Pizza and beer for fat loss?

You know how sometimes people write crazy titles just to get your attention, and then it turns out the content is either completely unrelated or is only marginally related to the point that you lose all faith in that person? I’m excited to say that this is not one of those cases.

This is a two month follow up from the start of My Daily Pizza project. Admittedly calling it my daily pizza is a bit of an exaggeration. I have actually only been eating pizza three or four times each week. And for full disclosure: there was one week where I had no pizza. I know, shame on me. But it was only one week! I shared some of the details about how I managed to eat pizza that often without increasing my waistline in the above linked post as well as some observations about how it was going two weeks in.

So that’s the pizza part. I also mention beer in the title. Say it with me in your best Homer voice…mmm…beer…Indeed, beer consumption has occurred over the past two months. Real beer; not that low carb or light beer crap. Craft beers mostly. In particular I’m on an IPA kick, so lots of Flying Monkey, Muskoka Detour, and a few varieties of Beau’s.

And not just once a week either. I’m consistently drinking beer or wine three or four times per week. That probably sounds like a lot, and no doubt some of you are getting your judgement faces on. That’s okay, I can take it. But before you finish putting your robes on, let me explain how I came to my four days of alcohol plan, along with the few other habit changes I’ve made, and then you can decide whether this makes sense.

As I noted above, I have finally worked out the details of the follow on to my Get Lean challenge, which I am tentatively calling the “Get Lean Lifelong Habit Challenge”. If you’re interested in the Get lean Challenge (which is free by the way, and people seem to really like it), head over here for details and a registration option.

The reason I mention this get lean challenge, is that following it is how I arrived at what I think is my own optimal lifestyle plan. The 8 week get lean challenge above is cool because it gets you thinking and trying a variety of habitual changes in the hopes that some either stick, or they help you to figure out what would stick. The follow-on that I’ve been crafting is where you get to work on customizing habits to your own life. The reality is that we have different goals, desires, expectations, and bodies. We also have big differences in how easy or hard certain changes are for us. It only makes sense that the optimal lifestyle plan for each of us is unique. This follow-on program is all about finding that unique path.

In my case, I knew that alcohol consumption was something I had to limit somehow as I had reached a point of having a glass of wine or two every day or almost every day. I also realized that I don’t always stop eating when I’m full, and I sometimes snack for reasons like “I’m bored”. Lastly, I know that I don’t get enough sleep and that getting at least 7 hours each night is very hard for me. I realized that my success in living well but also living healthily required finding a way to manage those elements. And so for me, the follow-on to the Get Lean challenge was figuring out how to address these. I took advantage of this new process to come up with the following plan:

  1. Sleep 6.75 hours per night
  2. Alcohol at most 4 times per week
  3. When reaching for food ask myself “Am I actually hungry?”, and if not, walk away
  4. When going to get seconds or something to finish of a meal, wait 15 minutes. If at that point, I still am hungry, then I have it.

I created a tracking sheet that I put on my fridge so that I can give myself credit when I meet my goals, and also created a plan that helps guide me as to when or whether I should replace or adjust one of my selected actions. My goal was 85% compliance. Using this goal setting and tracking sheet has been tremendously helpful to me as it forms a voice in the back of my head reminding me when I’m about to break one of these rules. But equally important was arriving at the right set of actions for me. If the actions are too hard, I would fail, and if they were too easy, I wouldn’t change. It was a process.

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I spent the first four weeks trying to implement actions that weren’t quite right for me, and so I didn’t succeed enough, but then one month ago, I made some refinements to arrive at the plan above, and since then have met or exceeded my goals every week.

The result is that I’ve lost five pounds since starting this process. This is weight that I put on somewhere between one and two years ago, and had not been successful at dropping it again, until now. Granted I didn’t try very hard either. I wasn’t motivated to make drastic changes to my eating and exercise habits because, well, I just didn’t want to. I enjoy food and beverages, and I don’t want to exercise more than I already do. Life enjoyment is more important to me right now than losing five or ten pounds.

Interestingly, it was my desire to eat more pizza that led to my new plan that allowed me to lose weight. Bet not many people have claimed that before! While I was comfortable in my skin, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of gaining weight. And I suspected that adding lots of pizza to my diet, if I wasn’t careful, would lead to weight gain. So as a means to bring more pizza into my life, I figured out how to balance the rest of my lifestyle habits to make room for pizza. As it turns out, I also figured out how to keep the calories down in the pizza itself (without sacrificing deliciousness). And the result was losing five pounds. Cool!

You’ll notice that there is no mention of limiting chocolate, ice cream, chips, or dessert in my list above. That’s because I love pizza and beer much more. When I have beer and pizza in my life, I rarely reach for other indulgences. Since it’s so rare, I chose to not put any limits on it. And that worked – I still rarely eat those things, and when I do, it’s okay. What’s particularly cool is not just that the foundation of my diet is beer and pizza, but that I’ve found a balance of lifestyle habits that has long term potential and allows me to be happy and healthy.

The aforementioned four habits seem to be the changes I needed to make to my lifestyle to reach the balance of happy and healthy, but my guess is yours will be different. Hopefully this process has triggered some of you to think differently about what habit changes make sense for you that can improve your health while not adversely affecting your happiness. My guess is that the traditional “eat less and exercise more” or “cut out sugar” will not cut it for most of you, but instead you’ll find more specific and relate-able changes.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys health, food, and exercise

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Can the FMS predict sports injury?

I’ve been reading a lot about why the FMS is good and why it’s not recently. I’ve even co-written a point-counterpoint discussion with Bret Contreras about it.

I am a proponent of the FMS, but I have read some studies that have made me question it. I also attended a couple of very compelling presentations at a strength & conditioning conference at the University of Toronto recently that pointed out some shortcomings.

I have not read or heard enough (yet?) to change my mind about continuing to use the FMS for my clients, but I have just started to use a new assessment approach for my clients in addition to the FMS. For the next few months, I will use both approaches and will take notes about how well each one worked, both during the initial client consultation and over the first few training sessions.

I will also continue to read and listen. In fact I just read a study this morning that suggests the FMS is very beneficial in predicting injury. Here is a link to the study, titled ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN AND INJURY DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE ATHLETES. Or more specifically, that an FMS score of less than 14 combined with previous history of injury equated to athletes (in the study group) being 15 times more likely to sustain an injury over the course of a season.

