Functional Fitness

All fitness is functional.  All exercise is functional.

All exercise will help you do daily activities with greater ease, and therefore allow you to live a more full and adventurous life.

When most people see the words “functional fitness”, one of two things usually comes to mind:

  • Some type of circus-act exercise that makes you look absolutely ridiculous.
  • Exercise that looks exactly like the movement you will be doing in life.

We have all seen the crazy circus-type exercises on social media. Cringe.  And I am sure you have seen our commercial, where you will see people doing exercises that mimic everyday activities.

Sled pushes will help you mow the lawn, but so will any well-rounded fitness program that includes general lower body, upper body, and core strength exercises.  Landmine squats with a press will help you lift your child over your head, but so will dumbbell presses and squats, performed independently as part of a complete workout plan. Farmer’s carries will help you carry your groceries, but so will planks or chin-ups.  What we are trying to say is – full disclosure – the people in that video do other exercises too! And those other exercises are no less functional than the exercises they so expertly demonstrate for us on camera.

Functional fitness is typically considered to be less about isolation and more about integration –   all the body parts and systems working together seamlessly to accomplish a task. The more you can train your body to work as a whole, the more you will benefit in everyday life and the more injury-resistant you will be.  When you work your entire body in multiple directions of movement and ranges of motion, you can avoid overuse injury in a single direction or range and instead allow your body to be strong and functional in all of them. This style of training prepares you for anything unexpected that might occur in your day-to-day life. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive.

Isolation exercises such as bicep curls are often criticized for not being ‘functional’, but if your biceps are a weak link in the chain of your body, then they might be an incredibly functional exercise for you. What counts as functional exercise all comes down to the individual – what is functional for one person might not be for another.  Getting an assessment from a qualified trainer to find anything that may be preventing your body from working as a strong, complete unit – and finding out what exercises are therefore ‘functional’ for you – is a great idea.  Eliminate the guessing game, save time and invest in a proper program (Shameless plug: svptfitness.com)

All consistent fitness and exercise will help you fend off those injuries that happen simply because your body is not strong enough or fit enough to handle the activities you are trying to do every day.  For some, like an older population, that means preventing falls and creating physical independence, and for the younger population that might be preventing a knee blowout at a weekend flag football game, or on that impromptu ski trip.

Finally, functional fitness is a bit more fun and a lot less boring than bicep curls!  Exercises that tend to involve more movement, in multiple directions and range of motion, can add more challenge. Because let’s face it, moving all the parts of your body at once is harder! Think about a bear crawl – fun but hard, and working EVERYTHING – co-ordination, legs, shoulders, arms and all the core in the land.  Does a bear crawl translate into everyday activity? Not straight across (unless you have to bear crawl for a living), but all the things happening when you are doing it will help you – carry groceries, play with your kids, go for a hike, help a friend move…all that great stuff.

So is running on the treadmill or sitting on the bike functional fitness?  YES! Cardiovascular health is super important for heart health and the ability to be able to sustain physical activity and daily activities longer (i.e. mowing the lawn without breaks ). Is chest and bicep day functional fitness?  YES! If upper body strength is your weak link, chest and bi’s will certainly help you in that regard. Of course, what would be even more optimal would be to include additional training that ties those muscles in with the rest of your body.

The takeaway point is – all fitness is functional and all fitness will improve your quality of life!

Shara Vigeant, BA, CPT, CFSC

Keep it Simple Stupid!

There is no magic recipe for getting stronger, running faster, jumping higher, or losing weight.

There is no such thing as the “best exercise for X,” or “perfect stretch for Y.”

THERE IS NO QUICK OR EASY TRICK TO ATTAINING YOUR FITNESS GOALS.

The fitness and nutrition industry is chocked full of information that often advertises quick fixes and overcomplicated answers to help people lose weight, build muscle, get stronger and run faster by yesterday. Often, multiple people have different opinions and many try and make mountains out of molehills by emphasizing the minutiae. The eventual information overload leads us to believe that exercise is way more complicated than it actually is.

Another issue is that people see professional athletes or Instagram stars performing particular workouts or exercises and they have to do the same. So they attempt to execute incredibly complex workout regimes in an attempt to be like the pros.

The issue with doing these programs is that they lead to increased likelihood of drop out. Some people may succeed and be able to adapt or enjoy these grueling workouts. Most people, however, will end up dumping their fitness regime in the trash and catching up on the latest season of Black Mirror.

When I sit down and write a program, I take into consideration things like the amount of load someone can handle safely, the body positions they have good control over, the total volume/intensity in a day or week of training, and specific warm-ups that help prepare the body for certain exercises. I also make sure to relate the program to the client’s assessment findings, goals, and personal preferences. All of these things are good fun and super interesting FOR ME as a fitness professional, but remember that knowing this stuff is my job.

All those things are nifty tools that I use to give my clients the best possible training experience, but for someone just looking to lose a few pounds, get fitter and live a more full life, without making their brain explode, that level of complexity is not really needed.  This is where the K.I.S.S. principle comes in handy! The K.I.S.S. principle is one that is taught to all trainers in their education.  When in doubt, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.  Complexity kills execution!  The more complicated the approach, the less likely you will execute.

There are a couple of factors that are equally as (if not more) important when engaging in a fitness program: your ability to maintain CONSISTENCY and EFFORT with your fitness program.

There are some weeks where it feels like everything goes wrong and you can’t make it to the gym. That’s all right, just go for a walk/run/bike/yoga/hike, or engage in a friendly game of dodgeball instead.  Find a fitness program and/or activity that you like outside of the gym to stay active. Just maintain the consistency of your exercise/fitness schedule.

Some weeks are harder than others, no doubt. During those weeks where things are feeling like a drag, instead of going by weight on the bar, try and go by feel. This might mean that you do less repetitions or a lower weight. It might mean that you go for a shorter or slower run.  Just maintain the effort of your exercise.

In order to achieve your goals, focus on the basics using the K.I.S.S. principle.  Do your squats, do your carries, do your deadlifts, push some stuff, pull some stuff, get in some cardio and when in doubt, do some more deadlifts. Regardless of what you do, it always comes back to consistency and effort – if you have those two things, you WILL be successful!

 

Kieryn Marcellus, BSc. Kinesiology, CSEP-CPT

 

Myths and Truths: Strength Training for Runners

The way to get better at running is to run.

This is a sentiment that many runners subscribe to.  While there is truth to the need to run to become a better runner, cross training and strength training can improve your running without the high impact.  Let’s be real for a moment, running is extremely hard on the body, so anything you can do to keep your body injury free WHILE improving your running without further impact on the body is a win-win.

A well-designed strength program will supplement your run training by adding strength and durability.  This means you will get faster, stronger, and less likely to incur an injury.

Here are a few common myths and truths about strength training as part of a runners training program:

 

Myth: You only need to do strength exercises when you’re injured to fix the injury.

Truth: As a general rule, runners exist in a vicious cycle of chronic injury. The cycle begins with an injury. The runner might then see a physiotherapist or other professional, do their prescribed rehab exercises, then jump right back into the program that injured them while letting the exercises fall to the wayside because the injury is “fixed.”

Injury occurs when the external load exceeds the load bearing capacity of the tissues. Put simply, if your joints, tissues and muscles are not strong enough to perform the tasks you’re asking of them, an injury is inevitable. When an injury occurs, it is because the tissues can’t handle the training load. When an injury is rehabbed fully and properly, it means that the tissues have been restored back to their normal functioning capacity – equal to pre-injury capacity, or ideally even higher. If you do not rehab fully, and jump back into the same running program with tissues that have lower load bearing capacity than they did before, it is no wonder that the injury reoccurs.

Strength training will increase the load bearing capacity of your muscles and tissues in a way that running can’t. This translates to being able to handle a higher training load, with a reduced chance of injury. Strength training will allow you to run more!

 

Myth:  Strength training will make you big and bulky.

Truth: Strength training will add lean muscle mass. Trust me, as someone who actively tries to gain visible muscle, I would love to be able to run everyday and also have the physique of Hugh Jackman in Wolverine. The reality is that this isn’t what happens when you lift weights unless you train very hard and very specifically.

