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BMI: Is it Important?

BMI, or body mass index, is a calculation based on the height and weight of a person that is supposed to be a general measure of overall health and body composition. For many years this was the standard to determine whether a person was within an acceptable weight range for their height to deem them “healthy”, overweight or obese.

Over the past few years, there has been many speaking out against the use of this measure within the health and fitness industry. This is because the calculation does not take into account any factors other than height and weight. It is an inaccurate measure of body fat content and does not take into account factors like muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, racial and differences between sexes.

Traditionally BMI has been used as a tool to predict the risk of disease and mortality by measuring a correlation between obesity and things like heart disease, stroke, heart failure and diabetes. However, there have been a number of studies that have indicated that some people considered “obese” on the BMI scale, in fact, have a lower cardiovascular risk and an improved metabolic profile compared to some individuals with a “normal BMI” who are more metabolically unhealthy and at a higher risk for disease than their obese counterparts.

It doesn’t take a scientist to understand why BMI might not give an accurate or useful body composition profile. Consider an athlete, someone who competes as either a bodybuilder or something like an MMA fighter. These athletes are not only muscular, but typically quite lean. Not to mention their fitness levels are often well above the average Joe. Someone with this body type who is 5’10” and 190 lbs would have a BMI of 27.3. This BMI would put this individual in the category of overweight, yet no one looking at this athlete would think that could be possible. The calculation wrongly assumes lower muscle mass and high relative fat content.

BMI also does not consider localized body fat, which is potentially more dangerous than overall fat as it relates to body composition. Abdominal fat has been found to have severe health risks including cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and higher mortality rates. Additionally, thinner people might also have an excess of visceral fat, which is linked to higher risk of disease when compared to lean muscle mass.

Unfortunately, despite its obvious flaws in accurately capturing the overall fat content and health of an individual, BMI is sort of all we have. There are more efficient and accurate methods to measure body fat percentage, but these come with a hefty price tag that is simply not practical for most people. Measuring height and weight is convenient and practical during a quick doctor’s visit. Until there is a better method available, BMI will continue to be used by healthcare professionals, but it should come with a disclaimer that the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

SVPT Fitness & Athletics

Recovery and Self-Care

The topics of recovery and self-care are pretty hot in the fitness industry. These topics have some strong merit and are worth discussing, especially given how confusing social media and the internet can be when it comes to deciding your recovery and self-care methods. We would like to simplify it.

For the purposes of this blog, we will consider “recovery” to be about the physical side of health and “self-care” to be about the mental and emotional side. While separate in some senses, there is strong overlap between the two and they are often closely intertwined.

First thing – you can only train as hard as you can recover. Read that again. Then read one more time. If you want to continue crushing your goals and making progress, your recovery must be equally as focused. You can’t keep training at a full gas tank level of intensity when the gas tank is only a quarter full. For every penny you withdraw from the bank for training, you need to make an equal or greater deposit for recovery.

Recovery is different for everyone. It can also be different from year to year, month to month, and sometimes even week to week. Your recovery will go through natural fluctuations along with your activity levels, fitness levels, and lifestyle. The way you recovered from training last year might be dramatically different this year. Maybe you changed jobs, opened a business, got divorced, changed fitness goals, changed type of physical activity, had a child, got injured….all while getting another year older. Age and lifestyle will dramatically affect how you recover from activity as well as the time it takes to recover. Embrace the change that will happen when it comes to choosing recovery methods. Be okay with being different than before.

Recovery methods can take many forms: a full day off, massage, yoga, stretching, sauna, ice bath, hot tub, cardiovascular work, naps, low intensity movement (active recovery), quality sleep, or mobility sessions. While there is conflicting science out there about what works best for recovery, the BEST recovery method is one that you can access easily (for consistency) and that, you know……actually helps you feel recovered! Recovery should have you feeling GOOD and ready to train again.

This year, or even this month, your recovery might be more focused on managing the stress of life rather than managing the stress of exercise. That is where self-care can come in and have a lot of benefit. Self-care can help you recover physically as well, since taking care of your mental and emotional health will help you train at a higher level and with greater longevity. Sometimes we are mentally exhausted, even on a full physical gas tank. When this happens, taking time to ‘reset’ mentally or check out of life is very needed.

Some of the most popular forms of self-care are: disconnecting from technology, coffee with a friend, Netflix and chill, therapy, walking the dog, walking in nature, yoga, bath and a book, quiet time with a book, day at the spa, time away, and quality sleep.

At the end of the day – simplify and choose a recovery and/or self-care method that works for you and that you can stick to. Because like all things in life and exercise, CONSISTENCY IS KEY.

What matters is that you feel recovered, regenerated, and rejuvenated from your recovery and self-care routine, regardless of what method you use.

