cycling · Fit Feminists Answer

You ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Soft pedaling, why do cyclists do that?

We have a thing here that we do from time to time, and that’s “you ask, fit feminists answer.” It goes like this — you ask, we answer (as best we can).

This question came from a new cyclist friend, what is soft pedaling and why do cyclists tell you to do it?

First, what is it? Soft pedaling is the act of turning over the pedals without applying any power.

Like my friend, I first encountered it when riding closely with others in a group ride. Sometimes I would coast and was told instead to soft pedal. Just shift to an easier gear and keep pedaling even though it has zero effect on your speed.

Okay but why?

Reason 1: “When riding in a group you often find that small changes of speed can mean that you do not need to pedal when the group slows down and have small bursts of power when the group speeds up. By soft pedaling when the group slows down your legs will already be spinning when its speeds up again. All you need to do to speed up is shift.” (from what’s the purpose of soft pedaling? )

Reason 2: Coasting is bad form in a group ride because it signals to the people behind you to slow down. If you can keep soft pedaling everyone will keep moving and you don’t get those big differences in speed between the front and the back

Reason 3: You avoid coasting which is also bad for your legs on a long ride. Your legs will be much happier if you keep spinning even with no resistance. You can read the posts of the late Sheldon “Coasting Is Bad For You” Brown and he’ll try to talk you into riding a fixed gear bike. With a fixed gear bike you can’t coast and it certainly breaks the habit. But you could just try coasting less without going that route.

Soft petals from Unsplash

Riding with friends in the springtime. Sam can’t wait!

It’s almost spring.

“Spring 2019 in Northern Hemisphere will begin on Wednesday, March 20 .”


Of course, my thoughts have turned to bike riding. My rough plan on riding is to bring my road bike into work and meet up with people to ride either before work, or after, or maybe even both. I’ll do longer rides on the weekend with Sarah and maybe other friends who are coming to Nfld too. See you on the roads!

I thought I’d share some of our older spring riding posts with you here today.

Spring riding, bad weather, and individual limits

I’m back! Thoughts on my first spring bike commute and why I take the lane

Spring on the Leslie Street Spit!

Sam and Sarah are springing into cycling fitness

Spring riding in my sights!

fitness · nutrition

In remembrance of eggs past, or: not bad egg news again!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the breakfast table: eggs are in the news again, and this time the news ain’t good. This week the nutritional research ouija board people once again asked the eternal question:

The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.
The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.

And the answer (for this week) is:

The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.
A woman in front of a purportedly crystal ball, seeing the badness of the dietary cholesterol found in eggs.

Many readers of this blog know that this is definitely not my first eggs rodeo. I follow egg news very closely and make sure Fit is a Feminist Issue followers are always informed of the latest in good-egg-bad-egg research. Here are some of my previous forays into ovo-journalism:

The new US dietary guidelines, or just tell me– are eggs good or bad this year?

Fake egg news? More on the eggs-good-eggs-bad controversy

Tracy has also written often on food morality: not demonizing foods, avoiding all-or-nothing thinking about nutrition.

Okay, time to give y’all the 411 on the newest egg nutrition results. There is a serious question that nutrition researchers have been wrestling with for decades: what, if any, relationship is there between dietary cholesterol intake and mortality risk? The answer is (as it always is in real science, especially nutrition science): it’s complicated. Here’s some background from the New York Times coverage of the new study, that came out in JAMA on Friday:

Eggs are a leading source of dietary cholesterol, which once was thought to be strongly related to blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. Older studies suggesting that link led to nutrition guidelines almost a decade ago that recommended consuming no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily; one egg contains about 186 milligrams.

Newer research questioned that relationship, finding that saturated fats contribute more to unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol that can lead to heart problems.

The latest U.S. government nutrition guidelines, from 2015, removed the strict daily cholesterol limit. While eating as little cholesterol as possible is still advised, the recommendations say eggs can still be part of a healthy diet, as a good source of protein, along with lean meat, poultry, beans and nuts. Nutrition experts say the new study is unlikely to change that advice.

So what’s new about this study? Here’s what CNN had to say about it:

The researchers examined data from six US study groups including more than 29,000 people followed for 17½ years on average. Over the follow-up period, a total of 5,400 cardiovascular events occurred, including 1,302 fatal and nonfatal strokes, 1,897 incidents of fatal and nonfatal heart failure and 113 other heart disease deaths. An additional 6,132 participants died of other causes.