I didn’t love the study abstract and write up because it didn’t address the difference between the FMS, the previous injury, or the combination of the two. Thankfully one of the tables in the study did just that. And as you can see from the screenshot below, it would appear that the combination of previous injury and an FMS score of less than 14 is a strong predictor.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 11.05.15

What I would like to see (and maybe I just missed it in the presentation of the data) is what this number changes to with higher FMS scores. What was the injury rate among athletes in the group with a history of injury and an FMS score of 15? of 16? If there is a significant drop there, then that makes for a very compelling case for a combination of:

  1. using the FMS
  2. finding out about previous injury from your clients or athlets
  3. appropriate training as a means to in increase the FMS (and conveniently training is also a great option for performance improvement)
  4. re-FMS to see if the person has moved into a lesser risk range

I think this study does show that having a low FMS score and a history of previous injury makes one much more likely to sustain an injury. That is good information to have, but only if there is something we can do with it. If there is also a proven link that the risk is lower with a higher FMS score paired with a history of previous injury, and if there is a proven link that appropriate training is a tool to get us to the higher FMS score (which I believe there is, although I need to re-review the literature), then that would be a very compelling reason to use the FMS for athletic clients. While the study is not quite a home run, it definitely sits in the “pro” column for continuing to use the FMS.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys the science of training

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The FMS: Awesome or Awful?

The FMS (Functional Movement Screen) is a divisive topic in the fitness world. Some people think it’s the cat’s pajamas, while other people think it’s utterly useless. In case you want to examine the science behind the FMS, THIS link will take you to a page by Chris Beardsley that summarizes all of the FMS research to date.

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Unfortunately, discussions about the merits and shortcomings of the FMS tend to be very polarizing and emotional, with meaningful discussion taking a backseat. Bret Contreras and I decided to try to change that by taking a stab at an intelligent and respectful debate about it, so we came up with 5 questions that we both answered below.

1. Should personal trainers get FMS certified – will it help them gain clients, and will it help them be better trainers?

EV: I believe that FMS certification is an excellent option for all trainers, particularly new ones. I think the course will almost instantly make a new (or relatively new) trainer better, and for an experienced trainer, it can streamline the initial programming. Here’s why: it provides a simple and succinct method for identifying some movement strengths and weaknesses, as well as guidance as to what that can mean. This knowledge allows the trainer to set up a program that is appropriate for the individual, without exercises they are not ready for and with exercises that will help some of their movement limitations. Of course there are other ways to accomplish this, but I like the FMS as an option because it covers a lot in a little time and in a manner that seems to makes sense. For a new trainer in particular, having a well-defined guidance system will save them from fumbling around. For an experienced trainer, it is just a simple and efficient way to see a lot of what they will want to see anyhow. In addition to learning the system, a trainer will learn a lot about movement. Honestly, I would be very surprised if anyone who has taken the course has walked away thinking it was a waste of time.

I also think the FMS can be beneficial for gaining new clients, although not directly. I think in the past five years, I have had two clients seek me out because I do the FMS. Most people looking for a trainer don’t know or care about our certifications. But if a trainer wants to build up referrals from health care professionals, the FMS is an excellent certification to have. Some of the health care professionals who refer to me have said as much. I consider it a good way to open a dialog with them, but once the dialog starts; your ability as a trainer will be much more relevant than the FMS. I think the same is true for some sport coaches, but to a lesser degree. The other benefit is that there is a network of trainers who use and believe in the FMS, and in some cases they will have clients who move to your area, and will be looking for a trainer for them. In absence of knowing who the great trainers are in another city, many trainers who use the FMS, including myself, will suggest seeking out a trainer who also uses the FMS.

BC: My answer is: If the trainer wants to, then he or she should get FMS certified. I’m all for continuing education. I received my FMS certification several years ago and found it valuable at the time. Getting FMS certified cannot hurt a trainer, however, getting sucked into any system and exhibiting cult-like behaviour will definitely hurt a trainer by causing them to exhibit tunnel vision. People in the fitness industry seem to be highly skilled at spotting cult-like behaviour when it involves something that they’re not involved with, but they tend to be rather inept at spotting it when it involves something they’re engaged in. This applies to CrossFit, the RKC, the FMS, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. Several years ago, Michael Boyle wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the FMS titled, “Will the FMS Cure Most Communicable Diseases?” because at that time the majority of subscribers on the strength coach forums seemed to be parroting the same answer to every question about an athlete experiencing issues…”have you FMS’d them?” There’s much more to screening and exercise form than the FMS, which I believe that Gray and Lee would agree with – more on that later. However, although this behaviour is a turn-off, it shouldn’t influence a rationale individual’s opinion on the screen.

One important reason to get FMS certified is simply because it will help personal trainers obtain and retain clients. Here’s why. Clients love to feel special. When you take a new client and put them through an official screen that has it’s own tools and scoring system, they eat it up. People also love to be told that they’re dysfunctional. I think every client I’ve ever trained starts out by telling me something that they’ve heard from their chiropractor or physical therapist, such as, “my TVA isn’t firing,” “my glutes don’t activate,” “I have a massive leg length discrepancy,” “my SI joint is out,” or “I have tight hip flexors.” Nine times out of ten, I test these individuals and find that they’re fine; they’re just weak and uncoordinated. The practitioner incorrectly speculated out of ignorance and ended up doling the client a giant Nocebo effect, which can alter movement patterns and create pain. But I digress… if you FMS a client they will feel special, and if you tell them that they have weaknesses that you’re going to hone in on, then you’re already miles ahead of most trainers in their eyes because it shows that you adhere to some sort of system and don’t just wing everything. The clients will keep coming back and exhibit confidence in you, which makes your job easier, and they’ll refer their friends to you. It can also help with professional referrals. All things being equal, I’d refer someone to the FMS certified trainer over the non FMS certified trainer because it shows that they value continuing education and are aware of a systematic approach to screening.

EV: I agree fully with Mike Boyle’s perspective on that and in fact wrote my own tongue-in-cheek piece, The FMS for Cats.

Regarding people liking being told they are dysfunctional, I might put that differently, but you have a point. I wonder though about your note on people with issues noted by their health care professional. In my experience it is far from 9 out of 10 times that it’s just a matter of weakness, but I wonder if that is a reflection of us training different populations? The majority of my clients are high end recreational athletes in their 30s and older. Most are quite fit in the sense that they spend hours playing their sport each week, often without an off-season, and most don’t train for their sport other than actually playing their sport (or at least not until they started to train with me). Athletes also have a habit of not letting injuries heal properly before returning to play, which for an athlete’s mind and body, is an invitation for alternate movement patterns to develop. I just bring this up because to suggest that there are populations for which apparent movement dysfunction is not simply a factor of weakness, although there’s no question that sometimes it is. As someone who has a reverence for science and logic, I like to think that I’m not perpetuating a nocebo effect with my clients, but it is possible that I am.

BC: Sorry Elsbeth, I should have been clearer…what I meant was that I’ll test their core strength through various multiplanar tests of strength, or their glute firing through various supine, quadruped, and side lying drills, or their TVA function through abdominal hollowing, and I find that the chiropractor or physical therapist was flat out wrong with their assessment, I’m not suggesting that these dysfunctions do not exist; they do. What I am suggesting is that many practitioners throw these terms out too liberally.

2. Should personal trainers do pre-training assessments with their clients, and if so, what do you suggest?

EV:I do believe that pre-training assessments are a great idea for most clients, and I am a fan of the FMS for this purpose. I do acknowledge that there are some populations for whom the FMS is not an excellent choice. In particular, clients who will not be able to safely do a bodyweight squat or lunge, or who have difficulty with kneeling. If this describes most of the population you work with, then the FMS is probably not a great tool. Although even in that case, I still think the FMS is a good course for the quality knowledge you will pick up about movement and training.

I also have recently come to accept that some of the population will be intimidated by an assessment, and for them, just training and using that as your assessment may be a better option. This is definitely not an across the board issue, as my clients consistently note in customer satisfaction surveys that they loved that I did an assessment (unsolicited – I didn’t ask if they liked the assessment; I asked why they initially came to me).

BC: Yes, they should. Initially, most personal trainers are rather inept. They aren’t well versed in evaluating form. Go to any commercial gym and this will be painfully obvious. In New Zealand, the strength coaches utilize a variety of assessments, including functional movement assessments, tests that assess the athletes’ strength, power, reactive strength, and strength endurance, and numerous other tests. They use charts, graphs, and spider plots to depict multi-directional force-velocity profiles and strength and capabilities. The functional movement assessment is just one of many pre-training assessments.

Functional movement screens can help personal trainers identify glaring deficiencies and tailor their program design according to the individual. It helps them get better at noticing form degradation and predicting the restrictions responsible for those degradations. For example, an individual that can only raise his leg to 45 degrees during the active straight leg raise probably isn’t going to be able to perform a stiff leg deadlift with good technique due to insufficient straight leg hip flexion mobility.

The FMS is a great screen for this purpose, as is the MCS (Movement Competency Screen, developed by New Zealand strength coach Matt Kritz – the MCS is a nice alternative because it doesn’t cost any money, so it may be useful for coaches and trainers on a tight budget).

However, I don’t believe that many personal trainers need to be using the FMS, at least trainers working primarily with physique-based clients. I believe that it’s a bigger necessity for strength coaches since their athletes are performing greater amounts of exercise, and this exercise is associated with much higher momentums and impact forces.

I believe that over time, good trainers should realize that they’re likely going to be programming every major movement pattern, and they’ll simply place each client at the appropriate level on the continuum and progress accordingly. For example, all of my clients squat, deadlift, hip thrust, lunge, back extension, bench press, overhead press, chin, and row. Some of them have to start out at the easiest regressions such as bodyweight high box squats with counterbalance, but over time they will improve their competency (strength, stability, mobility, coordination, etc.), and eventually they’ll be performing barbell back squats (assuming they’re healthy and young) at least to parallel. I’m definitely not obsessive about any exercise and am not afraid to throw one out if it doesn’t fit the individual, but this rarely occurs with my clientele.

If something doesn’t look right, the trainer can break away and check joint ROMs or conduct other simple tests. It is important to understand that joint ROM can usually be improved, but there’s also a large genetic component to anatomical ranges of motion, so at the end of the day, exercise variations and the ranges of motions utilized in those exercises will have to be modified per the individual. This is where the art of personal training exists; learning how to modify stance or grip width, foot flare or grip position, ROM, and other nuances so the individual can best tolerate the exercise.

I no longer FMS my clients because it wouldn’t alter the exercise selection component to my program design, which I determine by watching the client perform each individual movement pattern and deciding where to start them (example for squat pattern: counterbalance squat, goblet squat, sumo parallel squat, high bar full squat, etc.). Moreover, resistance training in general has been shown to improve FMS sum scores, and corrective exercise doesn’t appear to expedite the process in the research (however, I believe that a skilled coach could fast-forward improvements in exercise technique with a sound knowledge of specialized mobility, stability, and coordination drills), so I can sleep well at night knowing that even though I don’t use the FMS, my clients’ FMS scores improve.

Speaking of my clients, HERE they are in action. This year, I’ve regularly trained around 20 clients and so far none have experienced a single injury and their strength has vastly improved. Clearly my approach works well, but a newbie trainer can’t expect to be able to duplicate my system as it took me years of training others and studying biomechanics and sports medicine to master my system.

EV:Great points, Bret, and I fully agree that a good trainer can use the movements they train as their screen, and continue to do so at every session. That’s great, but I am a fan of formality and systems; maybe it’s my engineering background. That’s what drew me to the FMS from the start, and I still find it useful. But that doesn’t mean it is the only input to my programming. Realistically it only impacts 10 to 20% of it. The rest is based on their goals, any injuries they have (I get a lot of therapist referrals where they are still under the care of a therapist while they start training with me), and the sport they play (if any). Most of my clients start with some variety of squat, deadlift, pushing and pulling, and anterior, posterior, and rotary core exercises, as well as possibly some agility, power and conditioning options. I use what I learn from their initial consultation (including FMS) to determine which variations to start with, but it certainly hasn’t been a 100% predictor of what is the right option. I often make changes once we start training based on what I see of how they do those exercises. I should point out that while I remain a proponent of the FMS, I am also on the lookout for options that can help me train my clients better. While I acknowledge there are more comprehensive screening options available, there is a downside in terms of usability, which I consider an important consideration. I have come across one new screening concept recently that I want to test out for a few months (alongside the FMS) to get a perspective on which I find better helps me train my clients, although I have to figure out some logistics first. I’ll be writing about it soon – it’s an interesting take.

BC:Agree on all points.

3. Should coaches rely heavily on FMS data for assessing injury risk?

EV:First, thank you for not asking if the FMS should be used for predicting performance as many research studies erroneously do.

I think the question should be reworded to “should coaches take the FMS data into consideration for assessing injury risk” without the “rely heavily” part. The reason I didn’t just change the question, is that I think this is one of the myths of the FMS that is worth mentioning. There appears to be a perspective that those of us who use it, base everything we do on it, and spend most of our training time doing corrective exercise and assessments instead of actually getting our clients strong. This is just not the case. Or at least it is not the case for most of us. For the majority of our training, we rely on sound training principles. We just augment that with what we learned from the FMS to help us apply those principles.

To my re-worded question: yes, I do think coaches should take FMS data into consideration when assessing injury risk. An athlete client struggling significantly with any aspect of the FMS should raise an eyebrow. For example, if a sprinter struggled with the in line lunge, I would be concerned. Similarly when I see field sport athletes struggle with pelvic stability in the hurdle step, I wonder how much rotation their lumbar spine endures when they run. The FMS provides us some very valuable information!

The last consideration I’d like to raise and it is something I believe the FMS encourages very effectively, is that painful movement should be referred to a healthcare professional. This means that if you are implementing the FMS properly, you are referring your clients to health care practitioners when they have painful scores in the FMS. Now your client has the benefit of an assessment by a health care practitioner, which I believe is instrumental in assessing injury risk.

BC:It is certainly one component to consider. However, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you believe that functional movement patterns are the sole key to injury prevention, then you’re going to be missing out on a lot of important alternative information. As Spanish physical therapist and researcher Jurdan Mendiguchia and New Zealand sports scientist Matt Brughelli discussed in their classic hamstrings paper titled, “Hamstring strain injuries: are we heading in the right direction?” (click HERE for the full text pdf), it is the interrelationship between at least 6 factors that determines injury risk to the hamstrings, which include:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Strength
  3. Core Stability
  4. Architecture
  5. Fatigue, and
  6. Previous Injury

Their article was in reference to the hamstrings, so in reality each individual type of injury will have it’s own separate risk factors. However, the point is that an individual can have a stellar FMS score and still experience injury. For example, sticking with our hamstring example, let’s say that an individual scored a 3 on the active straight leg test, indicating that he has good hamstring flexibility, he could still tear a hammy due to weak hamstrings, poor pelvic control which could place greater strain on the hammies, fatigue and subsequent altered motor patterns, a prior injury that yielded inferior scar tissue upon healing, poor glute activation and strength as a synergist, and more. I know that Gray and Lee know this, but sometimes the zealots who champion the FMS fail to see the big picture with regards to injury prevention strategies in sports performance.

EV:Absolutely, and great point.

4. What are the three primary strengths and weaknesses of the FMS?

EV:EV: I’ll take the strengths then…

Strengths:

  1. It is a complete system that can be implemented in very little time and requires little equipment and space, and is easily communicated.
  2. It provides quality input to program creation by identifying areas needing work. The FMS system also has a corrective strategy tied to the tests, which further assists in exercise selection for the individual.
  3. It also identifies movements where the quality is such that loaded training of a specific exercise may not be advisable initially.

BC:The three main strengths are:

  1. It’s a simple system that can easily be taught to personal trainers, strength coaches, and physical therapists
  2. It has a high intra-rater and inter-rater reliability
  3. It will help from a business-standpoint by improving client retention and referrals

The three main weaknesses are:

  1. It measures just one of several important factors for assessing injury risk
  2. No 7-tests, no matter how well chosen, can comprehensively summarize an individual’s functional movement capacity
  3. It has low validity (this includes all types of validity, see HERE for more information)

5. Could the FMS be improved, and if so, how?

EV:The biggest thing I’d like to see is an improvement in the way hip and pelvic stability is addressed. Currently I think it is a bit lacking, and in fact I have all of my clients perform a single leg squat test (to a bench) as an add-on to the FMS. I find it gives me clues as to stability, left to right differences, as well as basic strength – some people just can’t do it.

BC:I think so, but I confess to not being privy to much of the current dialogue and material involving the FMS. It is very possible that Gray and Lee have addressed and thought of most of the things I’ve listed below. Nevertheless, some of the ideas that I believe that FMS advocates should consider in order to improve the FMS over time include:

  1. Better explain the role of anthropometry/body segment proportions on the FMS. To list just one example, how does femur length influence the deep squat score?
  2. Better explain the role of anatomy on the FMS. For example, how do variances in hip anatomy affect deep squat and hurdle step scores?
  3. Better explain in their material how functional movement integrates into the broader scope of injury risk, relying not just on theory but also on evidence from peer-reviewed published studies.
  4. Better explain some of the rationale for exercise test performance. For example, is posterior pelvic tilt accounted for in the deep squat and active straight leg tests, and what is the rationale behind this approach?
  5. Is there a better test that could measure whole body rotary stability, maybe one that didn’t require the kit? For example, instead of utilizing the rotary stability test included in the FMS, would it be better for a trainer to just see how well his client performs during a cable anti-rotation hold to determine how well they can stabilize the body when placed under axial twist torques?

EV:You raise some good points, in particular the parts about anthropometry and hip anatomy. For instance, the need for both feet to point straight forward in the deep squat never really sat well with me. In my opinion, that aspect of the test only makes sense if you are operating under the premise that all hips have the same structural neutral, which we know is not the case.

BC:Yes, another great point. It actually hurts my knees and hips when I squat with feet straight ahead. Several of my powerlifting friends have noted the same thing, and this is probably due to differences in anatomy.

Final Word

EV:The FMS is not a perfect tool, but I still see the combined benefits of program guidance and usability outweigh the shortcomings.

BC:The inventors of the FMS did a great job in coming up with a simple 7-screen test to help practitioners identify potentially problematic and/or inefficient movement patterns and asymmetries in their clients and athletes, however, the FMS should not be thought of as a comprehensive tool for predicting injury or athletic ability, nor should advanced trainers who don’t utilize the FMS but are well-versed in exercise form and proper regressions be labeled as morons by some of the hard core FMS proponents.

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My Daily Pizza: Observations from the first two weeks

Somehow a decision to try making my own pizza from scratch last weekend evolved into a nutrition lifestyle experiment involving eating pizza every day. It was an acknowledgement of my love of pizza, my enjoyment of cooking, and my amazement at how easy it was to make pizza. As I made the pizza, I also started to rethink it. Is it really a “junk food”? How can it be when the ingredients are flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, a very small touch of sugar, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pepper, cheese and toppings. This is not unhealthy stuff.

Topping selection certainly can affect healthfulness, but if you make it yourself, you can control that. The other challenge with pizza is that it is calorically very dense. Dough is dense; as is cheese. And if you use things like sausage and olives as toppings, it doesn’t take a large pizza to deliver a large meal.

As I pondered the ingredients, I wondered: Was it possible to eat pizza every day without affecting my physical goals? I don’t have any aspirations for six pack abs and am quite content with a bit of “padding”, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to enjoy playing my favourite sports or affect my confidence in how I look.

