Category Archives: Workout

Exercise Intensity: the cult of sweat

Teaching more group classes I notice January can bring more people into the gym in developing a new habit of exercise. Exercise is a lifelong habit I believe in wholeheartedly. Last week I came to the conclusion I have a passion for exercise and physical education that can be humorously described as belonging to the ‘cult of sweat’.

There seems to be a general trend to ‘high intensity’ exercise which led me to look further at the research and various programs that are widely available. It seems the concept that short, high intensity interval workouts produced more ‘results’ of fat loss has been accepted as a most effective workout to achieve an ideal body composition and overall fitness.

‘High intensity’ exercises require you to utilize most major muscle groups of your body and some of the movements can be complex compound movements. For example, a ‘burpee’ requires a pushup, squat, moving into a plank, jump to a squat and vertical jump. Many new and seasoned exercisers need work to improve any of the above mentioned movements and the emphasis on ‘intensity’ allows for poorly executed movements.

There is no magic bullet to being fit and healthy. It requires commitment and regular practice to have exercise as a part of your lifestyle. Being fit, which I will define as being able to perform a variety of physical activities and movements requires BOTH cardio vascular and strength training. HIIT workouts can only be performed well once you have the fitness to sustain physical activity at a higher heart rate AND have developed the basic strength movement skills of squats, planks, pushups, lunges, etc.

Make it your goal to keep yourself healthy and moving well with a variety of exercise you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy exercise, you still need to move regularly to be healthy and maybe one day you will enjoy it.

Yoga is a Work In (continual practice)

I practice some form of yoga for at least a few minutes every day. Any time that you bring awareness to your breathing, your body and the present moment is yoga-connecting with yourself. I view yoga as a work in continual practice, as opposed to a work out.

A work out consists of physical activity that rhythmically moves the body, works the muscles and can elevate the heart rate as the pace of breathing increases-energy moves outwardly as fuel within the body is mobilized and utilized. Yoga consists of postures to be held with focus, even while moving and flowing from one posture to the another-energy is directed inwardly in order focus and be mindful. If your body is a vehicle of sorts, exercise and workouts are like running your car and yoga or other forms of mindful movement is a tune up to ensure that whole system is running smoothly.

Practicing yoga can improve your body and your health, but it is not a work out. Consider it a work in continual practice of tuning into the wisdom your body, so you can watch the benefits unfold. Join me outdoors or at the gym for a work out.


Fire up your glutes with bridges for a better butt

Everyone would want a backside strong enough to bounce quarters from. A butt of the firmness to bounce items from requires some specific hard work, a belief I have held for my entire career as a personal trainer. I fancy myself to be an expert of sorts on building butts, as I built up my own from a ‘flat butt’ (as my sister said to me as a teenager). Which strength training exercises are best for training the glutes effectively? For the record, leg lifts have never been on my list to build a great butt, although I do love the look of 80s workout clothes and rock 80s looks whenever possible. Variations of squats and lunges performed with great form is what builds firm behinds. I polled several highly experienced trainers on their top exercises for training glutes and found a clear divide between unilateral and bilateral exercises, which boils down to lunges or squats. Both exercises are important, however, the first priority is ensuring that the muscle fibres of the glutes are active prior to performing squats and lunges.

When a person performs a squat or lunge the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes work together synergistically to produce the movement. Each person will recruit a slightly different percentage of quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes depending on their posture, the patterning and conditioning of their muscles. The key is to determine which muscle group is dominant in your body, and the question to ask is where do I typically feel sore after a tough leg workout? Your answer of quads, hamstrings or glutes will give you a likely picture of which muscle group is dominant in your body. If the answer is quads or hamstrings, and/or if there is any issue of imbalance in the pelvis it is important to perform the following bridge exercises prior to a leg workout. The exercises are listed in order of progression. Once an exercise feels relatively easy at 15 reps, you can move onto the next exercise.


