All posts by Elsbeth

Does it matter when you drink water?

Did you know that there’s a theory that if you drink water with or before your meal you’ll gain weight because it makes your stomach bigger?

And another theory suggests that if you drink water with or before your meal, that you’ll affect digestion by turning your food into a grey mush and that will cause weight gain.

And one that suggests if you drink water with or before your meal, you’ll negatively alter your stomach acidity.

Some of these theories are easy to disprove, others may hold water (I couldn’t help myself). Hint about the mush one though: the process of turning your food into mush is called digestion.

There are numerous studies that have shown drinking water right before eating helps with weight loss, not weight gain:

  • This study found those who drank water before eating lost an extra 2 kg over 12 weeks.
  • In this one, participants either drank water or drank nothing and imagined their stomachs being full before their meal. Over 12 weeks, those who drank water lost on average 2.9 pounds more than the visualizers.
  • This study looked at how much food people ate during a meal relative to selecting one of five beverages or no beverage. It showed no difference between people who drank water, diet cola, or nothing; and showed those who drank caloric beverages (cola, orange juice, or 1% milk) consumed on average 104 calories more.

water glass joe plockl noncommercial flickr

In summary about pre/during meal water consumption contributing to weight gain: Two studies reviewed showed weight loss, and one study showed no difference.

I recognize that three studies is not exhaustive, but I did scan search results and was unable to find any studies suggesting water would contribute to weight gain. If you know of any, please send me an email as I want to be sure I’m sharing accurate information.

Next theory: Does water disrupt your stomach pH?

There is a theory that if you drink water with your meal or within an hour before or after, you’ll negatively affect the pH level (acidity) of your stomach, which will impede digestion and lead to weight gain.

This study supports this contention – sort of. It notes that after drinking water, stomach pH increased to higher than 4 (normal varies from person to person but is about 2) within one minute. But it was back to normal within 3 minutes.

Is that enough to worry about?

I will suggest that 3 minutes of elevated pH is not something to worry about. If you are worried about your stomach pH affecting your digestion, then wait 3 minutes after drinking water before eating your meal.

Don’t drink cold water?

Still another theory is that you shouldn’t drink cold water because it slows digestion.

This study had scientists place sensors in the stomachs of participants (through their noses) combined with gamma cameras (not in the stomach) to identify when orange juice at 4 deg Celsius, 37 deg C, and 50 deg C left the stomach. They also looked at temperature readings in the stomach.

It seems there is something to this temperature theory. The cold juice did take longer to digest, but within 10 minutes, there was no difference in the amount of liquid in the stomach between the cold and control juice. It also took 30 minutes for the stomach to return to normal temperature after ingestion of the cold juice versus 20 minutes for the warm juice. Does it matter to you if it will take your stomach an extra 10 minutes to digest and return to normal temperature? I would suggest that for most people, most of the time, this is not an issue, and won’t be noticeable.

If you are someone who has digestive challenges, then that 10 minutes of extra digestion and of extra time for your stomach to return to normal temperature might be relevant, in which case warm water is probably a better choice.

What about athletic competition? Would the extra digestion time for cold water get in the way of performance? Maybe. But it may also affect hydration. So I looked up whether temperature of water consumed has an affect on the body’s ability to rehydrate. Unfortunately I could not find any relevant studies on that, but I did find this study that showed individuals exercising in heat (40 C) drank less when consuming warm water (40 C) than they did when consuming cool water (15 C), resulting in a greater loss of fluid. So, the question is really whether extra digestion time for cold water would affect performance more or less than reduced water intake with warm water.

I will stop the spiral of investigation at this point partly for time, and partly because I’m extrapolating from single studies, which isn’t good scientific practice. Instead I will leave you to decide whether you have seen adequate evidence to decide whether it matters if you drink your water warm or cold, or whether the topic is interesting enough that you decide to research it further.

Isn’t science fun?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., was an engineer before becoming a personal trainer, and well, that probably isn’t surprising, given the high geek quotient in this post.

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Is stretching the answer? My adductor stretching experience

“My [insert the name of a muscle or body area] is tight. Can we do some extra stretches for it?”

Every trainer reading this knows we get some variation of this question often. It’s a logical direction: something is tight, stretching makes you less tight, therefore stretching is the solution to tightness. While it’s logical, it’s not necessarily accurate.

I have tight adductors (groin muscles). I always have. Recently, I decided to do try doing something about it, so I took a before shot, and then added three sets of about 60 second adductor stretches to my workout program, which I then did two to three times a week for six weeks, and then I took an after shot. Here they are:


Admittedly the photography isn’t the best, but amazing improvement, right? What? You don’t see it?

Me either. The photo on the bottom is the after, by the way. I think there’s a bit more range, but not much. Not only was there little to no improvement, but my hips didn’t feel good when I came out of each stretch. The discomfort wore off after a few steps, but was consistently present over the six weeks.

If adductor stretching is the answer to my adductor tightness, shouldn’t adductor stretching feel good and yield a positive outcome over time?

Works and doesn’t hurt seems like an obvious criterion for an exercise, doesn’t it?

Since it did neither of those things, I decided that adductor stretching is not for me and I’m not going to do it any more.

What do you think? Is that the right response, or does that sound like a drastic conclusion?

I suspect the reason stretching didn’t do much (good) is a combination of genetics and structure. This is a conclusion that I draw from my history (I’ve never been able to sit cross-legged well), my family (my brother has similar inflexibility), and the failure of my adductor stretching experiment.

There is a theory that lack of stability can signal the brain to limit mobility, and that in order to increase mobility, you must address that instability. I meantion this to point out that lack of stability is another reason that I could have limited range of motion in my adductors. The reason I don’t think it’s that, is that I have done loads of core stability work over many years. If core stability was the key to unlocking my adductors, it would have happened long ago. And so I am sticking with the conclusion I mentioned above.

Which means, I’m suggesting that maybe there are situations where it is okay – normal even – to be tight.

We tend to carry this belief that we have to fix everything, but what if some things just are, and don’t need to be fixed? In my case, my adductor range of motion causes no pain, has no negative effect on my daily life, and does not limit my performance in either tennis or skiing, my two favourite sports. So is this really a problem?

I can see a counter argument: So you’re saying we should just accept who we are and never strive to be better.

That isn’t what I’m saying; but also, it sort of is.

What I’m actually saying is that we would all do well to accept the fact that as humans we are not built from one single mould. And since we’re not all built the same, striving to meet a generic standard is nonsensical. What if we strive to be better (the best even?) versions of ourselves and also recognize that we may not know what that looks like until we try.

Not sure if your limitation is fixable or not? Try fixing it. Can you? Great. Done. But what if after a month or two there’s little to no improvement? What if along the way your body gives you the “I don’t like this” signal? Maybe that means that for this outcome, you’re already at the best version of you.

Interested in the topic of whether or not to stretch? I’ll be posting again within the next week with another example of a situation where stretching may not be the answer to muscle tightness. Check back next week, or if you want to get an email when it comes out, sign up for my newsletter below.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who enjoys talking and writing about training concepts.

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Open letter to fitness conference organizers about diversity

Dear fitness conference organizer,

I’m a woman on a mission to help improve the diversity among speakers at fitness conferences. It’s not a role I particularly want, but it’s one that fell into my lap a few years ago while at a fitness seminar Q&A where everyone answering questions was white and male. It was disappointing.

Worse was the response I received from some of the men in the industry whom I respect tremendously. The one that struck me most was “there just aren’t many women who are at the level that they could be speaking at these events“.

I had a hard time believing that, but since I’m an engineer at heart (and by background), I decided an investigation was in order. The result was a list of 39 women who could be speaking at fitness events. That list was passed around to my network and my network’s network, and is now three times as long.

I received a lot of feedback about how great this initiative is, and I also received comments asking for a solution versus just drawing attention to a problem, and pointing out that this list may not be helpful because it doesn’t tell conference organizers whether the person is actually a good speaker.

While the positive feedback feels better, I value quality critical comments more, because they motivated me to turn a list into a proposed plan. I share this plan in the hope that you will consider participating.

Here is this proposed plan:
Step 1. As a fitness conference organizer, I ask that you implement a speaker application process.

This has the potential for you to showcase new and different people and perspectives to your seminar audience while opening up opportunities to talented presenters who may not be in your network or your network’s network.

I recognize that reviewing applications may add to your workload, and leaves you potentially not knowing whether the applicants have what you are looking for in a speaker. Thankfully, I believe there is a solution to these challenges. Khaled ELmasri, the organizer of the Rise Fitness Business Conference, has an excellent application process.

It’s brilliant because it accomplishes four things:

  1. It requires some effort on the part of the applicant, which means only serious applicants will apply.
  2. Part of the application is a video which lets you see the applicant’s speaking ability.
  3. There is a 3 minute time limit for the video, which caps application review time.
  4. The videos provide him with marketing tools for his event without having to later chase after the speakers to request marketing video content.

Once you have implemented your application process, please send me the url for the application. You can do so with this form.

Step 2. I will create a list of conferences with open application processes and will include links to the forms, the date and location of the event, and the due date for the application. I will add your conference application form when I receive it.

This will help women to apply to your events, while also positioning you as an organization that is supportive of a diverse fitness industry. Hopefully you’ll receive applications from people of different ethnic backgrounds who may not otherwise be aqble to reach you.

Step 3. If anyone reading this knows of fitness conferences that have published application processes, please post them in the comments section or send them to me and I will include them.

Step 4. For this to work, the women on this list must recognize that we have a part to play. The reality is that the people who get stuff are the people who ask for stuff. If you want to speak at fitness events, you have to apply to speak at fitness events.

When you apply, respect the event organizer’s time by following their application guidelines.

Once you’ve submitted your application, get comfortable with the idea that you might not be selected. For this, I’ll pass on words of wisdom from a boss back when I worked as an engineer: “It’s not personal: it’s business.” Translation: If they say no, they’re not saying they don’t like you; they’re saying what you have to offer now is not what they need for this event. It may be what they need next time, and it may be what someone else needs now, so you must learn to accept no without losing the confidence to apply for another opportunity.

Step 5. If you see flaws in this plan, or have ideas on how it could be better, please reach out to share them. Things improve when we build on each other’s ideas.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Elsbeth Vaino

Get Lean / Get Healthy 8 Week Challenge

It’s time for the next edition of our Get Lean 8 Week Challenge, except this time, there’s an additional feature: We now have the Get Lean Challenge and the Get Healthy Challenge.

Each is 8 weeks long where you’ll address one new habit each week. The habits are cumulative, so by the end you’ll be putting 8 new habits into action. If you’re like most people, you’ll find some of them easy, some of them moderately challenging, and one or two will be a real challenge for you. For additional motivation, there’s a “someone’s keeping tabs” element in that you’ll submit a (brief) daily tracking form about how well you’re sticking to the habits. And for even more motivation, it’s a competition, where points are awarded based on how well you stick to the habits.

Each program also has three levels, so that you can pick the level that is right for you.
Do you already eat really well and exercise regularly, but maybe could use a bit of accountability? Or maybe you look at programs like this and get a nervous feeling of self-doubt that you won’t be able to do it? There’s a level for each, and there’s one in between.

The difference between the two programs is the order in which you’ll adopt the habits:

For the Get Lean Challenge, you’ll start addressing indulgent eating in week 1, which means you’ll do this for 8 weeks.
For the Get Healthy Challenge, you’ll start adding healthy foods before addressing removing some of the less healthy ones.

The Get Lean Challenge is the version I’ve been running a few times a year since 2013, and each time I receive lots of positive feedback, with many people lossing 10 to 20 pounds during the 8 weeks, while others are in the 5 to 10 range. Not everyone loses weight, although most who stick to it, do. My favourite part about the program is the emails I get from people telling me that they continued to follow some of the habits after the program ended.

I also love that a lot of people take the program every time I offer it. That feels like a good sign.

