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Why do Pilates?

I have been purposely practicing movement since I was a child. From the age of five doing acrobatics and ballet to aerobics (think bright purple unitard with leg warmers) at my local community centres in my teens.

I have always loved movement so deciding to become a fitness professional in my 20s was a no brainer. 

In my 20s, while personal training my Toronto clientele, I also trained as an endurance athlete, and also in my early 30s when my children were little. I moved into heavy weight lifting in my late 30s. During these years I always practiced yoga as a recovery method, balancing my other activities and trying to stay injury free. 

In my mid-40s, I found Barre, and have enjoyed the amazing transformation in my body. And then recently, about one year ago, I discovered Pilates. I immediately fell in love with the practice. I found the articulation of the spine (flexion, extension, rotation, and side flexion) fascinating. In yoga, we mainly keep the spine straight and long; whereas, in Pilates the spine is meant to move in every direction for the health of the body. 

Pilates exercises increase strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and correct alignment (posture), which helps prevent injuries and corrects poor movement patterns. Why? Pilates mainly uses our intrinsic muscles: the deep most layers closest to the bones, basically the muscles that support the skeleton. 

In Pilates we work from the inside out. Normally people train their extrinsic muscles only, the superficial muscles that we have right under our skin. When we only train those extrinsic muscles, our intrinsic muscles often don’t activate properly. If those deep core muscles aren’t activated, our bodies are not being supported as they should which often leads to injury and pain.

Learning to move with awareness and control to correctly activate our inner most deep core muscles helps train our outer most superficial muscles properly. Balance and support keeps our bodies safe and functional. Whether you are an athlete, frequent exerciser wanting to stay injury free, someone recovering from an injury, or a beginner wanting to build a strong foundation to become or stay pain-free, Pilates makes the best and most amazing supplemental movement system. 

I offer Fusion Flow classes, which blend Pilates and yoga-style movements. Also, I offer strictly Pilates mat class, as well as, individual reformer sessions.

Below is a you tube link of a 15min sample of my style of a typical beginner Pilates mat class.

Three Helpful Tips to Keep to Your Resolution of Becoming Healthier

New Year’s Resolutions. We all make them with the best of intentions and I actually love them. Every year, the week before January 1st, I begin contemplating about what I’d like to change in my life for the upcoming year. On December 31st I carve out a bit of time with my journal to write out my plans. 

Now, truthfully, as the year unfolds some of those carefully crafted ideas don’t even get implemented. Some of those ideas live for about a month or two and then get dropped. But thankfully some of my changes do stay and new habits are formed. 

If your Year 2020 resolution was to develop healthier lifestyle habits and you are worried you may not stick to your new plan, you are reading the right article! As a Certified Personal Trainer, working for the Township of Langley, I have seen lots of success with clients reaching their goals. 

I have noticed three important steps that have led to successful outcomes for clients sticking to their healthy lifestyle plan:

  • Find your number one reason why. Ask yourself why do you want to get healthier? Do you want to look better, feel better, have more energy, become pain-free? Be brutally honest with yourself about your reasons. If you find the “why” that is uniquely motivating to you, it’s a great push to remember it when you are feeling less than thrilled to tie up your sneakers and head to the gym. 
  • Find a workout buddy. I have seen so much success with this one. Whether you hire a personal trainer to keep you accountable, sign up for a small group training class, or make friends in a group fitness class and see them every time you go to class, these are huge motivators to keep you coming back. 
  • Have a plan. We lead busy lives and for the important events we need to schedule it. If not, your well intentioned idea of getting healthier will get missed. Trust me, I know. I have three teenagers and I feel like a taxi most of the time. Being their taxi and working full time, it’s difficult to keep to my 2020 resolutions. I definitely notice the impact when I put my workouts into the family’s Google calendar, I am much more likely to keep to it. Also, it lets your family members know to schedule things around your workout times, not during.


A little while ago I was complaining to my hair stylist. I was complaining about the fact that for the past four weeks I hadn’t been consistent in my workouts because of a serious chest cold that just wouldn’t go away. You remember that nasty chest cough that everyone had in December? During cardio (or really just laughing) would send me into a flurry of deep chest coughing. I could still do weight training, but I thought it wouldn’t be so considerate to be at the gym hacking away spreading my germs everywhere, so I focused on performing light weights at home. 

My biggest complaint was that I was losing weight. And that made me annoyed because I knew I was losing lean muscle mass, not body fat. And that muscle was hard earned. For the past year I trained 6 days a week, lifting 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets, twice a week per body part. 

So here I was in my stylist’s chair complaining about losing weight because I wasn’t exercising. I said something like, “you know when you stop working out and you start losing weight, isn’t that annoying? Knowing you are losing precious muscle mass?”