Check your glute, hamstring and low back activation with the basic bridge

Check your glute, hamstring and low back activation with the basic bridge

The basic bridge: is performed lying on a mat with the feet planted on the floor hip width apart and the knees at about 90 degrees flexed. Pushing through the feet, the hips are lifted until the legs form a long line with the torso. Perform 15 reps and note which areas of the body feel work from the exercise.


Single leg bridge with external rotation, maintain hips at an even level throughout the movement

Single leg bridge with external rotation, maintain hips at an even level throughout the movement

Single Leg Bridge with external rotation: is performed lying on a mat, starting with feet hip width distance apart then crossing one leg and resting the ankle just above the other knee. Keeping hips at an even level, lift hips up until the supporting leg is in line with the torso. Perform 10-15 reps each side and note any differences in stability, ability to keep the hips even, ease of movement and the sensation of work in each hip.



SIngle leg bridge with extended leg, keep the hips and thighs in the same alignment throughout the movement

SIngle leg bridge with extended leg, keep the hips and thighs in the same alignment throughout the movement

Single leg bridge, with leg extended: is performed by lying on a mat with the feet hip distance apart, then extending one leg so that the thigh is held at the same level as the leg on the ground. Keeping the extended leg in line with the leg on the ground throughout the movement, lift hips up while keeping the hips at an even level. Perform 10-15 reps each leg. Notice differences in stability and fatigue between the hips, which will help you understand the co-ordinated performance of your core and hips.

The bridge exercises above can always be made even more challenging by placing the feet on a BOSU or stability ball.

Ps. My perennial top exercise for training the glutes is walking lunges. The bridge exercises above performed prior to walking lunges is certain to fire up your glutes!





An Indo Row inspired workout

I tried an Indo Row class for the first time summer 2010, really enjoyed the experience and brought a rower home thereafter. We have a water rower at our studio in Toronto and some challenging workouts can be created. Challenging workouts that energize you are part of making life good. Here is the my most recent workout on the water rower:

Your Edge, Your Threshold

A client at our gym recently asked me if I had ever made anyone throw up during a workout, as he was on the verge. I shared that I have been on the verge of being ill on many occasions during a workout and the art of being a good trainer is bringing people to that edge threshold. All effective workout programs that exist to improve fitness and produce the result of a stronger, leaner body requires the hard work of reaching your edge, your threshold. The question is finding the right program for you at the moment, so you can reach your potential, your edge and your threshold today. Even better when working out hard is made fun, educational, interesting or enjoyable-this is where all the great fitness professionals in the world can help you. I have worked with so many amazing professionals in my career that have taken me to my edge, past my current threshold and as a result, I continually expand my physical learning.

Working out to your threshold needs to be balanced with easy physical activities and adequate relaxation. Once we get going on an exercise program, it is easy to get into the mindset that more is better. Balance is best. Being consistently active is the health priority, workouts where you put in your maximal, best effort are important, and so is enjoying life and the physical activities you choose…Making Life Good.



The Italian Lean Program

The Italian Lean Program the fun name I gave to one of the most interesting workout and lifestyle programs I have tried in my career so far. Just before departing for Italy, my body fat was tested by exercise coach Adriano Martorano at Kx Yorkville I learned of some lifestyle issues to address such as sleep and minor nutrient deficiencies through Biosignature at Kx. This body fat test correlates with the hormonal profile of your body. Learning of possible hormone imbalances through fat storage patterns in my body was very motivating, especially since I was provided with strategies to improve my health. Following Adriano’s lifestyle and targeted supplementation advice held the promise of a leaner body for me. Adriano would know, as he is an exceptionally experienced coach, practices what he preaches and is in unbelievable shape. However, he suggested I start the program after my trip…I took that as a challenge, so we made a friendly wager at Kx on my returning from Italy leaner.