I realized it would be fun to find out, so I embarked on this “research project”. The response from Facebook suggests that I am not alone in wishing for the freedom to eat pizza daily.

I am now halfway into my second week of the project and already there have been some interesting observations:

  1. My new pizza serving size is smaller than my normal pizza serving size. It would seem that knowing there will be another one tomorrow reduces any need to get what I can now. Or maybe it’s that making it myself means I’m only putting the appropriate serving size in front of me. I’ve never been one of those people who only eats half of some delicious meal and saves the other half for another meal. If it’s delicious and it’s in front of me, it won’t be there for long. But home-made means I can make a normal sized serving.
  2. I tend to snack when I’m bored, or when I have something I’m trying to avoid (yes, I do that). So far, I have done none of that. No unnecessary snacking, and no desires for junk foods. Because I know I’m having pizza later, I feel a desire to eat extra well the rest of the time.
  3. If I’m going to succeed with this, I have to be careful about my topping choices. Realistically, this means limiting meat and olives. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with either, but both pack a lot of calories, which will likely put me over the edge.
  4. I'd like to hang out more often chorizo; but I think it's best if we spend some time apart
    I’d like to hang out more often chorizo; but I think it’s best if we spend some time apart

  5. I’m going to limit toppings to no more than three, preferably two (not including cheese and sauce). I think this just makes sense from a love it, don’t smother it perspective. I think it’s going to take a while to figure out what combinations are the best from an I love this! and a this is still healthy perspective. More research!
  6. I need to keep an eye on the cheese quantity. Not “no self-respecting pizza-lover would make this” low – the point is delicious and healthy pizza, not ruining pizza. I think the key will be following the concept of Minimum Effective Dose, or in this case, Minimum Delicious Cheese. I think experimenting with different types of cheese may lead to great things here. Not all cheese is created equal.
  7. I am trying to sort out what is an appropriate serving size. I know it has to fit in with my overall daily nutrition, but I’m not sure how just yet. It will take me some time to figure out what portion of my daily menu should be taken up by the pizza, both from an enjoyment and a satiety perspective. I started using a nutrition tracker to help sort that out, and will continue to do so until I have a better idea. So far my pizza servings have stuck between 420 and 585 calories, and a macronutrient breakdown in the range of 50-60% carbohydrate, 17-22% protein, and 18-27% fat. Not bad!
  8. Artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella, and goat cheese. 420 calories, 60% carbohydrate, 22% protein, and 18% fat.
    Artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella, and goat cheese. 420 calories, 60% carbohydrate, 22% protein, and 18% fat.

  9. I bought a digital kitchen scale to help with this. It’s too hard to eyeball the portion of the package to get an idea of how much cheese I’m using and my analog scale is very hard to read accurately.
  10. I’ve had a side serving of vegetables with each pizza this week, because veggies are amazing. I have decided to make this a mandatory accessory.
  11. Even though I’m calling it My Daily Pizza project (I even bought the url. Not even joking. Nothing there yet, but maybe soon.), I’m not going to literally have pizza every day. Not because I worry it won’t be healthy, but because I don’t want pizza-making to feel like a chore, and as it turns out I do actually like other foods. Last week I had pizza five days, and this week looks like it will be four of five days of pizza.
  12. Once the dough and sauce are made, it is actually remarkably quick to make the pizza. And making the sauce and dough on Sunday is really not that much work either. I’m still a bit surprised at how easy it is.
  13. I think my body is doing well from this challenge, but it’s too soon to tell. I haven’t actually weighed myself in months, and I don’t really have an interest in starting. I’m generally happier when I don’t weigh myself regularly. Molly Galbraith of Girls Gone Strong had a great line in a presentation at the Women’s Fitness Summit last year (might be slightly paraphrased): “Should you weigh yourself? Does weighing yourself make you a crazy person? If yes, then no.” It turns out I am closer to the yes than the no end of that spectrum. Instead I’m keeping track of my results based more on observations: how well my clothes fit, how I look in the regular exercise videos I record, and how well I perform at the gym and on the ski slopes, ultimate field, and tennis court. So far so good, but it has been less than two weeks. Once again – more research!

I’ll report back in another week or so. In the meantime, have any pizza options you’d like to suggest?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada and a believer that it is possible to eat food that is both delicious and healthy.

Our next (free) 8 week Get Lean Challenge starts Monday April 6th. Interested? Details and registration here. Unfortunately daily pizza is not part of the program – not until I finish my research.

How to eat the foods you love without consequence

I have uncovered the secret to enjoying the foods you love without negative consequences: Stop eating the things you don’t love.

It sounds ridiculous, but read on and I think you’ll agree.

This post stems from a my mission to be able to eat pizza everyday without any negative effect on my body. I adopted this mission on the weekend after making a delicious pizza from scratch. I have always loved pizza, but I don’t have it as often as I want because I know it will soften me up and that will have negative consequences on my performance in sport and in my job (I’m a personal trainer). But making the pizza from scratch was like a light bulb turning on. It was so easy, the ingredients were so basic, and the friend I cooked for brought over a salad so we had pizza on half the plate and vegetables on the other. Huh. Does that still merit being categorized as an occasional treat, or could I adjust the ingredients and serving size such that it actually becomes a healthy meal?

wpid-img_20150314_202823802.jpg

That research is joyfully on-going (pizza 3 days in a row and counting!) and I will report the results once I have more data.

A couple of hours after enjoying last night’s experiment (half plate of olive, mushroom, mozzarella pizza with a side of steamed baby bok choy) I headed to the kitchen for a small handful of chocolate chips when my inside voice stopped me in my tracks: “If you add chocolate snacks to your week, it might make your daily pizza experiment results look bad.” Whoa. That is not an acceptable exchange. I am excited about the possibilities my daily pizza experiment holds, and there is no way I’m going to let a snack I don’t really care about contribute to it’s failure.

I smiled as I returned to the living room empty handed. I wasn’t actually hungry, so I didn’t feel deprived for leaving the chocolate in the cupboard. The smile was because I had just schooled myself in one of the key habits I encourage in the get lean program I created: When making food decisions, taste is an important consideration. As part of that program, I encourage those taking it to make two lists:

The A List: 3 not-so healthy foods you love
The B List: 3 not-so healthy foods you don’t really care about

Here is the sample I provide in one of the program emails:

My A List:

  1. chips
  2. red wine
  3. molasses cookies

My B List:

  1. Pie
  2. Store-bought cookies
  3. Most restaurant French fries (don’t get me wrong – I love good fries. In fact good fries would make top 5 on my A List. But fries at most restaurants are very disappointing)

After making the lists, they are then tasked with referring to those lists often, and any time they reach for an item on their B List, they are to ask themselves if they are really sure, and to remind themselves that they would probably be happier if they either chose something healthier or held out for something better.

Last night I skipped the chocolate chips because I was holding out for more pizza tonight. It’s remarkably easy to say no to junky foods you don’t really love, when you put it in that perspective.

What is on your A List and B?

Once you’ve made your lists, try this strategy out for a while. If the experience of the participants in my get lean challenge is any indication, you’ll find this a very effective strategy for healthier and happier eating.

Intrigued about this 8 week get lean challenge? Then you’ll be even more intrigued to find out it’s free. The next program starts on April 6th. Head over to the registration form to sign up.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa who believes that it is possible to eat healthily without deprivation.

Principles to consider for your team fitness program

March is a great month, isn’t it? The weather is getting nice, the days are getting longer, and if you’re a field sport athlete, you’re starting to look forward to the upcoming season. If you’re involved in coaching or managing the team, you’re probably starting to plan out things like try-outs and pre-season fitness.

For those of you involved in designing your team’s fitness programming and testing, Please read and consider the following three concepts:

1. Fitness must be build progressively
Often coaches go heavy on fitness testing and conditioning early in the season as a means to motivate their athletes to have done their fitness in the off-season. It’s a good thought on one hand – we want to push our athletes, and we need them to be fit. The problem is that if the players didn’t do enough off-season training, this approach can contribute to season-long overuse injuries that will either limit their performance or keep them off the field. You have a long season ahead of you. Consider cutting out the high volume fitness testing and instead program progressive fitness training into your season practice plan. In addition to reducing the overuse injuries, this can also serve as a great team building opportunity.

2. Build balanced bodies
This includes aiming for left to right, front to back, and remembering that the core is more than just the abs and hip flexors. Almost all athletes have a preferred side for cutting, accelerating, and direction change. Making them go both ways in practice will help them develop more options on the field, and will reduce overuse injury potential. For strengthening, think about balancing movements that are quad-focussed with movements that are glute-focussed, and balancing pushing movements with pulling movements. The front to back balance can be a challenge for on-field strengthening as there are many more bodyweight strengthening options that work the quad-dominant and pushing movements than their are ones that work glute-dominant and pulling. But it is possible! Lastly, remember that v-sits, crunches and planks all work the anterior (front) core muscles. Try to have a balance of front, side, and rear core exercises in your core fitness regimen.

3. More is not better; better is better
This is true for virtually all aspects of fitness, but I want to specifically address plyometrics and intervals. To get the most out of your athletes without breaking them, focus on quality in plyometrics, and intensity with intervals, instead of increasing volume. Think less but harder. In addition to risking injury, when we add volume as a means to increase the challenge, we run the risk of our athletes adapting an I’m saving some for the next sprint mentality. If we can get rid of that mentality in practice, it can carry over onto the field.

If you are involved in your team’s fitness training program, then you may be interested in my free ebook, Creating Sport-Specific Dynamic Warm-ups. All you need to do to get this free ebook is sign-up for my Sports Performance Newsletter:

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Are you doing the right workout?

Depending who you talk to, the best exercise option is one of the following[1]:

Aquatic exercises
Climbing
Cross-country skiing
Crossfit
Cycling
Elliptical
Equestrian
Free weights
Functional training
Intervals
Kettlebells
Olympic lifting
Pilates
Playing my favourite sport
Plyometrics
Power lifting
Running
Skating
Strength training
Stretching
Swimming
Tabatas
TRX
Walking
Yoga

Did I miss any? I was about to add aerobics, but I’m pretty sure that’s one 1980s fad that hasn’t come back. Or has it?

The point being – it’s a pretty long list. And each one has staunch supporters who are eager to tell you that their favourite is the best option. Who is right? Are you doing the right or workout? How can you tell?

In truth – it’s really quite simple. Answer the following 3 questions to find out if you’re doing the right workout for you:
1. Do you do it?
2. Are you staying healthy (or not losing health)?
3. Are you reaching your goals, or on track to do so?

If you answered yes to all three questions, then you’re doing it right. Period. And yes, for some of you that means crossfit is the right option for you. Daily yoga might be it for others. Or running. Or going for walks with your best friend, spouse, or kids.

What about those of you who can’t answer yes to one or more of those three important questions? For you, there’s clearly something missing. “I do it”, “it isn’t hurting me”, and “it’s helping me reach my goals” shouldn’t be too much to ask of your exercise regime.

This leads to the question: if you answer no to at least one of those questions, what do you need to change?

1. “I don’t do it”. If you’re not doing it, then you don’t enjoy it enough. Try something else until you find something you enjoy. This is the single most important determinant in what you should do, because if you’re not doing it, the details are irrelevant. Not sure how to find out? Find a friend who’s willing to experiment with you. You might be surprised to hear this, but you may find that you will actually enjoy lifting weights. Seriously – some of my clients actually look forward to their sessions. Others look forward to their yoga classes, or their running group. Personally, I feel this way about skiing and ultimate. Try to find that thing that you will look forward to, and do that. It may be about the activity, or it may be about the people involved. Either or both is fine. Whatever it takes to get you to enjoy moving!

2. If you love what you’re doing but your body doesn’t, that’s a problem. Sorry for bursting your bubble, but exercise should enhance your ability to move, not reduce it. If it makes your knee, or back, or shoulder hurt, it’s doing the opposite of that. A little secret: this applies to the more “gentle” exercise types like yoga and pilates. Some yoga poses will cause problems for some people. I’m not saying yoga is bad; it’s not. But I am saying that if your body responds poorly to yoga, then some part of it is bad for you.

Similarly, I think we all know runners who run for hours blocking out the pain from their knees, hips, or shins. Or weight lifters who have a constantly sore back. And soccer players who wear as many braces as they have joints. They’re doing it wrong.

I believe there is one exception to the rule that your exercise choice should make your body should feel good: if you are someone with a chronic, degenerative joint problem who has pain 24/7; it’s highly unlikely that your joints will magically stop hurting during exercise. But the initial question still holds true for you: “Are you staying healthy (or not losing health)?” What this means for you, is that the exercise you do shouldn’t make this problem worse. If it does, that’s a problem. If it is the same or a bit better, then awesome. You’re doing it right.

If your exercise approach is hurting your body, what can you do about it? Try something different. I don’t necessarily mean you should completely stop doing your thing; but it may be time to cut back and add in something that complements it. For most people who only do one type of exercise, this typically means adding in something else that works your body differently. For instance, I believe most people do either too much or too little yoga. I think those who do yoga as their sole source of exercise should add in strength training; and conversely, those who do strength training as their sole source of exercise should add in yoga. Most runners will also benefit from strength training and/or yoga (depending on how they move), and/or swimming. Take a look at what you’re doing and think about whether you’re missing anything. If you are, add or substitute it in. Personally I workout at the gym with strength and mobility exercises as a means to keep my arthritic hip happy enough that I can keep enjoying skiing and ultimate.

Last word on this: if you are finding yourself injured or sore all the time from your exercise, you may be due for some massage, or a visit to an athletic therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist. The health benefits of exercise are so vast it’s almost ridiculous, but if you use your body, some maintenance of the muscular system is advised. You wouldn’t drive your car for years at a time without changing the oil, filters, and spark plugs, would you? Then why are you doing that to your body? You’re probably not going to have the same car 30 years from now, but hopefully you will have the same body. If car maintenance takes a higher priority for you than body maintenance, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

3. Let’s talk goals, shall we? Do you have fitness or performance goals? If you do and you aren’t meeting them with your current exercise approach, then your current approach isn’t working for you. Simple. You can really fix this in one of two ways: change what you’re doing, or change your goals. That latter part was not meant to be cheeky, but rather is a reality for many of us.

Sometimes our goals don’t fit any more. It may be a factor of the time we have available to commit to exercise, or it may be that our goals are more appropriate for a younger version of ourselves. That’s not meant to be defeatist! Appropriate training can work wonders in terms of preparing the body to take on great feats, regardless of age (just ask these 80, 90 and 100 year olds). But there are two realities to consider in regards to how our bodies perform at 50 versus at 25:
1. A 50 year old body has 25 more years of wear and tear on it. If you’ve spent those 25 years playing a sport at a high level, odds are you have a joint or two that has suffered as a result.
2. while a 50 year old body has the physical potential to accomplish a lot, it has some physiological limitations like stiffer connective tissue, and slower recovery.

If the reason your exercise approach isn’t helping you meet your goals is that your goals don’t match you or your life, then work out some new goals, and start working toward them.

If your goals are appropriate, then the problem is your exercise choice. This is where you will need to get into more details, and you may find you need some help figuring it out. If your goals are weight loss related and you’re not meeting them, it may be a factor of your choice of exercise, or the amount you’re doing; but more likely it is a factor of nutrition choices. If you’re not sure how to address that, consider getting help from a nutritionist. You may also find my Get Lean program will be a good start to helping you address some habits that are slowing your progress.

If your goals are performance related, then what is the deficit? Most athletes know their shortcomings if they really reflect: is it speed? Endurance? Strength? Flexibility? Power? Are your opponents getting away from you on the ice because they sneak around you, because their first step is better, or they eventually overtake you? Or is the limitation related to question 2 – is there an injury problem limiting you? Often some self-evaluation can help you to recognize what you need.

Maybe your goals are about life-performance? Want to be able to play with your grandkids in the park? Or be the coach of your kid’s soccer team? But maybe you’re worried you’ll be huffing and puffing after demonstrating one drill? Or that you’ll throw your back out with one kick? For most people, reaching these goals will be best achieved with some combination of strength, flexibility, and endurance training. Unfortunately there isn’t a book or website I can point you to that will find the answer for you. What I can suggest is that you find a health care professional that you trust and ask them for guidance. Odds are they know who the good fitness professionals are who can help you figure this out. And of course if you’re in the Ottawa area and you think this all makes soooo much sense, then you may be interested in getting some help from me or one of the personal trainers who works with me at Custom Strength. We’re all about helping people find the right exercise for them.

How do you fare against the three questions? Are you doing it right? If so, what are you doing? And well done! If you answered no to one or more questions, has this been helpful to steer you to a better path?

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who loves that she gets paid to help people reach their goals.

[1] I recognize some of the “exercise types I listed are really tools (TRX, kettlebell) or protocols (Tabata), but I often hear people speak about them as though they were types, and following the perception is reality philosophy, it made sense to me to include them. In a similar vein, some are overlapping or flat out redundant, for the same reason as above.

Coaching Exercise Video Library

(quicklink to the table of videos)

Welcome to my new project: The Coaching Exercise Video Library. As the title says, it is a library of videos about how to coach exercise. My goal with this project is to share some of the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered from coaching my own clients, talking with great coaches, attending seminars and courses, reading books and articles, and watching videos. While there is an extraordinary amount of great information on the internet about exercise (as well as lots of not so great information), I started to realize that most of this information is about new exercise variations, in depth explanations of exercises, applications for exercises, and of course people lifting impressive loads. But there’s not a lot of basic instruction about how to cue exercise, about typical ways people perform the exercise, and finally, about different cueing and coaching options to correct form. Thus the Coaching Exercise video library was born.

Here’s that intro in video form:

What you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library

There are four principles I aim to uphold as I create the videos (in addition to quality of course – that is implied):
1. The videos will be brief. Most will be 60 to 90 seconds long, with the occasional video coming in at 2 minutes.
2. I will add two to four new videos to the library each week (subscribe to my youtube channel if you want to be notified)
3. The library will also include videos about coaching itself. Remember we are coaching people in how to do exercise; we are not coaching exercise. This means it’s important that we know how to coach people in addition to being able to coach exercise.
4. There will be an overlying organizational structure so that you can find what you’re looking for without having to do several searches and scroll through pages of results.

The organization is accomplished in three ways:
- I have created playlists within my youtube channel, one for each major topic covered. As new coaching exercise videos are added to the library, they will also be added to the appropriate playlist
- The videos are tagged which should facilitate searches
- This post contains a list of the playlists and a list of the exercise videos, sorted alphabetically and into headings. This list will be updated weekly with the new additions. Scroll down for both. If you want to be sure you can always find them, this might be a good time to bookmark this page.

My background (aka why it just makes sense that I created this video library)
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to train a very diverse population that includes athletes, seniors, those with rehab needs (usually referred by their health care practitioner), people with obesity, teenagers, desk jockeys, labourers…the list goes on and on. It has made my job very interesting and educational. I have also had the pleasure of attending seminars and courses taught by some of the best trainers, coaches, physical therapists, and professors in the world; and am even luckier to count some of them as friends. Add to this experience the fact that I was an engineer before I became a trainer, and it means I have an inner “I must see what’s wrong and fix this” guidance system. Lastly, I spent 10 years as a ski instructor, and another 5 years coaching hockey and ultimate. My experience as a ski instructor, and the teaching they provide about how to coach is probably the single biggest contributor to my success as a trainer, and to my ability to create this Coaching Exercise Video Library.

