Tag Archives: work out

My best workout ever

Last week as my brother and I drove to his gym in San Diego, I noted that I would do bicep curls while on the treadmill, to which my brother asked “are you mocking me?”

Usually I go to the “functional” area for my warm-up and he goes right into the weight area for a chest and arms, or legs and back, or shoulders and ears workout. But this time, as I went to warm-up he said he would come stretch too. I tried really hard not to stop in my tracks from the shock. Great! We Vainos are not what you’d call a flexible bunch, which in my opinion means it is really important for us to do a proper warm-up.

I made sure to shorten my warm-up a bit. I had an opportunity here, and I did not want to mess it up with too long of a warm-up. So we kept it simple:

- 3D hamstring stretch (10 ea side)
- half-kneeling hip flexor stretch (hold for 8 deep breaths per side)
- toe on wall calf stretch (3 reps of 4 breath holds per side)
- sidelying rotation (same)
- lateral squat (5 ea)
- Reverse lunge with reach (5 ea)
- single leg Romanian deadlift (5 ea)

I really wished I had brought my cell phone for the photo potential. My bro has a fantastic expression on his face when he stretches, like he’s thinking “I hate this but its funny”. Now consider that he has been told by several people, including me, that he looks a bit like Sam the Eagle. Its the big scottish eyebrows. Maybe “grumpy stretcher” could be the next big internet sensation?

Photo credit: Peter E. Lee

By the time we finished warming up, I already felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
“So what are you working on today?” I asked.
“I thought I would do whatever you’re doing.” He said.
“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Is this really happening? Ok, don’t blow it, just play it cool.” I said with my inside voice.
“Great. Let’s do some Romanian deadlifts (RDL) and rows, and maybe some split squats.” I said.
That wasn’t actually my plan. I was going to do accessory lifts for my deadlift program, but I was so thrilled at the opportunity to take my brother through a balanced movement-based workout that I was happy to change.

We started with RDLs. We went light because I wanted to see his form, and he hadn’t done any in a long time. I suggested we could superset it with something, but he pointed out we might lose the rack if we did. Fair enough. As we deadlifted, I mentally paired the rest of the exercises so that we could super or tri set them with the same or close equipment. Here’s what we did:
- RDL 4×6
- Split squat 3×8 (heavier DB on one side)
- One arm DB row 3×8
- Half-kneeling cable anti-rotation press 3x10ea
- Stir the pot 3x10ea
- Single arm cable press 3x8ea

When we did the split squats, I made a point to mention that these were especially good for him given how long he spends at a desk and on a bike, which he really seemed to buy into without hesitation.

Then we rolled. Foam rolling that is, not developmental patterns. Ordinarily I roll with my clients at the start of the workout, but I felt that for someone who doesn’t ever do a warm-up, that shorter was better. By the end of the workout, I was happy to see that he was ready to roll. Yes!

When we got back to his place, he told his wife that he had a great workout, and that he was all functional now. I told my bro that I would write the workout out for him if he wanted to do it again, and he said he really did. And as a note – if he didn’t, he would have said so, so yay!

To make this even better, I had shown my awesome sister-in-law a workout the previous day.

Yep, that was a great workout.


Similar articles:
Random feelings of happiness
The satisfaction of doing what you love
Workouts are more fun when you succeed

“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.



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