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC

Physical Activity vs. Exercise

When I first started writing this blog, it was meant to describe a shift that has occurred in my career and life.  I have been a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 15 years and have run a business for 12 years.  Last year I took a step back from in-person training to work abroad, consult for other companies, and run my business.  And then…a pandemic hit.  Now many of the SVPT trainers and clients are dealing with the exact same issue – going from being active all day to finding it difficult to get off the couch.

Before the pandemic, I would still see clients 3 days a week for a few hours when I was in town.  (I think it’s important to keep my tools sharp, be around my team, keep learning, and be IN the industry in the trenches.)  Despite that, I quickly noticed that I moved from being active all day on the gym floor to mostly working at a desk.  I have become the person we see all the time at the gym – the desk worker!  Now that the gym is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, my level of movement is even lower than before, and I am sure EVERYONE is dealing with an overall loss of movement and exercise because of fitness facility closures.

As a trainer I have always understood how bad sitting at a desk was for the body, but now I am LIVING it.   Even though I do more sitting now than ever, I still train 4-6 days a week. However, what I have now realized more than is that formal gym-based exercise is not enough on its own – it must be supplemented with simple ACTIVITY.

Currently many of us are stuck in our houses, either working from home at a makeshift desk, or homeschooling kids, or simply unable to work…and making good use of the Netflix subscription.  Life has simply changed, and for many people it hasn’t been for the better. Exercise and physical activity have become even harder to fit in, and motivation is at an all-time low.

The biggest eye opener for me was when I looked at my phone one day and saw how many steps I took over the week. I was mortified.  I exercised 1 hour a day, sat for 8-10 hours, and got in 1500 steps a day?  Our bodies simply are not designed for that.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, steps are not the only indicator of activity, but since I have my phone on me most of the time, it is a great measurement for ME of activity levels.  Sometimes measurement is necessary to shed light, even if it doesn’t necessarily show the whole picture.)

The realization was – the less movement you have in your daily life, the more you need to do to be fit and healthy (physically and mentally).  For example, if your day job is sitting for 8 hours, you need to fit in structured exercise AND general movement. The formal gym exercise is to work on specific qualities like strength or mobility, and the general activity spread throughout the day is to keep the body vital, energized, loose, and healthy. When we are sedentary, we stagnate and stiffen up. When we move, we have life and energy and actually feel human!

For those who have a job that keeps them moving all day – think construction laborers, childcare workers, retail associates – formal, gym-based exercise can take a more central role and be more targeted to specific goals. These folks are already getting plenty of unstructured physical activity throughout the day! For those in a more sedentary job, perhaps informal activity should be the main focus with structured exercise as the supplementary piece.

Confused yet?  Thought getting to the gym and working out was enough?  Don’t get me wrong…of course the exercise you are doing is GREAT!  But we also need activity outside of structured exercise.  And that doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be as simple as walking.

Let’s break down the difference.  Both exercise and general movement improve health, and both have benefits for the body and mind.  But the term “physical activity” should not be confused with “exercise”, which is a subcategory of physical activity.

What is exercise?

Exercise is any intentional bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. Exercise is targeted and specific to goals, and it has particular physiological effects. It is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.

What is physical activity?

Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy, or BEING ACTIVE. Walking, household chores, gardening, pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, recreational sports, or dancing the night away are all good examples of being active. Beyond exercise, any other physical activity that is done during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work, has a health benefit.

We as a population generally engage in very little physical activity.  We may exercise, but we aren’t as ACTIVE.  We exercise, then Netflix.  We exercise, then sit at a desk all day.  We exercise, then park as close as we can to where we are going, we drive everywhere, we take advantage of the EASY in life.  The phrase “active couch potatoes” has emerged to describe those of us who do structured exercise 30-60 minutes per day, yet remain sedentary the rest of the day. And let’s face it, we just don’t engage in the amount of movement that we did 50 years ago due to advances in technology (and sometimes just plain laziness!).

So what do you do?  Be more active or exercise more?   It depends.  If you exercise for an hour a day, add more activity.  If you are active all day, add some structured exercise to improve physical fitness.

For myself, I have set a personal goal of either taking a minimum of 10,000 steps per day OR engaging in some type of activity outside of structured exercise – a walk, a bike ride, or recreational sports. This is in addition to my scheduled exercise program 4-6 days per week. Now, this isn’t a strict plan. I know life will happen and some days I will not get in my activity, but at least I am now more aware of it.  When you know better, you do better.

