Fit and healthy middle age woman doing a snatch barbell exercise for stretch and power training

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Strength Training Workout

We’ve previously written about the physical benefits of strength training. Make sure you get the most from your strength training program and every single workout by following these guidelines:

Warm Up Right – While five minutes on a treadmill and some stretching is better than no warm-up, using a dynamic mobility warmup is a much better use of your time. Dynamic mobility, or dynamic stretching, combines easy movement to warm the tissues with greater ranges of motion, better preparing the muscles and joints for the movements that are included in your training program.

Choose the right resistance – Pick a weight or resistance level that allows you to do your target number of reps with good technique, and that’s challenging enough that you think you could have done maybe one or two more

Give your body a solid foundation to work from – Your body can create movement, or it can create movement well. To get the most out of every exercise, you want your joints and big muscles to have the support of your small stabilizer muscles. Keep yourself at your strongest by:

  • Keep your core tight: Brace your tummy and lower abdominals – that is, squeeze them tight without pulling them in. One way to automatically create this activation is by pretending someone is going to punch you in the stomach. Your reaction will automatically tighten the right muscles.
  • Keep your pelvic floor on: Ever needed to pee, with no restroom nearby? That squeeze is activating your pelvic floor, and is exactly what you want to be doing throughout all movements, though you shouldn’t need to keep it 100% “on”. A gentle squeeze is enough to provide support. Note that it can be difficult to maintain this activation throughout movements, so if you find that you lose the squeeze, reset and turn it back on when you get to a comfortable stopping point in the movement.
  • Keep your shoulder blades squeezed: This doesn’t mean pulling your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. A gentle squeeze towards the spine and slightly down is all you need.
  • Keep your chin tucked: The idea of this movement is to help maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom. Many people jut their chins forward when they are working hard, which creates misalignment throughout the spine and torso. Keep your chin tucked slightly by drawing your head back, like you are trying to touch the back of it towards a wall behind you. This should also be gentle. If you feel tension through the front of your neck, you’re trying too hard.

Stay controlled – Keep your movements slow enough to maintain control, especially if using external resistance (anything other than your bodyweight). This will keep you safe, and will allow all the right muscles to activate at the right times, maximizing the benefit

Pay attention to your body – One of the best ways to maximize progress is to think about the muscles that are working while you do an exercise. Paying attention to how they feel as you complete the movement can create stronger muscle contractions, and can also help keep you safe, as you’ll more likely be aware of something that might not be working or feeling great.

Follow the number one rule: No pain. If something hurts – and not the muscular burn of 1000 reps – stop doing it and take the steps to figure out why. It might be as simple as adjusting your positioning or resistance, or you may need to refine your exercise technique in order to create less stress on your body. If you find a specific exercise or type of movement consistently causes pain, it should be checked out by a physiotherapist/physical therapist, or an orthopedic doctor. Your GP or primary care doc is unlike to have as much insight into what might be causing the problem, though you may need to start with them if you need a referral.

HealthFit Coaching offers health coaching, nutrition advice, and in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane, Australia. Ready to take the first step towards feeling great? Contact us now!

Fit and healthy middle age woman standing on beach at sunset with chest up and arms back

Stop Stressing and Get Healthy

The best way to prevent health care hassle is to minimise your need for it in the first place.

It’s not uncommon for our health challenges to get away from us. Anyone who has had a long-standing challenge to their health and fitness can tell you, getting answers can be the pits. There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of time, money, and energy on fixing a problem, and still not actually getting anywhere!

Our bodies are complex, and while medical and health care training has come a long way from the days before antibiotics, there is still a lot that we don’t know. Complicating matters, most doctors and other health care professionals spend a lot of time getting really good at one area or treatment approach. This is good, because when you need specialised care, you want someone who knows that they are doing! But what happens when you aren’t really sure which professional to see for which body problem?

Sometimes solving a health problem is straightforward – when you have had a heart attack, you see a cardiologist so that it doesn’t happen again. But it’s surprisingly common to not feel particularly well, but to be unsure about who to see for the best treatment. This is totally understandable. There is a lot of overlap among different health care professions, and many that will provide care for a problem that they are vaguely familiar with, rather than sending a patient on to someone with greater expertise. I’d bet money that rather than running from appointment to appointment in an attempt to get some symptom relief, you’d like a simple, straightforward plan for getting healthy and staying that way.

Health and fitness coaching is about providing that plan.

