This Idea is Brilliant

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The next time you head out for a jog, consider turning it into plog.

What's plogging? It's the latest fitness/environmental/do-gooder trend...a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish for "picking up litter."

There are plogging groups across Europe and beyond. In North America, it’s just starting to catch on among exercisers who are fed up with encountering garbage along their routes.

The best thing about this trendy new sport is that it's dead easy to learn. On your next jog, instead of simply shaking your head as you pass by that discarded pop can, plastic bag and chocolate bar wrapper, stop, squat and pick them up.

Beginners can start by picking up just an occasional gum wrapper or piece of junk mail and stuffing it in a pocket.

More-advanced ploggers often head out with a plastic bag that they challenge themselves to fill during their daily plog.

 

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

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To properly perform deadlifts, seated hamstring stretches, triceps extensions and numerous other exercises, the hip hinge is an important action to master. With the right cuing many people quickly perfect it, and over time it becomes quite a natural position.

One of the images I use to help clients hip hinge properly is the "tipping bird."

I get a blank stare if I mention it to someone under 40. But if you're just a bit older, you likely remember the ridiculous novelty item that was introduced at the same time as the pet rock.

The skinny stork-like bird slowly and stiffly tips forward in a plank-like manner from the hips toward a glass of water, and then it returns just as stiffly back up to its original position. Its head doesn't change position; there's no movement at its waist.

Because hip hinges result in a position where you're looking at the floor, checking your body alignment in a mirror isn't an option. So you need a visual or two in your head (or feedback from an observer) to guide you.

The next time you're hip hinging, conjure up an image of the tipping bird, take a preparatory breath in, and then begin to hinge forward.

 

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When a Workout Changes Your Life

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The right workout can give you improved strength, flexibility, balance and cardiovascular endurance. But it can also change you and your life in deeper ways.

If you haven't tried Nordic walking yet, you might be confused when I tell you that a simple pair of Nordic walking poles can be life changing for people with hip, knee and back issues and for people who simply think they don't enjoy physical activity. (If you have tried it, of course you know what I mean.)

  • Here's what 69-year-old Wendy told me when I asked for her thoughts after her first lesson:

    "Previously diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis of both hips and degenerative disc disease in my back, I have been unable to engage in the sports that I love. However, to my surprise and delight, I have found that Nordic walking, with the correct body alignment, has made exercising once again a reality for me. I could not be happier to be outside in the fresh air and getting my cardio once again!"
     
  • For Jane, a 62-year-old self-described former overweight couch potato with achy hips, Nordic walking seems to have perked up both her fitness and social life.

    "I feel like a celebrity," she says with a laugh. "Everyone wants to talk to me about my poles when I'm out walking and hear about my weight loss. Five kilometers feels effortless, and the treadmill seems so dull now."
     
  • Bob, an 85-year-old who previously had difficulty walking just half a block, says, "With the poles I can walk five times further! It only took me about 25 steps to get my stride, and off I went. It was amazing. I could feel it in my arms, my back and my upper body. The poles give me stability and confidence, and when I get home I feel like I can take on the world! Unbelievable, phenomenal for a senior who is a diabetic and has some other issues. Best father's day gift ever."


Of course it's a fallacy that Nordic walking is just for the older set, people in rehab and those with joint issues. There are plenty of people under 60 who use poles, have no major health concerns, love to work up a sweat, and who move at the speed of light!

Is Nordic walking the only physical activity that can change your life? Maybe yes, maybe no.

If it's not for you, look for another full-body activity that offers the same additional factors that make Nordic walking classes so effective: a social and interesting group of people; a peaceful nature setting; and a scalable workout intensity that lets you experience the rush of your body's feel-good hormones.

Are You Really Nordic Walking...or Just Walking With Poles?

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When I'm out leading a happy class of Nordic walkers or teaching a one-on-one Nordic walking lesson, we frequently pass another person or group also cheerily enjoying a workout with poles.

After a friendly hello as we pass by, our conversation inevitably turns to a critique of the other Nordic walkers' (almost always) poor technique: bent elbows, poles vertical and in front of the body, poles too long or too short, no propulsion, hiking poles instead of Nordic walking poles, schlumpy posture, short little steps, etc.

While these encounters are actually a great learning opportunity for my participants (recognizing errors is a great confidence booster), I find it disheartening that so few people learn to use their poles properly.

Just one lesson or clinic is all that's required for most people to understand the basics of Nordic walking. Without some rudimentary instruction and feedback most people end up simply walking with poles, using them the same way they would hiking poles.

They don't realize that hiking poles (also called trekking poles) are used to minimize effort when walking, while Nordic walking poles are used to maximize effort and to challenge almost every muscle in the body.

If you're curious about the Nordic walking workout, take the intelligent approach and connect with a certified Nordic walking instructor.

She or he can help you with:

  • choosing the right poles
  • setting telescoping-style poles to the proper length for you
  • understanding the coordination, rhythm and technique
  • maintaining proper posture
  • modifying the intensity up or down
  • troubleshooting any issues
  • and much more

 

Failure to Launch -- Almost

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The first time I experienced Nordic walking, I was immensely disappointed.

I was a competitive power walker, occasional runner and lover of sweaty workouts of all kinds.

When the Nordic walking company Urban Poling called me (over 10 years ago now) from Vancouver to see if I'd be interested in test driving their poles and the Nordic walking technique, of course I said yes.

I'd vaguely heard that Nordic walking was a huge hit in Europe, and I was keen to try it for both myself and my personal training clients.

When my poles arrived, I carefully watched the accompanying DVD at least three or four times.

Feeling confident that I had the basics memorized, a colleague and I headed out with a spring in our step to Toronto's lovely Sunnybrook Park to give them a test run.

It was a frustrating experience to say the least.

Just when we thought we were getting the rhythm and arm swing, our boot tips would slip back on the asphalt and we'd lose our propulsion.

My  boot tips were also doing an odd bounce, and we both agreed that it wasn't a very challenging activity.

With no one to troubleshoot these issues for us, we eventually gave up, tucked the poles under our arms and headed home.

Fortunately, a short time later I participated in the Urban Poling Instructor Certification Course.

In those four hours, all of my issues were quickly resolved. Turned out that I just needed an experienced eye to give me some quick tips and corrections.

While Nordic walking isn't a difficult skill to learn, it's the small details that can throw you off.

The slipping boot tip issue was resolved once I was told that my weaker left arm wasn't swinging fully up into position. Suddenly I was powering myself forward with my poles.

I also learned several ways to increase the intensity and that I should press more firmly on the ledge of the handles to stop the bouncing.  Problems solved.

As the course wrapped up, it was clear to me why so many people are hooked on the Nordic walking workout.

Moral of the story? If you want to fully understand and master a new skill, self teaching is a good place to start. But it will never replace the experience of learning from a professional instructor.

 

A Simple Trick That Makes A.M. Workouts More Doable

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I love exercising in the morning. It's a great feeling to already have my workout crossed off my to-do list when I'm sitting down to breakfast.

Leaping out of bed at 5:30 or 6am isn't a problem for me during the bright sunny days of spring and summer. But come fall and winter, I'm more likely to just open one eye at the beep of the alarm. And then I might just start that internal conversation of justifying a sleep-in while I snuggle deeper under the covers.

My solution to this universal issue is a bit unorthodox, but it works every time: I wear my workout clothes to bed.

The idea came to me when I realized that the stretchy top and yoga shorts I often wear for workouts weren't that different from my pajamas. Sometimes I wear the entire outfit and sometimes just the top with my pajama bottoms.

For me, already being dressed magically eliminates the "should-I-go-or-should-I-stay" self talk that can so easily start on a dark and dreary morning. If I'm already dressed or half dressed, my first thought is always that it would be silly to not just get up and go.

If you try my workout-clothes-as-pajamas trick, let me know how it works for you. Have another strategy to tackle early morning lethargy? I'd love to hear it!

Some Favourite Things

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I wrote my book, The Urban Poling Ultimate Guide to Nordic Walking to capture the Nordic walking tips and advice that I've found myself sharing over and over again for the last 10+ years.

One of the most frequent questions I get is about clothing for outdoor workouts. Space constraints didn't allow me to get into too much detail in the book. So instead I'm sharing some of my favourite items here. (These really are my favourites, and I receive no compensation for recommending them!)

Fleece-lined Pants

Long underwear is a must in the cold months, but a better and easier way to go is the all-in-one approach--pants with a stretchy wind-resistant outer layer and a cosy brushed lining. My current must-haves are the Prana Winter Hallena Pant ($120) and the MPG Lined Nemea Pant ($85) both from Mountain Equipment Coop. A bit pricey yes, but worth every penny. Look for similar options at Lululemon and lower-cost (and excellent) versions at Mark's.

Best Socks Ever

Hopefully you know to avoid cotton socks to keep your feet dry and blister-free. My favourite sport socks are these ones from Lululemon ($18). Maybe a crazy price for socks (I ask for them for Christmas), but they're stretchy and thin with just a bit of padding in the right places and they don't slip. Love them!

Folding Cap

I recently found this FitKicks Folding Cap ($10.99) at Shoppers Drug Mart's just launched Wellwise store (in Leaside in Toronto). It folds into thirds then in half again to easily fit into your pocket. Perfect when you're out running or Nordic walking in unpredictable weather. Bonus: it's water- and crush-resistant, has a good-size brim and looks great.

Illuminating Waist Pack

Another excellent item from Wellwise is the FitZip Illuminating Waist Pack ($19.99). On dark mornings and evenings, press a button to light up the pouch in one of three flash modes. The zippered pouch easily holds a phone or even a small water bottle or wallet. Best of all, it's rechargeable via a USB port. No batteries required!

Buff

If you haven't done so already, ditch your scarf and get a buff or two. You can buy them at any outdoors store (such as Sport Chek or Mountain Equipment Coop). This multi-purpose tube of light stretchy fabric can be a scarf, cap, hood or face mask or can just be stored on your wrist or in your pocket once you've warmed up and no longer need it. (Try that with a bulky scarf!)

Book Launch: The Urban Poling Ultimate Guide to Nordic Walking

[Vancouver, B.C. – October 1, 2017]—“How long should my poles be?” “Which style of poles is best for me?” “Why are my boot tips slipping?” “How can I increase the workout intensity?”

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At Urban Poling Inc., we respond to questions like this every day via our website and social media platforms. Our website is packed full of information and ideas too—but the queries keep coming!

Finally, there’s a comprehensive book that answers all of your questions, whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned Nordic walking pro.

The Urban Poling Ultimate Guide to Nordic Walking, written by our own director of education and professional writer Barb Gormley, is a full-colour guide that covers all the bases plus more. The 68-page guide is full of tips and tricks to make your Nordic walking experiences more fun and efficient.

What readers are saying: “This book is awesome! Love the easy to read format, all the tips, fixes, 7 Things Every New Nordic Walker Should Know, the easy-to-do fitness test on page 20 and all the inspirational stories.”

Available now at the launch price of $10.99 (digital) and $14.99 (soft cover) from www.barbgormley.com and www.urbanpoling.com.

About Barb Gormley
Barb is a health and fitness writer and fitness professional who writes for print and online publications. Her work has appeared in Chatelaine, the Toronto Star, Diabetes Dialogue and Fitness Business Canada, and for the publications of Brookfield Properties, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport.

About Urban Poling Inc.
Urban Poling Inc. distributes and designs high-performance Nordic walking poles, all with ergonomic and easy-to-manage strapless handles. It sells through retailers (including selected Shoppers Home Health and Shoppers Drug Mart stores) and online, and through its 3,500 Urban Poling-certified instructors.

Media Contacts:

Mandy Shintani
co-director
Urban Poling Inc.
mandy@urbanpoling.com
877-499-7999

Barb Gormley
director of education/author
Urban Poling Inc.
barb@urbanpoling.com
416-543-2606

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Some Favourite Books

  1. For the man who has everything:

    Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup

    The men in my life all seem to love wine and have a fascination with war. This remarkable non-fiction book is perfect for this group, but of course women also love it. Not too long. Perfect holiday reading, especially if you're travelling in France. An ideal book club choice that inspires great food and drink for the meeting.

     
  2. For your friend who just had a hysterectomy (or any major surgery and is housebound):

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    A beautifully written historical romance that has you quickly turning pages anxious to get to the spicy bit that seems to wrap up each chapter. Guaranteed to cheer her up!

     
  3. When you need a suggestion for your book club:

    The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

    An historical novel set in 15th century Florence. The Medici's, the bonfire of the vanities and an elderly nun found dead with a serpent tattoo winding from shoulder to groin--what more could you want!

     
  4.  When you need a light holiday read:

    Village of the Small Houses: A Memoir of Sorts by Ian Ferguson

    Winner of the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humour, this is a laugh-one-minute-cry-the-next book about growing up destitute in the far north. Very much the Canadian take on Angela's Ashes. Not too long. Easy to pick up and put down without losing track of the story.

     
  5. When you need inspiration to get moving and live a healthier lifestyle:

    Older, Faster, Stronger by Margaret Webb
    Marathon Woman by Katherine Switzer
    Strong Women Stay Young by Miriam E. Nelson
    Real Age by Michael F. Roizen M.D.
    Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowly and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

 

Micro-Workouts to Boost Your Fitness

I get it. I understand. You're busy.

But the "I don't have time to exercise" excuse just doesn't fly anymore.

Everyone from the New York Times to the Globe and Mail is reporting on research showing that even one or two minutes of physical activity here and there can make a difference in your health.

No need to change clothes, no fancy gym membership required and no travel time to factor in.

Just step away from your desk, take a deep breath and ... go.

  1. Got 10 seconds? Strike a power pose
    Amy Cuddy's TED Talk has everyone buzzing about how body language changes how we think and feel about ourselves. Strike a power pose, she says, to boost your confidence (think Wonder Woman with hands on her hips or Superman with fist thrust upward).

    What you can do right now:
    Swing your torso and arms down toward the floor with a big knee bend, then swing up to finish with your arms overhead in a big victory V and your face and chest lifted. Repeat three or four times moving and breathing rhythmically.
     
  2. Got 1 minute? Recharge with a full-body exercise
    If you choose carefully, you can work scores of muscles simultaneously with one exercise.

    What you can do right now:
    Lower yourself down into a push-up (with your hands on your desk or the kitchen counter) as you lift one foot a few inches off the ground. Then straighten your arms as you lower your foot. Repeat several times alternating sides.
     
  3. Got 4 minutes? Pump it up
    Grab some dumbbells or an exercise tube, and go for it.

    What you can do right now:
    Set a stopwatch, and then continuously perform one minute of each of the following exercises: biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, biceps curls with overhead press, and bent-over rows.

 

The 7-Minute Vacation Workout

When my personal training clients go away on holidays, some of them stick to their exercise programs and it's not an issue at all. But others find it hard to work out when they're away from their regular routines.

It's not a complete disaster when they get home (as long as they haven't overeaten...beware of the cruise ship buffet!), but those first few workouts back are always a struggle.

Instead of backsliding on your fitness gains, make time for the Scientific 7-Minute Workout, courtesy of the wonderful New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds.

It's a quick and thorough routine that's all about classic exercises that most of us already know. If one's not to your liking, modify it or repeat a previous one—just keep moving!

It's short, sweet and intense, and it lets you feel virtuous once you've completed it, even though it's a fraction of the length of your regular program.

Need more of a challenge? Reynolds offers an advanced version at the same link above.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

You Can't Outrun Your Fork

"You can't outrun your fork."

It's a powerful saying and a concept that many people don't quite understand.

What does it mean?

It's a clever way of saying that if weight loss is your goal, you can't out-exercise a bad diet no matter how long or vigorously you walk, run or swim.

To lose weight, we all know that you need to burn more calories than you consume.

But have you ever stopped to think how quick and easy it is to eat and drink calories but how difficult and time-consuming it is to burn a comparable number?

Here are a couple examples:

  • It takes maybe 7 minutes to eat 3 cups of potato chips which have about 350 calories
     
  • But it takes about 60-minutes of moderate- to high-intensity cardio & weights for a 150 lb. woman to burn about 350 calories

The message? Unless you have hours and hours to dedicate to exercise each day, you need to change your diet to drop the pounds.

If you can sacrifice those few minutes of bliss (and is it really bliss?) you get from that piece of pie or extra serving of dinner, you'll begin to see immediate changes in your weight.

If your main goal is to lose weight, make a commitment to two lifestyle changes.