My stylist contemplates this, and then replies, “no, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t lose weight when I don’t exercise, I gain. Also, I gain muscle very quickly, and it’s hard to lose it.”

A lightbulb went off in my head. Oh yes! That is right! I had just learned in my Precision Nutrition course about the three different body types, or somatotypes: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. Remember learning about those in high school biology class?

The above is a perfect example of the different somatotypes. I am an ectomorph and I am assuming my stylist is a mesomorph. 

Let me explain some of the differences.

Note: My 14yr old daughter Gwyneth who is a wonderful artist drew the illustrations for those of us who are visuals learners 🙂

Ectomorph’s are normally light and lean, and have longer limbs. They are often endurance athletes, and their metabolism is often on the higher side. They fidget, and are often “busy” personalities.

Mesomorph’s normally have medium builds and are naturally muscular. They have a normally functioning metabolism. They can build muscle fairly easy, and are athletic by nature. 

Endomorph’s are heavier, usually have larger bones, and shorter limbs. Their metabolism is slow and their body loves to store fat. 

Knowing our somatotype can be very helpful when trying to get healthy. 

My body just can’t keep a lot of muscle on it. Which is pretty frustrating as a personal trainer, but if I can embrace this I can work with my body better, becoming healthier and create a functional body where it thrives. Same with a mesomorphic body, being naturally muscular and athletic, that body’s training and nutritional needs will be different than ectomorphic and endomorphic bodies. Endomorphic bodies can also thrive, given the right energy needs it needs to lose body fat and gain muscle. 

Also, in terms of our nutritional choices our percentage of macronutrients will be different depending on your somatotype. 

Ectomorphs tolerate carbs well, so a higher carb, moderate protein, lower fat diet works best for them. Mesomorphs generally do best on a balanced mix distribution of carbs, protein, and fat, so the “Zone” diet -40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat- works well. Endomorphs generally do the best on a lower carb diet, so lowish carbs (25%), higher protein and fat works well for them.

Seven years ago, I tried low carb (under 100g of carbs), and being a Ectomorphic body type that needs a higher percentage of carbohydrates to function properly, the low carb diet completely messed up my thyroid function, whereas an endomorphic body may thrive on a keto diet as their carb needs are much less.

Being Precision Nutritional Level 1 Certified (Pn1), I can help guide you to discovering healthy food choices and appropriate exercises for your unique body type to thrive. Making lasting changes is hard, and that is where being Pn1 certified shines, their coaching model is the BEST for creating lasting behaviour changes to create the healthy body you want. 

What’s the best diet? Paleo? Vegan? Keto? Atkins? Zone? The list goes on…

I often answer “the best diet is the one that you can maintain long term.”

This is such a complex discussion. And really there is no right answer as to whether there is one diet that works for all people. Well….maybe one right answer: whole foods. Selecting most of the food you eat from whole sources, meaning minimally processed, feeds your body the nutrients it needs and keeps it healthy.

The reason that no one diet works for everyone is that people are diverse. Every body needs different macros (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) depending on several important aspects.

In the first chapter of the Precision Nutrition‘s “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” textbook for my Level 1 Certification I am currently enrolled in, it gives an excellent and explained overview of several ways that people are diverse. Allow me to paraphrase…

Body Type – some of us are tall and thin, some short and stocky, and some in between. The amount of calories you can eat per day depends on your body type. Taller and thinner people often can eat more calories, while shorter and stockier people often cannot.

Fitness Level – our activity level, plus what type of activity we do, governs the amount and type of food we need. Weight lifting requires more protein, long distance cardio requires more carbs, and sedentary lifestyles require less calories.

Dietary preferences and exclusions – we all have a vast range of likes and dislikes, plus allergies and restrictions due to health and/or religion.

Budget – healthy food often costs more. Strangely, the more a food is processed, the less it costs. I could never really figure that one out, perhaps because it has less real food in it (i.e. cellulose wood pulp, which is used as a filler in shredded cheese products).

Organic/Conventional – in terms of availability, not every region has organic produce or grass-fed beef.

Nutrition Knowledge And Diet History – our past experiences and knowledge governs our present thought systems concerning food. Also, I have noticed that many people think they eat healthy, but in reality, when I look at their food log/daily choices, it’s not so. We all come with different ideas on what eating “healthy” means.

Time – minimally processed, whole food often takes more time to plan and prep.

Ethnic Background And Heritage – the culture we live in dictates the food available around us.

Age – as we age, our metabolisms change (as we age we lose lean muscle mass, and the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you burn at rest). Also food intolerances and appetite change (I know I have gained several new allergies over the years). Even our digestive systems change with age.

Genetic polymorphism is fascinating. How nutrition and cellular interaction slightly varies depending on our unique gene expression. But regardless of our small differences, it’s important to note that nutrients from whole foods fundamentally change how our body works. And interestingly, nutrition can strongly influence our gene expression. Nutrigenomics is a new hot topic that is beyond my scope, but I am sure in a few years we will discover much more about the effects nutrients have on the expression of our individual genetic makeup.

There is so much that is in our control when it comes to our health. There are five statements from the Precision Nutrition text that I think are important to highlight:

  1. Good nutrition asks people to care about their food and eating. Just being mindful of what you are eating is a huge step to eating healthfully. I think that is why the MyFitnessPal app is so successful for people, it brings awareness to how much they are eating.
  2. Good nutrition focuses on food quality. All diets ask you to eat less processed, nutrient-depleted foods.
  3. 3. Good nutrition helps eliminate nutrient deficiencies. Eating whole foods increases the much needed nutrients your cells need to work properly.
  4. Good nutrition helps control appetite and food intake. Often healthy food takes longer to digest, helping us feel fuller for longer. Getting enough fibre from plant foods fills us up (and helps with being regular!)
  5. Good nutrition promotes regular exercise. When we start a diet, we often think about getting some exercise in too. Once we are consistent with exercise, we feel more energetic and strong.

Healthy Habits Are Hard to Keep When Stressed

I am a person who likes to get things done quickly. I develop a plan and stick to it, with 110% effort and enthusiasm. It’s been great for achieving goals. But sometimes I wonder, at what price?

As I age, I am noticing how setting my mind on a goal definitely can be beneficial, but with such rigid firmness comes drawbacks, especially depending on how much stress and friction it causes my life.

Stress. Looking up the word in the dictionary, there are multiple definitions, but two definitely stood out for me: 1) importance attached to a thing; and 2) the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another.

The importance to a “thing.” Hmmm, importance on things, don’t like that. “Pressure” and “force.” Another hmmm, just thinking those words invoke stress!

I was recently reading a Precision Nutrition blog post and I really liked Coach Craig Weller’s advice:

(Clients say) “I was doing great with my workouts but then this thing happened and I got stressed / overwhelmed / busy and I stopped.” Coach Craig explains that there’s a reason for this: It’s neurobiology. Research has found that stress literally changes the parts of your brain involved in decision making, pushing us away from goal-directed behavior (“I do this, I lose weight”) in the direction of habitual behavior (“Me tired, me stay on couch”). No amount of lecturing or motivating will break the cycle of a bad habit. (We need to) help clients out of their anxiety, and they’ll have a brain that’s capable of making goal-oriented decisions instead of habitual reactions.”

Interesting, eh? Do you remember a time when you had a goal, but then life got busy and work got stressful and you just didn’t have the mental power to stick with it? Or did you stick with your goal, but were just super grumpy about it all the time?

A good amount of stress is needed to propel us forward, however, too much stress has detrimental effects on our health. So what do we do about it?

Planning ahead for those busy phases in our lives can be helpful. Perhaps something in your schedule has to give until the busyness lowers to normal levels again.

Carving out a small amount of time per day for quiet seems counterproductive, but it can help us cope with stress. I enjoy waking up 30 minutes earlier than the rest of my family for solitude. I have an English Breakfast tea, with my adorable dog Sophie on my lap (when my 90lbs dog tries to sit on my lap, it’s a bit more of a distraction!), and I pray. Whether you make space for prayer, meditation, gentle yoga/stretching, a walk in nature, or reading an inspirational book—it doesn’t matter the activity—what matters most is your enjoyment.

In the ACE Personal Training manual, they devote an entire chapter on mind-body exercise. The ACE manual states “in its most unadulterated form, mind-body exercise is perhaps best characterized by low-to-moderate intensity physical activity performed with a meditative, proprioceptive, or sensory-awareness component.”Proprioception is the sensation and awareness of body position and its movements.

Any level of physical activity can be mind-body, but less intense may provide a preferable platform for cognitive benefits. As the ACE manual states “mind-body exercise can also be described simply as physical exercise executed with a profound inward mental focus”. Yup, that sums it up nicely.

Studies are suggesting that this kind of exercise changes our normal stressful patterns in our brains. Certain muscle-brain pathways carry sensory information from the muscle and joints to a variety of thalamic (regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness), limbic (emotion centre), cortical (meaningful perceptual experience of the world) structures in the brain, which form a body-mind conduit, which directly connects muscular activity to the mechanisms of perception and cognition.

The ACE manual states “figure 13-2 depicts the fundamental neuroendocrine ‘mind-body’ interactions involved with meditative and breathwork activities. Two key hormones of behaviour CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone) and ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormones) inextricably bond brain (hypothalamus and higher brain centres) and body (pituitary and adrenal glands) together and play an extensive role in mind-body visceral and cognitive responses. This hypothalamus-pituitary CRH interface is truly the consummate ‘mind-body connection.”