Even with my professional pride on the line, my love for food came first, so I could not comply with the strict dietary discipline that was suggested for the two week period. Actually, I preferred to eat clotted cream, pasta, gelato and anything else that struck my fancy. Having multiple servings of green veggies, fruit, increasing my protein intake, taking fish oil, working out and sleeping well was the extent of lifestyle discipline I could adhere to. Prosecco, cocktails, pasta, pizza, panforte, cheese, gelato and other Italian treats were all on the menu to be enjoyed.

A few days into the trip, it was time for me to put my fitness trainer skills to creative use. There was a vineyard close to where we were and I knew at first glance it was the perfect locale for hill sprint repeats-and was it ever! It was a 45 second hill where I felt that even if an animal were chasing me, I could not move any faster. Then, I designed some 20 minute strength workouts for the upper and lower body separately. Here is the workout:

Leisure time, yoga and meditation by the swimming pool were also on the list.

Poolside fun required-

Poolside fun required for the Italian Lean Program

I am exceptionally happy to report that I dropped 1.5% body fat upon my return from Italy where I ate pasta and gelato daily! This is the ultimate Making Life Good achievement, as I truly enjoyed being active outdoors, shared fabulous Italian food while becoming stronger and leaner! Making Life Good recommends the Biosignature program at Kx Yorkville-could anything be better than becoming leaner, stronger and healthier while enjoying life to the fullest extent in Italy?


Top 5 Moves to Transform Your Butt

I have built muscle and transformed my own butt and many others over the course of my career as a fitness trainer so far. Thank you to my sister for making fun of me and lighting the fire under my butt as a teenager. Here is my list of perennial favourite, super effective moves for transforming your butt in time for spring:

1. Running stairs or hill sprints (walk if that’s more comfortable for your body- still highly beneficial)

2. Walking lunges. This is my go-to exercise, as it is the best for working your glutes, hamstrings, quads and co-ordination synergistically with the undeniable results of a well shaped butt. Walking lunges uphill are a tough workout when the right hill presents itself, meaning a not too steep hill.

Vivian Law butt workout

Uphill training, combined with walking lunges!

3. Squats in any variation. Once you learn to perform squats with good technique, all the different variations confer the benefit of training your core, quads, glutes and hamstrings all at once.

Basic weighted squats can be done anywhere...

Basic weighted squats can be done anywhere…

4. Bridge position, static, or moving reps with or without the stability ball. The bridge position/posture requires the lower back, glutes and hamstrings to work together to hold the position. Holding the posture builds isometric strength and  moving reps with feet on the floor or on a stability ball builds isotonic strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Both types of muscular strength are needed for highly functional and well developed muscles.

5. Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II posture borrowed from yoga practice is a great addition to any strength training routine for the legs. This posture builds strength and flexibility simultaneously in the glutes, hamstrings and quads in addition to inner strength, flexibility and relaxation.




The Bond Workout

Daniel Craig as agent 007 James Bond has been a physical fitness inspiration to me since Casino Royale. I like the concept that mental and physical fitness is referenced in the book by Ian Fleming-‘Bond was determined to be completely fit and relaxed…’  Bond has lunch, sits by the window gazing out at the sea as he awaits the massage he ordered. Those are some really good relaxation techniques that he uses…Granted, he is getting ready for a long night of gambling-a performance that requires mental and physical strength, agility and relaxation.

We can take the philosophy of having a balance of mental and physical strength, agility and relaxation and apply it to handling our daily lives even when we are not fictional secret killer agents. We had a lot of fun looking into and testing a Bond inspired workout at our studio recently, here is the workout if you would like to try it:

Ps. It is challenging and the Indo Row water rower is the icing on the cake for this workout

12 Minute Walk/Run Workout

The 12 minute run is a classic fitness test devised in 1968 by Dr Ken Cooper to measure aerobic fitness. A person simply walks or runs as far as he or she can in 12 minutes and the distance is recorded.

