L💗VE Yourself! Rewards without calories!

LOVE your body and invest in you! — Ways to reward yourself without calorie overload!

 Love yourself with good things!
Love yourself with good things!

Justin Bieber’s, “Love Yourself” message rings true here and you need to believe you’re worth it!!! It’s time to stop self sabotage through wrong food choices and bingeing and love yourself to personal success and fulfillment!

Let’s face it; having clearly defined goals with a plan of action sets you up for success! Following through with your exercise and healthy eating requires discipline and that deserves rewarding. However, the rewards of eating your favourite cheat food following a workout not only negates your training efforts, it also sabotages all your hard work. Provide yourself with weekly or monthly rewards for staying on track with your exercise schedule and healthy eating. The rewards which you consider more expensive, can be used more sparingly as monthly rewards or used when you hit a target. Here are some practical tips and ideas for rewarding your discipline and hard work: 

Get a massage. This can help eliminate stress, help to relieve tight knots, tension, and tight hot spots that may be showing up in your body. Select the type of massage most suited for you. ART is so effective in breaking down scar tissue but will have you feeling like you’ve worked out, so choose according to your personal needs.

Go to the movies. Enjoy getting out to the big screen with your significant other, your kids, loved ones, or your BFF.

Get a new outfit. Perhaps consider some new workout gear. This will help you look and feel good when working out which can assist in you looking more forward to training. It really does have a positive effect!

Get your hair and/or nails done. Get pampered with some much deserved TLC.

Go out for dinner. Make it healthy and skip the booze. Try a raw food restaurant or a healthy vegan restaurant.

Give yourself some down time/alone time. Read a book, catch up on your favourite T.V show, play some video games, get a babysitter; whatever it is that you enjoy doing most, but don’t get to do very often due to time constraints. 

Train with a professional Personal Trainer – For the exercise enthusiast stuck in a rut, or the person who lacks the discipline and/or motivation to consistently train on their own, this is a great investment in self health. This may be just what you need to give you the extra spark and inspiration to get it done, work harder, and change things up.

Make your list personal. Consider what you value most. What do you really like, what brings personal joy and fulfillment, and what is important to you?

Every once in a while, sure, it’s okay to treat yourself to your favourite not so healthy food, especially if you have a strong and persistent craving for it. The rule is moderation and the trick is to portion that treat and not overdo it in one sitting. As Marco Girgenti has simply said, Halve it and have it.” 

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone, but know that self love should be an every day practice!💗


Written by Susan Arruda

Lack of motivation is definitely in the top 3 reasons for not exercising, based on surveys and general feedback. Motivation is defined as the general desire or a person’s willingness to do something. Having motivation to train is what helps to keep us in great shape. If we could bottle this wonderful, intangible force that compels us to take action and increases our ability to push harder towards success and accomplishing our goals, we would all be far more effective overall!

This begs the question:

Why are some people more motivated than others to exercise and accomplish their fitness goals?

The simple answer comes down to “how important is it to you?” Is it on your priority, non-negotiable list of top 3 in your daily routine? If it is, it will more likely come easier for you. If not, you will have to work a lot harder to accomplish your goal to exercise, get fit, and stay fit.  Like most things, some tasks come easier for some compared to others based on personal strengths and weaknesses. Areas of weakness simply require more effort.
Fact: Determination will get you a lot further than talent alone!

When it comes to motivation, there isn’t one thing that will work for everyone – No one size fits all, so to speak. One thing is for sure: Lack of fitness motivation hits everyone, even those who appear to be on it and sticking with it! Yes, of course, I also struggle with it, and so does Marco!

Determine and list your motivators. WHY do you want to exercise? Is it for…

  •  Personal benefits and gains
  •  Desire – to look and feel better
  •  Fear – of the consequences – gaining weight, losing your health, etc.
  •  Disgust – Yes, you read that right. – Feeling so disgusted with oneself and how you look and/or feel, can serve as a high motivator to take action and make changes.
  •  Control
  • Social acceptance
  •  Personal achievement and self-satisfaction

Question to ask yourself:

How bad do you want it? If you’re willing to do what you have to do to reach your goals despite the circumstances and you won’t allow excuses to take precedence over your exercise, you will succeed!

Realize that ‘BUTS’ are excuses. You can’t allow your feelings to vote or let’s face it, few things would get done, especially exercise! (read my article, When You Don’t Feel Like Training) I certainly have experience, speaking as a mom who has raised two kids (14 months apart), works full time and has been at this for 35 years!

It is helpful for you to write out and list clear and specific goals with deadlines and outline the reasons why you want to exercise.  What is your biggest motivator?

My personal top reasons for exercising:

  1. Aesthetics; plain and simple! I want to look good, which in turn helps me to feel good in my own skin!
  2. Exercising improves my mood and helps me manage my emotions.  My overall well-being is improved, thanks to the release of endorphins. It really does help combat depression!
  3. I want to be healthy and energetic!
  4.  I want to maintain consistency in my body composition and bodyweight.

One statistic that specifically motivates me to weight train and may also do the same for you is:

Muscle and bodily functions start to decline at a rate of 2% per year after the age of 30! You can counter that and slow it to a rate of .5% with resistance training and a well-rounded exercise program. (According to research from the American College of Sports Medicine)

If you tend to struggle in this area of exercise motivation, take heart! I’m going to provide you with some tips to help you stick with it and resist the urge to blow off your training, so keep on reading. 



Keep a picture of what you want to look like before you! Whether it is a picture of a former you, or a role model body that you want to aspire to look like; post it up on a corner of your bathroom mirror and on your fridge (to deter you from eating that junk or stop you from eating when you know you shouldn’t be). Have it somewhere in view to remind you throughout your day of your goals and this will serve to help you stay on track and think twice before caving in to that junk impulse/binge!

Keep your sights on the end result! Focus on the benefits one workout at a time. You always feel better after your workout! Staying on track helps keep the momentum of your progress going and improves mood and well-being!

Plan your exercise ahead of time – Failing to plan is the equivalent of planning to fail!  Set a weekly training schedule. Treat it like a work meeting or doctor’s appointment; something you take seriously and won’t blow off.  

Set short and long-term goals and be as specific as possible – Vague goals produce vague results. I will lose 2 lbs. in my first 4 weeks of my exercise program.  I will lose 2 inches off my waist by _________. I will drink 3 bottles of water daily, etc.

Reward yourself – Get yourself a large calendar and post it where you will see it daily.  Set weekly training goals and checkmark the days you follow through with your exercise plan and after a solid month (or even weekly) of consistency, treat yourself to a new fitness outfit, a massage, or whatever it is that will increase your joy factor and help you stick with it!

Make it doable – If you haven’t been able to stick with exercise because of time (one of the top reasons for not exercising), start with walking 20 minutes a day while listening to your favourite music, podcast,  or talking on the phone (be it for business or pleasure). You can even do this during your work lunch hour if you simply set your mind to it. Buddy up with a friend if you need the support, or do it solo to clear your mind and energize you for the 2nd half of your day.

Make it fun! – If you really don’t like to do ‘formal’ exercise, then perhaps hit the weights only once or twice a week and do physical activity you enjoy more; stuff that doesn’t feel like it’s training to you, be it gardening, dancing, sports with friends, taking the kids to the playground, etc.  This is unique to you.

Surround yourself with like-minded people as much as possible.  – You need a support group for those times you find yourself weakening and losing motivation.  Get around someone positive and this will help you to flip your mood.

Invest! – Hire a trainer to get you into the groove of things and help get you started!

Be accountable – I don’t suggest posting on social media necessarily, but having a friend to check in with can help you to stick with it.  The world (social media) doesn’t need to know if you miss the mark.

Do take part in challenges, especially if you have lost your fire to keep at it! Perhaps you want set a goal/challenge to complete a half marathon or take part in a healthy eating challenge, or perform a 30 day resistance training exercise challenge with your online circle of friends. We all need a reason to do what we do and goals and challenges provide you with deadlines and purpose; both very important in helping you reach bigger goals.  Hmmm, perhaps you may want to do what I did and set a goal to try a fitness competition and then, who knows what can happen! 🙂 

MOVE everyday and be CONSISTENT! – Moving everyday helps you to fall into a groove and be consistent at this, which is what will yield results! If you’re doing ‘formal’ and structured exercise 3-4 times a week, you should plan some activity such as walking, that you can fit into your day. A frequently asked question is when is the best time to exercise. The best time is when it is most convenient and doable for you on a consistent basis.  Consider the point below re. Don’t plan it at the end of your day…


Don’t set lofty goals and change everything at once! – Start with small changes (one or two) and build on them after sticking with them for two weeks.  This will help you to stick with it and avoid failure, discouragement and feeling overwhelmed.  

Don’t dread it! – Easier said than done, I know. Especially if you’re feeling tired and blah! – All the more reason to do it and get it done! You will likely feel more energetic and a lot nicer/better than before you started it.  Do it and gauge accordingly. Anything is better than nothing and never discount the power of a short power workout! The fact is, dread drains and robs you of joy and power.  If you dislike the activity you’re doing that much, consider changing it.   You may need to shake and/or scold yourself! Think of the person who is sick in the hospital or confined to a wheelchair for a quick attitude adjustment! Resist letting those dreadful thoughts and negative words come out of your mouth! Yes; fake it to make it!

Don’t blow it off! – Have a picture of what you want to look like (or don’t want to look like) and let that be your motivator! Remind yourself that you’ll feel better once it is done (this is something I do a lot!) and think of how awful you’ll feel if you don’t do it!

Don’t procrastinate!– The sooner you get it done, the better you’ll feel! Also; don’t let those 2 extra lbs. turn into 20. – Start something and stick with it!

Don’t wait to get a bad Doctor’s Report before taking action – invest now so you don’t have to pay later…in many more ways than one.

DON’T PLAN IT AT THE END OF YOUR DAY! – Especially if exercise is not yet something you have made a lifestyle and you’re not too thrilled about it all! The probability of something coming up that will deter you from doing it is much higher. Your motivation is also higher in the morning although I know it doesn’t feel like it when you hear that early morning alarm, but this is fact! People who exercise in the morning tend to stick with it. There are fewer distractions and you will be more effective in following through, just resist pushing snooze and have that coffee ready to go! Stick with it for a month and you may find you actually enjoy it (in a weird kind of way).  You may have heard it before. If you stick with something for 21 days, you will have developed a good habit for life. A habit is something you do without fail and on automatic pilot – kinda like brushing your teethJ

Fun Fact: People who have achieved big success are those who prioritize their exercise routine daily and actually do it before starting their workday.  

RE-EVALUATE YOUR GOALS ON A MONTHLY BASIS – Decide what is working, what needs to change in order to keep making progress. You can catch those few extra pounds if you take quick action and make necessary adjustments.

Feeling bored or blah with your exercise? Try something new! – A group class, a belly dancing class, yoga, boxing, a water running class – Something that interests you.  Try to do it with a friend, if possible, although not a must. Taking part in a new activity could help jolt you out of a rut and who knows; could be just what you need to get you out of a discouraging plateau!

Bottom line: You CANNOT ALLOW YOUR FEELINGS TO VOTE… Period! It all starts with a decision, and then following through.  STOP WAITING TO FEEL LIKE IT AND JUST MAKE UP YOUR MIND TO DO IT! Quit procrastinating; START and stick with it! 


Want to look 10 lbs. slimmer…. INSTANTLY?

Our appearance is important to us all and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to look slimmer without having to sweat for it, and especially when sporting that slimming outfit.  This is totally doable for everyone! It simply comes down to posture 101. Posture refers to our body alignment and how we carry or position our frame, be it sitting, standing or walking.  Good posture requires correct pelvis/lumbar spine positioning to maintain a neutral spine (the natural curve that occurs in our lower back). Contract to tighten and draw in your abs (navel to spine) and tilt your pelvis slightly forward to eliminate the excessive lower back arch that is often present in many people and this will eliminate the pot belly appearance as a result of what is referred to as “swayback”. Cue an imaginary line dropping from the ear lobe, shoulders hips, knees and ankles and strive to line up the above listed body parts.

TRY THIS: Stand sideways facing a mirror as tall and upright as possible; pull your belly button in towards your backbone (as if putting on a pair of very tight jeans) depress your shoulders down and press them back back (retract shoulder blades/middle upper back together), chin not jutting forward, but in line with the body with ears lined up over the shoulders, shoulders stacked over hips and hips lined up with the knees and ankles. Voilà! – This results in a slimmer and taller looking you! 


Susan Arruda

Are You A Mom With No Time To Train?

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2. Susan Arruda is a 6 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Kids are a joy as well as a challenge and because you are much more limited in your area of personal freedom and time, the demands surrounding time for exercise increases substantially (unless of course, you’re fortunate to have a nanny or available help from family or friends at your disposal, which I was not). Although you may be expending energy running after your children, this, unfortunately, does not fall into the realm of fitness, nor does it justify having no exercise program. This may very well be a time where you will have to adjust your mindset and expectations, as I did, and ultimately had to succumb to the massive lifestyle changes. 

  My bundles of joy in the earlier years!  My bundles of joy in the earlier years!

Sleep deprivation and fatigue can make for some seemingly insurmountable odds, but thankfully, our bodies are amazing when it comes to survival and making adjustments for getting through difficult times and challenges.  I can speak from personal experience here as my first child was very alert and never slept through a full night until well after a year followed by an extremely colicky second child.  My children were a mere 14 months apart and I did not have any help outside the marriage. If you don’t have a gym membership with a daycare option, you need to develop a firm mindset regarding getting some sort of activity in, not only for your body’s sake, but equally important, for your state of mind. You’ll undoubtedly be a better mom and wife if you’re happy with yourself, so don’t make the mistake of feeling guilty for taking some time out to make that happen. Dads may have to pitch in and devote some quality one-on-one childcare time in order to help their spouses in this area as it will also be beneficial for the men also.  Ladies, this is generally a period of time where you may have to settle with getting small bursts of activity here and there and realize that it is just a season.

Get creative in building physical activity into your day. Invest in a walking/running stroller, get physically active with your children when at the park or playground, (incidentally, we have a 2 part playground fitness video segment on YouTube) play tag and chase your children, purchase a time saver exercise DVD workout that gives you the option to target train in 10 or 20-minute segments (we have some).  Anyone and everyone can devote 10 targeted minutes to train, regardless of how tired you may be! This is literally the approach I took in getting back into training after having my children and coming to the harsh realization that life had completely changed and making adjustments was necessary in order to accomplish staying fit. I can still vividly recall my turning point; the day I made that conscious decision to start doing smaller bouts of activity and at the end of that day, at 1:00 A.M., I started back into it with 10 minutes of abs. A resource I am now looking to avail others of as I begin my journey of creating fitness workout DVDs for busy moms and others leading very hectic lives.

Bottom line: Exercise in concentrated bursts and sustain consistency and remind yourself that anything is better than nothing and don’t neglect the power of resistance training!  Resistance training shapes and firms loose, saggy skin and aids in naturally boosting your metabolism. You burn more calories simply by building and having lean muscle tissue on your body. Shift your focus onto body composition rather than scale weight as a pound of muscle is 3-5 times more metabolically active than a pound of fat and it is much tighter when compared to a pound of fat. (a Lb. of jello vs a Lb. of baseballs) Focus primarily on body composition – bodyfat percentage and measurements instead of scale weight.

Toss the “I’ve got kids” excuse to the curb and be determined to stay active, healthy and happy!

FOOD PUSHERS: How to deal with food overload and the mom, family member, or friend that wants to love you with food:

Article by Susan Arruda

Be wise and don’t regret the season!

Learn to say NO politely, of course!  It’s actually quite liberating and empowering once you get past the initial discomfort zone and you also get better with practice.  Get comfortable with declining food or not joining in with rounds of drinks (or bring a bottle of your own Perrier), and/or making the decision not to attend the invite for yet another party.

If you’re surrounded by a family whose love language is demonstrated through food, get ready for it and mentally prepare yourself ahead of time. Play out scenarios in your head. European families (I have personal experience here) are especially guilty of this. Recognize it for what it is and learn to deal with it tactfully, respectfully, and without frustration and dread. Remember they mean well and are just set in their ways and will not understand that you’re trying to make changes for the better. You will need to be firm and stand your ground. You don’t want to offend, so be gracious and polite. – “Thank you, but I’m going to have to say no to that.”
Prepare a series of scripts of what you can, say ahead of time: “I want to pace myself, I cannot eat that, I think I’ve developed an allergy to that, I got a really bad stomach ache the last time I ate that, I’m trying to watch what I eat more carefully, my stomach feels unsettled,” or whatever suits your individual situation and comfort level.

One approach that I’ve tried that seems to work surprisingly well with aggressive food pushers is, “I would love to have it, but just not right now. I’m so full! Would it be possible to set it aside and take it to go?” Reassure them that yes, you would love to have it; this is key for not offending. You can compromise and have half, perhaps and practice Marco Girgenti’s motto: “Halve it and have it.”  Make peace with the fact that they don’t understand and may not be supportive of your decision or the changes you’re making/made in your food and lifestyle choices.

Develop resolve, don’t cave in, and realize that you cannot control what others do, but rather, you can only manage your own actions and reactions. Be merry and enjoy the company as well as all the great food, in moderation and free from regret later on.

Say NO to weight gain! – Staying on track throughout the holidays

Celebrations and holiday get-togethers

Tips for offsetting disastrous after affects of the big feast!

Holidays, celebrations, family gatherings, and get togethers seem to be synonymous with an abundance of food, high calorie, tasty, tempting treats and alcohol.  There are several ways to approach the big event without suffering the consequences of guilt, regret, bloating, and serious disappointment in your lack of self-control! Some Tips:

First and foremost, you must decide ahead of time what your plan will be; whether you will make efforts to be wise and make moderate, healthy choices or whether you plan to indulge in some of your favourite treats. We strongly advise that you set some boundaries and refrain from going no holds barred and having no restrictions. If you are going to choose to indulge, try this strategy to help balance and offset the additional calories. 

Try to train for at least an hour, if possible, or up the intensity of a shorter training session if you’re short on time.  Aim to incorporate some of your training as cardio. Burn, burn, burn to earn! Want the ability to eat more without packing on the extra pounds? Then you need to balance it out (much like your bank balance) with greater energy expenditure to avoid the consequences of weight gain. Cut back on your eating throughout the day to allot for the unhealthy and greater caloric intake coming your way. 

Eat a healthy breakfast and hydrate well (we’re talking water and/or supplement with herbal teas) throughout your day leading up to your evening event and eat light, perhaps only vegetables or broth.

If your plan is to indulge, opt to fast for the day (unless you’re diabetic, or have any other serious medical condition) and save your eating for the party.  It’s not something you would normally do, but because it’s a few and far between practice, it’s not a bad idea. This helps you to keep your calories in check and balance your overall calorie intake, especially if you already know ahead of time that you’re going to indulge.  Drink water (flavoured with lemon, cucumber, etc.) or green and herbal tea throughout your day, and if you feel some serious hunger coming on, munch on vegetables such as broccoli or celery. 

DO NOT WEAR ELASTIC WAISTBANDS OR YOUR “FAT PANTS!” This practice just encourages an unhealthy amount of limitless eating and you will be unhappy with yourself after-the-fact.  Remind yourself that you will have the opportunity to eat those beloved treats or your favourite food again and instead, try to practice moderation. Telling yourself that it’s the last time you will eat your unhealthy food of choice will only encourage you to eat more of it and it is not realistic. Wear fitted clothing and this will help discourage overindulging.

MAKE THE FOCUS MORE ABOUT THE COMPANY, THE SOCIALIZING AND THE PEOPLE, AND NOT THE FOOD.  Catch up with family, friends and enjoy the interaction with people, not food.

Allot for Alcoholic beverage calories (if you’re choosing to drink) and don’t consume them on an empty stomach.  Be sure to spread them out throughout your evening and/or be a super slow drinker and make the drink last as long as possible (this tactic will also help discourage others from pressuring you to drink more)! Pre-plan a ride home and of course, don’t ever drink and drive!

If you really bombed with your eating at the party and feel bloated and unhappy with yourself the next morning, make some more adjustments the next day:

  • Perform cardio on an empty stomach within 15-30 minutes of waking up.

  • Drink coffee (minus the sugar and cream) on an empty stomach to jumpstart your metabolism prior to your exercise. 

  • Exercise for at least an hour. Try to also take an evening walk to rev your metabolism when it is generally slowing down.

  • Hydrate and drink  and drink lots of water throughout your day to flush toxins and waste out of your system faster. Regular flat water is best and/or carbonated (although it can add to feeling bloated) and you can choose to flavour it with slices of citrus fruit or cucumber, herbs, etc. to enhance flavour and add nutrients.

  • Natural herbal teas are another source of fluid can also help push things through your system faster. Fluids combined with the exercise will work synergistically to assist flushing toxins out faster.

If you hosted the festivities, have containers and doggie bags to give away the leftovers. Be sure to get the unhealthy treats out of sight or out of your house if you can’t exercise discipline and moderation with tempting foods. Don’t keep them in your home and risk breakdown.

 Susan Arruda - Holiday Shopping at Kensington Market
Susan Arruda – Holiday Shopping at Kensington Market

These measures and tips, when put into practice, can help you avoid eating overload and maintain your healthy weight. Implement them to avoid the inches and the scale from the slow and steady climb. 

Planning is vital for success. However, take heart in knowing that one day of feasting will not undo all your overall healthy habits. The key to long-term success is consistency!  Stay positive and make efforts to move forward to correct the damage done and avoid self-bashing; it accomplishes nothing and can actually set you further back. Take action with the above points to correct the damage swiftly! You can’t do anything about the past so strive to keep a sound, sane perspective and move forward in a positive and productive direction.

Remind yourself that health and fitness is a lifelong  journey so make it fun to be fit and make sure it also fits your lifestyle. 

Article written by Susan Arruda

Fit People Have ‘Fat’ Days Too

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Susan Arruda is a 6 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Having a fit and healthy body doesn’t necessarily correlate to always feeling the part. As individuals, we set a precedent and a standard for ourselves to succeed and excel in many different areas of our lives.  

   “Self-esteem is more than a number on a scale; that number can often fluctuate. Your self-worth must be rooted and grounded in something far more substantial.” – Susan Arruda

If you’re a perfectionist, continually striving for excellence and progress, that is an often enviable trait, (Essential for a surgeon!) however, it does present a double edged sword, in some instances.

When pressure to maintain a standard exceeds the point where balance and enjoyment of our everyday lives is seriously affected, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Perception and outlook are directly associated with how we feel, which can impact how we act.  Negative feelings implicate our mood, no question about it!

In my case, If I have overindulged and missed the mark on a particular day, the next day can present very negative consequences if I don’t steer my mind into thinking the right thoughts. This scenario is a perfect set-up for a ‘fat feeling’ day. “I feel fat. I feel bloated. I feel gross.” These feelings can also just seemingly surface for no apparent good reason. (Time of the monthly cycle can trigger these emotions as well as just having a ‘bad’ day.) Many of us have heard the above phrases uttered by someone we know, or have indeed, spoken them ourselves, no matter what our fitness level.  

Missing the mark, whether it be in the eating or exercising department, can negatively affect our mindset and make event the fittest person feel like the fattest person in the room.
Been there, done that. Do it more often than I want to, actually.

Body dysmorphia is a term often used to describe this condition and it basically refers to having a distorted perception of one’s own body and it can affect both men and women. What you see in the mirror doesn’t line up with what is truth.  In serious cases, this can cause severe stress and result in a highly diminished quality of life and  can even lead to requiring professional help. Societal pressures may often have a large impact here.

Let’s get a reality check; one bad day doesn’t undo all the good you generally put into practice on a consistent basis. Ask yourself, “are you really all of a sudden fatter today, or just feeling the part?” The healthiest thing you can do for yourself in these circumstances is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on track ASAP.  Don’t beat yourself up and lament about the past. You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about it. Clean it up and balance the damage by doing more exercise, adequate hydration and eating right. Move ahead and get beyond the incident.

You can never get away from yourself, so practice being a best friend to yourself instead of your own worst enemy.  Make a decision to move forward and stay in a positive mindset, despite the slip up. 

Nobody is perfect and fat days happen to fit girls too!

The Everyday Overlooked Abdominal Workout – Posture

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion  and mom of 2.
Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Abdominals are at the ‘core’ of it all and as a result, involved in everything we do.  Refer to the article, The Deep Truth About Abs which discusses the four different abdominal layers. Strong abdominals are necessary for maintaining good alignment and having a strong healthy back.  Did you know that the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs (according to Australian research) is the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (TVA/aka TA) and that the muscles of the TVA are connected to the lower back?  My TnT Ab DVD, Core Galore – Fit Foundations, discusses this more in depth as well as provides you with three effective workouts to develop and strengthen your abs to become stronger stabilizers and challenges all the muscles of the core. I’m very passionate about this as I am keenly aware of the importance of solid foundational building principles for long term health and injury prevention.

Keeping good posture is a crucial and overlooked component of overall good health and the longterm consequences of poor posture runs a very lengthy list; from weak muscles, tight and stiffness that may be highly predominant upon waking, muscular imbalances, leg pain with numbness, tingling and weakness, breathing problems, spinal dysfunction, joint and disc degeneration, decreased quality of life, and more!  Yes, somethingso seemingly simple and insignificant as posture can really amount to big trouble long term. Some of the more serious health problems people experience can very well be the simple result of poor posture and the effects of erosion on the body over time, but we’re often in search of a more complex reason. In observing adults and working with students ranging from 11-14 yrs. old has brought fourth a strong awareness on the mass proportion of poor posture as an epidemic and the lack of knowledge surrounding it.

The literal meaning of posture means to put or place.  Keeping our body position in the most favourable anatomical position to avoid undue stress and muscle imbalances is crucial for long term health, not to mention, it’s aesthetically more appealing and yes, looking good in addition to feeling good, go hand in hand.  Engaging the abdominals is required to keep proper upright alignment and more specifically, learning to recruit and engage the deep transverse abdominals.

The TVA/TA works as stabilizers to support our back and pelvis and provide us with good torso alignment.  The transversus abdominis is involved in every single movement we perform; it’s the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs. When we are not in the practice of actively engaging our abdominals with the abdominal draw in (aka, abdominal brace, abdominal hallowing) while maintaining a neutral spine, it puts extra strain on our lower back and contributes to poor posture.  We need to actively practice this isometric abdominal contraction throughout your day by consciously pulling your navel into your spine and holding this contraction for 20-60 seconds intermittently throughout your day. Make sure you don’t raise your rib cage as that engages other muscles other than the TVA.  This draw in or vacuum exercise becomes easier with consistent practice and ultimately, you want to do this co-contraction with every exercise. It also automatically sets you up for having better posture.

Sitting in your car is an ideal time to capitalize on putting this into practice. You want to strive to maintain natural alignment of all three curves in your spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar). Sit as upright as possible, press your head back against your car headrest to counter the common protruding chin, have your butt all the way to the back of the seat while keeping your shoulders down and back and tighten and draw in the abs. In maintaining the natural curve of the spine, there will be a curve at the neck and lower back. Good standing posture requires engaging the deep TVA muscle (this supports and stabilizes the spine) along with alignment and positioning of the pelvis. Cue an imaginary line that aligns the shoulders over hips, and knee to ankle alignment. Standing for prolonged periods can produce fatigue and put undue strain on the low back. To alleviate this stress, raise one foot up onto a platform (the very reason for a bar stool) which automatically shifts the pelvis forward to reduce this strain and/or shift your pelvis forward by contracting your glutes and resetting your posture. Do a visual posture check as well as perform the draw in along with scapular retraction (press shoulders down and squeeze shoulder blades together to counter stooping and rounded shoulders) to reset your alignment. Having strong, more defined abs are a result of training them consistently (30% training, 70% diet) as well as eating right. This will not only yield a sleeker appearance, but will provide you with a solid strong core and healthier, better looking posture.

Get in the habit of training your abs around the clock; you’ll be amazed at the results!

The Deep Truth About Abs and Training Them

By Susan Arruda

We’re all too familiar with the traditional abdominal exercises that involve variations of forward curls and crunches but many people are simply performing these incorrectly. The focus seems to be on quantity rather than quality. It’s a busy life folks, and I’m all about efficiency of movement and making it count. I’m surprised when I encounter people who are still resorting to doing 100 repetitions of full/old style sit ups. My question is, “when you’re performing this exercise, where are you feeling it most? What exactly are you trying to target? What is your goal?”

The full sit up actually places a lot of stress on the lumbar spine (unless you have really strong abs and can articulate every movement of the vertebrae), involves a lot of the hip flexors/iliopsoas, and there is usually momentum involved.  If the muscular fatigue or stress is felt in parts of the body other than the abs, that’s an indicator that you may be doing it wrong, or the primary working muscle is not actually what you’re hitting, and it may simply be the wrong exercise selection for you. The fact is, you need to isolate and concentrate on the muscle you’re trying to work.  

In a crunch, your head is along for the ride so try to keep it as relaxed as possible. A cue to help you with this is to ensure you keep space between your chin and chest (imagine a baseball under your chin) and allow your head to rest back onto your hands like dead weight and keep your elbows as far back as possible.  When we perform a crunch, that move which targets the superficial, rectus abdominis only occurs when we’re lying on our back and the abs are working as prime movers. The fact is, our abs spend more time acting as stabilizers to support our back and pelvis in all movements of everyday life. 

 Susan Arruda pictured at 38 yrs. young!
Susan Arruda pictured at 38 yrs. young!

We’re missing a vital component of abdominal training which targets the deep transversus abdominis (I refer to it as the TVA/ aka the TA). Your ‘deep’ TVA is involved in every movement you perform and in fact, the TVA is actually the first muscle recruited when almost any limb movement occurs!  (Reported by Australian researchers, Richardson, Jull, Hodges, and Hides) This muscle is involved in flattening the abdominal wall and acts like our natural ‘weight belt’ or ‘girdle’. If you overlook strengthening this muscle, it can set you up for back pain and injury. Many people also don’t realize that the abdominals can be developed to push out or to pull in (DVD workout with detailed “how to” and breakdown of all the ab muscles, now available!) and clearly, we want to train them to pull inwards.

Learning how to recruit the deep TVA is the first step. The challenge is to do so without getting other neighbouring muscles involved and to breathe naturally through the process.

To activate the TVA, pull your belly button in towards your backbone to narrow the waist without expanding the chest and recruiting other muscles. The next challenge is to maintain that draw in contraction for a few seconds (start with 10) and continue to breathe naturally; not so easy! Visualization is helpful in getting this point across: Imagine putting on a pair of very tight jeans, zipping them up and yes, of course, breathing. That’s the gist of it but it’s a training practice that requires a great deal of mental focus when you’re first learning it.  Start slow and gradually progress over time to increase the draw in to 20 and 30 second holds intermittently throughout your day, whether sitting (car time) or standing as this will also assist in achieving better posture as well as a stronger TVA. Ultimately, the goal is to perform the abdominal draw in as a co-contraction to any/all exercises. The bottom line is, we need to train the abs to become better stabilizers and ideally, we need a combination of both; exercises that train our abs as prime movers (crunch variations) and deep abdominal training (draw in)  for stronger stabilizing abdominal muscles for a balanced core.

