How to Successfully (and Permanently) Change Your Lifestyle
Jan16

How to Successfully (and Permanently) Change Your Lifestyle

topfitness

Do you want to be a healthy person?

Someone who is in shape, without being on a diet or some crazy routine all of the time?

Do you want to make fitness a permanent part of your lifestyle?

Most people do. Creating a lifestyle that fitness fits into is the key to long term success.

You cannot be on a diet forever – but you can generally default to eating healthy foods. You can make working out a few times a week a habit that you enjoy and look forward to.

How do you get there?

How do you get over the hump and go from a fitness routine being something you are consciously doing, to part of who you are?

The key is to change your habits. To get to the stage where you are doing the things you need to do, without thinking about it.

No motivation or accountability is required – you just do it.

If you look at the four stages of learning, many of you will be yo-yoing between conscious competence (making yourself do the right things, following a diet, getting yourself motivated) and conscious incompetence (knowing what you should be doing, but giving up, ‘falling off the wagon’ and not maintaining it).

For long term success we need to get to the fourth stage, unconscious competence.

At this stage, doing the right thing is habitual. We do it, without having to think about it or make any particular effort. It is just part of who we are.

So how do you reach the stage of unconscious competence?

You Are Your Habits

Who you are can be defined as the actions and behaviours that you engage in. You are what you do.

When you consider that the majority of what we do is habitual and not something we consciously think about, you can say that we are our habits.

We get up, roll out of the same side of bed, eat the same breakfast, drive the same route to the office, etc.

We all have habits that define our lives, without us thinking about what we are doing.

What we want, is for fitness to become part of our habitual lives. We want to habitually go to the gym and workout. To achieve that we might habitually pack our gym bag the night before, habitually drive a different route home (via the gym) etc.

The way to create permanent change is to change our habits. To maximize our chances of being successful we should aim to change one habit at a time.

Trying to overhaul everything is overwhelming and most people fail in their fitness goals because what they are trying to do is too far away from what they are normally doing. They’re trying to change far too many habits at once.

Willpower and desire will work for a while, but not forever. If you’re trying to change too many things it will become overwhelming and you will never enjoy it.

The fact is, our habits are our comfort zone. It’s important that we are getting out of our comfort zone to make progress, but not so far out of it that we are constantly uncomfortable. That is a recipe for giving up and going right back to our old habits that keep us firmly inside our comfort zone.

Playing Dominos

Certain habits are more important to change than others. Certain habits are a trigger that lead to multiple other actions. If you can change these base habits, it can set off a cascade of other behaviours that we want to create.

For example, changing the food you put on a grocery list is more effective than making a decision every time you are going to eat about whether you should eat healthy or not.

If you only buy healthy foods in the first place, you don’t have much option.

This will conserve your willpower and avoid the temptation of junk food all together. Much easier to maintain than making a decision 3-4 times per day, every day, about what to eat.

When we’re stressed, tired, rushed, etc. it’s all too easy to fall back into the wrong decision in the moment.

By changing our grocery list and only buying healthy foods, we have completely eliminated that problem with one simple habit.

This is how you should approach all of the habits and behaviours you wish to change. Peel it back to the base habit that underpins everything which follows.

Changing this one thing can create a domino effect that leads to changing many other things which follow.

This is the secret to taking small, simple actions which create big changes. It is leveraging the odds in your favour.

This is the secret to successfully changing your lifestyle.

Do it in little steps; making changes to the few key habits that have a trickledown effect on everything else. Trying to change too many things at once will always lead to overwhelm, burnout and going right back to your old habits.

Read More
Spin Class 101
Jan13

Spin Class 101

topfitness

In recent years, spin classes have taken off as one of the most popular workout classes out there. People swear by spin, SoulCycle, and many other variations of indoor cycling. If you’d like to try spin but aren’t sure what exactly to expect, here is everything you need to know.

What is Spin?

Spinning is done on a special stationary spinning bike. You can control the resistance on the bike and difficultly level of the class from your seat. Spin is more than just riding a stationary bike. An instructor walks you through a full body workout on the bike. Many classes also use fun lighting and upbeat music.

