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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you doing when you aren’t here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossfit with kettlebells / Image credit: crossfitthebridge.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

Laura Rantin strong woman

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

One of the mottos we like to embrace at TrainingSpaces is “Strong is Beautiful.” This means we value mental and physical strength as our overall life goal. It’s about having that confidence to speak your mind and stand up for those around you. It means we aren’t interested in some fake, magazine, size 0 idea of beauty.

We’re invested in real people with real bodies. Being beautiful is carrying yourself in your body, pain-free, and creating a shape that helps you move through the world. We believe in functional fitness — and that can be achieved through weight training.

But so many women are afraid of weight training — a critical path to strength. Despite the benefits of resistance training, of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club last year, only about half used weight machines, and only one-third lifted free weights, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)!

The reason? Some women are intimidated by the weight room. Others don’t know where to start and don’t want to hurt themselves. But so many women are convinced that after one session of weights, they are going to bulk up like She-Hulk before going into battle. So they try to avoid weights and the benefits of weight training — instead focusing exclusively on yoga and cardio.

The truth is, women will never bulk up like men, because our hormones are different. If you are training for a bodybuilding competition, that’s a very different routine from your twice-a-week weights workout. Achieving this physique requires a serious commitment to changing your hormones, diet, exercise, and — really your entire life.  

A benefit of weight training we rarely talk about is how it will make you feel. Watching yourself move up from smaller dumbbells to heavier weights is an amazing ego boost. For women who have been told that lifting weights is not good for us because it will make us aggressive or manly, picking up that big weight and holding it above our heads is a sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s about saying “no thanks” when the man next to you at spin class offers to swap your 8 lbs hand weights for his 2 lbs pink weights during the arms routine. And why are those little weights pink anyway? Because they are for girls. Haha … very cute.

Combining cardio, weights, and stretching will only help you to look leaner as you become stronger. Once you start lifting weights, you begin to build muscle, and the more muscles you have the more calories you burn. And the more you lift, the stronger you get.

And well, this goes back to Strong is Beautiful.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Laura Rantin working with a partner.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Working out is frequently seen as a solitary pursuit. If you’re not taking a group class — aerobics, yoga, dancercise — chances are you’re following an individual program, or at least making it up as you go along. If you’re not under the guidance of a trainer, getting all sweaty and out of breath doesn’t seem like the most social thing to do.
 
But what if that’s not always the case? What if you’re comfortable or familiar enough with someone that you’re OK letting them see you as a work in progress — or vice versa? We’ve all heard the stories of gyms as singles cruising grounds, places where you’re just as likely to get hit on as you are to perfect your lifting technique, but what about established couples? What about couples who work out together?
 
There’s plenty of evidence that two partners working together can achieve cumulative results greater than the sum of their parts. Your spouse / partner / significant other can encourage you. They can spur you to better results than you could achieve on your own by holding you accountable and giving you that extra bit of motivation. Whatever the goal — losing weight, building muscle, increasing flexibility, cranking up endurance — working with a partner can help you go harder, longer, and with more dedication.
 
And there’s no shortage of fitness-related activities that couples can enjoy together. You don’t have to tie yourself to the gym. Try: 
  • going for a bike ride
  • taking a dance class 
  • hitting the tennis court
  • renting a canoe
  • rock climbing (if you’re OK with heights)

Not only are you burning calories — you’re getting in some quality time and (hopefully) building intimacy!

Doing things together can be great for relationships. As with most things, of course, a lot depends on clear communication. You want to be sure you’re sharing similar goals and similar approaches to achieving them. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, as long as you’re both on the same page. It’s important to work things out ahead of time, as much as possible, so you can avoid awkward situations or at least know how to deal with them if they arise. Will you be OK critiquing each other’s technique? What if one of you does well and the other doesn’t? Will you discover something that only one of you enjoys, and if so, will the other be supportive? 
 
As long as you and your partner approach these things with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds, there’s nothing but upside. Partners discover things they never knew they had in common. They can try things they never thought they were capable of. Better physical fitness never hurt anyone, and it can take a relationship to new heights. Now grab your partner, get out there, and get active!
 
Further reading:

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?