The Coaching Exercise video library table of playlists
This section includes an ordered listing of the playlists you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library. It is updated weekly.

The complete coaching exercise video library (all videos in the library)

Be a better coach
Deadlifts
Half-Kneeling Exercises
Inverted rows (TRX)
Split squats

The Coaching Exercise video library table of videos
This section includes an ordered listing of the individual videos you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library. It is updated weekly.

Coaching: How to progress exercise
Coaching: If the exercise doesn’t look or feel right
Coaching: when to push and when to hold back

Deadlift (Initial cues)
Deadlift (Equipment to make it more accessible)
Deadlift (Grip options)
Deadlift (Height off the floor)
Deadlift (Progress to the bar)
Deadlift (If the low back rounds)
Deadlift (Positioning the hips)
Deadlift (When the Knees do too much)

Half-kneeling (cueing better position)
Half-kneeling (soft tissue limitations)
Half-kneeling (structural limitations)

Half-kneeling cable press
Half-kneeling cable press (hips flexed)
Half-kneeling cable press (ribs flared)
Half-kneeling cable press (shoulder alignment)

Split Squat
Split Squat (flaring ribcage)
Split Squat (back-leg dominance v2)
Split Squat (back-leg dominance v2)

TRX Inverted Row
TRX Inverted Row (hips elevated)
TRX Inverted Row (neck juts forward)
TRX Inverted Row (neck juts forward v2)

dumb-bell-1272846-s_Sxc

My first time

I still remember my first time. In fact I remember the months leading up to that day, and how many times I thought about taking the plunge.

The free weight room (as in the room with barbells, bars, and dumb bells (DBs); not the weight room that is free, nor the room with weights that are free) at the YMCA where I used to workout was at the end of a long hallway of cardio equipment. To the left, there were two smaller rooms – one that was a space set aside for core work, and the other had with a few machines (leg curls, leg press, and leg extensions, but also a squat rack) and to the right was a gymnasium (this was some time ago). There was also another room full of machines at the other end of cardio hall. Back in those days I spent most of my time in the big room full of machines, on the cardio equipment, and occasionally in the small area for core work. Basically I used the same sections that 99.9999999% of women used. The room with free weights in it was not as busy as the other rooms, and was entirely populated with very muscle-y men.

I’m generally a fairly confident person, but I did not feel I belonged there. How could I? I couldn’t lift the kinds of weights those guys were lifting. I also wasn’t confident in my ability to use the weights properly. I had done bench press on the machine before, but never with just a bar and a rack. And I’d done squats in the Smith machine, but what do you do when there’s no machine to hold the bar up? Is it safe? Would I get laughed out of the place if I did biceps curls with weights I could handle? Unassisted pull-ups? I wish! And those guys sure don’t look friendly. The faces they make while lifting!

And so every time I worked out, I looked curiously into that room as I walked between abs area, cardio-central and the machine room.

Over time, I started to want more out of my training. I had heard so many people talk about how much better free weights were over the years, but where to start? Eventually I hired a trainer, and was introduced to Romanian deadlifts, squats, hang cleans, and rows. All of these things used free weights. Finally, I was learning how to do this stuff! Within a couple of months, I started doing the program my trainer set up for me on my own at the Y a couple of times per week on top of seeing him once per week. I still didn’t have the confidence to venture into the free weight room, although now my curiosity about that room had become longing. I really wanted to go work out in there. It got to the point that every day I would say to myself, “today is the day I will workout in that room”, and then every day I walked over to it and did a sharp left turn just before entering and went to the crappy little rack in the other room. Maybe tomorrow.

Finally, tomorow came. I don’t know what was different this time, but this time I took a deep breathe and walked faster so that I had no choice. Before I knew it, I was in the room! Ack! Since I had looked in so many times, I had a pretty good idea of where I would go. I was going to do single leg Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) and 3 point rows. I had pre-scouted a bench to the left of the door that was next to the big DB rack. I grabbed a DB (Single leg RDLs with one weight add a nice core challenge) and did a superset of SL RDLs and rows. My heart was pounding! My guess is that my form was less than excellent as I was so focussed on trying to scan the room via the mirrors while trying to look cool as a cucumber. And you’ll never guess what the big weight-lifting dudes did next!!! Nothing. Or at least nothing to do with me. They just kept on with their workouts, as though I wasn’t even there. All this time, I had been so worried, and in fact, nobody cared.

Shortly after that, the next amazing thing happened. As I left the room and made eye contact with one of them, he smiled and nodded at me. Not in a “I’m here to hit on you and make you uncomfortable” kind of way, but in a “hello fellow weightlifter” kind of way. Yes!

Anyone else been through this process? Or still in the process of trying to work up the nerve to use the free weight room? Do share!

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who is keen to help anyone and everyone learn to train better.

What kettlebell exercises should I do?

I just got a great question from an out of town friend looking for training advice, and realized it’s probably a common question, and so I wanted to share it and my answer:

Q: “I want to do some exercises with kettle bells, but I have no idea what would be the better exercises… I have to get back into training for the tough mudder.

I ran the tough mudder last year in Orillia and got my butt handed to me… running up and down ski hills and the obstacles… I was hurting.”

A: “Easy answer – learn how to do swings (properly), kb rows, Turkish getups, goblet squats, and presses. Best option to learn – search on youtube for each exercise and either ‘RKC’ or ‘Strongfirst’. Those are both certifications that are excellent and teach their trainers well. I wouldn’t trust generic youtube videos from people who don’t have those designations because there’s a lot of garbage out there. Like KB swings that go from flexed to extended backs.”

That was the end of our brief Facebook chat, but I would like to add the following: Of course your best bet is to actually go train with someone who will teach the movements properly, and know how to program and progress them to optimize your results relative to your goals. Best way to find that would be to also search for a personal trainer or kettlebell instructor in your area who has one of the two designations noted above (RKC and Strongfirst, or HKC). There are some good trainers out there who don’t have those designations who can teach you kettlebells well who don’t have those designations (myself for instance), but if you are picking someone without knowing them, make sure you have some information that points to them being good.

Kettlebells are amazing tools if used with great form and appropriate volume; but those are two big ifs.

I suggest adopting these two rules if you plan to use kettlebells:
1. Learn to use them properly.
2. Learn to say it properly. Let me fix this one for you right now: It’s a bell, not a ball.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who incorporates lots of kettlebell exercises with her clients. If you’re in Ottawa, consider signing up for our kettlebell class.

Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance