Strength training

May 22, 2012

By Tess and Jess

Tess and Jess are fitness and health bloggers, based in Ottawa and Montréal respectively, who run a popular blog on health and fitness.

Tess has been a certified Personal Trainer since 2009 and is now working at Snap Fitness in Ottawa. After studying martial arts for over 10 years, she has recently turned her attentions to entering fitness competitions with the International Drug Free Athletics.

Jess is a vegetarian, avid runner and aspiring yogi, enjoying life one bite at a time in Montréal. Her latest achievement: a sub-two hour half-marathon at the GoodLife Toronto Half-Marathon. 

Three months into your new health program and you are now eating more nutritious foods, and incorporating cardiovascular exercise into your weekly routine. But there is still one important element you should integrate into your regime, and that is strength training (a.k.a. resistance or weight training).

Think of your body as a marble sculpture: nutrition and cardio serve as a mallet, used to remove large unwanted pieces (fat) from the stone (body). Once a general silhouette has been established, a chisel – or in our case, strength training – is used to give the form a texture and shape (muscle).

In addition to sculpting your body, strength training increases bone mass and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. It makes everyday tasks easier, reduces your risk of injury (if done properly), boosts metabolism (thereby improving body composition), improves posture and helps to prevent the loss of muscle tissue after the age of 30.

Below is a 20-minute circuit program developed by Tess that can be done at home or in a gym. It is a full-body circuit, meaning you will exercise every major muscle in your body. The program is to be done two to three times per week on alternating days.


The training

Complete the following six exercises in order and without a break, for one minute each. At the end, rest for one minute, then repeat the circuit. Complete three total circuits.

1. Jump squat with step

Setup: Stand behind a low step with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs to squat.

Action: Jump up onto the step, keeping your feet in the same position and sinking back down into another squat position. Straighten your legs to stand, then step off the step and return to the starting position. Take no rest at the bottom, and immediately repeat the movement.

Jump squat with step.

2. Push-ups

Setup: Get into a plank position. Feet are slightly apart, wrists are placed directly under shoulders with fingers pointing forward. Your body should create a straight line from your head to your toes.

Action: Keeping your back straight, bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor until your body is hovering over the floor. Push yourself back up by straightening your arms and repeat.


3. Elbow tap

Setup: Assume the same starting position as the pushup. Tighten your abs.

Action: Touch your left hand to your right elbow, while keeping your hips as still as possible. Return to starting position, then touch right hand to left elbow. Keep alternating back and forth with minimal hip movement.

Elbow tap.

4. Pile squat with shoulder press

Setup: Stand with your feet wide, toes pointed slightly outward, back straight, and knees bent so your glutes (butt) is as low as it will comfortably go. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows and raise them so that they are in line with your shoulders. Palms should be facing forward.

Action: Straighten your legs to stand. As you straighten, press the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended. Your legs and arms should both reach full extension at the same time. Lower your legs and arms to their starting position and repeat.

Pile squat with shoulder press.

5. Lunge with dumbbell curl

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing in.

Action: Take a long step forward with your left foot and bend your leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. As you lunge, simultaneously curl the weights up to your shoulders keeping your elbows totally still. Return to starting position and repeat with alternating legs.

Lunge with dumbbell curl.

6. Bicycle crunch

Setup: Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and torso slightly lifted up off the floor. Place your hands behind your head with elbows pointing up.

Action: Draw your left knee towards your chest and extend the right leg. Curl your torso and touch your right elbow to the left knee. Return to starting position and repeat with alternating sides.

Bicycle crunch.


A great recipe

Eating right is always half the battle: just like carbohydrates are needed for high-intensity cardio sessions, weight training requires protein. Jess shares a tasty protein-packed recipe sure to keep your muscles (and your taste buds) happy post-workout.

There is a popular myth that a vegetarian diet is deficient in protein. While we can agree that meat is an excellent source of protein, it is not the only source. Having spent five years as a vegetarian, Jess has been able to get the proper amounts of protein, minerals and vitamins, through plant-based sources. Beans, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of protein that aid in supplementing muscle development and maintaining strength.

Now that the warm weather is upon us and we tend to gravitate outside, give yourself a reason to fire up that bbq by enjoying these lentil burgers. Packed with protein-rich lentils, chickpeas and walnuts, they are sure to be a hit with vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Walnut-Lentil Burgers with Tahini Red Pepper Sauce

Walnut-Lentil Burgers with Tahini Red Pepper Sauce.

½ c. red lentils

1 c. water

1 19oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

½ c. onion, chopped

1 tsp oregano

¼ tsp smoked paprika

¼  c. whole wheat bread crumbs

1 tbsp ground flax seed + 3 tbsp lukewarm water OR 1egg, beaten

If using flax-egg, combine ground flax and water, and let sit. Combine water and lentils into a small bowl and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer until water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium-sized frying pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and spices, and sauté for 2-3 minutes until onion has softened. Add in chickpeas and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a food processor, combine chickpeas and onion mixture until a crumbly texture. Combine chickpea mixture, breadcrumbs and flax egg (or real egg) and lentils into a bowl, and mix well. Form into 4-6 patties; brush each side lightly with olive oil. Grill for 5-10 minutes on both sides, or bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping half way through. Serve on a bun, topped with lettuce, tomato and red pepper tahini sauce (recipe below).

Roasted Red Pepper Tahini Sauce

1 red bell pepper

3 tbsp lemon juice (1 lemon)

1/3 c. Tahini

1 clove of garlic


Roast red pepper over a grill or gas flame until well charred. Place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to touch. Peel the blackened skin from the pepper, cut in half and remove top and seeds.

Combine red pepper, lemon juice, Tahini and garlic into a food processor or blender, and pulse until smooth. Top sauce onto your favorite burgers and salads.


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