Monthly Archives: June 2017

Fitness School

New types of fitness classes are opening all the time in gyms across Canada. Here are a few of the trendy, creative options you can enrol in today.


One of the year’s most popular new fitness class trends is body weight training, according to a worldwide study by the American College of Sports Medicine. Also known as calisthenics, each class uses little to no equipment and instead incorporates activities such as jumping jacks and burpees.

“Calisthenics creates a good foundation as it focuses on the basics,” says Vahin Gounden, owner of a calisthenics gym. “Since your body will rely on its base level of strength, anyone—regardless of your level of fitness—can perform these workouts.” He says it promotes lean muscle mass while increasing mobility, flexibility, and endurance.

The explosive movements in each class require a short burst of intense power. Eat fruit and other nutrient-dense carbohydrates 90 minutes or more before class to boost your muscles’ glycogen levels. Creatine supplements are thought to improve workout performance when we’re doing quick, high intensity movements.


Boxing classes help us improve our endurance, get toned, and burn up to 1,000 calories in a single session, says personal trainer Marisa Demos. Don’t let the fighting theme intimidate you. “Think of it as a cardio workout,” she suggests. “Most classes consist of you hitting the bag [with] jabs, hooks, and combos according to what the instructor says.”

Punching is hard work. To fuel what we do in the ring, take a page from professional boxers: eat complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal and quinoa, plus healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. Fish oil supplements may help reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and stiffness after strenuous exercise.

 sand workouts

Outdoor beach weather is drawing to a close, but more gyms are letting us exercise indoors with a little sand between our toes. “Sand-based exercises [are] a more effective workout while remaining gentle on the joints,” says Minna Herskowitz, a personal trainer who owns a sandbox gym. She notes that sand’s soft, unstable surface and natural resistance force our muscles to work harder.

Any traditional workout can be done in a sandbox or beach fitness class. They’re especially popular with runners. “Sand makes it difficult to walk, so imagine how hard it is to perform a 40 yard [37 m] dash at full speed,” says Herskowitz. “If [athletes] can train on a surface that makes it harder to sprint, they will run that much faster on a stable surface like the track.”

Post-exercise recovery nutrition is key for endurance workouts such as running on sand. Focus on a meal or protein shake with a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

Do more in less time

Fitness classes pack a lot of exercise into a small window of time, so even the busiest of us can reprioritize our own health. A two-year study found that having kids “significantly decreases physical activity in parents.” And even those of us without children find it challenging to make time for fitness: nearly half of all Canadians don’t get enough exercis


A new twist on yoga is gaining popularity in Canada: aerial or anti-gravity yoga. “It takes yoga and yoga-inspired poses and suspends them in a hammock,” explains physical therapy doctor and registered yoga teacher Ariele Foster.

“It has a very athletic component to it. However, it can be tremendously therapeutic as well.” Plus, the hammock lets us play with backbends, handstands, and other poses we might not be able to do on the ground yet.

Yoga helps us build our flexibility. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may also help us go deep into a pose by improving joint mobility for those of us with osteoarthritis symptoms.

Fitness Tips For a Stronger

Toss out those typical New Year’s exercise resolutions. Forget old, tired workout clichés. As we flip the pages of the calendar, our panel of influential fitness professionals explains why we should also flip the script on our exercise routines to make this our strongest, healthiest year eve

Make a life goal, not a fitness goal

“Is it hard,” asks Menachem Brodie, a certified strength and conditioning coach who has trained gold-medal athletes, “to make sacrifices to hit your fitness goals? Yes! But will you be more motivated? You bet your Tim Horton’s you will be!”

To unlock this type of motivation, dump traditional goals such as losing weight. They’re too ordinary to inspire us. “Stop seeing fitness goals as just items to check off,” Brodie says. “When our goals are something we care about, the path unfolds before us. Motivation to push through will be there!”

Go big or go home, literally. “Pick an activity that you’ve been wanting to do your whole life,” he says. “Hike up Everest. Kayak across the beautiful lakes in Switzerland. Go on a safari in Africa.”

Brodie remembers one client who had struggled to lose weight for years. “I asked her for a dream she had that would require some kind of fitness to accomplish,” he says. Brodie learned she wanted to climb South America’s Aconcagua, one of the world’s highest peaks. His client now had a life goal to shoot for, and getting fitter was necessary to reach it. For the first time in her life, she dropped the pounds, packed on lean muscle, and ended up hitting her 12-month fitness goals in just eight months.

“Don’t be afraid to dream,” says Brodie, “and don’t wait until you’re 100 percent ready—80 percent ready is more than enough. Get started!”

Brodie’s favourite exercise for 2017

Brodie loves hardstyle breathing. This abs exercise, popular with power athletes and martial artists, involves tightening our core and exhaling with forceful bursts. “Learning how to brace one’s core [and] recruit all of the core musculature goes a long way to keeping you healthy,” he says.

Focus on just one thing

We’ve identified our big adventure. Now break it down: if we want to be fit enough to hike BC’s West Coast Trail or surf in Hawaii, what must we do today to get there?