Why did I add the new Get Healthy challenge?

The get lean challenge is effective, but I noticed over the years that not everyone completes the 8 weeks. This led me to think there was room for improvement, and that’s when I started to think about how hard it is to stick to the indulgences part for 8 weeks. I also thought about how, conceptually, I prefer a program that starts with positives (add healthy foods) instead of negatives (reduce unhealthy foods). Thus the Get Healthy challenge was born.

I kept the Get Lean Challenge as well based on feedback from the first time I ran the Get Healthy Challenge – some people like to attack the indulgences right away!

To recap:

If you think indulgent eating (junk food and such) is a big ticket item for you AND you think you’ve got it in you to reduce that (we don’t ask you to eliminate – we ask you to reduce) for 8 weeks, then sign up for the Get Lean Challenge.

If you think addressing indulgent eating without first bringing in some healthier habits is going to make you drop out, or if indulgent eating isn’t a big ticket item for you, then pick the Get Healthy Challenge.

There is a $10 fee to take part – that’s Canadian dollars, so practically free for many of you.

Regardless of which program you select, you’ll receive an email at the beginning of the week that introduces the habit for that week, and then each day you’ll receive another email with information about the habit. The emails hopefully shed light on some of the seemingly contradictory information available about nutrition and exercise. I know daily emails sounds like a lot, but feedback so far is that most people really like them. In fact a few people always email me at the end of the program to tell me that they miss the emails.

Interested? Register by Sunday January 7th to start on Monday January 8th. Here’s the registration form in case you missed it. Once you fill in the form, you’ll be directed to a paypal page where you can pay. Note that you won’t be registered until you have paid.

We also have a private facebook page for the program where you can ask questions and share experiences with others who are (or have) taken the program. Because it is a closed group, nobody else can see what you write there. Or you can reply to the program emails.

Playing music legally at a gym

[This post covers playing music legally in both Canada and the US.]

I own a personal training gym where people come to “enjoy” working out with one of our trainers. We do our best to make it a fun experience, and part of that means we play music in the background. I used to create playlists from my own music collection, and then I moved up and created playlists from music I had downloaded (legally) from Google Play. While some clients poked fun at my playlists (arguably I am stuck in the 80s and 90s musically), for the most part the music that played in the background helped make their gym experience more enjoyable.

That’s how we operated back when I thought paying the $9.99/mo for Google Play was all I needed to play music legally at my gym. Then I learned about SOCAN, which is the licensing body for music in Canada. I’m a fan of keeping things above board, so I looked into how to play music at my gym legally.

Music licensing in Canada (scroll down for the US story)

Here’s an excerpt from the SOCAN website:

“A SOCAN licence gives you the freedom and flexibility to use virtually any music you want for your business or public event – legally, ethically, and easily. Without SOCAN, you would have to get permission and negotiate a royalty with every songwriter, lyricist, and music publisher whose work you intend to play (publicly perform) – a feat that most of us have neither the time nor the means to achieve.”

As a business owner, you would probably read that and think that paying SOCAN is all you have to do to play music legally in your gym, right? Not quite.

It turns out that SOCAN is not THE licensing body for music in Canada; it’s one of two licensing bodies for music in Canada. SOCAN represents music creators while Re:Sound represents music performers. SOCAN is aware that Re:Sound exists and that as a business owner you need to pay both SOCAN and Re:Sound to play music legally in your place of business. So why does their website say that a SOCAN license is all you need? Great question.

Here’s an excerpt from the Re:Sound website:

“Re:Sound is the Canadian organization, authorized by the Copyright Board of Canada, to provide you with the music licence(s) your business needs and help you understand the licensing process.

“Individual artists and record companies worldwide designate organisations, such as Re:Sound, to license businesses that use recorded music publicly. This allows businesses and broadcasters to deal with a one-stop-shop that can grant them a licence to play recorded music and ensure that licensing fees are distributed fairly and accurately to artists and record companies.”

Maybe they don’t understand what “one-stop-shop” means?

I don’t understand why neither SOCAN nor Re:Sound mentions that their license is part of what you need to play music legally at your business instead of saying that it is what you need.

This omission encourages businesses to inadvertently violate Canadian Copyright law and arguably takes money out of the pockets of the artists these organizations represent. I spoke with representatives from both SOCAN and Re:Sound and brought this to their attention. The person I spoke with at Re:Sound mentioned she would pass this along, while the person from SOCAN just noted that SOCAN and Re:Sound are working toward a joint payment option in the future, but didn’t seem concerned that their website claims a SOCAN license is all a business owner needs.

Full disclosure: there are actually more than two licensing bodies for music in Canada, and if you will be reproducing music in a product, then you also need licenses from CONNECT or SOPROQ and from CMRRA or sodrac (this page on the CONNECT website provides examples and links). If you just play music at your gym, then Re:Sound and SOCAN are the only two licenses you need.

Here is the SOCAN webpage with information for all use types and including a calculator and link to the application form. The fitness one is toward the bottom.

Here is the relevant page for a Re:sound licence. Note that if you do not have classes at your gym, then select the “background music” option and not the “fitness activities” option, and then on the next page, click on the calculator button and you will get an option for “background music use – fitness”.

Music licensing in the US: (scroll down to the summary if you are only interested in Canada)

At least my business isn’t in the US where you have to pay each of ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR for licensing. The reason there is more than one is that each represents different catalogues (I guess it’s catalogs?) of writers and composers. The person I chatted with from ASCAP noted that anti-monopoly rules in the US is why they can’t just have one.

Since each represents different songs, depending what music you are playing, you may not need to pay all four, but if you’re not going to pay them all, you want to be sure you’re only playing music represented by the ones you are paying. Each fo the four licensing companies in the US do have a searchable database of the music they represent, so if you have specific playlists you use and have the time to search for each song, you may very well be able to get licenses with only one or two of them. Or you may want to pick one and then use their database to only select songs from their catalog for your playlists.

