Category Archives: Fitness Friday

Fitness Friday Flashback: Designing Your Own Full Body Workout

Back before this whole cancer and broken arm thing, I used to work as a personal trainer at a gym in Toronto. I thought it would be fun to revisit some of the fitness posts I wrote back then, starting with this beginner’s guide for creating your own full body weightlifting workout. I originally wrote this as a guest post for Hallie last year.

There are 7 muscle groups you want to hit when designing a full-body workout, all of which require the same basic movements to work. I’m going to start with the three large muscle groups.

Thighs and Glutes

The Squat Works mostly your quads and glutes. There are a number of variations, you can stand with your legs wide or narrow, do them on one leg, with your heels raised. You can bring your knees to a 90 degree angle, or take your butt right to the floor. Put a barbell on your back, dumbbells at your side, medicine ball at your chest, or jump in between each rep. If you really have a death wish, you can flip over a bosu ball and try not to fall on your face mid-squat.

The Lunge – Another one that works mostly your quads and glutes. Again, the variations are almost endless. You can step out, step back, step sideways, walk, step diagonal into a curtsy. Hold a barbell on your back, dumbbells at your side. Lunge off a step, or step on to a bench for a “step-up.”

The Deadlift These are amazing, but also dangerous if you don’t practice correct form. It works your lower back, quads, glutes, and hamstrings depending on the variation. Holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you, squat your butt down, then push it back up. You can do overhand, underhand, mixed, wide or narrow grip. A wide or narrow stance, and off a step or box. To zap the hamstrings, keep you legs straight and hinge forward at the hip, lowering the weights toward the floor.

Arnold should know better than to go barefoot in the weight room… tsk tsk…

Chest

Women need to work their pecs too! It’s too big of a muscle to ignore and will cause an imbalance in your body if your back is stronger.

In weightlifting, many moves are either a “push” or “pull” motion. Chest exercises are almost exclusively a push motion.

The Push Up We all know this one. Make sure your back isn’t arched and butt isn’t sticking in the air. Our bodies naturally do this to take some of the weight off our chest. Also, make sure your hands are wide enough, when they’re too close you hit your triceps instead.

The Bench Press Lay on a bench and push a barbell or dumbells up. Do this on an incline to hit your anterior deltoids (front of shoulders) too.

The Dumbbell Fly – Lay on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing one another. With a slight bend in your elbow, bring them out to your side, then push them together again.

Back

Remember how our chest moves were all push motions? Well our back, being the opposing area, is all pull motions.


The Pull-Up/Pull-down These mainly work your lats. The pull-up is one of the hardest things to accomplish in weight lifting, you can use the assist machines at the gym to help you along. Or, just stick your toe on a chair or bench to take some of the weight off. The pull-down is the same motion, except the weight is coming from above on a cable machine. You can also do an underhand grip for these (aka the chin up). Targets a few different smaller muscles, but your lats are still the big movers.


The Row There are several different ways to do this. You can use a cable rowing machine, where you bring the weight toward your core in a seated or standing position. You can also hinge forward at the hip, and bring dumbbells or a barbell toward your center. Stick one knee on a bench and bring the dumbbells up one at a time.

Now onto our four smaller muscles!

Shoulders

The best thing a woman can do for her silhouette is work her shoulders. You won’t look bulky, it will offset your hips and you’ll look great in a tank-top!

The Overhead Press If you only have time to do one shoulder exercise, do this one. It hits all your deltoid muscles. You can do it with dumbbells, a barbell, or tubing. Sit or stand. Just remember to keep your shoulders down and don’t push your neck forward when you start to struggle with the movement.

The Shoulder Raise This will work different areas of your deltoids depending on which movement you choose. You can bring the weight out to your sides or out in front of you. Just remember to vary which direction you bring the weight with each workout, so you’re hitting different muscles each time.

Triceps & Biceps

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I put these two together because again, they are two opposing muscles with two opposing movements. To work your biceps, all you have to do is start with a straight arm and flex your arm up. Your elbow should be the only joint that moves. Your triceps are just the opposite. Start with a bent elbow, and extend your arm at the elbow until your arm is straight. Easy peasy!

