Thursday, November 16, 2017

Underwear is Like Fitness

Okay, I'll admit it. I was purposefully vague and connected two seemingly disparate thoughts in the title specifically to draw you in. But bear with me - I promise to bring them together.

Let's say your current crop of knickers are wearing a little thin, so you head out to restock your underwear drawer. At one place, you can purchase a bulk pack of trunks for the low, low price of $9.99. Tempting, but you don't want to take the first good deal you see, so you head over to the small, boutique store where you find a top end set that runs you up to $90 for a single pair.

The question is - do you get a good value on either end?

You'll find people who will argue "Yes" to either end of the spectrum - I mean, on the one hand, you could say that when a pair of drawers costs only $2 it doesn't matter how long they last, and on the other you could say that the comfort, quality and durability of the $90 pair makes them worth it. But my experience has been that when you go for the super-cheap, quantity-based set then a) every pair will fit a little different and b) they may only last (literally) 1-2 wearings - both of which means you have to replace them all so quickly you inevitably wind up wasting money. Clearly, then, you should spend top dollar and go for quality, right? Well, again, (in my experience) while they will feel great and fit as well on the first day as they do when you have to retire them, they don't actually last THAT much longer to be worth the price tag. Best bet: look somewhere in the middle of the price spectrum - where you're getting high quality without paying extra for the name.

Same goes for fitness.

$50 a month for unlimited classes (about $2.50 per class if you went 5x a week)? You're getting the fitness equivalent of underwear that falls apart in the first load of laundry. Private training session? Unless you are brand new to training (in which case you may need to do 2-3 of these sessions to get up to speed) or are rehabilitating from a serious injury, you're paying extra for something you don't need. 

Unless you're buying tea candles at Ikea, don't look for the cheapest product, or measure value based strictly on quantity. Instead, try thinking about it this way: what is the maximum amount you can budget, and what is the highest quality you can get with that? 

Because unlike underwear, your health and wellness isn't something you should gamble with by purchasing in bulk.

Just my two cents.


Friday, March 24, 2017

The Dynamic Warm Up

Within the last year or so, I've been reading a lot of articles by a Dr. John Rusin (check out his site here), a physiotherapist/strength coach down in the US. One of the shorter e-books I came across was "6 Phases of the Perfect Dynamic Warm-Up", and what I really enjoyed about this one in particular was that it gave me different way of looking at how which to design warm-ups. I didn't necessarily use his specific template or flow - but this wasn't in an effort to be different, so much as it was that I wanted to apply some of my own critical thought and interpretation.

The first element I considered was "What is the primary goal of a warm-up"?. In my opinion, it should be used as preparation - physically and mentally - for the training session. Next was recognition that there is a definitive value in consistent and frequent practice - after all, doing something once or twice per week, while better than nothing, can take a long time to have a recognizable impact. I also took into account the fact that there continues to be debate within the industry on the need for certain elements - things like "self-myofascial release" (aka: foam rolling), or "glute activation", etc.

In the end, I elected to utilize the following in all of my warm ups:

  • Self Myofascial Release - because although the jury is still out in terms of it's efficacy, it certainly hasn't shown to create any inherent risk. So what's the harm in putting 3-4mins of it into the start of the session?
  • Low Threshold General Range of Motion - starting with basic, ground based movements before progressing into ones that require a more coordinated and focused approach
  • An Integrated Full Body Movement Flow - finally, linking a series of more fundamental moves together that bring range of motion and coordination into a dynamic and practiced pattern

I felt it would work best to keep the series of exercises consistent, rather than varying them every day (variety comes at other points in the training) - for all the clients I design a program for (and for myself), I use the same series of about 10-12 exercises before every training session. While there might be 1-2 exercises that differ based on experience and or the individual's needs, they are pretty much the same all the way through. As a whole I've found that there have been two significant benefits that have come from this: consistent repetition of certain fundamental movements, and (once the warm-up is memorized) an easy to implement routine that makes daily practice a realistic possibility.

*It should be noted that I've structured these around three "levels", and people will be given one of them based on their experience and abilities.

The most advanced warm-up looks something like this:

Soft Tissue

  • Using a stick, a quick and fast "frisk" (that's the best way to describe the movement) of about 10 motions on the following spots: calves, hamstrings, adductors, inner and outer quads. Then grab a lacrosse ball (or a more specific self-massage ball) and roll the bottom of the feet and glutes. Finish off with a series of short rolls paired with upper back extensions on a foam roller.

