Monthly Archives: September 2011

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…


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!

The Side Effects Of Chemo

It occurred to me that while I briefly went over the side effects I’d be experiencing when I first started chemo, I never really went in depth with what it feels like. So today I thought I’d list out all the fun things that come with chemo to create a better understanding of it. Keep in mind, this is just for my Hodgkin’s ABVD treatments. Some people experience additional side effects or don’t get any of the ones I’m listing at all. Concentration of dose, length of treatment, and of course individual reaction to the drugs all play large factors in it too!


1. Nausea. I have actually not experienced a lot of nausea thanks to my team of anti-nausea meds on the side – zofran, decadron, and maxeran. If anything, I sometimes feel like I do after a long road trip. A little gross and weak, but nothing like the bad hangover I expected it to be. The room never spins, I don’t fall into walls, and I don’t get beer goggles that make me hit on unattractive men.

2. Breaking down of the stomach lining. As you know, chemotherapy kills fast growing cells. That includes the cancerous cells and the healthy cells. The lining of our stomachs is made up of fast growing cells. This is actually what causes the nausea, but I find I get different side effects from this. Sometimes stomach pains when I eat certain foods, eat too quickly, or go too long without eating at all. The worst is when I get a burning sensation from my tummy to my throat. I don’t know what this is, but it’s the only time I ever feel like I’m going to throw up.

3. Hair loss. Okay, so everyone knows chemo kills the hair on a person’s head because it’s made up of fast growing cells as well. That hair is usually first to go, but what a lot of people don’t realize (or I didn’t anyway) is that chemo can kill the hair all over the body. From the forearms to down under. Losing the hair on my head sucks, not needing to shave or wax is at least slight bonus.


4. Mouth sores. The lining of your mouth is made up of fast growing cells too! I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had any mouth sores yet. But I do get extra pain from all four of my wisdom teeth growing in. They’re growing in normally, thank goodness, but I’m not allowed to go to a dentist on chemo. Cuts in the mouth don’t close up as quickly as other places, and being in the mouth makes them much more susceptible to getting infected.

5. Cold sores. I haven’t gotten these yet either, and let’s hope I don’t get them at all! I think the weakened immune system has something to do with an increase of cold sores with chemo patients. Speaking of which…

6. Fever/Neutropenia – I’ve talked about my weakened immune system a lot. It’s different with every chemo regimen, but mine in particular zaps my white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off sickness. My immune system is consistently around 1/10th of a normal person’s. Because of this I have to take my temperature every day. If it goes up to 101F, I have to go to the hospital as it could be a sign of infection. Simple illnesses can blow up into very big ones on chemo because my body does not have the resources to keep it under control. I actually have a piece of paper that will let me jump the line in the emergency room and get admitted right away. This is currently my worst fear as I absolutely do not want to be an inpatient again – especially in an isolation room.

7. Numbness – I don’t get this a whole lot, but sometimes my fingers and toes will get a little numb or tingly. I’ve heard of this being really bad with other patients though.


8. Fatigue – This has been one of the worst side effects for me, and many other people. The kind of fatigue you get on chemo is nowhere near the kind of fatigue you would get in every day life. It’s not like I feel tired and it will go away with a nap or a good night’s sleep. It the kind of fatigue that can be completely debilitating. Often times I will lay completely still and feel like I don’t even have the energy to move an arm. Instead of being hit by a mack truck, I feel like it has run back and forth over my eyelids. Doing something like bringing the laundry to the basement is enough to tire me out for the following hour. It’s intense!

9. Diarrhea/Constipation – I debated mentioning this because it’s TMI. I don’t want to read about poop on other blogs, let alone write about it on my own blog. But it’s kind of a big deal to those who suffer from it. I usually only experience the latter, and let me tell you, it SUCKS. Big time. I never gave much thought to those who complained of constipation before, but it is really no way to live. I have to take laxatives every day, and eating veggies and exercise helps too.

10. Chemo fog – In other words, I’m losing my mind. For years, people thought chemo fog was a result of the stress of chemo. But newer research is showing that it’s a very real thing. In fact, my ABVD drugs can actually sneak up through the vessels that protect my brain from the rest of my body. It’s made me forgetful, I can’t remember where I put things, my appointments, what I did yesterday, or think of words mid-sentence. I have a hard time reading and retaining information. Lord knows how many e-mails I’ve forgotten to respond to. Basically, my Nana is smarter than me now.


