Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Workout Wednesdays - The Importance of Proper Posture

Proper posture - not a specific workout but something that is rarely discussed as an aspect of working out.  Because I teach mainly TRX classes, proper posture is key to ensuring a safe and effective workout, but unless we are reminded of it many people, myself included spend a good part of our day in a hunched position.

One of the because culprits in causing poor posture for most of us is an overly tight chest and a weak over stretched upper back.  It is important to stretch our chest and strengthen our upper back muscles, specifically the lower traps, lats and rhomboids.  The upper back muscles work together to pull the shoulders open and create the openness through the chest that makes everything - including breathing easier.

Without getting into a specific workout, right now your can reset your posture.  Come one try it with me.  Just sit up a little straighter because you've probably started slouching.  Open up the chest, pretend you're sliding your shoulder blades into a pair of pockets and pull the chest outward and upward.  Great you've reset your posture.  Now engage your core slightly.  Perfect.

We need to do this sort of adjustment with our bodies several times throughout the day to off set the closed in habit we tend to form with our chest.  Our lifestyles through activities such as computer work, driving and time on our phones lead to the stooped position that ultimately cause shoulder and neck tension and a whole other array of aches and pains we may deal with on a daily basis.

One really quick way beyond the walk through I gave you a few paragraphs back is from a standing position and can be done at any point throughout the day. To begin, take your palms from facing inward (toward you thighs) and open them outward.  The outward opening rotates the arms through their nature range of motion and engages the shoulder blades instantly reseting your posture.  If you do this reset each time you walk into a certain room and through a doorway, you will reset your posture and may notice that you stay in an engaged position throughout the day.   

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Importance of Remaining Positive

I am wrapping up a wonderful weekend.  Friday I had two amazing conversations about life direction and intentions with two amazing people.  My own personal workouts are progressing well and I can see the gains I've made and I received positive feedback from my students about my classes.  To top off the whole weekend, I just watched my daughter sing and play guitar at a recital and totally rock it!

Oh yeah - and one other goal follow up.... my fiction piece was published!!  Whoot whoot!!  Check out the link here.

This all sounds pretty wonderful doesn't it?  Life is great.

But guess what - the writing almost didn't happen.  Remember in November when I said I was submitting two pieces - fiction and non-fiction.  Well, I am assuming by now my non-fiction piece has been rejected.  And my fiction piece came back with a very gracious request to re-write.

I was pretty discouraged when that happened.  But I knew that being published was something I really wanted.  And the feedback I got from the editor who published my piece provided me with some very solid recommendations that in the end improved my original submission.  Her suggestions also have resonated with me in relation to other projects I am working on.

It was pretty easy to feel discouraged with a double rejection because I wanted the publishing process to be easy.  But two things have helped me through this process.  First is the quote - Anything worthwhile is never easy.  Second - writers work really hard to be published.  There are stories are all over the place about masterpieces that received multiple rejections before someone agreed to publish them.

This situation has cause be me to think - how often could our outlook in a certain situation be different if we saw that rejection or what we view as a rejection as an opportunity to be better.  That is my challenge this week.  Look for places in my life that feel like they aren't working and see what I can do to make it better.  

We are constantly presented with situations that don't seem to be working even if it is something we think we really want.  What if the rejection was just a challenge testing our commitment?  What if that challenge was in place to make our goal of whatever we were aiming for the be that much better?  What if we were being challenged from being just ok to pretty amazing.

Viewing your rejection, setback or failure in that light suddenly doesn't make it seem so bad.  The non-fiction piece that I submitted was a rewrite of my post about jumping off the bridge.  Out of all of the posts I have here, that piece is one that people comment to me personally the most.  The story is good, the editors wanted better writing.

The bottom line is to not give into the negative thoughts that happen when our lives don't look the way we thought they would.  Being inspired to try new things, spending time with people who you can connect with and share ideas with those are ways to stay in the positive frame of mind.  But ultimately you are the one who needs to choose which thought pattern you are going to let dominate. 

Do you ever notice when you start to view things in a more positive light, all of a sudden the disappointments don't seem that bad?  By refocussing how you view the situation can make all of the difference in learning the lesson from you rejection.  This line of thinking can take a story and improve it or take a bad race and change your approach to training.  Our minds are incredibly powerful tools that affect how we perceive our world.  It is up to you how to use it.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Fun Food Friday - Peanut Butter & Jam Smoothie

I know its winter and smoothies might be the opposite of what you want to start off your day.  But lately I've been craving a smoothie in the morning.  There is something in having a glass full of healthy ingredients that taste great to start off your day.  Blending everything together also makes it easy for your body to digest with means an increased ability to absorb nutrients from the food you're eating.