Note the ASCAP page doesn’t include any option for fitness facility in their list of “all” licenses so presumably you’ll have to click the “don’t see your business type here” link and fill in their contact form.

Also note that the GMR “Obtain a license” button is just an email link versus an actual application.

Licensing summary:
To sum that up, if you’re in Canada you have to pay for two licenses to play music in your gym, and up to four if you’re in the US and then you’re good to play music in your gym. Or at least that is the case if you play digital downloads, CDs, tapes, records, and 8 tracks.

But what if you stream music? This is where it gets fun.

Streaming music services including Google Play and Apple Music note in their terms and conditions that they are for non-commercial use only. Meanwhile Spotify, Pandora (in the US), and Sirius XM (which offers satellite radio and streaming) each state that if you want to use their music for commercial purposes you have to subscribe to their business service. Spotify’s business arm is called either Soundtrack Business or Soundtrack Your Brand, but for simplicity, I’ll keep referring to it as Spotify. There’s a service in the US Called Rockbot that also provides streaming services for business. Rockbot aims to come to Canada soon.

Each of Spotify, Pandora, Sirius XM, and Rockbot charge a premium for their service, and a portion of what you pay covers the license that allows you to play music at your place of business. Sounds good right? And it is, unless you run a gym or other location involving physical activity.

The Canadian story of streaming: (scroll down for the US version)
According to the SOCAN representative I spoke with, in Canada licensing to play music in a gym is governed under Tariff 19 of the Copyright Act, but Soundtrack Business is licensed under Tariff 15, while Sirius for Business is licensed under Tariff 16. In other words, if you pay for Soundtrack Business or Sirius XM for Business in Canada, you are not properly licensed to play music at your gym.

Interestingly I discovered that my subscription to Sirius XM for Business was insufficient while researching legal alternatives to it. I wanted an alternative because I found their content frustrating. It was too many slow songs; too much dj chit-chat, and far too much repetition for my liking. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the “legal” service I was using isn’t actually legal for me. I went back to their website to see if I should have known this.

Here is what the website says about their business service:

“The music industry requires that any business playing music for the public to pay music royalties. We save you both time and money by paying all background music royalty fees including SOCAN and Re:Sound — costs you would otherwise incur if you use CDs, MP3s or regular radio for your overhead music.”

This is how their FAQ page addresses licensing:

“When music is played at a business for the enjoyment of patrons and others, this is deemed a “performance” by the music artist, for which a royalty fee must be paid to performance rights organizations such as SOCAN & Re:Sound.
For the convenience of our business customers, SiriusXM includes these royalties in the price of our commercial subscription plans, and pays the required royalties directly to the performance rights organizations on behalf of the businesses.”

What do you think? Should I have known that this doesn’t cover playing music at my gym? Now that I have researched the topic, I know there is a clue in the term “background music”. According to Canadian copyright laws, music for physical activity is not solely considered background music. I’m not sure it’s fair for Sirius to assume business owners should know that, or that the use of the term background music is enough. In fact I would argue that their website is misleading in regards to music for business.

In fact in order to find out if it is legal, I went to their terms of service, and while it made no mention of any exclusion for gyms, it does state that it is licensed under Tariff 16. Is it really fair to assume that a gym owner knows that Tariff 16 is insufficient licensing for a gym? I will restate that I believe their website is misleading. I will send this blog post to them and I hope they will consider adjusting the wording to specifically address the fact that their service does not cover use in a gym.

I asked the SOCAN representative if you could pay for one of these business solutions and then pay them (and Re:Sound) the difference in licensing cost between Tariff 19 and either 15 or 16 to avoid overpaying, and I was told that is not possible.

Note that Re:Sound operates slightly differently. For Re:Sound, if you operate fitness classes, then you are licensed under Tariff 6B. but if you don’t run classes and instead you play music in the background while your clients lift weights, that is covered under background music, which is Tariff 3. I believe that this means Sirius for Business would cover a gym for their Re:Sound licensing if they don’t have classes, but not if they do have classes. And either way, it doesn’t cover their SOCAN licensing.

Clear as mud?

The US story of streaming: (scroll down to the summary if you are only interested in Canada)

The story in the US is similar although the specifics are different. According to the ASCAP representative I chatted with, the Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius XM business options do not cover music in an environment with admissions. I asked what “with admissions” meant in the context of a gym and was told that because gyms charge a fee, additional licensing is required. While each of these businesses state the “with admissions” exclusion, none do so particularly clearly.

The US Sirius for Business page states that their “business service is the best choice for restaurants, offices, retail, and businesses of all types and sizes” and also has sample stations for “spa and fitness”. But if you read their terms of service, it includes the following:

“The Service is not authorized for use as an accompaniment to dancing, use by a DJ or use in connection with a business that charges an admission fee (such as nightclubs, bowling alleys, fitness centers, skate parks, etc.).”

So technically they are telling you that their service is not legal for a gym, but you sure have to dig deep to learn that. Is it fair to argue that suggesting specific stations to use for fitness implies that their service is legal for fitness? And what about their statement that their service is for “businesses of all types and sizes”? If I understand what “all types and sizes” means, and I think I do; I’d say that’s pretty misleading.

Pandora is the same:

“Playing music in a business over a loudspeaker is commercial use and requires specific music licensing. With a Mood Media account and media player you can now use Pandora to play music in your business for your customers”

Spotify is similar. Their website says:

“Spotify Premium and other consumer services are only licensed for consumers. Soundtrack Business not only gives you a service licensed for commerical use but music channels specifically created to suit businesses settings.”

True to their word, Soundtrack Business has 20 workout playlists that would be perfect for those of us who run gyms. Except that they list the “with admissions” exclusion in the licensing section of their help page. Is it appropriate to list workout playlists for a business service that is not legal to use for businesses that provide workouts?

Summarizing Streaming for business services
In other words, if you run a gym in Canada or the US and you are paying for any of the aforementioned music for business services, you do not have a sufficient license to play their music in your gym. It’s a little (a lot?) absurd.

Rockbot may be an exception. Their website states that you can use it for fitness – in fact they specifically list fitness as an industry for which you can use their music. I spoke with someone from Rockbot who told me that they do in fact have the specific licensing required to play music at a gym, although they are not licensed for music played in a class. Unfortunately the support section of their website still states that their service is not legal for a facility that charges admission. I suspect the person I spoke with is correct and they do have the proper licensing, but if that’s the case, how about updating your website? If I owned a gym in the US, I wouldn’t be comfortable playing Rockbot as long as their website specifically lists the exclusion for facilities with admissions. Hopefully they’ll update their website soon and then this won’t be a problem.

What’s a gym owner to do?
I was starting to think about dusting off my cd collection when I decided to find out if it is possible to use the non-business streaming services in a business environment if I pay the licensing fees directly. I assumed the answer would be no because of the aforementioned non-commercial use clauses, but when I read the Google Play terms of service more carefully I noticed two statements that suggested there may be wiggle room. Under the heading “no public performance“, the paragraph includes the line “except where such use would not constitute a copyright infringement“, and on a separate page that describes the licensing with their music partners, it notes that ” Unless authorised, any use of the works other than for the purpose of individual and private reproduction and use is prohibited.” This suggested to me that if I secure the rights, I might be able to use the service commercially.

To be certain, I contacted both Google Play and Apple Music, and in both cases, the customer support person that I chatted with stated that I am allowed to use their service to play music at my gym if I secure the licensing to do so. Hallelujah, it is possible to play streaming music legally at a gym!

Screenshot 2017-12-04 15.20.51 google

Screenshot 2017-12-04 15.59.43 apple

I am currently filling out the paperwork to get my licenses from SOCAN and Re:Sound. The calculations are based on the number of clients who come to the gym, and it appears that for my business, the cost to pay for the licenses and also pay for Google Play Music will work out to about the same amount I was paying for Sirius for Business. I suspect if you have a large facility (mine is fairly small at 1800 square feet) or have a lot of people coming through your doors (we typically have 2 to 6 clients in the gym with one or two trainers at a time), then you should expect to pay more than you would for any of the “for business” services.

What about radio?
In Canada, you can play the radio (not internet radio) at your gym without any need for licensing. In the US, you can play the radio without licensing if your gym is smaller than 2000 square feet, you have 6 or fewer speakers, and there are not more than 4 speakers in any one room.

“Too-long-didn’t read” summary:

  1. If you’re playing music in your gym, you need to pay commercial licensing. Just playing your own music, or paying for a personal streaming service like Google Play, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, or Sirius XM is not legal.
  2. The “for business” streaming services that I reviewed (Sirius XM, Pandora, and Spotify) do not provide adequate licensing for you to play music in your gym. The licensing that they collect is for background music, but the music licensing bodies in both Canada and the US define music in a gym as requiring additional licensing.

    Rockbot appears to be a legal option for gyms, although their website still notes that it is not.

  3. If you pay your licensing fees directly, you can use Google Play Music or Apple Music in your gym. You can also play your own CDs, digital downloads, tapes, or even 8 tracks if you’re super-retro.
  4. In Canada you have to pay two licensing organizations (SOCAN and Re:Sound), and in the US you have to pay up to four licensing organizations (ASCAP, BMI, GMR, and SESAC). Each of these organizations has a website where you can go to get your license applications.
  5. It appears that neither Google Play nor Apple Music have a license with GMR, which means if you are in the US and using Google Play or Apple Music in your gym, you aren’t playing any GMR songs, and therefore would not require a GMR license. I contacted GMR to ask, but have not heard a response yet. I will update if I do. Of course, Google or Apple could secure rights with GMR at any time, in which case you would need to pay GMR.
  6. In Canada, you can play the radio (not internet radio) at your gym without any need for licensing. In the US, you can play the radio without licensing if your gym is smaller than 2000 square feet, you have 6 or fewer speakers, and there are not more than 4 speakers in any one room.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada, who is just geeky enough to spend hours uncovering the layers and layers of complexity involved in playing music at a gym.

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Just say no to personal training contracts

Here’s a little secret of mine: Since I opened my training business in 2010, I have never asked a client to sign a personal training contract. Despite this, more than half of my clients have stayed for at least two years (and counting).

I planned to use client contracts, and even put one together about five years ago. After all, it’s what all the business books tell you to do. But when it came time to pull the trigger, I changed my mind. I do offer better rates for clients who are willing to make at least a six month commitment; I just don’t make them sign anything to prove their commitment. The reason is simple: A good person who wants to work out at my gym will honour their verbal commitment unless unforeseen circumstances get in the way.

In the case of unforeseen circumstances – someone loses their job, or moves to another city, or has some kind of family or personal emergency that gets in the way of fulfilling their commitment – I would let them out of their commitment even if they had a signed contract. That’s just who I am, and something I have extended to my business. In fact any time one of my committed clients has lost their job, I’ve offered to let them continue training for free, although I often asked them to move to non-peak training times. Because I do semi-private training instead of one-on-one, this is free for me to offer and can be a nice boost for someone who is going through a rough time.

What about someone who commits to get the better rate but later decides they don’t want to be there? Without a contract, they can just walk away from their commitment without consequence. True, and from a strictly bottom line perspective, this seems like a poor business decision.  The thing is, a person who doesn’t want to be there will have a negative effect on our environment. From a practical business perspective, that consequence is far worse than the loss of revenue from one client. So yes, I’m fine with someone leaving before their commitment is up if it’s not a good fit.

The last argument I can think of for having contracts is to prevent people from committing to get the better rate even though they never intended to stay for the full commitment period. This is the behaviour of a person I don’t want in my gym anyhow, so even if I had a contract, I would let them out of it if they tried to cheat me.

In other words, a contract is a meaningless piece of paper for my business, and thus not something I spend time or energy administering. I might even argue that it’s worse than meaningless, as it is basically a way of telling someone you don’t trust them.

