When time is crunched, HIIT and Tabata can help you work out harder rather than longer

Tabata workout / Image source: 8fit.com
Tabata workout / Image source: 8fit.com

When time is crunched, HIIT and Tabata can help you work out harder rather than longer

I have so much free time. It’s easy for me to schedule my workouts and still juggle my to-do list. My first priority? It’s spending an hour on the Elliptical a day. I never miss a yoga class. It’s not something I would ever do.  

Well, a trainer can dream. 

Our lives are busy and fitting in full workouts can be challenging. When we are overscheduled, working out and eating mindfully drops to the bottom of our list — when it should be right at the top. Taking care of these essentials will keep you strong for those difficult times. Physical activity helps you release stress and improve your mood. 

But what happens when you’re so overbooked and overstretched that even the idea of getting to the gym is creating anxiety? First of all, it’s time to rethink what a workout is. You don’t need to spend hours and hours on a piece of equipment to get results. There are many ways to maximize your workouts so they are an effective stress reliever instead of an added cause of concern. 

When time is short, you need to work harder, not longer. Even a fifteen-minute circuit can get your heart rate up, clear your head, and achieve results. Both centered around intervals of high intensity exercise paired with periods of complete rest, HIIT and Tabata can inject a short burst of energy in minimal time

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is exactly what it sounds like. HIIT promises the best workout in the least amount of time. By alternating high intensity exercise for 30 seconds with a recovery period of 90 seconds, the goal of a successful HIIT workout is to reach 80% of your maximum heart rate. No matter how long you rest, the key is that you bring everything to your intervals. Whether it’s sprinting or upping the resistance for 30 seconds, followed by recovery, going all in is essential for this streamlined workout. 

Tabata training is one of the most popular forms of HIIT. It consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval. It may only take four minutes to complete a Tabata circuit, but those four minutes will  push your body to its absolute limit. Tabata is a shorter workout where one activity is repeated. 

Both HIIT and Tabata can maximize your workout time when you have a lot on the go. These under-30-minute workouts are effective and efficient. Like most workouts, results may vary, but just making the time in your busy schedule and committing to making the most when you’re putting on your running shoes can help you prioritize yourself and manage stress. 

Your gut’s connection to your emotional state makes it your second brain

Gut outline on chalkboard / image source: healthbeat.spectrum.org
Gut outline on chalkboard / image source: healthbeat.spectrum.org

Your gut's connection to your emotional state makes it your second brain

This post originally appeared November 12, 2018.

Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? If not, you’ve definitely experienced it. It’s that nervous feeling in your stomach when you’re in an unfamiliar situation or that full feeling when you’ve received unexpected sad news. Emotions such as happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness can all cause a physical reaction in your gut.

The gut includes every organ involved in digesting food and processing it into waste. The gut or “second brain” can operate on its own and communicates back and forth with your actual brain. The vagus nerve controls messages to the gut and runs all the way from the brain stem to part of the colon. Hormones and neurotransmitters also connect your gut chemically to your brain.

Many contributing factors affect how your body digested and eliminates what you eat and drink. They include diet, food intolerances, lifestyle, hormones, sleep, and medications.

To maintain or restore gut health and support good overall health, it is important to maintain a strong balance of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Eating a diet that includes foods with probiotic or prebiotic ingredients support a microbial health by restoring balance.

What are Probiotic Foods?

Probiotics contain live beneficial bacteria grown during carefully-controlled fermentation processes. You may already have probiotics in your diet: plain yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and miso.

What are Prebiotic Foods?

Prebiotics do not contain bacteria. They contain indigestible fibers that ferment in the GI tract. There, they are consumed by probiotic bacteria and converted into other healthful substances. Prebiotic foods include artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, cabbage, asparagus, legumes, and oats.

Are There Other Foods that Benefit the Gut-Brain relationship?

The following foods have also been shown to balance and improve the gut:

  • Omega-3 fats
  • High-fiber foods
  • Polyphenol-rich foods
  • Tryptophan-rich foods

If you’re experiencing indigestion or even if you are prone to depression or anxiety, you may want to look at your diet. By incorporating gut-healthy foods, you can begin to nurture your second brain.  

