Staying fit on vacation -

How to Stay Active on Vacation

Staying Fit on Vacation -

If you’re going away for a quick weekend trip, there’s no need to stress about getting a workout in, especially if it’ll require you to pack too many extra things. But if you’re gone for a week or more, and are used to training at least a few times a week, you’ll want to make sure you maintain a certain level of exercise, especially if you have any physio to do!

This summer, my husband and I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for a month! (It was such a great trip, and I hope to post more about it soon!) I’m used to 5 days a week of powerlifting training, a HIIT/turf day, and whatever running, yoga, or fun activity like hiking I want to throw in there. I wanted to maintain a certain level of fitness, while still being able to enjoy our vacation, so I prepared carefully.

Instead of training 5+ days a week, we tried to get to the gym twice a week, be active on our exploring days, and I made sure to hit my physio and core workouts in the hostels using resistance bands. I also found that trying all the crazy gyms in Southeast Asia was a fun way to experience the local culture!

Staying fit on vacation -

How to Plan:

  1. What are your favourite activities? Make sure you have basic gear that could work for that, especially sneakers. There are rock-climbing gyms, spin studios, yoga studios, everything, everywhere.
  2. Find the spots. If you can’t miss spin classes, check out a studio near your accommodations to see the prices. I researched gyms that we could walk to from our hostels so we’d be prepared, and it was in the budget.
  3. Plan your workout schedule. If you’re going to be lounging on the beach in the afternoon, you could hit the gym in the morning. If you’re going to be running around all day, focus on exploring.
  4. Take advantage of your surroundings. One morning when we were on the beaches of Koh Samui, we did sprints and a HIIT workout. It was such a cool experience with that view! If you have a good route nearby, go for a run!

This also includes knowing what sort of places near you have healthier options. We had to eat a lot of fried noodles and rice, no fresh vegetables (to protect ourselves from the Delhi belly), and not enough protein. I lost a few pounds on the trip with all the walking and the lowered caloric intake, but I would have liked to have budgeted for some smoothie bowls every once in a while.


What I Brought:

  • At least one workout outfit, as well as a bathing suit I could train in
  • Sneakers (I chose my Sketchers that I can squat in or run if necessary, but they’re old so I wouldn’t mind if they got wrecked, unlike my training shoes)
  • Hip circle/resistance band
  • Long resistance band with handles

We did carry-on only, so I could only pack things that could serve multiple purposes. A skipping rope would also be useful if you’re worried about getting in cardio. If you have a checked bag, you could even bring ankle weights.

Simple Hotel Room Workout:

  • McGill Big 3 (key for building a strong core, especially for those with back injuries)
  • Banded glute bridges
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Deadlifts and squats with the band under your feet for resistance
  • Burpees
  • Rows with the band
  • Flys with the band

Good luck on your next trip!!!

Something extra! The gyms we visited:

Chiang Mai, Thailand – Exclusive Fitness Training – 200 baht

  • This gym was a walk from my uncle’s house, but clean, small, and decent equipment. The floors were weirdly padded, so it was hard to get a grip while benching or squatting. As expected, hard to find plates, but still had a good sweat. WOW, did we sweat.

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Angkor Muscle Gym – $1 USD

  • Definitely our favourite gym! It was a 3 minute walk from our hostel, which was fantastic- we could rush right home to the pool! Open gym (see above, left) with lots of bodybuilding equipment, and benches. We felt very comfortable here, despite being the only tourists. You can even buy cheap big water bottles and protein shakes.

Hanoi, Vietnam – X-Men Fitness ~$1 USD

  • I liked this gym (above, right) because I was close to hitting a PR on squats, but it wasn’t actually that great. Same weirdly padded floor, the bars were maybe 10 kgs? and the squat rack had a weird bar with a metal bar pad on it… Felt comfortable taking my shirt off, since the Vietnamese women were doing it, and enjoyed the sweat I got.

Re-learning how to run – AGAIN


Some of you may not find running once a week (or more) in 2018 impressive, especially since my max has been 5k. For me, it’s been a show of strength, both physically and emotionally.

Until grade 8, I thought I wasn’t an athlete. I had been told by classmates for too many years that since I had asthma, I couldn’t do sports. No teacher built up my confidence about team sports, so I still avoid them. School also doesn’t support the types of athleticism I loved (ballet, downhill skiing, and outdoor sports like hiking and canoeing).

In grade 8, my gym teacher looked at me and said, “Janessa, you can run.” So I did.

Every gym class in the spring we did laps outside, and I kept up with the boys who were in competitive soccer. It was the best feeling, especially when I won 400m or 800m sprints. In grade 9, I got to try hurdles. It felt like I was flying. From then on, whenever I’d be stressed, Mom would tell me to put my running shoes on, and I got that runner’s high. It was the first time that I was proud of my “thicc” legs. I began to regularly run 5ks, and loved it.

When I was 19, I was an idiot and slipped my L4-L5 disc lifting canoes. Since then I spent hours doing physio, crying, gained weight, went through a severe depression, and lost running- one of my favourite ways to de-stress. I had an amazing physiotherapist during my undergrad, who focused on getting me strong enough to re-learn how to run, but I didn’t take it to heart. I would skip working on core, and every time I’d run, I’d cry. I wasn’t running as fast or as hard as I wanted to, and some days I’d get 2k in and my back would hurt.


I stopped for a long time, and focused on powerlifting. During my first year of my Master’s program, I realized that I was lacking in core strength that was preventing me from getting my lifts heavier. I started researching what was the best for core strength for powerlifters, and got strong at that. No more low-back pain.

I had a single, scary thought in fall 2017.

I wanted to run again.


I set myself a goal of re-learning how to run in 2018. I had to run at least once a week, even if it was -20*C outside, no matter what distance worked for me. I also signed up for a MEC fun run April 15.

Progress was slow. I ran 7km/h, it took me weeks to get up to 5 k, and I still can’t run 5k unbroken. I didn’t get that joy when I put my running shoes on, it was just to prepare myself for the race, and because I wanted that runner’s identity back.

Things changed on April 7 when I decided that instead of running a 5k, I wanted to do sprints. They were hard. It hurt so much the next day. Bu

 I felt like I was flying again. I cried on the jog home.


The next Tuesday, April 10, I went for a lunchtime 5k. I ran 2.5k unbroken, faster than 6km/h. I enjoyed it.

Today, Sunday, April 15, Nic and I ran a 5k MEC Race. It was very, very windy and cold, but it was my first time running 5k unbroken in years. I’m super proud that I did it in 29 minutes, and can’t wait to get down to 25min. I definitely thought I was going to pass out the last km, so I’m very thankful that Nic ran beside me the whole way to keep me going faster, and kept encouraging me. (Sorry you didn’t get a great time 😉 )

Tips for re-learning a sport:

  • You might not be the same athlete you were before your injury. That’s okay. You probably don’t even remember how hard it was to get to the level you were before. You have a second chance to be good at the sport, with more information about how to do it safely. Be humble about it. We all start somewhere.
  • Never stop your physio. Ever. Incorporate it as much as possible. I have to do core bracing, so I do that as I’m going to sleep. I make sure that my core exercises are at the end of every powerlifting session.
  • Warm up properly. I have some weird stretches to do before my lifting sessions, and that’s great. Don’t be embarrassed. My only excuse is when I’m panicked to find a squat rack 😉
  • Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. My chiropractor knows what’s wrong with me right away, and is a runner, so she has lots of great suggestions.  Ask lots of questions of people who are better at the sport than you are. I send my lifting videos to a friend, and post them on my public Instagram.
  •  Take time to recover, and vary your activities and intensities. While I was training for this race, I’d run home 5k at a slower pace, and do 2.5-3.5k runs at a faster pace. I also train at the gym 4 days a week, so my legs can get banged up. Lots of epsom salt baths, yoga, and foam rolling. When you’re starting over you need to make sure you take care of yourself.

Good luck!

We can do it!!

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com

Fitness Update – Powerlifting on or off a program?

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com

I started my first powerlifting program (Layne Norton’s PH3) in March 2016. Since then, I have gained 100 lbs on my deadlift, 75 lbs on my squat, and 55 on my bench. I am insanely proud of those baby gains! Of course, I won’t be able to continue to go in that exponentially, and this journey hasn’t been without pain and challenges. When I hit my 200lb squat in March (without pain, too!), I cried. After herniating my L4-L5 disc 6 years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that. Next goal? 2 plates (225 lbs).

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.ComFirst Powerlifting Phase: March-May 2016

I LOVED Layne Norton’s PH3 programming, as you can read here. I was working 5 days a week at GoodLife, so I had time to be in the gym 5+ days a week, which this program requires. I liked working on percentages, but I also noticed that I would re-calculate every week, instead of keeping it steady for the whole month. Probably lifted heavier than I needed to at the start. It was also a very humbling process. I worked on my form, and sometimes super light weights felt incredibly challenging, and I’d be out for a week.

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com

Second Phase: May-August 2016

Cutting. Yuck. I’ve never tried an actual cut before, and it wasn’t fun. But I managed to drop from 20% body fat to 16%. That involved lots of high reps lower weight (also to recover my muscles a bit), skipping, and box jumps. Also, I ate less dessert. I hate that about diets.

I also adapted Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 programming to my needs. I still worked 4-5 days a week, but had gotten bored of PH3’s incessant accessory work that drove me insane. I wanted a bit more variation.

Third Phase: September-December 2016 Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com

Yup, didn’t do much. I gained 10 lbs and 5-6% body fat (including Christmas bloat) from when I started grad school. Stepping on the scale January 2 was a shock. I didn’t get the hang of 3 courses in grad school, 2 part-time jobs equaling 20 hours, 2 choirs, and being a youth sponsor AND having time for myself. I hit some heavy weights, but did not have the consistency to gain much strength. My energy also got super low. However, with the bulk came a bigger butt. I mean, not necessarily in a good way, but definitely bigger. It was a real, dirty bulk.


Fourth Phase: January 2017-Now

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com
I got an Inzer Weightlifting belt for my birthday!

What’s going to be the best phase: a slow cut for some weddings, but hitting some awesome numbers. Within a month of cutting (more healthy food, less dessert, jumping rope most days, and more gym sessions) I had lost the 10 pounds, and dropped 2% body fat. I’m at a very comfortable spot, but I’m looking to lose a bit more body fat before a spring wedding. I expected that I would lose strength, but I easily used up my Christmas carbs hitting my deadlift and squatting goals.

Powerlifting Update - JanessaMann.Com
My left shoulder (the one on the right, since it’s in a mirror) is insane. Not sure how it got that big, and why I still can’t do a pull-up. Getting mixed messages.

I’m happy  with my consistency at the gym despite not having a specific program for the past 6 months. I start co-op in May, and it’s a long commute, so hopefully I figure out a good schedule that will keep this momentum going. Then again, it’s not like I can pretend I haven’t had back or hip pain during this term. I definitely put on weight that I didn’t need to, and suffered. I think now that I’ve hit the 200 lb mark for both squats and deadlifts I’ll take a step back and work on higher reps lower weight to go with my cut.

Baby Gains:

Yes, these are considered baby gains, since they’re my first year of powerlifting. I don’t think I’ll be at a 300 lb squat March 2018, considering my back. But I’m very proud of the numbers I’ve finally hit, and can’t wait to see if my body can go further than this.

Bad Back:

On that note, as I mentioned above, my back hasn’t been super happy the whole time. I’ll tweak it by bending over, or putting on 10 lbs more than I should have. Pretty dumb of me. It seems like I haven’t learned anything. Now that I’ll be backing off, I’ll be making sure that I continue to do my physiotherapy to increase my stabilization strength, and focusing on recovery. Like baths, rolling out, and going to massage and chiro. I only have one back, and I’ve been given so many second chances on back health. Maybe I’ll try sumo deadlifts and see if my back likes that more!

Next Goals:

Deadlift 2 plates (225 lbs)

Squat 2 plates (225 lbs)

Bench 1 plate/body weight (135 lbs)

Pull-ups (I’ve been doing sets of 10 with the assisted band for months, I should really be ready soon, but it’s frustrating)

For summer drop 3% more body fat (but I get so angry when I limit dessert)

Let me know how your powerlifting journey has gone!

Fall 2016 In Review

Yes, you are right, I ignored my blog for most of fall. I had great intentions to write a post or two a week, but when I did have free time I used it to work out, hang out with Nic, family, or friends, and relax. Hopefully in the winter I’ll be able to slip blogging back into my schedule, because last year I loved sharing about my life and projects here! While doing the final edit of our Christmas letter, I realized I really needed to get up a summary post.

Fall 2016 in Review - JanessaMann.Com
Studying hard!

Grad School:

This fall I started grad school at the University of Ottawa in Globalization and International Development. I’ve been so happy being back in school. My brain was definitely rotting at Bed Bath & Beyond and at GoodLife Fitness (co-workers, discounts, and lots of gym time were great but…) so it’s been fun getting back into it. I took Introduction to International Development, Research Methods, and Gender Security and Development. I worked very hard, and made some great friends.

Fall 2016 - JanessaMann.Com


Nic and I have loved exploring Ottawa now that we live here (Nic hasn’t lived in Ottawa since high school graduation). It’s been a lot of fun trying new coffee shops, restaurants, and going for hikes all over. We live very close to lots of cool places, so walking around is easy.

Fall 2016 - JanessaMann.ComFitness update:

Yup, I definitely fell off the bandwagon for a bit this term. I
gained 5 lbs and most of that was body fat (except I’m using a different body comp scale now that I’m in a different gym, so it’s hard to be sure what the exact increase is). It’s been hard going from working out 6 days a week to 2 or 3. I think it’ll be easier in the winter when I’ll only have two courses, and only one part-time job (which is a block away from my gym!). This means that my gains were slower, but I’m still happy with the new PRs I got. I’ve been focusing a lot on my bench and pull-ups, and am very proud.

Mental health:

I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in Ottawa. It feels like home, and there are so many wonderful, soul-feeding people and places here. It’s been great being back at my home church, seeing my parents regularly, singing in choirs, and spending tons of time outdoors. You don’t see the pollution like you do in Toronto, and it’s way easier to get outside of the city. Of course I miss friends and family in Southern Ontario, but some of my strongest supporters are in Ottawa, so it’s good to be back with them.

Fall 2016 - JanessaMann.Com


Our new apartment is probably more than twice the size of our Toronto place. It’s cheaper, and less character, but man, that space has been fantastic! We even have a balcony, which we didn’t have last year. Our second bedroom is my office, where we store the bikes (Nic has a wall mount) and my closet. Hopefully soon I’ll do a blog post about what our apartment looks like!

I’ve loved having my own space to do my work, it’s super handy for times when I don’t want to go onto campus to do work.

We also have lots of plants which Nic keeps alive (I’m only good for cacti and succulents) and personal touches everywhere.

Fall 2016 - JanessaMann.Com

Thanks for reading!

Review of the PH3 Program - JanessaMann.Com

PH3 Programming Complete! – First Time Powerlifting

Review of the PH3 Program - JanessaMann.Com

If you’ve read my fitness updates in 2016, you’ll know that I followed Layne Norton’s PH3 workout on I had a hard time on the website finding a workout program that had legs 2+ days a week, because I really, really like to deadlift. I stumbled across this powerlifting program, and knew it would be perfect for me. The program focuses on strengthening you in the “big three,” squat, bench, and deadlift, and then hypertrophy to pump up the muscles.

Throughout the months that I did this (it should’ve taken 3 months, but I had to take extra weeks in case my back got too sore) I saw strength gains (70 pounds added to my deadlift!) as well as improvements in my physical appearance-down from 18% body fat to 16.23%!

January & February

Since my lower back disc herniation (L4-L5), I haven’t been lifting heavy, and my workouts have been pretty random, and definitely mroe of a bodybuilding workout. Turns out powerlifting really leans me out! Since January I’vel ost 2+% body fat!

The biggest transition for the workout program for me was that it is percentage-based. It took a lot of patience and intention to not over-stress my back based on what I had lifted previously. Some days I could squat 155 for 3×5, other days 135 felt incredibly heavy. Percentage-based is great if you don’t have to worry about injury, but if you do, be very careful and humble about your progress. Don’t focus on the numbers, focus on your form, and the strength will come!


Thanks to benching 2 or 3 times a week, I’ve gotten new muscles in my back-ones I can’t even name! One thing I didn’t foresee was that my right scapula would freeze up. At one point I was doing 90 lbs for 3×3, and then I had to drop at least 15 pounds or my back would hurt. I learned to roll out my scapula lots, stretch constantly, and focus more on bringing them in during my bench. Now, my bench is going back up, and I can’t wait to hit 100 lbs!


My quads are still pretty dominant over my hamstrings, but I’m very happy with the definition between the two. Also, look at my back. 😉

I’ve definitely gotten over squats. With the new program I made for myself to shred a bit mroe for summer I have lighter squat days (well, I also need to de-load) and involving some front squats as well so I hate them less. Still absolutely obsessed with deadlifts and bench. If you’re interested in getting stronger in those three lifts, and losing some body fat, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s a mind game, and I worked hard, but it paid off.

Summary of Lifts:

Start: 135×8 = 170 1RM
Highest: 175×1
Issues: tight hips and low back, IT bands snapipng during reps, mental (hating squats)
Goals: 200 lb 1rep

Start: 95×7 = 115 1RM
End: 155×4 = 170 1RM
Highest: 170×2 = 180 1RM
Issues: tight hips, grip
Goal: 200 lb 1 rep

Start: 65×9 = 84 1RM
End: 90×2 = 95 1RM
Highest: 90×3 = 971RM
Issues: elbows flaring out, scapula pain
Goal: 100 lb 1