Pretty cool stuff eh? So mind-body exercise can reduce your stress levels in your brain and positively change the way you think.

I teach functional yoga flow. I don’t think of yoga as a spiritual endeavor; it’s just a low to moderate intensity form of physical activity. Yoga is simply body movements linked with mindful breath. I am so fortunate to see the results of its de-stressing properties in my students. At the end of every class all the students have relaxed grins, rosy cheeks, and calm, limber, restful bodies.

But if yoga isn’t your cup of tea, it is not the only option. A walk in nature. Easy stretching. Light bike ride. Strolling on the beach while watching the waves roll in. All have the same effects.

So to keep on track with our health goals we need to be less stressed. To become less stressed means making plans ahead of time to reduce stress when it arises. Even though it seems we don’t have time for those de-stressing activities, it’s actually the opposite, and we need those de-stressing activities to make us more productive in our day to day duties.

Strengthening Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles is integral to keeping your shoulder joint strong and injury free. For a detailed description of what causes shoulder impingement, please visit my blog post on that topic here.

The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles. The supraspinatus is the topmost muscle. It lays across the top of the scapula (shoulder blade). The muscles (laying posteriorly – the closest to the skin) are the teres minor and the infraspinatus. The muscle under the scapula (laying anteriorly) is the subscapularis.

The supraspinatus, along with the deltoid, abducts (lifts up from the side) the arm. The teres minor and infraspinatus externally rotates the arm. The subscapularis internally rotates the arm.

The rotator cuff muscle that gets most injured is the supraspinatus. The muscle I strained was my left supraspinatus.

rounded shoulders = winged scapula

Our rounded shoulders are the main reason we injure our rotator cuff muscles. Most of us have desk jobs in which we sit in a rounded forward posture. This posture causes tight and shortened pectorals (chest) muscles and lengthened upper back muscles. When muscles stay in an abnormally lengthened position, they become inactivated and weak, often leading to an injury when worked. Also, when the muscles around our scapula (the rotator cuff muscles) do not hold our scapula hugging close to our back, this causes them to wing out, which puts stress on the entire scapulothoracic joint, as well as the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint), which also can lead to an injury.

Retract and depress = winging disappears

So to combat this default posture the exercise I suggest is to retract and depress your shoulders, also called “packing your shoulders”. To do this contract your muscles in your upper back to bring your shoulder blades together towards your spine. Along with that movement press your shoulders down. This will slide your shoulder blades down your back. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat. I recommend doing this exercise 3 times, holding 10 seconds each. Work up to holding for longer time frames and repeating this sequence often during the day. Every time you carry anything, use this movement to keep your scapulothoracic joint stable.

To strengthen your external and internal rotators of the arm these next two exercises are very important. To work the teres minor and infraspinatus we need to perform external rotation: fasten tubing to a doorknob or other stationary object, lock your 90 degree flexed elbow into your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”, slowly rotate your arm outward, pause for 1 second, and then slowly come back to starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

To work the subscapularis perform internal rotation. The movement is reversed, as the force on the arm is coming from the opposite side. Start with your 90 degree flexed elbow hugging into your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”. Slowly internally rotate your arm into the midline of your body, hold for 1 second, and slowly release back to starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

I recommend two lateral raise exercises that will help strengthen the supraspinatus, which is the muscle out of the four that gets injured the most. Performing a lateral raise that is 30 degrees forward of the side works the supraspinatus the best and keeps your scapula hugging on your back. Start with your arms at your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”. Slowly raise your hands, slightly in front of you, thumbs up. Hold 1 second in the up position, and then slowly lower hands. Repeat 10-12 reps, 3 sets.

The next lateral raise is called scaption. With hands starting in front of you and making sure your shoulders are “packed”, raise your hands up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and depressing your shoulders even more when at the up position. Hold for 1 second and slowly lower your arms.

Another scaption exercise is called Y to W exercise. Lay your torso over a stability ball, with hands by the floor. With your shoulders packed, lift your arms into a Y position, slowly move to the W position, squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back. Hold for 1 second, and slowly lower your arms. Repeat 10-12 reps, 3 sets.

The last exercise I suggest for the rotator cuff is the prone cobra. This exercise also works your erector spinae muscles (your back extensors, which is part of your core). Lie prone on a mat. Make sure your legs stay in a neutral active position, meaning toes and knees are pointing straight down and the legs are neither internally or externally rotating. Pack your shoulders and lift your torso off the floor, making sure you keep your blades squeezing together and down. Tuck your chin in slightly. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly lower. Repeat 10 reps, 3 sets.

