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.

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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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.

Celebrating one year of TrainingSpaces

closeup on handle of Inspire functional trainer machine
Before and after
Before and after

Celebrating one year of TrainingSpaces

Where did the time go? It feels like it was only days ago that I was waiting for the equipment to be delivered and putting finishing touches on our website. A year is a big milestone in the life of any business and it’s given me time to think back on everything we’ve achieved — and where we still need to go.

The most stressful part was getting started. I started TrainingSpaces out of necessity. I had spent my entire career as a trainer renting from others and received the sudden news that I could no longer train in my current space. This was a wake-up call. I needed to take the plunge and stop being at the whims of others. Despite the fact I never saw myself running a studio, I needed to do it. Finding a space and negotiating with the landlord and lawyers was incredibly difficult.Once I had signed the lease, I was nervous but relieved. I would finally be the person in charge of my own future and, succeed or fail, these decisions would be mine.

Everything I did was a dress rehearsal for running TrainingSpaces. My experience in a number of unrelated jobs and renting from others helped me figure out how I would behave as a studio owner. I had seen how the mistakes of others led to their downfall — from pure disorganization to communication failures. Those were invaluable lessons and warnings of how not to run a studio and I paid close attention, determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

I needed to be loyal to my vision. Once I had secured my lease, I decided that TrainingSpaces would be a place for trainers. By defining what type of fitness professionals I wanted to attract, I could decide what type of equipment I needed. Even my logo, the kettlebell, encompassed the purpose of my business and my overall brand. This was a place to lift weights and get stronger.

Setting goals is essential. We always talk about fitness goal setting and I had to do the same for my business. I planned out what I wanted to accomplish in increments and made sure my goals were SMART. By doing this, I could evaluate my success against a timeframe and decide if I needed to make changes or maintain my current approaches.

The most surprising thing I’ve learned: I’m constantly cleaning. Running a studio with 13 trainers and their clients, classes, and bodywork sessions requires constant attention. I take pride in TrainingSpaces and want everyone to feel comfortable — so if this means dusting five times a day, I’ll grab the broom and start sweeping.

Future plans and next steps. Because businesses need to change and grow, I’m always thinking about what’s next. Looking at our space, I’m re-evaluating its layout and purpose. Are there ways we can better accommodate all our trainers and clients? There probably are. With expansion, I’m hoping to add more trainers and more classes to the weekly schedules. And this means I’m looking into different scheduling options to make it easier for trainers to book their time.

In the past year, TrainingSpaces has been redefining how we all work out. But it wouldn’t be possible without you — our trainers, our clients, and our readers. So, on behalf of the TrainingSpaces family, thank you for standing by us, training with us, bringing us your ideas and suggestions, following us on social media, and being part of our little fitness revolution.

On to Year Two!

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ‘advice’ contrived via social media

social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com
social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ads contrived via social media

If you are engaged in social media, and especially Instagram, you are probably familiar with the power of influencers. These are ordinary people, just like you and me, who lovingly curate their feeds with inspirational photos of their meals, exercise routines, glorious sunrises, and breathtaking sunsets. They tag their posts with #blessed, #fitspo, and #empowered — and offer us all a slice of a more perfect life. It can be fun to thumb through the feeds of people of all shapes and sizes living their best lives and offering us that push that we can do it too.

Influencers can be found in all corners of the online fitness social communities. From trainers to fit-at-any-size marathoners to mothers entering their first weightlifting competitions, social media has given voice to those who might not fit the stereotype of a typical fitness devotee.

Recently, high levels of Instagram user engagement have given companies an opportunity to capitalize on users with thousands of followers.These Instagram ads, for which influencers can be paid an estimated $1,000 per 100,000 followers, are selling not just a product but an entire lifestyle. They also might be selling bad fitness and diet-related advice.

9 out of 10 patients look to influencers and online communities when making health and wellness decisions. 94% of people share influencer-driven health information with others.

But let’s think about the reality of these influencers. Are they qualified to provide wellness advice? Or are they motivated by a desire to promote certain products or simply to further their personal brands? Because sponcon (sponsored content) can be positioned alongside other posts, it can be difficult to separate the paid ads from the personal stories.