I can see why big gyms have contracts, as there’s is a model based on volume, and one where it’s probably impossible to develop a personal relationship with every client. But if you run a boutique gym or personal training studio, you are building personal relationships with each of your clients. If that personal relationship includes trust, how does a contract fit?

Elsbeth Vaino owns and trains out of a personal training studio in Ottawa.

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9 Gym hacks for personal trainers and studio owners

Maybe it’s because I was an engineer prior to becoming a trainer, or maybe it’s that I grew up with a father who MacGyvered stuff around the house long before MacGyver became a verb. Whatever the reason, I have a habit of coming up with random fixes for life’s little challenges. Or in some cases, for my gym’s little challenges. Today I decided to share some of the inexpensive non-gym tools I use to help my gym run more smoothly.

1. Extreme Velcro tape
This stuff is amazing. I mean, it’s not duct tape amazing, but it’s pretty cool. I was trying to figure out better ways to make the gym more efficient. We do semi-private training, with every client following their own customized program. Each program is on a clipboard with a pen attached for easy reference and updating.

clipboard clutter
I was lamenting that I didn’t like having clipboards cluttering up benches and plyometric boxes, when a client suggested velcro tape. He noted that they use it for basically everything on the space station, which excited me.  “Well if it’s strong enough for the space station, it’s definitely strong enough for my clipboards.

Anyone see the flaw in that logic? 3…2…1…There’s no gravity in space. Clearly the logic was weak but it was a great solution.

So much better! We put the velcro tape strip horizontally on the back of the clipboard and vertically on the wall so that they can attach without having to be perfectly aligned.

Once you’ve started using Velcro, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. We now also use it to store our timers, cleaning clothes, to affix name tags to exercise mats, and I’m currently experimenting with it as a way to keep our rubber floor mats from shifting apart.

more velcro

2. Kitchen timers

I used to have gym interval timers in the gym, but they were so clunky to use that I was always on the lookout for an alternative. In addition to the non-intuitive, leaving most people pressing buttons until one seemed to do what they wanted. The downside of this, is that periodically one of the timers would just start to beep. It seems there is an alarm that is easy to accidentally set. Thankfully it is also easy to turn off (following the same approach – touch buttons until it stopped), but it was annoying. In addition to being clumsy to use, they didn’t last, probably because the alarm kept going off.

Fast forward to an unrelated trip to the kitchen section at Canadian Tire and the ten dollar kitchen timers with big buttons, and a big digital screen caught my eye. I stopped and contemplated briefly and then put three of them in my basket. Our only remaining gym timer hasn’t been used since.  I’m not actually sure why I haven’t thrown it out.  In fact, I just threw it out.

kitchen timer 2

3. Carabiners for everyone! 

How many ways can you use carabiners in a gym that doesn’t do climbing? Four and counting at Custom Strength. We use carabiners to store our mini-bands, combine with a climbing daisy chain to make a weight belt, connect cable attachments to a functional trainer, and add a smaller weight to a kettlebell for carries (combined with a small climbing strap).

2016-06-24 13.04.05
Mini-band storage, daisy chain weight straps, functional trainer connectors


weight strap
We use this to weight glute bridges, hip thrusts and feet elevated inverted rows. It also works well with some weight plates.


2017-03-13 16.58.52
We use this to provide an increment between our 50, 60, and 70 pound weights; to add to our 70 pound weights; and to increase the weight without increasing handle-size for our smaller-handed clients.

These solutions are inexpensive and because it is climbing equipment, they are strong enough to carry or transfer the weights they hold. Each carabiner is rated to hold 5,500 pounds (when the weight is pulling it lengthwise, which it is), and the daisy chain straps we use  with them are rated to 4,840 pounds. Our clients get strong, but so far none of them are quite that strong.

4. Magnetic hooks

Until I owned a gym, I had never been accused of being a neat freak. I’m sure any if any of my friends are reading this, they are shaking their heads and chuckling at the very thought. But it turns out at the gym I have a need for things to be in their place. If you’re a trainer and also want things to be stored neatly, then you know that functional trainers (aka cable columns) are the worst. Most gyms store the attachments in a pile on the floor, such that you have to rifle through to find what you want.

Not at my gym. Or at least not since I discovered super-strong magnetic hooks at my local hardware store.

2016-10-19 10.57.14
In addition to tidying up the place, we also have one attached to the weight stack so we can hang fractional plates on it as a way to provide smaller weight increments.


5. Two by fours

A few years ago, after attending a natural movement course, we started using two by fours in our gym to add an extra balance element to some of our exercises. In addition to providing an efficient way to add balance work to our programs, it’s also a surprisingly good way to clean up single leg Romanian deadlifts, and to progress bear crawls. We also use them to help our clients feel the idea of global stability when performing exercises like single arm cable rows and presses.

We even test drove a bear crawl joust. Danielle kicked my butt in the inaugural battle, so obviously I decided it was a terrible idea. But now I’m thinking it may be time to bring them back.


6. Chip clips

I’m sure every gym has chip clips at the ready, for those days when you don’t quite finish your pre-workout bag. No? Okay, maybe not. But it turns out they make a great and inexpensive storage option for slideboard booties as well as a way to get the second TRX strap out of the way while performing TRX rear foot elevated split squats.


7. Plumbing pipe stability ball ring

You know how stability balls follow you around after you put them away? Whichever way you go, it somehow manages to be right there. No more! For a few bucks at your local hardware store, you can make rings out of flexible plumbing pipe and pipe fitting that will ensure your stability balls behave .

2016-10-19 10.55.56

8. White wet erase marker for kettlebell weights

You know how kettlebells all have the weight imprinted on one side in such a way that you have to look closely to find the one you want? Or do you?


Once I got the idea to use white wet erase markers, it took me a few days to actually go ahead and do it. I had this feeling that writing on equipment was defacing it. Thankfully I clued in that it is my equipment, and this would make it better. I was reminded how much better recently, when one of our awesome trainers at Custom Strength took the initiative to re-write the numbers as they had faded a bit over the years. It was pretty much the talk of the gym for the next week. I’m not sure if this says we need to step up the excitement, or if it really is that awesome.