Shoulder Impingement Injury

Up until recently I was weight training 5 days a week. Using the body split training method. A typical workout week would consist of 75 minute training sessions broken down by body part, like this: Monday: shoulders and abs, Tuesday: legs, Wednesday: chest and triceps, Thursday: back and biceps, Friday: legs. I performed approximately 4 exercises per body part, 3 sets of 6-12 reps, going to failure every time (meaning: you lift weight heavy enough that when you get to the last rep you can’t lift it with proper form – please note then you don’t lift it, because you should only lift with proper form). In addition, I was running 25 minute sprints and participating in 1-2 spinning classes a week. My cardio was mainly high intensity every time.

This is the popular bodybuilding workout plan. I think it’s been the most used model for building muscle for years and years (since the 70s). Because I was so focused on studying for the NASM CPT exam, I didn’t have time to properly develop my own periodization program, and I was just following someone else’s. Speaking of studying, that wasn’t helping either as I would train hard at the gym, not have time to stretch, come home and cook healthy meals for myself and my family, and then hunker down on the sofa and study. I was in a slouch position for the rest of the day.

Needless to say, it was an overtraining injury waiting to happen. And it did. In August, two weeks before my exam I noticed a tight, uncomfortable muscle in my left upper back area. It would come and go, so often I would just massage it a bit and it would be fine. A couple days before my exam it decided to stay uncomfortable all the time, like waking up with a knot in your lower neck area. And then the day of my exam, it rebelled.

The supraspinatus muscle is part of the rotator cuff family. It lies above the scapula spine (top of your shoulder blade) and attaches, along with another rotator cuff muscle, on the head of the humerus (upper arm bone that inserts into your shoulder joint). And mine was so irritated it caused shoulder impingement. Ouch!

My NASM Corrective Exercise textbook writes: “Shoulder impingement syndrome (SAIS) is a common diagnosis broadly defined as compression of the structures that run beneath the coracoacromial arch, most often from a decrease in the subacromial space. The impinged structures include the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons, the subacromial bursa, and the long head of the biceps tendon. Repetitive compression of these structures with the overhead motions required of many sports and activities of daily living can lead to irritation and inflammation”.

Wow, you never really know how often you move your arm until your shoulder goes, and then every single moment and breath causes pain.

First thing to do is RICE. Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. That ice felt soooo good. And it helped immensely. I knew I had to keep the shoulder mobile, so I would gently move my arm through the pain.

It took about a week for the intense pain to subside, but it eventually did. And during that time, I reflected on what went wrong. I do what I do best: I researched 🙂

I assumed my age had some responsibility for the injury. In Dr. Nicholas DiNubile’s book Framework for the Shoulder he writes “the wear and tear on body parts and the changes in tissue composition as time marches on. Friction takes it toil and collagen loses elasticity, so most adults over the age of 40 have rotator cuffs that have already started fraying.”

I know my studying posture didn’t help either. I would often be bent over my book, causing my front chest muscles to passively shorten, and my upper back muscles to excessively lengthen. Put in this lengthening position too long, my back muscles had a harder time activating and thus developed a weakness.

Around the same time, I came across a short Joe Rogan youtube video. In it Rogan’s guest, Firas Zahabi, talks about training consistency over intensity. He explains how training less intense—not lifting to failure—helps your body recover faster and so in turn you can train more often. He speaks against beating up your body every single time you are at the gym.

That fueled me to research more. And up comes the topic of periodization. “Killing it” (intense lifting for strength) in the gym definitely has its place. However, it needs to be developed and built around a properly designed periodization plan. Training at that intensity shouldn’t last more than 4 weeks. After that time, a recovery phase needs to happen, so your body can build and repair. Funny thing, I know this. I have known this for 20 years. And for my clients, I always plan for this. But for myself, I love to train hard, and so I was mindlessly following what is popular in the bodybuilding world.

A very popular trainer, Jay Ferruggia, who specializes in increasing men’s muscle size, writes often that the key to success is to train less (3-4x a week), and not always to failure. He writes “there are 7 main reasons people fail to get results: 1) no progressive overload, 2) using the wrong exercises, 3) too much volume—too many sets and reps, 4) too much cardio, 5) too much intensity—always training to failure, 6) low carb diets, 7) not enough rest and recovery”.

Now that my exam is finished I developed a better plan. I am currently on a 3x week weight training schedule, using complexes and large compound moves with upper/lower body super sets. I don’t train to failure each set, but almost to failure—where I stop when I feel like I have 2 more in the tank. I am working hard, smart, and still sweating puddles. I am amazed at the results! My goal is to increase muscle size (I am tall and skinny by God’s design, so for me to increase too much muscle is impossible), while maintaining or slightly losing my body fat percentage. I feel stronger and more muscular, and a surprising benefit is my core looks flatter and stronger. I love running, so I have kept running 30 minutes 2x week on my off days. For the rest of my cardio time, I walk for about one hour a day. I had to dial in my nutrition a bit more than I had to before. I notice keeping my calories slightly under 2000 is best, focusing on getting 25% protein, 50%-55% carbs, and the rest healthy fats (25%). My supraspinatus still bugs me a little, and I am focusing on building strength and activation in my rotator cuff muscles. I will write a post soon on what exercises I am using to build that.

