A Muscle Contracts How?

Picture this – you’re at the gym, watching yourself in the mirror as you complete every single rep.  Only to make sure your form is on point of course!  Or maybe you’re just admiring how taught your quads look in those flashy new LuLu’s.  Whatever the case – eyes are on the mirror, and what else do you see?  Your muscles hard at work!  Rep after rep, you start to feel the burn.  But do you ever wonder just how that process happens; I mean, how your muscles contract?

Disclaimer: I’m about to get real sciencey on you.

There are three main types of muscle tissue – cardiac muscle, smooth muscle and skeletal muscle.  We’ll focus on the latter which attaches to our skeleton via connective tissue called tendons and through the process of contraction our bones begin to move.

What exactly is a contraction, you ask?  

No, I’m not referring to the 14 hours of labor your poor mother had to endure to bring you into this beautiful world.  There are two main types, concentric and eccentric, both of which are isotonic contractions; meaning tension stays the same whether the muscle is shortened or lengthened.  Let me explain further.

Concentric refers to the shortening phase of a muscle when stimulated by tension.  When completing a dumbbell curl, flexion occurs at the elbow joint, shortening the biceps brachii.  Eccentric refers to the lengthening of a muscle against that same tension, in this case it would be the return of the Dumbbell to its starting position.


This eccentric motion is sometimes referred to as “negative work,” as it may actually allow for greater force production and less muscle fiber recruitment; therefore, creating greater microscopic tears (this is a good thing) and is usually experienced by that feeling of muscle soreness.  You know that feeling, after a Monday session with your Squat Squad, stairs and toilet seats become dreaded nouns.

Now for some microanatomy!

Skeletal muscle fibers are made up of light and dark bands creating a striped appearance.  Each of these muscle fibers can contain several thousand myofibrils, which are protein filaments that run parallel to each other throughout the length of a cell.  The dark bands (A bands) contain a protein filament called myosin, whereas the light bands (I bands) contain a protein filament called actin.  The A bands (myosin filament) have tiny projections called cross-bridges that extend out at an angle reaching for the I bands (actin filaments), and an additional Z line divides each myofibril into a series of segments called sarcomeres, which act as the contracting units of skeletal muscle.

Yay!  We’re almost there!


Okay – this is where the magic happens!

The Sliding Filament Model – it even sounds like a really cool trick, doesn’t it?!  For a fiber to contract, it requires energy or ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which in simplest terms, is synthesized from the food we consume.  With sufficient levels of ATP, the brain and spinal cord (through means of the Central Nervous System) communicate to the motor neurons to release a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.  When the neuromuscular junction detects acetylcholine, calcium is then released to the area surrounding the fiber.


Calcium then uncovers binding sites along the I bands of the sarcomeres for the A bands to attach.  The myosin filaments then bind with the calcium receptor sites on the actin filaments and cross bridges are formed by myosin pulling the actin toward the centre, and therefore shortening the sarcomere.  If multiple muscle fibers are voluntarily stimulated at the same time, the entire muscle will contract, shortening the overall length of the muscle.  Voila!  A concentric contraction!

There you have it folks!  Now you know what a contraction is, and exactly how it occurs.  Thanks for hangin’ in there.  I’m sure you felt like throwing spitballs at me half way through, but you did it.

So the next time you’re at the gym, admiring your voluptuous badonkadonk in the mirror, take a minute to really think about all of the amazing action that’s going on deep beneath your epidermis.  The work of ATP, your CNS, the A bands with the I bands and the Z bands in between.  Your body truly is an amazing machine.robot

5 Health Benefits of Physical Activity

A brand new month, a brand new year! A new You too? I’m sure plenty of you are out there smashing goals, creating some amazing habits and posting gym-selfies like a mofo. If that’s you, keep up the amazing work my fitness friend!

Now, I also know there may be a few of you feeling frustrated at this point, hoping for a fitness miracle but stuck thinking, “well there’s always 2017, right?” Don’t you worry! The first couple of weeks can be the toughest, so hang in there. I’ve dedicated this blog post to providing you with some of the many health benefits of physical activity and why you should make a little time to squeeze some in.

According to CSEP (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology), adults aged 18–64 should partake in at least 150 minutes of (moderate to vigorous intensity) aerobic physical activity each week. This includes movement that increases your heart rate and rate of breathing to a personal level between 5–8 on a 1-10 scale.

When referring to an RPE scale (Ratings of Perceived Exertion), a 5 means you can still carry a conversation but struggle when singing Beibers’ latest lyrical wonder; however, at an 8 you’ll have trouble saying a few words without gasping for a breath. It’s also favorable to include muscle and strengthening activities 2 days per week. There are 168 hours in a week, can you think of anywhere in your schedule that you can sneak in 2.5 hours of exercise?

Now that you know how much physical activity you should aim for and how to gage your exertion, let’s talk benefits!

  1. Weight Management
    It all comes down to calories in and calories out. Physical activity accounts for ~30% of calories expended, which helps us reach that deficit we aim to achieve. This also affects body composition by decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. Remember, healthy weight loss is 1–2 lbs. per week.


  2. Mental Fitness
    When the mind is stressed, as is the body. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin, which can help to reduce anxiety, elevate mood, boost decision making skills, and slow the cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging.
  3. Bone Strength
    Your skeleton becomes stronger by experiencing stress from weight-bearing activities such as walking, jumping, yoga, and strength training. When the skeletal system is taxed by such exercise, osteoblasts are sent to the stressed area to begin the process of bone remodeling. This becomes very important as we age, as our bones can become brittle over time; however, with appropriate exercise this can ensure a high quality of life that allows for long lasting independence in our later years. Two words: Betty White. Heart HealthYour heart is a muscle and therefore needs to be worked just like any other muscle in your body. The harder the heart works, the stronger it becomes. This leads to a lower resting heart rate, which means over time you can handle more work without as much effort; leaving you feeling more energized throughout the day. Maybe you can tackle that pesky basement project after all.


  4. Heart Health
    Your heart is a muscle and therefore needs to be worked just like any other muscle in your body. The harder the heart works, the stronger it becomes. This leads to a lower resting heart rate, which means over time you can handle more work without as much effort; leaving you feeling more energized throughout the day. Maybe you can tackle that pesky basement project after all?

  5. Disease Prevention
    Along with strengthening your heart, exercise helps to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity. By keeping your arteries free of plaque and cholesterol, your heart is able to perform optimally.

    Would your vehicle run properly over time if you never took it in for an oil change?   Probably not. Our bodies work much the same way, it’s important to keep them fine-tuned and in the best shape possible. You only have one life to live and one body to do it in – take care of it.

    The exercise of an extraordinary gift is the supremest pleasure in life. – Mark Twain

5 Reasons Why You May Be Eating What You’re Eating

Do you ever find yourself opening, closing, and reopening your refrigerator door? Standing in your pantry, arms crossed, eyes wide, scanning each shelf over and over again? Or maybe you always know what your body needs, you’re okay with eating the same foods, day in, day out; routine is important to you! Despite your situation, there are several variables that affect your choices and influence what you eat on a daily basis. I’ve listed five below!

  1. Nutritional Element
  • Perhaps you’re choosing foods based on their nutritional value. You read something, somewhere, once upon a time and it’s been engrained into your cerebellum. Fibre-rich foods are your friend! Green tea helps you lose weight! Choose lean cuts of meat! So you do all of this, you even throw in a solid 8 cups of fluid throughout the day. Some points accurate, some not so much, but you follow those rules because it makes you feel nourished and accomplished to do so.
  1. Body Composition & Social Norms
  • Maybe physical appearance is important to you and every single choice you make balances on that consideration. Whether it’s an upcoming trip, those too-tight blue jeans, or overall health and wellness that are driving your choices. Perhaps the latest craze promises 25lbs. down in a month and encompasses Hollywood’s’ most famous sporting their beach-ready-bods because of it; yup, it MUST work! Right?
  1. Personal Values & Beliefs 
  • Perhaps you feel very strongly regarding animal cruelty so you’ve decided to be a vegan or a vegetarian. Maybe you prefer to live as the caveman did before us so you’re following the Paleo methodology. Personally, growing up with Ukrainian grandparents, I’ve built a very strong relationship with perogies so I choose to squeeze them into my macros any chance I get!
  1. Experiences
  • We can’t forget about our experiences; this has a great influence on the foods we choose. If you’ve read my first blog post about establishing healthy, Tiny Habits then it’s also important to know that we have, can, and will also develop some not so favorable habits, unfortunately; however, this isn’t entirely bad! Kind of like that last sentence, wow, run-on. Let’s say you crave something sweet after dinner, overtime you could try swapping the chocolate bar for a fiber granola bar, and then eventually a fruit like baked apples with some cinnamon – still satisfying that sweet tooth, keeping the reward the same.
  1. Environment & Chemical Digestion
  • This brings us to our social environment, an area where I feel we’ve all struggled with a time or two. You show up to your friends’ bridal shower (once you near 30, the bachelorette parties are over and the bridal showers take over) with the intention of not touching the treats. Willpower is high, you’re wearing your skinny jeans, with a little stretch I might add; life is good. But then that moment arrives, the lid pops off the cupcake container, their basically yelling at you – yes, the cupcakes…
  • Whether at home or at a social gathering with family and friends, simply being around food can provoke the cephalic phase. The sight, smell, or thought of food paired with even the teeniest of appetites could intensify your cravings. The brain tells our stomach to prep itself for food by increasing the amount of hydrochloric acid present, which contributes to a long chain of events aiding in our digestion process. One of which is the secretion of salivary amylase, an enzyme used to digest carbohydrates in our mouth, that “mouth watering” feeling. A feeling that kicks in when we see foods we enjoy eating.
    So the next time you’re feeling hungry, really think about that sensation for a moment; consider what’s fueling your appetite. Have you eaten a full, balanced meal? If not, chances are you’re probably still hungry; listen to the internal cues your body is trying to communicate to you. Are you making a choice based solely on its nutritional value or are you caught up in a fad approach? Do you eat that bowl of cereal every morning because you enjoy honey nut cheerios or because you did so as a child? There is absolutely no right or wrong way when it comes to eating, we are all unique, as are our relationships with food. I’m simply bringing to light some of the dynamics that affect our choices and we may often overlook, blaming weak willpower or pushy cupcakes instead. You know your body best; do what feels right. Feed your appetite and your soul.

Hack: The Road to Success is a Rocky One

  • You’re feeling good, you’ve set some amazing goals and you have a strategy for every single roadblock, you’re sure of it! But wait, something occurred that you weren’t prepared for. A speed bump that you just didn’t see. How could this happen?
  • Life happened. Even though you’ve mapped out each and every step, it’s absolutely normal to experience a few setbacks. It’s these experiences that show us whether or not the path we intended to travel is in fact the one we’re meant to. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that “fork in the road” at one time or another. Torn between right and left, or perhaps the road has disappeared completely and you’re wandering aimlessly trying to find your way again.
  • Well if you review any matrix that lists the Stages of Change, you’ll notice that experiencing setbacks is actually a very important course that we’ll all face at some point in our lives. It’s that moment where nagging temptation has overcome our willpower. You’ve given in to one of those old habits that you worked so hard to overcome. You’re feeling frustrated and maybe a little disappointed in yourself, all very normal feelings to accompany a very normal stride toward success.
  • It’s also important to know that you can and you WILL rebuild yourself. You have nowhere to move but forward from this point and with the right strategies you can do this with ease, I promise!
  • Identify what provoked temptation in the first place.Did you attend a gathering starving to which they served your favorite entrée that lead to overeating? Did you walk by the dessert table at the buffet even though you know you struggle with eating cake or pie responsibly? Determine exactly what triggers those old behaviours you once struggled with so you can avoid moments like these in the future.
  • Revisit your goals and write them down.Review those small changes you made at the very beginning of your journey. Remember, they worked! Whether tiny habits or SMART goals, make them visible and review on a daily basis.
  • Ask for help.Seeking additional guidance is by no means a sign of weakness; in fact it’s    the complete opposite. It’s taken me a number of years to figure this out myself. Not only will this benefit you immediately but think of all the amazing connections you’ll make that will continue to provide support along the way. With all that newfound knowledge you’ll be able to help others as well!
  • Stay positive.You will face some obstacles at some point or another and some of you      may experience a few more than others but focus on the positive in every situation. Start your journey with this understanding and believe in your soul that a setback is not a sign of failure. It means you’re taking chances, you’re learning more about yourself and what you need; you’re truly living.
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  • Lastly, remember that you are perfectly imperfect. Yes, you. From every wrinkle or stretchmark, to that crooked tooth peeking through your beautiful smile. Perfection is unachievable in all aspects of our lives. Instead, focus on being the absolute best version of you. Use that energy to goal set, strategize, give thanks; help others whenever you can, pay it forward, and you too will move forward on your rocky road to success.

Where to Begin?

A common question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves a time or two. Whether it be a family decision, a personal choice, or a life changing moment to which you feel yourself teetering on the edge. We’ve all been there. Literally on the brink yet we still ask ourselves that same question. We know something must be done, sooner rather than later, but where to begin?

There are several ways to help us pave this path and shed light on what needs to be done. From self help books, positive mantras and affirmations, to daily meditation. All very helpful strategies to assist us in finding our way but there’s one in particular I’d like to pay special attention to. Tiny Habits.

Often times we become so fixated on the end result and the big picture that our vision turns into an overgrown forest without even the slightest ray of light making it’s way through. Tiny habits allow us to hone in on those baby steps we often want to surpass and help create our own path through the underbrush. It’s those baby steps that prepare us for success and transform overwhelming behaviors into automatic responses.


BJ Fogg, the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and founder of Tiny Habits has already changed thousands of lives with his methodology. http://www.bjfogg.com His focus is simply this:

After I (existing habit),

I will (new tiny behavior).

Then Celebrate 🙂

For years I thought I needed motivation and motivation alone to instil change but that isn’t the case. It’s nearly impossible to be “on” all of the time. We’re humans, we’re filled with emotions, it’s only normal to have an off day here or there. It comes down to your ability to complete the behavior and ensure that it follows a current trigger or existing behavior. Here’s an example to give you some direction:

After I brush my teeth in the morning,

I will drink one cup of water.

I will then celebrate with my morning cup of coffee!

The above Tiny Habit aims to increase one’s fluid intake and sandwiches it between a current trigger or habit and a celebratory event. You could also celebrate by telling yourself how great you are or how much closer you are to reaching your daily goals! You can also build on this.  From something fairly simple as the above to quitting smoking or practicing self love.

I hope you’re feeling some sense of clarity and understand that it’s okay to start small. Maintenance takes time, persistence is key and patience really is a virtue. Hang in there! Change will come and it doesn’t matter where you begin but that you simply just begin.