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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!

Dog treats, Meatballs and a Photoshoot


I accidentally just published a guest post I was working on, so I apologize if you got something weird in your Readers. Consider it a tease ;)

My mother insisted on taking a picture of me today because I looked “pretty.” This is what happens when you get dressed after not wearing makeup, real pants, or straightening your hair for almost two weeks.


Please don’t ask why I’m hanging out on the hardwood floor, or why I’ve grown velociraptor arms. Such are the mysteries of life…

My mother and I are at least on the same schedule. She’s newly retired, and myself newly unemployed.


I was up at 7am though. The poodle busted through my door again – how does he do that??


Not butter or french toast today. It was all about the bacon with my fried eggs on toast.

Traded in the citrus for fresh watermelon.


Incredibly satisfying meal. I lovelovelove eggs. I could never ever give them up :)

Instead of doing “nada” between 11am & 12pm, I went to the gym. So I’m not entirely useless ;) Hit up the co-ed location for a full-body workout. However, the free weights and weight machines are on different floors, which is incredibly irritating when I want to do alternating or supersets using both. I think gym design should be a specialty career position.

15 minutes on the elliptical, increasing resistance

Straight Set: (x3)
One arm dumbbell snatch

Superset: (x3)
Assisted chin-up
Plie squat

Superset: (x3)
Barbell bench press

Superset: (x3)
Stiff leg deadlift

Superset: (x3)
Cable pushdown
Hanging leg raises

Superset: (x3)
Preacher curl
Cable horizontal woodchop

Funnnn! I’ve been too lazy to type out my usual tables for weightlifting. Let me know if you miss it!

Walked in the door and heated up some leftover eggplant chicken tomato soup asap.

Another incredibly satisfying meal. Yum!

I took the pretty bowl today ;)


I’m not the biggest fan of noodles. It’s a slimy texture thing. But egg noodles and angel hair pasta I can do. Oh, and Kraft Dinner – but does that actually count as pasta? :P

Even after yesterday’s sugar post, I still needed a treat to finish off this meal.

I literally found this in the very back of my mother’s fridge. Hidden treasure!

I’ve never met a truffle I didn’t like.

In the spirit of sharing, I also treated the doggies.


I got bored last night and whipped up some of Peanut Butter Boy’s Peanut Butter Dog Treats.


1 large banana
1/4 cup egg substitute (1 egg)
1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter w/ salt added a pinch of salt to batter
1 T honey (more if you plan on eating them too) added an extra tbsp
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat germ ground flax seed


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Mash the banana with the back of a fork in a medium bowl until very few clumps remain. Add the egg, peanut butter and honey until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the flour and wheat germ and mix well.

3. Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 1/4″ thick. Cut into desired shapes.


The only cookie cutters I could find were in the shape of the alphabet, so I did up a bunch of A’s and R’s for Archie and Rudy.

Rudy is the gutweiler, so he got first grab.

IMG_6772 IMG_6773
Archie is the real test, he’s quite picky. But he gobbled it up!

Let it be known that my mother and Mark also ate a couple out of the oven last night. Just keepin’ it real here folks! ;)

Decided to go “shopping” this afternoon (ie look at things I can’t afford to buy). I somehow ended up at a natural foods store packed with amazing things I’d love to try. I walked out with a Bumblebar and six medjool dates. I was pretty proud of myself :)

My mom and Mark are out of town for the next couple nights, so it’s just me holding down fort with the pups for the rest of the week. I was on my own for dinner. A shame, because they really missed out ;)

Started with some extra lean ground buffalo meat and I immediately knew I wanted to put it towards Danica’s Healthy and Spicy Buffalo Chicken Meatballs. Yes, I used buffalo in buffalo spice :)

Started with some carrots, celery, onions, chives and parsley in the food processor.


Mixed up with the meat and 2 tbsp Frank’s hot sauce. Something therapeutic about mixing up ground meat with your hands… no?


Fry in a pan until browned on each side.


Then baked in more Franks until fully cooked.


I ate mine in a salad.


With spinach, romaine, tomato, onions, mushrooms and red pepper.


For the dressing, I whisked together Italian vinaigrette, honey mustard and nonfat yogurt (just a lil’ bit!)


YUM. I haven’t had meatballs in forever! I cut back on the spice just a tad, and they were perfect for my palette. I think I may have used a little too many veggies, as I was dealing with 2/3 pound meat. But it did cut back on the calories a bit. The more balls the better. [insert lewd joke here]

Finally, if you’re not sick of looking at my mug yet – I got the photos back from my photo shoot! You may have noticed the new spiffy one on the sidebar.


I got my friend Melanie to take some professional headshots for marketing purposes as a personal trainer and freelance writer (just started doing a little web freelance…yayyy!).


I met Melanie while working at Starbucks way back in the day. She’s an awesome photographer, who’s had the chance to shoot some pretty nifty musicians.


These shots were actually taken around her parent’s yard. We lucked out with some great weather and lighting.


It’s so funny, because as a person who suffers from sometimes severe social anxiety, you would think being in front of the camera would terrify me. But I used to co-host a TV show and worked on the radio. Cameras and microphones are easy. You don’t have to watch the reaction of your audience.

You can check out more of my friend’s great photography at her website here.

Question of the Day: What scares you more? Being on camera or being in front of an audience? Any tips on how to get over those fears? For me, a lens is just a lens, and a microphone is just a microphone. In my head, they’re innocent inanimate objects. As for public speaking or performing, I practice till I’m blue in the face, helps ease the nerves… a tad…

Edited to add: The winner of my waffle maker giveaway will be drawn tomorrow at 8pm Atlantic Time!!

Tips For Staying Healthy in College

You guys. I feel so much closer to you all now. You love waffles as much as I do!!! <—click for a chance to win a free waffle maker ;)

I also have to thank everyone for the congratulatory comments about my becoming a certified personal trainer. I swear I woke up feeling different today! John asked if I’d be like Jillian (Michaels, for those of you who aren’t on a first-name basis with her like John and I). I joked back that I’m more of a Bob (Harper). But really, I can’t wait to be ME! Hopefully I can bring all my personal experiences, attributes and knowledge to the table and create a training experience that’s unique.

Heidi asked if I have any idea where I’d like to work. Answer: not a clue. Honestly, at this point, I will take whatever I can get in Toronto. Yes, there are more jobs there, but there’s also more competition. So far I’ve been applying to jobs in my various fields – writing, communications, barista, fitness. My dream job is of course to be the columnist that appears after Tosca (Reno) in Oxygen. But realistically, I think I really want to give this training thing a shot! Even just doing it on the side for some extra $$. Preferably at a chain where the clients are provided for me. At least until I get some more experience and confidence to try other things. So that’s where I’m at!


I am all over the fruity/salmon combo. Salmon lends itself well to sweet flavours to begin with, and this is becoming a favourite!


I microwaved the remnants of a bag of frozen berries with some maple syrup.


And put it on top of smoked salmon and english muffin. It was missing the usual laughing cow, but beyond that was stellar. If you’re a salmon fan I urge you to try it!

I spent the morning taking out the TWELVE bags of garbage to the curb, and loading up some of my car. Then it started to rain. Then I really wanted to go to the gym, I didn’t yesterday. So I said “screw it” to packing and cleaning and hit the iron. I think this is the first time I felt guilty for actually going to the gym! :P

It was a momentous gym visit too – my first one as a personal trainer. (I’ll stop this, eventually). Even more fun is that I ran into a girl I did my PT classes with and we squealed over passing. Good times :) Oh right! My workout!

Warm-up: 15 minutes on elliptical, increasing resistance

Superset x3
Lat pulldown (mid-back)
Barbell Sumo squat (quads, glutes)

Superset x3
Barbell bench press (pecs, front delts, triceps)
Barbell split squat (quads, glutes, adductors, soleus)

Superset x3
Arnold press (deltoids, traps, triceps)
Stiff leg deadlift (hamstrings, glutes, lower back)

Superset x3
Cable pushdown (triceps)
Cable bicep curl (biceps)

Superset x3
Cable horizontal woodchop (obliques)
Hanging leg raises (lower abs)

And then some stretching. Totally worth putting off packing for. I felt SO much better after. I just hope I’m not paying for it when I’m trying to move boxes tomorrow.