Strong & Sculpted Book Review

The author Brad Schoenfeld is a legend. He has been in the fitness industry for at least 20 years. When he was a personal trainer, back in the 90s, he classified himself as a “rogue scientist”, experimenting with various exercise routines and variables. After writing the highly successful book in 1998 called Sculpting Her Body Perfect  he went back to university and earned a master’s degree in kinesiology and a PhD focused on applied exercise science. He is now a professor in exercise science, internationally renowned fitness expert, and leading authority on body composition training. He leads a lab that executes controlled studies on what he calls “strategies for optimizing body composition” and has authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Now that is a pretty impressive resume! I knew it was a respected book because it was published by Human Kinetics, the biggest and best publishing company in the health and fitness industry. I can always trust a book to be good, honest, have reliable content with the Human Kinetics’s name on it.

Strong and Sculpted: the Total Body Training Program for Shaping Your Ultimate Physique consists of 215 pages, the bulk of it being colour exercise photos with detailed descriptions of the various strength training exercises. The layout is simple and clear and the program is easy to follow. It is definitely a book for all levels of fitness enthusiasts and gives the basics necessary for success.

The book begins with the breakdown of Schoenfeld’s training philosophy. It is informative, yet short. Next he details his Strong and Sculpted program, going through how to apply volume, frequency, load, exercise selection, intensity, and rest.

The meat of the book are the exercises. I really like the way Schoenfeld organized the sections by muscle grouping, which makes it super easy to pick and choose exercises to use for his program. Also, organizing this way gives huge variety in choice of exercises per body part.

Next Schoenfeld explains his program, beginning with the Break-In phase, continuing with the Basic Training phase, moving on to the Advanced Body-Sculpting phase, and finishing with the Peak Physique phase. He concludes with a couple of pages explaining cardio.

His program is based on a undulating periodization model. I have trained using linear/traditional periodization before, but this was my first time trying a nonlinear/undulating program.

According to NASM 6th edition Essentials of Personal Fitness Training textbook periodization is “a systematic approach to program design that uses the general adaptation syndrome and principle of specificity to vary amount and type of stress placed on the body to produce adaptation and prevent injury.” Basically, this means that a periodization program varies the focus of training at regularly planned periods of time to keep your body working to its full potential.

The linear model consists of a large overall plan, called a macrocycle, traditionally within the scope of one year, though I often see offerings of 3-month linear model periodization plans. Within the macrocycle are mesocycles, which are smaller plans normally broken up into 1 month/4 week blocks. Within each month there are weekly mini plans, called microcycles.  Within each mesocycle there is a one constant training variable. For example, one month the focus is on gaining maximum strength, next month power, next month speed, and then having a month to recover and rest. With linear periodization plans often there is a goal, like a competition or track meet, which would be scheduled at the end of the speed/power training month, and right before the much needed light rest month.

The undulating/nonlinear model varies the variables within each given month/week. For example, in the Strong and Sculpted program, a 2-week period starts with training days that work on maximal strength. The training days then switch to working with moderate weight (hypertrophy), and then to performing several endurance (light) strength workouts. Finally the plan goes back to heavy strength and repeats.

I tried a 2-week training period within the Advanced Body Sculpting program. The first two workouts were training for maximum strength: one upper body workout and one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. I loved training heavy. Maximum strength is not something I normally train for, lifting so heavy I can only lift 5-6 reps of the weight. And boy, I definitely recruited new muscle fibres because I felt it for days afterward! The middle part of the 2-week undulating plan was lifting moderate weight (hypertrophy), which is what I normally train for. Lifting with moderate weight should fatigue the muscle within 8-12 reps. One upper body workout, one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. Next, is endurance lifting, which consists of higher reps, (12-20 reps) using lower weight. I am not a big fan of endurance training, so I found that part of the program very boring. When I train for endurance, I usually add that element into my hypertrophy session, often doing a super set (performing two exercises for the same muscle back to back without rest).

When following this program, I strongly recommend adding a solid stretching program. In this book there is little mention of flexibility and it contains absolutely no stretching exercises within it’s program. Schoenfeld gives the topic of stretching one page of space in his entire book, and he mainly focuses on why not to perform pre-exercise stretches. Within that one page he does explain the current research very well. However, I do disagree with this statement from the book: “contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to include a stretching component to your regular routine”. I disagree, from the education I have received, from my own experience, and the experience of my clients.