Consuming an additional 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day was associated with a 3.2% higher risk of heart disease and a 4.4% higher risk of early death, Zhong’s analysis of the data showed. And each additional half an egg consumed per day was associated with a 1.1% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 1.9% higher risk of early death due to any cause, the researchers found.

Here’s where things get a bit interesting and more complicated. News sources are not consistent in their reporting of these results. The New York Times said this about the results:

The researchers calculated that those who ate 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily — about 1 ½ eggs — were 17 percent more likely to develop heart disease than whose who didn’t eat eggs.

So which is it? Eating 300mg of dietary cholesterol a day, or 300mg MORE of dietary cholesterol (than what?) a day is bad for me? I think the New York Times got it wrong this time.

I went to the original paper, which is long (15 pages, a lot for a medical journal), and has loads of tables with loads of data. In the discussion section (which is always what you want to read when tackling these technical papers), they raise a bunch of issues that bear directly on how to interpret their results, how to understand their results in contrast with eggs-good research results, and what they think is really going on with respect to eggs, dietary cholesterol consumption, and mortality risk:

  • previous meta-studies have been all over the place, finding positive, negative and no correlations between more frequent (more than one a day) egg consumption and risks of death from various diseases.
  • Apparently egg consumption has been associated with low physical activity, smoking, and “unhealthy dietary patterns” (according to the paper). So it’s hard to separate egg consumption effects from these other effects.
  • The associations found between egg consumption and mortality risk were modest, but statistically significant.
  • Researchers claim a dose-response effect of egg consumption, which means the more eggs you eat, the higher the effect.

Their discussion raised some questions for me:

  • Do the researchers think there is a “safe/normal” intake amount of dietary cholesterol? They say the mean intake in the US is 289mg/day, and that taking in 300mg more per day (which would be 1.5 eggs, including half the extra yolk) increases all-cause mortality. But what is their nutritional goal here?
  • When researchers say egg consumption should be reduced, what do they have in mind for its substitutes? Eggs are a big source of animal protein, and lots of other sources have more saturated fat, which has its own scary back story.
  • As always, I am wondering to what extent statistical or research significance translates to clinical or medical significance?
  • All eating happens in social and cultural and economic contexts– if you ask people to reduce eating X, will substituting Y make things better or worse?

What do you think, dear readers? Is this new egg news throwing a monkey wrench into your brunch plans? Are you vegetarian or vegan and don’t care? Is this a reason to increase our vegetarian or vegan eating? Are you inclined to just turn the page and dismiss the nutritional research as a mass of confusion? Should we short-sell egg futures (I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I think it sounds business-y)? I’d love to hear from you.

3 eggs in jars of water-- one bad floater, one so-so lurker, and one good one lying at the bottom of the jar.
3 eggs in jars of water– one bad floater, one so-so lurker, and one good one lying at the bottom of the jar.

Cate discovers feminist crossfit


For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something I never thought I would:  lunging and lifting and hopping in group crossfit-style classes.  And I’m completely enamoured of it.

I’ve tried crossfitty/boot campy things before, but every time I ended up hurting myself.  (One time — with a 23 year old instructor — I couldn’t roll over in bed without waking myself up yelping in pain for about two weeks).  The last time I did it — at my gym — the instructor (a guy in his early 20s) sort of mocked me for trying to hold a yoga-like form in lunges.  “Faster!” And I don’t like doing things without attention to form.  I end up hurting myself.  It makes me angry.  It makes me feel not looked after.  It makes a mockery of every single thing I have ever learned about my body.

In most of my adult life, I have stuck to the things I know won’t hurt me — riding, running, free weights, spinning, yoga.  And the things that don’t involve a lot of instruction — I’m not very good at translating verbal cues to my body without help.

But I’ve have been in a bit of a movement rut.  I was sick a good chunk of the first part of the year, and I tried to do the challenge with my spinning studio I wrote about in January.  I didn’t manage all of it — bronchitis will do that — but I did take on board the idea of trying a new gym.

And then a few weeks ago, I was walking past a fitness studio about a block from my house, and I made about my 50th mental note to check it out.  Then about six hours later, ads for it started to appear in my social media feeds.  I am pretending this is not creepy — I am letting it be a sign.  So the next day, I showed up and asked them to show me what they do.

It’s a fitness studio for women call Move, which I’d assumed was some kind of fancy gym, but it turns out to be an amazing blend of focused, no holds barred strength-building classes.  The fancy part is nice towels and a little sauna and kiehls products — but the gym is all about the best kind of hard work.

