Tag Archives: how to exercise

“This workout was not at the intensity I expected”

“Anyone can give you a workout that will make you tired.
We give you workouts that make you better.” - some smart trainer chick

We received an email this week from a client who decided she doesn’t want to keep training  with us because she found that the workout just isn’t for her. I have no issues with that – we’re not for everyone. But then she cited that she felt the workout was “not at the intensity” she expected. I felt this deserved comment because I think her desire for an intense workout at this point is misguided.

I decided to share my email response as a blog article, because I think the notion of intensity is one of the most misunderstood aspects of training, and that this is particularly true for beginners and those who have injuries or are returning to activity post-injury.

Here is my reply (I changed the name of course):

Hi Sara,

I am sorry to hear that the training did not meet your expectations. I do of course understand that our approach is not for everyone. We make no qualms about being conservative – in fact I would say it’s one of our selling points. Because we take the time to find the baseline of movement that clients can manage without pain, and progress them from there, we are able to turn clients who have previously had daily pain into uber-athletes who deadlift 200+ pounds and can thrive in a tennis tournament without advil.

I certainly understand the desire to push yourself (been there!), but the reality for you is that you have some physical issues that require us to put on the brakes with you so that we can help you get to the pain free level, and then work from there. The thing is there is sometimes a difference  between “what we want” and “what we need”, and I honestly believe that part of our job as personal trainers is to hold athletes back when they want to do too much, or push too hard. It tends to be the opposite with general public clients: they need us to push them. I have no doubt you will find a workout that you can do that will give you the intensity you want right away; but I suspect that any intense workouts you do will only contribute to the injuries that have plagued you for some time.

Slow and steady is not sexy, but I really think it’s the only way. This doesn’t mean you’ll be doing light weight or bodyweight only exercises for a long time. Quite the contrary! We will gladly progress you once you are able to do the exercises we program for you without pain, and that you feel them where you should. The latter point is as important as the pain-free part. With an injury past, there are often muscles that no longer work properly and so other muscles take over. From a systems design perspective, the body is brilliant – so much built in redundancy! But there is a price: the backup muscles don’t work as well as the primary ones. A bit like your car – the spare tire is a brilliant solution for a short period of time, but if you drove on it for too long, you’ll end up with problems. And so it’s really important that we get your body using the proper muscles for the movements you ask of it. But I promise you – once everything is firing properly, the workout you get at Custom Strength will have intensity.  Some of our clients sweat so much that I can read what their shirt says through the sweat mark they leave on the floor (see attached photos).

If you’re sure that this is not for you, then that’s fine. I wish you the best of luck with whatever training approach you choose. If  you’d like to reconsider and give us a go, then we’d love to see you building up to the heavy sweating phase of the program.



intense workoutintense workout leaves a mark












Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, dedicated to providing the right workout to everyone who comes through our doors.

Ab exercise: If your back gets sore before your abs…

If your back gets sore before your abs get tired when you do ab exercises, you probably have a large anterior pelvic tilt. That is, your butt probably sticks out a bit. In some cases, the upside may be that it’ll make your butt look great. Although it doesn’t always look good…

Looks aside, for many people, it may contribute to low back pain, either on a regular basis, or while trying to perform ab exercises. Raise your hand if you or any of your clients have complained that they feel planks in their low back more than in their abs. Continue reading Ab exercise: If your back gets sore before your abs…

Training for the Firefighter Physical Ability Test

I just received an email from a prospective new client who mentioned she wants an FMS (Functional Movement Screen) to see what, if any, imbalances she has and correct them as she’s training to become a firefighter. I love that she’s keen to build her body on a base of sound functional movement before adding strength. I suspect I’m going to really enjoy working with her.

As I was replying, I thought of an email that I had written to another client who decided, after he’d been training with me for a while, that he would like to do the test at some point and wondered if I could help. I took a look at the test and realized that for the most part, the training that he was already doing with me would prepare him very nicely. I wrote a detailed email explaining why I think that.
Continue reading Training for the Firefighter Physical Ability Test

Addressing poor shoulder movement

Shoulder packing. Yes, that’s right: shoulder packing. It’s really a thing.

It’s a concept of how we should position our shoulder when doing any sort of lifting with our arms. Now some will say that this is ridiculous – we just move our arms and that’s how they should move. I could get behind that line of thinking. Except for one thing: many of the people that come and train with me don’t actually position their shoulder properly when moving their arms, and then they complain of pain or discomfort in their shoulder or neck when doing exercises like pushups, rows, and planks. But when I help them to position their shoulder properly, they proceed to exercise without pain or discomfort.

That’s pretty convincing for me. Why does this happen? I’d say it’s a fair bet that your computer is the culprit. In fact take a look at your shoulders right now. They’re rounded, aren’t they? Continue reading Addressing poor shoulder movement

Are you strong enough to slow down?

When it comes to exercise, most people either do too much or too little. I think this applies beyond exercise, but let’s stick with that for the moment.

Those of us in the fitness and nutrition fields write a lot about those who do too little, in the hopes of helping fight the growing obesity epidemic. Today, however, I am going to talk about the other end of spectrum: too much exercise.

We laud those around us who maintain a healthy lifestyle, and are motivated by, and impressed at their the feats of strength and dedication. I recently read about a man who has run everyday for the past 40 years. I’m sure most of us who read that were inspired, and impressed. But is that actually a good idea? In his case, he seems to be enjoying a great and long life, which is all we can really ask for. But is it because of his excessive dedication to running, or in spite of it? Continue reading Are you strong enough to slow down?

Preventive maintenance for your workout?

I have an online client who mentioned that he was not feeling great with the front squats in his program, but he was pretty confident he was doing them well since he is an experienced lifter. He is smart and self-aware, so I tended to think he was probably right. But I asked him to get someone to video his front squat because I have a pretty good eye for small details (I’m a ski instructor – if you can find small faults as someone launches past you on a ski hill, standing still on flat land is a piece of cake) and I just wanted to see what was up. Partly I just wanted to be sure that it was good form, because that would impact what exercises I would give to him.

He did, and before I even got the link he noted that he could see one major flaw in his front squat and that he was confident that I’d be able to help with it. I saw the video, which his son uploaded to youtube, and he is correct! The front view of the squat looks great – shoulders look great, the knees don’t cave in, and no lateral (side) shift. This is the view that you would have if trying to watch your own form at the gym if you had a mirror in front of you. Then came the side view, which lets face it, we don’t get to see. When you’re deep into a squat with weight on your back, you really don’t want to be turning your head to the side to check form. It could lead to bad things for your neck or back. But in fact, the side view showed the big flaw in his squat: his knees move way too forward as he comes down and his heels rise up slightly.
Continue reading Preventive maintenance for your workout?

The bench press test

Bench press is a great exercise, but for anyone with a shoulder issue, it may not be ideal. How do you know if you should bench? Well for starters, if it hurts to bench, you probably shouldn’t bench. What if it doesn’t hurt during the bench, but it hurts later, you ask? Same answer. I suspect you knew that but were hoping for a different answer. Sorry.

If the bench press is painful for you, seeing a manual therapist (athletic therapist, chiro, massage therapist, osteopath, physio…) is a good idea to get you to pain-free state. But once you reach that point, then what?

Ideally you would switch to other exercises, at least for a while. When someone recovering from a shoulder injury (or has a long-standing shoulder issue) starts training with us, we often start them with a cable press, as it seems to be the most shoulder-friendly of the pressing exercises.

After that we like to work on proper bodyweight pushups (Click here for an article all about pushups), followed by Bottom Up Kettle bell (KB) bench press, and then we move to “normal” bench pressing.

I love the bottom up kb bench press because it requires a lot of stabilizing to be able to do it, which means my clients literally will not be able to increase the weight if they lack strength or stability in their shoulders. If they can’t do the bottom up KB bench press, they are not ready to bench press. Period.
Continue reading The bench press test

Article in the Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin

Slowly but surely, I’m spreading my views *insert maniacal laugh*. This time it was in the Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin (OHPE). OHPE is a weekly newsletter for people interested in health promotion with over 6000 readers in Ontario and beyond.

The article I wrote for them is about The Importance of Progression in Exercise. My goal with the article was to help people understand the core values of quality exercise programming so that they can help their clients understand what exercise is best for them. I suspect health promotion professionals touch many more people than most trainers do, and was excited at the opportunity to help spread the message of quality exercise.

Apparently it was well received, as they typically do not receive feedback on their feature articles, but they received two positive comments on mine. Yay!

Here is a link to the article: