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!

BACK TO BASICS Determining and Defining ‘The Fine Line’

 Susan is a 5 time Figure Champion and mom of 2.
Susan is a 5 time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

By Susan Arruda

Training and a healthy lifestyle are an essential component of my life and well-being, as it is for anyone pursuing health, fitness and overall wellness.  I’ve been physically active for 35 years and still going strong.  Pitfalls, discouragement, time restraints, fatigue, injuries have all come and indubitably provided resistance and challenge of a different sort (the weight training challenge is much easier, in comparison). Yes, I get tired of fighting but there really isn’t any other viable option. Settling, complacency and the many consequences that accompany inactivity are things that make me cringe, so I continue to fight the good fight of fitness, much like many of you! I love to eat, I want to look good and I want to feel good in my own skin!

Back To Basics: For me that means hitting the iron! My first priority in training and what helped me to develop my physique was first & foremost, weight training, although that is certainly not exclusive to what I do. A little bit of background: I fell in love with physical fitness through a gymnastics unit in Phys. Ed. class back when I was 10/11 years old (gr. 5, I think), faithfully did T.V aerobics back in the day (It Figures with Charlene Prickett was an inspirational pioneer in her field and a role model), learned to swim in my high school years (prompted by an embarrassing near drowning episode in swim class), began weight training at my local YMCA in my mid-teens after coming across Joe Weider’s fitness magazines and becoming inspired with the beautiful and beautifully sculpted physique of Gladys Portuguese. I incorporated water training in my late teen years, unfortunately due to injuries as a result of ignorance! My competition years provided me with a resurge in desire to push myself to achieve bigger and more specific goals.  I gained confidence, learned to perform under pressure and created some impressive and fun routines (with Marco’s help and coaching) and created some highly memorable moments in my history.


Thankfully, I have always been passionate, self-motivated and driven to push my body to “my limits” and to be the best me that I can be.  Strong attributes, but there can also be some drawbacks. Yes, passion and determination are required elements to succeed and reach your goals; that is the DNA of a champion, no doubt about it. However, pushing yourself to the max can lead to injuries (especially with aging, insufficient sleep, etc.) and knowing “the fine line” isn’t so easy for those of us who are intent on striving for progress, better, and more. 

I have gone through many seasons of training; build, burn, maintenance, etc., amidst also battling the plague of injury, be it knees, shoulders, hamstrings, etc. Trying new activities is fun, it can help push you past a plateau, keeps things interesting, but it can also bring with it a greater chance of injury if you’re not careful  (depending on the activity and risk factor involved). I must say, my most favourite, maximized gifts of all-time are usually fitness equipment. Several years ago, Marco presented me with, not one, but two bosu ballsand I’ve had such a fun, creative time learning how to use them to the max.
I learned the hard way that the smaller muscles that get challenged as they do with some aspects of bosu training, should be trained more sporadically, and not every day. 

I consider myself a master of pushing through and in many cases, not necessarily listening to my body, but instead, training with the motto of “come hell or high water, just do it!” Stubborn persistence can be an admirable trait, but it in some cases, it can be plain, dumb!  It can certainly wear down your body and put you in a vulnerable state for injury, and worse, exacerbate injuriesyou may already have and refuse to nurse because “taking time off” or consecutive off days, are simply not an option.  Many elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts are faced with this strong drive and determination to achieve which can blur the lines of taking a pass on a workout. I got so good at not making excuses and living the “just do it,” motto and ignoring the constant signs your body tries to clue you into: injuries that won’t go away, or are constantly recurring, fatigue, loss of motivation and joy in doing what you once loved, more susceptible to illness, etc…, and the list goes on…