Where To Spin

There are spin-specific studios, such as SoulCycle, that focus primarily on spin. Many standard gyms now also offer spin as a part of their regular class schedules. Space is limited to the number of bikes in the room, so you typically have to sign up in advance or get there very early. Even if you do sign up online, you need to get there at least ten minutes early to get set up. Some places will give away your seat if you aren’t there five minutes before class time.

Equipment

While some people may wear special cycling clothes or shoes, it’s not at all necessary. As long as you wear a shirt, pants and sneakers that you’re comfortable working out in, you’ll be fine. Some women find leggings more comfortable than shorts. The facility will provide the bike and any weights. You will want to bring a sweat towel and a water bottle.

Terminology

There are a few basic spinning terms you should get familiar with. The saddle is your seat. Resistance is like gears on a bike—it affects how hard you’ll need to pedal to move the wheel. Positions refer to where to place your hands on the handlebar. There are three—one is at the base, two is on the outside, and three is at the top of the handlebars. Flat is riding at a steady pace. A climb uses an increase is resistance to mimic riding uphill. A sprint is riding as fast as you can. “Jumps” on the bike take you from a seated to a standing position.

Class Types

There are a few basic types of spin classes. An endurance class works gradually uphill to improve stamina. In interval rides, you’ll do periods of hard work followed by periods of rest. A strength class uses higher resistance and a lot of hills to help build muscles in your legs. Other classes may incorporate hand weights and core work.

Setting Up

You need to get there early to set up your stationary bike. Like with a regular bicycle, the seat height, handlebar height and handlebar distance need to be tailored to you. The seat should come up to about hip height while standing. You should be able to mostly extend your legs with a slight bend in your knees while seated. Ask the instructor to help you the first few times you go.

Safety

Always follow whatever your instructor is telling you to do. If you feel faint or dizzy, slow down and lower the resistance. Drink water throughout. Let the instructor know if you any existing injuries or conditions they should know about that might affect your ride.

Read More
Anti-Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop Doing in 2017
Jan10

Anti-Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop Doing in 2017

New Years Resolutions FitnessAs it’s January and people like to start and stop new habits for their New Year’s resolutions, I thought I would list a few bad fitness habits that we should all stop doing.

These are things that will hinder your results, leave you frustrated, or just flat out annoy everyone around you.

1. Stop comparing yourself to your favorite Instagram Selfie Guru

Here’s some home truths that will hopefully make you feel a bit better about your current physique.

– These people are professionals. It is literally their job to go to the gym and be in shape. They don’t work long hours in stressful offices, have screaming kids waking them up, or attend dinner parties full of rich food.

– Half of the girls have had plastic surgery and a lot of the guys are on steroids. No amount of training or discipline will catch up to that.

– They’re probably not happy. People in the fitness industry are some of the most insecure people around. When you define yourself and your value solely on your body, it is very easy to feel bad when you’re a bit bloated, your muscles look flat, or that cute chick in the gym didn’t check your biceps out.

– This amazing lifestyle and perfect photo? They got dressed up and did their makeup, simply to take the photo. They can’t actually afford to be there. They took 300 photos and scuttled home to choose the best one to see the light of day on Instagram.

2. Stop doing cardio before lifting

You do not ‘burn fat and then tone up’. That is not a thing. You burn fat by manipulating your metabolism. The best way to do this? Lift weights.

Doing cardio is just wasting energy (physical and mental) that will detract from your proper workout. Do cardio after lifting, or separately.

3. Stop eating dry chicken and soggy broccoli

You can get in shape without being this strict. In fact, you can get in shape without being utterly miserable at all!

You should eat clean, but there’s clean and then there is just stupid. Frankly, being too strict and one-dimensional isn’t healthy anyway. You’re missing out variety in your diet to get a full complement of nutrients.

Not to mention there is a 100% chance that you will binge eat on the weekend if you’re too strict during the week. You know this happens, and you know that you eat about 5000 calories in 2 hours on a Saturday night. Why not just split an extra 2000 calories over the week, enjoy your food a little, and not have the binge?