Flexibility, the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow full range of motion of a joint, is hugely important in terms of functional daily living, moving pain-free, and not forming dysfunctional movement patterns around a joint leading to injures (something I am super passionate about, future post!).

If you follow the Strong and Sculpted program, please stretch your tight muscles before a workout (after your cardio warmup), these are the muscles you know that give you problems as its important to “inhibit” them so your weaker muscles can have a chance to work. Also, stretching will improve your joint’s range of motion before you work the muscles around those joints when lifting weights, resulting in better form leading to less injury, but again, only if that specific joint is tight. Better yet, ask a knowledgable, skilled trainer to give you an postural assessment, anyone certified with ACE NASM would know which assessments to perform. As for your warm-up, use your whole body by performing light to moderate cardio or dynamic stretching exercises (future post!). And after your workout, PLEASE stretch the muscles you have worked, your body will thank you.

So while I only performed the program for two weeks and ended up going back to my much loved Jamie Easonprogram, I enjoyed trying out the Strong and Sculpted training plan. I do think this undulating periodization program definitely has merit, especially to avoid burnout, overtraining, and injuries. I recommend this book to anyone looking to start a solid weight training program, you are in good hands with this reliable strength training program. Most of the exercises need to be performed in a gym, using machines, cables, and dumbbells.

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Low Carb Shepherd’s Pie

This dish is one of my family’s faves. Months ago, I was logging my macros on my My Fitness Pal app and I came across a mouthwatering video on how to make a low carb shepherd’s pie. Presently, I can’t find a link to the video, but I found the original recipe here.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine are sometimes adverse to vegetables, and trust me, because their mother is a health nut those poor kids are given a LOT of vegetables. The first time I made this recipe I forgot to tell them that the top was made from cauliflower, and the funny thing is they didn’t even know the cauliflower mash wasn’t potatoes!

For the first several times making this I followed the recipe exactly as it states on the My Fitness Pal website, but I didn’t care for the flavour combos. In the end I replaced the bison with extra lean ground beef, because while I would LOVE to always use bison in this recipe, I just can’t afford it at this time. I experimented and came up with a recipe that better fits my family’s taste buds and wallet.

I added more beef to “beef” up the protein grams, I omitted the oil and instead used water for sautéing to lower the fat grams (beef is fat enough IMO), I added frozen sweet peas (a must for shepherd’s pie!), and I took out the other spices and simply added garlic powder, because what doesn’t garlic powder taste good in??

For Cauliflower Mash:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt

For Meat Filling:

  • 20oz extra lean ground beef
  • 12 cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For Cashew Cheese:

  • 0.5 cup cashews
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 0.5 tsp sea salt

Additional Topping:

  • 1 tsp dried parsley


Preheat oven 400F

For the cauliflower mash:

Cut and wash head of cauliflower and add to steamer. Steam for ten minutes. Add to food processor, along with 1 tbsp avocado oil and 1 tsp salt. Process until creamy.

For the meat filling:

Add ground beef and 1/2 cup water to pot. Saute until cooked through. Add chopped onion and carrots, cook for another 5 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and frozen peas, cook for another 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 6oz can tomato paste, and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and cook until warmed through.

Pour meat filling into 8.5×11″ baking dish and spread. Add the cauliflower mash on top and spread smooth.

For cashew cheese:

Put 0.5 cup cashews, 1 garlic clove, 0.5 tsp sea salt into a small food processor. Chop mixture until it looks like parmesan cheese.

Sprinkle 2 tbsp cashew cheese on top, along with 1 tsp dried parsley.

Place in the middle rack on oven and cook for 30 minutes. Let pie cool for ten minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings. 1 serving: 241 calories, 17g carbs, 11g fat, 19g protein.

BMR, and Why It’s Important

I am at that age (early 40s) where I have many family members and friends trying to lose weight. It’s definitely tough for us to stay slim as we age. One of the main reasons is that we have been steadily losing precious muscle since our early 30s. It’s called sarcopenia. On average, physically inactive people lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade, my 6th edition NASM textbook states 5% per decade. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Your amount of muscle mass pretty much dictates your BMR.

Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy expended while at rest. Your muscles burn more calories in order to function, meaning the more muscle mass you have the more energy (calories) your body burns. Pretty cool, eh?

So as we age, it’s important that we exercise. Walking and light aerobics are great for our cardiovascular health (which lengthens our life expectancy), plus it will burn a little extra calories. However, it’s only when we add strength exercises that work our muscles that builds muscle on our bones. Strength training is what changes our body composition— the ratio of lean mass vs our fat mass on our bodies.

Another important factor is our TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). 