The fact of the matter is, resistance training transforms bodies more quickly and effectively than anything else! In my own experience, I have found weight training to be the most effective way to sculpt, tone, shape, burn fat and offset the natural decline associated with aging! Did you know that, according to research from the American College of Sports Medicine, many bodily functions start to decline at a rate of 2% after the age of 30, but with exercise, this aging process is slowed down to one half % per year?! As an example, a 90 year old who exercises would have lost only 30% of functional ability compared to a whopping 60% as a non-exerciser.  Training with resistance burns a significant amount of calories and increases thermogenesis; the body’s fat burning ability and potential. Lean muscle tissue is metabolically active, burns calories and will transform you into a fat-burning machine. Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid promotor of cross training and mixing it up, but I have discovered that sometimes when you hit a rut, it is definitely a time to reevaluate, and perhaps take things back to your roots; the training that your body responds to most favorably. I still promote mixing it up, but instead, give a higher priority and devote the bulk of your training time to what works most effectively for you. Hands down, for me, that is undoubtedly, weight training! You can achieve simultaneous benefits; a high aerobic/cardio effect simultaneously while building lean tissue. That is the best bang for maximizing your time and results! By combining a countless variety of training methods, (see the Weider Principles article) boredom and stagnation can be completely avoided.


I have come to the realization that as much as I want to keep learning and progressing in fitness, I don’t want to do it at the expense of sustaining an injury. There are few things that beat the feeling of accomplishing a challenge, that’s for sure! Being able to successfully perform strength moves on the bosu was a great thrill for me! The fact of the matter is, injuries take a whole lot longer to heal as you age, as many of you are so acutely aware of, so weigh out the pros and cons carefully.

Exercising on 5-6 hours of sleep is a challenge at the best of times;  toss in some high-intensity and/or high challenging training and you’re just asking for it, so to speak. Your strength is diminished as a result, your immune system is generally weaker, your balance is affected and if you must train, make it a maintenance, lower intensity workout in order to steer clear of injuries, or consider taking a pass. This can be a tough one for constantly sleep deprived moms (I lived it and I know!) so do your best to strike a balance for the season you’re in.

If you’re not trying to get into the cirque du soleil, then perhaps that contorted, advanced yoga move shouldn’t be attempted. (Although, yes, admittedly, I would love to nail it, lol!)

Is it a good idea to learn gymnastics and take on higher risk sports and associated skills as an adult? Probably not. I would have loved to have been a gymnast but that just wasn’t in the cards for me due to circumstances beyond my control in my childhood. When I daughter was enrolled in a recreational gymnastics course, my passion for the sport was once again ignited when I discovered they were offering a class specifically for adults. I decided to capitalize and signed on. Well, I always knew that gymnastics was ideal for the young athlete and although I wasn’t “old,” per se, and I did learn some great skills, my dream of performing back handsprings and aerials was laid to rest after a slight injury to my back (hey, at least I was smart enough to leave it alone).
Downhill skiing is another sport that you may not want to consider embarking on as an adult (yes, I do have a few horror stories in this area as well; sigh). Cross country skiing can be equally as challenging for both a cardiovascular and muscular workout, but alas, the adrenalin falls a bit short, in comparison.  Consider this, however;  a shoulder tear, or even worse, can be the result of bracing for a fall.  Let’s go back and ask ourselves again here, “does the risk outweigh the benefits?”

Generally, yes, I’m pretty good about knowing my limits but many people either go way too far or they don’t strive high or hard enough. You want to be able to push yourself in order to continue to make gains, yet remain injury free. Factor in the variables and either go for it, or pull in the reins and hold back if you must, but do continue to strive for progress and gains or maintenance; all of which require work. One incident of perhaps pushing myself too hard comes to mind; several years ago I did the CN tower fund raiser climb and being in my 40’s was intent on continuing to maintain my time of climbing 1,7077 steps in less than 15 minutes as I had done in past years. Well, I did accomplish the task but it took at least 20 minutes for my heart rate to come back down. 😕 But I got a t-shirt… I accomplished my goal and I did it!

It should go without saying that if you’re ill with a fever, training is not wise. Exercising with a fever does not help you get rid of your fever, but it certainly can further weaken your immune system and keep you sick longer.  If it has been consecutive days and you’re going a bit “stir crazy,” perform some brief, light activity such as walking, stretching, or relaxing yoga (not ashtanga yoga). Definitely avoid the “come hell or high-water, I’m going to just do it” motto.

Ever had an injury you were in the process of rehabilitating and you then take it upon yourself to “test” it by putting yourself through the exercise or activity that aggravated it, far sooner than you should have, or you simply ignored your sports therapist or trainer’s advice. Ahem (clearing my throat here)… Our instant gratification era can be, in part, to blame as well as our addiction to those ‘feel good’ endorphins,  but giving your body adequate time to recover is far better than going at it sooner than you should and prolonging the situation. I’m not saying this is easy, especially for all you (and me) fitness die-hards, but doing so will ensure your rehab time doesn’t double, triple, or even plague you for years to come! Get sound, smart therapy and advice and be sure to follow it to avoid delays and further discouragement! (Yep, I’m sure you guessed it; been there, done that!)

Any injury that you have sustained at one time or another puts you at a disadvantage.  It is a weakness that can resurface when you’re in a weakened state or if you push your body to the max. If the injury is sustained in more mature years (30, 40, 50+), greater healing time is required which means a longer layoff. Consider the life-span of an athletic career. There is a very valid reason why football, hockey, baseball players, etc. have a short lived professional career.  I have certainly found this to be truth in my own experience. I sustained knee issues in my late teens and have had to be mindful of high impact movements and exercising both moderation and low impact options (cross-training) as a result. This is one big reason I am very adamant in promoting PT (personal training) for teens and those new to exercise. Seek knowledge, invest in yourself and especially in your children, as doing so, will help to ensure you learn how to perform exercises properly and stay injury free from the get-go; hindsight is 20/20 and many who have gone through this harsh route of learning the hard way, will wholeheartedly agree!

When I look back and consider what I used to be like compared to where I am now with respect to implementing this simple strategy, I am leaps and bounds ahead, thanks largely in part to the school of hard knocks. I used to plough through the tweaks and indicators that I had pulled something during a workout.  Stubborn persistence is great in the right areas, but implemented wrongly, can hinder and hurt you.  I am now at the point of listening cautiously and carefully and taking great heed in this area.  The moment I feel something not quite right, I stop immediately and deviate! Cheers to celebrating progress!

A motivator I once came across on FB comes to mind: It read, “You will never regret a workout.”  I have to disagree!  I have had more than my fair share of workouts that resulted in injury, and yes, I did ultimately regret the decision to workout that day. Knowing when to take a pass is equally as important as a workout, in some cases. Learning the hard way, as in two steps forward, one step back, is a tough season I went through and I hope, through the information and experiences I have shared, will help you to avoid altogether.

As I finish off this article, Marco asks me, “are you going to listen to your own advice?”  Hmm… I ponder, lol. I’m a work in progress and am definitely working on it;-)


“POISE AND POWER” – How a 40 year old mom, with a full time job, makes it all “fit”

Susan Arruda with Marco Girgenti
Images by Arsenik Photography, Bernard Clark Photography and CS-I.

It’s two days following her double title wins at the 2009 WBFF World Championships and the newly crowned PRO is still at it.

As the sun kisses the horizon late in the afternoon on this crisp autumn day, Susan Arruda is still pushing herself to the max and finding new limits to conquer. Running uphill backwards while dragging a 20 lb. bag, lunging around the oval track with the occasional sprint, it’s easy to forget that this is a 40 year old mother of two (natural child birth), who juggles a full time job, extra swimming and personal training clients on the side, along with a full time relationship.

Susan has the distinction of 5 consecutive first place finishes in her last four shows as a competitor in the Figure category. How, you may ask? Well, this year she competed in the 35+ and Short Figure Categories at her first WBFF World Championships, won both respective titles and earned her PRO card. In 2008, Susan clinched her third consecutive FAME title by performing what has now been dubbed a “legendary” Figure routine, which incorporated “never before seen strength moves on a Figure stage” on a BOSU™ Ball. That she did so costumed as Wonder Woman® (her favorite childhood superhero), is really no “wonder” at all to the people that know Susan. “Everything’s a workout with you,” her fiancée is fond of saying. You might think that such a fierce competitor would have spent most of her life on stage, but nothing could be further from the truth. Susan decided to “give it a go” by competing in a show at the tender age of 19. Following that, she would be absent from stage competition for 17 years, but not from the competitive stage of life, where we all vie for victory. When I had the chance to interview Susan for this article, I wondered how much of that fitness “persona” would emerge. What I found instead, might come as a surprise to some.


M.G. Obviously, you work very hard at this. Why do you keep training at the intensity you do, if this is not a profession for you?

S.A. Fitness is not a “one day” or seasonal thing for me, it’s a lifestyle. I remain in the same condition pretty much year round, so I don’t really have an “off season”, so to speak. I continue to do this to challenge myself, strive to be the best I can be, and to feel good in my own skin.

M.G. Describe your training these days.

S.A.  Dynamic, fast paced and always highly instinctive. I don’t repeat workouts or get stuck in a “must do” number of reps or sets. Many times I will get to the gym and not know what I am going to train until I actually get on the floor. I love to train outdoors with bands, against my own body weight etc… Even though I have a lot of muscle, I do not train with heavy weights anymore.


M.G. Some people might look at a person in your physical condition and think “she’s got it all together”. Would you say that’s true?

S.A. I don’t know if anyone has it all together! (laughs).

M.G. You mean, there have been challenges? (Writer laughs in kind).

S.A. For most of my life I battled low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and I had major anxiety issues. I know this might be surprising to some, considering the title wins, my appearance etc…

M.G. Did exercise help you to overcome those challenges?

S.A. It did, because it contributed to a sense of accomplishment, which yes, can help with raising someone’s image of self. It also played a strong role in helping to provide respite from dealing with all of my challenges. Sure, you could call it escapism, since that’s what I wanted to do at that point in my life, however it did not solve all my problems. I eventually had to face those challenges head on and it was a terrifying experience for me. When I train, I am in my own world and that time is strictly for me. I don’t socialize at the gym, I am there to train. Even now, training still helps me to keep stress and challenges at bay. I would rather expend energy training, than waste it in being angry or stressed out. It was not always like that for me. I was not a person that was looking forward to her future. In fact, I would go as far to say that I did not want to be on the planet, at all. Thankfully, my faith in God, being with the right man and some positive changes have given me strength and more reason to go on. Now, I can honestly say I have never been happier. The man whom I now share a beautiful relationship with is extremely supportive, but again, it wasn’t always like that for me. I found the courage to leave a damaging marriage and start all over again. It was scary leading up to that moment, but when I made that change, I instantly knew it was the right move for me and I never looked back. Even though I may not be where I want to be, thank God I am not where I used to be. I am flawed, just like everyone else, I heard Marco once say; “you can’t “Photoshop” life,” so true! All I can do is strive to better myself and hopefully help others to do so as well.


M.G. You have two teenage kids. How did the pregnancies affect your training?

S.A. Well, for starters there was severe sleep deprivation. My first child was very alert and not a “sleeper”. Less than one week after giving birth to her, I tried to go back to training, but that did not go very well. I would be up six times per night on a regular basis. I guess you do what needs to be done and somehow I managed that schedule for the better part of four years since my two children were 14 months apart. During that time period, I was lucky if I managed three workouts in a week. For someone who had spent so much time training consistently and intensely for years and hours on end, this marked a major shift. I had to get out of the thinking that if I could not train for two hours, then it would not be worth training at all. I had to come to a realization that something, no matter how little it may have seemed to me, was better than nothing at all.

M.G. How far into your first pregnancy did you train?

S.A.  I was in the gym until the night before delivering my first child, doing weights and cardio.

M.G. We have all heard of some women gaining a lot of “baby” weight in their pregnancies. How did you manage to stay in shape during/after your pregnancies?

S.A. I was already fit prior to my pregnancy. I have heard a lot of women say things like “I want to get in shape before I have my baby”, which on many occasions becomes a temporary state, as many times after the delivery, they retain too much weight. I trained hard and was always active, especially at key times such as puberty and in the third trimester of pregnancy, which are hot zones for fat gain. Being in shape prior to the delivery is a key factor in how your body will react to pregnancy.
As far as weight gain, though everyone is different, I had set my expectations based on the following loose equation: factoring in the placenta at roughly 5 lbs., an average baby weight of 8 lbs. plus fluids, the common sense estimate for me was a 20 lbs. total gain. I was very keen about not exceeding that number, especially having a petite frame. An extra 5 lbs. would likely be more noticeable on someone my size, than perhaps on someone who is 5 foot 7.

M.G. What advice would you give to women who have kids and full time jobs?

S.A.  If you can only find 20 minutes to exercise, then make them 20 quality minutes. Actually, during my second pregnancy, all I had time for would be 10 minutes here and there to follow an exercise video. Even if it’s 15 minutes in the morning and 15 at night, whatever you can do is better than sitting on the couch just thinking about it.

