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Canyon Ranch

by Liz Vaccariello



Canyon Ranch’s 3-day Building Muscle Immersion weekend in Tucson, Arizona offered group activities, workouts a plenty, plus lectures, food demos and personalized assessments and plans.

Goal: Build Muscle for Strength, Metabolism, Longevity and Energy

The 12 guests gathered for Canyon Ranch’s spring weekend were comprised of an impressively wide range of ages, fitness levels and muscle goals. Our group included a thirtysomething NY model recovering from injury and wanting to get back to the gym safely, a fortysomething Crossfitter looking to up her game, and a seventysomething gentleman who’d recently quit smoking, taken up a regimen of intense daily cardio and now wanted to gain strength. There was a sixtysomething couple from Texas who attended most retreats Canyon Ranch puts on (they’d completed the Brain Health immersion earlier in the year), and a fitness-class-taking fiftysomething woman from Chicago who wanted to safeguard the lean muscle on her svelte frame.

As for me? I knew my way around a gym thanks to 20+ years with a trainer and even longer in fitness journalism. I was there to stop (nay reverse!) the relentless weight gain and belly fat accumulation of my perimenopausal years.

We were all there for the hours of (surprisingly not exhausting or dangerous) workouts, exercise- and nutrition-science lectures, and protein-forward meals, recipes and cooking demos. I found it to be a nice balance of group activities, off-ranch hikes and gym visits, all against a backdrop of a blooming spring Sonoran Desert.

Upon arrival, we each laid down for a DEXA scan. Considered the gold standard of body fat/muscle mass analysis, it reveals precisely where on your body your muscle, bone and fat exist. I welcomed this assessment in particular. I wanted to know how much of my newly acquired tummy bulge was subcutaneous (the fat you can pinch) and how much was the dangerous visceral fat tucked in and around your organs. That’s the stuff that raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and reduced cognitive function.

Other spas had given me my body fat percentage, but I looked forward to being told my visceral fat was particularly high (or low) so I’d be motivated to double down on healthy habits (or cut myself some slack).

We each received a one-on-one session with a physician (who walked us through our DEXA results), then meetings with an exercise physiologist, then a nutritionist, to develop a plan to reach our goals. Each of us walked away with a more finely tuned exercise regimen, a tweaked approach to what to eat and clarity on the most optimal times to eat it.

The experience was curated and hosted by Canyon Ranch Director of Performance Science Mike Siemens. A charismatic coach with deep experience in all the exercise science, trends and realities, he’s worked for Canyon Ranch for almost three decades. Mike knows his audience as well as his stuff.

Here are five new strategies I’ve added to my life:

• Add a dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter to my morning oatmeal for the extra protein boost.

• On mornings I strength train, eat that oatmeal before the workout, not three hours after.

• Replace one of my three weekly personal training sessions with a long walk (my muscle mass is above average; my goal is fat loss).

• Do short mindful or meditative minutes throughout the day in lieu of a half hour morning session (the effects of stress were counteracting the benefits of my vigorous exercising).

• Eat a smaller dinner earlier. For me, that means no later than 6:30 p.m. The studies showing the body stores calories we eat before sleep differently are real and valid.

Canyon Ranch is planning future immersions. Dates, locations and other info can be found at canyonranch.com/stay/events/building-muscle-power-retreat-tucson/.

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