Typically I add protein powder to my smoothies, but it is also nice to get your protein from less processed food sources somedays.  The hemp heart provide omega 3's and a complete protein and you get an added protein boost from the greek yogurt.  I also added a couple of dates to my smoothie for added sweetness.  But dates are a source of fibre and magnesium which is used by your body to assist in muscle relaxation and supports the immune system.

PB & J Smoothie

Prep Time: 5 minutes
(2 smoothies)
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 cup frozen mixed fruit
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup (or more if needed) water
  • 1-2 dates (optional)

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth adding more water if needed.
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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Workout Wednesday - Back to Basics!

Having gone through my favourite top 10 TRX moves over the past couple of months I thought I'd share with you two super simple weight workout you can do either at home or the gym.  As I mentioned in my last post, running is off my schedule for the next little bit and I was focusing on weight lifting and hiking and walking.  

Below are two really quick but effective workouts I did during my first two weeks of weight lifting.  These workouts target the entire body and are a good series of exercises to preform  when beginning a weight program or as part of a reset.  

If you work out at a gym, some of the moves can be modified for a universal machine.  If you're at home all you require are some dumbbells that are at a weight that is challenging to you but the moves are still completed in proper form.

I completed these two workouts on Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday alternating each workout.  But you can choose which days work best for you - just make sure you have at least one rest day in between.  Week 1 each complete each set 3 times and during week 2 increase the sets to 4.

Workout #1

Squats - 30 reps
Dumbbell wood chop - 10 per side
Walking lunge with shoulder press - 10 per side
Bent over row - 10 reps
Bicep curls - 10 reps

Workout #2

Pushups - 10 reps
Overhead tricep extension - 10 per side
Lat pull downs - 10 reps
Sumo squat - 10 reps
Squat with feet closer than hip width - 10 reps
Boss ball squat, round side up - 10 reps
Flutter kick - 15 per side

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Making a Setback Work for You

We all experience little events in our lives that take us off our intended course and steer us in a different direction.  Usually along the way if we aren't frustrated with the setback we learn a lesson or two.  But the key is being open to learning the lesson.

Over the past month I have experienced a significant setback for me.  I had been training regularly with my running schedule similar to my pattern for the past five years.  I was running five days a week with tempo and hill work incorporated.  To cross train I was combining plyometrics and strength training.  It was an intense training schedule but it had worked for me in the past.  I was even looking to scheduling training for some longer runs and was considering signing up for Around the Bay at the end of March.

That is until December 23rd.  Early that morning I was having coffee with my husband.  The weather was mild and I was planning on heading outside for a run.  As I told him about my plan I noticed my Achilles tendon was a little sore.  Running my hand up the tendon I felt a lot of inflammation and a nodule on the tendon.  Not good news for me.

Because of the holidays I wasn't able to see my osteopath or regular physiotherapist.  In fact I couldn't see anyone for a week.  So I rested my leg, iced it.  When it felt better I stretched the calf and massaged the tendon.  I've been in physio for four weeks and have been getting ultrasound to break up the scar tissue.  I'm also not supposed to run or do any high impact exercises for at least four more weeks.

In the past ten years and my entire time as a personal trainer, I have never not included running in my own personal workouts.  But I realized that this was an indication from my body that I needed to change things.  What worked for me five years ago from a fitness perspective wasn't working now.  In fact, I was exercising regularly at a high intensity and not seeing any results.

I decided to wipe the slate clean and start with the basics.  For the first week I was rehabbing my leg I did yoga daily focusing on hip and shoulder openers and stretching my calf.  While I was working with my physiotherapist she pointed out that my left side was much weaker than my right.  So I've been strengthening my left hip, specifically the gluteus medius.  

Finally, I've gone back to basic strength training and walking.  Plain old walking either outside (preferably) or when necessary on the treadmill.  Over the past four weeks of this routine I am actually noticing huge changes in my overall strength and I am starting to notice muscle definition.

These are the benefits, but it took a great deal of mental effort to look at my problem in that manner.   Running has so many benefits for me far beyond physical.  But no run in the world is worth a ruptured tendon.  So what is more important is that I actually listen to the message from my body and make changes.  

