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?


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
Cross-country skiing
Free weights
Functional training
Olympic lifting
Playing my favourite sport
Power lifting
Strength training

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
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)


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.

Weigh less and exercise more?

December 31st. The day we all take notice of our shortcomings and decide to do something about it. And for many of us, it’s about 3 days before we revert back to accepting our shortcomings.

Are you a new year’s resolution person? Have any for this year? Are they related to weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise? If so, I have 3 suggestions I’d like share:

  1. Have a read through this post I wrote previously about resolutions. Or interpret this super-dense summary: “A small resolution that you do for a long time becomes a big change. A big resolution that you do for a short time becomes a small change.” Are you contemplating a big change? Is it one you’ve tried before without much success? If so, maybe it’s time to break it down a bit.
  2. If you’re gung-ho on the healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss realm, then check out our online habit-based program, Get Lean 2015. We’ve run it a few times previously with great reviews, so we’re running it again with one key change: it’s free this time! It’s an 8 week program where you take on a new habit each week, and each day, you receive an email with information and insight into that week’s habit. Click the link above for a few more details and to register. The January 12th edition is already underway, but if it interests you, head over to the registration page to see when the next edition will start.
  3. Pick up a copy of Erin Brown’s ebook, As Is. Seriously. Do it. You will thank me for the recommendation. Especially if you are a woman, or if you are the parent of a girl. In truth, I am only halfway through at the moment, but it has already had a very big (and positive!) effect on my own body-image and on how I talk to myself. I just can’t state enough how much I think you should buy this book.

    That’s it that’s all. The only thing left to say is Happy New Year! (and to go find out what the rest of the Auld Lang Syne lyrics are…)

    Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa. She trains clients at Custom Strength in west centretown.

When Santa Came to Lift

I don’t usually talk about my clients unless they talk about training with me first, but I’m going to make an exception because this client is just so cool. He also has very unique goals, which make him doubly interesting. Here’s how that first phone call went:

EV: “How can I help you Mr. Claus?”

SC: “Please, call me Nick.”

EV: “Okay, Nick. What are you hoping to achieve?”

SC: “Well, I have this delivery job. It’s a particularly important one. Lots and lots of people are counting on me, and the performance level I need to achieve year-in and year-out is frankly, mind-boggling. I’ve heard some people say I defy the laws of physics. Silly, I know. I mean, I’m doing it so it must be possible. Maybe they just put a little too much stock in that Einstein guy’s theories.”

EV: “Interesting. Can you be a bit more specific about your performance needs? Elaborate on the physical aspect of your job?”

SC: “Yes, as I said, I make deliveries, except instead of knocking at the door, I shimmy quietly down the chimney with the items. I then leave them under a tree or hanging in stockings, and then I climb back up and move on to the next house. I have to do all of this as fast as inhumanly possible as I have to make hundreds of millions of deliveries in one night. Oh, and I have to do it without anyone seeing me.”

EV: “Right. So it sounds like speed is of the utmost importance. Are you happy with how well you’re doing?”

SC: “That’s the trouble. The first 1500 years were like sugarplums, but I’ve really felt my age these last 170 some years. It used to only take me six months to recover from the big day, but lately, I’ve been finding it takes me clear to September before I feel like myself again. I worry about how the next 200 years will go. And it’s not just the recovery. Back when I was in my early thousands, I was always finished with the deliveries by about 3am, but lately it’s been almost 5am. You can imagine that this makes for some close calls. Part of the problem is that I just don’t seem to be able to amble up that chimney the way I once did. By the last 100,000 homes, it’s sheer will that’s getting me back to the roof.”

EV: “Okay this is very helpful. You mention recovery. Aside from taking longer, how do you find your body is holding up?”

SC: “Everything seems pretty good. I was having some trouble with my knees, but North Pole Sports Therapy has helped a lot.”

EV: “Great. Now what about your diet? Sometimes we can make great progress with changing your fuel. Especially if you’re carrying a few extra pounds.”

SC: “Ah, yes. About that. There’s no question my diet is heavy in cookies and milk, but I had some lab work done and my doc says I’m healthier than a thousand year old, so I think we’re good there. I am carrying what some might deem a few extra pounds, but it’s so ingrained in my brand that I would really rather not mess with that. There’s so much competition for the dreams of youth these days, that I don’t want to find out whether Buff Santa would go over well. For now at least, I need to stay Jolly.”

EV: “Good stuff. It’s important to know the goal.”

SC: “Do you think you can help?”

EV: “I do. Can you start Monday? Assuming my plan works, I expect we’ll work until mid-December, and then I’m confident I’ll see you back for your next round of pre-season training in June, because I suspect you’ll find yourself back to your old standard recovered by then.”

And that’s how Santa Claus became my most famous client. It’s been a great three months, and I’m thrilled to let you know that Nick called this morning to let me know that he finished his job at 3:45am. Not quite his old time, but much improved from previous years. I’m confident he’ll do even better next year, especially if he starts earlier in the year. He and his elves are currently celebrating with some nog and then he’ll be heading for his post-work nap. And he assured me that he will be calling when he wakes in June.