11. Food restrictions – I finally met with the oncology nutritionist and learned a little more about what I should and shouldn’t be eating! Surprisingly, nothing with a strong concentration of anti-oxidants or it could mess with what the chemo is doing to my red blood cells. That includes no green tea! Because of my low immune system, I can’t eat foods that may contain bacteria. So certain fruits and veggies are iffy, or need to be washed really well. No sushi or shellfish, sliced meats, etc. Nothing too crunchy that could cut my mouth, and nothing citrus-y because it makes my mouth hurt. I also have to double my calcium and take in extra protein to protect my bones and muscles from the chemicals in the chemo.

12. Dry skin – This hasn’t been *too* bad for me yet, but I do find my skin has become a lot more sensitive on the chemo. I’ve been getting skin reactions to things I never did before and breaking out into a rash after touching something is quite common for me now.

13. Burn easily – On that note, chemo makes your skin more sensitive to the sun too. I never got any burns this summer despite spending a fair bit of time out in the sun, but I also slathered on the sunscreen religiously.

14. Weight gain – Before starting chemo, I was scared I’d turn into this rail thin sickly person because that’s what I associated chemo with. Truth is, because of the anti-nausea meds these days, most people keep their appetites while getting treatment. Pair that with a decrease in activity and a slew of steroids that retain fluids, and you get weight gain. Fabulous.

15. Bone pain – This is not a side effect caused by the chemo, but rather a side effect of a drug used to treat the side effect of low white blood cells. Gotta love how that works. The additional drugs I’m taking on top of the chemo have side effects too, but I’m including this one because it’s by far one of the worst. Because neupogen stimulates cell grown within my bones, it causes a pain deep inside my skeleton. Mostly my pelvis, spine, thighs, and shoulders. Some days it’s quite manageable, other days it leaves me in bed writhing in pain and resorting to pain killers. To me, there’s few kinds of pain worse than that which happens in your bones.

And with that, I am off to bed! I am feeling particularly sucky after chemo #6 yesterday. After looking at this list, it’s no surprise why!

Should We Really ‘Run To Eat’?

“Will run for beer”

Ever hear this saying or something similar before?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Particularly, how I don’t agree with it.

You see, I began exercising on the regular when I set out to lose 30 lbs four years ago. I counted calories to lose weight, so for a long time exercise was purely a way to burn calories. It gave me a little more wiggle room in my daily calorie allotment and made it so I didn’t lose my mind restricting food in order to shed a few pounds.

As the days went on, I fell more and more in love with exercise. I eventually started doing it because I like it, and not just as a way to lose weight. As I transitioned into weight loss maintenance, exercise not only became my most loved hobby, but also a way to splurge on some of my most favourite treats. Run 6 miles? Awesome, now I get to have dessert today. All without putting on a pound.

But now that I’m a little more separated from the situation, I wonder – is it healthy to use exercise as a justification to eat?

If you were to ask me today, my response would sway towards “no.”

Food and exercise are two very different things and serve two very different purposes. But mostly, I think by creating a relationship between the two, one is setting themselves up to have an unhealthy relationship with both.

I have gained at least 10 lbs since beginning chemotherapy, for a number of reasons. I’m not as active as I used to be (read: no 6 milers here), my eating habits have changed (read: digesting a big salad on chemo is tummy torture) and my most favourite excuse – I’m on steroids, I can’t help it! (same goes with the occasional ‘roid rage)

If I weren’t sick and gained 10 lbs I would immediately turn to exercise to start burning it off. Except this time around I really don’t care about the extra weight. Apart from the frustration of having jeans that don’t fit, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Like a life threatening illness. Suddenly, the idea of vanity weight goes out the window.

With that said, I do still mildly exercise every day. But this time it’s not to lose weight or to keep it off. This time it’s for a different reason altogether. I now realize it’s the reason why I should have been exercising all along. For my health. Study after study shows that cancer patients have a higher rate of survival with exercise. When I hop on the recumbent bike, it’s not with the idea of burning off the ice cream I ate earlier, or for some notion of vanity. It’s for my health, my real health, and my longevity.

When I’m all better and back at the gym, I won’t reward myself with a beer after because I’ve got the extra calories to do it. I’ll drink beer whenever I want and exercise because it’s good for me.

Today is chemo day – treatment #6. I’m halfway through!