In distance running, the goal is to get from the start to the finish as fast as possible. For many, weights equal muscles, which equal more mass to carry, and this translates to slower times. There is some truth to the idea that the heavier you are, the slower you will be; however, a gain in lean muscle mass is not the same as a gain in adipose or fatty tissue. Adipose tissue is useless weight that you have to carry, while muscle tissue can help do the work. Think of strength training as adding hands to help do the work.

 

Myth: Strength training takes away from your run training.

Truth: A proper strength routine should add to your run training, not take away from it. Your program should be designed to prepare you for your sport. Running is about efficiency, so a training program designed to strengthen hip extension, arm drive, and rotational core, will make you more efficient in your sport. If you find yourself doing a program that includes biceps curls, ditch it. Favour a program that includes functional movement (i.e., exercises that will carry over into your running ability) over isolated exercises.

You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get strength benefits. It can mean as little as 30-40 mins 2-3 times per week. Your time in the gym should also shift as your running program shifts, meaning less time doing strength work during the high volume weeks and as you get closer to competition. Strength training is your side dish, while running is your entrée. Neither is complete on its own!

 

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms

New Year, Same You?

Now that we’re a month deep into 2018, there’s a good chance one or more of your planned resolutions for the year have already bombed. Harsh, I know, but statistics for 2017 showed that only 58.4% of people had maintained their resolutions after the first month of the year and that percentage dropped another 13.6% past 6 months. Why is that? Well, there are a few plausible explanations.

Right from the get go, a New Year sets us up to set unrealistic goals. For many people, the month of December stands out as a time we are thrown off our usual routines. Holiday parties, festive dinners, additional time off of work separate December from the other 11 months.  Although the holidays aren’t a relaxing and recuperating time for everyone, the change of pace usually leaves us craving some sort of structure come time the last holiday event finishes. This desire for structure is liberating for many, especially coming from a place of exhaustion and burn-out after the past year of consistent hard work devoted to our jobs, families, and lives in general. The holidays oftentimes serve as a gas tank fill for our mental, emotional, and physical energy tanks left drained from the past year of, well, living on earth. So how does that set us up for failure? Well, this recharged state leads us to feeling on top of the world come January 1st (or maybe January 2nd, once the hangovers have subsided from your New Year’s Eve festivities). So, when you sit down to map out your goals for the coming year, you’re very likely to overshoot what you’re truly capable of and forget about all of the day-to-day stresses that are going to block you from achieving your shiny New Year goals.

So, let me ask you: Are your goals for 2018 realistic? Let me help you figure that out.

Imagine a week in 2017 where several things didn’t go as you planned. Maybe you got stuck in traffic for hours, you had to stay late at work, you forgot your lunch at home, your child played hockey 3 times per week, your basement flooded, your household got attacked by this year’s flu strain…..on, and on, and on!   With all of these events piling up on you, do you truly think you’d make it to the gym seven times for a 2-hour workout and manage to find a reasonable replacement for the healthy prepped meal you left at home? Chances are, your mind will tell you there’s no point in going to the gym because you don’t have the originally planned 2 hours in your day to dedicate to training after having to re-do the project your computer lost, and you’ll end up stress eating three donuts from the staff room because you got hungry and were too distracted to navigate your way to a healthier alternative. If that sounds like a familiar event to you, don’t worry – we’ve all been there.

So, during our time of lofty goal setting and 2018 resolution lists, we must remember: life happens. We all have things that throw us off course. It may sound totally achievable to get in 7 killer workouts and delight in your healthy meal prepped dishes every day when you’re glowing from the extra time off work and delicious holiday treats, but realize you aren’t always going to be living the post-holiday high. Sure, it’s great to aim high and have great expectations for yourself. However, a week where you’re blown completely off track is likely to damage your self-efficacy and confidence and, ultimately, derail your big plans.

So, next time you sit down to map out the steps you are going to take towards your goals, make sure you can check off those steps more often than you can’t. On weeks where you’re feeling on top of the world, do more! On weeks where life is a little more hectic, at least you have those small, achievable steps and habits you can still take towards the bigger picture.