Bonus! You’re much nicer to be around when you will eat normal food. You can eat with family and friends, go to a restaurant or grab lunch on the go without flipping out. Trust me, I’ve fallen into this trap. People like you more when you have some degree of normality to your eating habits.

4. Stop leaving your weights all over the floor

If everyone put all of their weights away, they would all be 3.6% lower body fat from exerting all that additional energy.

Seriously, it’s not hard to put your weights back. I know it frustrates you when you can’t find the second of a pair of dumbbells because it’s scattered on the floor somewhere in a far flung corner of the gym. Why do that to other people?

It’s disrespectful to the gym and everyone else who uses it. You will always find that the biggest, strongest, most experienced guys are respectful of their surroundings and keep the place tidy. Maybe there’s a lesson there?

5. Stop looking for validation on social media

Here’s a novel concept. You can go to the gym…without checking in to tell everyone on social media that you are going to the gym.

I promise you, it still works. Your body doesn’t revolt at lack of social validation and refuse to grow fitter.

Really, why are you going to the gym? I’m sure you started because you want to make some internal changes to your body, your mindset and the way you perceive yourself. Don’t lose sight of that and just go through the motions to be someone who ‘works out’ but never gets anywhere because it’s just for show.

Real validation will come naturally, when you’re in great shape. People can’t help but look at you, give you respect and desire you. You don’t need to tell everyone you go to the gym. It is immediately obvious, just by looking at you.

6. Stop making excuses

You can make excuses or you can make progress. Choose one.

You must play the cards that you are dealt and make the best of the situation.

If you’re busy, someone else is busier than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re naturally skinny/fat and fighting your genetics, someone else is genetically worse off than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re intimidated, someone else is more intimidated and still putting work in at the gym.

Etc.

Realign with why you want to workout in the first place and find a way to make it work. it might not be perfect. Results might be slow and you might have to work twice as hard as the next person for the same outcome. So what? You can do the work and achieve something, or you can stay exactly where you are right now. Which do you choose?

I don’t usually do negative-oriented posts, so I thought I would mix it up with a little rant. These are some pet-peeves of mine, some as a fitness professional and some just as an avid gym user.

I get to experience gym culture on both sides – being and interacting with people who love the gym and see it as a core part of their identity, and also helping people who don’t like the gym, are unhappy with their body and desperately want to change it. I can empathize with each.

If everyone stopped doing these 6 things, I think we would all be a lot better off.

Read More
How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class
Jan09

How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class

topfitness

Joining a workout class is a great way to exercise. You’ll meet new people who share your interests. You’ll have an instructor and coach who can provide direction and help you with your form. Many people are also more likely to push themselves in a class than they would exercising on their own. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your workout class.

 

Commit

If you find a workout class you like, commit to going at least once a week, but preferably more. Once you choose one, pencil it in like an important meeting or a doctor’s appointment. When you go regularly, you’ll be able to see your progress over the weeks and months.

 

Find A Friend

It’s less intimidating and more fun if you work out with a friend. A workout buddy can hold you accountable to coming to class when you’d rather be on the couch eating ice cream. Plus, you can turn the class into a little friendly competition. Find something each week to play—a pushup contest, spin distance or balance challenge. Loser buys smoothies! If you think you don’t have time, replace a weekly friend dinner or wine night with a weekly barre or spin class. You wallet and your waistline will thank you if you replace happy hour with gym time.

 

Set Goals

A workout class is just like any other exercise routine. Instead of going and blindly following along each week, set goals for yourself within the class. If you go to a strength building class and use five-pound weights, make it a goal to increase to eight-pound weights by the end of the year. If you do yoga, make a commitment to master a challenging pose. That way you have something to work toward and the class won’t get too easy and boring.

 

Get to Know the Instructor

Don’t just show up right before class and leave immediately after. Try getting there a little earlier to talk to the instructor. They’re there to help people work out and get in shape, so share your fitness goals and talk about how you can use the class to help you reach them. You may find that they’ll tweak their class a bit to help you build shoulder strength or do a headstand. If you have any fears or worries, an instructor can help ease them. Always let them know if you have any preexisting injuries or limitations. They can offer modifications if you need them.

