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Fitness Friday – Gadgets

Happy Fitness Friday everyone!! Oh, and I guess a happy weekend to you too, especially if it’s a long weekend like it is here in Ontario :)

Before we get into today’s topic, I once again want to share one of my workouts!

Yesterday, I experienced my first ever bootcamp in the park. The gym I work at hosts bootcamps in the summer and I decided to check out what it’s like.

The regular instructor is on vacation, so we had one of our expert trainers step in to teach. When telling my co-workers I was attending the class, I would get looks of concern, shock and pity. Going in, I had a slight idea that I was perhaps in for more than I bargained for.


As soon as I arrived, I was told to drop and give 50 push-ups. Yes, in a row! I did them on my knees, and I think I squeezed out 40-something before we were told to rest. Then I had to throw a fellow participant on my back and run up a hill. Then squat-jump up a hill, run sprints around the park, and the torture goes on. Needless to say, it was the longest 50 minutes of my life. I nearly threw up. But I sure did feel proud of myself by the time it was over!

Not all bootcamp classes are that difficult. You always have the option to go easier on yourself. Of course, being a personal trainer at the host gym, I wanted to show what I was made of! :P

I’m happy to say that I actually have many more bootcamps in my future! I’ll be spilling the beans about it next week. I am both excited and terrified, which is a good thing.

Now! On to today’s fit topic, inspired by comments from a post long, long ago.

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) asked:

Fitness topic…hmmm…Do you believe in gadgets, i.e. hrm’s, polars, garmins, etc or not? and why? and if so, your top picks and why.


Short answer: Yes, I believe in gadgets. But first, an overview.

We’ll start with my favourite gadget, and one that I personally own and frequently use.

This is an Polar F11 Heart Rate Monitor. The F11 is a slightly higher end model that also measures your VO2 max through your resting heart rate. It also tracks your progress and will even provide a program for you based on how many calories you should be burning each week. The lower end models work just as well if all you’re looking for is a calorie burn and heart rate. Price can range from $50 to $300.

One thing that you should definitely look for in a heart rate monitor is one with a chest strap. This is the best way to pick up and measure your pulse. Don’t be fooled into buying the cheaper versions that do it through your fingers, they don’t work as well.

Polar is known as one of the best companies out there for this product and most gym equipment are compatible with their chest strap. Meaning, if you’re wearing the strap, the treadmill you’re on will be able to display your heart rate.

Besides knowing precisely how many calories you’re burning (which is helpful if you’re losing weight, or training for a long-distance endurance race) I think it’s a good thing to be aware of your heart rate while working out. It’s the best way to tell if you’re working too hard or not hard enough, and if you’re cardiovascular abilities are improving. There are heart rate norms out there based on age and gender, but I find it’s very much unique to the individual. You won’t know what’s normal for you until you’ve been monitoring your heart for a few weeks and get used to the numbers you see.

Another way to measure you calorie expenditure is through use of the Body Bugg.

The Body Bugg is something you wear 24/7 and measures how many calories you burn over the course of a whole day (as opposed to a heart rate monitor, which you typically only wear during exercise). The Body Bugg calculates calories burned through the heat and electricity your skin gives off. Honestly, I don’t entirely understand the science behind this, but it can be pretty useful for people who are serious about weight loss. Losing weight is all about taking in fewer calories than you burn over the course of the day to create a deficit. This can help you calculate how to get the appropriate deficit. Plus, you can upload the data on your computer to get fancy charts ;)

Calories aren’t all of it though. People who exercise outdoors like to know how far and fast they’re going. That’s where a gadget like the Garmin Forerunner comes in.

This (giant) watch uses GPS to measure the distance of your runs. Based on this, it provides a real-time pace for you, and can also break down your runs into timed mile splits. Some Garmins come with chest straps to measure your heart rate and calorie burn, those without will give you a more of a “guesstimate.” (p.s. guesstimate is an actual work according to Windows Live Writer!)

If Garmins are way too frickin’ expensive for you, there is a cheaper way to measure your runs – the Nike +iPod.

