Exercise Technique: Modifications

As a fitness instructor I heart exercise modifications.  I love that with a few small adjustments you can make an exercise accesable to someone who cannot do the traditional version for whatever reason.  Sometimes modifications make exercises more difficult, sometimes they make them easier, sometimes they make part of the exercise easier while making another harder.

Modifications are awesome.

Unlike in personal training or very small group training sessions, fitness instructors have to provide an effective and safe workout for all of their participants.  Some young, some older, some super fit, others at the start of their fitness journey.  We have to quickly assess the form of everyone in our class.  We need to provide options and modifications for everyone needing them to ensure they are getting a workout that will benefit them, not injure them.  

There are very few things about teaching a strength conditioning class then when I offer the class a modification of an exercise, and see someone take that advice.  See them recognize within themselves that for whatever reason, today they need to take it a little bit easier, or they need to modify in order to protect another body part.  Whatever the reason, I love it when people allow themselves to do what will honour their body instead of pushing through in order to “keep up” with everyone else.

So often in the fitness industry, we are told to “push” ourselves further, that growth happens when we are pushed out of our comfort zone.  And this is true.  But there is a place and a time for that type of thinking, and that place is not while doing back strengthening exercises.  

The situation that brought this topic to mind happened Monday night in my ABS (abdominal and back strengthening) class.  Nearing the end of class we were doing some prone back exercises.  We had started the set by arm opposite leg raises.  I then moved on to lifting both arms but leaving the lower body relaxed on the mat, then just the lower body.  To finish it off we went into a set of supermans where we were lifting both arms and both legs together.  

Everyone had their heads down facing their mats so nobody could see anyone else.  After 2 reps I gave the option for people to drop back to arm opposite leg raises if they felt that the superman exercise was too much for them today.

And someone did.

My heart sang.

Would this person have been left with a back injury if they had continued doing supermen?  Probably not.  But if their back was already fatigued and being adequately challenged by the modified exercise, then why push it?

They listened to their body and did what was right for them.  I couldn’t have been happier!

And you know what else?  I can promise you, the quality of the “modified” exercises this person did was much higher than they would have been if they had continued with the supermans.  

Quality always trumps quantity in the exercise world.  At least in my books!  I’d much rather see you do 5 perfect push-ups than 25 half assed terrible pushups.  If your technique is off you are just asking for an injury, and you certainly aren’t working your body effectively.  

Listen to your body.  Challenge yourself, but don’t push yourself to the point of injury.  There is a huge difference between pushing past your fears, and pushing your body so far that you injure yourself.

It’s okay to push yourself when you are feeling muscle fatigue, it’s not okay to push yourself when your body is telling you, “STOP!  There is something wrong here!”

Sitting on the sidelines while waiting for an injury to heal certainly isn’t going to make you stronger.  

You know what else?  The person who could only do 5 perfect push-ups while you were busting out 25 terrible ones will be able to do 25 perfect push-ups by the time you have recovered.  

Something to think about…

When I took my fitness instructor’s course, one of our instructors gave us this advice:

As you get stronger, you can do more advanced strength training exercises, but that doesn’t mean that simple strength exercises should become ineffective.  If you are doing them properly, an exercise never becomes “too easy.” 

What do you think?  Do you believe an exercise (executed perfectly) can ever become too easy?

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Money Talk: Food Budgeting


Hi everybody!  I thought today we’d talk about something we all deal with – buying groceries.  You might not expect a fitness instructor to be a numbers nerd, but I am.  I come from a background in finance so crunching numbers is one of those weird things I enjoy doing.  Like counting money (and it doesn’t even have to be my money!!).

Twice a year (in January and September) I like to take a look at our family budget, see if we are on track with our expected spending in each area and re-assess as necessary.  I’ve always found one of the hardest ares to anticipate is our food budget, and if we don’t watch it, before we know it were are over spending and throwing everything off.

Is it just me, or has the cost of food increased exponetially in the past few years?  I swear we spend 3x more on food/month now than we did 6 or 7 years ago and it always makes me think, “Is this necessary?  Are we spending way more than most people on groceries each week?”  So before factoring in our weekly food expense, I posed a question on facebook, twitter, and instagram.

How much do you spend/week on groceries? And for how many people?

The response was fabulous!  In just over 24 hours I had responses from over 70 people all over the US, Canada and even Europe.  Some were vegan, Paleo, or bought all organic foods, some lived from big cities like New York, Miami, Toronto and San Fransisco, others were from small towns and communities (like me), I even had responses from at least one family in Alaska.

Obviously the family sizes were all different, but by far the largest portion of the group consisted of 2 adults, or two adults and one infant/toddler.  Then I noticed something very interesting.  Regardless of where they lived or how they ate (vegan, paleo, etc), the majority of families spent close to the same amount of money on groceries.

Then I went back and looked more closely at the families of more than 2 and their weekly grocery bills.  On average (factoring out the amount children/ pre-teens would eat) I came up with the same answer again.