So how can you be more ACTIVE in a day?  Well, it’s simple – move more, sit less.  Engage in life more

Park far away, or walk to the store
Take a walk in nature, or simply around the block
Play a game outside with your kid(s)
Join a recreation league sports team
Find a friend that wants to try new activities with you
Take the stairs every chance you get
Make lunch hour about movement
Plant a garden and keep it alive
Organize your house
Help a neighbor or friend or family member organize theirs
Get a dog
Sign up for a charity walk
Offer to help a senior with things they need done around their house
Dance, or take a dance class
Learn a new skill or sport

*Of course, due to physical and social distancing many of these are not possible now, but in the future you can definitely add these in. 

During this pandemic, there are many ways you can add activity into your day while you isolate, and you can do it with the people you are isolating alongside:

Take a 30-60 minute walk – away from everyone else – every day

(The benefits of simple walking have been proven over and over again)

Games with the kids

Clear some furniture and find a game that gets you moving
Get outside for games in the yard

Stairs – if you have stairs in your home, make the effort to go up and down them more than you usually do

Gardening and/or yard work (weather permitting)
Maybe it’s time to take down those Christmas decorations, clean up the yard, or plant the garden you have always wanted


Home Improvement
That room or basement that you have always wanted to organize or paint…….or the basement…..now is the time

Spring Clean
Go deep.

Personally, since adding in more activity, I simply feel better – physically and mentally.  I feel like I did when I was on my feet training people for 10 hours a day.  Also, t my daily COVID-19 physical distance walks and gym spring cleaning activity has been a huge help in managing stress.

Finally, during these stressful times………do what you can.  Do what feels good to you at the time.  Exercise and physical activity shouldn’t ADD stress, it should relieve it. Right now everyone is in survival mode and stress is high, and sometimes surviving doesn’t include squats. Sometimes it’s just a nice walk, scrubbing the shower or reading a book.

Stay healthy!

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC

Owner, SVPT Fitness & Athletics

Training Through Injury

So, you’re injured. Now what?

While it’s true that the first priority should be recovery, this doesn’t mean that you should stop training altogether. Sometimes injuries are caused by overuse or overtraining, which means you might need to back off on your training. In this case, your body isn’t able to recover properly resulting in a chronic injury. If the injury is acute, that is caused by one incident, this means that the affected area should rested, but you can continue to train around the injury.

If you’ve injured yourself, talk with a physician or physiotherapist first. Get your injury diagnosed by a professional who is qualified to advise you whether or not you can continue training. Don’t Google your injury and self-diagnose. Having a proper diagnosis will mean that a trainer will have a better idea of the course of action to take post-injury and will also inform how the injury should be rehabilitated. Better yet, having your trainer and physiotherapist working together will ensure a more complete approach to recovery. Knowledge is power – take the initiative and be active in your own recovery by getting assessed properly right away.

If you choose to work around an injury and continue to train during your recovery, then truly work around the injury. Don’t do things that “sort-of hurt” or get better after a warm up set. If there truly is pain during the first movement, you’re doing more damage than you are helping yourself. Adrenaline and endorphins can make you feel better when you’re actually doing damage. If you’re hurting, you’re not healing. Bottom line: if it hurts, stop.

Be careful not to allow this to create other injuries from compensating or only training one way. It’s fine to train one side when the other is injured but be aware of compensating patterns and how the movement will affect other areas. For example, if you have injured one shoulder, you can train the other but be aware of how this constant unilateral training will affect the neck and back on both sides of the body.

Injury recovery can be separated into two aspects: physical and mental. The physical component of recovery is the physical healing of the injured tissue. Whether you’ve suffered a strain, sprain, dislocation or fracture, the injured tissue needs to heal, meaning it must be rested. The mental component of recovery is training the brain. When we are injured, our brain flags whatever movement resulted in the injury, and usually also flags movements that resulted in pain after the injury. What this means for many people is that the movement triggers a feeling of pain long after the injury has healed. The brain needs to be retrained to learn that these movements are safe again. Typically, this can be done by completing the movement under control, slowly, under different types of load and through the full range of motion repetitively. This process involves learning to differentiate between pain and discomfort. You can train through discomfort, but never train through pain.

At the end of the day, recovery is almost always an active process whether you’re training your body or your mind. Don’t let an injury get in the way of your goals, just adjust your course of action.


Exercise Won’t Give You a 6-Pack

Weight loss (fat loss) is the #1 reason people seek out a personal trainer. (Note: there is a difference between weight loss and fat loss, and most people want the fat loss, so we will continue with that phrase). And we will also note that everyone has a 6-pack, it’s just a matter of if we can see them or not.

If your goal is fat loss, a good personal trainer will stress that fat loss starts in the kitchen, and exercise should supplement your fat loss goals. We stay in our lanes. We are not registered dietitians, and while we can give general advice on how to improve your nutrition (drink more water, eat less processed foods, cut back on sugar, eat more whole foods, fruits and veggies), we are not experts in what exactly you need to create the safest and most effective environment in your body for fat loss.