Gillian Mandich is a holistic health promoter at Ontario’s Western University. We reached her fresh off a media blitz on CTV’s The Social. Mandich recommends we pick just one habit at a time to improve. “The fastest route to failure is having too many new habits,” she explains. “You can eventually do them all; however, research is clear that you cannot successfully do them all at once. Choose one thing. Once that becomes a habit, begin a second goal.”

Our new activity should be something we’ve never tried before. “Getting out of our comfort zone allows opportunity for growth—both mental and physical,” she says. “The body responds to innovative, new movement patterns. If you’ve always wanted to try an obstacle course or an aerial yoga class, now is the perfect time.”

Taking her own advice, Mandich is experimenting with cryotherapy—exposure to extremely cold air. “It’s being used by athletes to reduce inflammation and enhance recovery,” says Mandich, noting that elite athletes such as Kobe Bryant make it a part of their workouts.

Mindset, not just muscle, matters

Mikayla Allen, a certified personal trainer in Toronto, says working out includes working from the inside out. “I’m all about mindset,” she says. “The secret to fitness success is to surround yourself with individuals who prioritize their own health and well-being.”

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Allen explains. Studies show how we can embody the health, exercise, and eating habits of those around us.

There’s no need to ditch our friends. Simply be aware of how social groups influence us, and cultivate more fitness-positive social connections if necessary. Allen recommends joining a group exercise class, such as kickboxing. Group workouts motivate us more and help us meet like-minded people. In the New Year, Allen’s planning on doing choreographed jump-rope workshops. “The rope is an incredibly effective and efficient way to exercise,” she says.

Allen’s 2017 fitness forecast

Allen is excited by the buzz building around Pilates high-intensity interval training. It combines Pilates’ strengthening exercises with high-intensity interval training cardio.

Find your trigger

“Our struggles with being healthy are due to cultural habits,” says Ontario-based personal trainer, family therapist, and fitness author Tim Sitt. “This is decades of conditioning. The reality is we live in a sedentary context.”

Breaking free from our sedentary lifestyle means making exercise an all-day habit instead of it being relegated to a specific timeslot at the gym. “Incorporate healthy movement into your day with specific triggers,” says Sitt. Combining psychology with exercise, behavioural, and emotional triggers includes the following.

Sitt’s 2017 trend alert

“My favourite trend is natural movement,” says Sitt. “Looking at the evolutionary development of the body gives us clues about how to take care of our bodies.”

Winding down

If you’re exhausted after reading all of this, Ann Green shows us how rest and relaxation is an essential element of our fitness program. With a master’s in exercise science, Green was a world-competitive athlete for 15 years and is now the founder of a yoga studio in Barrie, Ontario.

“Why is nobody talking about rest?” asks Green. “Enjoy bursts of movement activity, then embrace the rest. There’s nothing indulgent about a nap. It’s a necessity.” Research reveals rest is actually one of the most important components of any workout routine. It’s during our downtime, not our gym time, that our bodies repair and get stronger.

Powered Fitness Edge

A wide receiver wide open to something new

One of Whalen’s go-to vegan staples is coconut water, which he drinks before, during, and after exercise. “I’ll often mix other things with it, like spirulina or lemon juice,” he says. “Spirulina adds amino acids, and lemon juice is alkalizing.”“A healthy plant-based diet has had an extremely positive effect on my athletic performance and overall health,” says Griff Whalen, a wide receiver who’s played for the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers. “I’ve become stronger, leaner, and faster, all critical for my career. I feel much less soreness in my joints and tendons, feel like I can breathe easier while training or competing, and feel more recovered the next day.”

This NFL athlete has convinced many people to give veganism a try, including his teammates. “My biggest recommendation is to educate yourself … and find some great resources,” Whalen says, since the switch can be quite a change. “Have someone help you make a plan … so you can be successful.”

Plants for the goldi

Rebecca Soni has won dozens of medals at the world’s top international swimming competitions, including three Olympic gold medals. She switched to a plant-based diet simply to try something new. “I thought it would be a fun challenge,” she says. The positive results were more than she’d imagined

“The breakthrough was realizing how sluggish animal foods made me, and especially the effect of dairy on my allergies,” she says. “When I dropped the allergy meds I’d been taking for 15 years, I knew I was onto something good!

“I just feel better. My mood is lighter. I’m more ready to take on anything. I feel I can go for longer, whether it’s a run, a swim, or anything else. I recover faster—soreness is much less intense and passes quickly. And I have a growing respect and connection to all people and living beings.”

Soni starts every morning with a vegan smoothie, adding superfoods such as hemp and chlorella. “The most important is the greens,” she notes, such as spinach and chard. “Blended greens are much easier to digest than simply munching on them.”

Soni says the top worry she hears from people is about having to give up cheese. “I was a cheese lover in my past too,” she laughs. “Focus on what you have to look forward to, not what you’re missing out on.”

A swell ideaOlympics.

“I’ve been vegan for three years now,” says Blanco. She made the jump after watching Forks Over Knives and similar documentaries on traditional Western diets.

“Prior to being vegan, I ate a lot of dairy products that made me fatigued,” she recalls. “Cutting the dairy helped with my energy levels. I feel lean and toned from a plant-based diet.”

Blanco has become an advocate for a vegan lifestyle, doing ads for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and appearing in documentaries, such as the sequel to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cowspiracy (2014). “I’m [a huge fan] of the team that produces the documentaries, so for me it was a no-brainer to be involved,” she says. “I want [viewers] to take away that eating a plant-based diet will benefit your health.”

A lean, green fighting machine

Heavyweight boxer Cam F. Awesome—a four-time USA Boxing national champion and self-proclaimed peanut butter addict—did a vegan challenge when he lost a bet. He hated the first few weeks as he went through junk

food withdrawals, but then he began feeling better and turned the challenge into a lifestyle.

“Since becoming vegan, I’ve learned how to realize what my body needs,” says Awesome. “My goal is to change what a ‘vegan’ is considered. You can be vegan and cool and strong.”

While many of us may think being plant based is an all-or-nothing switch, Awesome sees no problem easing into it. “I’m 100-percent vegan,” he says, “and I understand that not everyone wants to make that commitment. If you just eat plant-based once a week, you can be one-seventh healthier!”


Isometric Exercises

What Is Isometrics?
Isometric exercise is your body’s answer to the question, “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” The answer is that your muscles will get stronger without actually moving. If you’ve been doing your homework and reading up on strength training, then you already know that your muscles gain strength when you challenge them to produce more force than they’re used to. This is typically done by forcing them to move against resistance or weight, like when you do a bicep curl while holding a dumbbell. As you gradually increase the weight or resistance, the muscle responds by getting stronger.

But muscles don’t actually have to move this added weight in order to get stronger. If the resistance is so high that they can’t make it move, they can still get stronger just by trying. There are three ways a muscle can contract to produce force (and eventually build strength):

  • concentric contraction occurs when a muscle is contracting while getting shorter. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, when lifting a dumbbell up during a bicep curl.
  • An eccentric contraction occurs when a muscle is contracting while getting longer. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, when lowering a dumbbell back down during a bicep curl.
  • An isometric contraction occurs when a muscle contracts without changing its length or causing any movement of the bones to which it is attached. The best example of this is pushing against a wall, or pulling up on a window that is stuck. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, if you were to pauseanywhere along the lifting or lowering phase of a bicep curl—your muscles are working without shortening or lengthening.

Why Include Isometrics
There are several very good reasons to include isometric contractions in your strength training program. For one thing, real life situations often require the ability to hold yourself in a certain position—carrying several bags of groceries, squatting down to scrub a floor, holding a baby in your arms—and isometrics is a good way to train your muscles to get better at handling those specific positions. For another, isometric training usually involves exerting maximum force, which will activate and train all of the available muscle fibers and lead to more significant improvements in strength in less time.

But perhaps the most significant benefit for many people is that isometric training can literally be done anywhere, without any special equipment at all. All you need is about 10 seconds to do a single, effective isometric exercise, and you can probably do it without anyone noticing you’re actually exercising.

Let’s say, for example, that your day is just too busy for you to break out the dumbbells and do several sets of bicep curls. If you can find 10 seconds, a couple of times during the day, to press your palms together as hard as you can, you can still exercise your arm muscles effectively. If you can sit in a chair with your abs engaged (tightened) and your feet held just slightly off the floor, you’re giving those core muscles a good workout. If that’s too easy for you, just push down on your knees with your hands while trying not to let your feet touch the floor. To work those upper back and neck muscles, clasp your hands behind your neck, elbows wide, and push your head back while trying to push it forward with your hands. With a little creativity, you can think of ways to use one muscle or limb to oppose the opposite one (or find some immovable object in your environment to push or pull against), so that you can give most of your muscles a good isometric workout. As long you exert as much force as you can for at least 10 seconds for each exercise, you’ll get the training benefit.

Adding Isometrics to Your Program
Supplementing your concentric and eccentric strength training exercises with some isometric exercises is ideal. In addition to using isometrics when you don’t have time to do anything else, as described earlier, you can also add them into your regular routine, to make sure you’re really working your muscles to the point of maximum overload.

There are many ways to do this. For example, you can easily turn a regular exercise into an isometric one by simply pausing and holding, somewhere along the range of movement, for a few seconds. In general, it will be harder and result in greater benefit when you hold closer to the very top of the lifting phase or the very bottom of the lowering phase (without actually getting there).

It’s also good to vary the holding point from workout to workout in order to maintain strength through the whole range of motion.
You can also use isometrics to involve additional muscles in some regular exercises too. For example, if you’re doing a plank exercise to strengthen your core muscles, try adding a few isometrics to engage your upper body. Instead of keeping your elbows straight and locked, bend them just slightly and try to hold that position. That will give your arm and shoulder muscles something to do, along with your core muscles.