As you scroll through different feeds, keep an eye out for these paid promotions masquerading as solid lifestyle advice. Because influencers are more likely to be ordinary people and not celebrities, they are more valuable to sponsors and appear more trustworthy. Having 100,000 followers does not make you a fitness expert. It does not make you a qualified trainer or a nutritionist. What it makes you is a person with beautiful photos and a performance of authenticity that appeals to your followers.

Before you take advice from anyone you follow on social media, take a moment to evaluate this advice. Is there a prominent brand name dominating the caption? Could these before and after photos be altered in any way? Are you taking advice from influencers you would never even consider if it came from your best friend, a neighbour, or a casual acquaintance?

If you said answered “yes” to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to click “unfollow”.

Guest blog: why bellydance? Join Kelly May 15 and find out

bellydance art
bellydance art

Guest blog: why bellydance? Join Kelly May 15 and find out

A guest post from trainer and bellydance instructor Kelly Enston. This post originally appeared April 19 on her site at KellyKinetics

Why would someone want to bellydance, you may ask?

Well, there are so many reasons why people should bellydance!

If you are worried about it being a sexual thing, don’t worry, it’s less sexual than it is sensual in its movements. Originally the history of bellydance started as a dance developed by women for women.

Although there are misconceptions about what bellydance really is, be assured, and anyone can correct me, that it only became sexualized by men. Funnily enough, now bellydance has taken the entire world by storm and there are amazing male bellydancers as well. That being said, I welcome everyone into my classes.

If you are worried about showing your midsection, guess what?! You don’t have to unless you feel comfortable doing so. In bellydance classes, you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in. You can wear a full-length tank top or t-shirt, or you can wear something showing your midsection. The main thing is, no matter the level of coverage, it should be form-fitting so that as your bellydance instructor, I can properly see your body movements.

If you decide to start performing in small student shows or even professionally one day, that’s another level and even there, there are options on coverage level. Main point here is, do not let this stop you from learning. I want my students to be comfortable coming to class.

Besides being really fun… I share a list of other reasons to bellydance. Some may come with an explanation.

1. Learning about how your body moves and feels

Your fitness journey doesn’t always need to start in the gym.

The way I teach bellydance (based on Hadia’s Amazing Body Logic System), you learn what muscles create certain bellydance moves, how these muscles are meant to work to create those movements and in turn you develop a greater sense of body awareness. So many people’s brains are detached from their bodies. I help you reconnect mind and body through bellydance. The methods I use also provide the body with a nice massage!

2. Learning what it can do for your overall mind, body and soul.

Once you start to see how my methods to teach this dance art work, and you get more comfortable and confident in your abilities, you will see how bellydance starts to collectively affect your mind body and soul positively. I haven’t met a person yet, including myself, that this has not happened to.

3. Learning that every person’s body, mind and soul is unique and so bellydance will empower each of you in a different way.

I think this is self-explanatory. Every individual is unique. I expect feedback on this to be very different for everyone.

Teaching at Carmen Romero's Dance Studio

4. Learning about your strengths and weaknesses and having the courage to work on weaknesses in order to build them into strengths.

Learning anything new will allow this to happen, but I find learning how your body works is an excellent avenue for this type of growth.

5. Getting a great workout in a fun, safe and friendly environment.

6. Allowing yourself to learn about a new culture while having fun and making friends.

7. Allowing yourself to use your body for something it was built to do.

If you want to bring fitness and health, joy and empowerment into your life, then come out and learn what bellydance can do for you!

If this convinces you to come try out a class, I invite you to a free demo class on Wednesday May 15th, 12-1:30 pm, at Training Spaces, 567 College Street West, Toronto, ON. To reserve your spot in this free trial class please visit https://live.vcita.com/site/kellykinetics or email [email protected] to confirm your spot.

Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

measuring tape around waist
Foot on scale with flowers for weight loss post

Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

This post originally appeared June 18, 2018.

I’ve had a lot of clients come to me with a specific goal or date in mind. It’s the wedding dates or the high-school reunions that have motivated them to take the first steps to weight loss. Whether powered by a desire to transform themselves or fit into a magical size, these are some of the most committed people that I’ve ever seen.

They meet with me multiple times a week.

They follow the diet rules. (BTW, I hate the word “diet.”)

They track their food and obsessively count calories.

And they count down to that special day.

And, not surprisingly, many of them achieve their goals. When you’re dedicated and have an end date in mind, your own laser focus can take you wherever you need to go. As a trainer, I work with my clients to target specific areas and celebrate weight-loss milestones. I love seeing my clients achieve their goals, but there’s always this little voice in my head that haunts every weigh-in.

“What about the day after?” it says.

Don’t backslide

Because I’ve seen it happen so many times. The day after the marathon is completed or the cake is cut. What happens next? What happens when real life sets in and there’s no focused end date for this fitness-first mentality?

Sadly, I’ve seen the most motivated people cancel workouts and slide back into unhealthy habits without a solid goal and a date. I’ve seen all the good work replaced with weight gain and frustration. Without the focused goal date, it’s difficult to get re-motivated until the next big event. We’ve talked about the challenge of maintaining commitment before. And the cycle continues.

That’s why I always recommend that my clients train for life — real life and not a cut-off date. By integrating healthy habits into the everyday, you can avoid the disappointment of special-occasion weight gain … that follows special-occasion weight loss. Focusing on overall wellbeing develops patterns and a healthy baseline.

So, train for today and not tomorrow.

Laura's question of the week

Have you ever resolved to lose x amount of weight for a specific occasion? What was it for?

  • Wedding?
  • Christening?
  • Bar / Bat Mitzvah?

Were you able to maintain it? Let us know!

stock shot of tape measure around waist of woman in bridal gown

With weight training, it’s not how much you lift or how many reps, but how hard you work the muscles​

woman athlete weight training / Image source: Leon Martinez/pexels.com
woman athlete weight training / Image source: Leon Martinez/pexels.com

With weight training, it's not how much you lift or how many reps, but how hard you work the muscles

Lifting weights is an essential part to achieving any fitness goal — and this includes losing weight. Once my clients embrace the benefits of weight training, they begin researching how they should lift weights. Apart from queries about good form, the most common question I get about weight training is: should I lift heavy or should I lift light?

And believe me … everyone has an opinion about this. Websites will debate this in forums with the bodybuilders encouraging people to lift as much as they possibly can with holistic fitness forums praising lighter weights at multiple reps. But I am going to set the record straight.

You might have heard that lifting heavy weights for a low number of reps builds muscle, while lifting lighter weights more times tones them. But what is muscle tone? This is just an expression to describe how firm a muscle looks. But the fact is that your muscle tone doesn’t change — exercise or not. The way your muscle looks depends on two things: the amount of fat that covers it and the elasticity of your skin. So your goal shouldn’t be toning your muscle. It should be reducing the amount of fat that covers the muscle. Muscles closer to the surface, without a barrier of fat, will be more visible — and look more “toned.”

But really, it’s not about how much your lift. You can lift heavy or you can lift light. What really matters is how much effort you put into the exercise. Regardless of how much weight you feel you should be lifting, the real key is to fatigue your muscles by taking each set to the point where you can’t do any more with good form. How hard you work is what it’s all about.

This means you have to get uncomfortable and challenge yourself through using a heavier weight or performing one or two more reps. Light weights will be effective in the beginning, but this will eventually wane. It can be hard to force yourself out of your comfort zone, but without gradually increasing weight or reps, your progress will stall. By lifting heavier weights, you build more muscle, and more muscle leads to a faster metabolism. Stay in the comfort zone and get used to being comfortable. You need to challenge yourself for real progress.

How hard you work is the secret to maximizing weightlifting efficiency. Forget heavy versus light. Like most things in life, with weightlifting what you put in is what you get out.

Don’t take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

Don't take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

I remember being at an airport a couple of years ago and seeing a sign that made me laugh and think. “Vacation calories don’t count!” it exclaimed. For so many of us, vacations are a break from the routine. This doesn’t just include work but can extend to diet and exercise. We can see vacations as a free-for-all, a magical time period where calories don’t count and exercise is an inconvenience.

I get it. When on vacation, you want to indulge in the things that you normally wouldn’t touch when you’re at home. So how can you find a healthy balance? Here are three things you can do to make the most of your vacation while staying committed to maintaining your health goals:

Avoid the buffet — if possible

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive, on a cruise, or at a hotel, the lure of the buffet is an on-going temptation. Because of the choices on offer, it can be easy to go back and overindulge. But the days of the 99-cent buffet are long gone.  Today, buffets can be just as expensive as eating in a proper restaurant.

