Category Archives for "Exercise"

50 squats

Everyday, my personal training clients know what to do to warm up:
50 shoulder dislocations and 50 full ROM (range of motion) squats.

It’s simple and efficient, gets the body warm, stretches and strengthens tissues, and gets the nervous system ready for action…hoo-rah!!

Invariably, I explain to new clients the reason behind my technique to warm up with squats, instead of a treadmill:
“As you squat 50 times, your muscle fibres and soft tissues get warm. This creates mobility in your joints, as your tissues stretch and relax. This improves pliability in your lower body and increases strength endurance, making you a winner 😉

I know that sounds a bit extreme, having a protocol for EVERYONE to follow, but the reason is simple…in real life, everyone squats!!

‘Squat’ is just a pretty word for standing and sitting…think car, chair, toilet, or ground.

So here is the perfect squat:

Start from a seated position in a chair. Stand up, keeping your chest up, eyes forward, then sit back down, reaching back with your hips…that’s it. Don’t cheat by using your hands, instead, tighten your abs and keep your toes light, as you stand through your heels.

Bonus points:
Externally rotate your hips to grip the floor with your feet.
Keep your knees pressed out to the side throughout the entire range of motion.
Get rid of the chair and squat all the way down, so your hamstrings reach the top of your calves, thus demonstrating your epic ankle flexibility and full range of motion!!

The inevitable question I’m asked next is: “Why 50?”

My answer:

“50 repetitions is enough to get you warm, and develop your strength for basic human activities.” This sub-communicates that if you can do 50 squats, you are increasing the probability you will never fall prey to life in a wheel chair, while simultaneously expressing your capacity to do more strenuous exercise.

Therefore, if my client is able to do 50 squats, he can probably handle a bit more than his de-conditioned, lethargic, human contemporaries, who don’t ever step into a gym…ooops!

If my client cannot perform 50 squats, no problem…that shows they were wise to hire me as their trainer!!

Most people I know exercise three times a week, and I would ask them to do 5 sets of ten squats with perfect form (as described above), making sure they squat at least parallel to the floor.

I would ask them to perform ten reps at first, rest about 1 min, then repeat 4 times, totalling 50 squats.

If the person struggles, I would ask them to perform as many as they could for five sets, again resting one minute after each set, then repeating four times. This person now has as a goal to match that number or beat it until they can hit five sets of ten.

In the case the client can do 5 sets of 10 without a problem, next time there will not be a chair to sit on. I will ask the client to perform the same routine, now squatting below parallel, and eventually right to the floor, as I help them improve their range on motion.

The next goal is two sets of 25 repetitions. Then, finally one set of 50!!

At that point, my clients are looking good, and I add variety, in terms of different squat variations or use of external loading, like barbells or dumbbells.

Happy squatting!!



“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must move faster than the lion or it will not survive. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must move faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up, you’d better be moving.”

—African proverb, as quoted by Maurice Greene (five-time world champion, four-time Olympic medalist, former fastest man in the world)

Movement is not a matter of survival only for gazelles and lions; it’s also a matter of survival for humans. It’s the pump for life, it’s what makes us keep going—and I’m not talking in metaphors here. When we move, blood and lymph circulate, nutrients are delivered to our cells, waste products are cleared away, digestion improves and so on.

Keep in mind that I don’t mean exercise, weights or cardio specifically. Rather, I mean movement in general—from a boy playing with his toy truck to octogenarians doing tai chi. There are various forms of movement: from ballet to power lifting, from swimming to rock climbing, from yoga to Judo. They are all valid, and they all have their pros and cons.

Here’s a way to classify movement:

1. Things we like: These movements should make up the bulk of our activities, for various reasons—but especially because the sense of joy and accomplishment they bring us encourages us to do more of these activities, and helps us avoid getting frustrated and giving up. If you ask a swimmer to dance, you will understand the importance of this kind of passion!

2. Things we dislike: These movements should be done from time to time, because we can bring balance to our bodies by trying different challenges and working on weaknesses.

3. Things we need to do: These movements are normally generated by doing too much of #1, or by not moving enough in general. Do you feel like stretching? How is your back today?

4. Things that we should be doing: These are movements we do to avoid getting stuck with #3. What about going for a bike ride for a change? Hot Yoga?

Yes my dear, move. As simple as it sounds it is quite effective. Move frequently do the thinks that you like and dislike as well as all in between and you will be able to move much better and much longer.

Weights vs. Cardio vs. Yoga

confusion1When we check out the media outlets, we see a lot of conflicting information about fitness. One day, Pilates is the cure for potbellies. Sagging bums are dealt with Yoga. Weight loss? Hot Yoga. Weight training for muscle tone, running for stress reduction and whatever is “in” at the time, whatever bias the person presenting the idea has or whatever is being sold at the publication/media outlet. And they always have willing experts giving their expert ideas that will back up whatever the writer is trying to convey.

So, let me give you my not-asked-for opinion about a few of those common myths:

Weights will make you bulky and look masculine.

Very few people actually can bulk up that easily doing weights. When you see people that have a higher degree of muscle development, it means that they’ve been working out for years, eating in a certain way and/or have the right genes for that look, in the same way that some people have the genes to be tall, exercising or not.

That misconception makes people have negaive prejudices towards weight training, thinking that they will get big fast or get too big.

Weights, when done properly, will help to shape and harden your body, burn more calories from fat and improve posture; without necessarily adding muscle, making whatever muscle mother nature gave to you to be pumped and toned, instead of sad and saggy.

Yoga will give you a nice round butt.

I could just go on and on, about the fact that there are many types of Yoga, how old this practice is and so on. Therefore making a blanket statement like this is, at the very least, inaccurate. In my opinion you should do Yoga because it can be calming, because you want variety or because you like it.

But any person that knows something about Biomechanics and exercise, or even better, anyone that makes a living out of getting results will say the same thing: if you want a beautiful lower body, nothing is better than squats, lunges and deadlifts!

Pilates will flatten your stomach.

I am sorry if I am biased on this one as I am a Pilates instructor.

The great thing about Pilates is that it makes you consciously engage your breath, abdominals and pelvic floor, therefore making all layers of your abdominal wall work together and get stronger and tighter. The tighter the abdominals, the smaller the belly.

The problem is that there are other factors that make a person to have a potbelly -everything from food sensitivities to hormonal unbalances and if they go unresolved, they will limit the results from a good exercise program.

So do it, but don’t have all your eggs in only one basket.

Cardio will make you thin.

Not necessarily. Cardio will definitely help you loose weight and that weight is not by default fat; it can be water or muscle, and loosing muscle is just a faster way to produce fat.

What cardio will definitely do is raise your cortisol levels, as it is a stressor to your body and extra cortisol means more fat production and storage. Therefore, even though cardio can be a very good toll to help with weight loss, it must be used properly in order to help you to go forward instead of creating frustration.

All these modalities have their benefits and disadvantages and instead of thinking that one is better than another, you should think more about integrating these modalities, in order to get whatever results you are looking for. So, forget about weights vs. yoga vs. cardio. Start thinking about weights + yoga + cardio and enjoy the benefits.

Three steps to the perfect legs, thighs and bum!

Over and over, I always repeat: size doesn’t matter as much as hardness.Talita Rocha of Brazil adjusts her swimsuit during her women's beach volleyball bronze medal match against China at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Women often complain about the size of their thighs, calves and bums—but they forget that it’s better to have a J-Lo behind than a Jell-O bum.

The size of your muscles is largely genetically determined, and we can’t do much about it. But the firmness of those muscles is definitely something we can work on.

Here are three ways to attain a hard lower body:

1. Deadlift. A scary name for something that is nothing more than picking stuff up off the floor—lifting dead weight. If you’ve ever moved, you’ve picked things up; if you’ve played with small children, you have deadlifted. You have deadlifted many times and you didn’t even know it! Some exercise professionals call it the King of Exercises, as it makes most muscles in your body work while giving you a stronger back, improved posture and rock-hard glutes and hamstrings.

2. Squat. Another fancy name for something simple: sitting. Squats are great overall lower-body exercises. These days, it seems that it’s much cooler to talk about how many squats you can do than to talk about how many pounds you can hold while sitting down and standing up again. But combining squares with deadlifts is the best way to recruit your abdominals. In other words—as a side-effect to lifting your bum, these types of squats will tighten your abs!

3. Lunge. Because we don’t spend our lives doing everything on two feet, muscle imbalances develop between our legs. Lunges help to add variety to your workout—and they give you prettier legs and a healthier body. As you throw all the weight on one leg only, you not only challenge that leg, you also test your balance, mobilize your hips in opposite directions, and activate your deep abdominal wall. It’s quite simple: walking using long, deep steps will help your legs look their best.

Now, go to the gym!  Have fun, cover the basics and look great in a bikini.

Lift for life

08 - senior_fitnessI have never heard a woman say that her bum is too hard, or heard a man complain that his biceps are too big. I think it would be easier to find someone that has been abducted by aliens than find one of these people!

Yes, to a certain degree we all are vain—and, personally, I have no problem looking good in a pair of jeans or a short-sleeved shirt. Vanity can be a great tool to help us move forward, and it should be embraced—to a certain point.

There are the excessive narcissists, like one of my co-workers. When asked if he had ever met a mirror he didn’t like, he answered with a flat “NO.” And there are fitness competitors who go to the extreme in order to accomplish a certain aesthetic ideal—maximal muscularity with minimal body fat. In reality, these bodybuilders aren’t that different from anorexic model wannabes.

Without going that far, a healthy level of narcissism should be an option for us all. But how does one achieve a body worth flaunting? First, to what degree is lifting weights important, and second, how far is too far in terms of muscularity?

Two simple questions, with not-so simple answers.

1. If you take into consideration only function, the answer to the first question is simple: nature kills the weak! The less muscle mass and strength you have, the more you’ll be prone to accidents, the more susceptible to disease you’ll be, and the more weak and vulnerable you’ll be when you’re older.

2. For the second question, the answer might appear to be “the more the better.” In theory, more muscle and strength should equal a better lifestyle.

But we don’t do things only as a matter of functionality—and if I started telling my female clients that they should be as muscular as possible, I’d be out of business faster than Betamax!

Even though weight lifting makes life more enjoyable in the long term (who doesn’t want to be strong and self-sufficient in their old age?), there is more to life than lifting weights.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that form and function should always go hand in hand—and that obsessing about your muscles is as bad as neglecting them.

Don’t fixate on your muscles—but lift, and lift heavy. In order to feel good, to look good and to get more out of your life, either as an older person or as a person wearing jeans and a T-shirt—but hopefully as an older person wearing jeans and T-shirt!

You Are No Gerbil

01 - mangerbil“Run Forest run!”

Who doesn’t know this line?

Made popular during the 70’s, still strong today and showing no signs of going anywhere, running is one of the most popular forms of exercise for a few reasons:

1 – most people can do it

2 – not much equipment is needed

3 – can be done pretty much anywhere

4 – it gives you an instant feeling of accomplishment

5 – it gives you prompt results



It only works like this for a few people.

Let me speak to each one of the points above

1 – A couple of years ago I saw the finish of the Toronto marathon and even though I have to commend the finishers for their hard work, I couldn’t ignore the number of people that were not running, but fast limping!

Running is not just a matter of placing one foot ahead of the other. Gait, muscle imbalances and proper form should all be addressed before someone takes up this sport. Like with any sport, technique is essential, and like any other form of physical activity, as soon as you lose perfect form in the execution of the movement, you defeat its purpose.

2 – Footwear varies in price, and the choice is determined by the distance that you are running.  You should be buying at least 4 pairs a year. Heart rate monitors go from simple ones that only read heart rate and show time, to wrist computers that can generate graphs and have gps, therefore you can pay as much or as little as you want. Remember that the type and quality of your gear should match the type of training that you are doing (distance, level of competitiveness, level of coaching). Therefore running a 5k wearing jeans and boots is doable but not really wise.

3 – In the treadmill era, it is hard to disagree with that and for the people that are more into outdoor running, there are various options depending where you live.

4 – Well, going from point A to point B or doing X minutes of running are concrete and measurable goals and that is great for our egos. But as important as that is, the release of endorphins and adrenalin have their downside. They can put us in a trance-like state, which on one hand is pure joy, and on the other hand can be addictive on its own. The runner may like that feeling so much, that the fact that the body is screaming for a bit of rest every once in a while may be ignored.

5 – That is a bit of a myth. You actually don’t really change body composition during exercise; your body uses exercise as a form of stimulus that will end up promoting the change. Even though you are burning those calories during your run, what you do between runs is what really matters: how well you recover, what type of nutrition you have, your fluid intake, etc. All these factors will impair or create positive body changes.

All in all, if you are going to run or not, it is your call not mine.

If you want to do it, don’t over do it, have unrealistic expectations or do it for the wrong reasons.

If you choose to run, talk to someone that knows the sport – preferably a professional coach.  Get yourself evaluated biomechanically, define clear and attainable goals and respect your limitations.

Enjoy the challenge, the exercise and the results!