 

Switch It Up

Instead of going to the exact same class with the same instructor every time, try switching up the instructor or class style. If you practice yoga, don’t just go to hot or power classes all the time. There are many different styles of yoga that do different things for your body. At body toning classes, different instructors will focus on different areas—some will work legs while others will put a heavy emphasis on core.

 

Have Fun

If you hate the class, you’ll probably end up quitting. Don’t force yourself into spin every week just because you think it’s the “best” workout. The best workout is whatever one you’ll stick with! If you want to do Zumba or water aerobics, so for it!

Read More
Finding Balance Between Flexibility and Stability
Jan06

Finding Balance Between Flexibility and Stability

topfitness-4

For most people, their feelings on stretching are black and white, they either love it or they hate it.  Those that love it gravitate toward yoga classes or the stretching mat at the gym whenever indecision happens during a workout, as their fall back plan.  Those that hate it often seem to find a way to skip it before or after a workout, always having time for an extra set or an extra mile, but never having quite enough time to stretch.

While those that hate to stretch are often chastised and scolded about the importance of stretching in a balanced workout plan, those that overstretch are not doing themselves any favors either.  It’s all about finding a balance between strength and length, or flexibility and stability.

Flexibility

Flexibility is defined as the available range of motion across a particular joint, or how far you can move without restriction, be that restriction within the muscle fibers themselves or at the joint due to tendon issue or inflammation.  Each joint has a prescribed range of motion in each direction, and in those people that are hyper-flexible, they may far surpass the normal range.  Others with mobility restrictions may not be able to use the full normal range of motion.  For optimum performance at most activities, aiming to match, but not exceed normal range of motion is a good goal.  Normal range of motion for each joint can be found here

Mobility

Flexibility is a part of mobility, but it’s not the whole story.  Mobility is the ability to preform a desired movement without restriction, but flexibility does not necessarily need to the cause of low mobility.  Perhaps you cannot perform a full squat because you lack the strength, coordinator or balance to complete the movement.  While this is not necessarily a lack of flexibility, it is a lack of mobility.

Stability

Once you have the flexibility and mobility to preform a movement, you’ll also need the stability to preform that movement in a controlled manner.  This is where the balance between flexibility and muscle strength and tone come into play.  While orthopedic joint issues such as ligament tears can impact stability, those stability issues are a separate issue and to be worked out with a doctor or physical therapist.  The stability you can impact in your own workout is by making sure that whatever flexibility and mobility work you have done, you have enough strength and control to hold the movement.

Finding Balance

While low flexibility and high stability may be easy to visualize by picturing someone with extreme muscle development that lacks the ability to reach their toes or turn their head fully, low stability and high flexibility is harder to diagnose because flexibility is often valued as a goal in itself.  However, imagine someone who has invested a significant amount of time in hip opening stretches and long deep lunges, that now cannot successfully lunge under weight without the laxity of their psoas giving out, or cannot preform a full squat without their knees kicking out due to adductor laxity. 

Exercises to Find Balance

Exercises that help strike a balance between mobility and stability are those that emphasize strengthening a muscle while using it’s length and dynamically stretching while working the fibers.

Walking Lunges with a Deep Stretch – These require a deep stretch of the hip flexors as you pause at the end of the motion, allowing the knee to contact the ground and then resting into the stretch before slowly coming up to a standing position (with hands held overhead throughout the motion).  Hip flexors are taken to the fullest of extend of their range of motion, and then gently challenged and engaged to bring the body back to standing.

Serratus Push-ups – In the plank position, allow your chest to fall toward the ground without bending your elbows or relaxing your strong abdominal engagement.  The shoulder blades slide toward each other, and once they’ve reached their passive range of motion toward the spine, the upper back is engaged to pull them ideally to within an inch of touching each other, stretching the pecks and serratus and working the rhomboids.  The motion is then reversed and the serratus and pecks are engaged as the shoulder blades slide apart and actively push the chest away from the floor until a stretch is felt in the rhomboids and upper back.

Both exercises above take muscles through their full range of motion to a stretch before recruiting them again into contraction and strengthening them across their full range, enhancing both flexibility and stability, and helping ensure functional mobility throughout the motion.

Read More
Pilates 101: Understanding the Basics Before Your First Class
Jan02

Pilates 101: Understanding the Basics Before Your First Class

topfitness-7

If you’ve never tried Pilates, there are many compelling reasons to incorporate it into your cross training routine.  Pilates workouts can form the foundation of any fitness routine, by focusing on core strength and stability, and emphasizing smaller stabilizing muscles in the hips and shoulders.  While most people are familiar with Yoga either from personal experience, friends or through popular culture, Pilates is still a mystery to the vast majority of the population.  While some describe it as “yoga with sit-ups” this description doesn’t do it justice.  Here are the basics to get you started before attending your first class.

History and Background

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German man born in the 1880’s.  He began his life a as a sickly child, and devoted his young life to fitness to overcome his ailments.  By adulthood, he was no longer sickly, and was an avid boxer, gymnast, skier and diver.  One of his first jobs was training Scotland Yard officers in self defense in England.  Caught up in an internment camp in WWI, Joseph developed a fitness training regimen for other prisoners and hospital patients using various props, including springs and lifts from hospital beds.  After the war, he continued to refine his fitness regimen, and his workouts eventually became the go to methods used by dancers around the world, including the entire NYC Ballet in the 1920’s and 30’s.

From humble origins in internment camps with invalids, to elite dancers, Pilates is meant to form the foundation for all around fitness and body stability, regardless of an individuals level of health.  As many of the exercises were developed in hospital beds, it is a great routine for even the most inexperienced that can be leveled up to challenge even the fittest athlete.

Workout Focus

Pilates workouts can be designed to work every muscle in the body, but as a whole it focuses on toning muscles rather than building bulk.  For that reason, it’s become more popular with dancers who wish to be strong, stable and flexible without changing much about their overall shape.

Full and complete breaths to promote the circulation of oxygenated blood is a big part of the workout, and throughout the class instructors will cue breathing, asking students to expand their rib cages or use their deep abdominal and pelvic floor to exhale fully.

Every exercise begins with abdominal engagement and spinal alignment, even when the specific movement seems to be targeting extremities such as arms and legs.  That core stability focus helps athletes in other fitness fields to consciously keep abdominal engagement throughout their workouts and competitions even when off the mat. 

Many athletes, including professional basketball players and football players, have begun adding Pilates to their workout regimen.  Trainers specifically adapt exercises to the needs of these elite athletes, and as one trainer for NFL athletes notes, “People look at Pilates as sort of a girls’ exercise, [but] you can ask one of those men I worked with . . . how much we kicked their butts. They were shaking, they were sweating, they were uncomfortable. And then afterwards they felt calm, relaxed, loose.”  Trainers for elite athletes focus on, “creating a natural muscle balance, where he has the appropriate length and strength of each muscle on opposing forces.”

Types of Pilates Classes

Mat Classes – These classes require limited equipment, and are easy to preform at home to workout videos.  They’re a great place to start for beginners who want to get to know the basics of Pilates without a huge learning curve.  Classes start out with breathing exercises to engage the core and diaphragm, and that engagement is stressed as participants work through various forms of core exercises including at least 5 different forms of sit-ups targeting different groups within the abdominal.  Planks, side planks, and balances help to round out the core work, before moving onto hip stability work including leg lifts, bridges and various glute exercises.  The arms tend to get less focus in mat work, but are touched upon a few times with exercises like tricep dips and various forms of push-ups.

Reformer Classes – These classes are often taught in private or in small groups because they require complicated and expensive equipment.  A “reformer” is a piece of fitness equipment that has a movable carriage on rails that the participant sits, stands of lays on to provide weight resistance while the carriage is moved against the resistance of springs.  Straps and pulleys distribute the weight, and allow for a full body workout that in some ways is a bit similar to a Bowflex machine with the ability to pull or push against resistance in just about any plane.  Reformer workouts are much better at targeting arms and legs, but also help work on dynamic core stability as the carriage moves.

Other Equipment – If you get further along in your Pilates journey, or go to a physical therapy clinic that is Pilates based, you may encounter all manner of other Pilates equipment that’s used for private instruction or to target specific issues. 

Read More