In our lives we get these little messages all of the time.  This wasn't the first time my Achilles tendon gave me issue but it was the first time I actually listened.  How many of us have these little hints or messages that crop up for us and how many times do we stop and change course?  A setback may feel like a major disappointment.  Yes I am sad that at least for now I won't be able to do any running let alone long distance running in the near future.  But I am grateful that I am working toward strengthening my body and I have a chance to try new and different workouts.

Slowing down isn't a bad thing, in fact you often see and experience more in each moment when you take your time to look around.  

I've read recently that optimists don't necessarily live longer than pessimists but I would certainly argue the quality of their lives is much greater.  The choice to view a setback as a beginning or an end is entirely up to you.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Fun Food Friday - Raspberry Oat Bars

This week my kids have been snacking like crazy and were looking for something sweet.  I didn't have time to bake an entire batch of cookies so I thought I'd try a variation on granola bars.  I do on occasion by granola bars for my kids - they are convenient and travel well but this week I wanted to know exactly what was in the food we were eating.  

As a result, I came up with these bars.  They disappeared so quickly, I've made them three times this week.  The fun part of this recipe is that you can change it up to whatever kind of  bar you like.   Types of jam can be intermixed for your favourite  or the type of berries have on hand.  Or you could eliminate the jam and add dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chips - the possibilities are endless!  I also decided to make chia seed jam but that is optional.  Ready made jam works just as well.

So now the health benefits - berries are full of antioxidants.  Raspberries contain Vitamin C,  quercetin and gallic acid that help fight against cancer, heart and circulatory disease.  In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties.  Oats are a fantastic source of soluble fibre and has been linked to good heart health.

Raspberry Oat Bars

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 18-20 minutes
Ingredients (12 bars)
    For Raspberry Jam
    • 1 cup frozen raspberries thawed
    • 1/3 cup maple syrup
    • 1/4 cup chia seeds
    For the Bars
    • 3 cups oatmeal
    • 1/2 cup spelt flour or flour of your choice
    • 1/2 cup coconut oil melted or butter softened
    • 1/2 cup maple syrup
    • 1 egg
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

    For Raspberry Jam

    Mash raspberries in a small bowl with a fork. Add maple syrup. Stir in chia seeds and set aside allowing to thicken.

    For the Bars

    Beat coconut oil or butter with egg and maple syrup until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients. Add 1-2 tablespoons milk of your choice if needed.

    Spread 2/3 of mixture onto parchment lined 9x13in pan. Evenly spread jam over oat mixture. Crumble remaining mixture over the first two layers - jam will not be completely covered.

    Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes. Remove parchment paper from pan and slice into bars using a pizza slicer. Cool on wire rack.
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    Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    Workout Wednesday - TRX Curl Ups

    The final exercise of my top 10 TRX moves is the TRX curl up.  This is similar to a C-sit up in pilates but your feet are in the straps.  By keeping your legs straight and elevated, you challenge yourself because you aren't able to rely on your hip flexors to help you sit up.

    The principle behind this move is to focus on using your abdominal muscles to lift you up off of your mat by focusing on one vertebrae lifting at a time.  While the lift is challenging additional work - and benefits can be achieved on the return to the mat if you focus on control your momentum and the speed you move.

    So here are the steps to a TRX Curl up:

    1. Begin with your straps set to mid-calf length.
    2. Lying face up on your mat place your heels in the straps.  Legs should be fully extended with a natural bend at the knee.
    3. Engage your abdominal muscles and begin curling yourself up off of the mat slowly -one vertebrae at a time until you are in a full sitting position.
    4. Return to the mat in using the same rate of speed and thinking slow and controlled movements.
    5. If this movement is difficult to complete in a smooth fluid movement or you find yourself 'stuck' at a certain point (typically just below the level of the shoulder blades) a yoga strap or band can be placed around your feet and held in your hands to provide assistance with this move.  Additionally you can removed your feet from the TRX straps and work to increase your abdominal strength with your feet on the floor.
    6. To make this move more challenging extend your arms over your head while lying on the mat and focus on lifting up with the arms rotating through the should and extending your arms in front of you in the sitting position.

    Sunday, 10 January 2016

    Making Changes Stick

    We are a week and a half into the new year, January is here with a resounding chill and flying snow.  Decorations are down and packed away for another season and we are back into the swing of regular schedules.  The resolutions loudly proclaimed at the start of the month may be teetering on the edge of being lost in the land of good intentions.  

    Everyone - myself included has committed to making a change or giving something up only to cave temptation feeling as though we have turn our backs on our goals.  Statistics tell us giving up resolutions are bound to happen.  New habits take 21 days to establish.  During those 21 days, old patterns and feelings surface that create desires for established behaviours to creep back into our decision making process.  Once we break our resolution and return to the patterns we were looking to break, it is difficult to get back on that train.  But it doesn't have to be.

