Training Tuesdays: working out in the heat

Welp. The summer has descended on my little town and it is hella hot. On Sunday, when highs were a mere 29 degrees, I mistakenly thought maybe, just maybe a 1pm hike wouldn’t almost kill me. I was wrong. Within seconds of hitting the trail, my throat was parched. And I mean parched. Like bone dry as though I had been wandering through the desert for hours. Lesson learned: summer heat is no joke and neither is working out in it. As we step boldly into summer, let me present you with the obvious yet oft-forgotten tips for making the most of summer workouts without dying.

1. Hydrate like a fiend: It’s not just during your workout, it’s before your workout and after your workout. Try not to needlessly dehydrate yourself the day before your workout by, ohhhh I don’t know, sharing two beers, a giant cider and a half bottle of wine with nary a sip of water to break up the constant flow of alcoholic beverages into your system.  That would be foolish and I know nothing of such behaviours. And yet, because it’s patio season, it sometimes happens. When it does, add extra water into the mix. And I mean a lot of extra water. It’s not just your workout that’s going to increase the likelihood of dehydration. The warm temperatures will do that all on their own. So just drink a ton of water. It’s obvious.

2. Dawn and dusk are your friends (for outdoor workouts): Listen, from my patio I see people running at 4 pm in the afternoon all. the. time.  Perhaps they are superhuman specimens immune to the effects of heat.  Or they are fools. Experts will tell you that heat has a definite impact on performance. In fact, Runner’s World tells me that “The “slow down factor” varies from runner to runner, but in general, slowing down 30 to 90 seconds per mile is common in hot/humid weather. ” Naturally, it’s not just running that heat impacts. Any activity will suffer in the heat.  So unless you have to, don’t take your workout outdoors in the heat of the day. I know, once again, this is pretty obvious.

3. Switch up your workouts: super hot days are the perfect time to hit a nicely air-conditioned gym for some strength training, or maybe an indoor or outdoor body of water for a swimming day.  Sure, maybe you really, really wanted to run outside today, but if the forecast is showing crazy highs I promise you your body will not notice if you bump that run back a day or two until things cool down. If you live in a place that’s always hot, you might just have to make friends with early morning runs, late nights runs or the dreaded treadmill run. Yes, this one’s obvious too.

4. Lay off the black clothing: 90% of my workout clothing is black. I don’t have a dark soul (or perhaps I do…), I just think it hides sweat better and I sweat a lot. Trust me when I say I’ve been on many a run or hike when I’ve regretted the all-black ensemble.  Summer heat is the time for loose, flowing, light-coloured clothing.

5. Shady activities are great (literal shady, not sketchy shady):   Fun fact: did you know that the temperature in the shade is actually the same as in the sun? But, because you’re avoiding the solar radiation, it feels 10-15 degrees cooler. That’s a big difference.  Trees make glorious shade, so seek out the most tree-ful locations you can find and you’ll be made in the shade (oh yeah, I really did just say that). If you can, hike or run in parks with an abundance of trees.  A shady park can even serve as a great body-weight or HIIT workout location. Who needs the gym? Also, did you know that studies have shown being around trees (and nature) actually improves our psychological health? It’s true, and it’s a win-win.

Summer heat can be a serious workout energy sucker, but don’t let the heat be an excuse. It can be really easy to put off a workout because it’s too hot, but you can make peace with summer heat by being summer workout smart.


TWIR #114: aches and pains

Well, it’s safe to say that my muscles got a good hit this week. Three of this week’s workouts have left me with stiffness and soreness that has varied from mildly uncomfortable to ultra annoying. I suppose it’s a good thing, but in the moment it’s a bit less pleasant. Nonetheless, it’s been a decent workout week so let’s see what happened.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: rainy day adventures
Observations: Sometimes you just have to seize a rainy day as a lazy day. And I did. We ran a ton of errands, which I personally find fun, ate a totally mediocre “sticky bun”,  lounged around watching golf, and even fit in a viewing of Father of the Bride. All in all, it was a pretty damn good lazy rain day.

Activity: mini hike
Relevant Stats: 5.8 km + 170 m elevation gain
Observations: You know those days when you can’t figure out what to do for your workout and nothing sounds good until you throw out the idea of a short hike? No? Well, I do and Sunday was that day. We checked out a short and easy hike that was perfect for a cloudy and cool day (i.e. there was no tree cover at all, so it would be insufferably hot on a sunny day).  And then after doing all that good for our bodies, we went to our favourite gelato place because, well, balance.

Activity: stairs
Relevant Stats: 36 min.
Observations: As always, I’m proudly declaring that extra minute above 35 minutes. This was a rough day of stairs. They were still feeling easier than past weeks, but certainly not easy. What really fired up this workout was that there was a dude there running stairs too and I was determined not to throw in the towel before he did. I was super proud of myself for outlasting him even though he ran those stairs way faster than I did. My competitive spark makes no sense even to me, but it came in handy to keep me from quitting about 15 minutes into this workout so I’ll keep it.

Activity: cardio warm up + strength
Relevant Stats: 5 min. spin + 35 min. strength
Observations: Okay, this wasn’t a great workout. I got to the gym and tried spinning and had nothing in my legs and then tried strength training and had nothing in any of my other muscles either.  It was one of those days when I wondered why I went to the gym at all. But I tried and I didn’t give up 20 minutes in like I wanted to, so I considered it a small victory.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: This was a dig deep and persevere workout. My body and mind were both feeling exhausted when I arrived at my training session. I don’t even think my trainer was working me all that hard, but at one point the workout actually felt vomit inducing.  I’ve never actually understood the whole thing about working out so hard you think you might puke, probably because I never push myself that hard, but it finally happened to me and I hated it. I want to really emphasize that I don’t actually think I was over-exerting myself. I think I was just tired and my body was finally rebelling against me for filling it with so much crap over the last month.. Ugh. Why does it have to be true that you really do feel better when you eat better? I mean, I actually love vegetables and eat a ton daily by choice…but I also love wine and M&Ms

Activity: cardio + strength
Relevant Stats: 25 min. spin + 25 min. strength
Observations:  I bounced back! I have to admit, after two tough workouts, I was expecting this one to suck, and I bitched and moaned and delayed my gym time until I couldn’t any longer. And then, after all that complaining, I had a great workout. I worked my legs and glutes hard, which they definitely didn’t need after the stairs and my training session, but it felt good to load up on single leg dead lifts, box jumps to squat holds, single leg weighted squats and more.  We topped off our day with a lovely evening stroll to the hilltop with some friends visiting from out of town.  And then some apple pie for good measure. Once again, balance my friends.

Activity: mini hike
Relevant Stats: 5.5 km
Observations: After successfully feeding ourselves and the baby (as in our friend’s baby, not ours) and then after a successful baby nap, we ventured out for a short hike. We hadn’t rushed because it was supposed to be cool and overcast but then we got to the trail and the sun came out and it was hella warm. Lesson learned: always hike early in the Okanagan.  Still, it was lovely and scenic and baby slept so it was a success all around  .  We celebrated with post-hike beers and enchiladas because, you guessed it, balance (yet again).

So there you have it, a solid week of workouts carrying me into the weekend. We have oodles of guests (2 sets!) rolling through town, it’s the US Open, and the sun and hot temperatures are set to return.  In other words, the weekend is looking pretty fine. Happy weekend y’all!

Training Tuesdays: Irrational Gym Fears

I think anyone who has ever gone to the gym has had the brief and fleeting fear that she might fly off a treadmill while it’s running at top speed. From what I can tell, it almost never actually happens, but when I was a runner it used to top my list of largely irrational gym fears.  To me, at least,  the gym seems to be a veritable breeding ground of potential injuries.  Today, as I was spinning away on a bike that’s always struck me as being in a bad location (see below for more on that), it occurred to me that I have harboured many a gym-based fear over the years. Want to take a look inside my paranoid psyche? Of course you do!

I fear epic jumping-related falls…Whenever I am in the midst of a box jump, I see myself either jumping completely over the box or perhaps just missing with one foot, either of which would surely lead to a horribly ungraceful tumble to the ground. I imagine either miss would lead  to a mishap more embarrassing than injury-causing, and yet I also imagine that, given my host of past injuries, a horribly twisted ankle would be a distinct possibility.  And before you think this could be a legitimate fear, my box jumps are not at such a height where one could reasonably miss her landing by that much.

I fear spin bike tragedies...As I mentioned in last week’s TWIR, the absence of the strap that holds your foot to the spin pedal leaves me visualizing my foot slipping off the pedal and the pedal slamming into my leg, tearing into my flesh with all the vengeance of my pedalling momentum. Not only that, but the spin bike at my current gym is directly next to the railing above the staircase. On many an occasion, I have found myself wondering if I might just randomly lose my balance, or perhaps faint, causing me to topple over the railing, falling all of ten feet to my certain death (because that is evidently the height from which I believe death is certain).

I fear dumbbell-related facial trauma…This fear was recently exacerbated when one of my colleagues appeared at work with a giant scab on the bridge of his nose and a concussion care of a weight he’d dropped on his face (!!!!!).  I already had that fear but assumed it never actually happens to anyone. But it does. It happened to someone I know. And now every time I hoist weights above my face, I picture a brief but horribly damaging brush with clumsiness or faintness. Most often, when I play out this fear, I end up missing many, many teeth.

I fear the most implausible of falling-weights-related death or paralysis…You know those totally secure brackets that you rest your bar on when doing back squats? The ones that don’t move at all? Well, when I do pushups near that bar, I imagine it somehow dislodging itself in such a manner that it might fall upon either my head or spine. There is such a simple solution to this fear: don’t do push ups under the bar.  Against all logic, I acquiesce to my fears and continue to do push ups  sometimes directly underneath the bar, all the while thinking that it might just be for the last time.

There you have it, a short but mildly concerning list of my most irrational gym fears. I’m sorry you had to see what goes on inside my head.

But seriously, you must have some irrational gym fears too, and I’d love to hear them. Anxiety loves company.






TWIR #110: all of the walking and all of the beer and cider

Hello and happy Friday! I kicked off this week of workouts in Portland, where I did very little actual working out but a very lot of walking on the daily, and lifting glasses to my lips. Bicep curls, right? The rest of the week seemed to be a slow recovery from the excessive  beer/cider sampling and I’m fairly certain that I don’t need another beer for a very long time (although talk to me this weekend when temperatures are supposed to be close to 30 degrees…).  But if you are heading to Portland any time soon, I am sorry because I do not believe there is any sour ale or cider left in the city. I drank all of it.

Enough preamble, let’s get to it!

Activity: all of the walking
Relevant Stats: about 16 km
Observations: We set off to explore Portland on foot, and did we ever succeed! We discovered you can walk anywhere if you’re willing to, you know, just suck it up and walk.  It helps when on the other side of walking there is a cold beer or cider waiting for you. And there was. There was so, so, so much cider and beer.  I believe we visited at least four breweries, but it could easily have been five or six, and I know we visited three cideries. In case you were wondering, yes that was a lot for one afternoon, particularly when coupled with hot sunshine, a lot of walking, and definitely not enough water. But was it also worth it? Hell yes. Also, Canada has a lot of work to do on the sour ale front. I was astounded by the number of sour ales and super interesting flavour profiles. Mmmm, sour ale…

Activity: all of the walking again
Relevant Stats: 18 km
Observations: We didn’t have a full day so we had to maximize our time with an epic walk to a new neighborhood in search of the supposedly best ice cream (Salt & Straw). I did not feel fantastic, care of Saturday’s adventures, but also did not feel awful. The walking helped I think, and man were my feet and legs sore by the end of the day. Obvious suggestion: don’t walk 18km in flip flops. Perhaps not surprisingly after Saturday’s consumption, we drank absolutely no beer or cider on our adventures, but perhaps more surprisingly, I was not willing to stand in the ridiculous line for Salt and Straw. Maybe it was truly the best ice cream I would have had in my life, but I also tend to believe that places with the most hype aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. In my mind, it wasn’t worth a one hour line up and I feel no regrets for taking a hard pass on it.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations:  Since I took an unplanned rest day on the weekend, I wanted to kick off the week with a solid workout. And did I ever. This workout was legs and glutes, and then more legs and glutes. I think I was just so excited that two days of walking in flip flops hadn’t thrown my SI into total disarray that I figured I might as well wage a full assault on my tired legs and glutes.

Activity: spin
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: I’d like to thank the Counting Crows for this spin session. I know, they don’t sound like a good upbeat spin music choice, but if you’re selective about the tracks I can promise you’ll get a good mix of sprints and hills out of it. This is exactly what I did and my lungs and legs were burning by the end, and I was also a sweaty disaster. Seriously, my face was red for at least an hour afterwards. It felt like good penance for a weekend of gluttony.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: My trainer has finally realized just how leg dominant I am. She was constantly astounded by my willingness to keep doing leg work and to find most of the leg work totally doable. When it came to my arms, however, I was all whining and complaining. At least this week she had a good mix of upper and lower body exercises, unlike last week’s arm-only ridiculousness.

Activity: spin
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: I went back to some pretty bad 90s and early 2000s rock to make this spin workout a major success. I’m actually too embarrassed to admit my musical choices this time around. At any rate, I did so many hills and sprints that I was actually a bucket of sweat by the time I wrapped this one up. It felt like my best spin session in a long time, and like I might actually be starting to get some cardio fitness back.  Hurrah!

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: I am beyond shocked that today’s workout was as fantastic as it was.  I had to go to the gym first thing in the morning to fit in my workout, which usually means sluggishness and a lacklustre effort. I have no idea what was going on for me today, but I killed this workout. I even added weight to my single leg squats and voluntarily did box jumps. Who am I?

Can I just say how absolutely pumped I am that it is Friday. Despite the positive, chipper tone on this TWIR, this was by far the longest and most exhausting work week that I can recall for a very long time. I have worked more and worked harder than I have had to in the last two years. My workouts have been the only thing to keep me sane. I am looking forward to some solid downtime this long weekend (sadly not all downtime, since I will still have to work. Ugh.), and hopefully a little more movement.  My workouts were great this week but, aside from the workouts, I’ve barely moved from my desk. There have been days when I’ve walked less than a kilometre. It is shameful and also just not good for me. Here’s to a weekend of walking…maybe just with less beer and cider.

Happy weekend y’all!

Training Tuesdays: celebrating small victories

I’ve been dealing with injury recovery cycles for over two years. Sometimes I am still shocked when I remind myself that it’s been that long. That’s two years of trying to build up strength, improve my form, deal with imbalances, trying to run then giving up running again, trying to hike then giving up hiking again, and dealing with way, way, way too many days when I’d wake up so sore and stiff that I’d wonder if I’d ever be ‘normal’ again.

Just this weekend I had this small moment that I consider a victory for my chronic injury: I realized that, more often than not now, I wake up without stiffness, soreness or pain. I remember, for the longest time, I’d get out of bed and the first thing I’d notice was that my sciatic was tight or that my SI was stiff.  It was like I had to warm up just to perform basic daily life functions like walking to the bathroom, taking a shower, or getting dressed for work. It became my new normal, and I always hated it. In my opinion, there are few things more frustrating than being told you are doing everything you should be doing to improve your injury and then still waking up sore every. single. day.

Lately, though, the days when I wake up with stiffness or soreness are fewer and farther between.  It happened so gradually that I just hadn’t noticed. I can swing my legs off the bed recklessly. I can get up and walk without hobbling. I can even kick my day off with a workout (though I rarely choose that time of day willingly).  It is both a small thing but also a pretty big thing for the chronically injured. So I’m going to celebrate it today, and I’m going to continue to express some serious gratitude for every pain free morning I notice.

For anyone out there who is suffering from a bad injury, or dealing with a chronic injury that you just can’t seem to kick, perhaps this will give you hope. After more than two years of doing the work, paying attention to what works and what doesn’t, constantly learning from successes and failures and, above all, being patient, I wake up pain-free like a normal person most mornings. It’s slow progress, but it’s progress nonetheless. You can find it too.

TWIR #109: Short Work Week for the Win!

I like my job. I really do. But even when I like my job, I am still excited by a short work week. This week is a three-day work week which makes everything just a little more tolerable, and even made me more motivated to fit in lots of decent workouts before we skip town for a mini-getaway. Let’s see what I got up to!

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: golf + roller shade shopping
Observations: I thought I would want to hike in the sunshine, but honestly I wanted to do nothing at all. That said, it was a gorgeous, sunny day so I had to get out there and do something. We opted for 9 holes of golf, and then spent several frustrating hours trying to track down roller shades for our patio, only to find everywhere had sold out already. Ugh.  We then drowned our sorrows in the sunshine (unfiltered by a screen, I might add) with lots and lots of chilled beverages.

Activity: stairs!
Relevant Stats: 36 minutes
Observations: I claimed that extra minute beyond 35 minutes, because holy hell stairs suck. I remember a time when I used to run stairs weekly, when I used to drag my coworkers along and try to get them excited about running up and down stairs until we couldn’t feel our legs. What was wrong with me? I did not enjoy these stairs, but as you saw earlier this week, I’m trying to get back into them so I pushed myself as hard as I could for as long as I could. I also think I should get bonus points for doing stairs in the blazing sun.

Activity: cardio warm up + strength training
Relevant Stats: 10 min. spin + 40 min. strength training
Observations: You know when you totally feel like listening to certain songs and you can envision spinning to them? No? That’s just me? Well, whatever. I had 10 minutes worth of songs I just had to spin to, but then my legs were so tired from the stairs on Sunday that they had no more cardio in them. I switched to strength and hammered my legs with weight instead.

Activity: spin!
Relevant Stats: 42 min. (I think)
Observations: I said “I think” it was 42 minutes  because I stopped the timer on the bike when my Apple music was randomly pausing itself (and completely pissing me off in the process), and then I forgot to start the timer up again. Sometimes technology is more trouble than it’s worth. At any rate, it was a solid spin despite my legs being incredibly tired from weekend stairs and Monday’s leg and glute work.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: OMG, my arms. I firmly believe that trainers have been taught to pay attention to what you hate and throw 100 times more of it at you. I told my new trainer that I hate arm exercises, and sure enough she built an entire workout around my arms. Actually, that’s not true. The start of this workout was all glutes and legs, and holding weighted positions, which made my legs want to fall off, and I was just starting to wish for my poor legs to get a break. So really, I got what I wished for, but instantly realized that the grass is not always greener. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to move my arms by the end of the day.

Activity: dog’s breakfast
Relevant Stats: 10 min. spin + 20 min. legs and arms + 10 min abs
Observations: This was one of those days where I felt like I was wandering aimlessly around the gym with no purpose, as sometimes happens when I have to work out first thing in the morning.  Nothing felt great, my SI was a bit tight and I was feeling pressured to fit in a good workout before leaving town. All in all it was a bad combo of mindset and tiredness, but any workout is better than no workout I suppose .

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 35 min.
Observations: Ugh, bench hogs at the hotel gym. Okay, to be fair they were actually using them and they were there first.  But still…it messed up my plan. Regardless, I fit in a decent set of random exercises and I always consider any workout while on holidays a major win.  Especially when the rest of my day may or may not revolve around donuts and ice cream…

With that, the weekend is here (for all of you suckers…mine, on the other hand, started Wednesday night!). As you read this, I’m probably sampling donuts, or craft beer, or small-batch ice cream, or maybe all three at the same time, because why not when you’re on a mini vacay. Happy weekend! May you find fun and sun and whatever activities get you jazzed. Yeah, I said jazzed and I’m sorry for that. But still, have a great weekend!

Training Tuesdays: stairs, stairs, stairs

I fondly remember when I was super crazy fit and genuinely enjoyed running stairs weekly. Yes, I looked forward to my stair running days. It was never easy, per se, but I had built up my fitness to a point where running stairs wasn’t the most excruciatingly awful activity I could imagine. I have no idea who that person was and I am a far cry from her now. However, I am committed to getting back to the occasional stair workout because stair workouts are crazy legit and a great way to build fitness. Also, I live practically next door to a giant (and I mean giant) staircase and it seems like something I should probably take advantage of.

