Category Archives: Support

Muscle tension

Have you noticed that we use the same words for “good” muscle tension and “bad” muscle tension? What’s the difference?

Here are two types of muscle tension:


1) A muscle has to generate tension to exert force at a joint. This may or may not result in observable movement. This is what we do when we are trying to strengthen or contract a muscle. This type of muscle contractions could be concentric (muscle actively shortens), eccentric (muscle actively lengthens against a load or gravity) or it could be isometric (muscle length is unchanged during a contraction).

2) A muscle that “should” be at rest but is still generating tension and/or movement. This may be the type associated with mental stress. Areas where we may feel this “tension” is the neck, jaw, hands, chest and abdomen. It really could be any muscle. We may tighten the muscles in these areas inadvertently in response to stress.

Either way you look at it, muscle tension is created through muscle contractions, voluntary or involuntary, done consciously or unconsciously.

So why should you care?

Because we have control over both types of tension, even the one that seems to be more “unconscious”. And one of the best ways to learn how to “release” or “exert” muscle tension is through exercise. Exercise helps us to increase our kinesthetic awareness. More simply, exercise can help us feel and understand our bodies better, and become more adept at modifying muscle tension according to our needs.

Even better, if our focus is to “release” tension, there is a reciprocal inhibition of one muscle over another with every muscle contraction. This means, if I want to release tension in my tricep (located on the back of my upper arm) then one way to do this is contract the opposing muscle (bicep) on the front of the arm.

Do you want your muscles to get stronger to improve function or do you need to release and learn how to “let go”?

Probably a bit of both. So why not move with intention at least once daily? This could be a walk, an exercise video, an exercise class virtually or in person, a personal training session, swimming, or multitude of other physical activities. Start with what is familiar and preferably at least mildly enjoyable. Buddy up with someone who is looking to do the same thing.

When you exercise regularly or intentionally move on a consistent basis, you will slowly learn more about your body and how it feels after certain activities. You will become better at determining when a muscle is “on” for the purpose of strengthening, or if it is “on” because of habits that have connected our mind’s stress to a physical response in our body.

If you would like to learn more about your body through movement, Essentrics is a great place to start. Essentrics uses all types of muscle contractions and will help you zone in on areas where you need to release. Check out my page Essentrics with Andrea or check out Essentrics.com for more information.

Let’s MOVE!!



The evolution of a group exerciser

This an updated post from from September 2020

Unintentionally, I have evolved into being a group exerciser.  Maybe I always was one.  Now I identify as one.

There are many benefits of group exercise that can make the effort required seem less daunting and some added benefits that can only be experienced in a group setting. Now with COVID there has been an online boom in options. You can do it anywhere without leaving the comfort of your home or workplace. Gyms re-opening with the possibility of live classes has once again been halted. The livestream/ virtual options can provide many of the same benefits and will get you moving.

Early development as a (virtual) group exerciser

My initial exposure to group exercise was virtually through some old technology called the television. It was The 20 Minute Workout and I always hoped my favorite back up instructor Bess, would be part of the trio.  My primary school friends and I would get together to get a lunchtime workout in.

I was inspired by these aerobic exercisers, their confidence and showmanship.  Their integrated and unique combinations of fitness attire were always fun to decipher.  I was a little young and a bit conservative for the high cut leotards with the g string backs but I really thought these women were amazing.   

Early development as a (live) group exerciser

My first formal in person group exercise experience was at a gym called Lady Fitness when I was about 15.  It was an extension of the Superfitness brand.  I joined Lady Fitness with expressed intent of using the seated inner thigh (adductor) machine. Group exercise wasn’t my initial focus. The inner thigh machine was the answer to all of my problems at that time.  I couldn’t wait to get started.  

In between adductor training sessions, I trialed many of the group classes offered. They were generally “aerobic” with varying levels of difficulty.  I remember being a little judgemental of one of the instructors huffing and puffing during her own workout.  Now I know better that the apparent effort did not necessarily mean lack of fitness.  It was just exertion, physically and vocally. 

Since that time I had tried multiple other gyms and fitness centers but nothing ever really stuck in terms of group fitness. I remained doing mostly what I was used to which included dance, running and team sport. After high school, I continued on the path of running and weight training.

Middle and later development as a group exerciser

My middle stage of development included going back into formal dance training in my late 20’s(I had my midlife crisis in my 20’s). Dance school is almost all group physical activity in often a highly dynamic atmosphere with live musicians. I studied full time for about 3 and a 1/2 years and then tried to make it as an independent dancer for the remainder of a decade. Supporting myself as a dancer did not become a reality but I was sure glad to have had the experiences that I did.

The final stage of my development included an introduction to Essentrics® at a fitness conference. At that point it had been at least 10 years since I had experienced physical group dynamics. It turned out to be a technique that I enjoyed and it piqued my intellectual curiosity. I left the conference fully engaged and ready to go.

The benefits of group exercise

Feed off the energy of the other participants

When I had returned to the dance studio, I realized that I loved being in class. The energy generated by the musicians and fellow dancers was spectacular and so stimulating! Essentrics® classes have also provided me a similar encompassing experience as a group exerciser. Your focus is heightened by the instructor, music and group dynamic.

I can do that too!

It’s so much easier doing intentional movement when there are others around doing the same thing.  This could be a class or even a duo. When I see others exercise, I want to exercise too(or at least think I should be). I think part of the motivation is to match your peers and a little competitive spirit too.

Not enough time? Finances?

Sometimes there is a financial constraint to group work. In the advent of our now not so recent world crisis, there are multiple online options. The cost of online classes may be cheaper than in person.

When it comes to time, the online workout option eliminates more than half of the battle. You are not depending on traffic or the TTC to get you there on time. You can potentially do it at work or home depending on the routine.

Other possibilities may include creating your own group and choosing someone to lead. Use some prerecorded workouts or online applications. If you can get enough people together, you could share the cost of a workout with an instructor you choose.

Watch and follow someone else

I did an online class this morning for $10 with one of my favorite instructors. She has amazing energy, and I can see the other participants (when I choose to). I clear some space, get a mat out, earpods in, runners on, and voila! Instant group fun!

Although there are many recorded options, the benefit of a live stream is that the instructor is actually watching the participants to give modifications and specific cues. You really do feel like a part of a class, and it’s definitely more fun for me than doing my workout solo.

Group exercise

Find your peeps. They are out there. Structure a class into your week and make the commitment. Take advantage of the abundant energy that is already present to get you moving.  There is no time like now. Are you ready?

Please check out my page Essentrics with Andrea if you are interested in online group exercise. For more info check out Essentrics® and Group Exercise.

Choosing a group exercise class

Choosing a group exercise class may seem a little intimidating. The options are endless. Choosing the one that best suits your needs can be tricky. Should you look at the content of the class or should you focus on the community it creates?

A class that I recently tried was called DancePulse, a cardio class with dance and music. I was interested in the aerobic aspect of the class and how far it would go in elevating my heart rate.

I was also interested in the social dynamic . The instructor was from a dance community that I had belonged to years prior. I didn’t know anyone else in a group of about 12. So there was just a little familiarity on a social level.

The impact of the content.

When choosing a group exercise class it’s always challenging when you don’t know the specific content of the class. You don’t know the intensity, volume, level of difficulty, and in my case, the strength and endurance required to get the cardio benefit. You may be familiar with the movements or the technique but the order, transitions, sequencing, timing, repetitions, can all be different depending on the instructor.

When you are new to a class being completely mindful of your abilities is important but not easy. The good thing with online classes is that if you are paying attention to the instructor, it is quite hard to watch anyone else in the class. It’s easier to be true to yourself and your own capabilities because no one is really watching.

The impact of the community.

Now for the community. What community was I interacting with? The Zoom community? The dance community? The fitness community? There were a couple of freestyle moments where the instructor said something like, “we are all dancing together”. That brought a smile to my face and made me chuckle, because we were dancing “together virtually” and “virtually together”.