Interestingly, the averages I came out with are almost exactly how much we pay for food each week too:

$100-120/week per couple (or 50-60/week per teenager/adult)

Now obviously there were some families that had much lower weekly grocery bills, and some that were much higher, but I would say at least 80% of the responses I received fell in the $100-120 range.  Also, for many family (including us) that total includes things like household cleaners, toiletries, pet food, etc.

Staying on Budget

I think we can all agree that the easiest way to blow a budget is to go shopping without a plan.  When talking about food, going in without a plan means going grocery shopping without a list, a meal plan for the week, and without first taking a look a the weekly sales to see where you can save money.

Meal planning may seem boring and tedious but it’s really quite simple and once you get used to it, it really only takes a few minutes each week to do.  If you really don’t feel like planning yourself, or don’t know where to start there are many websites out there that offer free meal plans every week (including my friend Jen’s) that you can use.

Once you have your meal plan for the week, you need to make a list of all of the foods you will need in order to make the meals on the plan.  I find it easiest to have both my meal plan for the week and my grocery list on the same piece of paper.  That way while I am at the store I can quickly go through all the ingredents for each meal in my head one more time to make sure I do have everything I need.

To Help You Out

I’ve made you a free printable grocery shopping list and meal plan that you get when you sign-up for my weekly newsletters

You’ll notice that I only leave 3 lines for breakfast meal planning.  Around here we normally eat the same couple things for breakfast over and over rather than having something different every day.  We also tend to have the same lunches Mon-Fri, but I did leave 7 lines to allow others more flexibility in their planning.  There are also a few lines for planned snacks, what’s life without a few good snacks factored in? 😉

Question of the Day:

Do you meal plan?  Do you find it makes your week easier?

I find if I don’t plan out our meals that by Wednesday we seem to be pretty much out of food with no ideas of what to eat!

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Chobani SoHo

When I heard that a Chobani yogurt bar had opened up in SoHo the week before I was heading to New York, I knew I had to check it out.  We’re still living in a Chobani-less world here in Nova Scotia so anytime I head to the US I always make sure to get my fill while I’m there.

Jen had never had Chobani greek yogurt but was game to try it out so we mapped out our quest and hit the streets (and subway).



The front of the yogurt bar is quite small, but they make great use of the space they have displaying fresh fruit, and shelves full of oils, nuts, and other goodies that you can purchase.



One thing that I thought was really cool, is the employees that take your order take your order and send it to the kitchen via iPhone, and you pay them with cash or debit/credit card right there too.  No cash registers or big equipment.  I told you there were making the most of their space!

Once you place your order the magicians in the back go to work making your creation and you can sort of see them through the glass display that separates the front from the back.


There isn’t really any place inside to sit and eat your creation (though a few people were perched on the window sill) so we got our orders and headed out.


We walked up the street a ways and sat on a bench to eat.


We both ordered the chocolate pistachio creation which also had mandarin oranges, mint and honey in it.  I’m not usually a honey fan, and I am really not a orange and chocolate fan but this was crazy delicious.  


Each time I got a spoonful with a piece of mint in it, it was just so refreshing!  I shouldn’t have been surprised about the mint as chocolate mint is one of my favourite flavours, but I don’t think I would have ever thought to combine them in yogurt.

Since then I’ve been planning to recreate this parfait at home and Saturday was the day.  I had to use spearmint instead of peppermint, and a regular orange instead of mandarin orange but it was pretty darn tasty

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Though next time I’ll try adding a bit more chocolate and a bit less orange.  Oh and since we don’t have Chobani I had to use another brand of greek yogurt, le sigh.

Have you ever recreated a recipe at home?  What was it?  How did it turn out?

Really, this isn’t much of a recipe since I knew everything that made up the parfait, but I have attempted to recreate restaurant meals too.  I think my favourite is the BBQ Taquitos from Jungle Jims.  I have yet to get the filling “just” right, but mine are still pretty darn tasty. 

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Do You Fondue?

A while back the lovely folks at Velata contacted me to see if I would be interested in trying out one of their new silicone fondue warmers.  Melted chocolate for dipping?  Yes please!  I happily replied that I would be delighted to try out the product.  The funny thing is, up until now I’ve always wanted to try fondue but never had the opportunity.  Crazy but true.

Fast forward a couple weeks and one morning I woke up to discover my new burner and two pouches of chocolate fondue waiting to be opened!

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(the cats were excited too)

As you can see from the box, I received the Velata Huckleberry Pedestal fondue warmer and both the milk chocolate and caramel milk chocolate fondues to try.

So what makes this fondue warmer different from others?  Velata warmers use a 25-watt light bulb to help keep your chocolate fondue warm and in a melted state while the silicone prevents heat from escaping so there is no need to stir.  The silicone dish can go from the microwave to the fridge to the dishwasher which makes it much easier to clean and keep than other traditional fondue warmers.

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Now what really makes this fondue different is the preparation process.  Instead of having to make the fondue on the stove, then transfer it to the warmer creating all those dirty dishes and let’s face it – taking up more of your time, the Velata fondue warmers and chocolate take you from empty warmer to warmed filled with fondue happiness in less than 2 minutes.  Did I mention there are not dirty dished involved?  Score!