Ground Based Range of Motion and Movement Preparation

  • This is a simple, low intensity series of exercises meant to build towards a more dynamic series of moves. It is the same general series and targets the same areas regardless of your experience level, though likely with a few individualized additions, subtractions and modifications.
  • Keep each movement "easy" - move lightly through them. Don't move slowly, don't "grind" to get more ROM - let the body ease into them.
    1. Bretzel x 3ea
    2. Open Books x 3ea
    3. Arm Sweep x 3ea
    4. Active Straight Leg Raise x 5ea
    5. Cross-Body Leg Drop x 5ea
    6. Dying Bug x 5ea
    7. Glute Bridge x 10
    8. Lateral Hip Rockers x 5ea
    9. Scorpion x 5ea
    10. Cat and Camel x 3ea
    11. Bird Dog x 5ea
    12. Frog Stretch x 5ea

Dynamic Integrated Movement

  • This is a bit of an overly fancy title, but probably the best description, generally speaking. Once I've loosened up with the previous warm-up, I like to put it all together into a "flow", or series of movements, that gets everything working together before heading into the more challenging section of the programming. This particular flow is fairly demanding from the perspective of balance and general mobility that's needed to hit each of the movements - talk to your coach before trying this as shown.
  • Move smoothly from one exercise to another once on one side, then transition to the other side. Repeat it in alternating fashion for 3-5x each.
    1. Spiderman Lunge
    2. Lunge with Overhead Rotation
    3. Toe Lift Hamstring Stretch
    4. Extended Lunge with Overhead Reach
    5. Cossack Squat

This whole process should only take about 10-12mins from start to finish, once you've learned it and can be used before any training session, game, or even as it's own "mobility" workout on a recovery day.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Training and Injuries

The other day, John Rusin (an American physiotherapist/strength coach that I follow) posted the following comment on Facebook:

"Injuries are not excuse to STOP training. It's the perfect time to IMPROVE training."

Got me thinking.

The reality is that all of us, at some point in our lives, going to be "injured" - the more active we are, the type of sport or recreational activity we participate in, and the type of condition we keep ourselves in during our day-to-day lives all contribute to how we might find ourselves hurt and how long it takes to recover from it.  It could be anything from a muscle spasm in the low back from changing your winter tires, to wiping out while you're skiing and twisting your knee. Regardless of the specifics, a good mental starting point is to look at the injury as an opportunity or challenge, rather than an obstacle or barrier. Is this just a bad luck injury - like missing a step and breaking an ankle? Is it one where you don't know what's caused it, like waking up with a "kink" in your neck? Or is it an ache in your knee that just seems to be getting more noticeable over time?

Generally, I see three types of reactions to injuries: some people acknowledge the injury and find ways to work around it - or better yet, try to find ways to adjust their training to come out even better than before (see Rusin's comment above). Some folks ignore the injury, and try to carry on exactly as they have been - setting themselves up for an even longer recovery and possibly doing damage that they can't bounce back from. And finally, there are those who decide (unfortunately, sometimes as a result of some poor advice, and sometimes because they were just looking for an excuse) to "rest" - or in other words, do absolutely nothing and feel justified in doing so.

Side note: if you're feeling your knickers getting in a twist because you think I'm speaking about you directly - don't. First of all, if I was, I would have told you before I wrote it (ask Jimmy J), and secondly, if you DO feel it's about you, maybe try to figure out why.

For those who have been scanning this because there are too many words to read carefully, here's the simplified version of what I'm saying:
  1. Injuries happen. 
  2. Don't ignore them, but likewise, don't use them as an excuse to do nothing. 
  3. Take them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
If you're dealing with an injury currently - I wish you good luck in your recovery. One caveat I'll throw out is this: don't self-diagnose and self-treat. Find someone knowledgeable who's willing to work with you on this, and learn through them. The good coaches and therapists are always eager to help people, especially those who want to help themselves.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Exactly Does “Use Your Core” Mean?

Not much, actually.

You hear it all the time – the TV trainer (aka: actor), the guy offering his two-bits at the public gym, the well-meaning but completely clueless friend trying to help you learn how to lift the couch... but it usually means that the speaker either has no idea what they’re talking about, or they’re just reciting an instruction out of habit. The problem is that it’s just such a broad statement, with the definition being dependent on the individual, the situation, the movement, and the desired outcome. This is not to say that I believe the speaker should go into deep biomechanical detail (unless you want them to) – but frankly, telling someone to “use their core” is such a generalized and non-specific instruction that it is about as useful as saying “use your body”.

Now, I think it’s only fair to be honest and acknowledge that I have caught myself saying this on occasion. Early in my career, it was often because I really didn’t have a grip on what I was doing, so along with “Nice work”, “You’ve got this”, and “Keep those shoulders back” I’d add in the occasional “Use your core!” But while it can still slip out every now and then when my mouth gets ahead of my brain, I always try to follow it up with a little more actual coaching when I catch myself uttering this hated phrase.

So the next time you hear your trainer/coach say to you “Use your core” – ask them to clarify what they mean.

Even if it’s me. :)


Monday, August 1, 2016

What Is Healthy?

In my capacity as a fitness coach I’m often told “I don’t want to be able to run a marathon/climb Kilimanjaro/deadlift a small car... I just want to be healthy”. The problem with this can be in identifying an individual's specific definition of “healthy”. Often, the perception is embodied by a certain look or body-type; but this aesthetically-based standard may actually hide potential health issues. That said – while a blood test may come up with no discernible risks currently, this does not mean that a) there aren’t other issues that show up outside of these tests, or b) that problems are at a higher likelihood of occurring if some sort of intervention isn’t initiated.

There are a few general markers that can be used to measure if an individual is, relative to the rest of the population, “healthy”. They are by no means all encompassing, and passing all of them is not a guarantee of invincibility – however, for each one that falls outside the “healthy” marker, health risks increase and resiliency may be impacted.

What follows is a list of a few good starting points. Many (though not all) of them need to be measured by or through your doctor, so the upside is that if any of these things raise a red flag they will be made aware of it and will help you investigate further if they feel it’s necessary. Furthermore, keep in mind that these should be evaluated as part of an overall picture by a health professional – use each as a launching pad for further enquiry, but don’t become too fixated on a single one in isolation.

Resting Heart Rate
For the truest measure of a resting heart rate, take it on first waking up. It should be somewhere below 65 beats per minute.

Waist to Hip Ratio
Weight is a poor indicator of health, as so many elements can determine what someone weighs including how much muscle one carries on their frame (muscle is much denser than fat). A better measure, in that it adapts to various body structures within each gender, is the waist-to-hip ratio (with waist being measured at the smallest part of the waist, generally above the iliac crest and slightly higher than the navel, and hips being measured at their widest point). Men are looking for a ratio of < 0.90, women <0.80.

Blood Pressure
The standard measure that is considered healthy is 120/80. However, it should be measured a few times, and at different times of day with an average being taken afterwards – it can fluctuate based on external factors and stimulus, including (but not limited to) time of day and stress.

The generally agreed upon standard for cholesterol is </= 5.2 mmol/L for total cholesterol, with </= 2.6 mmol/L of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) in individuals free of heart disease and/or diabetes.

Blood Sugar
Standard is </= 3.9 mmol/L after fasting (not eating) for 8-12hrs prior to the test.

Remember, this is far from an exhaustive list, with generalized numbers intended to give you a range. Individual results and concerns should be discussed further with your doctor, since everyone will have variances and your family physician will have specific insight to better help interpret the results.


  5. Bray GA & Gray DS (1988) Obesity, Part I - Pathogenis, Western Journal of Medicine. 149; 429-441

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Is Online Coaching the Right Option for You?

There are a lot of trainers and coaches out there that are currently utilizing some form of online platform with their clients, but owing to the number doing so there are also broad definitions of what constitutes "online coaching". This variance creates a little bit of confusion and can  make it difficult to decide if finding an online coach is a good choice – though in the end success will ultimately depend on the coach and the client being the right match, as well as you (the client) having the right amount of intrinsic motivation and self-discipline.

In terms of how it specifically works, my own online system breaks down into one of three formats:
  1. A client pays a monthly fee for access to a specific type of program and the use of the online training platform (I use “Trainerize”, but there are many others available – and though they all have pros and cons, I’ve found Trainerize to be the most complete). This type of programming is not tailored to the individual – it’s based purely off their goals. It is similar to if you came to me and told me you were running a marathon, and I told you what book at Chapters to buy; though in this case, the program has the advantage of changing every 4-6 weeks, videos of each exercise attached, and its own log to track your progress.
  2. A client pays a monthly fee for a program that is modified and tailored to them (injuries, goals, etc), and have access to up to an hour of coaching (phone, Skype or Facetime). They also have ongoing support throughout the month via email and the newsletter (additional online coaching can be booked in 15min increments).
  3. A client pays both the monthly fee for all of the options in #2, plus an additional fee to replace the online coaching with in person coaching – either 1 private session or 2 semi-private sessions.

So which one, if any, would be the right one for you?

While the first option is the most cost-effective, its limitations mean that it is best for people with a long history of experience. You’ll be required to not only recognize your limitations (both daily and weekly), but you’ll also need to have a good idea about how to modify the session to fit your current status. Further, since there is no one to check your form on exercises (unless you happen to have a friend that is a properly certified coach, specifically with the movements involved in the program), you have no way of knowing if you’re performing them in a way that allows for a  maximized return on effort.

The second option is probably the ideal one for most people, striking the balance of individualized programming/coaching with the both cost and accessibility. You will still need experience with the gym – the amount of coaching available simply isn’t enough to learn a new skill properly – but assuming the sessions are focused on improving a learned fundamental rather than starting from scratch this is a great choice.

Finally, if you are local and can’t commit either the time or the cost (or both) to a weekly or bi-weekly training session, then the third option will be your best bet. You can use the 1-2 in-person sessions to check and refine form, which may allow for faster progress since the immediacy allows for hands-on and real-time coaching.

If you think any of the above options would work for you, please feel free to contact me directly ( and we can explore the options in greater detail.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Why a Heart Rate Monitor?

Whenever the issue of heart rate monitors comes up, the first question I get is “why would I use it” – a question for which the answer depends entirely on the individual and what they want to get out of it. I would caution people against using it for the “calorie count”, or at least, for the calorie count alone – it’s useful from a general interest perspective, but there are so many other factors that go into body recomposition (not the least of which is the quality and amount of calories you’re putting INTO your body) that focusing on how many calories you’re burning in a given training session can be both defeating and misleading. If you are brand new to training and fitness, I almost see it as a mandatory tool until you learn how you respond to training (side note: the age-based heart rate maximums and calculations based off this number are only slightly better than completely guessing); but I would recommend against using it exclusively for training “heart rate zones”. These can fluctuate based on heart rate variability, sleep, caffeine, (etc), BUT if you use these heart rate zones in conjunction with your own rating of (perceived) exertion, and track this over a period of time, it may provide some valuable insight into ways to improve or increase your results.

Firstly, in the interest of full disclosure: I have always used Polar products for training, as I find them the most compatible across a broad range of platforms and, for me, the most user friendly – so for that reason, this is the brand I sell. I have also used a Fitbit Surge for the last 6-8mos, and years ago trained and raced with the Garmin 405 – and while I liked these products they both had limitations and downsides that had/have me returning to the Polar products. I currently use the Surge for lifestyle tracking (ie. day to day), Polar FT80 for tracking hockey, and the Polar Beat phone app for my gym sessions. The reason I use the Polar Beat (which pairs with the H7 Bluetooth) is because I use kettlebells regularly and the wrist monitor gets in the way.

Model Comparison 
The following are the three models that, in my opinion, offer the most applicable options to people – but there are numerous other models that may interest people

Polar A360
  • Pros:  Wrist-based HR sensor that also pairs with the H7 during training sessions (wrist-based heart rate tracking in all brands is notoriously unreliable once intensity increases), lifestyle monitor (tracks steps, sleep duration/quality, inactivity time), waterproof to 30m, phone/text alerts, rechargeable battery (battery life of 2-3 weeks), full color/swipe interface
  • Cons: Does not have GPS (this may be to prolong battery life, though I’m not sure), sport/training profiles are more general than with the other two models
  • Best Suited For: Lifestyle monitoring and adaptation, general fitness, body recomposition
  • Price: $274.99 (H7 Bluetooth strap not included)

Polar M400
  • Pros:  Lifestyle monitor (tracks steps, sleep duration/quality, inactivity time), waterproof to 30m, phone/text alerts, rechargeable battery (battery life of 3-7 days depending on how much it’s used), robust run and training platform (stride length, cadence, training load, recovery status, etc), GPS
  • Cons: No wrist-based HR sensor, appearance is standard heart rate monitor
  • Best Suited For: Athletes, recreational and competitive
  • Price: $254.99 (H7 Bluetooth strap not included)

Polar V800
  • Pros:  This is the “Mac Daddy” of training watches, including swim lap tracking and other multi-sport tracking, etc – in fact, too many features to list
  • Cons: Price, a little larger than the other two, and no wrist-based HR sensor, appearance is standard heart rate monitor
  • Best Suited For: Serious trainees and elite athletes
  • Price: $549.99 
~ Guy