What a strange year it has been. A once-in-a-century pandemic has uprooted the entire planet, the toll to human life staggering. No one has been unaffected by the events of the past year, including me. Here’s a brief glimpse into the past year, from a recovering fitness professional.
Shortly before the world got turned upside down, I began a new chapter in my life. My fitness business of more than a decade was shelved in favour of a full-time job for a health charity. If you’ve read my fitness memoir, I Can See Your Underwear, or even the excerpt I shared one year ago, you’ll know that I was feeling burnt out from focusing on other people’s fitness goals, at the expense of my own.
That’s what partly precipitated my retirement from being a fitness entrepreneur—I needed to put my goals first. The office job was a way to reclaim my evenings and weekends—punch a clock and contribute when at the office, while focusing on myself during my down time. I even managed to find a job that allowed me to engage in active transportation—the office was a 40-minute walk in each direction, a 19-minute bike ride when the snow finally melted.
And then it happened—seven days in to my new role, everyone who could was instructed to work from home until further notice. [Spoiler alert: one year later, we’re still awaiting details on the return-to-the-office plans. Thankfully, none of us have been holding our breath.] Overnight, my commute became much shorter—eight steps from the kitchen to my desk, eighteen steps from there to the bathroom. The line between home and work blurred for many, myself included. I spent many more hours in a seated position, and it didn’t take long for my body to protest.
You’ve heard of the Freshman 15? Well, I acquired the COVID 19. All that extra sitting began wreaking havoc on my now-larger frame. Another lockdown during the worst of the winter months meant that, in addition to being more sedentary that I ever have, I was also less physically active. That’s when the pain started. It began with foot pain in my left foot, then in my right foot, followed by low back pain and excruciating hip pain.
Some targeted physiotherapy treatments helped, as well as a gentle reminder from my physio to do daily stretches. I began with a few minutes of stretching when things started acting up. The stretching helped and I was thankful I could draw on my fitness background for my own needs.
And yet, my problems with pain persisted, even worsened. Until, that is, I went back to my roots. You see, it was a love of the very popular PBS fitness show Classical Stretch that opened me up to a career in fitness. I first discovered Classical Stretch on a snowy winter’s day in late 2001. I practiced it on and off throughout the decade, always feeling better after the 22-minute full-body rebalancing it provided. I jumped into the fray, beginning instructor training in early 2010.
One thing that happens when you’re a group fitness instructor is that every workout you do is focused on your clients’ needs. But now, back to doing my own workouts in my living room—often in my pjs—I could focus once again on my own needs. And boy, did I need a full-body rebalancing!
After a decade as a teacher, I was experiencing a renaissance as a student. And practicing what I often preached: the best exercise for you is the one you enjoy. Because if you like it, you’re more likely to do it. So I’m back to tried-and-true 22-minute workouts in the comfort of my own home. And my body thanks me every day.
What’s the lesson here? When it comes to exercise, physical activity, and just plain movement, find what you love and keep going. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
*To be clear: the weight gain was due to my constant close contact with the kitchen. I have been eating more than I needed to, from a caloric perspective. My weight gain was food-based, not due to a lack of exercise.
When I last wrote a blog post about exercise, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to take hold. None of us knew how long until we could resume our regularly scheduled activities. The "world outside our windows" wasn't so much a scary place, just a really empty place.
As we enter the fourth month of restrictions on our movement and activities, many organizations in Ottawa have pivoted to offering online workshops and fitness classes. And I've been recruited to help deliver some of these offerings. So, here's what's on tap in July and August:
Workshops: How Can Seniors Prevent a Fall?
As we age, our risk of falling increases, as does the likelihood that a fall will cause an injury. How can we help seniors prevent a fall, maintain their independence, and avoid a hospital visit? Before the time of COVID-19, falls were the leading cause of injury, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations for seniors in North America, and half of all falls happened in the home. What about now? No data has yet been compiled on home-based falls during the pandemic, but the number has likely increased, as seniors have become more housebound as well as more sedentary.
Amanda Sterczyk, an independent author and personal trainer, will teach participants about the balance "sweet spot", the complexity of our balance system, and how easy it is to incorporate exercise into their daily lives to improve their balance and prevent falls.
There will be three opportunities to join this online workshop:
Friday, July 10th, 10:00 am, Ottawa Public Library's Zoom Portal. The session is free but you must register with the library to attend.
Monday, July 20th, 2:00 pm, Old Ottawa South Community Association. The session is pay what you can, and you must register with OSCA to attend. (Note: workshop listed as "Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall.")
Monday, August 17th, 2:00 pm, Old Ottawa South Community Association. The session is pay what you can, and you must register with OSCA to attend. (Note: workshop listed as "Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall.")
Classes: Online Fitness for Seniors
There is a three-week series of classes that will be hosted via the Ottawa Public Library's Zoom portal. Each class is free, but also requires registration. If you want to join all three, you'll have to register for each of these classes:
Friday, July 17th, 10:00 am, standing exercises
Friday, July 24th, 10:00 am, seated exercises
Friday, July 31st, 10:00 am, lying down exercises (can be completed on the floor or on a bed)
Thursdays at 2:30 pm, MOBA: Stretch with Amanda.* If you're missing classes with me, I've returned to teaching once a week. Please contact me for registration details.
*(MOBA = mobility and balance)
When the first cruise ship was quarantined due to an outbreak of COVID-19, news outlets shared footage of passengers wearing face masks while exercising on their private balconies. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s smart of them to keep moving.”
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increases around the world, more and more people are going to be spending time in isolation. Whether you live in an area that is under quarantine or have chosen to self-isolate for whatever reasons, you can still—and should—be physically active every day. Not sure what to do? Read on and I’ll give you some tips on staying active. But first…
Doctor’s orders. If you are sick and have been advised to not exercise, your doctor’s orders trump mine and any other fitness professional’s advice. It is, after all, a respiratory illness that causes shortness of breath. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit a trusted source. In Canada, that means listening to Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer, and her team at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Don’t panic.” Those are the words on the front of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and they are relevant even today. The same principles of healthy living apply even if you can’t leave your current location: eat a healthy diet, stay active, get a good night’s sleep, stay positive (i.e., don’t panic), and maintain contact with friends and family (phone calls, emails, texts, video chats are all great ways to stay connected). All of these factors will help you maintain a strong immune system.
Move. Just because you can’t get to the gym or fitness class, you can still get up and move. Here are some tips:
I hope this list helps you to stay active and maintain a positive outlook during these challenging times. Remember: move more, feel better.
After 10 years in the fitness industry, I decided to pack it in. But not before sharing my experiences as a solopreneur (solo entrepreneur). And some funny, some crazy, things that happened to me along the way. Below, you'll find the complete table of contents, as well as an excerpt from the foreword. And if you'd like to order your very own copy, you can pick it up on Amazon.
Like I say in the introduction of this, my fourth book, "If I'm being honest, I entered the fitness industry for all the wrong reasons."
From the foreword: “Whether you are an avid fitness junkie, weekend warrior, fitness instructor, or just your everyday Joe, there's something for you in this book…As you read through Amanda's journey from beginning to end, you gain inside information and a few laughs you didn't know you needed. So sit down with a cup of coffee and get ready to have a great conversation with a friend. Because that's exactly what this book feels like — a conversation with a friend about real life.”
And here's a glimpse at the Table of Contents:
The following excerpt comes from my upcoming fifth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey Through the Fitness World. It's been a decade since I first took the plunge into fitness as a profession. As I look at that experience through the rear-view mirror, I can honestly say that I entered the fitness world for all the wrong reasons. Have I piqued your interest? Read on...
Did I Ever Look Like a Fitness Professional?*
I have spent many years, decades even, focused on dieting and never being truly happy with my appearance. As I said at the beginning, a huge part of me believed a career in the fitness would accelerate the process of changing my appearance.
It has never once occurred to me to judge someone else based on their appearance. Instead, I look at their character — how they treat me and others. Are they reliable? Do they keep their word? Are they kind to those less fortunate?
Yet, when it came to me, I always assumed no one would accept me unless I was skinny and svelte, especially as I transitioned into my new career in the fitness industry. What if clients wouldn’t accept me as a fitness expert because of my appearance?
More than once, I heard, “You don’t look like a fitness instructor.” What, exactly, is a fitness instructor meant to look like? People come in all shapes in sizes. Shouldn’t that ring true for individuals, no matter their profession? Rhetorical question.
I also heard, “I like taking classes with you because you look like a normal person.” Where does that come from? An unrealistic expectation and representation of everyone in the fitness industry as rake-thin, that’s where.
Skinny does not equal fit. There, I said it. A skinny person can be unfit just as easily as someone who is not as skinny. But there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t believe that for myself. Yes, I have a double standard, in that I judge myself more critically than others.
Don’t worry, I know I’m not the only one setting up base camp here. The problem is, being in the fitness industry was a constant reminder that my internal voice was judging my fitness, or rather, my unfitness to practice.
And our new-found selfie culture doesn’t help. Too many svelte fit pros spend too much time touting their amazing bodies. Or we see the before and after photos of “incredible transformations” of their previously fat clients. The “fitspiration” (fitness inspiration) images on social media imply that you’re better off being skinny and photogenic than being your true self and healthy.
My fragile ego has had enough. Even when I was starving and over-exercising to maintain what I thought was the proper form for a fitness professional, I still lacked the confidence to have my picture taken while wearing a swimsuit.
The anxiety of not looking the part created a cycle of overeating for me that collided with the start of menopause. I’m sure you know what happened next: a self-fulfilling prophecy of not “looking” like a toned fitness professional. Yes, it was self-sabotage at its worst. But the messages online also said I should look like a ballet dancer, and I’ve always been built like a soccer player. These messages, by the way, came directly from fitness gurus and their most avid followers, including fellow fitness professionals. No wonder I wasn’t able to accept myself — I didn’t feel accepted by fitness colleagues and mentors.
*Copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2020, all rights reserved.
Repeat after me: Move more, feel better.
Again: Move more, feel better.
One more time: Move more, feel better.
Is it starting to stick in your brain? That's the slogan I adopted when I created The Move More Institute™ four years ago.
It's not "Move more, look better," nor is it "move more, shed fat." It's "Move more, feel better" for a reason. Physical activity guidelines, created and promoted by national organizations in many developed countries, recommend the minimum amount of physical activity your body needs to maintain optimal health. That means how much you need to move to reduce the likelihood of many chronic diseases that will negatively impact your health and shorten your life span. And it's not a lot; we're not talking about living at the gym, we're talking about less than 30 minutes a day. Specifically, 21 minutes and 25 seconds of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. It's an achievable goal, even for the busiest person.
Breaking down a 24-hour day: assume you sleep for eight hours, that still gives you 16 hours in which to complete your 21 minutes-and-change of physical activity. And this movement doesn't need to be accomplished in one session; you can accumulate the activity over the course of the day. So if you're strapped for time at work and you're waiting for the elevator, consider taking the stairs. Even one flight of stairs works, and won't render you sweaty for that all-important meeting. If you're running errands, try parking further away and walking briskly to your destination. Or leave your car at home and "walk your errands."
I created these activity clocks to help you audit your day and figure out how you can incorporate more movement into it, without breaking the bank. This is just one component of my movement coaching course.
If you are looking for new year's goals that are achievable, try starting out with snacks of exercise. Physical activity doesn't need to be complicated, costly, or even sweaty. But it does need to happen every day. And if you move more, you will feel better. Guaranteed.
My goal for 2020 is to update my website and offer all of my online courses for free. That's my gift to you: help you achieve your movement goals.
A few days ago, my book cover designer sent me the cover roughs for my upcoming fourth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey Through the Fitness World. It was a set of four options on the design for my cover. In less than 24 hours, we were back and forth twice more, and I had my final design. (And if you keep reading, you’ll see it for yourself.)
We had actually started the process a few months ago, but I asked her to hit pause on the design. You see, I thought I was fine with the title and subtitle, but I was having second thoughts. No point having my designer go through a full round of editing if the text was liable to change!
And that’s a key part of the creative process, especially when you’re a self-published author: having a catchy title that’ll will be noticed, but that also includes multiple keywords. You know, the words someone might type into a Google or Amazon search bar to find a book. In the case of my fourth book, I jumped the gun on naming it. Luckily, I realized my error before I had spent money on the cover design.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I unpaused the cover design, asking my designer to continue with this project. We again had a few back and forth emails, and in one she asked about font.
“I trust your design expertise on the font front.”
Well, that was probably the best response I could have sent, because she replied along the lines,
“If you trust my design skills, can I give you feedback on the image you chose?”
When planning my book covers, I browse stock photo websites and purchase images there. In this case, though, my cover designer felt the image I had chosen was of lower quality than my other cover images. Basically, it wasn’t the right look for the overall theme of my books. She then recommended I hire a graphic artist to create an image that worked with my other covers.
Thus began a multi-day search for a suitable artist. I vetted half a dozen artists and settled on one who, it turns out, lives about 15 minutes away from me! I was speaking with artists from around the world, and found the most suitable one very close to home. Small world indeed…
What a fun process it was to have a talented artist create the image that I would eventually use! First round saw him send me a black and white image for approval:
Next up, he filled in the colours and sent me several drafts over the course of a Saturday afternoon and evening. By the fourth draft, I was pleased with the final product and signed off on it. So that was the image I sent to my cover designer, along with a mockup of my cover—this time, with all the right words in the title and subtitle.
Would you like to see the cover of my next book? Keep scrolling down this page…
What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Later today, I’ll be delivering the first of three workshops on fall prevention. Each one takes place in a different branch of our local library, and cover the east, west, and central parts of Ottawa.
I’ve designed an interactive session, where I’ll teach participants the various balance exercises that are featured in my second book, Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall. It seems only fitting that I’m delivering workshops based on my book, since it was a workshop request that precipitated the creation of Balance and Your Body.
Here’s another excerpt from my book that addresses static balance.*
Is It a Photo or a Video?
Balance is a “sweet spot” between our base of support — typically our feet — and our centre of gravity — our weight distribution — while we’re moving or standing still in an upright position. As we move through life, the dynamic aspect is key. We are creatures of movement, and most people want to continue to move. But our aging bodies sometimes have difficulty balancing the key balance components (pun intended). Our balance can suffer as we become less mobile.
Imagine a dog walking on a slippery surface. They appear more sure-footed than their human counterparts, who are often slip-sliding along the ice. That's because the dogs have a lower centre of gravity and a wider base of support.
Static balance involves maintaining your centre of gravity over your base of support. I like to compare the practice of standing upright to a still photograph. Dynamic balance is when your centre of gravity moves away from your base of support, but you are still in control. That is, your muscles are firing to keep you from falling to the ground. That’s when your balance is more like a video.
The exercises in this book target both static and dynamic balance because they’re both important and need to be maintained.
As you reduce your base of support, you want to be able to remain standing. There are five foot positions that have you moving from a wide, stable base of support to a narrower, less stable one. They are:
*copyright 2019 Amanda Sterczyk, all rights reserved.
Frequent, flexible, and free. That's my motto with Your Job Is Killing: A User's Guide to Sneaking Exercise into Your Work Day. Please read on to enjoy an excerpt from my upcoming third book. It will help you understand why I wrote this book, and how it can help you and your fellow professional sitters to sit less and move more at work. Your very life depends on it.
(copyright 2019 Amanda Sterczyk, all rights reserved)
It was an office job that precipitated my career change into the fitness industry. After spending several years at home with my young children, being confined to an office took its toll on my emotional and physical well-being. Endless meetings and conference calls where I felt chained to my chair were the norm. All I wanted to do was get up and go for a walk. In fact, at one point I was reprimanded for spending too much time visiting colleagues’ offices. Even though I was applying a 1980s solution to a 21st century problem, my boss thought my added movement was making me unproductive.
Do you have a desk-based job? Are you a professional sitter? The knowledge-based economy means that many adults sit at their desks and in meetings for hours at a time every day. Productivity, profit, and professionalism lead people to remain seated at all times. But we're not in an airplane, and there is no turbulence. This physical inactivity is killing us.
This book will help teach you how to sneak “snacks” of exercise and movement into your work day. This is not some “let’s crush it with squats in the boardroom” type of book. It’s not about how to get the most out of your new treadmill desk. And it’s not an exercise manual either. There are plenty of resources available to show you how to exercise at work, including my free online course, “Add Movement at Work.”
With this book, I want to show you that adding stuff to your office to encourage movement is not the most practical or cost-effective solution. Instead, I’ll show you that moving more at work needs to be frequent, flexible, and free. I’ll leave the sweaty, costly, and complex office workouts to others.
If you read my first book, Move More, Your Life Depends On It, you’ll notice some similar content in this book. When Move More was first published, I was often asked, “Who is this book for?” My response was: for anyone who sits too much — for physically inactive office workers, for sedentary older adults, and for anyone who needs to break up the time they spend on their duff.
Regrettably, some of these groups didn’t identify with the message in Move More because they didn’t “see” themselves portrayed in my first book. Hence this updated perspective, which is targeted specifically to professional sitters.
You can visit Amazon to purchase your copy today.
The following excerpt is from my upcoming fourth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey through the Fitness World. It describes my first in-home private training client in 2010. I was a new Essentrics® instructor, and completely naive about how to navigate the fitness world.
(copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2019, all rights reserved)
My very first private session was probably my scariest encounter. And it actually kept me away for privates for a few years after that. A woman had contacted me about an Essentrics standing and floor workout in her home. We’re talking early in my newfound fitness career, circa 2010. You know, pre-iPhone (for me), pre-social media checkins (for me), pre-Find My Phone apps (yup, you guessed it, for me). When you went somewhere, no one knew where you were. Unless you told them beforehand. That was my first mistake.
I arrived about two minutes before our scheduled time. My first doorbell ring went unanswered, while my second one had me greeted by a face peering past a chain lock. After introducing myself, my new client unlocked the door and revealed her workout clothing. It included a very see-through top, minus a bra for support. At least that’s what I think, as I looked away fairly quickly.
When I did look away, my gaze fell over her interior. It appeared as if every square inch of floor space was filled. The technical term is hoarding disorder. My client backed up so I could enter the small, crowded foyer. As I was removing my shoes, she closed the door. I was still assessing the space in front of me, trying to determine if how one, let alone both of us, would have enough space to exercise. That was my second mistake, and we’ll circle back to it in a moment.
My client invited me into a beyond-capacity living room. I had already determined that the floor portion of the workout was no longer feasible, so I was quickly assessing in my head how to modify the workout to be standing-only. You’ll recall that I was a very new fitness instructor, with limited instruction time under my belt, so thinking on the fly was a skill I had not yet acquired.
I stumbled over my words as I explained to her that we’d be doing something a bit different. Then I asked her if we could move the coffee table so we could face each other in the room. She balked at the idea, so I quickly offered to stand in the hall while she stood between the sofa and the table.
Let me explain a bit about Essentrics here before I continue: the workout is a non-impact, bodyweight routine that uses large, flowing movements in order to work the joints through their full range of motion. In addition to having space on your exercise mat to move, you need space in the air around so you don’t bang your hand or arm on anything. As you can well imagine, the current configuration was making it difficult to complete circulate movements in a flowing manner. I banged a few things as we were “moving” through the workout, something that was causing distress in my new client.
I realized that this was probably going to be my one and only visit to this client’s home, a fact that wasn’t disappointing in the least. At the end of the thirty minutes, I turned to leave. And the door wouldn’t open. It turns out the client had locked the door from the inside, and thrown away the key (so to speak). But seriously, the door was locked, and the deadbolt was missing the required key.
I looked around the cramped and messy vestibule to locate the key — I was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable and wanted some fresh air — but to no avail. Did I mention that, even though it was the height of summer, every door and window was shut tight, every curtain and blind was drawn. And, it would appear, every door was locked. A wave of panic rolled through my body.
Shit, shit, shit. What had I gotten myself into? I was seriously questioning my new career, not at all comfortable in this current situation. Was she going to let me leave? Why was she taking so long to get to the door? Right, ALL the stuff blocking her path. I turned around just as she arrived by my side. She leaned over a small table with multiple, identical drawers. She opened one and extracted the key for the deadbolt. How had I never noticed her remove the key and place it in the drawer upon arrival?? Short answer: I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things in her house. Long answer (sort of): I was so trusting, that it never occurred to me to imagine a negative outcome; and yet, no one knew I was there.
When the client finally unlocked and opened the door, I exited and headed for my car as quickly as possible. I drove home with all the windows open, taking lots of deep breaths along the way. And it wasn’t just for the fresh air. I had to calm my rattled nerves. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that this client never contacted me for a follow-up session. That was fine by me, because I would have refused. The entire incident scared the bejesus out of me. So much so, that it took several years until I was willing to entertain the thought of additional in-home private sessions. I would stick to group classes in more public spaces. Pretty ironic, don’t you think?
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.