That’s my long-winded way of saying, welcome to my inspiration for this  week’s post on tips for getting stair fit!

Why stairs? 
Okay, let’s just come right out and say it: stairs suck. There. Does that feel better? I hear you. Walking or running stairs does suck. But here’s the thing: it’s also really, really good for your fitness. You’re combining tons of muscle groups with almost instant heart-rate elevation (particularly if you’re just starting out).  I’ve done a fair bit of reading about stair climbing (mostly because I couldn’t figure out why they never seemed to get any easier), and it turns out that stairs are so damn good for you because you are fighting gravity with vertical movement, requiring your muscles to work harder. As a result, you not only increase cardiovascular fitness, but you also build muscle. Even running doesn’t have the same benefits (though it obviously does have many other benefits). So there you have it, stairs are awesome for your health…even though, yes, you’ll probably hate them.

A really important note here, when I say stairs, I mean legit staircases, not stair machines. I have no research to back this up, and am relying only on my own experience, but I have never used a step climber or stair machine that felt anywhere near as difficult as actual stairs. Maybe I haven’t been using the machines correctly, but the motion just doesn’t feel the same. I never feel like you have to propel yourself in the same way as on real stairs. It’s a total bias on my part, but I’m owning it.

How to Build Up your Stair Climbing Superpowers

1. Take it one step at a time (pun intended): This gets the prize for most obvious of tips but I don’t even care: start small and start based on your current fitness level. If you’re super fit already, you’re going to be able to start with running stairs. If you’re starting from square one, you’re going to want to walk before you run. If you’re somewhere in the middle, start with mixed intervals. Regardless, don’t be like me and decide to pick up stair running after a two-year hiatus with a set of 300 stairs. You’ll die. Find a staircase length that fits your fitness and goals and work with that. Build up from there.

2. Mix it up:  Stairs offer opportunities for workout versatility. You can just walk or run, but you can also take two steps at a time. You can do two-legged jumps up a flight or two in between running flights. You can mix in some side steps, and even work in a side lunge motion. I can’t say the sky’s the limit, but I can say there are a lot of variations so that you’re not just mindlessly running up and down a set of stairs. Sometimes that simply gets boring.

3. Work on strength on the side: Sure stairs help your strength, but building strength will also make stairs easier. Squats, lunges, calf raises, wall sits, and virtually any other leg and glute exercises will help build up the muscles that will make stair climbing easier. Note, I did not say they will make stairs easy, just easier. It’s all relative.

Other Tips & Watch-Outs

1. Be prepared for sore muscles from going down stairs: There is something about running down a set of stairs that will really engage some lesser-used muscles. When I first run stairs after a long hiatus, I find myself in some serious pain…but only when I go down another set of stairs. It may not happen to you, but if it does, you’re not alone.

2. Watch your step (literally): The last thing you want to do is fall flat on your face when going up or down stairs. Be careful. Walk before you run. We all have varying levels of balance, equilibrium and grace. If, like me, you are on the lower end of these spectrums, take time to get used to the motion of stair climbing before launching into full-on sprints.

3. Always have water: Long sets of stairs are going to leave you tired and parched, no matter what. I spent years thinking I didn’t need water during workouts. I was wrong. Take a bottle, park it at the top or bottom of the set of stairs you’re using and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

4. Outdoors is always, always better: On my lazier days, I used to run the stair wells in my condo building. All 14 floors of them. It was dark and overly warm and completely uninspiring (not to mention I always had an underlying fear that I would trip and fall and be found dead, crumpled at the bottom of steep concrete stairs, days after my fall). Outside, you can at least distract yourself with people watching, fresh air, birds, traffic, and a million other things that will briefly take your mind off the fact that you’re running stairs. Trust me, finding an outdoor staircase is worth it.

So now that I’ve got you all fired up, get out there and get your stair climbing on!