 

Reference

Statistic Brain. (January 1, 2017). New Years Resolution Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

 

 

SVPT Trainer, Kelly Gifford

What Makes a Good Personal Trainer?

A new year usually means health and fitness resolutions.  Many seek help from personal trainers, which is a great investment into accountability, motivation, technique, effectiveness, and efficiency.

The good news?  There are so many fantastic trainers out there.

The bad news?  The health and fitness industry is a billion dollar industry, making it easy for anyone to get ‘certified’ as a personal trainer.  Certifications are available to anyone over a weekend or online in hours and that means there are many bad personal trainers out there.

Trainers that lack proper and thorough education can potentially injure a client, or create a bad experience for the client, and this makes it bad for the good personal trainers out there.

So how do you find a good trainer?   Start with an interview.   You are investing a lot of money and should make sure the person guiding you on this journey is a good fit for you and most importantly, qualified.

Consider these key points in the interview:

Education.  Where did they receive education and/or certification?  Is it accredited?  Google is your friend — look into their certification and education to make sure it is legit.

Experience.  How much experience do they have? Minimal experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing (everyone has to start somewhere).  If they have a solid education and certification, experience might not be an issue for you (this leads to the next point).

References.  Ask for references from current or previous clients.  Even trainers with minimal experience will have references.  Talking to someone who has worked with the trainer can give you valuable information that you might not get directly from the trainer.

Continuing Education.  Since their initial education or certification have they continued to learn, grow, evolve?  A trainer that is always learning is one that that is passionate about their clients and career.  They are always seeking to add more tools to the toolbox and seeking to be better, so they can further help their clients.

Now that you have interviewed the trainer and have found a solid education and background, what characteristics in the trainer should you look for?

Honesty.  You are not hiring them to tell you what you want to hear; it’s about what you NEED to hear.  Sometimes you don’t want to hear what they have to say, but you have hired them to help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your body and lifestyle; and sometimes the truth hurts.

Positive Energy.  There is nothing worse than coming into a session after a tough day, and your trainer is a dull, sad panda.   Their energy should make you want to be there, to push and work harder (and have fun doing it!).

Humor.  Let’s face it, being able to smile and laugh in a challenging training session can make it a little less awful, especially when it comes to doing stuff you do not necessarily like (but need).  Exercise can be fun while working hard, maintaining proper form and focus!

Attention.  They learn about you, your lifestyle and goals and then create training around that, and not force you into a program that is unrealistic.  During the session, their focus is on you, not their cell phones, other people in the gym, or shiny objects passing by.   How can they help you if they don’t pay attention to you?

Professionalism.  They are on time, dress appropriately, follow up with emails/texts/calls regarding your sessions promptly, treat you with respect and talk to you like an adult.  Also, they leave their personal drama at home.

Approachability.  They are easy to approach with concerns or questions.  Nothing is worse than a trainer that is so scary and serious that you are scared to ask questions.

Open Mindedness.  Trainers should be open to other training protocols and what fits for YOU.  There is no ONE right way – it always depends on the client.

Problem Solvers.  They are good at solving problems or at least TRY to solve problems.  They are not scared to say ‘I don’t know’ but will look it up or ask a peer for the answer.  They refer out.  Trainers are not doctors – if they see a problem outside of the scope of our expertise, then they should urge you to see a professional.

Walk the Talk.   The best way for a trainer to relate to and coach a client is by experiencing it themselves.  They should practice what they preach and live a healthy, fit and balanced lifestyle that is consistent with what they are trying to get you to do.

At the end of the day, it comes down to BUYER BEWARE.  Take the trainer for a test drive before committing to 100 sessions.  Buy a few sessions first to make sure it’s a fit!

 

Shara Vigeant, BA, CPT, CFSC

Myths of Cardio

Are you ready to have all of your cardio questions answered? To have all the controversy solved once and for all? Get answers from experienced fitness professionals who learn and teach this stuff for a living? Well, just keep reading! Ready? Here we go:

Q: Does cardio mean jogging on a treadmill or going on an elliptical for a really long time?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio the same as Crossfit?
A: No.

