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How to Stay Motivated (Especially When It's Cold)

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, summer has bid us farewell and we’re moving towards the long months of winter. For those of us who live in climates—like Canada’s!—where exercising outdoors gets harder to do with snow and ice on the trails and roads, it can be so easy to lose our motivation for fitness.

It's All About the Mindset

So, what can you do when you don't necessarily have a 5K or another race to train for? How do you stay active?

Change the way you think about exercise!

Fitness is a daily, lifetime pursuit. Even when there’s not another marathon or triathlon on your training schedule, you should be finding ways to stay off the couch and keep healthy.

Planning Makes It Happen

My favorite tool for staying active—one that I’ve used in my own life for more than 20 years—is planning my month in advance. I plan an activity for every day on the calendar, usually five moderate-to-heavy workouts and two lighter activities (e.g. taking a walk) per week, and I check them off as I do what’s on the calendar. Keeping those goals in mind really helps me stay focused—most of the time, I do at least 90% of what I had scheduled (because yes, sometimes life happens and I have to skip a day or two ☺). 
 
(Click here if you’d like a peek at what my calendar looks like—it’s in a video I made about staying motivated.)
 
How will keeping a calendar in this way help you with motivation? First, it gives you accountability, to have specific goals that you want to reach. Better than that, though, you’ll feel good about yourself as you see that you’re checking off your to-do list. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing that you are meeting your goals on a daily, weekly, even monthly basis.

Getting Started

So, how should you approach this calendar planning? You’ll want to take an approach that isn’t overwhelming or time-consuming, and I find that the best way is to make a monthly calendar—sitting down just once a month to make a plan, rather than trying to do it on a weekly basis. You don’t have to have a schedule as busy as mine; maybe your goal will be three times a week, gradually building to four or five workouts. 
 
This is a great way to keep yourself on track with daily, weekly, and monthly goals—always reminding yourself of how well you’re doing. It’s really easy to think we’re doing better than we think we are, or to go the other way and not give ourselves enough credit for all that we’ve accomplished.
 
Fitness isn’t about running a race, finishing it, and that’s it. That’s a great goal to have, but what do you aim for when the race is over? Using your monthly calendar can help you have those goals and keep yourself progressing even when you don’t have a specific race in mind.
 
 
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Push-Ups: How to Get Over the "Sticking Points"

Let’s talk about one of the most traditional strength exercises out there: Push-ups.

Sometimes, there’s a point where you feel like you want to go deeper, but you can’t.

Your arms just feel like they don’t want to bend any further.

Whether you’re doing push-ups from your knees or your toes, it doesn’t matter. You really want to come all the way down and all the way up.

So how do you go from that little bit of a push-up to that full-range push up? You’ll need to train your body for that last component.

Here’s a trick that you can use to help get past those sticking points, but for it to work, you’ll really have to practice. You’ll see me demonstrate in the video I made for you, but let me describe it for you too:

Here’s how:

1.    Start from your knees.  
2.    Lay on your stomach.
3.    Brace yourself to make sure that your abs are nice and tight; contracted.  
4.    Blow out as you push yourself up from the floor trying to keep your body in line. Avoid snaking your way up. You want to be nice and solid—rigid—as you push yourself up from the floor. This will help you to strengthen all of the muscle fibers.

When you’re only doing a small range of motion of the push-up, you’re not engaging the full muscle group, you’re only getting a portion of it.

By doing the reverse, you’re going to help strengthen those muscle fibers so that eventually you’ll be able to do the full range of motion.

Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions, starting from your stomach and pushing your way up.

Start with that, and if that’s too challenging, do as many as you can, then take a break.

Then try again.

It’s just training the body in a different way so that eventually all the pieces will come together and you’ll be doing them in no time—a little bit deeper.

The key is making sure that you’re not just using your arms, but that you’re engaging all of your muscles.

Your quads (your legs) should be engaged and also your core.  

Click here to check out the YouTube video I made for you, showing you how to get past those “sticking points”  when you’re working on push-ups.

Whether it’s a standard push up or skinny triceps push-ups, this video will help you to perform your push-ups with a full range of motion. Let me know how it goes!

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So You Want to Complete a Chin Up?
Chin Ups are an exercise that a lot of people aspire to be able to do.  
 
They are hard, but once you are able to do them, you will feel very strong, and you will really reap the rewards of all the hard work you put in to them!    
 
Before you even attempt doing Chin Ups, you need to have a pretty strong level of fitness and strength to begin with.  
 
The muscles that you want to focus on strengthening initially are:
  • Latisimus Dorsi
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Infraspinatus
  • Trapezius
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Erector Spinae
  • External Obliques

b2ap3_thumbnail_chin_up.png

The Latisimus Dorsi (back muscles), Biceps Brachii (front of arm muscles), and External Obliques (core muscles) are the 3 biggest keys. See sample exercises below.

For the Latisimum Dorsi:

b2ap3_thumbnail_canstockphoto12261869.jpg

For the Biceps:

b2ap3_thumbnail_biceps.png

For the External Obliques:

1. Start with your feet stacked and arms down.
2. Lift your arm and extend straight up.
b2ap3_thumbnail_canstockphoto31534683.jpg

3. Rotate your arm and reach under your body.

If your abs aren’t strong enough, it’s going to be hard to develop the strength in your extremities that will help you achieve a Chin Up.
 