Your TDEE is the overall number of calories your body uses on a daily basis, and it’s based on your BMR plus your activity level throughout the day. So gardening, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking the dog, parking the car farther than usual, and intentional exercise (like going for a run, strength training, HITT class) helps increase your TDEE.

Then there are our food choices. While it’s true that a calorie is a calorie, it’s not that simple. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expended above BMR as a result of the processing of food (digestion) for storage and use. Protein uses more energy (calories) to digest than the other macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, alcohol). And while fat doesn’t use the same amount of energy to digest, it doesn’t spike insulin levels, which studies show is an important factor to the weight debate.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted from your pancreas in response to two macromolecules: glucose (from carbohydrates) and protein. Insulin takes sugar from the bloodstream and helps it enter the cells to be used for energy or to be stored. It also stops glucose from being released by the liver into the bloodstream.

The rate at which ingested carbohydrate raise blood sugar and its accompanying effect on insulin release is referred to as the glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrates are not all equal, they come in different forms: simple sugars (honey, table sugar), starches (oats, whole grains, yams with skin), and cellulose (fibre from the skins of fruits and veggies). When your body consumes too many high glycemic carbohydrates (note: this can also happen when you consume too many calories too many times), insulin spikes trying to stop the influx of sugar in the blood and so puts glucose (energy) into all cells, including your fat cells. This means that if you eat a meal that is high in simple sugars (processed food) your body pumps out insulin in response to hold onto the energy and store it for later. We don’t want that energy stored in our fat cells (making them bigger!) and we definitely don’t want it stored abundantly on our tummy, hips, and thighs!

I was recently listening to a great talk with Gary Taubes and Dr. Mark Hyman. Taubes is the author of The Case Against Sugar. He says that we weren’t designed to eat the amount of sugar we typically consume. His theory is that the overconsumption of sugar is why over the past 100 years people have been getting fatter. It has something to do with the insulin production in our bodies, making it hard for us to lose weight even though we are watching what we eat. About 1 in 3 people in the USA are prediabetic. Taubes highlighted an interesting observation I didn’t connect before: type 1 diabetics (people who don’t produce insulin at all) are very thin even though they eat a lot of food, even 10,000 calories or more, because it’s the insulin production that stores the energy into our fat cells, of which they don’t have any. Type 2 diabetics (those who over the years produced too much insulin and their bodies have become resistant to it) are overweight and have a difficult time losing weight, no matter what they do. He explains that many of us, perhaps even 50%, are genetically unable to eat the amount of sugar we do, which would explain our weight loss troubles.

This is a very complex topic, I have tried to just touch upon the main takeaways. And really what I have presented here only touches the surface of the findings from new research, as health professionals try to figure out what is causing so many people to struggle with their extra weight. But I think we are getting close, which is exciting, and more studies on the effects of insulin may be the key.

Here are some simple things to try:

Strength train 2-3 times a week to build muscle mass. Start with bodyweight exercises first, and then when it starts to feel easy add hand weights to your program. Even better: join a gym and use heavier weights and machines. If you are a woman, please don’t worry about “bulking” up, I try to lift heavy (for example I shoulder press 20lbs for 12 reps) and I find I get thinner, not bulkier.

Cut out processed sugar from your diet. This one is tough, I know! However, eliminating all added sugar will help your weight loss goals abundantly. One of my daughters struggles with insulin resistance, which is the precursor to prediabetes. We cut out sugar last year, and she naturally lost weight and gained more energy, but we think she will always need to watch her sugar intake to stay healthy.

Eat more protein (on average: 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight). This helps keep the muscle you already have, as well as adding more if you begin to strength train. David Heber MD, PhD gives an amazing talk on Doctor’s Farmacy about our need of protein. Note: you cannot gain more muscle if you don’t strength train.

Fill up on veggies. Having 50% veggies on your plate for lunch and dinner helps with a feeling of satiety and adds much needed fiber and micronutrients (vitamins).

Have a small, no/low sugar treat every day. This may seem counterintuitive when dieting but having just a little yummy goodie keeps the cravings at bay. If I don’t have my four squares of dark chocolate a day, I will cheat BIG time later on.

And lastly, this is one I suggest all the time: log your food intake. Doing this gives you an idea on what you are eating and how much. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Step 1: weight (lbs) x 10 = BMR

Step 2: BMR x activity factor = TEE . Daily activity factor: very light 1.2 (desk job, not exercising), low active 1.5-1.6 (desk job, light exercise), active 1.6-1.7 (desk job, exercises most days of the week), heavy 1.9-2.1 (physical labour, athlete, vigorous exercise). Example: I weigh 128lbs. 128×10= 1280 calories is my BMR. 1280×1.6= 2048 calories. Which is exactly how many calories I consume daily to maintain my current weight.