I want to exercise, but where do I start?

When I was a kid, I wasn’t super athletic. I was actually such a girly girl, a chubby princess if you will. I did do skating lessons, and before things got serious with figure skating, I quit that to pursue dance. I never danced competitively, and looking back now I wish I did. I think I would have done well in competitive dance, but hindsight is always 20/20. My point is, I wasn’t that great at gym class in elementary school, and because of this I only took gym in grade 9 in high school. I did do competitive cheerleading for a year in high school and loved it! But I wasn’t that experienced at tumbling and therefore not that good of a cheerleader. To be quite honest, I was much better at dancing, and putting on a show. This is why I believe that if I were to be in competitive dance I would have a much stronger skill set to accompany my talent for dancing, and my love for the stage.

It wasn’t until my second year of university that I discovered fitness. After my first year of university, where I wasn’t dancing, I wasn’t cheerleading, and the gym scared me because I never used that type of equipment before, I had gained the torturous “freshman fifteen.” It was terrible. I had dedicated my first year of university to school, a new boyfriend, and partying. Basically everything else except for myself. When I looked in the mirror at the beginning of second year, I couldn’t recognize myself! I was not happy. This was not the person I wanted to be, and so I discovered the Group Fitness Classes at Laurier’s athletic complex. I loved these classes and I made a point to go to a class every single day. I would do a cardio class one day, then a weight training class the next. I wold do this from Monday-Friday and most of the time on Saturdays as well. Attending Group Fitness classes, made me fall in love with health and fitness. And most importantly, it helped me to fall in love with myself again. Group Fitness helped me get back into shape in my second year, and then some! Once I started to see results, I started to feel empowerment of fitness. I felt great, and I looked better than I ever have before! Since I was exercising regularly, I was sleeping better, and I really started to take a vested interest in nutrition. It was in second year, that I realized the importance of taking care of yourself, and how much better you perform in the rest of your life when you feel at your best.

After second year, I loved fitness so much, I decided to become a Group Fitness Instructor myself and the rest is history! From there, I went on to become the Group Fitness Coordinator for two years at the university’s athletic complex, and then into personal training and so on. I personally think that Group Fitness is a great gateway drug to other types of fitness. I think that it can be a good way for people to get comfortable with working out, and once they feel comfortable in the realm of fitness, they can then start to develop a more regimented training regime. The gym can be a very intimidating place for a lot of people! I mean I remember how intimidated I was in my first year of university walking into the school gym, but I felt at home in the group fitness studio. With group fitness it’s a very social environment. You can bring your friends to help make the whole experience that much more comfortable and fun! There’s usually some upbeat music, and the best thing is, you don’t have to think about your workout! A fun, safe, and effective workout is already planned out for you!

Group Fitness is excellent for beginners, for people who don’t exercise regularly to start moving. It’s relatively safe (unless you’re doing something more complicated like Cross Fit) but generally speaking most group fitness classes are cardio based with relatively light weights. I think Group Fitness is great to get people into the gym, and hopefully to come on a regular basis. I don’t think that people should stay forever in the realm of group fitness. It is very important to venture off and to learn how to train properly! And what I mean by that is this: first of all you don’t get too much attention in a group fitness class and therefore will not be able to properly perfect your form. Secondly, it is difficult to have a focused training regime when taking group fitness classes because these classes aren’t tailored to you, and they may be different from class to class. Group Fitness is great to get people exercising, but once you’ve been exercises regularly, it is important to start training. You must not develop a program for yourself to really focus your workouts, and to measure your success. Training gives you a set timeline, and goals. Everything you do in the gym once you’ve started training has a purpose to it, and you’re no longer exercising for the sake of exercising. This is where a personal trainer like myself, or a coach comes into play. No matter if you’re experience in the gym or not, a trainer can really help to bring your workouts to the next level. They can help you perfect your technique, and who doesn’t need a good spot in the gym right? But nevertheless, group fitness is how I got my eyes opened to the world of fitness. It was my gateway drug, and I think it could be yours too! There’s so many types of classes out there, that I’m sure you can find something that peaks your interest and gets you moving!

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Some of the bikes I use in my Spin Class at Bayer on Tuesdays 🙂 


What does it mean to be fat?

What does it mean to be fat? Well, it can actually mean a lot of things depending on who you ask, or who you’re referring to as fat. Being “fat” comes with a boatload of negative connotations that we probably didn’t even realize. However, the point of this article is to call attention to the fact that not many of us, or maybe too many of us know what it’s like to be fat but it’s not something we openly discuss in public. In fact, being “fat,” or clinically obese isn’t generally viewed as a medical condition in society, but mostly as a result of bad habits, and laziness. When in fact, it is a medical condition.

The definition of obesity from the Webster’s Medical Dictionary is as follows, “a condition that is characterized by excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body and that in an adult is typically indicated by a body mass index of 30 or greater.” Below is a photo of the Body Mass Index Chart for both men and women. Please be informed that this is NOT necessarily the best way to tell if you are at a healthy weight, because it is only a ratio between your height and weight. It does not take into account your body fat percentage, which is a better way of knowing how much of your body is composed of fat. If you are a bodybuilder for example, or an athlete with a large amount of muscle, your BMI would read high because you would weigh heavier due to your muscle mass.

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Below is a chart showing you the ranges of body fat percentages for men and women. This will give you a better idea of how much of your body is composed of fatty tissue, and how healthy your body fat percentage is.

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One of the better ways to measure your body fat, that isn’t too expensive is to use calibers. If you do plan on using calibers, please have someone who has experience to help you measure your body fat. Especially, because you won’t be able to measure the skin folds on your back. Calibers do not measure your body fat directly, they are used to administer the “pinch test,” which takes measurements of skin folds on several points on the body. That information is then plugged into a mathematical formula that will give you, your body fat percentage. The accuracy of this test depends on the experience of the person administering the test, and the formula that they use to calculate your body fat. There is more than one formula to measure your body fat and it varies for each person depending on age, gender, race, and fitness level.

So, if you are really curious about your body fat percentage, please ask a fitness professional, or doctor to help you figure it out. There are picture charts to help you compare your body to the pictures to get an idea of where your body fat might be, BUT to make things simpler, I will describe to you what different body fat percentages look like. For example, I am a female between the ages of 26-30 years old. For both of my fitness competitions, I was at a body fat percentage between 11-15%. This is very lean, and a vast majority of female body builders at all levels are around this body fat percentage when they are on stage. It is very difficult for your body to maintain this body fat percentage for females for a long period of time. An ideal body fat percentage for my age would be between 20-24%

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Me backstage at my first show on November 8th 2014 

 

 

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Me backstage at my second show October 10th 2015

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December 6th 2015, this is me going to a Christmas party sitting in the ideal body fat range between 19-24% 

 

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Me and my friend Jordan walking into the reception of our best friend’s wedding this past August 27th 2016. Here I am in the “average” body fat percentage around 26% and definitely not my happy place. 

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A more recent photo of me January 7th 2017 where I’ve gotten my body fat percentage down around 24% my goal is to get closer to 20% 

It was hard finding recent full body photos of myself to compare body fat percentages with you guys because I’ve stopped taking many selfies of myself since I stopped competing! However, I wanted to give you guys a good idea of what different body fat percentages can look on a person. A body fat percentage of 11-15% can look a lot different on someone depending on how tall they are, how much muscle they have and so on. The more muscle you have when being that lean the “healthier” you’ll look, and the more shapely your body will look. However, if you are at that body fat percentage, without much muscle, you will actually look quite sickly. The same goes for the “average” body fat percentages for women. If you have a body fat percentage of 26% and your around my age, depending on your height, you could look a lot different from me in the photo above. So, using photos of people’s body’s to compare body fat is again NOT an accurate way to find out how “fat” you are.

The sad thing is, this is how we all measure our bodies. We compare them to others, and determine whether we are fat, skinny, fit, beautiful, ugly etc. I think a lot of women care about their body fat percentages not because of their health but because they don’t want to be considered fat! And even if they are in the average, or above average range, many are in denial of how “fat” they really are! I mean, I’m sure they know they’re not thin, but they would never consider themselves to be obese. In my opinion, this is because many of us see someone who is obese as someone who weighs an extraordinary amount of weight, like the people you would see on My 600 lb life on TLC. And it’s not just women who make these sorts of assumptions, men share the same sort of denial, and men have become much more critical of their bodies. I wouldn’t say that it is to the same degree as women, but I definitely think younger generations of men are facing higher and higher standards of beauty and masculinity. The movie Fight Club addresses this issue quite well, the question of masculinity and beauty, but that’s another article.

There are so many articles talking about our unrealistic beauty standards and how they affect women, and men negatively. How it creates a whole bunch of body issues, eating disorders, suicides, and the list goes on. But what I want to address in this article is this aversion we have to being labeled FAT, and why that is? Because in reality many, many people fall into the average, leaning towards above average body fat percentage. I don’t think people are afraid to refer to themselves as fat, because people do it all the time, even if they are completely healthy, people will call themselves fat, because there is someone else out there thinner, and better looking than them, or because they no longer have the body they used to have. When in reality they probably picked the body they used to have apart as well. It seems as though many of us have a hard time accepting our bodies at all. However, it can be deeply hurtful when someone else refers to you as fat. It’s one thing to call yourself fat, but when someone else does, it either confirms what you already know which sucks, or it can have you questioning your self-worth. Because let’s face it being thin and fit is considered good and beautiful, and being fat is still considered ugly and bad. The thing is though, calling people fat, ugly, lazy, stupid, because they happen to weigh “above average,” or have a higher than “normal” body fat percentage, doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t change the person you’re calling names, and it certainly doesn’t fix the problem of obesity in our society.

I didn’t realize until recently how much our society discriminates against people who are over weight and obese. I did not realize the amount of obstacles these people face on a regular basis. I had an idea, but I really didn’t know how much prejudice there was against people who are fat, until I watched a video that my friend had shared with me that her company had made discussing what it’s like to live in the shoes of someone who is clinically diagnosed with obesity. Besides the obvious stares, name calling, and judgement that they face everyday, there are a bunch of physical barriers that they face that aren’t as obvious as you would think. For example, furniture is made for the “average” person. There are a lot of chairs that aren’t wide enough, or, are not able to hold up weight over 230 lbs. I take for granted the body that I have, because I never have to worry about seating when I go to a show, restaurant, or public space, because I have no problems fitting into chairs and such. Basically, we haven’t included a large section of people in the designs for the spaces that we live in. Ignoring a group of people, and treating them as if they are not important, almost as if they are no longer human, will not encourage positive change in any way. If we want to help someone who is suffering from obesity, we must engage with them in a positive manner. We must include them and their needs, so that we can help improve their quality of life.

As a fitness professional, I realized that I cannot properly help my obese clients if I am judging them based on their body. None of us will be able to help them if we are already making assumptions about how they got that body in the first place. In reality people who are considered fat are actually hyper aware of their own bodies, because they are told on a constant basis that they don’t belong. Not necessarily directly, but definitely indirectly, through the design of our spaces, furniture, clothing, our media, and basically our society as a whole does not value someone who is “fat.” That is why no one really wants to be “fat.” Not because it is ugly, or that people hate their bodies, because there are many overweight people who are perfectly content with their bodies, but nobody wants to be considered fat, because nobody wants to be ugly, or unwanted. Everyone wants to feel like they matter, and that they belong. Speaking as a fitness professional, it is important that we treat people who are overweight as people, who matter, and who have feelings. They were not born obese, but circumstances whether they be health related, or not, have led them to obesity and it is not in our right to judge these people. Especially if we know nothing about them.

Obesity is a medical condition, and it affects many people in our society, and if we ever want to improve our quality of life, we must first stop with the prejudice. We must try to accommodate these people more in our society, not just in fashion, or media, but in all parts of everyday life. Throwing diet pills, nutritional facts, and telling them to get off their “lazy butts,” is not going to solve the problem of obesity, because that just perpetuates hate, and ignorance. If you truly want to help someone who is overweight, first get to know them, and then ask them what it is that they need to be successful. You may be surprised at how much they know about diet and exercise! Once you know what it is they need, you can then have a better chance of helping them succeed, but they MUST be included in the process. Don’t just assume what they need based on the fact that they are fat, because they are more than just a “fat person.” Anyway, my point, was that we don’t really consider what it must be like to be a fat person in our society. We don’t really take the time to consider their wants, needs, and feelings at all. We tend to disregard them all together or punish them for the way that they are. Instead, we should do our best to include all types of people from all shapes and sizes. As cheesy as it sounds, we must include everyone into the realm of fitness. People who are overweight should not feel as if they don’t belong in the gym, and making fun of people who are working out because of their size is disgusting to me and I know it happens all the time. But since when is it a crime for someone to go hard at the gym? Even if they happen to be overweight? Why are we discouraging people from doing something positive with their lives? It’s not fair to ridicule someone for their size, and then make them feel as if they don’t belong in environments where they can make a positive impact on their health. If we want to have a healthier society, then we must stop making people who are overweight feel as if they don’t belong.


Why going to the gym simply isn’t enough…

Last week I was training shoulders, and the facility I was training in had their cable machines facing the group fitness studio. The entire time that I was facing the group fitness studio, which was about 20 or so minutes tops, there was a girl in the studio laying on her stomach playing on her phone. She obviously had no real plans of working out, but she went through the trouble of changing into her gym clothes anyway… Sound familiar?

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when you’ll be resting in between sets for over a minute, and maybe during that time you’ll be answering a text or something. But there should be no reason why you would be on the phone playing around for 20 minutes if you really had the intention of getting a solid workout in, right? Now this is a very obvious form of wasted time at the gym, and I don’t need to further explain how that is… However, in this post I will discuss how not following a specific training program in the gym is just as much of a waste of time as sitting around texting. I have come across way too many people in the gym who have no real idea what they’re doing! I’m not just talking about how people mis-use equipment because that’s another story, but how so many people come into the gym with no real plan of action. A lot of people say that they’re just “gonna do what they feel like,” or they may know what body part they want to do, but they choose the exercises on a whim, and they guess at how many reps they should perform, and how much weight is appropriate. The list goes on… Yet they wonder why they’re not seeing results? And because they’re not getting very far with their fitness, they slowly stop showing up and the gym. Eventually their gym key fob is a relic that never gets used. It’s sad really, because this could all be avoided if they put some thought behind their workouts before hand.

Think about it! How are you supposed to get anywhere with your fitness goals if you don’t have a plan of action, or a recipe to follow to get you there? If you were trying to bake a chocolate cake, but you have no culinary schooling, you’re not a pastry chef, what is the likely hood of you being able to make this cake without any sort of recipe or direction? You are most likely going to fail…The same is true with your fitness goals. I mean, I’m a personal trainer, and competitive bodybuilder, and I ALWAYS have my training split printed out and on hand EVERY SINGLE TIME I GO TO THE GYM!! I like having it on paper rather than staring at my phone trying to read it. I print out two copies, I keep one at home and one in my gym bag just in case I lose one. I always know what I’m doing in the gym, how many reps to do, what weights to use, and so on. Having a plan, having a strong purpose every time you step into the gym, will only make your goals that much more realistic. How do you think I could go from 8th place Bikini to 2nd place Figure in 11 months? How do you think I was so successful with my reverse diet from my last show? I had a well thought out plan to follow. I had clear direction, and because of this, I was able to be consistent with my diet and workouts. What does this all spell? Success. In order to be successful you need to have a purpose, or a plan, and then you need to be consistent in executing this plan.

