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…
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
Hello friends! Welcome to the work week. I’ve got a serious case of the Mondays over here. Thankfully, Tuesday is just around the bend, so I’ve got nowhere to go but up ;)
Today’s post is a little off the beaten path from my usual content. Yes, no food or workouts to torture you with ;)
As many of you know, I was a reporter in a former life. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Communications and worked full-time as a radio reporter before moving to Toronto.
Photo courtesy Charles Leblanc
During my 5+ years in the world of journalism, I did a lot of writing. A typical day had me writing two versions of five different stories. I wrote for newspapers, magazines, radio and even television. When people ask me how I find the time and motivation to blog, I just tell them that writing is a second nature to me. Even though writing no longer pays my bills, it’s something that I continue to live, breathe, and obsess over on a daily basis.
So today my bloggie friends, I am sharing my top tips to good writing.
Find your hook and lead with it.
Don’t just ramble for days and days, broaching several topics at once. Pick one thing that really stands out and address it in the beginning. Shape the main focus of what you’re writing about and let your readers know what it is!
Write about the things that affect people.
There’s no doubt bloggers love to yammer about themselves, but try to talk about things that affect other people too. Reviewing a brand of sneaker, sharing a recipe, providing motivation tips, these all help people in some way. Find topics that people will relate to. Write about something that will resonate with those other than yourself.
Read anything and everything.
The best way to learn about manipulating language is to soak in as much as you can by reading it. Don’t just read other blogs, take in some newspapers, novels, fiction, non-fiction. Find writers that inspire you, figure out what it is you like, and create a style that’s all your own.
Keep your paragraphs short.
Long blocks of text make my eyes glaze over. Write your 3-5 sentences, then move on.
Don’t give it up all at once.
Contradicts my first point, about giving up your hook at the beginning. But always keep a little back to keep your reader enticed. This can be as small as revealing a secret ingredient at the end of a post, giving a piece of surprise news, or breaking your information up into separate posts.
Using passive voice makes your writing sound long-winded and boring. Active voice is a lot more exciting. Active voice is when your subject is the doer of an action. Passive voice is when the subject undergoes the action. The best example of this is one I used a lot in journalism:
Active: “The government announced a new spending program today.”
Passive: “A new spending program was announced by the government today.”
Split it in two.
Sometimes we drag out sentences by using commas and the word “and.” Most of the time, they can be divided into two, cleaner, easier to read sentences.
Use brackets sparingly.
Brackets are confusing, why would you want to break up the flow of a sentence with extra thoughts? Most of the time what you want to say in a set of brackets can be worked into the normal paragraph structure. Re-think what you’re trying to say and say it without the use of brackets.
Keep it literary.
Blogging is very colloquial by nature. That’s part of the reason why people love to read blogs. But reading something that’s written in the manner of direct speech is torturous. Anyone who’s ever had to transcribe something will know this. It’s okay to keep your writing casual, but remember that writing and speaking are two different languages.
Include a picture.
Like I said, too much text is boring. Break it up with something that’s nice (or delicious) to look at! :)
If you’re going to take any of these tips to heart, pleasepleaseplease use this one. I want you to delete at least one word from every paragraph from now on. Do you really need to say “that” in every other sentence? What about the words “pretty,” “some,” “about,” “also?” When I re-read my blog posts before publishing, I go through and delete at least 10 erroneous words, as well as 5 erroneous exclamation marks and smiley faces. When it doubt, chop it out.
Question of the Day: What are your favourite writing tips?
How was everyone’s weekend? Are we pumped to make it a great upcoming week?? What’s that? I can’t hear your enthusiasm through all the groans ;)
I had a most fabulous day biking and eating around Ottawa with my big sis. I will babble about it and explain the above picture tomorrow. But tonight’s post is all about one of my faaavourite things!
I put the call out for fitness-related questions and got a handful of really good ones to answer. Y’all know I’m a certified personal trainer, so you can take or leave what I lay out for you here. Just remember it’s general advice, specialized instruction for the individual is always best!
Excellent question. I have actually been working pretty hard lately at building up my scrawny arms to get that nice “athletic” look. (I always say I would like to look like a volleyball player who doesn’t play volleyball ;) )
First and foremost it’s important to realize that it is really hard to get defined muscle tone when you still have a layer of fat over top of your muscles. I’m not saying you need to starve yourself down to 13% body fat. But muscle definition is a lot about what you eat, not just what you lift.
Speaking of lifting, it really helps. You can definitely get visible arm definition from yoga, but sometimes you require a little more resistance or different movements to build the arm muscles. Yes, I say build. Muscles don’t “tone” they “grow.” If you want to see them, you have to make them bigger.
We’ll start at the top with the shoulder muscles.
A lot of women are scared to work their shoulders too hard because they don’t want to bulk up on the top. While some women are indeed more prone to getting a sturdier look up there, defined deltoids are an essential part of getting those ripped arms you’re after.
As you can see in the above picture, your deltoids are in three parts: anterior deltoid (front of shoulder), middle/lateral deltoid (top and side of shoulder), and posterior deltoid (back of shoulder).
If you only have time to do one shoulder exercise, do the shoulder press as it hits all three of these areas at once.
You can do shoulder presses with dumbbells or a barbell, seated or standing, or on a 45 degree bench. Most gyms also have press machines, but I find they can be awkward for a lot of people.
Things to remember:
- Keep your shoulders in a “reset” position, ie down and back. Never shrug them up as you raise the weight above your head.
- If you’re standing, try not to lean back when it starts to get hard, it puts a lot of stress on your spine.
- Only lower the dumbbells to just above your ears, or so your elbows are at 90 degrees.
- Don’t let your dumbbells clink together at the top, keep it a nice and controlled movement.
- Lift heavy! Too many women do this exercise with those dinky 5lb dumbbells. Start with at least 10 lbs in each hand, the last couple reps should be really hard to complete. If you want to see those shoulders, you have to work them!
Dumbbell front raise – works mostly the front of your shoulders (can be done with a cable or tubing as well)
Dumbbell lateral raise – works mostly the top of your shoulders (can be done with a cable or tubing as well)
Prone cuban snatch – this move goes by many names, but it will mostly hit the back of your shoulders.
Now! Onto our arms! Back when I first started lifting, I did not isolate my arm muscles. They are often secondary muscles in chest and back exercises so it just wasn’t necessary when I was first starting out. But the longer you lift weights, the stronger your big muscle groups will get, which will allow you to move onto the smaller ones. Personally, I did not see a huge difference in my arms until I started isolating the muscles in them. This is why sometimes chaturangas alone won’t work.
We’re going to start with the triceps as there are more muscles in that group. As the name implies, there are three: long head, lateral head, medial head. Different moves will hit different areas of the triceps. For simplicity’s sake, I won’t go into the specifics of each one. Just make sure you vary your triceps moves, and you’ll be good! Luckily, there are many you can do. Here are some of my favourites:
Dumbbell extension: as with all other standing moves, ensure your shoulders are back & down, and don’t lean back. Your elbows should be the only joint moving.
Cable pushdown: I like staggering my stance with this one to create a more stable base. For the love of God, push down using ONLY your elbows. Donotdonot engage your shoulders. Especially not your back. This is probably the #1 move I see done incorrectly.
Kickback: You can also do this one with your knee on a bench and one arm at a time. Check yourself in the mirror and make sure your back is straight and shoulders are on the same plane. And guess what!? Bend only at your elbows!
Skull crusher: I really love this one, I think because of the badass name. Grab on to a barbell with a narrow grip. Start with your arms straight, then bend only at the elbow to lower it down to your forehead, then push back up.
Cable extension: Just make sure your back is straight and shoulders are down. You can do this with the rope or straight bar attachment. Hey! Bend only at the elbows! No shoulder business!! ;)
Next up we got the biceps! For our purposes, we’ll focus on the biceps brachii (the main biceps muscle) and the brachilis (the outside biceps muscle).
There is essentially only one way to work your biceps: the curl.
The number one thing to remember with the curl is to keep your elbows pinched in at the sides, otherwise you start engaging other muscles. What’s the point of doing isolation moves when improper form means you’re no longer isolating them??
Incline curl: I love this one. The incline allows your arms to fall farther back, which means you have to curl your arms up further. Always leaves me sore.
Hammer curl: This one hits into your forearm a little more. Strong forearms are actually more important than you’d think (cycling anyone??). But I get it’s not really all that feminine. You can also do twisting curls where you start in the hammer position, then curl up so the dumbbells are horizontal at your shoulder. Just engages different parts of your biceps along the way.
Barbell 21s: This is a little complicated. Essentially you are doing 21 reps, divided into 7. For the first 7, you lift only halfway, stopping when your elbows are at 90 degrees. The second 7 are the top half, starting at the 90 degree position and moving to the top. Finally, the last 7 are the whole motion from top to bottom.
And that my friends is just a little snippet of how to get ripped arms!! Including shoulder, triceps and biceps isolation moves into your training at least once a week (lifting heavy) will give you that little bit of definition you’re after. That is of course, if you’ve got a good diet to match your training plan ;)
Thank you for indulging me in this epic arm post! Be back tomorrow with more shenanigans. xoxo