The Nike + gadget comes in two parts: a piece that you plug into your iPod Nano and a piece that goes into the sole of a special Nike shoe. Note, you can also buy cases for the shoe piece that can be tied into your laces if you don’t have the special shoe. This is another gadget that I personally own. For $80, it was much cheaper than a Garmin. My only complaint is that it measures distance based on your stride length, then how many strides you take. It needs to be calibrated frequently and can throw you off when it gets un-calibrated. On the bright side, you can make special playlists with it, get your pace in real time, and sometimes the voice of Lance Armstrong will congratulate you when you break a personal distance record :)

Workout gadgets aren’t all about running. Another gadget that I love and use is attached to my bike – a Cateye Strada Wireless bike computer.

The left component attaches to your front spokes, and the right component to your handlebars. It measures your RPM and gives you a distance and speed based on the circumference of your tires. The great thing about this particular model is that it transmits with no extra wires and there are no buttons – you push the face of the right component to toggle through options. Not necessary, but it’s always fun to see how far and fast you can go!

Now these are just some of the more basic and popular gadgets out there and the ones I’m most familiar with. There are tons of other companies out there that make similar products. It’s all about finding one that provides you with the info you need. I’ve actually bought all of mine on eBay through good deals. Sometimes they are overpriced, but sometimes you get more than your money’s worth. I’ve been wearing my $130 Polar 5-6 times a week for 18 months and it still works like new. It’s become my favourite training partner :)

Finally, while I do advocate the use of gadgets, it’s also nice to take a break from them sometimes! I am the type of person who will take it too easy on myself unless I have numbers in front of me telling me I can push harder. In terms of improvement, nothing is more motivating than empirical data that says you are in fact getting better. But don’t be a slave to your gadgets! Run without the Garmin sometimes or hit up the gym without your heart rate monitor. It can be oddly liberating. Sometimes, something as simple as removing a wrist watch can take the “work” out of “workout” ;)


Question of the Day: Do you use gadgets?

Fitness Friday – Love Handles

Happy weekeeennnddd!!

Hope everyone’s got a good two days in store! Even when I used to work weekends, they always seemed so much more exciting than the rest of the week :)

This particular Friday is a special one here at The Great Balancing Act. It marks the kick-off of a new series I’m deeming…

Fitness Fridays

Catchy, no? :P

Fridays will now revolve around all things fitness. Whether it be answering your fit questions, sharing workouts, explaining moves, or delving further into the science and mechanics of exercise.

First things first, I must share my workout for today.

You see, I was planning on a hardcore weight lifting workout. Most of the time, I can pump myself up to go to the gym to play around in the weight room. When I can’t, I can at least convince myself to put some good music on my iPod and go for a run or do some stuff on the cardio equipment. But even the thought of that had me groaning.

Then something in the corner of the room caught my eye – my roommie’s bike! Even though my dad brought my road bike from NB, I need to replace the chain on it. However, he also brought my helmet, and my roommate said I was more than welcome to ride her hybrid when she leaves it at home.

Suddenly, I got really excited to exercise :D


I set off on the bike trails, not knowing where I was going to end up. I came across a great location where it felt like I wasn’t even in Toronto anymore!


The beach! There’s a jazz festival happening here this weekend, so they had live Caribbean music playing on the beach. A wonderful area to pedal through.

I’d forgotten how much I love biking, and had a hard time getting myself to turn around back home. Ended up being out for 80 glorious minutes. A fine example that even when exercise is the last thing you want to do, there are always options and different ways to get excited about getting your butt in gear :)


Now! On to this week’s Fitness Friday topic: love handles.


I recently received a reader e-mail asking how one can reduce the presence of love handles – that fleshy bit of fat/skin that sits on your hips.

Unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer for this one. Love handles are simply a store of fat, everyone’s bodies like to store fat in different places. As much as people try to ignore it, fact of the matter is, you cannot spot reduce fat. Not even through diet and exercise. If we could pick and choose where we wanted our bodies to store fat, us women would all have hourglass figures ;)

That means your best chances of getting rid of those pesky love handles is to take on a regime that is targeted at overall fat loss. This is a routine made up of both cardio and strength training, along with a balanced and “clean” diet. Even then, your hips may be the last place your body chooses to shed fat.

But because I don’t want to leave you here with nothing, I’m going to share one of my favourite exercises for fat loss: high intensity interval training.

I’ve written a very in-depth post on this before, but if you’re a newb to HIIT, here is how you can start:

Jump on a cardio machine at the gym. Spin bikes and ellipticals are my favourite for HIIT because they don’t require too much coordination, but you can also do this running outdoors. Start with one minute light intensity followed by two minutes moderate intensity. That is your warm-up. Then sprint for one minute. The sprint should be going as fast and as hard as you possibly can. On cardio machines, I’ll often increase the resistance to make it harder. After your one-minute sprint, recover with two minutes moderate work, and repeat this sequence for a total of 15 minutes.

The above is a very basic HIIT workout. You can make it more difficult by adding minutes (I wouldn’t recommend doing it longer than 30 minutes, it’s an intense workout). You can shorten the recovery time, or lengthen your sprints. Sometimes I play around with the resistance and intensity, either increasing it, decreasing it, or both.

High intensity interval training is not only a great cardio workout, but it stimulates your fast twitch muscle fibres which are great for maintaining muscle mass. Doing a lot of long, moderate-intensity exercise can potentially put you in a catabolic state where you begin to lose muscle. I always draw the picture of a marathon runner compared to an olympic sprinter.


High intensity intervals cause EPOC – Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This means that even after you finish your workout, your body is trying to get its oxygen levels back to their pre-workout state. This also means you can continue to burn calories for hours after your workout! (although, don’t get too excited, EPOC doesn’t justify a DQ Blizzard :P )

I should also say that you do not need to look like a body builder to get rid of love handles. But putting on muscle, in my opinion, is the best way to blast body fat. If you’re someone who loves their cardio, is scared of strength training, low on time, or just looking for a way to switch it up – high intensity intervals will help you on your quest to be rid of those love handles!!

Honourable mention also goes to your diet. Remember that you can never out-train a bad diet. I’m currently a living example of this people ;)


Did you know it’s Apple Week?? I celebrated with a pink lady today.


I bought pink ladies for the first time last week (may or may not have been influenced by the cute sticker). They’re pretty good! Lovely, crunchy texture. A bit of a bite though, and a touch dry. Nothing will ever live up to my sweet and crisp (and aptly named) honeycrisps.

I tried to make a dent in my behemoth market zucchini by making fake-sagna tonight. I barely made a dent, but it was at least a tasty dent!


Veggie Fake-sagna


  • half of an elephant-sized zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 package Yves Italian ground round
  • 1/4 spanish onion, chopped
  • 1/4 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can Hunt’s no-salt added tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used the Mediterranean flavoured kind)
  • fresh spinach
  • button mushrooms
  • fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan

Sautee the soy “beef” crumbles, onion, green pepper and garlic until lightly cooked. Stir in the tomato sauce with chili powder and oregano. While that simmers, put a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a square baking dish (I don’t know the dimensions, half the size of the big rectangular ones :P ). Thinly slice the zucchini, and make your first layer covering the bottom of the dish with some slices. Spread half the cottage cheese, spinach, sliced mushrooms and half soy mixture. Then repeat the layers. I put the basil under the top layer of zucchini slices, then topped it with the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 F for about 25 minutes.


It was quite juicy, probably because I was lazy and didn’t cook the zucchini first. I’d also cut back on the tomato sauce (or use tomato paste). I just dumped the whole can in because I didn’t want leftovers. Otherwise it was deeeeelish!!! Seriously, who needs noodles?

I calculated the nutritionals on my portion (one-third, I was hangry) and it came up to about only 300 calories and a whopping 34g of protein and 8g of fibre!

Now I don’t feel so bad about eating about a dozen mini plums and 1/3 of a watermelon today ;)


You know what else I did today? I went for a bike ride!! It turned into a gorgeous evening, 25 C and sunny. So after dinner digested, I geared up and dragged by unmotivated ass down the stairs. My legs were screaming at first, but I eventually zoned out at pedalled for 24 km. It took me about an hour which is kinda slow. It’s okay though because I climbed the monster hill! I wasn’t planning on it, but when I got to the turn leading up the hill, I just buckled down and went for it! It was awful as always, but I didn’t let out any grunts this time which in my books is progress!! :D


I also want to send out a big thanks for all your positive comments on my new “gettin’ real” page. It only solidified that putting my story out there is the right thing to do. I don’t know why I was so nervous about it. Everything I’ve gone through has made me the person I am today. Without some of my previous bad decisions, I would not have gained the insight to know how to make great ones today.

On that note, I’m off to bed. Night night!!