Fat-shaming response to Nike’s plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com
Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com

Fat-shaming response to Nike's plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

It’s been almost a month since London’s flagship Nike store unveiled its new mannequins. Displayed alongside more traditional ones, the new mannequins showcase Nike’s plus-size clothing line. Nike, unlike a number of mainstream fitness brands, carries a range of sizes from XS (0-2) to XL (14-16). As the average American woman wears a size 16, it is more necessary than ever to provide all body types with stylish, flexible, high-quality exercise wear.

However, not everyone celebrated the unveiling of the new mannequins as a sign of progress, inclusivity, and acceptance of body diversity. In an editorial published in the Telegraph, a columnist berated Nike’s move as delusional. She went on to shame the mannequin and make dangerous assumptions about health. Because I don’t want to contribute to the many clicks this article has already received, I will not directly name the so-called journalist or include a link. If you want to be disappointed in humanity, all you need to do is google “Nike mannequins Telegraph.”

Should we be surprised that this opinion exists? Not really. It’s just one of many negative voices that athletes who do not conform to traditional sizes and shapes have come to expect when they look for clothing that fits properly, offers enough coverage and support, and looks great. From athletic-wear CEOs casually saying their clothing isn’t for all women to incredible female athletes being criticized for what they wear to compete, the athletic-wear industry is a battleground. With the rise of athleisure, casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and general use, it is more critical than ever that companies embrace body diversity if they want to make profits and set trends.

While so many amazing women of all sizes have shattered the assumptions that there is a specific size and shape for an athlete, the idea that only certain types of people should even participate in exercise is pervasive in our culture. Yes, it is changing — but progress is slow.

As much as we may not want to admit it, many of us are still prisoner to this idea that overweight means unhealthy. Our society still looks at BMI as an easy way to classify and put people into groups. We look at the outward presentation of thinness and the numbers on the scale instead (link to How to Measure Your Progress) of celebrating our own accomplishments every time we lace up our running shoes.

The truth is that we all need to stop making generalizations about health and even berating ourselves for what we look like instead of what we can achieve. There are slender people who pass cardio benchmarks effortlessly. However, there are larger people running marathons and achieving the perfect balance of healthy and unhealthy cholesterol. Being limited by out-of-date biases will only keep us hating ourselves and reinforcing negativity. Change is slow, but if we want to all move towards acceptance and kindness, we need to start with ourselves.

Finding motivation for exercise isn’t always easy; ultimately you have to look within

Guy can't motivate himself / Image source: gro.co.uk
Guy can't motivate himself / Image source: gro.co.uk

Intrinsic or extrinsic: finding motivation for exercise isn't always easy, but ultimately you have to look within

There are a million excuses and I’ve heard every single one. There are creative reasons why someone might miss a workout, indulge in mindless eating, or forget their gym shoes. If you show up to your training session feeling like you would rather be somewhere else, the experience won’t be positive. It’s rare that someone drags themselves up the stairs at TrainingSpaces and has a transformational workout.

We all have days where we lack motivation. Whether it’s a rainy day that would better be spent under the covers or a sunny day where you would rather be out on the patio, how can you trick yourself into putting 100% into your workout?

There are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic is when we do something to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. Intrinsic motivation is when we engage in a behaviour because we find it personally rewarding. While both types of motivation can be useful in the short term, it’s intrinsic motivation that wins the day when it comes to exercise.

Looking at your routine as a means to an end will not make it stick when things get tough. Financial rewards, promises of new exercise gear, or better abs don’t last. So how can you rewire your brain to look forward to exercise instead of dreading it?

If you want people to mention how great you look because you’re hitting the gym, you’ll stop when the compliments do. When you instead focus on being stronger, improving endurance, or testing your flexibility, every workout is an immediate opportunity for improvement. Running without stopping for an extra minute is something the only matters to you…but it’s a long way from the days when you couldn’t get halfway down the block.

Another tip to increase motivation is to only do things you enjoy. Instead of doing pilates because you read that it helped a celebrity drop weight fast, do it because you like it. There are hundreds of activities out there that can become part of your fitness routine. From swimming to dancing to cycling to powerlifting, all movement is valid. Just because you aren’t drenched in sweat and dying doesn’t mean that you haven’t done something that’s good for your body.

Building motivation can be difficult, but with consistency and patience, you can grow to love your workouts. They are a break from your routine, something just for you, and an opportunity to prove to yourself just how good you can be. Finding those messages within will keep you dedicated and excited for every session.

Don’t let unhappy high-school memories keep you out of team sports

Coed team sport / Image source: atxsa.com/
Coed team sport / Image source: atxsa.com/

Don't let unhappy high-school memories keep you out of team sports

Many of us are still recovering from a childhood of being the unco-ordinated person assigned to a team. We weren’t even picked — we were just last. These scars run deep and remain barriers that may stop you from joining a sports team or running club as an adult.

But what if you want to join a team? While some of us are happy to go it alone on a 5 K run listening to our favourite podcast, many people benefit from the class group dynamic or the feeling of belonging that comes from playing a team sport.

What keeps so many of us from putting ourselves out there are the ghosts of gym class past. It’s the fear of being laughed at as the only new person among a sea of experts. Will everyone mock me if I show up wearing the wrong clothes? Will I be the only one going right when everyone else is gracefully stepping left?

Well, if you never show up, you’ll never know. Your concerns about being the odd person out are keeping you physically out from exploring something new.

As we get older, we have to let go of some of the stories we’ve told ourselves over the years. No, you aren’t going to be riding in the Raptors’ victory parade, but I would bet that most of those natural grade-school athletes who were picked first won’t be either. At some point, team sports and class fitness become something people do for fun. It’s not a gateway to fame and fortune. It’s a place for adults to get together, learn something new, laugh at each other’s mistakes, and maybe even build friendships that last outside of the class. If you start showing up somewhere regularly, you will probably strike up a conversation about sticky lockers and your instructor’s hardcore devotion to playing the same three cool-down tracks with questionable lyrics.

Building a small community with like-minded people who all enjoy the same activity can keep you returning to a class when it gets challenging. Holding each other accountable to show up more than once a week or to attend workshops isn’t about being the best. It’s about being there. The toughest part is walking in the door. Being the new person, even if you are an extrovert who could find a friend in a broom closet, is always going to be tough. However, you will find that in most cases people are excited to share something they love with a newcomer. They want you to discover why they are passionate about this activity.

If you have ever considered joining a team or trying something new but are afraid, it’s time to be realistic. We all had our first days and we walked by a studio without going in. We were all new once. You just need to gather up your courage and walk through the door. It’s a small first step that can change your life.

They’re berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.com
Handful of acai berries / Image source: Mayo Clinic News Network

They're berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Raspberries? Blueberries? Strawberries? Pffft. Been there, ate that.

I kid. I’m not really slagging them. Whatever your preference, berries typically deliver high amounts of Vitamin C, dietary fibre, and antioxidants. You see them in a wide variety of dishes from jams to juices to pancakes, where they add colour and a wide spectrum of flavours ranging from sweet to sour and beyond. Today we look at three lesser-known but ultra-healthy members of the berry family.

Acai berries and power / Image source: evolution-slimming.comAcai berries

Among the best known exotic berries, acai berries are native to the Brazilian Amazon region and are popular for their high  antioxidant content. In fact, they may contain up to ten times as much antioxidant polyphenols as blueberries. Acai berries have been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels and post-exercise oxidative stress.

Acai berry fans tout many other possible health benefits for these Brazilian berries, including heart and skin health, weight loss, energy boost, anti-aging properties, and more. And no list of possible health claims would be complete, of course, without references to the male libido; acai berries are said to help in this regard by promoting increased blood circulation. 

Acai berries are perishable, and thus are usually shipped frozen. They can be used in juices and powders and eaten with yogurt, cereals, and desserts.

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.comGoji berries

Traditionally used as a medicinal food in China, goji berries have a sweet taste tinged with a little sour and are often marketed in dried form. In addition to being potent sources of Vitamin A and copper, goji berries are high in  zeaxanthin, making them a powerful supplement to eye health. They also contain antioxidant polyphenols, which can protect against ultraviolet light. Other possible benefits include boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of cancer.

Some research draws links between goji berries and sexual performance, and even suggests that they can function as an alternative to medications such as Viagra.

Goji berries can be used in smoothies, yogurt, cereal, salads, and more. You can also enjoy them by the handful like raisins.

Fresh bilberries / Image source: linnea.chBilberries

Bilberries are similar to blueberries but are smaller, softer, and darker. They are good sources of fibre and Vitamin C, and are said to help reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol. One study tied them to weight loss and reduced waist circumference. Other potential benefits include stronger blood vessels and better circulation, prevention of cell damage, possible reduction in blood glucose levels, and treating diarrhea and nausea. 