If a buffet is your only option, use smaller plates and focus on the foods you will really enjoy. Don’t look at a buffet as a FOMO experience — much of the same food will be available the following day. While there may be slight variations, by day two or three, you will know your buffet’s offerings by heart. Also, take advantage of the chefs to prepare fresh choices.

Eat local

As our world becomes increasingly commercial, it’s not surprising to see a familiar restaurant chain on the main street of your vacation destination. Instead of gravitating towards what you know, a holiday can be the opportunity to try something different and local. Find those little restaurants and eat like a local. This may require venturing off the resort, so get a recommendation from your hotel. People are eager to share their regional cuisine and culture. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had was in Cuba.

Eating local also means eating at different times of day. When in Spain, head out for dinner at 10 PM and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you peruse the menu. Eating is an adventure and while you might not like everything, you’ll definitely come home with one or two unexpected new dishes that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your routine.

Keep active

While you may not want to spend 30 minutes of your vacation on the treadmill at the hotel fitness centre, there are many ways to stay active on vacations. If you’re on a city break, walk as much as you can. You’ll see more and uncover hidden gems that you never thought you would experience. Walking immerses you in a new place and slows you down to take in your surroundings.

The same goes for exploring nature. Hiking, rock-climbing, zip-lining, discovering ruins, or paddling a canoe lets you experience different environments and landscapes — and reminds us all why we need to protect these places.

If you’re on a beach vacation, swimming can get your heart rate up. We’re not talking about mindless laps in the pool while dodging an unruly game of Marco Polo. Snorkelling can introduce you to a beautiful undersea world and the strange creatures that live there. Even walking along the beach provides resistance which can turn a leisurely stroll into an activity that raises your heart rate.

A vacation can be a break but it’s not an excuse to return to bad habits and destroy all your good work. By making sure that each indulgence is deliberate and taking the time to get some well-needed rest, you can come back home reinvigorated and ready to commit to yourself.  

Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal
Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal

Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre studios are springing up as quickly as spin studios were a couple of years ago. With strange socks with jelly grips and unitards that send you into Flashdance flashbacks, is this new fitness-dance hybrid for you? Will you have to learn difficult combinations and wear a tutu? What exactly is a barre class?

Barre classes combine strength training and cardio by focusing on small, isometric exercises. Isometric exercises are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles. During isometric exercises, the muscle doesn’t noticeably change length and the affected joint doesn’t move. Isometric exercises help maintain strength.

The barre is the primary prop used to balance while performing these isometric exercises. Depending on the class and instructor, you will also use very light weights (1 to 4 lbs), a strap, weighted balls, and those squishy exercise balls that only seem to exist in fitness studios.

Each class begins in the centre of the room and moves through a specific set of poses. You start with core (planks, modified push-ups), then move on to arms (small biceps curls, tricep extensions). Following this, you will find a place at a ballet bar and perform exercises that target your legs and glutes. Each exercise focuses on small pulses movements — you will hear “up an inch, down an inch” so many times — and works to fatigue.

There are a number of benefits to barre classes. It’s a challenging workout that focuses on tiny movements. You can be a fitness novice or an expert and still find yourself tired by the end of the hour class. The class is also good for joints as there are no high-impact components. Each studio seems to follow its own flow so once you have taken one class, you will have some idea what to expect. Of course, different instructors will change and modify based on preference and experience.

While barre classes do boast benefits like improved posture, muscle definition, weight loss, increased flexibility, and reduced stress, they really are no different from any enjoyable group exercise, yoga, or pilates class. The techniques are ballet-like but they won’t give you a dancer’s body. You will feel taller and stronger, more aware of your core and posture, but you won’t be asked to dance lead by the National Ballet of Canada. There are also a lot of squats, or pliés to use the correct ballet term — so if you suffer from knee issues this class may not be for you.

Like many group exercise classes, barre studios can be expensive and may require a monthly or class number payment commitment. Fortunately, the first class is often free so you can try out the class and determine if it’s a right fit. ClassPass (link to Committing to a class blog) also includes a number of barre studios and classes options to make this group fitness class more affordable.

And barre isn’t just for women. Like many lower impact studio classes, barre classes seem to predominantly attract women. However, all of us can benefit from an hour of tiny, exhausting movements, and being reminded how our abs work.