M.G. What’s the question people ask you the most?

S.A. How do I get abs like yours?

M.G. And your answer?

S.A. Well, it’s a loaded question. Let me put it to you this way; let’s suppose I wanted to build a car from scratch. Could you tell me how to do it along with all of the variables involved? What I can say is that I engage the transverse abdominus (TVA) in everything I do, I always lock the core. I incorporate a wide range of exercises to target my abs, but core comes into play in everything I do. Whether you know it or not, your core IS involved in everything you do, from sitting to standing and everything in-between. I do hanging leg raises, which I think are a substantial part of my development in that area. As for crunches, I never load, as I believe that can make your abs protrude.

M.G. You have won several titles and your popularity is growing. What do you hope that “celebrity” will enable you to do?

S.A.  I hope to be an inspiration to other women, especially moms; to believe that it is never too late to remain fit for life. I hope to help them understand that it is possible to remain consistent, all natural and perhaps challenge them via my own story. I have a realistic everyday life and I probably deal with a lot of the same issues that other women deal with. It all boils down to how badly you want something. I had to find a way, and sometimes I had to take from other areas in my life to make it happen, I skipped the clubs, the social outings, the whole party scene, but I believe it did payoff.

M.G. Favorite body part to train?

S.A. There have been phases throughout the years. I think that accumulatively, I have probably had “training infatuations” with all the different major body parts at some point. I must say that legs have always been a favorite of mine though.

M.G. What’s next for you?

S.A. Tomorrow morning! (laughs).One day at a time. I can’t see myself doing a lot of shows though, life is pretty full at the moment and I am striving to maintain balance. I did contribute a chapter in a book I am very proud of called… “Starving to be Fat” which is available through Amazon. I am also very excited that my first DVD, “Elite Water Training” is about to be released! It’s a water workout like no other that promises to challenge even the most seasoned athlete. I have recently been named an “Advanced Genetics” Elite Athlete by the company of the same name, which I feel very honored about, since their products are second to none.
I would also like to thank the gym that sponsors me, Xtreme Couture, a top notch facility with a no-nonsense training environment. A huge thank you to IFM, which has been so gracious, and Arthur “Arsenik” Kwiatkowski, for the amazing images you see before you.

Susan’s websites can be found at: and

Article by: Marco Girgenti

Marco Girgenti is a freelance writer, elite weight loss coach, and author of the book “Starving to be Fat”.

Article featured in Fit & Firm Magazine – July 2010 Issue

Fear Is Not a Motivator – Susan Arruda

Fear is not a motivator. I’ve seen it displayed in others, and yes, I’ve also experienced it enough times in my life, and it can paralyze you, it can hinder your growth and progress and worst of all, if you allow it, fear can keep you from moving forward in life. I became extremely aware of the overwhelming power of fear recently, when I found myself, along with my kids, at the thrilling attraction, CN Tower Edge Walk. Thoughts that barraged my mind included: Why do I do this to myself? This is terrifying! OMG, help me! This is self-inflicted! I don’t think I’m going to be able to take my hands off this lifesaving wire! Thank God I can do a pull-up! – As I sorted through all these fear-filled thoughts and emotions, I then began to mentally reason with myself. If I don’t walk to the edge, lean, and do all these terrifying stunts – all tested and proven to be completely safe – I’m going to be so disappointed in myself later on and feel completely jipped and so angry with myself.  

One thing’s for sure, conquering fear is empowering! The toughest part is the going through; not dwelling on the fear, but instead, focusing on the positives and the getting to the other side. As a metaphor, when compared to the many fearful experiences we go through in life, there are no shortcuts to getting around it. As scary as it often is, you’ve gotta go through or you get stuck. You conquer fear in your mind and you decide to act, even though you may feel inundated with it. Fear is an adversary designed to take you out, make you back down and scare you into not following through.  I reasoned through it, focused on the positives, decided and acted. Know what? Once you act and move beyond it, the experience gets easier, you get better, and gain confidence as a result.

A quote by Alfred Hitchcock says it best: There is no terror in the bang, only in the moments leading up to it. Life is full of these moments, be it your first job interview, a public speaking experience, etc.; trying something new can present much of the same conflicting emotion of fear. You know you should do it, but your fear is trying to convince you otherwise. Some of the seemingly smaller challenges (diving for the first time, doing a forward roll into the water – I’m drawing on the many personal experiences I witness as a swim instructor), can be a set up for the bigger things to come.  Will you rise to the challenge and overcome your fear or will you let it engulf you and hinder your future progress? Courage requires you to push past the fear and do it afraid. Repeating it enough times will annihilate and eventually, completely eliminate that fear altogether, in time. There’s something to be said for disciplining your mind and thoughts to resist yielding to fear – your progress depends on it!  Think of this acronym the next time you’re faced with FEAR; False Evidence Appearing Real! Don’t let it fool you or bully you into running away from pushing through and making progress! 

YES! I overcame the fear at 356m above the ground and performed all the “activities,” as they called them:-) What’s next, I ponder.

Susan Arruda


Elite Water Training

Water workouts are a great way to incorporate high intensity without the high impact wear and tear on bones and joints! I believe water training is the most overlooked and underutilized environment that can offer challenge and change to your workout regime. The liquid gym benefits are two-fold; natural resistance of the water provides a muscle toning effect while minimizing the impact in the high intensity (especially in plyometrics) cardiovascular work, thanks to the buoyancy factor. Plus, water is refreshing, especially in the warmer summer months.  Another bonus; if you’re really not a fan of heavy sweating, it’s ideal for you!  Although you still do sweat during the strenuous workouts, it’s simply not noticeable and felt in the same way. While on the topic of sweating, many people forget the importance of hydration while exercising in the water.  Just because you’re immersed in it, doesn’t change the fact that you need to replenish lost fluids during exercise and that means, “don’t forget your water bottle,” as it’s equally important as in land training.
The water training pay-off is grand:

You’ll see a boost in muscle power and strength. It also helps increase flexibility and range of motion, muscle tone, coordination, circulation, renews energy levels, and can enhance your sleeping patterns.

The hydrostatic pressure of the water provides 12% more resistance than similar movements on land, resulting in higher workout intensities, yet lower heart rates (by about 10 beats per minute) while improving muscle tone.

Training in the water forces you to work opposing muscles concentrically and eccentrically, creating a balance in strength, flexibility and muscle symmetry.

Training in the water provides a safe environment to challenge and improve your balance which simultaneously challenges and strengthens your core. Maintaining upright vertical alignment and good exercise posture requires a consistent abdominal challenge throughout the entire training session.

The buoyancy of the water provides protection for your joints and spine from the impact and trauma typically associated with high impact land exercise. With the buoyancy and protective properties of the water, you’ll feel more confident about taking it up a notch and increasing your intensity. For those who have sustained an injury but don’t want to give up their training, water workouts provide the perfect exercise option, especially since swimming is not a requirement, therefore eliminating this as a prerequisite skill. The only thing required for water training is your swimsuit (no goggles) and plenty of energy and enthusiasm!

When You Don’t “Feel” Like Training – Susan Arruda

Training doesn’t always come easy, but one thing’s for sure; feelings have no place in your exercise regime!

 Susan Arruda is in her mid 40's and is a mother of 2. She has been training naturally for over 30 years.
Susan Arruda is in her mid 40’s and is a mother of 2. She has been training naturally for over 30 years.

Feelings are unreliable! They are fickle and can fluctuate dramatically from one day to the next, and even one moment to the next. 

Your feelings should have absolutely no place in your exercise program! When we determine whether we train (or do most things, for that matter) based on whether we feel like it, the likelihood of you actually doing it and following through is slim, to none. Consistency, which is a huge component of success, will plummet drastically if we leave it up to our feelings.  Ask anyone who wakes up before the crack of dawn if they “feel” like training.  Most would preferably choose their warm bed to fighting fatigue and getting up earlier than the rest of the world to exercise. The difference is they have made the decision and commitment to a healthier, active lifestyle, which for many, entails getting their training in prior to their workday.  

Most, myself included, would definitely agree that the wonderful feeling and positive outcome that comes from getting it done and feeling better overall, is the primary motivating factor. You feel better, stronger, it helps you manage and control your weight, it enhances your mood; just to name a few of the many motivating, positive benefits. 

Deciding ahead of time, creating a plan of action and following through is vital for success in this healthy lifestyle journey. It doesn’t always have to be a long workout. Even 15 minutes done on a daily basis goes a long way to feeling and looking better and establishing healthy lifelong habits. 

A shift in thinking is required for those who “dread” their training. Perhaps you need to change your activity of choice. Be aware that dread is discouraging and it drains your energy and negatively affects your spirit.  

Change your thinking from, “I have to train,” to “I get to train.” Think of the many people confined to wheelchairs or who are sick in hospitals who cannot train because they do not have the choice or ability to do what you may be dreading. Resist discouragement and consider what you can do versus what you cannot do. Change your scene, change your activity, adjust your goals perhaps, but make the decision to enjoy the gift of movement and then, JUST DO IT!

The Importance of Stretching

The flexibility component of your workout is important in preparing your muscles for the greater workload to come when done near the beginning of your workout, and for optimizing recovery and increasing flexibility after your training when your muscles are increasingly warm.  Never stretch cold muscles; it can be the equivalent of stretching a rubber band just out of the freezer -POP! Ouch! Capitalize on stretch training when your muscles are warm and pliable, making them more conducive to increasing your range of motion (ROM). 

There are so many benefits of flexibility training so it’s important not to neglect it. It’s critical for maintaining muscle balance. Other benefits of improved flexibility include: Flexible muscles reduce the risk of injury during exercise and daily activity, reduces stress and tension in the muscles you just trained, helps to dissipate lactic acid, minimizes the occurrence of muscle cramping, reduces the risk of injury during exercise and daily activities, enhances performance in exercise and sport as well as in everyday activities of life, promotes mobility, and flexible muscles assist in good posture which minimizes stress and maximizes the strength of all joint movements. 

Flexibility techniques can provide two functions: relaxation and flexibility. There are many types of alternative methods used to promote relaxation such as: yoga, Pilates, meditation, tai chi, visualization exercises and breathing exercises. Some of the different types of flexibility techniques for stretching include:

STATIC STRETCHING, the most known and common of all techniques. The muscle and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) are gradually lengthened and a position is held for 10-30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times.  This promotes a relaxation response, increased blood flow to the muscle and facilitates elongation of the muscle. The goal is to encourage the muscle to move to a state of increased flexibility beyond its original normal position.

DYNAMIC RANGE OF MOTION: These exercises involve dynamic movement of the muscles at each major joint. A slow and controlled active range of motion (ROM) is performed starting from a large range of motion and moving to a smaller range. This type of stretching is useful to prepare the muscles for static stretches that are more intensely targeted. This method of stretching should be performed when muscles are warm and pliable. 

PROPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION (PNF) technique involves an initial isometric contraction of a muscle group followed by a static, lengthening stretch.  This is a more advanced technique that can help in areas that are resistant to improved flexibility.  For best results when stretching, be sure you have warm muscles and work within your personal limits and understand how to alter the difficulty of a stretch.

Posture – long-term consequences of not have great posture

The very definition of posture means to put or place. Optimal posture requires learning to position the body in which the least amount of stress and strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during sitting, standing, moving, lying and weight bearing exercise. Alignment refers to the relationship between the different body parts. Think about dropping an imaginary plumb line from your earlobes, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Ideally, you want these cue points to line up.

Bad posture is a lot worse for you than you may realize. Studies have revealed an association with bad posture to breathing problems, falls, depression, joint and disc degeneration, nerve compression and a decreased quality of life! Those are serious health complications that can be avoided. 

Common contributors of poor posture include: weak muscles, tight muscles, prolonged static positions, high-heeled shoes (greater than 2″), having flat feet, internal or external rotation (pigeon toed or duck walk) of the feet, excess bodyweight, carrying a heavy bag repeatedly over one shoulder, falling asleep in wrong or funny positions, etc.

Do your best to avoid prolonged static positions and do a self-analysis check regularly throughout your day. Good posture can enhance your health and provide you with increased energy and stamina, improved circulation, better breathing, a taller and slimmer looking you, and assist in having greater confidence. Don’t underestimate the seemingly small things of our everyday lives like posture, as they really do amount to a lot over the long run. Be sure to read our article written by Susan entitled, ‘The Everyday Overlooked Abdominal Workout,’ which illustrates the importance of posture as it pertains to abdominal training.