(Side Note: In my opinion, if a trainer pushes you to try the latest and greatest diet trend out there – Keto, Paleo, etc. – or pushes you to buy some type of shake they sell – RUN for the hills. Personal trainers should be teaching you exercise, fitness and physical activity – not selling you diets and shakes.)

So with nutrition being the single most important variable in fat loss, why is there such a focus on exercise? People are misinformed thanks to the internet, and continually think that they can out-train bad nutrition. You can’t. Exercise isn’t going to burn off the bad food or excess calories you ate. In fact, the whole “burn up to 600 calories” per workout (and for 72 hours after!) is bunk. It’s misleading and has been proven by science to be inaccurate for years…decades, in fact.

This is why you see so many personal trainers peddling nutrition, because they KNOW that it’s crucial in their clients’ journey to getting results (fat loss). You often see “fat burning workouts” or the best “fat burning exercises” all over the internet. Well, sorry…but it’s all BUNK.

Do you burn calories when you workout? YES. But not as much as you think, and not enough to be your one and only fat loss strategy. The quantity of calories you actually burn in a workout session is lower than you’ve been led to believe, and the extra calories you burn from exercise only account for a small part of your total energy expenditure during the day – somewhere in the range of 10-30 percent. The remaining 70-90 percent comes from your resting metabolic rate, the energy used to carry out the host of physiological processes that are constantly occurring in the body. (Be wary of activity trackers, as they tend to overestimate the caloric burn from these processes.)

Do you continue to burn calories for many hours or even days after your workout? NO. Depending on the specific type of training you are doing, your metabolism stays elevated post-workout for about the length of time you trained, but not much beyond that. And certainly not for days! And at this point, I am sure HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has come to mind, which is one of the most popular fitness trends being marketed as purely a fat burning workout, especially in the Edmonton fitness scene. The science has been out that true HIIT can definitely improve V02 max, and improve blood sugars. However, the energy expenditure is just not enough because of the duration of the session. True HIIT sessions (and that is where you are literally working at your MAX heart rate for the work periods) are only meant to be done for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. While many studies show that HIIT can help with fat loss (negligible) than other forms of exercise, the biggest factor in that was, of course, nutrition and appetite suppression (nutrition!).

I would add (as a shameless plug) SVPT Fitness + Athletics has NEVER ever marketed or sold so-called fat burning workouts, fat burning exercises, weight loss shakes, or any kind of supplements. We have never made false claims about training to entice clients into our gym. And we have been successfully in business for 10 years.

We take pride in refusing to spread inaccurate information. We don’t even believe in putting an emphasis on exercise for burning calories. We put the emphasis on quality movement that will benefit your health and your life. We know that if you want to lose fat or have long term weight loss goals, it is all about the food! This is why we partnered with dietitians to help our clients navigate those waters. It’s the best way for them to learn the most effective ways to lose fat and keep it off over the long term.

BUT WAIT…does this mean you don’t have to exercise to lose fat? NO. You still need to exercise so you can do ALL the things you want to in life. So you can be independent. So you can prevent injury. So you can golf into your 70s, or hike into your 60s. So you CAN LIVE A FULL LIFE. Exercise shouldn’t be a punishment to burn off something you ate, or earn something you want to eat. Exercise should be your tool to live life to the full. Exercise GIVES life. Exercise improves health. And when you improve health, you improve quality of life.

Here is why you still need to exercise, regardless of your goals:

  • Joint health
  • Muscle strength, growth and maintenance\
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Improve blood sugars
  • Improve mood
  • Decrease stress, anxiety, fatigue
  • Improve attention
  • Improve sleep
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Prevent disease and illness
  • Resilience
  • Independence
  • Longevity
  • Vitality
  • Resilience

….the list is extensive and can go on even further. Essentially, we just move less than we did 50 years ago.

Exercise is excellent for health and wellness; it’s just not that important for fat loss. So don’t expect to lose a lot of fat by ramping up physical activity alone. If your workouts are soul crushing every day in an effort to “burn more calories” or “burn fat” to get to your fat loss goals, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not just that day or that week, but long term. The hormonal ramifications of soul crushing workouts every day are huge, not to mention that you are also risking burnout and injury.

With all of that said, it’s still awesome to challenge yourself with a really tough workout every once in a while. It simply has to be programmed properly – both to occur at the right time, and to include movements that won’t get you hurt. This is where seeking the advice of a fitness professional can help you.

If weight/fat loss is your goal, please seek the help of a registered dietitian to learn about food, proper eating habits, and your caloric range to help you get to your fat loss goals safely and effectively. At the same time, realize the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise. While exercise is still an important part of the fat loss puzzle, remember that it shouldn’t be the ONLY piece.

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC