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.

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. 

The future of fitness, explained: the 7-minute workout

7-minute workout GIF / Image source: Greatist
7-minute workout GIF / Image source: Greatist

The Future of Fitness Explained: The 7-Minute Workout

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.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when a study published by ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal declared that all we needed was 7 minutes to achieve a host of fitness benefits? Well, it’s been six years since this initial study and short, focused workouts are still popular. We talked recently about Tabatta and HIIT (link to previous Balancing Priorities to Workout) but can you really only exercise for seven minutes and lose weight, improve cardio, build muscle, and be diabetes-free? 

What is the 7-Minute Workout? The 7-Minute workout consists of 12 high-intensity exercises that only use body weight as resistance. You perform each activity at your maximum intensity for 30-seconds and rest for 10-seconds.   

What Do I Need to Do?

All you need to do is find a place where you can do jumping jacks, step-ups, wall sits, and planks without knocking into anything … or anyone. You don’t need extra weights but a chair, mat, and a wall are necessary. You probably also will need a timer to announce the beginning and end of each on or off period.

Does it Work?

What do you want to achieve with your workout? If your primary goal is to lose weight, this isn’t the way to do it. As we’ve previously said, nutrition is primarily responsible for weight loss. You just won’t burn enough calories in 7-minutes — even if you are working to your maximum. However, if you are interested in improving your overall fitness and want a challenge, the 7-minute workout could be for you. 

Should I Try It?

If you have any physical issues, this is not the best way to spend 7 minutes. The fact that you need to push yourself to your maximum means some people might sacrifice form for intensity — leading to more injuries and problems. If  you have joint issues, knee, wrist, or back problems, you need a gentler workout to better support your body. 

I also never recommend depending solely on one form of exercise or fitness routine. You will always need to stretch, lift, and raise your heart rate, so don’t give up your other activities and prioritize this one routine. 

If you know you have good form and are experienced, you may want to try adding the 7-minute workout to your schedule. And if you read the fine print, the authors of the initial study did recommend cycling through the program a couple of times for maximum results. When you’re pressed for time and know you can work to your maximum, there’s no difference between this circuit and other interval training. 

More Information Please!

Try these links and get educated about the 7-Minute Workout: 

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

Electronic muscle stimulation provides an intense and high-energy workout. Image source: Ebenezer Samuel / Men's Health

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

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.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is muscle contraction using electric impulses. When you EMS train, the impulses are generated through electrodes placed near the muscles being stimulated. A number of studios have sprung up touting EMS Training as more efficient than traditional workouts. But what’s it like to be strapped into a bodysuit that makes you look like you should be fighting zombies instead of doing squats?

The first thing to know about EMS training is that your studio will provide you with the high-tech undergarments that you see on their site. These are meant to be worn without underwear (no sports bras!). They are tight. Really tight. Then, the studio trainer will spray you with water. The suit you wear will also be sprayed with water. This allows for increased conductivity. Each electrode will be adjusted to your specification, and you’ll feel a tingling sensation, a vibration, that focuses on a specific muscle group.

You’ll be led through a High Intensity Interval Training routine (6 seconds on, 4 seconds off) through a number of exercises like squats, mountain climber, side planks, and bicep curls. Working with a trainer who will adjust the pulses in the electrodes throughout the 20-minute workout, you will sweat your way through the circuit. You’ll also burn a number of calories.

The next day, you’ll feel sore but nothing unusual after a good workout. Also, depending on your shoulder strength, you might feel the pressure of the suit.

There’s no doubt that EMS training burns calories, but is it a good workout? I would recommend that if you want to try EMS, you should already be familiar with basic exercise moves and intensity. You should already know how to  perform a proper squat confidently, because the workout moves fast. While the trainers will adjust the activities, you need to be secure in your own abilities and understand your limits. Asking for alternatives to replace exercises you already know are not good for your body is essential. Like most training situations, you need to speak up and let people know when you are uncomfortable or in pain (and not a good pain).

I also wouldn’t recommend EMS to people with claustrophobia. The pressure of the suit combined with the increased intensity of the pulses may trigger feelings of being trapped. The workout moves quickly, so your heart rate will increase. Combine these factors with a new studio and a trainer you don’t necessarily know and it may make for an uncomfortable environment.

However, if you are curious — and feel physically and mentally prepared for a fast moving workout in a heavy suit — you should give EMS a try.


Have you done EMS? How was it? Awesome? Traumatic? Meh? Let us know in the comments!

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

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.