The Bicep Curl I wish I could give you a bunch of new moves to work your biceps, but this classic move will do it best. Use dumbbells, a barbell or a cable. Do it off a preacher machine, an incline bench, turn your wrists to hit different areas of your biceps.

The Tricep Extension This is one of many, there are also kickbacks, a cable pushown, extension using cable or tubing, and my favourite, the skull crusher. Just remember they all have the same movement, and only your elbow should be moving!

Isolating these two muscles will not make you look like a she-hulk. If anything, it will give you that extra little bit of sculpted definition in your arms.

Abs

Listen, I’m not going to sit here and list all the million kinds of crunches you should be doing to get a six pack. Cut abs are mostly made by a good diet, which is a whole other post in itself. However, it is very important to have a strong and stable core in order to perform well in all your activities.

Your abs will actually be working in all the moves I listed above. To make sure they’re fully engaged, when lifting, brace your core like you’re about to be punched in the gut. Not only will it give you more stability and power in your movements, but it will strengthen those silly ab muscles as well.

The Plank This is one of my favourite ab moves. It will strengthen your core while not adding bulk to it. You can do it on your elbows, or with straight arms. On your side, with one leg off the ground, with a weight on your back. Much like the push-ups, make sure your butt isn’t up in the air, and push your weight back into your toes. You should not feel this solely in your back.

And that’s it!! I hope this helps you when coming up with your own full-body workouts! Don’t be scared to try new things. Scribble down some notes and bring it to the gym with you, ask people for help (I swear the meatheads are nice – they love it when you rub their ego!). Read magazines, Google new moves, watch other people in the gym, find inspiration wherever you can get it!

Fitness Friday: Something For The Beginner

At this point in my personal training career, I would say the majority of my clients are what I call “beginner exercisers.” I know I post a lot of intermediate workouts on here, but by and large the ones I create for clients are filled with exercises geared towards newbies. Or at least, someone who hasn’t worked out in say… 15-20 years? ;)

I put the call out for Fitness Friday topics this week, and Rhonda fired back with a good one.

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Hi Rhonda, you just described my typical client.

Now, I have to tell you there is a reason why this type of person seeks out personal training if the first place. They’re out of shape, their flexibility is shot, they’ve got an injury, and they’re seriously lacking in the motivation department.

All of the above is best fixed with one-on-one sessions. It allows me to asses your specific needs and build a training plan from there. Because I can’t do that through my blog, I’m going to try to do the next best thing.

The following is a list of exercises that I will typically do for a beginner exerciser in the first session. They’re easy to get in and out of, it works the whole body, and tells me what should be the areas of focus. Plus, they’re all exercises I feel comfortable letting a newb try out on their own as “homework.”

The following is a strength routine you can do 2-3 times a week. On top of this, you should be doing some form of cardio 4-5 days a week for 20-50 minutes. On lifting days, keep the cardio to 20 min, on non-lifting days, make it a little longer. Be sure to allow 48 hours between each strength session to allow for proper muscle repair.

 

Stability Ball Squat
2 sets x 20 reps


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I like this exercise because it automatically puts you in correct squatting form without the use of a machine. It’s supposed to be easier on your knees, but you can always widen your stance to take additional pressure off.

  • Make sure your knees are behind your toes when you lower.
  • Only come down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Push your butt back into the wall.
  • Keep your chest facing the front wall.
  • Push up through your heels.

Lying Hamstring Curl on Ball
2 sets x 12-15 reps


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  • Lay down with your arms at your sides, palms down.
  • Place your ankle on top of a stability ball.
  • Raise your hips so your body is a straight line.
  • Bend your knees into your body using your hamstrings.

Seated Machine Chest Press
2 sets x 12-15 reps. Starting at 10-15 lbs for women, 20-25 lbs for men.


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  • Adjust the seat so the bars are next to your chest – aka the “nipple line”
  • Roll your shoulders back and rest your head against the seat so you’re not tempted to strain your neck.
  • Elbows are slightly below the shoulders.
  • Don’t let your hands come back past your chest, it puts too much weight on your shoulders.

Seated Machine Cable Row
2 sets x 12-15 reps. Starting around 30-40 lbs depending on the machine.


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All machines for this one are slightly different, but the motion and form are always the same.

  • Back is straight, shoulders are back and down away from the ears.
  • Feet resting on pads or edge.
  • Slight bend to knee (but enough room to allow cable to pass)
  • This is a back exercise, so think about pulling the handle in using your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bring your elbows as far back as you can.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press
2 sets x 10-12 reps. Starting around 8 – 12 lbs.

 


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Preferably done standing, but only if you promise me you won’t arch your back. If you suffer from back problems, try these seated on a bench or chair.

  • Don’t arch your back!
  • Dumbbells come above your head, not in front of your face.
  • Shoulders are down the whole time. Locked back into that perfect posture position.
  • Don’t strain your neck, or push your chin forward.
  • Lack of shoulder mobility is a common problem, meaning this exercise isn’t for everyone. Let me know which ways you can’t move your shoulder and I’ll give you an alternate exercise.

Standing Cable Tricep Pushdown
2 sets x 12-15 reps. Starting around 15-25 lbs.

  • Your forearms are the only part of your body moving in this exercise. It’s a single-joint move, meaning the only joint moving is your elbow. Lock everything else into place. The second you fall out of form, readjust or call the set done!
  • Keep your shoulders back and away from your ears.
  • Bring your forearms up to 90 degrees, and then push them down until your arms are straight.

Dumbbell Bicep Curl
2 sets x 12-15 reps. Starting around 8 – 12 lbs.

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  • Another single-joint exercise, your elbows are also the only ones working here, and your forearms are the only body parts moving.
  • Keep those elbows hugged to your sides like your life depended on it.
  • Keep your shoulders back and away from the ears.
  • Don’t let your spine arch backward.

Prone Cobra
2 sets x 30-60 seconds


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Lay on your stomach, hands down by your side, and lift your chest off the ground. This is an isometric back exercise, so you’re just going to hold that position for as long as you can.

  • Face the floor so as not to strain your neck.
  • Keep your toes on the floor.
  • Always be trying to lift your chest higher and higher with each passing second.

Lying Leg Lifts
2 sets x 10-15 reps.


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I often get people to place their hands under their hips for this one to support their lower back. That will help prevent your back from arching when your abs begin to fail. Start with your legs together, toes facing the ceiling. Lower your legs until you feel that pull in your stomach, then bring your legs back up.

  • Try to keep your legs as straight as possible.
  • Motion doesn’t have to be big. Some people only drop their legs a few inches because that’s all it takes to feel the burn!

Ab Roll-Up
2 sets x 10-15 reps.

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Lay on your back with your legs stretched out in front and your arms stretched out on the floor overhead. Using your abs, pull yourself up, moving your arms towards your toes. Then slooowly roll your spin back on to the floor and repeat.

  • Try to keep from using momentum to get yourself up.
  • Remember to engage your core and not your back.
  • Take it slooow on the way down to get more out of this exercise.

Extra Things To Consider:

When going through these exercises, play close attention to your body.  What moves felt particularly hard? What ones felt easy? If you can barely walk the next day, then maybe it’s time to focus a little more on the legs. Or if your back is sore, then start working on not only back exercises but core strength as well.

Always start with lighter weights than you think necessary to get the form down, then move up to challenging weights that have you close to failure. YouTube is your best friend when it comes time to choose more challenging exercises. But the ones above should hopefully just get you in the weight room door ;)

This workout is not meant to get you sweaty and breathless. It won’t aid that much in weight loss, that’s why it needs to be paired with cardio. BUT it will get your basic strength and mobility back. So you can eventually take on more advanced exercises to get that metabolic fire burning ;)

As for cardio and flexibility for this fitness and age group… That’s another post for another day.

Fitness Friday Flashback – Using The Cable Machine

Happy Fitness Friday and welcome to my first fitness flashback! I have written a lot of fitness posts in my over two years of blogging. Some of which are too useful to get lost in the thousand other posts I’ve written.

I first wrote this post back in June 2009 after getting numerous questions about how to use the cable machine. It is by far the most useful machine at the gym. But it’s also the most complicated and intimidating one to operate. Consider today a beginner’s class. Intermediate class to come ;)

Cable machines come in all shapes and sizes. But they are essential a pulley system attached to weighted plates and detachable handles.

Most can be adjusted by pulling out a knob on the side and sliding the pulley up or down. There are several different attachments you can clip on.

We’re mostly concerned with the above attachments. Not pictured though is the velcro strap that fits around your ankle. Usually these parts are hanging out somewhere around the machine, or you may have to remove it from another machine to use. Don’t worry, most of the following pictures clearly illustrate which one you’ll need.

Before we get into the exercises, I need to make a very important point.

Don’t let the cable boss you around. 

As the weight plates drop on the machine, the cable will pull forward. It is SO important not to let it jerk you with it. Stay strong and balanced. If you’re struggling, lower the weight. Sometimes we can’t go as heavy on cable machines as we can with dumbbells. That’s okay. You’ll see better results when you actually hit the intended muscles ;)

Legs

A stiff-legged deadlift to work your glutes and hamstrings. You can also do a regular deadlift where you bend your knees. A straight bar to attach would be needed for this one.

The cable pull through hits mostly your glutes, but you’ll get a little thigh work in there too. Please keep your back straight and supported!

The one leg cable kickback is actually one of the best butt exercises there is. Want a bubble butt? This is one for you.

 

Cable thigh pull can work either your inner or outer thighs. The motion pictured above will hit your inner thighs. If you turn around and pull the cable away from your body, you’ll hit the outer thighs. Remember to pull the weight with your thigh muscles, don’t just put all the work in your hips.

Chest

003 CHEST PRESS

The cable chest press is one of my favourite ways to change up the boring ole’ chest press. You can do this two arms at a time, or one arm at a time. Remember to push through your chest and not your shoulders. Keep that belly tight!

Back

Standing cable row. I like doing this one best in a squat or lunge position to activate my legs as well. You can do this one arm at a time or with both. If doing both, you can also use the straight bar handle attachment. For the love of Jesus, just remember to pull with your back otherwise the exercise is a waste of time.

Cable face pull. This one targets your upper back and shoulders as well. Make sure to keep your shoulders down and neck soft. Elbows should come straight out to your sides to activate behind the shoulders.

Shoulders

Pictured above is the side lateral raise. This will work mostly the top of your shoulders. It requires very little weight, and if you’re on a machine with two cables, you can set it up so they cross in front of you. You can also turn around and pull your arms out in front of you to do a front shoulder raise.

Triceps

The cable pushdown is one many people are already familiar with. Pleasepleaseplease do not move your shoulder joints in this exercise. The only joint that should be moving is your elbow, which should also be tucked in by your waist. I’ve made people hold towels between their elbows and waist to ensure they stay tucked there. You’ll be able to feel the difference in your triceps!

Cable overhead extension. The thing to remember for this is to keep your shoulders down, try not to shrug them up with the movement. Hold that tummy in. Again, make sure only your elbows are moving!

Biceps

The one and only cable curl. Set the cable at the bottom of the machine and curl up! Much like with the triceps, keep those elbows pinched into your side, move only your forearms, and make sure your don’t hunch your shoulders forward. You can do a hammer curl with the rope attachment as pictured above. Or hook up the bar handle, or even do one arm at a time.

Abs

 

Cable woodchop. Above is the diagonal version. But you can also set the cable in the center and twist horizontally for the cable horizontal woodchop. Thing to remember here is to keep your arms straight, and pull through using your abs first.

 
For some reason I get asked about the cable crunch all the time. Maybe because it looks hardcore. I personally find it’s awkward. In the above picture, the guy is twisting diagonally to hit his obliques, but you can also just go up and down for a normal crunch. Again, keep the work in your abs here, and try not to curve your spine too much.

All the demonstrative pictures are hyperlinked, so click away to get more info on the exercise behind the photo.

These are just a very select few exercises hitting the main muscle groups in your body. But there are SO many exercises you can do on the cable machine, I think a second post will be needed in the future :)

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