Integrating movement with ease while maintaining the ‘deep’ TVA draw in contraction is ultimately, your long term goal.

Consistent and conscientious practice will help you achieve that!


What Motivates You To Train So Hard?

By Susan


Why exercise?  Why do you train so hard? What motivates you? How do you train for life and continue to push through tough seasons?

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion  and mom of 2.
Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Exercising is an area I consider to be non-negotiable. It’s part of my every day life, an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and vital as a mood regulator.

Why train so hard? I was asked this question one day which took me by surprise and prompted some reflection and thought.  Well, for starters, it helps to improve my mood, keeps me in balance, produces a feeling of accomplishment and especially after a successful and strenuous workout, it improves my overall mental and physical well being, keeps me agile, flexible and feeling strong.  My thinking and philosophy is; if you’re going to do something, strive to do your absolute best to get the most out of it.  

There are many other benefits, such as: it enables me to maintain flexibility and mobility, promotes better circulation, improves skin complexion, heightens energy levels, improves brain function, counters the decline in body functions which occurs with aging and especially becomes more noticeable and progressive after the age of 30, improves heart health, improves functional and physical capabilities for activities of everyday life, increases bone density, to name a few, and of course, the biggie; it helps me stay lean, look good and feel good in my own skin! After all, your body is your home and if you don’t take care of it, where are you going to live? 

We should strive to take care and enjoy where you live; your physical body is your foremost “home” and is with you 24/7, and it’s a reflection of who you are. 

The list of exercise health benefits is certainly an extremely lengthy one. We shouldn’t have to first lose our health, in order to realize how important it is. Scrambling for your health after you’ve squandered it can leave you with serious remorse and regret. How can you afford NOT to exercise, is my question?  I passionately believe that our health should be top priority and unfortunately, I feel it is often the number one item in life that gets neglected and eliminated the most; it is the first thing to get ditched when time gets tight, and is the one thing we seem to take for granted the most; generally speaking, of course.

Many people view exercise solely as a last ditch “must do” effort used to lose weight. As we can see by the benefits outlined earlier, it is so much more than that.


I look at things pertaining to health as an investment and/or a gambling kind of approach. When you exercise, eat well, do all you can to ensure good health, you’re investing in your health. When you’re overworked, stay up late, neglect training, party hard, consume alcohol, don’t manage your stress levels, rely heavily on pills, get out of balance, then you’re gambling in a big way! The pay off for exercising, eating well are magnificent but the consequences, however, take time to manifest, and symptoms are often internal and hidden for quite some time before we get the reality of their magnitude.  We push the envelope more times than our body can handle, until the problem gets so big, we can no longer ignore or avoid it. An alarming Doctor’s report is often the only reason some people will begin exercising. That’s a bit like treating your spouse with respect, only after you have wound up in marriage counselling; too little, too late.


We live in an instant society, want it now era; want instant results in life with exercise, diet and training, and this simply isn’t possible. It isn’t a race, as many people seem to often view it; it’s a lifelong journey and a lifestyle. The serious problems take time to manifest and it is prolonged neglect that too often results in health hazards. I always say that knowledge is power. Know the benefits and the consequences, keep them before you, and get motivated to stay active. If you know you’re not strong in self motivation, invest in a personal trainer in order to follow through with your exercise plans. Due to the seasons of life, your goals will shift throughout the course of your life and are dependent on your desires, priorities, circumstances, and where you’re currently at with your health. Do you simply want to look and feel better, improve the state of your health, remain mobile, or is it at the point where it’s a matter of life and death? Lack of knowledge and not caring is a dangerous place. Find your “why.” Develop goals and get motivated and committed to work at it! You simply cannot afford to not exercise!  HAVING to do something is much different than CHOOSING to do something and we shouldn’t let it get to the point where it no longer is a choice, but because the Doctor’s orders dictate that you must.  I’m fond of the saying, “pay now or pay later.”  Choose to invest wisely with exercise when you’re young and keep it up or you will be forced to invest in health care later on. 


A close encounter with death can scare you into straight thinking but  it shouldn’t have to come to that. Remember, it takes approx. 30 days to develop a good habit. Keep the momentum going, strive to do something active on a regular basis and don’t go longer than two days without activity (even if it’s just a short walk). It’s easier to stay progressive and keep moving forward than it is to stop and restart again.

Movement is a gift you should enjoy and cherish!