With weight training, it’s not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com
Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com

With weight training, it's not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

No matter if you are a beginner or a pro, the benefits of weight training are far reaching and long-lasting. We’ve debunked the myth that weight training makes you bulky  and have emphasized its importance as part of a balanced fitness regime.

You might learn weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym, but sometimes what you see isn’t safe. Incorrect weight training technique can lead to sprains, strains, fractures and other painful injuries that may hamper your weight-training efforts.

Proper form matters — and this starts from the moment you take your weight from the rack. The better your form, the better your results. If you find your neck kicking in when you should be using your arms, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions.

If you’re new to weight training, work with a personal trainer who can introduce you to the basics of proper technique. They will be able to instruct you on good form and even provide modifications to accommodate any injuries.

If you are using classes like Body Pump or another group barbell workout to introduce you to weight training, start with light weights. This way you can focus on the instructor’s (or virtual instructor’s) technique. Your instructor will demonstrate good form and give you many verbal cues throughout the workout. Once you’ve conquered the mechanics, you can move on to heavier, more challenging weights.

If you’ve been using weights for a while, consider scheduling time with a trainer to double-check your technique and identify any changes you may need to make. We all get into patterns and our bodies can compensate for weaknesses. This can result in incorrect technique and potential damage. Even trainers can use a check-in with another professional to correct bad habits and assess technique. There are always small adjustments that can be made to improve alignment and efficiency.

By prioritizing good form over heaviness of weight or amount of repetition, you will get more out of your weight training workout. You will protect yourself from injury and build a foundation for future success.

What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com
Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com

What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

It’s difficult not to be anxious in these turbulent times. Just turning on the news can trigger any number of emotional events. For those of us who suffer from anxiety, the outside world can be a scary place when matched with our internal predisposition for catastrophic thinking.

Recent studies have found that exercise can significantly help you reduce anxiety. Scientists believe regular aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and elevates self-esteem. While there’s no one single reason why exercise helps, we know it increases endorphins. These natural painkillers reduce stress and make us feel good about ourselves.

But what if the idea of exercise causes anxiety?

Being afraid to start something new or even getting back into exercise can be a source of anxiety. We judge and compare ourselves to others who effortlessly pick up moves or look like they were born to be at the front of the class. We can’t even imagine that these people were ever crippled by self-doubt as they approach the gym like a second home. Insecurity matched with our personal narratives about fitness can create more fear. A vicious cycle keeps you from engaging and your brain reinforces these negative relationships.

The best advice is to start off small. Instead of turning to rigorous routines that get your heart rate up, look into activities that you may enjoy. You might benefit from a calming environment instead of a competitive one. Activities like spin, with darkened rooms and loud music, can provide overstimulation for some people — while others will take comfort in the darkness  and the way the class relies on predictable routines. Hot yoga can feel claustrophobic with soaring temperatures — but many classes follow a set sequence of poses which can alleviate the worry of what comes next.

Your first step in using exercise to help alleviate anxiety is to find a routine that works for you. Routine removes surprises and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Try to exercise frequently for smaller amounts of time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Then focus… concentrate on every movement you make, your breath, and being fully present. Even if you are just going to a walk, make every step count.

Using exercise to combat anxiety doesn’t need to make you feel more anxious. If you are working with a personal trainer, open up and let them know what you’re dealing with. They can modify your workout to improve both your mental and physical well-being.

You don’t really hate exercise. It just feels that way

Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk
Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk

You don't really hate exercise. It just feels that way

We all need to exercise. It’s essential to our well-being and it kicks our endorphins into high gear. After exercising, we feel better and we can congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a marathon, exercise is fun, stimulating, and challenging. Exercise is everything!

So why do we hate exercise so much? Why does it feel more like punishment or a chore than something we want to do? Yes, our logical minds can remind us of the benefits of exercise but the rest of us can come up with hundreds of reasons not to exercise.

For many of us, exercise was a childhood punishment. Being picked last for teams or repeatedly told we were unco-ordinated has left its mark on our psyche. We feel we’re bad at sports and lack confidence about our ability to be physically active. Exercises, especially team sports, were terrifying. Even today, exercising in public is another opportunity to pick away at our self-esteem and reinforce everything we were once taunted about.

Alternately, maybe exercise was previously an important part of our lives. If we grew up as athletes or in a career that required us to be physically fit, and situations have changed — we might be haunted by our previous ability. Changes in lifestyle, illness, or even a new work environment may have deprioritized your commitment to maintaining a level of strength or endurance. So we’re afraid to start  again from scratch and we’re haunted by what we once achieved and ashamed that we aren’t our previous selves.

