Category: Exercises

What Did You Accomplish This Year?

A pretty simple concept post this week for my readers.  Often when I’m dealing with clients I find one of the most important things for them is to get them to think long term, ie set annual goals and stick to them consistently throughout a calendar year.

We also tend to not give ourselves enough credit.  It’s so easy to think of what you haven’t got versus what you have.  If you’re healthier, fitter and most important happier at the end of the year, you’ve really won most of the battle.

So if you’re reading this post, I want you to think back to January of 2015.  You can even check your social media to see where you were at (one of the perks of it).  People today simply don’t think long term and then don’t give themselves proper credit for things they have actually accomplished.  One of my main goals in life (and hopefully yours too) is to always be pushing forward and trying to improve personally and professionally.

Here’s some examples from my own list, and I’ll also share some accomplishments I feel I had with some of my clients without naming any names.

  • Managed to correct a woman’s misdiagnosed tennis elbow in about thirty minutes applying common sense.
  • Allowed a client to bike in the mountains, which was a huge life goal for her after years of chronic pain and immobility.
  • Allowed a woman who had chronic fibromyalgia to experience pain free days for the first time in eight years.
  • Was able to successfully rehabilitate a tibial plateau fracture to the point where the client can now run, jump and play sports (something she was told she shouldn’t do ever again).
  • Took a running client to a 13 minute marathon personal best.
  • Dealt with a couple of very rare conditions (I won’t get into details here) but they have really allowed me to increase my level of care and knowledge.
  • Have managed to get several people into the best shape of their lives at a fairly advanced age and dealing with chronic hip, back and neck issues.

On a personal level:

  • Welcomed my second daughter into the world who is a busy little bug and now that she can move around gets into anything and everything. She’s going to be an athlete for sure.
  • Began working on my first course and book, to be fleshed out and hopefully presented for the first time in 2016.
  • My band has taken off and I’m much more comfortable behind the microphone by far – check out if you want to check us out or book a show.
  • Currently symptom free from my previous heart condition and hoping that remains the same.
  • I weigh exactly the same as I did twenty years ago.


So when you look back on your year, give yourself a pat on the back for what you have accomplished, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem.  Then sit down and put together some goals for next year.

Think back on what you have done to mold the future and what you want to be.  The best way to do this is to set some really high standards and do your best to meet them.  Even if you don’t, by the time the end of next year rolls around you might be really surprised at what you have done versus what you haven’t.

If you want to share any of your upcoming goals, I’d love to hear what they are!  Feel free to spread this around on social media and maybe we can start a trend of goal planning.  Until 2016, I am so grateful for all of my loyal readers, friends and clients and next year will just bring bigger and better things!

The Downers of the Downward Dog

This was inspired by a client of mine who wanted to restart yoga after a bad back injury.

What if, as a trainer I told you that we were going to do an exercise that did the following:

I want you to lengthen out your posterior chain as much as you can, throw both of your shoulders into extreme extension, put yourself into spinal flexion (even if you can’t properly tilt your pelvis) and stretch out your hamstrings and calves as far as they can go (thereby also yanking hard on your sciatic nerves) – oh, and do it while loaded with up to 70% of your body weight, and the load increases the further you get into the exercise.  So for a 150 pound female that would mean their shoulders and knees are loaded in extension with up to 105 pounds on their spine and other joints.

Does that sound like a good idea for anyone, let alone people recovering from injury?

The funny thing is, people in yoga classes do this almost every day.  It’s called a downward dog.


Now, before the yoga community absolutely freaks out and starts thinking I’m bashing the movement, I’m not.  All I’m doing is providing a practical analysis of what people are required to perform to get into this position.  I’ve had a client recently with severe back issues try to get back into yoga and the one movement she had immense trouble with (not surprisingly) was this one.   I’ve also attended yoga courses where thankfully the instructors were aware of the limitations of this movement and realized that not everyone should perform a downward dog – in fact several of my most respected colleagues actively discourage it since they have realized what it does.

On the flipside I’ve also been to yoga classes where the instructors did absolutely NOTHING except for sun salutations over and over again.  You can guess which class I didn’t go back to.

BKS Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world asserts that this asana stretches the shoulders, legs, spine and whole body; builds |strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves |fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the immune system, digestion and blood flow to the sinuses, and calms the mind and lifts the spirits.”  (ripped from Wikipedia) – and it does all of these things.

But what people need to realize as a whole is that some movements that you perform in a typical yoga class are very hard forceful strength movements.  Simply because it is packaged as something healthy and therapeutic doesn’t mean that it is.  Just like any other type of exercise, it needs to be tailored to the person participating in it.  A 200 pound deconditioned person has absolutely no business getting into this position and here’s why:

Here’s what people need to be able to do into order to successfully perform this movement:

Put your arms overhead fully or even behind the torso while internally rotated.  This requires a healthy rotator cuff complex, the rib cage to be able to move and the shoulder blade to be able to move with proper rhythm.  One loaded movement I often have clients do to test this area is a loaded shoulder extension (think a front raise but over the head with a cable) at various angles in order to engage the entire shoulder complex.

Hinge the hips with proper pelvic movement so that the lower spine isn’t flexed forward putting strain on the lower spine with load – while it’s flexed.  Think loaded Romanian deadlifts, and even things like good mornings (I have a bias against these because of where the load is placed but whatever).  Just because your hands and feet are on the floor doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of pressure going through the lower spine in this position.

Fully extend the knees and dorsiflex the ankles as much as possible – general limits here are thought to be 30 degrees but most people have much, much less than that.  Generally here in a squatting position I look for the ability of the knee to travel forward properly and therefore dorsiflex the ankle.  Can you squat low?  Or does your person have longer legs relative to their torso?  Are they recovering from a knee issue that might be contraindicated to full knee extension (like a meniscus injury?).

There can be many restrictions in this area and it also has the highest risk of issue due to the excessive load people will put on their knees in order to force themselves into a straight legged position.  The restriction might also come from hamstrings, calves or somewhere else, not even the ankle.

So here’s my question:  Can or should you do all of these things and hold them for time?  No?  Maybe this movement isn’t for you.

What people need to realize is that even though it is relaxation based and supposedly “stretching”, yoga is still force on joints.  Sometimes a lot of it.  Another common flaw of the downward dog is that people will generally run away from weakness.  This means that if they are weaker in the shoulders and have trouble there they will dump more load into their lower body in this position.  If they are weaker in the lower half they may dump more load into their upper body.  I have seen this often in classes.  And it can cause a serious problem if suddenly the load shifts by 20-30% into the wrong area suddenly due to a weakness somewhere else.  However, due to the nature of the position there isn’t any way to get out of it.  Except for compromising by say, lifting your heels or bending the knees or even elbows to put load elsewhere.

So what are some good modifications?  Well, like in any other loaded position if you can take the load off a bit, then the person can attempt the range of motion without the excessive joint force.  For example, a person with good shoulder mobility but poor posterior chain range and pelvic movement might want to perform a simple hip hinge with their shoulders extended and brace their upper body against something.  Prenatal classes often recommend this.


Another option might be to intentionally elevate the heels and bend the knees as I expressed earlier.  You can also bend only one knee or alternate sides.  For less force on the arms and shoulders, lower the body and rest the forearms on the ground.  These are all modifications that can easily be suggested in a class but often aren’t.  During a busy class most instructors just don’t have the chance to go around and suggest individual modifications to people.

Or here’s a thought – don’t do it.  There are ways to work up to this movement, just like any other yoga movements but so many people make the mistake of jumping in and following along, and then wonder why they are sore the next day and never want to go back.

The good news is that with my modifications to her positions and telling her to skip downward dogs my client successfully navigated two yoga classes and has been able to get back in touch with something she previously enjoyed but couldn’t do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of yoga.  I’m a fan of anything that keeps people moving, enjoying loaded positions to develop strength and will over time develop additional range of motion.  I’m also a big fan of the relaxation side of the practice and allowing people to be in a parasympathetic state, even if it is only for five minutes at the end of class in savasana.  It’s something most people should do a lot more of.  The reason I’m writing this is to make sure that if you are about to jump back into yoga because you think it is a good way to ease into exercise again – it might not be depending on the class.

As always, if you have comments feel free to comment here or email me at  Good luck with your future practices!

A Tale of Three Runners

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…if you understand that reference then you’re probably my age or older (or just enjoy reading).  Actually, this weekend it was the best of times for three of my athletes.

Recently in my city of Ottawa we had our annual Ottawa Race Weekend.  It is a fantastic weekend for runners where they hold a marathon, half marathon and a 10k and 5k and all events are well attended with over 30,000 people participating.  Every year it is run flawlessly for the most part (although they had a bit of a screw up on the ½ marathon course this year) and attracts runners from all over the world.  Since runner coaching is a part of my business I wanted to share a story about three of my athletes who all come from different aspects of fitness, but all achieved a level of success this weekend, even though they started in very different places.

RP is a gentleman who has been working with me for over two years, who although he just turned 40 still has the athletic ability of a gazelle and the sparkling wit to match.  When he started working with me he had acute Achilles tendonitis and he had 8 weeks to his first marathon.  He couldn’t run for more than about 10k without pain.  I distinctly remember the look on his face when I told him his mileage was getting cut in half 8 weeks before a marathon, but he went with it and successfully ran his first marathon.  Since then he has done several other races including two more full marathons, a half marathon PB and a 500 kilometer bike ride from London to Paris.  Last weekend he beat his personal best on the marathon by over 30 minutes by staying consistent and running 4 times per week with a gradual buildup to 65-75k per week over time.

TW is a woman who came to me only a few months ago with another problem – this time ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome and she couldn’t run at all, but still wanted to compete in the 10k with a restriction of only running 3 times per week (with a holiday mixed in for good measure).  She had previously done marathon training so was used to volume, but had to have some adjustments to her speed (I actually sped her UP to give her a proper gait) and work on her IT band issues, which resolved fairly quickly.  Her initial goal was to complete the 10k, but then a few weeks out we changed that to doing it in under an hour, which she had never done.  She finished in 58:30 with a smile on her face and no IT band issues.

CM is a woman who I have been working with for about a year who came to me because she liked to walk long distances with a goal of completing another ½ marathon walk in another short time line.  She is obese and has some other health issues that make it difficult for her to move.  We got her through that race, however she continued to suffer from calf and ankle issues and had to restrict her volume so that she could stay consistent with her workouts.  She completed another ½ marathon walk last weekend only about 10 minutes slower than the year previous – having never walked for more than an hour in training.  For her a ½ marathon walk takes four hours but she got through it, even on a brutally hot day.

These three people all made significant accomplishments last weekend.  The point I’m trying to make is that different people accomplish things differently.  All three of these athletes came at their respective events from different places, skill levels and levels of progression.  However, all had a successful result following a plan – and in CM’s case that plan was simply to get it done even though we both knew she was going to have a hard time.  With all the athletes they did what they could to make consistent progress towards the goal they had set – and then those got modified when progress was either better or worse than expected.

Anyone can be successful given the right tools and progression, no matter what you want to do.  Want to bench press 300 pounds?  Want to run a marathon?  Want to climb a mountain?  Great.  The idea is to set the goal and then work towards it carefully, mindfully towards what your body is capable of at that time and then just keeping moving forward.  And you’re never going to get anywhere by trying to not listening and respecting your body when you try to push it too far too soon.  The great thing is, it will tell you when you’re pushing too hard and try to stop you – you just have to listen.

Getting hurt doesn’t mean you have to stop – it means you have to learn what caused you to get hurt, and either stop doing it or modify what you’re doing in order to let it recover and not have it happen again down the road.  Attack the problem, not the symptom.  With a couple of these athletes it was a simple form adjustment and being mindful of what they were doing, which you should be doing anyway.