Q: Do I have to become a runner to do cardio?
A: No.

Q: Is it a rule that I have to do cardio to lose fat?
A: No. 

Q: Will doing cardio make me lose all my GAINZ?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio all I need to do to be healthy and fit?
A: No.

Q: If I’m female, is cardio all I should be doing?
A: No.

Q: Does walking to the fridge between Netflix episodes count as cardio?
A: No. 

Q: Do I HAVE to do cardio?
A: No.

 

Controversy solved! Wasn’t that great?? So glad we had this talk.

Joking aside, what we hope becomes apparent from reading this list of common myths is that there is no clear definition of what the word “cardio” actually means. Lack of a commonly agreed-upon definition for a particular term makes the situation ripe for misunderstanding and controversy. This goes for everything, not just fitness-related stuff. Words matter! What do we actually mean when we use certain words and phrases, such as “cardio”?  Before we can answer questions about cardio, we need to define it so we know what we are actually talking about.

A Google search of “what is cardio?” garners over 8 million results. Some of the definitions that pop up include:

“Cardiovascular exercise.” Wow, that’s helpful.

“Endurance exercises that strengthen the heart and blood vessels.” More specific, but is that all there is to it?

“Any exercise that raises your heart rate.” By this definition, our whole Netflix and walking to the fridge thing would qualify as cardio after all.

“Cardio is the most common form of weight loss exercise.” Debatable, and that doesn’t actually define what cardio means.

As you can see, there isn’t really a clear definition here. So we have come up with our own definition. You don’t have to agree with it – it’s just a working definition that we have created to hopefully help clear up some of the myths surrounding cardio.

Our definition of cardio is any method of training that improves the body’s ability to produce sufficient energy to accomplish a particular task.

In order to be able to produce the energy needed to accomplish any activity, the body has to be able to:

·      take in sufficient amounts of oxygen (strong breathing muscles, efficient breathing mechanics)

·      transport that oxygen into the bloodstream (quick delivery of oxygen from lungs to blood vessels)

·      move the blood to the working muscles as fast as possible (strong heart)

·      take up that oxygen into the muscles as efficiently as possible (fast oxygen transfer from capillaries into muscle cells)

·      utilize that oxygen within the muscle as efficiently as possible (efficient inside-cell chemical processes)

As you can see, there’s a little more to it than just getting the ol’ heart rate up!

Now, to bring all of this back to a more practical level, what activities could we use to improve the body’s ability to produce energy at all of those different levels? 

Could we use running? Yes.

Could we use strength training? Absolutely.

Could we use cycling, swimming, pushing a super heavy sled, going for a hike, or doing high intensity intervals? Sure.

 

The key factor here is not necessarily the method of exercise used, but the intent of the training, the stimulus being sent to the body, and the resulting adaptation that we see as a result.

 Are the adaptations from running going to be the same as those from strength training? No, because they are two different stimuli to the body, and will produce a different response. However, could you use specific running methods to improve the body’s ability to take in oxygen? And use specific strength training methods to improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen within muscle cells? Most definitely.

The key takeaway is that both of these activities can improve the body’s ability to produce energy to accomplish a task. It simply comes down to application – how they are being used. Thus, according to our definition, they are both being used as “cardio”.

Moral of the story: any activity that makes your body better at producing the energy needed for the task you want to do – whether that be running a marathon, playing recreational sports, or playing with your kids – is “cardio”. What form that “cardio” takes simply depends on what your individual body most needs to accomplish the tasks you most want to do. 

Don’t get us wrong, cardio is not bad! Doing only cardio at the expense of strength training, or taking a will-nilly approach to doing cardio – this is where we tend to go wrong. But training the body’s ability to produce energy is a crucial part of a well-rounded approach to fitness and health, and should not be overlooked. Cardio just needs to be programmed well (with individual needs and goals in mind), and done purposefully so that we get the desired adaptations in the body.

SVPT Trainer, Erica Saunders

 

5 Pillars of Strength

Strength is for everyone.