Your health and fitness coach will provide you with the best exercise programming and nutrition guidance that you can get, and will help you build on your strengths to provide you with a plan that will keep you in good shape for years to come. But we know our boundaries too, and when you have a challenge that we can’t help with, we’ll connect you with the person who can. With HealthFit acting as your health care hub, you wont have to worry about running from appointment to appointment and not getting solutions. Instead, you’ll have only the appointments that you need. No unnecessary treatment, and no dead ends, just feeling better.

Just imagine what you could do with all the time and money you’re spending on not getting results?

Take the first step to your best health and fitness. Contact HealthFit Coaching now to schedule your obligation-free consult call and find out what we can do for you.

Woman in sunglasses is surprised by supportive health coach

What You WON’T Get With HealthFit

Every single day thousands of people decide they are going to make a lifestyle change for the better, and they are EXCITED.  They seek help with the process from personal trainers, exercise physiologists, nutritionist and dietitians, doctors, and even family and friends. It’s all too common to see the excitement and motivation fade after a couple of months though, and this often stems from well-intentioned but demoralizing comments from the exact people they need support from!

This is an especially common experience among many HealthFit clients. Though it’s rare that they’ve been told specifically “not to bother”, often casual comments like “I’d thought you’d have done that by now” or “Why don’t you just X, it’s easy” leave them feeling pretty hopeless. The end result is the same: “I can’t do it, I give up…”

HealthFit coaches have heard these stories and we’ve built our coaching process to be everything they aren’t. We’re so grateful to our clients for sharing their past experiences with us, and helping us become something beyond the scope of your average health and fitness advice. By blazing that trail, our clients have helped us decide what we WON’T do for you:

We won’t judge by appearance. Healthy comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. If you’re happy, we’re happy. If you aren’t, we’ll support you through the process of getting there by building on your strong points. Physical, mental, and emotional health all get as much support as you need.

We won’t judge by ability. One of the biggest problems in the fitness industry and media today is the idea that everything has to be done at 1000% speed, perfection, and effort, or it’s not worth doing. The plain fact is that no one starts anything as a master. Our coaching focuses on teaching you the right skills at the right time, so that progress is smooth and steady and enjoyable!

We won’t guilt-trip you. We get that life happens. (Really. We know what it’s like to eat a whole tub of ice cream in a sitting. More than we’d like to admit.) When you take the occasional step backwards, we’ll be right there with you to help you reframe, refocus, and move forward without worrying about the past.

We won’t make you feel embarrassed. In fact, all we want to do is make you feel great. We keep focused on the positives. When challenges arise, we focus on your strengths to create a plan to get around them without you feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Comfortable, confident, and a little bit challenged is the name of the game.

We won’t tell you to do something you don’t want to do. You are the expert in your life, your abilities, and your body. Sometimes we might give you a little push in one direction or another, but you always have the final say in every decision. Our goal is to help you figure out how healthy is made easy for you. 

By listening to what doesn’t work, we’ve learned what does. We’d be thrilled to give you the support and tools you need, and keep you excited about the process of making progress! If you think HealthFit health and fitness coaching sessions sound right for you, we can meet you face to face around Brisbane,  or online anywhere, anytime. Contact HealthFit here to set up an obligation-free consult call and take the first step towards feeling great!


Healthy Made Easy: The Power of Habit

Isn’t living a healthy lifestyle supposed to be a lot of work? At best, it’s a boring life full of Tupperware lunches and hours at the gym, right? We say “nah”…

Healthy living does NOT have to be like that. Trust me. Over the last decade, I’ve helped hundreds of people discover that “healthy” can come in many forms, and that healthy choices can be flexible enough to meet your needs and still be enjoyed.

One of the ways we make healthy easy at HealthFit Coaching is through harnessing the power of habit.

Almost half of our daily actions and activities are done out of habit. Essentially, we live much of our lives on autopilot. When I think about my days – how much I absentmindedly click over to Facebook when I’m at the computer, or have a snack as soon as I get home from work whether I’m hungry or not – I can readily believe that I’m this driven by subconscious habit.

Habits are created when you do something repeatedly, especially when they are linked to a specific event, situation, time of day, or other trigger (like getting home from work, in the example above). When you do something repeatedly, your subconscious “learns” the trigger and the action to take. This means your conscious mind doesn’t actually have to expend any energy on deciding what happens next, freeing your brain up to focus on other things.