Now, this may seem very overwhelming, and you may be thinking, well how the heck do I figure out what to do in the gym? Well first of all, this is when a trainer or coach definitely comes in handy. They can teach you a lot about training, how to workout in a way that is specific to your goals, and ultimately they will give you a plan to follow so that you can be consistent in the gym so you can see results. Everybody wants to see results, and everybody wants to be successful. This is why it is so important to seek help, when you really don’t know how to be successful. Even if you have an idea of how to train, getting a coach will only take you to the next level. I’m a trainer with an athletic background and I still have a coach. Sydney Crosby has several coaches and trainers… So if you somehow think you’re above getting training from someone, even in the short-term, you couldn’t be more wrong.

However, I do understand that training is expensive. So, here is my suggestion. Attend small group training sessions, or group fitness classes. When I first got into fitness, way back in my second year of university, I was very intimidated by the gym. I had never really worked out with gym equipment before. I was a dancer, cheerleader, and before that I did skating. I was more comfortable in the studio, than in the regular gym. So, I would schedule a group fitness class into my school schedule every day. Monday- Friday I did a fitness class, and most Saturdays as well. This is how I lost my “freshman 15” and basically how I caught the fitness bug. This is where it all began for me. When I would schedule the fitness classes, I would try to alternate a sculpt or muscle class with a cardio class. I tried my best to create some sort of balance in my schedule. There was a method behind my madness, don’t just pick random classes to go to, try to create some consistency in your training. That way you can actually measure whether or not you’re improving. If you go to the same classes every week, your workouts will be fairly consistent, and you can therefore measure your results. There are also bootcamp programs, and small group training programs run by different trainers that will also help to give you some motivation and consistency in your workouts. Usually these programs are smaller than typical group fitness classes, and therefore you will get a lot more focus from the trainer to make sure that you’re executing the exercises properly.

If classes really aren’t your thing, you can find programs in books, and online. The problem with that is, is that you have no one really teaching you how to perform the exercises. You also don’t have anyone to hold you accountable. When you attend group fitness classes or small group training classes, you create relationships with other people, and those people motivate you to keep showing up. That’s the beauty behind the classes, there’s a sense of comradery. And well, there’s someone there to make sure you don’t kill yourself! If you’re not experienced in the gym, your chances of being successful without some guidance from a trainer, or a class instructor are slim to none. You must have a plan, you must have consistency in your workouts. The better the plan, the better chances of success. Stop wasting your time “doing what you feel like” in the gym, what you “feel like” probably isn’t what you need to be successful in your fitness goals. Don’t throw your new found resolutions down the toilet just yet! Get a plan, and stick to it!

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A photo of me battling for first place at my last show… I’m in the middle 😉 Excited to hit the stage again this summer for Miami Beach and Provincials! 

 


Do you like to Dance? If so, why not come join me?!

I like to dance, and I’m pretty good at it. When I was still at school at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I was working for Goodlife Fitness at the time, I was asked to start teaching Zumba. Let’s just say, it was a natural fit. I started out with one Zumba class a week that grew to 6 Zumba classes in my last year at Laurier! I still teach Zumba, and because Zumba is my most popular class (other than Bootcamp) it makes sense that now that I’m starting my own business, I would start with 3 Zumba classes a week. I actually blogged about this before when I did my Halloween For Hunger Zumba Food Drive. That was me putting myself out there, and letting the world know that I was planning to launch my own business of group classes, and personal training.

If you’re interested in coming out to try a class, let me know! I would LOVE to see you there! I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 pm and Sundays at 10 am, at Sweatshop Union Fitness in Oakville. The address is 2857 Sherwood Heights, Oakville Ontario. Leave a comment or email me at fitnesswalex@hotmail.com for more information!