Finally, maybe we hate exercise because it’s tied to dieting and our overall feelings of negativity about our bodies. We exercise to compensate for eating dessert. We stay away from certain types of exercise because we don’t want to compare ourselves to people who look better. We believe that exercise only counts if we’re dripping in sweat and can’t catch our breath — anything else is just a waste of time. The only reason for exercising is to lose weight. Period. So if you aren’t burning calories, you are wasting your time.

With so many reasons to hate exercise, how do you start embracing it? Working with a personal trainer in a body-positive environment is the first step. I’ve stressed honesty and compatibility when finding the right trainer for you. Once you start working with someone who doesn’t just understand your goals but understands your story, you will see that you are co-ordinated. You are able to regain some of that muscle mass. Results will detangle themselves from calories burned.

Whether it’s that scared kid or that former Iron Man or Woman, there are ways to unlock our potential. Nobody is good at everything but everyone is good at something. Working as a personal trainer, I’ve yet to encounter the client who is bad at everything. I’m often surprised by the secret depths of skill, co-ordination, and strength that lies in my clients. I take pleasure in their victories and watch them attack a challenging new routine with not just the confidence to succeed but the confidence to fail.

Working with a personal trainer will help you untangle your emotional exercise story from what you can really accomplish. You are an athlete. You are strong. You just might need some help accepting it.

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas
Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year’s resolutions

Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions

New year … new you! Do you plan a complete life overhaul the moment the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve? In 2019, you are going to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, be more present, take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, enrol in a cooking class, stop online shopping … and the list of self-improvement measures that click into place as of January 1st goes on and on.

But the truth is that few of us are still keeping our resolutions by February 1st. We start off strong out but quickly bad habits and life get in the way. Shame and fear take over and we become disappointed that we’ve failed to keep yet another resolution.

So how can you make a new year’s resolution stick? How can you emerge triumphant and build a new sustainable habit?

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. Changing a lot of things at once is difficult. Focus on what you really want and the one goal you believe you can accomplish. What is the one thing you can do for yourself this year that will improve your life? Pick this as your resolution and go for it.
  2. Start small. Starting off small will help you stay on track. Instead of revamping your entire life, find a small change that you can make every day to work towards a larger goal. Add in a high protein breakfast or cut one teaspoon of sugar out of your coffee. Add one cardio day to your schedule instead of going in for five.
  3. Be realistic. 2019 might be the year that you run that marathon. Or it might be the year you complete a 5K without walking. Both are good resolutions but which one sounds more like you? In fact, running that 5K or 10K might be the perfect stepping stone to 2020’s run a marathon resolution. Being realistic will help you achieve your resolutions.
  4. Be patient. Experts say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit…and six months of it to be become part of your lifestyle. If you are committing to something, you have to know that you will need to be patient and persistent. Nothing happens overnight— and not automatically when the date immediately switches to 2019.
  5. Chart your progress and reward yourself along the way. Break down your resolution into smaller pieces and set deadlines. These deadlines are for motivation and not to discourage you. If you want to lose 40 pounds this year, start by losing five and keeping it off for three weeks. Then move on to another five. And once you’ve accomplished it… celebrate!
  6. Work in small time increments. Recommit to yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will build on each other and help you focus on your resolution.

Keeping your resolution is about prioritization and planning. It’s up to you to make the change and stick to it. These achievements are under your control but it’s your actions which need to change to see the results you want.

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care for the holidays

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care over the holidays / Image source: medicalnewstoday.com
Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care over the holidays / Image source: medicalnewstoday.com

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care for the holidays

December is a busy month. Whether you’re wrapping up projects or wrapping up gifts, the end of the year boasts the shortest days crammed full of activities and obligations. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with responsibilities and commitments. Throw in complicated friend and family dynamics and you can forget yourself in all the commotion.

While we know that complete hibernation is impossible, you need to take some time for yourself over the holidays. Here are six tips to keep you healthy as we draw to a close of 2018.

  1.  Stay on schedule. If you have a schedule that works for you, try best to maintain it. Just because the world may be on holiday hours doesn’t mean you have to be.
  2.  Work at your own pace. And if you are on holiday hours, take advantage of the freedom. Sure, you need to get work done but you may now be able to get that massage in that you’ve been promising yourself since October. Having flexible hours means you can take advantage of working out in the middle of the day, seeing a matinee, trying out a new afternoon class, or spending that extra ten minutes over your coffee.
  3.  Book time just for you. Give yourself a break from the hectic holidays and de-stress by planning a quiet activity. Whether it’s an hour in a sensory deprivation tank, booking a cooking class, taking a walk at a nearby park with that podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to, or spending thirty minutes of quiet browsing in a bookstore, spending time by yourself will help you from feeling overwhelmed. These little self-care dates are your chance to reset.
  4.  Ignore Boxing Day. It’s chaotic and crowded—and just not worth it. Heading to the mall to fight with crowds over recent markdowns will do little for your mental health. Those deals will be there in the New Year. You’ll end up pressured into buying things you don’t want at a price point that isn’t that cheap.
  5.  Limit social engagements. Whether you are heading out of town for the holidays or staying in one pace, there will be an influx of gatherings and social activities. Make sure that you aren’t overextending yourself and never be afraid to be the first one to leave. Keep catch-up coffees from taking over your afternoon by scheduling an appointment nearby. This way you aren’t being rude, you just need to be somewhere else at a specific time.
  6.  Politely decline. You don’t need to be at every party, every event, spend time with every out-of-town relative, or visit those relatives that you never see. It’s always hard to say no but if you’re saying yes to everything, you’re focusing on quantity and not quality. Exhaustion is no vacation so don’t be afraid to skip out on a coupe of events or activities.

The holidays can be a difficult time for many of us. Just remember to put yourself at the top of your gift list and try to do one thing you enjoy every day.

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces’ holiday gift guide

Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com
Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces' holiday gift guide

Giving gifts can be difficult. With a list that extends to include everyone from that secret Santa person you never met to your closest friends, the holidays can be overwhelming — not to mention expensive.

And what about those fit people in your life? Whether they are a five-times-a-week yogi or an occasional walker, here’s a gift guide to help the people you love stay healthy into 2019.

 

Here are just a few suggestions. Did we miss anything you’ve gifted recently to an active friend? Let us know and we’ll put together a part 2 of this list.

Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com
Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com

Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Whether it’s a large-scale work event or just a few friends gathering to celebrate the end of the year, it’s holiday party season. While most of us look forward to getting dressed up and spending time with friends and family, there is also a quiet dread that those of us working towards a goal must face. Will the holiday party send me off-course?

Instead of designating the weeks leading up to Christmas to New Year’s Eve as a complete fitness wasteland, here are ways to stay on track.

  • Eat before you go: Buffets, food stations, even sit-down meals can be full of foods that you would never consider. However, once they are brought to you on silver trays, these highly caloric treats can be too hard to ignore. If you’ve arrived on an empty stomach, it will be even harder to say “no thanks.” Make sure you eat at least an hour before your party so you aren’t attacking the buffet like there’s no tomorrow.  

The open bar is not your friend

  • Make choices: Whether it’s sweets or savoury options, restraint will only take you so far. So indulge in only the foods you know you love. This is not the time to try everything, but instead find one or two of your favourites and help yourself.
  • Beware the open bar: The open bar is not your friend. To help navigate the open bar, make sure that every other drink is water. Keeping hydrated will ensure that alcohol won’t go to your head. If you do end up drinking more than you expected, have a Gatorade or other electrolyte drink before bed to fight off a hangover.
  • Burn some calories on the dance floor: Dancing is a great way to get your heart rate up. Don’t worry about being self-conscious — once you get out there, the dance floor is a judgement-free zone.
  • Don’t be the last one there: You might have serious FOMO if you leave before last call — but you don’t need to shut down the party. The longer you are there, the more you are likely to overindulge. We also know how critical sleep is to a healthy lifestyle, so extending your party stay may interfere with your precious sleeptime. 
  • Work in your workouts: Use the time you have wisely. If you can only spare 20 minutes, take advantage of the circumstances. Instead of writing off exercise until the new year when things slow down, opt for a quickly 20-minute HIIT routine. Do a yoga routine at home from an app instead of taking a class.

Don’t let December become a dead zone for diet and exercise. There’s no need to start the new year overcoming two weeks of indulgences. Instead, do what you can and be mindful when attending gatherings. There’s no need to derail your progress while enjoying yourself.

Committing to a class — and getting the most out of your commitment

Committing to a class is a big step. Image source: pexels.com
Committing to a class is a big step. Image source: pexels.com

Committing to a class — and getting the most out of your commitment

We talked last week about class fitness. If you are wondering why a primarily one-on-one training studio like TrainingSpaces is promoting class fitness, there are a couple of reasons. As a trainer, I want you to be fit and achieve your goals. For most people, coming to see me once, twice, or three times a week is an amazing way to pay off the commitment you’ve made to yourself. However, what about the rest of the week?

What are you doing when you aren’t here?

In a city like Toronto, there are so many different ways to keep fit and challenge yourself on a weekly basis. Discovering spin or another type of cardio can add to your routine. We even offer classes at TrainingSpaces to supplement your weekly training routine.

But how will you know what class is right for you?

I believe that the future of gyms is in small boutique studios dedicated to a specific type of workout. The big box gyms of the past are being replaced by smaller spaces committed to one activity. At the same time, cheaper functional franchises like Hone Fitness provide no classes and just the basics. There are no instructors but lots of equipment and machines.

The small class studio allows for a specialized experience but there are still franchises. Popular U.S. names like SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp are opening up Toronto locations. F45, an Australian crossfit-inspired workout complete with a specialized heart rate monitor, has franchises popping up on corners throughout the city. If you are interested in a class, expect to pay at least $25/session. Of course, there are bulk discounts with multiple class commitments reducing prices significantly.

But $25/class is a lot to pay — especially if you aren’t sure if you are going to enjoy the experience. Here are three ways to attend classes at a cheaper price point:

First-time deals: Most studios, whether it’s yoga or bootcamp, offer an introductory price. Depending on the studio and the offers, you might have a week of unlimited classes or even a free initial class. It’s worth taking advantage of what the studio has to offer and attending multiple classes. In the first class you will be acquainting yourself with the specifics of the activity and the studio so it can be difficult to really assess if this workout is for you. Try to attend at least two classes before committing to more … or deciding if you even want to continue. Also, it’s best to sign up when you can actually take advantage of the first-time deals so plan your first visit at a time that aligns with your schedule.

Class Pass: If you are a millennial, you’re probably familiar with Class Pass. This monthly subscription provides you with a number of credits which you can trade in for different fitness classes. Depending on your membership—from $15 for 6 credits (one class/month) to $105 (6-10 classes/month)—you can experiment with everything from EMS Training to Hip Hop to CrossFit to Pilates to that mermaid-tail swim class. Individual studios decide how many credits each class is worth and these can range quite significantly from 3 to 9 credits/class. You have a month to use your credits and unused credits roll over. Remember to book early because many studios increase the credit numbers the closer you get to the class time. If you are interested in ClassPass, this link will knock $30 off your initial monthly subscription: http://class.ps/jcliz

Groupon: Yes, everyone’s favourite location for knock-off boots, pet socks, and cheap restaurant deals also offers fitness classes at reduced rates. Some very popular studios, like Joga House popularized by Real Housewives of Toronto’s Jana Webb, offer discounted rates on classes or unlimited monthly memberships.

As fitness becomes more and more specialized … and the rates for individual classes continue to increase … there are ways to make fitness affordable before you commit. Paired with your weekly weight training, classes will help move you one step closer to your fitness goal.

When it’s not just you: is Crossfit the new step aerobics?

Crossfit with kettlebells / Image credit: crossfitthebridge.com

When it's not just you: is CrossFit the new step aerobics?

Maybe you’re like me and remember when gyms boasted Step Aerobics classes by the dozens. Or maybe you can still do a grapevine. But it’s also possible that you are young enough not to even know what a grapevine is. In the 90s, Step and low-impact cardio aerobics were everywhere. These classes had one intention: get your heart rate up.

Cardio was the key to weight loss. And that was it. It’s funny to think of this now because we wouldn’t imagine a cardio-only option in group classes. Even spinning has incorporated short weights sets.

There are trends we hope to never see again. If you talk to someone who was an avid stepper, they probably have knee problems. Slamming your leg on a plastic step in time with the music will undoubtedly leave you with physical scars. Of course, at the time, we didn’t really know any different.

But if we look at the history of group fitness, we can see a direct evolution between our past and our future. While we can laugh about classes of women all hooked up to vibrating belts, we can actually see a correlation between this and current EMS training. Sure, the equipment of today is much more sophisticated but the intention remains the same. Those 1970s leggings of Jazzercize have become the 2018 leggings of Barre. As we learn more about the body and what works (and what doesn’t), exercise trends edit themselves.

And no matter what the exercise was, one thing remains consistent. Community has been a large part of most group exercise classes. Whether it’s a friendly face at the door or recognizing your best fitness friend or that nemesis in the front row who performs every exercise with too much energy, exercising in groups has always been part of the equation.

For many people, being part of a class provides them with more than motivation. If you look at the rise of CrossFit boxes, the emphasis is on working out together. A recent F45 studio that opened in my neighbourhood has asked everyone attending classes to pose for photos to promote a more communal feeling. Knowing people by name reduces barriers between the instructors and class attendees. It also makes it easier to call you for a simple correction.

Humans are social creatures. Getting a friendly smile from someone who is also trying to wrestle with a kettlebell or cheering on those who cross the finish line last in a running club provides us with a dopamine rush of success and belonging. If you’ve ever wondered what happens in a mysterious exercise class, you’re more likely to enlist a friend to join you. There is strength in numbers and shared motivation through friendship. And it’s more difficult to cancel on a friend than cancelling a class.

As exercise trends will continue to develop in weird and wonderful ways (mermaid class anyone?), class fitness isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s becoming more and more segregated with studios popping up for very specific purposes. So whether you prefer to attend anonymously or are looking forward to joining your crossfit friends for a full fat latte to celebrate how you’ve crushed the W.O.D., trying a class can shake up your routine.

Image sources: crossfitthebridge.com, crossfithavoc.com, beautyheaven.au.com