Monitoring your heart rate is a great way to gauge exercise efficiency

Monitoring heart rate is a great way to gauge exercise efficiency / Image source: James Martin/CNET

Monitoring heart rate is a great way to gauge exercise efficiency / Image source: James Martin/CNET

Monitoring your heart rate is a great way to gauge exercise efficiency

When we’re exercising, we want to make the most of our time. No matter what the activity, you want to feel like you’re putting in the right amount of effort to reach your goals. 

The easiest way to measure exercise efficiency is through heart rate training. For all the exercise trackers out there with their different modes, the most important feature you can use to quantify your workout is a heart rate monitor. Calorie counters are nice but often inaccurate — and I’ll tackle this in an upcoming blog. If you know your heart rate, you can maintain a proper level of intensity and adjust throughout your workout. 

To train successfully based on your heart rate, you need to know the maximum times your heart should beat during an activity. The best way to do this is to take 207 and subtract 0.7 times your age. This is called the theoretical maximum heart rate (MHR). 

You can take this number and apply it to the different heart rate zones, depending on the activity. 

  • Low intensity, the “fat-burning zone”, is 50% to 70% of your MHR.
  • Moderate intensity is 70% to 80% of your MHR. This would be when you’re putting in effort but are not uncomfortable.
  • High intensity is 80% to 90% of your MHR. This is where you’re pushing the anaerobic threshold. At this intensity, your cardiovascular system can’t deliver oxygen to your muscles fast enough. 
  • Maximum effort is 90% to 100% of your MHR. Very few people can maintain a heart rate here — even highly trained athletes.  

Depending on your goals, you may spend time training in different zones. If you’re running a marathon, you need to keep a steady pace. This translates to time spent in the Zone 1 and Zone 2 because endurance is key. If you are training for a 5K or doing intervals, you want to spend more time training in Zones 3. In this situation, short bursts of intensity will propel you forward.  

But what about the “fat-burning zone”? If you want to lose weight, shouldn’t that be what you should aim for? Does this mean low intensity exercise is superior to high intensity activities? Zone 1 is only called the “fat-burning zone” because the body relies more on stored fat (versus carbs) as its primary fuel source when you work at a lower intensity compared to a higher intensity. Performing aerobic exercise at a low intensity is not a better way to lose weight than more intense physical activity.

No matter what you do, it is recommended that we spend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to stay healthy. Heart rate training will ensure that you are working as efficiently as possible to meet your fitness and health goals. It can take the guesswork out of your workout. 

Let’s never do that again: a decade of bad decisions

Detox juice cleanse promo
Detox juice cleanse promo

Let's never do that again: a decade of bad decisions

As the 2010s come to a close, itu2019s easy for us to look back on the way we lived. In the present, the decisions we made in the past can be questionable u2014 especially when it comes to advice about health and wellness.

Ah, wellness. Thereu2019s a word weu2019re going to ban from our vocabulary the moment the clock strikes midnight on New Yearu2019s Eve.

While u201cwellnessu201d may have started the decade as a way of optimizing our fitness routines, exploring alternatives cures, and investing in self-care, it has bloomed into a pseudoscience that promotes the myths of the diet industry. In the eyes of wellness, we need to invest large sums of money into dangerous, unproven cures and techniques that look great on social media and do nothing for our bodies. The wellness industry, from essential oils to extreme diets, prioritizes thinness as an outward display of health.

In the final days of 2019, letu2019s say NO to the irresponsible trends of the past decade.

But if we are rejecting so much, what should we be embracing? Here are some suggestions:

Nobodyu2019s life magically changes at the stroke of midnight and weu2019re all trying to get better. Letu2019s make positive steps by removing lies, hype, and hatred from how we get healthy this year and celebrate that we have as we get stronger, smarter, and kinder in the new year.

We Wish You a Merry Fit-Mas — 2019 Edition

We Wish You a Merry Fit-Mas — 2019 Edition

Last year we provided you with some fitness gift guidance as we headed into the holidays. Here’s our revised list as you prepare to pick up presents for your loved ones.

Tech gadgets Tech gadgets Nobody ever unwraps fitness technology and asks for a gift receipt. There are so many options available for the tech-loving fitness buff in your life. From smart watches to clip-on trackers, these devices track data and allow you to see trends.

« 1 of 11 »

So, there’s our annual rundown of fitness-inspired gifts to keep everyone happy and healthy well into 2020!


Newsletter subscribers: We’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties. Please bear with us, and accept our apologies for any inconvenience.

There are predators in the fitness industry. Who knew?

Bikram Chowdhury / publicity image from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)

Bikram Chowdhury / publicity image from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)

There are predators in the fitness industry. Who knew?

So, Bikram, right?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a number of clients ask me if I watched the documentary “Bikram: Yoga. Guru. Predator” which is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a cautionary tale of worshipping false idols, extreme capitalism, and enabling the wrongdoings of a predator in exchange for career advancement. The film is eye-opening for some and recycled history for others.

I’ve previously written about yoga and the challenges it is currently facing. From the consumer culture that surrounds a yoga lifestyle to the measures studios are taking to ensure consent in a silent practice, yoga is changing. Podcasts like Yoga is Dead are exploring the toxicity that surrounds yoga from its appropriation by white women to the strict veganism that practically enforces eating disorders. Yoga is having its own reckoning, prompted by questioning devotees who are asking how this solitary form of reflection is now being marketed as a calorie-burning efficient exercise to tone and sculpt.

I actually attended one of Bikram’s classes years ago when I was in Los Angeles. Clad in that tiny speedo and weighed down by that huge Rolex, I joined other devotees in the Hollywood Bowl as he ran us through the set exercises. Starting every single sentence with “the problem with you Americans” and displaying more megalomania than I initially thought humanly possible, the 90-minutes was a sweaty ego-filled circus. I was bemused but others were entranced.

As a trainer, I know that different people respond to different approaches. There are those who want me to be a drill sergeant and those who expect me to be a supportive therapist. Over the years I’ve learned that cruelty is not synonymous with authority or expertise. I can think of other popular fitness gurus, (Jillian Michaels, anyone?) who have built their entire identity and success on a tough-love persona. The idea that you need to break someone down and then build them up to achieve results has more to do with the trainer than their students. They want to be seen as the only person who can create results. They want to be idolized and admired for being the single truth teller in a sea of complicity. And they do this by using their ego to manipulate their followers.

Until something breaks. Maybe they let their podcast audience know that it’s okay for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine with dinner or encourage them to reject antidepressants because they cause weight gain. Maybe they pay special attention to the young women in their class and touch them inappropriately under the guise of an adjustment. Predators and bullies are everywhere and it’s up to you to detach yourself from them the moment you feel uncomfortable. If their behaviour is criminal, then report it. If it’s foolish then unsubscribe.

We all have the power to take care of ourselves and others. We don’t need investigative journalists and documentarians to confirm that icky feeling. If something feels wrong, it probably is. This journey is about self-improvement and self-presentation, so don’t fall under the spell of someone who fails on all accounts.

ELDOA: A new way to stretch and contract your way to relief

Image source: Sphinx Pilates Eldoa Toronto

Image source: Sphinx Pilates Eldoa Toronto

ELDOA: A new way to stretch and contract your way to relief

The Future of Fitness Explained: ELDOA

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Maybe you first heard about ELDOAs at a pilates or yoga studio. Maybe this method was recommended to you by a physiotherapist or osteopath. If you suffer from chronic back or joint pain, recurring injuries, or just poor posture, it’s possible that you’ve stumbled on ELDOAs as a way to relieve and re-adjust your spine. But is this just another trendy mat exercise or will it actually produce the results you need?

What is the ELDOA method?

ELDOA is an acronym — that’s why you will always see it capitalized. Designed by French osteopath and medical doctor Guy VOYER D.O., ELDOA stands for Etirements Longitudinaux avec Decoaptition Osteo-Articulaire (translation: longitudinal osteoarticular decoaptation stretches). Using myofascial tension and muscle contractions, ELDOAs can affect the tissue, ligaments, nervous tissues, and organs associated with a joint or spinal segment.

What do I need to do?

The ELDOA Method is a series of postural exercises. Each exercise is carefully designed to “create space”. Getting into the postures isn’t hard, but holding them feels challenging, and precision is essential. ELDOA postures are very specific compared to other techniques. Each posture is held for 1 minute of tension, followed by a release. During this minute, you continue to reach and stretch—using your legs and arms to find the force needed to push more length into the spine and add more space around the target joint.

Does it work?

Everyone can benefit from the effects of ELDOAs but each person is different. From stress relief to improved recovery time, ELDOAs have a number of benefits. Many people report benefits including normalizing bulging discs, increased flexibility, reduced back and joint pain, relief of neck and shoulder pain, and improved posture.

Should I try it?

While there are ELDOA videos on YouTube, ELDOAs and Myofascial Stretches are very specific and complex techniques. They require attention to form and correct progressions. If you are interested in adding ELDOAs to your workouts, find a certified instructor. There are a number of studios in Toronto who conduct ELDOA classes. I’m also a certified ELDOA instructor and have successfully used these postures with my clients.

More Information Please!

