?

Our logic, conscious mind knows that new can be scary though not necessarily bad or dangerous. But monkey brain didn’t get that memo. And this is why you have to remember that your brain is simply doing its part in keeping you safe from harm when these feelings arise. It’s trying to convince you to stick to what you know, to what’s familiar and comfortable (like staying at home instead of going to the gym.) Thank your brain for taking such good care of you, but don’t let the fear dominate your life experiences. You got this.

A powerful exercise to deal with such thoughts of doom is what is called notice and name. When the uncomfortable thoughts arise, simply notice their presence without judgment or trying to push them away. “Oh, there’s fear.”  “Why hello, self-doubt.” “Hm, I’m thinking thoughts of ridicule.” This simple action strips them of their iron grip over your life. You become an observer, no longer the main character suffering the story these thoughts want to tell. Sure, it takes practice to catch yourself, but trust me, the benefits of noticing and naming cannot be understated.

 

And while we’re in the subject of “thoughts of ridicule,” let me introduce you to The Things You Should Know #2: No one went to the gym today with the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or humiliating you. Really. Our tendency may be to make everything about ourselves, but in this case it’s just not. Most people in the gym are genuinely there to exercise. Shocking, eh? Most don’t have a whole lot of time in their day to stand around pointing fingers and laughing and newbies (and if they do, how sad is their life?) Even though you feel extremely self-conscious and like all eyes are on you (remember: Your brain is in hyper-aware mode) remember other people have their own worries, goals, insecurities, and time frames to even give you or me a second thought.

Some day down the line, once your gym is familiar territory and you’re rocking to your favorite tunes and kicking ass in whatever you’re doing, you will suddenly realize how you truly don’t pay much attention to anyone else around you. You’ll know with all certainty you had nothing to worry about in the first place.

 

I want to make this as easy on you as I can. So here are my easy-peasy pointers to successfully get your rear in gear.

1) Find a gym you like.

Big, impersonal chain gyms aren’t the only option out there. Find a gym or studio that gives you a nice feeling, that reflects values and ideas that are important to you. If being surrounded by bodybuilders isn’t your idea of fun, maybe stay away from Gold’s gym. There are so many quirky, cute, special and unique spaces where there is a sense of community within members– if that’s your thing. If you’re a loner and would rather not share space with many others maybe find a 24/7 gym to which you can have access at odd hours and rock it out alone. This is about you and what you enjoy. You won’t go to the gym if you can’t stand what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and represents. Be true to yourself.

2) Get at least a one-hour session with a personal trainer.

Many new gym-goers skip on this because of financial reasons, but you have no idea what even one hour alone with a trainer can do for your gym life. You have one hour to ask all the questions you want, they will tell you about the gym rules (the stipulated ones and the unspoken ones), they will teach you how to use the machines and equipment. This can give you all the confidence you need. Plus, it allows you to solidly meet one staff member. Bonus: Have them introduce you to other staff members! They’re you allies, your spotters, your guides. They want to see you succeed and keep coming back. Use them.

3) Do what you like.

If you hate cardio please don’t spend endless hours on the treadmill or elliptical. If you hate cycling don’t join a spinning class. At least in the beginning focus on what you like. Remember we’re in the process of making the gym a familiar place where you feel comfortable. You’ll have time to tackle more new things soon enough. In your first few tries, be kind and patient with yourself.

4) Prep. Practice. Mentalize.

Prepare your gym bag (shoes, water bottle, iPod and ear buds, wallet with gym membership card) the night before. Leave your gym clothes laid out, too. Choose a training program you’re excited about following and (trick of the trade) PRACTICE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the equipment, simply practice the motions when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror until your body feels comfortable with the movements. Make it easy to succeed! Find YouTube videos explaining proper form for each exercise and practice the shit out of ’em. Mentalize yourself doing the exercises at the gym– this adds to the feeling of familiarity, since your brain can’t tell the difference between what you imagined and what you have in reality experienced. So, as far as your brain knows, you have been in this gym doing these exercises before. Less stress, yay!

 

This should be enough to set you up in the path of being an avid gym-goer. Welcome to the dark side, rockstar.

 

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The No-Human-Power-Can-Make-Me-Leave-The-House-Today Workout

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-20 Celsius. Enough said.

Here’s what to do when the prospect of stepping out and having your nose fall off is just too much to bear.

 

Warmup:

50 jumping jacks

Active stretching

 

Workout:

1st Set:

-5 burpees

-10 squats (I went for full range of motion variation, or Ass to Grass, as they’re commonly known)

Rest 30 seconds

 

2nd Set:

-8 burpees

-15 squats

Rest 45 sec.

 

3rd Set:

-10 burpees

-20 squats

Rest 1 min.

 

THE ASS TO GRASS SQUAT:

Baby squats

Squat, baby, squat. No baby required, though.

 

... and come back up strong, engaging glutes and core.

… and come back up strong, engaging glutes and core.

 

2 sets each of:

-30 side lunges (15 reps each side)

-20 glute bridge

Rest 30 sec. in between

 

THE SIDE LUNGE:

Side lunge: Feet about shoulder width apart.

Side lunge: Feet about shoulder width apart.

Bend one knee and come down pushing your butt back. Keep your spine neutral, don't allow it to round. With a strong push through the heel, use your bent leg to push yourself back to standing position.

… then bend one knee and come down pushing your butt back. Keep your spine neutral, don’t allow it to round. With a strong push through the heel, use your bent leg to push yourself back to standing position. Repeat 15x with the same leg, then switch.

 

THE GLUTE BRIDGE:

Glute bridge: Start laying on the floor, with your heels close to your butt.

Glute bridge: Start laying on the floor, with your heels close to your butt.

 

 

... then push your hips up. Way up. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, then slowly bring down and repeat. Note the hips do not rest entirely on the floor again in between reps-- it's just a dynamic up-and-down.

… then push your hips up. Way up. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, then slowly bring down and repeat. Note the hips do not rest entirely on the floor again in between reps– it’s just a dynamic up-and-down.

To finish:

– 3 sets of 1 minute planks.

Rest 30 sec. in between each

 

Plank: Don't arch your back or allow your hips to collapse down.

Plank: Don’t arch your back or allow your hips to collapse down.

 

Stretch.

 

And there you have a full body exercise (albeit with a bit more emphasis on lower body, which is the way I like it) that doesn’t even require any equipment. This works endurance and strength. Extra points if you use your baby, your fat cat, or any other creative prop for additional resistance.

I really don’t want to say this but I have to say it because YEAH. If you’re exercising with your baby (or your cat for that matter) use common sense and if something feels unsafe/off/too tough put the child down. Put. the child. down. But you’re smart peeps and you know this already, right? Right.

Exercise During Pregnancy? Don’t Mind If I Do

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“Oh, look at that pregnant woman waddle! I bet she walks funny out of muscle soreness from performing series of lunges, squats and deadlifts.” Said NO ONE EVER.

Sad but true, few people would believe this pregnant mom’s waddle walk is at times consequence of physical exercise. BUT IT IS. Sometimes. Other times I’m just being a normal preggo.

So let’s talk about activity during pregnancy. Or its alternative title: I’m pregnant, not dying. Yes I’m allowed to move.

Indistinct to, oh, every expectant woman in the history of the modern western world, I have been on the receiving end of advice suggesting that I should “take it easy” and “rest while it’s still possible” before the baby comes. I’ve yet to understand the logic behind this.

Of course there are situations in which a medical condition makes it difficult or even risky for mum to be active, and I’m not here to argue with that. What’s more, there are moms that consciously choose to not do anything during their baby’s gestation and I find that totally understandable (hey, it is a choice.) But what about the standard, normal pregnancy in which both mom and bub could benefit from activity, and there are no legitimate reasons (medical or otherwise) for passiveness?