9. Climbing strap

Bench side plank is a favourite exercise at our gym as it’s both a great progression and regression for the side plank, as I demonstrate in the video below.

This can be done by having someone hold the person’s feet, but if you either don’t have access to a spare pare of hands, or you want those spare hands free for something else, then this strap is a great option. I purchased both the strap and clip at Mountain Equipment Coop (if you’re in the US, that’s our REI equivalent).

There you have it: my 9 gym hacks for a smoother running gym.

Do you have gym  hacks you use at your gym that  you care to share? If so, please post them in the comments.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a geeky personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada. 

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Does science support intermittent fasting?

Ever heard of Intermittent Fasting? It’s a new(ish) trend in nutrition that seems to be getting enough traction that it may soon evolve from nutrition trend to nutrition approach. In a nutshell, intermittent fasting (IF) involves building periods of fasting into your life. How long and how often a person fasts is variable, although there are two approaches that seem to be the most common:

1. Fasting for a 24 hour period once per week.
2. Fasting between 10pm and 2pm every day.

The last time I reviewed the research, there seemed to be some evidence supporting intermittent fasting as a means to lose fat. In fact I wrote a blog post that outlined some of the benefits of intermittent fasting a few years ago. While it was not exhaustive, when combined with anecdotal observations and well-written postulating articles from respected professionals, it had me convinced that it was worth consideration.

I was in the process of suggesting it as an option recently when I realized I was not up to date on the research. I decided to do some reading. This journal article about the health implications of skipping breakfast piqued my interest as it points to skipping breakfast as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Here I was carrying the opinion that intermittent fasting is a potentially legitimate weight loss tool, while reading that it is a risk factor for obesity.

I’ll be honest that I read the article with scepticism. Sure enough, the authors do display some evidence of bias toward their thesis that skipping breakfast is unhealthy, but the bias is minor enough that I could get past it. I’m glad I could, as it appears this bias is not without evidence.

If you’re a nutrition geek, do yourself a favour and read the full paper. You’ll probably shake your head a couple of times, but I suspect you’ll agree it is comprehensive. Or at least it is in my opinion, but I acknowledge my understanding of nutrition may be inadequate to make that assessment. That said, I believe my background in engineering taught me to read and judge scientific papers effectively. If you are more versed in nutrition than I, and you disagree that it is a sound article, I’d love to hear from you.

For those who aren’t nutrition geeks but are interested in intermittent fasting, here are some notable findings:

  • Habitual breakfast-eaters who skipped breakfast lost more weight than those who continued to eat breakfast, while habitual breakfast skippers who consumed breakfast lost more weight than those who continued to skip breakfast. In other words, changing from one approach to the other yielded better results than either eating breakfast or not eating breakfast.

Possible take away: This makes me wonder if intermittent fasting is something that should be cycled?

  • A 12 week open lab trial involving 93 obese and overweight women with metabolic syndrome is described. Participants were put on a 1400 calorie a day diet, where one group consumed 700 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch, and 200 calories for dinner; and the other group consumed 200 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch, and 700 calories for dinner. “After 12 weeks, although body weight, waist circumference, fasting glucose, and insulin were reduced in both groups, they were all significantly lower in the breakfast group”.

Possible take away:Does this suggest that a 4pm to 8am fast would be more successful than a 10pm to 2pm fast?

  • A 4 week randomly controlled trial of 36 men and women with obesity were given either a high-fiber or a low fiber cereal for breakfast or they ate no breakfast. The no-breakfast group lost more weight than either breakfast group. Of interest here is that the no-breakfast participants had increases in good, bad, and total cholesterol.

Possible take away:So here is evidence that skipping breakfast was better than eating breakfast for weight loss. As for the cholesterol part, admittedly I’m a bit confused these days on the status of cholesterol with respect to health. “Old school” information tells us that we need to watch our cholesterol as high cholesterol (or specifically high bad cholesterol) is damaging to our heart health. Meanwhile some “modern” thinking suggests that cholesterol is irrelevant. Honestly I have no idea what to believe and so I’m just going to bury my head in the sand about it until either the science gets more clear or someone can convince me that the current science is more clear.

  • Studies were discussed about alternate day fasting, where participants either fast entirely every second day, or they consume a small amount of food. For alternate day fasting, “body weight decreased significantly in all studies by 3% to 8% after 3 to 24 weeks of treatment. Studies that provided food on the fast day produced the greatest weight loss.”

Possible take away:This also shows that skipping breakfast (and lunch and dinner) yields weight loss. Does it also suggest that intermittent fasting needs to be more aggressive to work? It seems the alternate day fasting studies have more convincing weight loss results than studies involving altered meal timing or single day fasts. It’s interesting that those who consumed some food on the fast day lost more weight than those who didn’t. Does that suggest it’s not just calories-in-calories-out? Or did those who ate a small amount on their fast day eat less on their feeding day? The participants ate “ad libitum” on the feeding day, meaning they ate what they wanted on the feeding day. The study did not publish how many calories they consumed, nor did it publish energy expenditure. So it is possible that this is still a calories-in-calories-out scenario and that the participants who consumed a small amount on the fasting day either ate less on feeding days or moved more in general. Without knowing these facts, we can’t be sure, but we can point to it with interest.

So what’s the conclusion? Is intermittent fasting healthy or not?

I hate to say it, but the answer is probably still I don’t know, although I would now argue that the evidence against intermittent fasting is a bit stronger than the evidence for it, with the possible exception of alternate day fasting.

There is one aspect of health covered in this paper that I largely glossed over: insulin resistance. The paper does discuss the effect of intermittent fasting on insulin resistance in many studies, and it appears clear that insulin resistance is reduced with intermittent fasting – often dramatically. Reading that after reading results of studies showing eating breakfast was more favourable for weight loss than skipping breakfast gave me a real ‘what if’ moment.

Is it possible that the reason so many blog posts support intermittent fasting for weight loss is that the authors extrapolated insulin resistance to weight loss? That would be interesting. And, it would seem, wrong.