Came home and refuelled with some beer a smoothie.

The healthiest drink to be in a Molson draught glass I’m sure – soy milk, Vega smoothie infusion, a banana, ice, and 1/2 tsp each of guar and xanthan gum.

For my girl JB!! (soontobeJG) Even worse than posting a smoothie stache photo post workout, is going into the Bulk Barn a sweaty mess after in my workout leggings. Classy. This is what I’ve become in my unemployment.

The rest of the afternoon was spent tearing around town tying up loose ends before I blow this joint tomorrow. Stopped by the old office where they gave me a card that almost brought me to tears. My old officemate was my “victim” yesterday for my practical. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to share these past four months with!!

Anyways, I did eventually pull it together. Picked up my new antibiotics for my legs *unenthusiastic yayyyy*

I’m down to the very last pieces of fresh food in my fridge/freezer.

A turkey breast sliced up and coated in egg whites, panko bread crumbs, Kirkland no-salt seasoning.

And roasted sweet potato slices.

Aka cheetahs because they have spots! Check out the salt on those suckers too – love coarse sea salt :)

And while we’re talking about food – I added a recipe page for my Homemade Maple Cinnamon Oat Bran Protein Bars.


I’m eating one right now!

Tips for Staying Healthy in College

Now on to an e-mail that I just had to share.

I’m studying journalism at University and since beginning a little over eight months ago, have gained nearly five kilos!  I think you use pounds, so that is like i guess 12 pounds?  I know that you went through something similar when you started at College, and I was wondering if you had any tips or exercises that you found useful?  It is hard with the whole drinking, hamburger eating, nights out in the pub culture.
Thanks so much.


Now before I even delve into this, I feel like I should say, I’m no expert on staying healthy in college. I made a lot of mistakes and some bad choices, but in the end did find a few things that worked for ME.

1. Use the campus gym. Most universities have free gym access that hardly any students (besides those on teams) use. I did a lot of my weight lifting workouts during a 90 minute break between classes Mon-Wed-Fri. Remember, even going to the gym for 20 minutes is better than not going at all – it adds up!

2. Walk to class. I gained the bulk of my weight when I bought a car and stopped walking everywhere. If it’s less than 20 minutes away, walk there!

3. Join a sports team. If there’s one thing I would have changed about my university experience, I would have joined the cross country team. Joining a team isn’t just a great way to socialize and meet friends, but it’s also a great way to get exercise and stay active on top of school work.

4. Drink smart and drink slow. Don’t go to the pubs and guzzle back 6 beer on $2 draught night. Find a “light” drink that works for you. Mine is whisky and water. A single has 60-70 calories, and is strong enough that I can’t chug it back. Other great ones are vodka and club soda (NOT tonic, it’s sweetened!!), rum and diet coke, light beer. Or you can just order a diet pop and skip the booze altogether.

5. Find light options at all the late-night hangouts. When I first started losing weight, I googled the nutritional value of foods at many of the local eateries. I wrote down some lighter options for each one and kept it in my wallet. That way, if I ever found myself out with friends who had to eat at this one spot, I wasn’t thrown off guard and had an idea of what to order. If you know the 2am visit to the pizza joint is inevitable, find something on the menu other than a big slice that you can have without breaking the calorie bank.

6. Use working out as a method of procrastination. This worked fabulously for me ;) Going to the gym and sweating for an hour always sounded more appealing than reading about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for an hour.

7. Be honest. I experienced a lot of peer pressure in university, it just comes with the environment. You’d be surprised by how many people will stop bugging you when you tell them avoiding the freshman 15 is more important to you than spaghetti night at the cafeteria.

8. Don’t be too strict. University is meant to be enjoyed (well, in between all the stressful parts). Don’t ever, ever skip out on a social function because you’re scared of the food or drinking. I did this, and I regret it. I got smarter toward the end. I realized that being able to go out and have a beer with my friends was more important to me than being my dream size. I’ll take a few good belly laughs over a size 2 any day. Just like I never regret a workout, I never regret hanging out with my friends :)


Hopefully that helps Vanessa!


Question of the Day: Any tips you want to add to the list? As Holly would say, “sharing is caring!”