Hearing success stories from my clients is by far the best part of my job. As with all of my clients, Santa did all the work to earn himself this performance improvement; I merely facilitated it.

Wondering what sort of exercises a trainer puts in Santa Claus’ workout? Surprisingly, it’s not that much different from what we do with any other athlete’s workout. He starts with foam rolling and stretching, and then move into some agility and power. Nothing excessive: thousand plus year old joints have enough mileage on them that hundreds of box jumps would likely push him to early retirement. Instead we keep the volume low and focus on landing his jumps and being ready for a quick second jump (occupational requirement when landing in potentially hot fireplaces).

Next up he works on getting strong. Given that he carries a heavy bag over one shoulder while having to tip toe around obstacles followed by some vertical climbing means he needs everything to be strong, but in particular, he needs a strong core so that heavy bag doesn’t lead to back problems. Of course he did deadlifts, because nothing trains you for picking up an infinitely large bag of toys like a deadlift. After that we filled in with all manner of squats (two leg, one leg, split stance) often holding a single kettle in one hand to get extra core training. Given the need to climb, you can imagine that Santa did a lot of pull-ups. Pretty impressive actually, considering his girth. We topped that off with lots of rows to make sure his back and shoulders were solid. And let’s not forget the push ups, planks, bench press – especially bottom up KB bench; that Santa’s now got seriously stable shoulders! Last but not least, he did cable chops and lifts until the reindeer came home.

Once he finished his strength training, it was time to further build his stamina. He started with the bike for a few weeks, and then we moved to either battling ropes or sled pushes (obviously).

I will also say that the jolly thing isn’t just a look. That man worked his butt off each day in the gym, but still managed several ho-ho-hos each session.

Speaking of jolly, how did we manage to add this much activity without him losing his figure? Let’s just say Santa enjoys food. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. But good on him – he may be carrying some extra weight, but he’s healthy as a snowman; happy as a Who; and his performance is otherworldly.

Well done, Nick! I am looking forward to having you back in the gym for next year’s pre-season training. Enjoy your well earned nap, my friend.

Christmas Santa Claus

Deep(ish) Thoughts

Sitting in the San Diego airport enjoying a double short latte from Starbucks – yes I did give the name Elektra and no I don’t mind at all that they spelled it Electra – with a couple hours before my delayed flight. After a week of visiting down here a bunch of thoughts are running through my head.

1. My best ideas seem to come to me when I’m relaxed. I used to think it was driving that yielded the best ideas and so I looked forward to long road trips. But I came up with possibly the best business idea I have ever had while chilling at my brother’s house. At the time I was probably thinking about some combination of a) nothing, b) what my niece and I would play next, or c) whether it was beer o’clock. In other words: Not while “spending time brainstorming”. For me at least, forced brainstorming is much less effective for coming up with big ideas than relaxation time. Once the idea is there, I do take an hour or two to hash out details because I don’t want to lose it. In this case, I had the makings of this idea rattling around in my head for a few months but wasn’t able to make it all come together. Thank you San Diego vacation for delivering what I think will prove to be a breakout product for me in 2015.

2. I love the beach, but it turns out that others don’t love it as much as I do. Or at least they don’t seem to love photos I post of the beach in December. Huh. As I am at the airport now, it’s safe to say that this will be the last one for a while.

3. I never eat enough Mexican food when I visit San Diego. One of these trips I will learn to do better.

4. The only exercise I got this week was a couple of beach walks and my daily dose of playing with my nieces. The older is just over 40 pounds, which means I need to step up my overhead work in the gym if I want to be able to continue to pick her up and lift her overhead. Oh wait, some Doctor on the internet said that overhead lifting wasn’t functional. Hmmm.

5. In addition to not getting much exercise, I think I ate three servings of vegetables this week, and yesterday I had donuts for breakfast. Strangely, my body still works. While I remain confident that regular exercise and healthy eating are the fountain of youth; I think some of us can stand to relax about it a bit. I’m pretty confident that when I lift tomorrow, I will be similarly strong and fit as I was when I last lifted over a week ago. I also suspect when I hit the slopes this weekend, my legs will once again demonstrate that the work I do regularly in the gym will remain in effect. I promise to update if it turns out I am wrong.

6. While I think we can relax a little on healthy food and exercise, I think we need to be mindful that for some of us, returning to good habits can be tough. A bit of vigilance the weeks after a visit to rancho relaxo is a good idea. I’ll be starting up our 8 week Get Lean program in January and will be introducing what I think is a pretty cool Phase 2 program for those who have already done it, including me.

7. One cool thing about eating well most of the time is that after straying for a while, my body starts to crave vegetables. I injected vegetables into my lunch yesterday as I thought I was starting to feel the early stages of scurvy. Not that I actually know what scurvy feels like. But my body did direct my brain to Trader Joes to pick up a variety of vegetables.

8. I love skiing and therefore I love winter, but it turns out I also like San Diego’s version of winter. The last time I skied, my ski buddies and I were musing about the many different ski outfits we have for the many different ski day temperatures that we enjoy. Does this mean Canadians have more clothing than Californians?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who thinks everything is better with guacamole.

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Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance