Canada’s top exercise professionals share their secrets
Whether you’re a casual weekend warrior or an avid exercise enthusiast, these unique fitness tips from our top experts will forever change how you see your time in the gym.
Toss out those typical New Year’s exercise resolutions. Forget old, tired workout clichés. As we flip the pages of the calendar, our panel of influential fitness professionals explains why we should also flip the script on our exercise routines to make this our strongest, healthiest year ever.
“Is it hard,” asks Menachem Brodie, a certified strength and conditioning coach who has trained gold-medal athletes, “to make sacrifices to hit your fitness goals? Yes! But will you be more motivated? You bet your Tim Horton’s you will be!”
To unlock this type of motivation, dump traditional goals such as losing weight. They’re too ordinary to inspire us. “Stop seeing fitness goals as just items to check off,” Brodie says. “When our goals are something we care about, the path unfolds before us. Motivation to push through will be there!”
Go big or go home, literally. “Pick an activity that you’ve been wanting to do your whole life,” he says. “Hike up Everest. Kayak across the beautiful lakes in Switzerland. Go on a safari in Africa.”
Brodie remembers one client who had struggled to lose weight for years. “I asked her for a dream she had that would require some kind of fitness to accomplish,” he says. Brodie learned she wanted to climb South America’s Aconcagua, one of the world’s highest peaks. His client now had a life goal to shoot for, and getting fitter was necessary to reach it. For the first time in her life, she dropped the pounds, packed on lean muscle, and ended up hitting her 12-month fitness goals in just eight months.
“Don’t be afraid to dream,” says Brodie, “and don’t wait until you’re 100 percent ready—80 percent ready is more than enough. Get started!”
Brodie loves hardstyle breathing. This abs exercise, popular with power athletes and martial artists, involves tightening our core and exhaling with forceful bursts. “Learning how to brace one’s core [and] recruit all of the core musculature goes a long way to keeping you healthy,” he says.
We’ve identified our big adventure. Now break it down: if we want to be fit enough to hike BC’s West Coast Trail or surf in Hawaii, what must we do today to get there?
Gillian Mandich is a holistic health promoter at Ontario’s Western University. We reached her fresh off a media blitz on CTV’s The Social. Mandich recommends we pick just one habit at a time to improve. “The fastest route to failure is having too many new habits,” she explains. “You can eventually do them all; however, research is clear that you cannot successfully do them all at once. Choose one thing. Once that becomes a habit, begin a second goal.”
Our new activity should be something we’ve never tried before. “Getting out of our comfort zone allows opportunity for growth—both mental and physical,” she says. “The body responds to innovative, new movement patterns. If you’ve always wanted to try an obstacle course or an aerial yoga class, now is the perfect time.”
Taking her own advice, Mandich is experimenting with cryotherapy—exposure to extremely cold air. “It’s being used by athletes to reduce inflammation and enhance recovery,” says Mandich, noting that elite athletes such as Kobe Bryant make it a part of their workouts.
“I love seeing the popularity of fitness trackers,” says Mandich. “They encourage more movement and steps throughout the day.”
Mikayla Allen, a certified personal trainer in Toronto, says working out includes working from the inside out. “I’m all about mindset,” she says. “The secret to fitness success is to surround yourself with individuals who prioritize their own health and well-being.”
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Allen explains. Studies show how we can embody the health, exercise, and eating habits of those around us.
There’s no need to ditch our friends. Simply be aware of how social groups influence us, and cultivate more fitness-positive social connections if necessary. Allen recommends joining a group exercise class, such as kickboxing. Group workouts motivate us more and help us meet like-minded people. In the New Year, Allen’s planning on doing choreographed jump-rope workshops. “The rope is an incredibly effective and efficient way to exercise,” she says.
Allen is excited by the buzz building around Pilates high-intensity interval training. It combines Pilates’ strengthening exercises with high-intensity interval training cardio.
“Our struggles with being healthy are due to cultural habits,” says Ontario-based personal trainer, family therapist, and fitness author Tim Sitt. “This is decades of conditioning. The reality is we live in a sedentary context.”
Breaking free from our sedentary lifestyle means making exercise an all-day habit instead of it being relegated to a specific timeslot at the gym. “Incorporate healthy movement into your day with specific triggers,” says Sitt. Combining psychology with exercise, behavioural, and emotional triggers includes the following.
Go for a walk around the office or do chair yoga.
The next time you want to watch TV or a funny YouTube clip, drop into a squat position or jog in place.
Be aware of your emotions and use them as triggers. Feeling stressed? It’s time to practise deep breathing exercises.
“When you associate movement and health with specific needs or situations that occur in your day, they become integrated,” says Sitt. Think of scenarios that pop up throughout your daily routine. How can you sneak movement into these ordinary moments?
“My favourite trend is natural movement,” says Sitt. “Looking at the evolutionary development of the body gives us clues about how to take care of our bodies.”
If you’re exhausted after reading all of this, Ann Green shows us how rest and relaxation is an essential element of our fitness program. With a master’s in exercise science, Green was a world-competitive athlete for 15 years and is now the founder of a yoga studio in Barrie, Ontario.
“Why is nobody talking about rest?” asks Green. “Enjoy bursts of movement activity, then embrace the rest. There’s nothing indulgent about a nap. It’s a necessity.” Research reveals rest is actually one of the most important components of any workout routine. It’s during our downtime, not our gym time, that our bodies repair and get stronger.
“Focus on what you value and create rituals around that every day,” says Green, “whether it’s a quiet moment to journal or putting on your favourite song. Everyone can find 15 minutes to move in their day and another 15 minutes to rest.”
“My new favourite is the bear crawl,” says Green. “It’s perfect for your brain and body, forces you to breathe and is an incredible core workout!”
Complement your new fitness journey with lifestyle habits to ensure top results.
“[Sleep] rewires the nervous system,” says Menachem Brodie, “and produces hormones that help us to stay healthy.”
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone needs to eat 2,000 calories a day—we don’t,” says Brodie. “Get an expert to help you with food choices, then take on the one change that will have the biggest impact on your fitness.”
“Being outside is invigorating ... surrounded by our beautiful Canadian landscape,” says Ann Green. “Do something you love—running on trails, trying out snowga [yoga], creating your own outdoor obstacle course.” Numerous trials have shown how outdoor workouts make us feel better and more motivated than exercising indoors.
Green recommends omega-3s, magnesium, and green tea for improved joints, stronger bone and muscle health, and reduced stiffness. Essential oils may also soothe joints. “Therapeutic-grade essential oils are highly effective,” says Green, “applied to joint areas with a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil.”
Practise self-forgiveness “Be kind to yourself and accept that lapses can be part of the process,” says Gillian Mandich. “Get back on track so that a short lapse doesn’t turn into a week, a month, or a lifetime.”
Everyone has a different reason for turning to a personal trainer or coach for professional guidance. We asked our fitness pros what they provide their clients.
“We set high goals and reverse engineer them. Who do you need to become and what are the things you need to do daily in order to get you there?”
"I live my life grounded in science, yet I live with astronomical dreams.” My personal mission is to educate people about evidence-based health information so they can lead a happy, healthy life.”
“I’m here to provide accountability, bite-sized actionable steps, and to adjust your routine so you’re always making progress.”
“I help [you] incorporate healthy movement into your day with specific triggers [to] address sedentary time.”
“I take the time to listen to your wants and concerns, and guide you with the activities that will support your values.”