Martial arts: not just kung fu movies, but a way to fun, fighting, and fitness

martial arts krav maga kick / Image source: martialartsguy.com
martial arts krav maga kick / Image source: martialartsguy.com

Martial arts: not just kung fu movies, but a way to fun, fighting, and fitness

Do you wish you could take down a gang of unsuspecting villains who dare to threaten you as you unlock your car in a dark parking lot? Kicking, punching, chokes, throws…imagine moving through our dangerous world in a bubble of safety.

It’s an appealing fantasy but it’s not the reason why so many adults are flocking to martial arts classes. From Krav Maga to Mixed Martial Arts to Karate, weekly classes offer more than the fulfillment of re-enacting a live action game of Street Fighter. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn a new skill, increase stamina, build flexibility, and improve discipline. They are gyms, studios, dojos, and spaces around the city where people of all ages and backgrounds come together to sweat it out on the mat and learn about themselves.

Some people come to martial arts to recover from trauma. As a reaction to PTSD, they want to gain some control following an incident that left them shaken and wishing they had acted or reacted differently. Healing begins slowly, one class at a time. Learning small things to protect yourself, and repeating them over and over again, builds muscle memory. It challenges you to think differently about how to keep yourself safe. This little bit of confidence is what some of us need to get back out in the world.

For beginners, starting out can be intimidating. You will see gear bags of equipment, strong men and women grappling on the floor, heavy bags, and fake weapons. However, what you also need to keep in mind is that your instructor had a first day too. He or she arrived at their first class and they slowly (or even immediately) fell in love with this new form of fitness. Many studios offer women-only classes. If you identify as female, this can be a good introduction in an environment that can feel less threatening.

Most forms of martial arts involve increasing levels of expertise. If you commit to this, you will work towards a set goals and mark your progress. The discipline of a curriculum challenges your brain and your body.

If you are looking to martial arts as a form of fitness, you will gain more than losing calories. Most forms of martial arts involve increasing levels of expertise. If you commit to this, you will work towards a set goals and mark your progress. The discipline of a curriculum challenges your brain and your body. 

However if you don’t care about belts or badges, you can also just enjoy pushing yourself in a different kind of way. Being willing to learn, and fail, and try again allows you to celebrate the smallest achievements. When you find your body automatically defending itself against a move, you feel a sense of pride. Being present in a studio unplugs you from constant distractions. You need to pay attention, listen, and try in order to understand the psychology behind the movement. 

As we get older and set in our ways, learning new things can be scary and make us vulnerable. However if you have ever been curious about martial arts, I can’t encourage you enough to shed preconceptions about age, ability, and gender. Instead, embrace the possibilities of what you can achieve and what you can accomplish. You’ll probably surprise yourself.

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

Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.
Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.

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

This post originally appeared March 18, 2019.

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 holiday 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 a day of your holiday 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.  

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. 

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.

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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TrainingSpaces is marking its one-year anniversary!

Laura Rantin working with a partner.

TrainingSpaces is marking its one-year anniversary!

Today marks a year since TrainingSpaces opened its doors for business.

It was always our dream to create a place that redefined what makes a fitness studio special. We didn’t do it with scented towels or fancy lighting schemes. We focused on quality, inclusion, and community, and built a space that was right for everyone.

We started with just empty space. Then we installed special flooring, a sound system, a Wifi network, and state-of-the-art fitness equipment.

We started with two trainers. Since then, we’ve grown to a roster of 13 trainers with dozens of clients, putting in hours of training seven days a week. From weight loss to strength training and flexibility, all goals and fitness levels are celebrated. We have also been able to offer group classes, bodywork, specialized stretching, diet counselling, and bellydance. Whatever the approach, TrainingSpaces continues to redefine the boundaries of wellness.

We have a growing Instagram presence and our own YouTube channel. Our mailing list continues to add subscribers every week. And we’re boosting traffic to our website and climbing the search-engine rankings with weekly blog updates.

Not bad for one year.

But it wouldn’t be possible without you — our trainers, our clients, and our readers.

And if you thought Year One was a good start, there’s much more to accomplish in Year Two.

Join us and let’s see where the next year takes us!

Intermittent fasting worked for Hugh Jackman. Is it the future of fitness?

Hugh Jackman shirtless all buff as Wolverine.
Hugh Jackman shirtless all buff as Wolverine.

Intermittent fasting worked for Hugh Jackman. Is it the future of fitness?

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.

This post originally appeared July 16, 2018.

People are talking about Intermittent Fasting. It’s how Hugh Jackman got so pumped for Logan! It’s how you can control your appetite and eat whatever you want! It doesn’t care about carbs or fats! It’s a war on breakfast … and breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting is eating within a specific timed window. It’s become increasingly popular over the past few years because preliminary studies on mice and observational ones in humans suggest this method of eating might translate to weight loss and, at least in some cases, improved metabolic health. It’s also become increasingly easy with apps like Zero to undertake a fast — as they allow you to set your fast time and alert you when your fast is over.

What Do I Need to Do?

Depending on the fast type, you complete your evening meal and then fast for a designated amount of time. For some, that’s 16 hours. Others may choose the 13-hour circadian-rhythm fast where you start fasting as close to sunset as possible for at least 13 hours.

Does it work?

Yes and No. According to recent studies, nearly all types of intermittent fasting are physically and mentally harmless — and can result in some weight loss. However, there’s no evidence to show that intermittent fasting can result in more weight loss or superior health metrics compared to plain old continuous caloric restriction.

Should I Try It?

Like any new diet or exercise regimen, you always should check with your doctor before diving in. Do your research and don’t be swayed by the promises of miraculous instant weight loss. We’ve been through this before where a magical solution guarantees instant results.

More Information Please!

Try these links and learn more about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting:


Related posts:

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

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

Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.
Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.

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.