With another online group exercise class that I take regularly, the instructor is good at creating discussion at the end of the class. It’s fun to listen to others and reflect on our recent class experience or other worldly matters. If you don’t have time to stay that’s OK. The option is there if you wish to engage with others.

As a result, knowing a bit about the content and a bit of the community provided me with enough incentive to get “through the door” and into a new group exercise class experience.

So if you do not know where to start, pick one element: content or community.

Decide what you want to do physically(stretch/strengthen, yoga, dance, cardio, weight train, relax, sweat, release, etc) or join into a group where you have some personal connection, no matter how limited it may be. Even better, ask a friend, family member, colleague or neighbour what classes they have been doing and try them out.

Take it easy if you are not familiar with the routine. Start with going through the motions before going full out. In any case, get started and give it a go!

And if you are new to group exercise, check out my post Group Exerciser to find out why group exercise is a great option to get you moving.

Essentrics with Andrea

Exercise evolution: how to avoid boredom with exercise

It is important to be ready for those times when you are experiencing boredom with exercise. The evolution of your exercise program should allow for variations as needed. I know I am continually evaluating my program and it is always changing. Variety in exercise is important for many reasons.

One reason is to avoid boredom with exercise. Did you ever have a plan to do some sort of exercise, to find yourself saying, “Ugh?! This is so boring!” I know I have, so what do I do? Well , I don’t throw the towel in and use boredom as an excuse to stop but as a reason to be creative or improvise. There are truly a multitude of things you can do to get yourself moving. If you are not up to one thing, try another. Just making some slight changes may be enough to keep you on track. Let me give you an example of how my program has evolved over the last 6 weeks.

Here was my weekly routine 6 weeks ago

Steady state running with one minute “fast pace” every 5 minutes for 6 cycles (30 min) plus lower body stretches 2X

Knee rehab 2X and shoulder rehab1X.

Essentrics(stretch and strengthen no weight) 2X

High rep full body muscle endurance online exercise class 1X

Moderate paced walk 2 times daily for 25 minutes to and from work.

It turns out that this past week was the most varied and challenging to date. I had to depend on my steadfast methods (get changed without necessarily knowing my plan for the day) and assumptions (any amount of intentional movement is better than none) to keep me on the straight but not so narrow path:

This week’s exercise and activity program

Mixed cardio (elliptical and treadmill) moderate intensity (30 min) 1X

Treadmill steady state moderate intensity jog (20 min) 1X

Knee rehab body weight and machine strengthening (30 min) 2X

Alternate knee rehab using different equipment for variety (20 min) 1X

Essentrics practice class (30 min) 2X

Essentrics full class 1hr 1X

Hip and Knee stretches 10 minutes 2X

HIIT online class (1hr) 1X

Upper body bodyweight workout (15 min) 1X

Walks to and from work daily (2X25 min/day) 5X

The mixed bag of goodies was required to avoid boredom with exercise this week. And just for fun, when you add up the time spent, I was moving at least twice the minimum recommended in the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Adults aged 18-64 which includes:

Performing a variety of types and intensities of physical activity, which include

  • Moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activities such that there is an accumulation of at least 150 minutes per week
  • Muscle strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice a week
  • Several hours of light physical activities, including standing

Want to know where you are are on the exercise and physical activity spectrum? Check out my “Are you evolving as an exerciser” post to see where you fit in.

Start with a thread of exercise. Don’t worry about the end result. Just know that what you give now you will benefit from later. The small parts will make up a whole and and even more. Allow for variety and last minute changes. When you apply yourself to do the simplest of tasks you will soon find yourself at a new level of fitness and abilities. Exercise evolution: one day at a time is all you need to get there.

Let’s GO!

Essentrics with Andrea

Group exerciser: My evolution and why group exercise

Unintentionally, I have evolved into being a group exerciser.  Maybe I always was one.  Now I identify as one.