Our goal is to help you create new healthy habits that will take the place of old, less healthy ones. You and your coach will identify the habits you don’t like, and what aspects of your daily life trigger you to take those actions. You’ll figure out exactly what you want to do instead (it’s all about the details!) and then with the help of your coach, you’ll develop a plan to turn your preferred habit into reality.

Putting your plan into action is the bulk of the work. While it’s commonly accepted that it take about three weeks to establish a new habit, in reality this process can take anywhere from a few days to several months. The good news: We’ve identified the steps you can take to make sure your habit-development timeframe is on the short end of that scale. These steps form the basis of our process, and you’ll have the support of your coach and the HealthFit community the whole way.

In the end, we want to help you make your healthy choices automatically. When you make them without even realizing it, that’s the easiest thing of all.

Decrease muscle and joint pain in three steps

One of the biggest reasons people hold off starting to exercise is joint pain. Understandable, since exercise can often make muscle or joint pain worse. But there are simple steps you can take to minimise pain during workouts (as well as daily life), and keep it from coming back.

You probably know: Regular movement is important for maintaining lifelong health. Being pain-free and not worried about injury is important if you want to keep moving. Increasing daily movement is a clear path to improving your health, or simply feeling better than you do right now. The right movement can be the medicine your body needs to get rid of sore spots.

Ready to get pain free?

These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then improving muscle strength. Follow these steps. You’ll keep your body working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are too tight don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal. Plus, tight muscles generally don’t feel good.

There are many reasons you might have tight muscle. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area. Tension can build from long-standing compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. It can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different loosening techniques include:

1. Hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage or remedial massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, and

2. Self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, massage sticks, and other similar tools.

You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, putting heat on tight muscles, and not holding your body in any one position for too long.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. Tight areas of muscle don’t stretch well, and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch. So for most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work gives the best results. Quality stretching keeps joints moving freely and easily. It also can prevent tension build-up caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, PNF stretching, or partner variations like assisted stretching. No matter what you choose, aim to hold the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. It takes at least that long for the tissues to develop flexibility; shorter and they seem to bounce back to original length like a rubber band.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching can make things worse. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are long and loose, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). This can increase injury risk when you add more stretching on top of it. Since your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. Tension makes you feel like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go for a good remedial massage) to decrease muscle tension. Building muscle strength (step three) will decrease feelings of muscle tension and decrease injury risk.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the tight, short muscles ready to contract. Step three starts with turning the weaker muscles on, and building into a well balanced strength program.

Weaker muscles tend to be underactive, and hold less tension. These are the muscles or areas that your strength program should focus more on during the early stages. For many people, these are the muscles directly opposite the tight muscles you would be working to loosen and lengthen. Common short/tight and long/weak pairs include:

  • Glutes (weak) and hip flexors (tight)
  • Rhomboids and middle and lower traps (weak) and pecs and delts (tight)
  • Deep neck flexors (weak) and upper traps (tight)

Everyone has their own unique sets of weak and tight muscles, and these sets can impact different movements differently, even in the same body. If you are planning your own program, get some advice from a coach or trainer who will help you determine your weakest links. This is a useful shortcut to an effective program that will build a strong foundation, decrease injury risks, and make any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Once your weak muscles are starting to geta bit stronger, you’ll get more benefit from a more balanced program. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy. They can include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exercises, yoga, Pilates, and traditional dumbbell-and-barbell strength training. Anything that makes you work will get you stronger.

Putting it together

How much time you should spend in each of these stages will depend on your starting point. To figure this out when starting with a client, I look at current movement quality, normal activity levels, injury and health history, lifestyle, and goals. The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, please reach out and ask.

Exercise motivation: What’s Your Why?

Let me pose a question to you: Why are you working so hard to improve your health and fitness? If you’re feeling stuck with your exercise motivation, it might be something to ask yourself. And give it some serious consideration!

I ended up in this business because I love the buzz I get when a client exclaims: I don’t have to take my blood pressure medication anymore! Or, my knees don’t hurt! Or, I can’t believe how good I feel!

It’s awesome to be a part of that. But it’s taken me the better part of a decade to figure out that helping people feel better is why I stay up at night poring over research papers or checking out what other coaches are doing.  I want each client to get the best program, with the most up to date information and most efficient approach possible. I want you to feel better, fast, and to help you find a way to do it that works for you.

Finding what kind of exercise works for you is a key component of creating a successful program. It helps to set SMART goals and create measurable steps to mark progress. I have coached this way for years with a lot of success. But sometimes progress stalls and clients plateau, and I’m juggling to kick-start their motivation again. There is a piece missing.

That piece is Why.

Goals are great, and very useful to keep you going when the going gets tough. But even the best goals aren’t always enough to take you all the way. Knowing your own exercise motivation – the personal connection to your goal – makes it meaningful.

A classic example: I had a client, Bryan, who came to me for help with training to run a marathon. His two best friends had started running a few years before, and had started running races not long after. His friends had decided to do the Las Vegas marathon, and had invited him along to hang out. Bryan decided he’d like to run the marathon too, but needed to get training right away. A marathon is a classic SMART goal: You have a set event date, by which you have to be capable of a certain measurable thing, and you can prepare for this by taking the right steps at the right times.

Bryan’s preferred training time was early morning, before work. He was going strong for quite some time, making great progress with increased running distances and appropriately incorporating strength training and recovery activities. About two-thirds of the way through his training program, it started getting harder to continue those early morning training runs. After discussing how he felt the training plan was going overall, we turned back to the ultimate goal: Finishing the marathon with his friends. Bryan was confident that he could run the distance, but wasn’t sure he could keep pace with his friends. The thought of getting left behind was a huge turn-off.

This was a lightbulb moment: Running the marathon wasn’t about running a marathon. It was about having an equal part in an amazing experience with his closest friends. A couple small tweaks to the training program to help his speed, and he was pumped to be running again. He was getting up even earlier to make sure he warmed up well before his training runs. His times dropped a little and his confidence and excitement skyrocketed. On race day, he kept pace with his friends and more importantly, had a great time.

Bryan figured out why he wanted to run.

We all have our own preferences in how we train, and what we train for. But these are usually not unique. What is unique is your own exercise motivation – your why. Figuring this out can be a time-and-thought-consuming process. It’s not uncommon to have false starts as you go. But it’s also easier to pick up and try again. There is no stronger inspiration than your deepest desires.

So, what’s your why? 

Do You Need an Expert to Exercise?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer… is no, if you are satisfied with slower progress, possible setbacks, and frustration.  There’s a reason that more people have more success when they bring in some outside guidance!

I don’t mean to say that you have to hire a coach (or trainer, the terms can be interchangeable) in order to get an effective workout. In fact, most of us get along ok with minimal guidance, at least for a while. It really comes down to whether you’re satisfied with “getting along ok” or if you want to make faster/better/more progress. You don’t necessarily need a coach for every single session, but getting expert advice can be very helpful in setting a goal or creating a training plan designed to achieve it. And it can definitely help to have a little accountability.

But the biggest benefit of having the expert advice is the relationship that comes with it. Your coach can be your cheerleader, your support system, and the person you call when you really want the ice cream in the freezer but know it would be a step backward… Plus they know how to give you the most efficient exercise program possible. Better than trying to figure it out on your own and then not getting the results, right?

So what’s the best way to include expert advice in your exercise program? There are a few ways to approach this:

See a coach, every week: Some say that this is the very best way to get results. Having a weekly session can do huge things for your motivation and accountability. Some people really love having the one-on-one attention, and frankly, some people need the one-on-one attention to make sure that their exercise technique is safe and effective (the two most important things, in my opinion). And just to be clear, “seeing” a coach can be equally effective in face-to-face, skype or video, or other online settings. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with.

See a coach, occasionally: Once-a-month coaching will get you an individualized program without the cost of ongoing one-on-one training.  A monthly meeting also provides a surprising amount of accountability. Personally, this is my favorite way to see clients. I love to take a session or two to get them comfortable with a new program, and to make sure that they are staying on top of other healthy habits like eating well and staying hydrated. Once my client and I are happy with the program, I’ll send them off to do the new workout on their own until they’re ready for something new.

Join a group: Many gyms and groups are starting to offer small group training programs, with a limited number of people and a supervising coach. You get the expert advice on a regular basis, but you share it with a few other people. The biggest drawback is that these group sessions are not always individualized, but generally speaking, the benefits outweigh this by miles. Often you’ll find that the same people come to the same sessions every week, so you start to get to know each other – and all of a sudden, you have way more support, accountability, and motivation than you can ever have with your one-on-one sessions. And even though the program is often generalized, a good coach will be able to make changes on the fly, allowing the program to be tweaked just for you.

And of course, you can go it alone. If coaching isn’t in your budget, doing your own thing is still a great option and you can still have a great deal of success. But if you have the means and are going to put the effort in, you might as well get the most bang for buck. And that expert advice might even make it more enjoyable.