I did a class that day and I was hooked.  My instructor at the first class was the young Aussie Alice, and I have never been so well cued, so well supported.  I watched as she demonstrated form over and over, and told new people not to try anything until she had made sure they knew how to do it without hurting themselves, were targeting the right areas.  She was affirmative in a deep and authentic way.  I felt incredibly strong, and incredibly cared for in finding my own level.

Over the next few weeks, I’ve been back to several classes, and every instructor is the same.  Careful demonstration, careful observation and adjustments, advice for every individual in the class.  There’s a sense of community and child-minding and smoothies.  And most important, there is a kind of positivity I rarely find — not cheerleading, just presence and revelling in the strength and intuitive wisdom of women living fully in their bodies.


Last night, Alice was demonstrating pushups and referred to the ones that are typically called “girl pushups” as “patriarchy pushups” — and in her distinctive Aussie way, said, “they invented these to tell us we can’t lift our own bodies, but that’s bullllllllshit.”

The founder Kelly is honest about her own journey that brought her to this place of focusing on strength — a journey through personal training, body building, disordered eating and addictive exercise — landing in a place of recovery that is about strength, not weight or looking good to someone else’s standards:

“My Team and I are here to actively and passionately be a part of the change and create a movement of warriors dedicated to changing the internal question from “how do I look” to “how do I feel?” In our opinion, far more important than how a woman’s ass looks in an Instagram post, no? “

This is a place where I feel at home.  We are in community, but we are each very much doing our own things.  There are always modifications for every action, and encouragement to try the things in your edges. An inherent assumption that everyone will get stronger.  Support for each other if we can’t quite get the moves.  Warmth to the sleep-deprived parents in the class.

Two Saturdays ago, I was noticing that I’m one of the oldest people in most classes.  And then I realized Kelly — who is 8 months pregnant — was working out with us.  And another woman whose baby was due in 2 weeks was in there too.  All modified for what we need.


After 25 years of working out, this feels like a whole new dimension for me — I am feeling confident about doing things I thought I my body couldn’t handle — like lunges and jumps.  I’m interweaving these classes with yoga, with spinning, with walking, with rest.  I already look and feel stronger.  And yesterday, I held an unsupported handstand for a few seconds for the first time in my life.

As I hopped down from that a thought flickered across my mind — this is FUN.  And I realized that I’ve never really felt that about working out before.  I love it, and need it, and enjoy it — but I rarely have FUN.  And this is fun.

It’s magic.

Where do you feel this kind of convergence of everything you need in moving your body?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and dangles from things in Toronto, and who writes here twice a month and whenever else she needs to say something.


accessibility · clothing · fashion · fitness

Online shopping, sizes, and winter. Brrrr! Grrrr!

I’m getting angry about shopping this spring.

And I realize that I’m privileged in terms of my size, my job, and my income.

First, there was my need for a warmer coat for walking to work and walking Cheddar the dog in this winter than never ended. It needs to be above the knee and past the butt. I don’t want black. I have major ethical qualms about Canada Goose brand clothing. Prefer plant sourced down. Oh, needs a good hood and non strangling cuffs. Also, I’m frugal about clothing and I’ve never paid more than $300 for a coat. I also try to be an ethical consumer when it comes to clothes. I’m unsure if I have an ethical commitment to buy from companies that carry the full range of sizes. Those are the challenges.

Then I found one online, size XL, made of milkweed “down.” You can browse the milkweed collection here. Pretty, pricey, ethical. Fine. Two out of three aren’t bad. I ordered.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff, Unsplash. Image description: Milkweed. Black and white close up photo.

It arrived. The XL fit Sarah who is normally a medium and I couldn’t even get my arms in it. Fit tip: Articulated sleeves equals skinny arms. No more bicep curls. Ugh. Part of it was just mislabeling. That was an XL in no one’s books. But the arms were extra bad and I think represented the challenges faced by women who strength train (and who build muscle) when it comes to clothing. See here.

So no more online ordering of coats! I returned it. That part was easy. And now I’m so sick of winter I can’t even stand to try on cold weather coats. See you here next year but in the meantime recommendations welcome.

Second, there’s my ongoing leggings challenge which I’ve written about lots. See my love of leggings post here. But since I need them all of the time for the knee brace I also need different varieties of leggings. I’ve got gym leggings covered and casual weekend leggings under control. But sometimes I need leggings with dressy outfits. If I didn’t need the knee brace then tall boots might be the answer. But a) knee brace and b) cyclist’s calves. I want high waisted size 14. Black. Full length. (The 7/8 ones are in this year and I keep shuddering watching university students with bare ankles and Canada Goose coats. I want to yell in my loudest mom voice, “Put some socks on.” But I don’t.)

Lots of friends recommend Lululemon. I’ve resisted in the past but if they work and last, I’ll pay the big bucks for leggings. So online I go. The ones everyone seems to love–hi Anne!–are “align.” And I know I’m lucky that I’m a size 14 not a size 16 or higher which doesn’t exist in the world of Lululemon.

But it doesn’t matter if I’m a 14 because they don’t have them. It’s a large company. This is one of their most popular items. You’d think they’d keep a size 14 in black in stock. But no.


Spring had better come soon. I’m done.

equality · femalestrength · fitness · Martha's Musings · martial arts

The only way to keep going is to keep getting back up

Image shows two Lego minifigures, with Wonder Woman in her red and blue one piece swimsuit on the left and Wildstyle in her purple and black flight suit on the right. Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

By MarthaFitat55

I went to see Captain Marvel on the weekend with my family. I enjoyed it very much. The characters were nicely developed; the story line was engaging; the writing was clever. The hero was not hyper-sexualized and there was no love story. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I was more than ready for an action movie featuring a woman in a central role that did not require a skimpy outfit.

Captain Marvel is a woman who thinks for herself and seeks solutions. When she ends up stranded on earth, she figures out how she is going to communicate with her team. She’s not afraid of hard work nor is she afraid of training hard. Her fitness and strength are tools she uses to defeat her opponents while outsmarting them.

Like many noble warrior heroes, Marvel is challenged to find her true self. Her memory has been fragmented, but over time, the bits she has retrieved form a story. There are three pivotal moments for me in the film and they all come pretty closely together in the final quarter of the film.

The first is when Vers remembers her real name, the second when she comes into her full powers, and the third when Carol quashes her former mentor’s ego. These three moments have a lot to offer women in pursuit of fitness, strength and power in the gym.

When Vers remembers who she is, she rejects the name she was given and asserts her real name. “My name is Carol,” and she pushes back with all her strength. Women are often told they shouldn’t lift weights; that working with the bar will change their essential nature, that they will change shape and not in a good way. I’ve learned that when I walk into the gym and assume my role as power-lifter, that when I accept I am there to lift all the heavy things, then the dynamic between the bar and me is quite different.

When Carol thinks and reflects on what she is hearing, she is able to reframe what she knows. She’s been convinced for too long that she has no power except for what her oppressors have allowed her to express. She remembers all the times she fell down, the times she was taunted and told she could not do what she planned, the times she was scolded for having dreams that were too big for “normal.” Most importantly, Carol remembers all the times she got back up.

When I am at the gym, I remember all the times I got back up even though I didn’t want to. My trainer even has “Always stand up” taped to the squat cage. This winter has been hard with extra cold weather and a cranky hip. It’s surprising what strength you can find when you say those three little words.

Finally, Carol takes joy in her strength and power. She revels in what she can do — defeat bad guys, look after the good guys, and organize a plan to make change happen for the people she helps. When the bad guy tries to take credit for her skill and power, Carol tells him she has nothing to prove to him.

Indeed, if there is one thing you take away from this post (and the movie), is that the only person to whom you must be accountable is yourself. You show up, do the work, and get on with the job at hand.

How about you? Do you find inspiration from action movies?

— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s.


Is Strenuous Exercise “Bad” for You? #tbt

This throwback Thursday urges us to be cautious about fitness research headlines like “Couch Potatoes Rejoice!: Strenuous Exercise May Be Bad for Us.” Punchline: moderation is probably the way to go….


three women running on a trailThere’s a new study, called the Million Women Study, that says that strenuous exercise is bad for you if you do too much of it.  I’m never sure what to think of this kind of thing. And the reporting never sends quite the right message. The Wall Street Journal headline reads: “Couch Potatoes Rejoice: Strenuous Exercise May Be Unhealthy.”

Note that it says “may,” meaning it’s not necessarily unhealthy. So it might be a bit early for non-exercisers actually to rejoice.

According to this report:

A recent study in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, found that exercising strenuously four to seven days a week conferred an increased risk of vascular disease, compared with two to three days a week of strenuous exercise. Accompanying the study, published in Circulation’s Feb. 24 edition, is an editorial entitled, “Physical Activity: Can There Be Too Much of a Good…

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