There are many benefits of group exercise that can make the effort required seem less daunting and some added benefits that can only be experienced in a group setting. Now with COVID there has been an apparent online boom in options so you can do it anywhere without leaving the comfort of your home or workplace. Gyms re-opening with the possibility of live classes is still on the horizon. Even if you are not inclined to try that out, the livestream/ virtual options can provide many of the same benefits and will get you moving.

Early development as a group exerciser

My initial exposure to group exercise was virtually through some old technology called the television. It was The 20 Minute Workout and I always hoped my favorite back up instructor Bess, would be part of the trio.  Despite not actually being in a class, you were exercising along with others.  Sometimes my primary school friends and I would do the lunchtime workout together.

I was inspired by these aerobic exercisers, their confidence and showmanship.  Their integrated and unique combinations of fitness attire were always fun to decipher.  I was a little young and a bit conservative for the high cut leotards with the g string backs but I really thought these women were amazing. The sleek look of the  production and its sense of modernity at the time were unique.  

My first formal in person group exercise experience was at a gym called Lady Fitness.  It was an extension of the Superfitness brand.  I joined Lady Fitness with expressed intent of using the seated inner thigh (adductor) machine. Group exercise wasn’t my initial focus. I really thought that the weighted inner thigh squeeze machine was the answer to all of my problems.  I couldn’t wait to get my chance on it.  

The group classes were generally “aerobic classes” with varying levels of difficulty.  I remember being a little judgemental of one of the instructors huffing and puffing during her own workout.  Now I know better that the apparent effort did not necessarily mean lack of fitness.  It was just exertion, physically and vocally. 

Since that time I had tried multiple other gyms and fitness centres but nothing ever really stuck.  Frequently I was intimidated and extremely self conscious so l stuck to what I was used to which was mostly dance and cross country running.

Middle and later development as a group exerciser

My middle stage was going back to dance training in my late 20’s. It is almost all group physical activity in a dynamic group atmosphere. The final stage of my development included an intro to Essentrics at a fitness conference and then my first live class as a participant. I was fully engaged and left ready to go.

You are not alone

In retrospect, most of my exercise and movement experience had a social aspect which at the time I did not recognize its importance.  I loved it so much that I got started on a group fitness certification. Essentrics brought me back into the social aspect of group exercise.  

Feed off the energy of the other participants

Long before Essentrics, I decided to become a dancer again. I returned to the studio and group physical activity.  I loved being in class and feeling the energy generated by the musicians and fellow dancers! It was so stimulating! Essentrics classes have also provided me a similar encompassing experience as a group exerciser. Your focus is heightened by the group dynamic.

I can do that too!

…back to group exercise or group physical activity.  It really is the best thing for me whether a participant or teacher.  Either formally organized or just a duo after work.  It’s so much easier doing intentional movement when there are others around doing the same thing.  I think part of the motivation is to match your peers and a little competitive spirit.

Not enough time? Finances?

Sometimes there is a financial constraint to group work but the time spent is really just about prioritization.  Its truly up to you and what is it worth to you.   And in the advent of our recent world crisis, there are multiple online options to participate in with the instructor and modality of your choice.  You could even create your own group for that matter and choose someone to lead. The cost of online classes may be cheaper than in person. If you can get a group together likely it will be worth some instructor’s time with everyone making a smaller financial contribution.

Watch and follow someone else. Get out of your head and into your body.

I did an online class this morning for $10 with one of my favorite instructors.  It was totally worth it.  She has amazing energy, and I can see the other participants if I choose(as on Zoom). I stick some earpods in, set up my computer, clear some space, have a mat ready, runners on, and voila! In home training without a significant cost.

I prefer the live streams over recorded where the instructor is actually watching the participants to give modifications and specific cues. You really do feel like a part of a class, and it’s definitely more fun for me than doing my own workout.

Find your peeps. They are out there. Structure a class into your week and make the commitment. Take advantage of the abundant energy that is already out there to get you moving.  Are you ready?

Then LET’S get set and GO! 

Essentrics with Andrea