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Food & Fitness

Remember when this was a food and exercise blog?

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Well I still do those things! Just on a much, much smaller scale.

Even though I whine about getting cancer despite all my healthy habits, I must say, it hasn’t all been for naught. My chemotherapy side effects haven’t been that bad. Not nearly as bad as some of the horror stories I’ve seen and heard. I credit my pre-cancer lifestyle for my ability to stay strong and withstand the powerful chemo poisons. I also hope my healthy body will be able to help the chemo work its magic faster!

Everyone told me to rest during treatment, but eventually my body started getting weak from lying around all day. I decided I wanted to try to stay active in order to keep my body strong. Then I read this New York Times article which says:

For those who can handle it, though, a light or moderate exercise regimen could help reduce some side effects of treatment, the new report stated. Studies have shown, for example, that arm extensions and other range-of-motion exercises can help relieve lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm stemming from breast cancer surgery. It can also help patients who gained weight during treatment slim down and regain some physical function, and combat some of the exhaustion stemming from chemotherapy.

On top of that, the study showed that exercise could reduce a breast cancer patient’s risk of dying by 40 percent and 30 percent for a person with prostate cancer. They’re not kidding around!

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Honestly, when I first read that I realized that there really no longer exists any excuse not to do some kind of exercise. Then, I promptly hopped on my dad’s recumbent bike.

For over a week now I’ve been taking care to get 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise almost every day. The usual mix of cardio, strength, and stretching. Cardio has to be monitored because the most active part of the cancer is around my superior vena cava, the main vein that goes into my heart. So nothing more than 65% of my max heart rate. Strength on the other hand is difficult because I’m recovering from surgery on BOTH arms now. One side is my elbow, the other side from getting a lymph node removed (with mild lymphedema as mentioned in the excerpt above).

It may seem counter productive to exercise when my biggest side effect is extreme fatigue (think run over by a mack truck x1000). However, working up a little sweat helps me bust through the fatigue and provides a big boost of energy!

In terms of food, I’m finally making the switch to organic.

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I’ve always been too cheap to do this in the past. Especially when I couldn’t measure any concrete benefits from doing so.

Well it’s no longer a matter of preventing myself from getting cancer when I’m 64. It’s matter of getting rid of cancer today and making sure it neverever comes back. I now know I’m one of those people who are more susceptible to developing cancer. Suddenly the extra dollar for a can of garbanzo beans doesn’t seem so steep.

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On top of going organic, I’m attempting to cut back to one serving of dairy and one serving of meat a day. Experimenting with some new products for fun!

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Fresh fruits and veggies may sound like the easy go-to, but chemotherapy actually makes this the difficult part. I am a bacteria-free zone, and produce is crawling with it.

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I joined an organic CSA before I was diagnosed and without it, I probably wouldn’t feel the pressure to eat any vegetables. So for this, I’m thankful.

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I know a lot of people praise the benefits of raw vegetables, but I’m instructed to cook them down to kill any nasty stuff that may be lurking on them. And thanks to chemo deteriorating my stomach lining, green mush is a lot easier to digest.

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Stir-fry with a blackened chicken breast. Sauce made with goat yogurt. It’s what’s for dinner.

Suddenly food and exercise aren’t just for my general health anymore, they’re for my LIFE.

Move It Monday – Lifting Workouts

Hello friends and welcome to the first edition of my new Move It Monday series! Aka Fitness Friday, just on a new day. I like the idea of starting the week off with a little workout motivation.

Now that I am back in Toronto, I have access to my personal training notebook of workouts.

I have designed a ridiculous number of individual-specific workouts during my time as a trainer. It’s high time I get better about sharing these moves with all of you!

The following are two workouts that I tweaked to be suitable for most people. If you need any ideas for modifications, leave a comment and I’ll let you know what to do instead. Enjoy!

30 Minute Novice Strength Training

1. Squat to dumbell shoulder press.
3 sets x 15 reps

 
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2. Single arm cable pull with rear lunge.
3 sets x 12 reps each side

 
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Start standing with your right arm outstretched gripping the cable. Lunge back with your right leg while pulling the cable towards your body using your back muscles. Return to the starting position. Complete one set on one side, then switch to the other.

3. Single arm chest press with rotation.
3 sets x 12 reps each side

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With a dumbbell in one hand, lie your back on a stability ball with your hips in the air to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Bring the dumbbell next to your chest and press it diagonally toward the ceiling so it is above the center of your body. Lift your shoulders off the ball into a crunch, then bring your arm and shoulders back down. Repeat to complete set then switch arms.

4. Hamstring curl on ball.
3 sets x 15-20 reps


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Lying with your heels on top of a stability ball, lift your hips off the ground toward the ceiling, and roll the ball in towards your butt. Keep hips off the ground throughout the entire set.

5. Stability ball roll out.
3 sets x 15

 
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Start on knees with hands together in fists near front of stability ball. Place bodyweight into hands, contract abs, and roll forward onto forearms. Keep a straight line in your body, hold briefly like you would a plank, then roll back to the start. That’s one rep.

 

Advanced Full Body Interval Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
1a. Surrender 3 12 each side
1b. Medicine ball push-ups  3 10-20
5 min cardio sprints*    
2a. Barbell split squat  3 12 each side
2b. Barbell bent-over row  3 12
5 min cardio sprints*    
3a. Mountain climber on medicine ball 3 60 sec
3b. Ab roll up holding medicine ball 3 20
5 min cardio sprints*    

*5 min cardio sprints (on treadmill, elliptical, stairmill, etc):
0:00 – 0:30 = easy (3 RPE)
0:30 – 1:00 = moderate (6 RPE)
1:00 – 1:30 = hard (9 RPE)
1:30 – 2:00 = easy (3 RPE)
2:00 – 2:30 = moderate (6 RPE)
2:30 – 3:00 = hard (9 RPE)
3:00 – 3:30 = easy (3 RPE)
3:30 – 4:00 = moderate (6 RPE)
4:00 – 4:30 = hard (9 RPE)
4:30 – 5:00 = easy (3 RPE)

Don’t forget to warm-up 5-10 minutes before each workout and to cool-down and stretch after. Have fun!!

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.

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