Once you are at the stage where you feel like you’ve been exercising and weight training 4-5 X/week for at least 6 months consistently, I would say then you might be well on your way to at least giving Chin Ups a go.    
 
I’ll warn you... they are hard, they take a really long time to be able to do, and you may get frustrated. 
 
It’s just practice, practice, practice.
 
There’s more to it than just strength, it’s also about a connectivity within the body.  
 
You’ll need to think about using everything all at once as ONE UNIT -- contracting all the muscles of your upper body at one time so that you can pull your entire body weight up.
 
Once you get the first one under your belt, you’ll know how the process feels. Then, you just practice, practice, practice!  I’m not going to say it gets easier right away, but you’ll have a clear idea of what you’re striving towards.
 
One of my biggest tips in terms of how to develop the strength to be able to do a Chin Up is to work on the ‘negative’ – the part where you lower yourself from the bar. 
 
Step 1
 
Use a chair or a stool so you can get yourself to the top position of the Chin Up.
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_canstockphoto12116413.jpg
 
Step 2
 
Hold yourself there as long as you can, then SLOWLY lower yourself down.
 
Step 3
 
Take a break. Give yourself a little bit of rest. Shake it out.
 
Step 4
 
Repeat Steps 1-4.
 
This is very tiresome!  You may find initially that you can’t hold yourself up for very long.  
 
That’s okay! Just work at building and building and building, and eventually you’ll get there.
 
To check out how to execute the “negative” of a Chin Up, click here to watch my YouTube video.
 
If any of you are working towards your first chin up, or maybe a milestone of your first 5 or your first 10, or for some of you even your first 15... send me an email.   I love hearing updates from you.  
 
Definitely give it a go.  It works!
 
Good luck!
 
Looking for more assistance with your personal training?  Contact me here.
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3 Ways to Get the Most from Your Weight Lifting

Most of us like to lift weights to build muscle and to improve our strength.

We often forget about WHY we are lifting the weight.    

By lifting weights, we are increasing the intensity of the contraction in our muscles.  By contracting our muscles, we actually make our muscle fibers bigger over time.  (If you want to be really scientific, this is known as hypertrophy.)

Now, you can spend your time moving a dumbbell from Point A to Point B and call it a workout.  But, if you really want to get the most out of your weight training sessions, here are three easy-to-follow tips.


EDUCATE YOURSELF

Before you even start with a weight training regimen, it’s really important to understand what muscles you’re actually working.  

There are some excellent resources out there, such as “The Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training:  An Illustrated Guide to Your Muscles in Action” by Mark Vella, Nick Walters

A great way to be able to feel which muscles are contracting is to do isometric exercises (a type of strength training in which the joint angle and the muscle length does not change during the contraction/exercise.  In other words, contracting your muscle without movement).  Some examples are wall sits, or just simply tightening your muscles and then releasing them.  

While you may not be building muscle this way, you can actually get quite a workout. You will really be able to feel those muscles contracting and it will help you to understand how your body works.  


FOCUS ON SPECIFIC MUSCLES

In order for strength training to be effective, you need to concentrate on the specific muscle you’re targeting.

The people that are most successful with weight training really focus on what muscle or muscle group they are working, every time they bring that weight up or lower it down.  

Yes, it’s great to lift weights and it feels so good when you’re done, but if you’ve finished and you just whipped the weights around and didn’t really pay attention to those muscles while you’re working them, you’ve lost a huge component of your workout.  


AVOID DISTRACTIONS

Anything you can do to avoid distractions during your workouts will help you pay attention and focus more on what you’re doing.

Hints to avoid distractions during your strength training workouts:

●    Put your cell phone away during your workout
●    Avoid watching TV while working out.
●    Enjoy music, but avoid having earbuds in your ears.



With these three habits in mind, you’ll be on your way to better strength training.  Still feel like you could use some guidance?  Get in touch with me at angela@acaciafitness.com and we’ll work on it together!

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How to properly execute an Upright Row & Mid Row (with video and photos)

Exercise:     Upright Row

Purpose:     Strengthen Deltoids & Trapezius Muscles

Exercise Instructions:

  1. Hold the dumbbells so that your palms are facing your thighs.
  2. Pull the weights up, keeping them close to your body, and finish with the weights even with your collarbone.   
  3. Elbows are slightly higher than your shoulders.
  4. Exhale as you pull the weights upwards.  Inhale as you lower the weights.


Exercise:     Mid Row

Purpose:     Strengthens primarily the muscles of the mid back (Rhomboids) and Lats.

Exercise Instructions:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, lean forward so you are slightly bent over with your weight mostly over your heels.  Back is flat in a neutral position.  Activate the muscles of your Glutes (your butt muscles) to protect your low back while performing the exercise.
  2. With weights hanging down, and palms facing in towards each other pull the weights up towards your armpits or rib cage.
  3. Hold for one second at the top of the movement, then inhale as you slowly lower the weights with control.     


Further options to try:

To activate different areas of your back, try performing the Mid Row with either of these options:  

      a) Palms outward (away from thighs)
      b) Palms inward (toward your thighs)

Things to Avoid:

Arching your back or rounding your back. (Maintain a neutral position through the entire movement)

Reps and Sets:

3 sets of 12-15 reps to start.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me here.

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