I’m a true believer of being in tune with one’s body and following its cues– and if you ask me, everyone should be practicing this, not just pregnant women– but I’ve yet to understand why we feel so compelled to warn mom against doing “too much”. How much is that, exactly?

Childbirth is not only one of the most important athletic events in a woman’s life, it is also one of endurance. It’s like the Olympics but of life, and instead of a golden medal you get a chubby baby to snarfle on at the end of your race. You bet your ass I’m training.

Speaking of Olympics, what about Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who competed in London at almost eight months pregnant?

My personal logic says that if all is well and in order, and the mom is already used to a certain rhythm of exercise, it isn’t necessary to stop. Some modifications may be suitable, some days may feel not as great… but as long as mom is paying attention to what her body says, no harm is done. Most of all, exercise your common sense.

Here is what I do.

For cardio: Zumba

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep up with teaching two hours of Zumba per week feeling great. I was already used to this kind of exercise and have been able to maintain the pace throughout my pregnancy (I’m on week 34 and still going). Not only do my lungs and heart get a workout, it’s dance: it makes me feel happy, energized, alive. I credit this for keeping me in such a great mood and believing I can accomplish my goals. Find your thing, whatever makes you smile, and stick with it for as long as it feels right.

Now, in my Zumba class there’s a lot of hip movement, a lot of booty shaking, and a lot of whining down. Add all this to the weight of a growing baby on the bladder and things can get awkward. Straight up I can tell you nothing terrible has happened and there have been no accidents, but it does feel kind of funny/weird at times. How do I deal? I got me one of these prenatal support bands.  It sure has helped alleviate some of the pressure thus making me feel more comfortable while I dance, but don’t think you have to shell out the $15 plus shipping for results– it’s nothing more than a wide strip of elastic with hooks. That’s it. Make it yourself and even better because you’ll set the hooks to close exactly where you want them to.

For flexibility: Yoga

During pregnancy there is a release of relaxin, a hormone our wise body produces to make our joints stretchy and limber in preparation for birth. Relaxin is the reason we need to be careful not to over stretch. It’s a matter of paying attention to how our body is feeling, and remembering that this isn’t the best moment to attempt twisting into a pretzel for the first time.

As much as I would love to go to a prenatal yoga class, truth is the budget doesn’t allow for that right now. The good news is, there’s still a way to get our yoga in. Video, baby! I follow Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga video in the comfort of my living room and frumpiness of my pj’s. I find this video very easy to follow, even for a beginner, as it clearly explains modifications for women in second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

*Many thanks to Angelina, Amy and Christine, all whom in one way or another made it possible I have this video now. Teehee!

For muscle strength: Strength training

Squats and I are like BFFs now. Word. Hey, I figure I’ll be doing my share of squatting at the moment of birthing my baby, so might as well get all the practice I can get.

For obvious reasons I can’t do situps, but I keep my core in check with planks.

For upper body strength I mostly go for dumbbells. I love dumbbells. Bicep curls, triceps kicks, shoulder press, chest press (with plenty of breaks and attention to how I feel– lying on our back isn’t the most recommended thing during the third trimester), upward rows… the possibilities are endless.

For mental sanity, entertainment, and fun: Random things

Hiking

Fun in nature, fresh air, a workout. Extra points for dragging your friends along.

Swimming

Being so light and buoyant in the water feels ridiculously wonderful.

Rock climbing

Fun challenge trying to keep the body close to the rock wall with a 7.5 month pregnant belly. Totally doable, quite enjoyable.

Canoeing

My shoulders, back, and core really felt the workout with the paddling. Very relaxing once I got over the fear of flipping over.

And when all else fails… walk.
Walk to the post office, to the store, to the library, around your block. You don’t have to act like an elite athlete every single day of your pregnancy, and chances are you will have many days, like I do, in which there isn’t a hint of desire to move. That’s ok, those days have their place, too. When I feel ready to get going again walking helps me start slow and get back on track.