  • First, start by simply moving more. Start walking at lunch or in the evening, Over time, ease into something more formal. Sign up for dance classes, join a power walking or a learn-to-run group. Find an activity that makes you feel good and boosts your energy and spirits.
     
  • Then take a good look at the foods and portion sizes you're eating, and start to make small changes.

Lastly, team up with a supportive friend or a structured program—such as Weight Watchers, TOPS or www.myfitnesspal.com (a simple, free and very motivational app I really like that tracks your exercise and diet). Even better, find a personal trainer who will support you and cheer you on. 

"You can't outrun your fork" is one of my favourite sayings.

Here's another one: "Health isn't everything, but without it you have nothing."

How Do You Measure Up? (Find out in 3 Minutes)

There's an old management adage that we use a lot in the fitness world:

"You can't manage what you don't measure."

What's it mean? Simply that if you don't start with a baseline you won't know if you're improving, staying the same or losing ground

When you get fit the right way, changes in the way you feel and look appear immediately but gradually.

And when anything happens gradually, it's easy to forget just how far you've come—unless you measured and recorded your starting point.

This is why I start all my personal training clients with a very brief (and painless) fitness appraisal. What I measure is different for each client and is always based on the goals we've set.

If you don't have access to a fitness professional (and even if you do), here's an interesting, quick and fun online alternative.

Norwegian rock-star-cardio-researcher Ulrik Wisløff has created a simple assessment, based on a huge and growing data sample, that lets you easily estimate your fitness level by answering a few basic questions.

Use his 3-minute questionnaire-style assessment to benchmark where you are today. Then get moving with a regular exercise program and revisit the questionnaire in three to four weeks to check your progress.

People I Love to Recommend

When I need a house painter, a new furnace or a dentist, I always look to my friends and acquaintances for referrals. It's an almost-foolproof way to quickly shorten a to-do list or resolve a problem.

Over the years, I've created my own list of Toronto-based health and wellbeing experts who I highly recommend. Here it is below.

If you connect with any of them, please say hello from me!

Riverdale Shiatsu - 416-466-7483
Trinity Dempster (registered massage therapist and shiatsu therapist) offers professional, stress-reducing massage at her Danforth/Broadview location.

Carol Bloemen, registered nutritionist - 416-932-9711
Contact Carol for assistance with managing your weight, improving your health and increasing your energy through improved eating habits.

Chance Ng, chiropodist - 416-536-7727, chanceng873@gmail.com.
Contact Chance for any foot or gait related issues.

Footsteps Reflexology
Manage stress and other medical conditions with a professional reflexology treatment with Janet Williams.

For Health Wellness Consultants
Wellness seminars, coaching, counselling and products. Contact Marla Warner for information on individual and group programs.

East Toronto Physiotherapy
Let Danny Kuzmich and his team of therapists help you with injuries at his Danforth and Coxwell clinic.

Pivot Sport Medicine and Orthopaedics
High-quality physiotherapy on Bloor St. West.

StepsCount
Buy high-quality, validated pedometers and stand/sit desks here.

Toronto Power Walkers
Learn proper power walking technique, train for local and far-away races and socialize with a great group of women.

Bio-Mechanical Advantage
I highly recommend Babs Aiyede for any foot/leg/gait-related injuries or issues.

About Me: The Full Spiel

While studying health and physical education at university, I never imagined that one day I'd be running my own personal training business,  travelling the country educating other fitness pros and writing for national magazines and newspapers.

But life takes some interesting turns.

My fitness career began with great stints at places like Toronto's Metro-Central YMCA and the prestigious Fitness Institute.

Later, I enjoyed many years managing Manulife Financial's large corporate fitness facility.

Things changed considerably when I took a 12-month leave of absence from Manulife to sail from Toronto to Trinidad and back.

After a spectacular and carefree year spent in flip flops and sarongs, I loathed the idea of returning to the corporate world. So instead I harnessed my entrepreneurial skills and sharpened my writing skills at Ryerson University to shape a new career.

Today, many years later, I happily spend my days working with personal training clients, writing magazine articles, and editing and blogging for corporate clients.

I love teaching Urban Poling Nordic walking classes and instructor certification courses and making special appearances.

My 9-to-5 friends can't believe I get to have this much fun making a living.

Sometimes I can't believe it either.