    How do we make a change in our lives whether its healthier eating, working out, or dropping an old habit take effect?   We need to build some room into our plan for change and our approach to developing new habits.  After all with a new resolution or goal regardless of what we have chosen to change, we need to establish new neuropathways.  This process can be successful with a bit of time, effort and a bit of pre-planning.

    Last week I laid out seven different New Year's resolutions I wanted for myself over the next year.  I don't really view these as resolutions but more as intentions or goals for myself.  There are many things I want to achieve over the next year and I can think to myself that I would like to stay in shape, or travel somewhere new but it helps if I make a plan or write it out.  

    The act of writing out my goals makes things more permanent.  It also moves my desire for change beyond something I'm thinking of and turns it into a physical act.  Sharing my written goals with others creates more permanence by holding me accountable to someone.

    Those are two steps to creating strength behind your goal or intention but when your tempted to skip a workout or eat an entire bag of chips what happens to your public proclamation of healthy eating or work outs?  

    • First make your goals attainable.  As a personal trainer, part of my training included goal setting with clients following the SMART theory.

            S - specific
            M - measurable
            A - attainable
            R - realistic
            T - time sensitive

    It is easy to proclaim that I am going to go to the gym 5 days a week and eat only salads for lunch.  Is that realistic?  Not at all.  Perhaps for 2 - 3 weeks I could achieve this level of commitment but if I come down with the flu, work gets really busy, my kids are sick or my friends want go for lunch - I need to relax my goals a bit.  

    • This line of thinking leads to the second step - flexibility.  The biggest downfall for people is the all in or all out approach.  When we slip with our resolutions, that isn't the end of the resolution.  Tomorrow is another chance to start again. If you miss one, two even three workouts, you can still get back to your routine.  Life happens - find a way to fit your new habits into yours.  If a workout at the gym isn't attainable you can still do something physical.  A series of yoga poses or even 10 squats, 10 push ups and a 30 second to 1 minute plank.  Commit to taking one little step.

    • And here is the third concept behind making changes stick.  Breaking your goals down.  One of my goals this year is to do a chin up.  Right now, my chest and arms won't lift me half a inch.  So for now I'm working on developing upper body strength.  I'm starting with lat pull downs, pushups and working core strength to provide the foundation for a chin up.  I'm sure if you pick one of your resolutions, you can break the steps down into something smaller and work each day to building toward your end goal.

    • The final step - realize that any particular resolution isn't the end.  There will always be something more to achieve and do.  As humans, we haven't stopped evolving - that is when we become extinct.  We picked our resolutions to improve ourselves.  The start of a new year is a nice time to make changes, but we can decide to improve ourselves at any continually.

    Know that the desire to make a change in your life is the first and most important step - enjoy the journey!

    Friday, 8 January 2016

    Fun Food Friday - Chicken & Veg Stuffed Squash

    Friday of the first week of new year!  How are the resolutions going?  A number of people in my classes this week talked about indulging and working out less over the break and I don't think that is a bad thing.  I feel that taking a break around Christmas and the New Year as well as in the summer gives us a chance to reset.  Life is busy enough so sneaking in a few treats and taking some time off from exercise isn't necessarily negative unless we make that behaviour a habit. 

    This week I've had a huge focus on lean protein and veggies in my food choices and this stuffed squash was perfect for providing a meal that was filling and nutrient dense.  The great thing about this recipe is that you can adjust the fillings to suit your own tastes.  The chicken can be substituted for chick peas or any other legume as well as the veggies.

    The combination of complex carbohydrates along with the protein in this meal are digested slowly allowing you to feel full longer.  This entire meal is a nutrient powerhouse.  You are getting vitamin C from the pepper, beta carotene from the carrots, omega 3's and zinc from the pumpkin seeds.  Not to mention lean protein from the chicken and fibre from the squash and a ton of antioxidants.

    So here's to reestablishing healthy habits!

    Chicken & Veg Stuffed Acorn Squash

    Prep Time: 30 minutes
    Cook Time: 1 hours

    Ingredients (serves 2)
    • 1 acorn squash cut in half, seeds removed
    • 1chicken breast
    • 1/2 cup chopped onion
    • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
    • 1 red pepper seeded and chopped
    • 1cup green beans
    • 1 carrot peeled and chopped
    • 1/2 cup water or chicken broth
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1-2 cloves garlic
    • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
    • salt and pepper to taste

    Place 1 teaspoon butter in each half of squash, season with salt and pepper. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

    While squash is baking, cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Melt remaining butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté chicken with garlic, onions and mushrooms until chicken is no longer pink and onions are transparent. Add pepper cooking for 2-3 minutes longer. Add beans and carrots along with water or stock. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until the liquid has evaporated and vegetables are tender. Stir in spices and Worcestershire sauce and remove from heat.

    Once squash has been cooked, remove from oven and place cut side up on plates. Fill with chicken and vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and season to taste.
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    Wednesday, 6 January 2016

    Workout Wednesday - TRX Bridge

    Back to the TRX workouts.  Here is number 9 of my favourite TRX moves - the TRX bridge. This exercise isolates the hamstrings, glutes and core just like when you bridge from the ground.  But in the trx straps, you get an added challenge with your feet in the straps because you are creating instability with the move and challenge those deep abdominal muscles to help you stabilize as you work through your range of motion.

    For those of you with sensitive knees or really tight hamstrings, you may find this exercise difficult.  If that is the case, do your bridge on the floor, bosu or exercise ball.

    Steps to completing a TRX bridge.

    1. Adjust your straps to mid calf length.
    2. Lie facing up, heels in the straps.
    3. Move close enough to your anchor point so the knees are bent approximately 90 degrees.
    4. Engage the core and press your upper back and upper arms into the mat.
    5. Pressing your heels into the straps lift your hips up feeling the hamstrings and the glutes lift through this movement.  Try to create a straight line from the shoulders to the knees.
    6. Lower yourself slowly to the mat.  Try to visualize using your abdominal muscles to control the move down to the mat.
    7. To tie your breathing into the exercise, inhale as you come up off the mat and exhale as you lower.
    8. Complete 8-12 reps doing 1-3 sets.

    Sunday, 3 January 2016

    2016 - Here I Come!

    After a bit of a teaching and blogging break, I'm ready to get back at my normal routine.  I love the Christmas holidays and New Year's celebrations.  They are the perfect time to reflex, relax and reconnect.  The really important 3-R's!

    I have done a great deal of relaxing - with no teaching schedule it was pretty easy to slip into sleeping in and staying up later than normal.  I still stuck with my work outs but I changed up my routine.  I reconnected with my family and friends over the break and I reflected on the past year.

    This brings me to the fourth R - Resolutions.  

    There are so many mixed opinions around New Year's resolutions.  Many people feel that you are setting yourself up for failure and should introduce changes slowly.  Others ignore the nay-sayers and resolve to give up sugar, alcohol and exercise daily focusing on creating a better version of themselves.

    I love New Year's resolutions. I think following a time of overindulgence that we have a tendency to want to eat healthier and exercise more.  Our bodies are craving less fatty, sugary foods and the need to move after excess.  But beyond that, setting a new intention for the year is a time to reset yourself and think about the things you want to invite in and create in your life.

    To me, my New Year's resolutions are less about establishing strict, all or nothing boundaries and more about refocussing and about what I want to accomplish during the next year.  This time of reflection is about deciding my goals and giving myself a schedule.  In the past I have used specific goal setting worksheets that break each of my resolutions down to monthly milestones and it has been effective to achieving some of the changes I want for myself.  

    I have modified those worksheets to suit my needs and I still use them to help stay on track.  But I also set bigger intentions for the year.  I have set aside some very specific career, health and personal based goals that I will check in on.  But I also know that things in life have a way of popping up and sometimes the intentions I set in January aren't feasible in June.  That's ok.  I don't have a crystal ball and can't see what is up ahead.

    What I can do is invite positivity into my life and dream big.  I will try to do something everyday to make my goals happen, but if a glitch happens or my plans don't follow through, I know that its not the end of the world.  My resolutions are created to give my something to aim for.

    In the past years from my resolutions, I have made a commitment to try one new thing a month, mediate and journal daily and all of these habits have stuck.  Some other resolutions haven't come to fruition and that's fine with me.

    So for 2016 some of the things I would like to have in my life are.....

    1. To be published externally by someone other than my blog.
    2. To travel somewhere brand new.
    3. To do a chin up - or 5.
    4. To exercise daily. (I pretty much do this now)
    5. To go on a backpacking trip.
    6. To have a really good laugh everyday.
    7. To continue my already established heathy habits.

    Beyond those intentions, I just want to create space for what I already do in my life.  To be grateful for all that I have and to live each day to the fullest.  Happy New Year!