Try these links and get educated about the ELDOA method:

Is it OK to exercise when you’ve got a cold? Well, yes — within reason​

Exercising with a cold? bare feet sticking out from blankets/ Image source: pixabay.com

Exercising with a cold? / Image source: pixabay.com

Is it OK to exercise when you’ve got a cold? Well, yes — within reason

Last week’s newsletter listed one of the unexpected benefits of exercise as being able to fight off colds and flu. But what if you succumb to one of the many viruses that are going around? As the weather changes, it’s rare that any of us aren’t affected by seasonal colds and the flu. But should you continue your exercise routine when you find yourself coughing and sneezing?

Experts generally divide colds into two categories: those with symptoms above the neck (runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat) and those with symptoms below the neck (cough, shortness of breath, chest congestions). If you have a cold that’s primarily located in your head, then you are safe to exercise. If you have any of the below-the-neck symptoms, you should put off exercising until you feel better. Additionally, you shouldn’t exercise if you have a fever, body aches, or fatigue.

There are few studies that say that a workout can actually help you heal. If you have a head cold, you may even feel better following your workout. Exercise opens up your blood vessels and lifts your mood. Many people also feel exercise alleviates congestion. If you are inclined, and your symptoms don’t interfere with your heart rate or your ability to control your breath, you can keep working out throughout your cold.

If you decide that you want to exercise, there are some routines that are better than others.

A workout where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard, and feeling uncomfortable creates a stress response in the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is precisely what makes us stronger. But when we’re sick, this type of stress can be more than our immune systems can handle.

If you feel like sticking with your cardio routine, I recommend decreasing your intensity. Working out on a stationary bike, elliptical, or even running at a slower pace can still be beneficial. You can still strength train but gear your workout towards more comfortable, lighter weights. Stretching, yoga (but not yoga in a heated room), and pilates are also fine if you’re struggling through a cold.

And no matter what you do, make sure that you wipe down that equipment well to stop spreading your germs to your fellow gym-goers.

If you feel like you would be better off curling up with a book, Netflix, and a cup of soup or tea, then you may not want to push yourself. But a cold is not an excuse to give up on your routine and your goals. There’s nothing wrong with staying active as your body fights off a head cold. It can boost your mood and even help you heal. Still, this is a time when you need to listen to your body and not follow any rules that aren’t your own.

Ali MacKellar presents Strength in Numbers

Ali MacKellar strength training

Ali MacKellar strength training

Ali MacKellar presents Strength in Numbers

Following up on her Monday-evening Electric Circuit series, Ali is  offering a series of four one-hour sessions dedicated to strength training. From her description:

It’s a commitment to carve out an hour each week dedicated to moving your body, to strength as self-care and building up a strong foundation for future you!⁣

The classes will run from 6:30 to 7:30 pm on Monday nights, starting Nov. 11. For more information or to sign up, contact Ali at [email protected] or visit the Eventbrite page.

Can’t motivate yourself to exercise? Consider these added benefits​

Woman in leotards on balance ball / There are always more benefits to exercise. / Photo by Daria Sannikova from Pexels

There are always more benefits to exercise. / Photo by Daria Sannikova from Pexels

Can’t motivate yourself to exercise? Consider these added benefits​

No matter why you exercise, you have a good reason for doing it. Whether it’s about aesthetics or recovering from an injury, we all turn to exercise for a variety of reasons. 

But there are days when the idea of hitting the gym is the last thing you want to do. Maybe you’ve been really busy at work or have had your routine disrupted by illness. You might be frustrated, balancing risk vs. reward and wondering why you aren’t seeing results fast enough. In fact, you might just think “why bother?” 

When your usual source of intrinsic motivation fails, here are some unexpected benefits of exercise that might convince you to put on those running shoes.

Exercise is good for your heart: Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. This helps lower your risk of heart diseases, your blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.

Exercise can make you more creative: A study at Leiden University found that people who exercise regularly performed better on tests that assessed creativity. This is because exercise stimulates the growth of cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for imagination.

Exercise can help you fight off colds and flu: Even if your flu shot is part of the fall tradition, physical activity has been directly linked to producing antibodies that protect us against various illnesses and diseases. 

Exercise keeps your brain fit: Exercise increases growth factors, a brain chemical which helps make new brain cells and establish new connections to help us learn. It also improves our capacity to learn by enhancing our attention and concentration skills.

Exercise can modulate the risk of dementia: A number of studies have found a relationship between people who exercise and dementia. These studies suggest that you can affect your  risk of dementia through regular physical activity — and one even concluded that staying active reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease risk by 45%!

There is always a reason to bother when it comes to exercise. Our society has become so obsessed with the idea we need to sweat to be successful that we’ve distanced ourselves from some of the benefits of exercise. Yoga, once only thought of as a moving meditation, is now about maximum calorie burn! Yes, exercise can help you burn calories — but it can also reduce your stress hormones, help you sleep better, boost your self-esteem, and alleviate depression.  

Time spent exercising, whether it’s cardio or stretching, is always a good thing. It’s never a waste of time and the benefits, even if you can’t see them, are significant.

Fueling your workout: what to eat before and what to eat afterward

Woman eating thin crust pizza / Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Fueling your workout: what to eat before and what to eat afterward

I’ve heard so many different things about what to eat before, after, and during workouts that it can be complicated to figure out what’s the best strategy. In order to get the maximum benefit from your time at the gym, in a class, or on a run, you need to think about fuel. And not surprisingly, the fuel you choose is dependant on your goals. That means you need to consider the type of activity you are performing before selecting a snack. For example, you don’t need to carb-load before a pilates class!

Before a workout, it may be better to eat a meal that focuses more on protein and carbohydrates than fats. Protein can increase the amount of muscle mass gained from a resistance workout. Consuming the right amount and right kind of carbohydrates before a cardio-focused workout will ensure that your body has enough energy to perform well.

No matter what you eat, there’s technically no need to snack right before you exercise if your workout lasts less than 60 minutes. It won’t give you added energy — but it may keep you focused on your workout and off feeling hungry.

Timing is also important. Make sure you eat a meal or snack 30–90 minutes before you work out. This will reduce bloating. Working out on a very full stomach can lead to cramping and general uneasiness. While you don’t want to pass out from hunger when doing your squats, you also don’t want to feel like you’re going to throw up in downward dog.

But what about eating after a workout? During an exercise session, energy is depleted, muscle tissue is damaged, and fluids (along with electrolytes) are lost through sweat. Post-workout nutrients are essential and help stimulate protein synthesis to repair and build new muscle tissue and restore fluid and electrolyte balance.

You can use the intensity of your workout to determine the ratio of carbohydrate to protein in your post-workout meal. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends an endurance athlete consume a 300-400 calorie snack with a 3-to-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio within an hour of exercise completion. Low to medium intensity workouts are advised to follow a 2-to-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, consumed within an hour and no longer than two hours after you exercise.

There are no real rules when it comes to fuel and exercise. Everyone is different but the key is to keep your pre- and post-workout snacks focused on protein and carbohydrates.

On weight training and how to avoid getting stuck in the comfort zone

Black and white image of woman weight training / Photo by Derwin Edwards from Pexels

Black and white image of woman weight training / Photo by Derwin Edwards from Pexels

On weight training and how to avoid getting stuck in the comfort zone

If you’ve been lifting weights for a while, you have come to realize that it’s empowering and not intimidating. You have probably seen your form improve and your core stabilize as you pick up new exercises and work through your routine. Weight training in all its forms, whether it’s one-on-training, classes, or free weights, is bound to boost your confidence. Remember the days when you wondered if you could even pick up that 12 lb weight? Well, now you’re busting through those flies and curls while thinking about your shopping list. And your arms and legs keep repeating movement in perfect form.

Congratulations, you’ve won weight training. It’s time to move up to a heavier weight. Like so many things in life, you don’t win weight training when it gets easier. You lose weight training when it gets easier — and you just stay there.

The moment your brain leaves your body and you are sailing through your routine, it’s time to take stock and challenge yourself again. Many of us tend to stay in our comfort zone once we’ve accomplished something. After all, it’s called a comfort zone because it’s reassuring. You know you can complete the exercise effortlessly at that weight set … and it feels good.

However, moving on is essential because if you don’t, you’ll stay static at the same fitness level. Strength training is about increasing resistance to build muscle. As your body adapts to this stress, your muscles respond by becoming stronger. This leads to increased results like lean body mass, decreased fat, and the ability to lift more for a longer period of time. If you stay with your current set of weights, your progress will stall. You will be cheating yourself from the benefits of your efforts.

How do you know that it’s time to move on? Well, if you’re sailing through reps and lose count because your mind is on what you’re going to watch on Netflix tonight — it’s time to change up your weights. Weight lifting is a mental exercise as well as a physical one. If you aren’t present, it’s time to re-engage and add more resistance.

Another way to figure out if it’s time to move up is by evaluating your last couple of reps. If your first rep and your last rep feel the same, it’s time. Your goal is to be challenged by your last rep, without compromising your form. If you’re working with a trainer, let them know that you can go heavier. Trainers aren’t mind readers but we will probably know if you’re coasting on your routines.

The time you spend in the gym is your time and needs to be spent efficiently. If you are settling at a level, it’s time to grab the next weight over or split your sets by using a heavier weight for the last couple of reps. It’s not a cliche but what you get out is what you put in. You might feel like a winner when you’re gliding through a workout without much effort and feeling great — so celebrate your accomplishments. And then humble yourself and start all over again.