A good house always has a solid foundation.  We believe in building a solid foundation by mastering five strength movements.  By mastering these basics, we lay the foundation for more complicated lifts, injury prevention and above all else, LIFE!  Because isn’t fitness about creating a more adventurous life?

Over the last five weeks we have shared with you the principles of how we build a client up, and build the foundation.  Each training session with our clients always includes all or most of the 5 Pillars, in some form or variation:

  • Hip Hinge
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Squat
  • Loaded Carry

Let us help you learn to build your house.  Book your FREE assessment today!

The Loaded Carry

A loaded carry is essentially a loaded walking plank – all the core that you can imagine using in everyday life! Loaded carries are important because every day we walk while carrying things – groceries, kids, suitcases, etc. The act of carrying heavy things over a distance is the most functional and fundamental movement. Like all of our other pillars, this movement is for ALL fitness levels and ages because of the transfer to everyday life.

It teaches how to create tension and brace your core for other more demanding compound lifting. Loaded carries are great for training the grip, building muscle, work capacity, core strength, coordination, and even improving function of the shoulder girdle. They really do offer something for everyone!

Loaded Carry Options (Based on Needs from Assessment)

  • Farmer’s Walk (Dumbbells or Kettlebells or Trap Bar)
  • Suitcase Carry (Dumbbells or Kettlebells)
  • Goblet Carry (Dumbbell or Kettlebell)
  • Sandbag Front Carry
  • Kettlebell Racked Carry
  • Overhead Kettlebell Carry

We progress carries based on the client’s ability, but many end up progressing to fun carry variations that include off-set weight (2 different weights in each hand), barbell carries with banded kettlebells, carries with bands for extra instability, and so much more.

The Squat

Squats are a hip, knee, and ankle dominated action that happens more than any other movement in everyday life.  When done properly, squats improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue.  While its primary focus is leg strength, squats can be a whole-body exercise when done correctly – leg and hip strength, core strength and depending on the squat variation, upper body strength and stability.

Squats are also one of exercises that is frequently performed incorrectly.  Before squatting with weight, we always clean up the client’s the squat pattern with correctives such as hip, ankle and thoracic spine mobility, and core strength and stability.

Next to bending over, like in the hip hinge, we squat every single day without really realizing it.  A good squat can give you an easier life!

Squat Options and Progressions (Based on Needs from Assessment)

  • Bodyweight Squats
  • Goblet Squats
  • Kettlebell Front Squats
  • Barbell Squats (Front and Back)
  • Zercher Squats

Single Leg Options

  • Bodyweight Split Squats
  • Goblet Split Squats
  • Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
  • Single Leg Squats to Bench

It’s important to train squats unilaterally (single leg) because life doesn’t always happen on two legs. Training on one leg helps to even out any strength imbalances, as well as works stabilizing muscles and balance. Most people tend to use one side of their body more than the other in everyday life and this bias can be intensified if you only train on two legs.

The Pull

Pulling movements work the muscles in your back, which are the muscles that help create better posture.  Working on computers, texting, driving and excessive sitting create weak back muscles that can contribute to neck and back pain.

Poor posture is one of the issues we see in almost every client, and we make sure that we put a focus on pulling movements to help strengthen the muscles of the back that can pull you into better posture.

The pulling muscles also work with the pushing muscles to help create an all-around stronger, stable and injury free upper body.  Pulling movements are also important because the muscles in the back of our body are the stabilizers for bigger lifts, such as deadlifts.

Like the pushing movements, pulling can be done vertically and horizontally.  The most well-known vertical pull is a chin up, or pull up, and the most common horizontal pulling movement is the row.

Pulling Options (Based on Needs from Assessment)

  1. TRX Pull Up or Row (Horizontal)
  2. Dumbbell Chest Supported Row (Horizontal)
  3. Dumbbell or Kettlebell Unsupported Row (Horizontal)
  4. Assisted Pull Ups or Chin Ups (Vertical)
  5. Cable or Strength Band Pulldowns (Vertical)
    1. Standing
    2. Half Kneeling
    3. Tall Kneeling

We also progress to single arm variations, based on ability.

Be sure to try to include both a vertical and horizontal pulling movement in your training program.