I really want to be clear and say it is not my intention in the least to make other moms feel bad if it hasn’t been possible or desirable for them to stay active while pregnant. Nor do I wish to set a bar for others to compare themselves and decide if they’ve been a better or worse expectant mom than I. This is just my personal experience, so different from my first pregnancy, and we’re each on our individual path to follow with our own lessons to be learned.

I have received many benefits from staying active. Forget about the physical benefits… the mental ones, holy cow! I don’t know how I would be feeling right now if I hadn’t stayed as mobile. It’s as if keeping myself reasonably challenged has lit a spark inside– I feel happy, accomplished, relaxed and peaceful. This process has reminded me to trust my body because it is capable of achieving many wonderful things. I’m very grateful.

For more information on exercise and pregnancy, read Precision Nutrition’s article on How To Exercise During Pregnancy.

Girl, when someone tells you that you’re going to get big, bulky and gross if you lift weights punch them in the face

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Or direct them to this article. You know, either- or.

(I kid. Please don’t punch people in the face. Maybe just swing a kettlebell at them.)

I came across this set of two articles written by none other than John M. Berardi himself. I attended his talk at the Canfitpro conference in Toronto this year.

Most of what he said resonated with me and I have educated myself further on his nutrition techniques, his coaching challenges and his research.

 

Now, before you click the link that will take you to the articles, be forewarned: Please do not brush the information off  by thinking this isn’t for me just because the website where the articles are posted is called bodybuilding.com. This website is a wonderful source of exercise ideas, with very well explained instructional videos, all neatly organized and separated by very helpful categories. If you’d like to get fit and have no friggin’ clue of what to do at the gym, surf around bodybuilding.com and I can assure you the weight room suddenly won’t seem as intimidating. On a side note, I would just recommend maybe ignoring all their advertising for supplements and enhancers; intelligent and informed decisions in this area are a must.

I particularly enjoyed Berardi’s articles because he tackles the biggest myth when it comes to women who lift weights: they’ll get bulky and masculine. Go and read his explanation of why this is not possible. Also? Extra points for him for being on our side and rejecting the notion that girls are wilting little flowers who can’t muster up the strength to change their body for the better. Enjoy!

Lean, Sexy, Hard: Weight training for Women, by John M. Berardi

 

 

The Vegan factor: The 21-day Vegan Kickstart

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You know how the internet is: you click here and there, follow one link and the next, and next thing you know you’re considering a drastic lifestyle change.  (This is normal, right?)

For the first time, the thought of adopting a vegan (or at least as close to vegan as my knowledge thus far allows) diet sounds very appealing.

I have signed up for the 21-day Vegan Kickstart, and I’m actually excited! This program will begin on September 5th, so you’re still on time to sign up and give it a try yourself.

The decision came after learning about athletes like ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek, weight lifter Jane Black, Ironman triathlon professional (and Canadian!) Brendan Brazier, and mixed martial arts fighter Mac Danzig. The world of vegans in athleticism is eclectic, including a vast number of sports and disciplines that require endurance, speed, strength and agility. All of this can be accomplished– like the aforementioned have demonstrated with their example– through a vegan lifestyle. And I want me some of that.

I’m curious to see if or which differences I will notice while going vegan for 21 days.  If you choose to join this challenge leave a comment so I can read about your experiences!

Tying up men. You know, the usual.

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We went to the summer festival hosted by my city and stopped to watch a magic show. When the magician asked for a parent volunteer my daughter waved her hands, pointed at me and pulled me up. With that I became the magician’s assistant.

My job? To tie up the man in a straight jacket. DEJA VU. I mean. What?

I won’t bore you with the details, and since this is a fitness-oriented blog I’ll focus on the fitness perspective: Today I learned I really love my arms! This is the first time I get to see what my arms and back look like in an everyday situation, and I was pretty surprised when I saw the pictures.

I'm the one in black (I'm pretty sure because last time I checked I wasn't a dude in a straight jacket)

Yep, still the one in black

I’m loving me my strength training.

Lift heavy <3