Like the other berries, bilberries are a good source of dietary antioxidants, manganese, zinc, and iron. Bilberry extract has been cited as an effective defense against a number of eye problems, including some tied to aging. The fruit is also said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.

Bilberries can be used in preserves, pies, jams, and tarts. The juice can be enjoyed straight or used as the basis for liqueurs and syrups. Even the leaves can be used to brew tea!

Bottom line

Like their better-known cousins, today’s berries pack a healthy punch. They’re low in calories but high in fibre, and excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. And their lively flavours can help reduce cravings for sugary snacks. In short, there are berry good reasons to make them part of your daily diet!

Disclaimer: this site is not offering professional medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about these foods and your health, ask your family doctor or a qualified nutritionist.

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine
Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

I’ve had many clients ask me about the health benefits of collagen. They want to know what it is, what it does, how it helps…and if it actually works.

Collagen is a protein, made up of long chains of linked amino acids, and plays a key role in the connective tissue throughout our entire body — contributing to the function of skin, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. However, as we age, the production of this protein slows down.

Besides from improvements to the text of skin and hair, people are turning to collagen for relief from joint pain and stiffness, as well as help with digestive issues. Collagen supplements are available as tablets, capsules, and powders. To be effective, collagen supplements must be hydrolyzed. Hydrolyzation breaks the collagen down into peptides, making it easier for the body to absorb and use.

If you are interested in adding collagen to your diet, look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, pasture-raised, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources. Animal sources of collagen who have been treated humanely are more likely to be free from hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals. With marine collagen, you also need to read labels carefully to refrain from supporting fish farms.

While collagen powder dissolves in most hot liquids, marine collagen can clump together and require more stirring. It is also has no flavour so is easily added to coffee, tea, or oatmeal without compromising taste.

There are currently not many known risks associated with collagen supplemented. However, if you have an allergy to fish or shellfish, you should avoid marine collagen to prevent allergic reactions. Some people have experience digestive side effects like a feeling of fullness or heartburn.

Like any new supplement, it’s best to start off slow. Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee or tea and see if collagen is for you.

Do you really want to change?

Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com
Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com

Do you really want to change?

One of the biggest reasons why people start working with a personal trainer is that they want to change. There has been a moment of realization when change becomes essential. Whether incited by a past or upcoming doctor’s visit or the inability to get into your favourite pair of jeans, you are propelled to take charge of your health. And the change will begin.

We all embark on change with the best intentions. But the reality is that change is hard. We say we want to commit ourselves to transformation — but this is often a slow process. One of the reasons why people have embraced the keto diet is that it works quickly. Making those adjustments results in significant and quick weight loss. When we see the effects of change and want to continue. When it looks like we’re putting in effort and don’t see results … well, it’s hard to keep on track.

Additionally, it’s easy to say we want to change but when it comes down to putting in the work…that’s a lot harder. It pushes us out of comfort zone and makes us feel vulnerable. We don’t ever want to appear weak or in need of help. It’s the daily armour we put up that allows us to move through a world that is often complicated and cruel.

If you’ve settled changing something in your life, how can you make it last? Well, change has two parts. There is the thought and there is the action. You can say you want to start running three times a week, and you can really want to start running three times a week, but if you aren’t actually running three times a week, then you need to put those runs in your schedule. Do you need to wake up a little earlier to accomplish this? Can you run home from work? If you aren’t looking for solutions and ways to make change part of your daily life, then it isn’t important enough.

With lifestyle changes, the journey is the focus. The results are surprises. They creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s being able to cycle up a hill without feeling winded or sustaining a 5KM run without walking. It’s choosing a salad because you just want a salad, and not because any diet plan tells you to eat salad. It’s prioritizing yourself and your workouts without feeling guilty.

Change happens in tiny increments, so don’t get discouraged. Allow yourself to appreciate the journey and reject quick fixes. In the end, it’s the change that is earned that is the change that lasts forever.


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How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.
Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.

How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Underweight. Normal weight. Overweight. Obese. These are the four categories the Body Mass Index (BMI) has used in its health assessment.

BMI calculation is based on two metrics: height and weight. Use one of many online BMI calculators and you will receive a number that is meant to indicate your general health. Below 18 and you are underweight. You are of normal weight if your BMI is between 18.5 and 25, overweight if it is between 25 and 30. Anybody with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

However, more reports and studies are finding fault with BMI as a measure of health. Basing a calculation of health on height and weight alone, BMI doesn’t take into account bone, muscle, or fat proportions. This means that a person with exceptional muscle tone and low fat is more likely to have a higher BMI compared to someone with higher fat and lower muscle tone — because muscle can be four times as dense as fat.

If the BMI is defective, why are we still using it? Is there an easy alternative to the BMI? Yes, and it’s the relative fat mass index (RFM).

Studies have determined that your waist circumference provides a more accurate reading of your abdominal fat and risk for disease than BMI. Based on data from 3,456 patients in the United States, the RFM measurements closely matched those taken by a high-tech DXA body scan, widely considered the gold standard for measuring body tissue, bone, muscle and fat.

To get your new RFM measurement, measure your height and waist circumference, then plug the figures into this formula:
MEN: 64 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
WOMEN: 76 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
What’s interesting about the RFM is that weight is not even part of the overall equation. Additionally, there are no strict categories for simple classification.

As doctors and organizations like the American Society for Nutrition and the American Diabetes Association promote waist-circumference measurements as a supplement to, or replacement for, the body mass index, we are starting to rethink the relationship between weight and overall health. So, let’s say goodbye to the BMI and embrace the change that comes with new information that will hopefully lead us towards a more holistic view of wellness.

Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body​

Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline
Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline

Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body

A new diet is introduced and it’s hailed as a fast way to lose weight and get healthy. The culture embraces this diet and celebrates it. Celebrities post before and after photographs and articles citing scientific evidence are published in journals.

Then, everything changes. The backlash begins as the truth comes out. This diet isn’t healthy, it’s too restrictive, it harms your body, or causes severe side effects. Lines are drawn and the information becomes increasingly confusing. For every positive, there’s a negative ready to address each specific claim.

Recently, the keto diet has been in the news because celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels has come out strongly against it. She describes its negative effect on the body. And maybe Michaels is right. However, she is also someone who recommended that people who were gaining weight from antidepressants go off their medication and that it’s okay for pregnant women to occasionally have a drink.

But the truth is that regardless of Michaels’ feelings about the keto diet, the backlash against popular ways of eating is inevitable. Remember Atkins, South Beach, the Master Cleanse, Whole 30, Eat Right for Your Blood Type, fasting, the Mediterranean diet, juice cleanses, paleo, clean eating, weight loss tea, apple cider vinegar, intermittent fasting, coffee enemas…and on and on. Every single one of these diets swept through our culture and was hailed as the new hope of quick and easy weight loss. And only months later, these diet cookbooks fight for space in the bargain bin.

Despite the different rules of diets, they are all aimed at the same basic formula: ingest fewer calories and burn more calories. Eat less, move more. How you trick your body into eating fewer calories is really at the diet’s heart. Whether it’s a deliberate feeding time, constantly drinking liquid, or ingesting protein that sends your body the satiety signals, each diet works the same way.

For some people, having a restricted diet helps them feel in control of their relationship with food. It prohibits feelings of bingeing and stops them from reaching for sugar-filled, high carb snacks. For others, the set of laws that govern diets is enough to shake them out of the misconception that they are eating healthy. These extreme diets can be the wake-up call that you need to assess your habits and help examine your relationship with food.

Where diets become dangerous is when they aren’t actually good for you. And the you is not general, it’s very specific and individual. While your friend may find the keto diet the best way to make healthy changes in her life, you might find yourself struggling. I remember when I was drinking bulletproof coffee in the morning and I felt extreme pains in my side that sent me to the hospital. The ingestion of this type fat was not right for me — and I had to stop immediately. However, I have several clients that put the exact same oil in their coffee and swear by it.

There is no overarching diet that is good for everyone. If you want to try cutting out carbs or trading in a smoothie for a meal, I think you should. But if you are in pain or suffering from weakness and lack of energy, you need to supplement what you are doing with different foods. And your body will actually tell you what you are missing. Those hunger pangs, and I’m not talking about cravings for peanut M&Ms, are your body telling you what it needs. From meat to more vegetables, listening to your body will help you navigate the complicated waters of eating.

Diets may come and go. You might find one that works for you, or you might laugh at the time you ate cabbage soup for a week and spent more time in the bathroom than at your desk. What isn’t negotiable is listening to what your body needs and not being afraid to break from an extreme eating routine.