So today, tomorrow, whenever you start working towards something be smart, progress yourself within your tolerance limits and above all, listen to your body.  Oh, and hire a good coach.  I happen to know one, and he trains runners virtually as well if you’re interested.  Maybe next year you can have the same success that all of these people did, even though they started from completely different places.

Feel free to comment and subscribe!

Your Body Is Going to Hate You in 10 Years

Weekly (actually almost daily) on my Facebook feed I see debate and discussion about various fitness modalities and “the best way” to exercise.  Wow, that was an awesome leg workout!  I almost puked!  I can’t walk today thanks to @awesomeharcoretrainer!  #feelbeatenup.  Inevitably these are posted by folks in their 20’s and 30’s who are getting into workouts that are pretty advanced, and likely in no way appropriate – but they do get the desired results.  For a brief time people can have bulging muscles, lower body fat (or nicely flexed pictures) and post pictures of themselves doing things like obstacle races or really heavy lifts, even if they have terrible form.

Then there is the other side of the equation.  The majority of my practice deals with injuries, and a lot of these are things like tears of various things, joint replacements, spinal herniation and overuse issues.  Most of these people are in their 40’s and older, but this is not a hard rule.  My youngest client who had a hip replaced was 46.  Knee replacements are fairly common once people who are active get into their 50’s and 60’s.  Disc hernation when younger tends to lead to chronic back pain for many people until they decide to either get surgery or figure out a way to manage their lives in order to live without pain.  I see this as a really sad thing.

My aunt (who was obese at the time) announced one year at Christmas that she was getting a knee replacement because it was the only solution to her knee pain.  When I suggested that possibly losing 50 pounds might help her more there was a bit of an awkward silence in the room.  As you all know, holding my tongue isn’t exactly something I do well.

One thing I often say to people is that “I wish I had seen you ten years ago.”  My belief is that if people were properly educated on what exercise can do to their body long term they might think twice before getting into hardcore heavy lifting, fast ballistic movements and things like hardcore competition without properly progressing themselves.

The point of this article is very simple:  people don’t think about the long term damage they are doing to their bodies and what it is going to be dealing with years down the road.  This could also apply to the general population, but especially applies to people in the fitness industry who are supposed to know a bit more about their physical well-being and how to improve others than the average person.  Just recently there was a gentleman who during a CrossFit competition actually severed his spine during a heavy lift and will never walk again.  Another recent article had a high level runner fracturing her femur – 500 meters from the finish line of a race – but she dragged her self across the finish line anyway, risking her life in the process.  She likely will never walk properly again either and she has small children at home.  Professional athletes, while achieving incredible things in their careers often have their physical health or even their lives cut short dramatically due to the abuse their body has to adapt to through training.  These are obviously outliers, but for every one of these examples, there are thousands of regular people who suffer daily with things that likely could have been either prevented or eliminated entirely given the right amount of care.

There are also people who commit to fitness (for a short time) and do a cycle of working out for a few weeks, then come up with every excuse under the sun why they can’t continue – until the next time.  In January these are called “resolutionists”.  For a lot of people they will be inspired by something and maybe follow through for a few months, and then go back to the same cycle they had in the past.  Then, in five years they are heavier, sicker or get injured and wonder why.  Here’s a thought – make a commitment for a long period of time and stick with it.  You should be exercising regularly (in whatever capacity you want to) for the rest of your life.  Time after time I meet with people, they stick with a program for a few weeks or months, and then something happens in their life so that they won’t continue (notice I said won’t, not can’t) and then a year later it’s “oh, yeah – I should start working out again.”  Then I meet with them a few more times, with them fully committed and then inevitably it happens again.

So my simple words to you:  look forward.  See yourself in 10 years and ask yourself what type of body you want to have.  What do you want to be able to do?  What do you want to have accomplished?  We do this all of the time for our careers, but neglect the one thing that is going to carry us forward for the rest of our lives.  And get started.  Now.  Just do it the smart, responsible way and don’t let your body hate you.  It really doesn’t want to, after all.