Science is tricky sometimes, and this is one of those times. Science may or may not provide the answer; sometimes all it does is provide more questions. So how does one continue to provide science-based advice when the science is muddy? Just be open about how muddy it is.

Do you have an opinion on intermittent fasting? Or perhaps you’ve read and experienced enough that you can make a statement on intermittent fasting? Please share in the comments below. Just please be open about muddiness if your are sharing opinions or small sample experiences.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., is a personal trainer in Ottawa who enjoys reading science, but gets annoyed by opinions and theories presented as science.

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How to read junk food nutrition labels

You’d think reading labels wouldn’t be that complicated, especially for people who know how to read, but I’m here to tell you that when it comes to reading nutrition labels on junk foods, you’re doing it wrong. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that you’re doing it wrong when it comes to comprehending the nutrition labels that you’re reading. Tomato, tomato?

Thankfully I’ve developed a REVOLUTIONARY METHOD for reading (and comprehending) junk food nutrition labels. I was originally going to charge ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS because, money. But I changed my mind because you are so special. Awwww… So instead I’ll type that it’s worth ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS but only charge you zero dollars. Wow, can you believe it? Lucky day!

In fact I’m feeling so generous that I’m going to share this REVOLUTIONARY METHOD right here in this blog post instead of making you read a seventeen paragraph sales letter.

Enough of my fun-making of internet sales approaches? Ya, I figured. Without further ado…

How to read (and comprehend) junk food nutrition labels

Step 1: Read the part of the label that shows the calories.

Step 2: Read the part of the label that shows the serving size.

Step 3: Flip the package over and read the part that shows the size of the package.

Step 4: Divide the package size by the serving size. This number is the Face It You’re Going To Eat It All factor.

Step 5: Multiply the Face It You’re Going To Eat It All factor by the calories shown in Step 1. If you read nutrition labels on junk food as a means to decide whether it’s something you should buy, then this is the number you need to be looking at. Unless you’re one of those freaks who open a big bag of cheesies, eat four of them, and then close the bag and put it back in the cupboard. If you are one of those people, I retract my comments above – you own me ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Let’s look at some real world examples.

Which bag of chips should you buy?

wpid-IMG_20170831_190814303_HDR.jpg      wpid-IMG_20170831_190424885.jpg

At first glance, the second bag may look like a better option as it’s only 270 calories per serving, while the first bag is 350 calories per serving. But if you follow the steps above, you’ll notice that the first label is on a package that contains 66g of chips, while the second label is on a bag that contains 220g. Following the steps above, if you buy the first bag, you’ll eat 350 calories of chips, but if you buy the second bag, you’ll eat 1,188 calories of chips.

Side note – these are two different packages of the same product, so how is it that the recommended serving size is different?

What about these? They’re baked!

wpid-IMG_20170831_190446229.jpg     wpid-IMG_20170831_190453397.jpg

They are indeed baked, which means that this package is only 1,089 calories. So that’s better than the 1,188 calories for the large back of Lays, I guess. Except they probably won’t taste as good. For me personally, these are as bad as fake news. If I’m going to gorge on one thousand plus calories of something, it’s not going to be baked pita chips.

Now there is one possibility here – if they really don’t taste great, then maybe you won’t eat the whole bag? So that’s a calorie savings! If you’re like me, you’ll be all indignant and say “meh, this is not delicious. I’m not eating any more of these. Stupid baked pita chips.” And then within about five minutes, these stupid chips will have taunted you enough to go back into the kitchen to get some more. Followed by more indignation. And then more snacking. Until the bag is gone.


Too long didn’t read? Don’t bring big packages of junk food into the house unless you and all the other inhabitants of the house are freakishly able to resist eating the whole bag. Want chips? Buy the small bag. Want ice cream? Buy the small container. Want chocolate? buy the small bar.


Elsbeth Vaino, is a personal trainer who does not possess the ability to say no to a bag of chips if it’s in the house. And thus she will never say stupid things like “just don’t eat it” when you talk to her about your eating habits. 


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Should you wear a brace?

What is your opinion about tennis elbow/knee braces and straps? I read an article where they recommend it pretty strongly. Do they really help or it is just “mental support”?

That’s a great question I received in response to a blog post I wrote about training for tennis. In fact it was such a good question, I decided to write a blog post instead of just replying in the comments.

The question actually included a link to an article which I read but chose not to link because the content irritated me. Specifically this comment: “Due to the physical nature of this condition (tennis elbow), it is more likely to affect men than women as far as playing tennis regularly goes” First of all, what? And second of all, no. Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, does not affect men more than women, according to science.

Now that I got that off my chest, I’ll get my thoughts on braces and straps off my chest. My opinion is quite simple: If you wear a brace or strap for an injury, it should be because a healthcare practitioner told you you need it.

What shocks me, is the number of people who decide they need a brace and then go to a drug store and buy one without any input from a healthcare professional. How is that a thing? I can sort of understand this if you live in a country without accessible healthcare and money is tight. If that’s you then Dr. Google may be your only choice, and she may tell you that a brace is a good idea for a person who has an injury that may or may not resemble yours.

For those of you who blow buckets of money on much less important things than your health, or for those of you who live pretty much anywhere but the US, ask your actual doctor if you need a brace. If your doctor is not a sports medicine or orthopedic specialist, then ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist. Your doctor may also refer you to a quality physical therapist, athletic therapist, or chiropractor. They are all good choices for providing input about whether you need a brace or strap for your golf elbow, or patella tracking, or whatever else is bothering you enough that you are thinking about a brace.

The cool thing about this approach is that you will probably get an actual diagnosis for your injury, along with actual treatment for your injury, likely in the form of manual therapy and exercise prescription. Wait, there’s more! If it turns out you actually do need a brace, the healthcare professional can tell you what kind of brace you need, versus you randomly buying a brace that may literally do nothing to help your injury.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., SCSC, is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV, and thus she is as unqualified as you are to tell you whether you should wear a brace.

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