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.

Why fall is the ideal time to start running

Woman running in fall leaves / Image source: christianacare.org
Woman running in fall leaves / Image source: christianacare.org

Why fall is the ideal time to start running

After a long winter of hiding away indoors, we tend to embrace spring as the start of the running season. However, I think fall is the perfect time for new runners to get started. In fact, fall running has its benefits.

A lot of us want to run but we are intimidated by our own expectations. We tell ourselves that we’re not runners but the truth is that if you can walk…you can run. Of course, some people will not benefit from running but for most of us, the first step towards getting outside is a mental one. We reinforce preconceived notions of what a runner should look like and hold ourselves up against these impossible standards.

However, the fact is that people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities run all kinds of races. From full marathons to triathlons, we need to get over the idea of the runner’s body. Yes, there are athletes that crush a 5K in 15 minutes…but that is the exception. If your legs are short, you are a runner. If your legs are long…well, you’re a runner too. If you ever watch the scores of people crossing the finish line at a 5K fun run, you’ll see all kinds of people celebrating their accomplishments.

Because of the milder fall temperatures, you don’t have to limit your runs to early morning or early evening.

Beginning a running routine is one of those September resolutions that can be part of your reset and re-commitment to fitness and yourself. Running also meditative. Whether you listen to podcasts or music, this is your own time and focusing on your run means shutting off your push notifications and making every breath count. 

Because of the milder fall temperatures, you don’t have to limit your runs to early morning or early evening. A mid-day weekend run is just as effective as a morning one. You can also run for longer without feeling overheated. Layers are your friend so just add or subtract ones as you go. As the seasons change, you can appreciate the beauty of nature and the changing colours. 

Like any new exercise routine, it’s always best to start slow and be careful. There are many walk-to-run apps (many of them free) that will help you overcome your fear of running. They work by dividing up your time into small run segments, followed by larger walk segments. As you progress through the program, the ratios switch and the walks become less frequent. You can repeat a segment as many times as you want. There’s no judgement or expectations. You might breeze through the first three weeks and spend the next six months trying to conquer week four. 

If it’s your mind and not your body that’s keeping you from running, make a commitment to give a simple sport a try that is all about you and your progress. Here are some tips to getting started (link to Running 101 blog) and then it’s up to you to keep on this path. 

Recommitting to your goals means recommitting to yourself

Recommitting to goals / Image source: Karl Solano/Pexels
Recommitting to goals / Image source: Karl Solano/Pexels

Recommitting to your goals means recommitting to yourself

While summer isn’t technically over under mid-September, it starts to feel like fall the minute back-to-school sales and Halloween candy fills the aisles at the Supermarket. Fall already? 

Summer has its own rhythm and its own priorities. Whether it’s vacations, camping, socializing, or just general spontaneity, summer may feel a little more relaxed than the schedules we keep for the rest of the year. For some of us, summer may actually be more hectic than the rest of the year. We struggle to cover our colleagues’ vacations and find every weekend occupied with family reunions and weddings. No matter if you’ve had a lazy summer where sleeping in was quickly normalized or a chaotic summer full of deadlines and late nights, you may have had to put your fitness goals on hold to accommodate real life.

It happens but a short detour is not a total derailment. Now that your schedule has settled down, it’s time to start recommiting yourself to your health goals. Here are some ways to prioritize fitness:

 

  • Meal planning. Spend some time on the weekend, or on a quiet weekday, to take care of lunches and dinners for the rest of the week. Making your food, preparing the ingredients, or at least deciding in advance what days are take out/pick up days can help you feel more in control of your eating habits.
  • Carve out some exercise time. You need to schedule in your exercise time just like you would plan a meeting or activity. Without this, it’s easy for other activities and commitments to take precedence over working out. Treat this time as non negotiable and just as important as anything else on the calendar.
  • Take a class. If you sign up for a fitness class, show up — and make sure you are on time and ready to work. Include travel time in your schedule so you aren’t rushing or being overbooked. While a drop-in class is enough motivation for some of us, committing to being on a specific bike or attending a class where your absence may be recognized (either financially or socially) can be extra motivation to make sure we honour our commitment to ourselves. We’ve even launched some great classes at TrainingSpaces, so we hope to see you there. 

It’s time to picture your goal and reassess.  Nothing happens overnight and a fad, crash diet isn’t going to be the solution. Instead, you need a new plan. What’s one thing you can do today that will take you one step closer to your goal? Can you spend five more minutes on the treadmill or add another session to your yoga practice? Is it time to ask for heavier weights that will push you out of your comfort zone and nudge you a small step towards what you want to accomplish. 

The fact is the summer break is just that, it’s a break. It’s a time out but it’s time to re-engage and re-commit yourself. And only you can prioritize you.

Connected Fitness: It’s trendy, effective (and expensive), but is it for you?​

Wired fitness gear / Image source: Digital Trends
Wired fitness gear / Image source: Digital Trends

Connected Fitness: It's trendy, effective (and expensive), but is it for you?

Peloton. Hydrow. Mirror. FightCamp. Connected Fitness companies are turning record profits as our home-fitness workouts evolve from exercise DVDs, to apps, to machines and devices that promise to track and measure our actual outputs and form. As technology advances, it’s not surprising that home gyms are being reinvented with sensors and live-streamed classes. 

Connected Fitness is defined as any type of exercise machine that is connected to the internet and integrated with a larger platform to either improve or adjust your workout. Depending on the device or machine, you can receive personalized feedback, join a class complete with leaderboards, or track your workout performance and set goals. 

If you are interested in purchasing a Connected Fitness machine, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: can I afford a Connected Fitness machine? With each machine costing upwards of $2000, are you passionate enough about a sport or activity to keep your new smart treadmill from becoming an extension of your drying rack? Many of these machines also recommend that you subscribe to a monthly channel of live streamed or on-demand workouts. However, if you are committed enough to cycling but are boycotting SoulCycle, a connected bike might make sense. You need to do the math before even investigating these machines. Because of their high price tag, these machines are an investment.

I’ve also seen clients express frustration with goals on their wearable trackers not equating to real-world results. Research shows that a third of people who buy fitness trackers stop using them within six months. Just like how your traditional treadmill will tell you that you’ve burned a certain amount of calories, these devices are just estimates.  

If you are attracted to the idea of a connected fitness device, you should also assess your experience with fitness and motivation? Have you always been the kind of person who can fit exercise in their life without much effort, or do you drag yourself to the gym because you have a family reunion coming up? If your fitness routine is built on extrinsic motivation (add link to past blog), the novelty of any new device will eventually wear off. 

A Connected Fitness won’t automatically turn you into an athlete any more than a BowFlex gym or downloading that Couch to 5K app will. While it may be exciting to add a new fitness gadget to your inventory, if you aren’t prepared to actually use it — it’s not worth the hype. 

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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