You simply choose your Velata chocolate flavour of choice, pop the bag into the microwave and melt the chocolate in 45-60 seconds while still in the pouch.  Then you take it out, knead the bag slightly to make sure all of the chocolate is melted, then unscrew the bag top and pour into your warmer – it’s that easy!


And it’s gggooooooooooooooooddddd.  Like really good.  In fact there is a video of me standing in the kitchen dipping pineapple in chocolate while dancing on the spot because I’m so happy.  I sweat they lace the chocolate with happiness.

And no, I’m not sharing the video.  I didn’t know I was being recorded and I look like a super goofball.

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I may have eaten an entire pineapple along with an entire pouch of fondue in one sitting (or dancing while standing) on two different occasions.  Perhaps not the best display of self restraint, but it did give me a few servings of fresh fruit 😉

Now to go order a few more (*cough* cases *cough*) packets of fondue so I can continue on with my happy fondue dance 🙂

Interested in Velata Fondue and Fondue Warmers?

Velata is a division of Scentsy Inc., visit their website to find a consultant near you.  Or you can find them on Facebook and Twitter


I received both the Velata Silcone Fondue Warner and chocolate in exchange for my opinion on the product, no other compensation was provided.  All opinions and views portrayed in this post are 100% my own.

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BlogHer 2012 Day 2: Sweating Pink and Sarabeth’s

I’ll be upfront with you, I didn’t make it to any official BlogHer sessions on the second day of the conference.  When you are thrown into a conference that is only two days long with people you’ve only been able to talk to online and never in real life, sometimes you have to choose what is more important getting to spend time with those people, or going to educational sessions.  

Luckily at BlogHer you don’t have to choose.  As long as you have paid the full registration for the conference you have access to podcasts, videos and slideshows of the sessions after the fact so you can go back and watch/listen/read all of the sessions you wanted to get to but missed.  Yay for technology!  This is also great because there is ALWAYS one time slot where you want to go to a couple different sessions but until they properly figure out out to mass market time-turners that just isn’t happening.

So my big plan for Saturday was to hang out with a whole pile of my Fit Approach Sweat Pink Ambassador buddies sweating (pink obviously 😉 ) and brunching it up.  Before heading out to meet everyone in Central Park I did the rounds at the expo (insert awkward photo here)

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Then in a marvel of the world I, Suzanne Fevens, managed to walk to Central Park by myself without getting lost.  This may not seem like a big deal but since I took a wrong turn at every opportunity every other moment of the trip it is in fact a big deal.  Let’s just never mind the fact that I walked the entire way around Sheep Meadow when I didn’t need to.  Oh well, a nice walk never hurt anyone (especially when that person is dying from the previous days workout)

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Once the troops had gathered (luckily I wasn’t the only one that took a scenic route through the park) Jamie went right to work putting us through our paces in a bootcamp workout

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I was a bit of a baby.  After 3 days of Bootcamps, Physique 57, tonnes of walking, my legs were done.  DONE.  My left quad was so sore I could barely lift my leg and my right calf muscles were so tight just walking provided difficult.  Although not as sore as my legs, my abs were pretty much toasted too so I opted out of probably 1/3 or so of the bootcamp workout.  I never do that.  I always stick with it but let me tell you, this trip to NYC kicked my ass.

After bootcamp Melissa treated us to her very first Yoga Class (she just graduated from teaching training the day before!)

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I made it about halfway through the yoga class before my legs said, “no more!” and I chilled on the grass.  Besides, it was sorta hard to concentrate when you’re surrounded by all of this awesomeness (and knowing you are leaving and may never get the chance to see it in person again) 

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Melissa was an awesome instructor though (you’d never know it was her first class).  I loved that she came around and adjusted people, and helped us into deeper stretches and poses.

After Yoga wrapped up we made our way to Sarabeth’s.  What a busy, busy, spot.  We had reservations but still waited 15 or 20 minutes for a table, but it was oh so worth it.  Check out my Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

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I will dream of these pancakes for the rest of my life!  The company was pretty crazy awesome too 🙂

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Afterwards I made it back to the Hotel (again without incident – yay me!) and met up with Jen.  We went out for a bit (I wanted to pick up a t shirt from the Radio City Music Hall store) and when we got back the line-up for the elevator was outta control.  Like 20+ people long.  Ugh. So we took the stairs.  Did I mention we were on the 35th floor?  Or that my legs were already killing me?

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I can’t even blame Jen as it was my stupid idea.  Terrible.  The stairwell was so hot, and I swear it took 3 years to get to the 35th floor.  Part way up Jen says, “This is what happens when you’re roommates with a fitness instructor.” 😮 The nerve! 😉

Once we had recovered from our extra leg and butt workout we met up with Courtney and Jen’s friend Jen (confused yet?) and went to check out the Empire State Buidling

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and Union Square



before heading back to our hotel (we took the elevator this time) for the night.  It’s a good thing I slept well, because when I got up Sunday morning I had no idea I wouldn’t see sleep again for 36 hours…

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