The 12 minute run is actually a simple workout that can be used on a regular basis. If you are able to run-you run as many laps as you can on a track or use a treadmill to record the distance you complete in 12 minutes time. If running does not work for you, then walking as far as you can in 12 minutes is also very effective. The key is to push yourself to a point where you feel out of breath and cannot really talk.

I have found the 12 minute run to be an effective way to get me on a treadmill lately, as I have needed motivation to get on a treadmill (I much prefer outdoors). 12 minutes is a short enough time to talk yourself into exercising when you may not feel like it. Once you get going, you may feel like competing with yourself to match or surpass your previous distance. The 12 minute run is a great way to watch yourself improve with the distance you can cover in that time. Give this workout a try-you most certainly can find 12 minutes to get active!

Physical Activity Experiences of 2012

2012 has been a outstanding year of physical activity experiences for me. I became more interested in the practice of yoga, which has been an amazing journey so far. And I have had the privilege to be fit everyday in some inspiring locales this year. In no particular order of importance some of my favourite moments of being active:

Yoga Practice: I practiced yoga with quite a few different teachers in many different settings this year. Restorative yoga has been particularly transformative for my well being in every way.  Learning from Alyssa Cohen on the south coast of Jamaica at Jakes was a very special time. The entire journey has been a hugely beneficial experience in helping me integrate body, mind, spirit and fitness.

Yoga at Jakes

Yoga at Jakes

Hiking Diamond Head: Much like Oahu itself, this hike is the perfect blend of nature in the big city. The views at the top are fantastic and getting there requires a slightly scary run through a dark tunnel…

Running to Kailua Point: There is nothing better than a run that takes about 12 minutes and stopping for a breathtaking view to meditate on.

View from Kailua Point

View from Kailua Point

San Francisco Waterfront Run: This was the ultimate food tour combined with a run. Imagine my delight to find TCHO chocolate available in Toronto after I discovered it through seeing an arrow that said chocolate during my run and stopping for a sample.

Family walk in Hong Kong: A great uphill walk that my brother Matt (also a physical educator) and I took our family on was such a great way to enjoy Hong Kong, physical activity and family time all at once.

Hormone Fat Loss with Steve Elvins: Training with Steve was a great learning experience. Hormone Fat Loss is a special program that truly targets fat loss through specific testing, prescription of training and nutrition protocol that is extremely effective. A must try if you are looking to lose fat, contact us for details.

Shock Wave by IndoRow: Shock Wave is a super fun circuit type group fitness class that uses the water rowers as a cardio station. I was fortunate enough to be a participant in its debut in Canada. The inclusive, team building atmosphere combined with a fun and effective workout is sure to reach a wider audience.

IndoRow: I took an IndoRow class again this year at Can Fit Pro and the magic of being on a team, competing together and with yourself is still great fun in a workout.

Cycle Class: I make time to attend a cycle class at least once a week when I’m in Toronto with Vlad or Ting at Extreme Fitness. I cannot tell you how long they have taught fitness classes to me. It has been many years and I still love their classes for their energy, music and motivation.

Pole Class: A friend had recommended pole class as the perfect accompaniment to yoga practice. I did not give it much thought until there was a pole at a friend’s place and I was challenged to give it a try. What a great new physical challenge, so I attended a class at Brass Vixens, a warm and welcoming environment for learning. I recommend trying a pole class to build strength combined with rhythm and grace.

Secret hike on Oahu: I won’t mention the exact location of this hike (email me and I’ll pass on the recommendation), as it is possible that I crossed a No Trespassing sign to start this hike…A fun physical challenge of about 1 hour each way combined with breathtaking views of Oahu makes for a perfectly enjoyable workout.

It's beautiful

Active in Hawaii

Sunset Run at Ala Moana Park: This run is a beautiful experience. Ala Moana Park is a magical combination of a beautiful green park and beach right in the city with a great vantage point to catch the sunset on 2012.

Sunset Run at Ala Moana Park

Sunset Run at Ala Moana Park

Happy New Year, with best wishes to set your true intentions of healthy well being for 2013.