fitness · Guest Post

Step Counters and the Guilt Triangle: Food, Friends, and Fitness (Guest Post)

After a few years of participating in our employer’s annual team-based “step challenge,” Tracy decried step counters on Facebook. I then boldly announced that I would provide a counterpoint blog entry in defense of them. (Spoiler Alert: Did I actually think she would be wrong about something?)

My teammates and I (“Ahead by a Century”) have been stepping for just over 25% of the 100-day “Global Challenge.” This initiative involves teams of 7 combining their daily fitness activities tracked by step counters. A mobile app encouragingly shares the team’s progress, releases virtual badges for achievements, provides health information, etc.

Having done this challenge before, I knew there would be highs and lows in using a “stepper” (as I started calling it while being thoroughly searched by US airport security guards after forgetting to remove it for the metal detector/x-ray thingy). So, to prepare for this blog entry I have kept a brief journal. Over the past 31 days I have occasionally ranked my stepper as a motivator, with 1=not motivating, 2=somewhat motivating, 3=highly motivating. From my 15 entries, my stepper shows an exercise motivation level of an average of 1.8 so far.

Stepper

With each entry, I have described how and why I reported that particular rank. Let’s compare my first, middle, and final entries:

First Entry: Went for a walk at night to get to 10,000 steps. Stretched after soccer, smelled lilacs, and walked off the Wendy’s Frosty I bought!

Middle Entry: At day 11 I have noticed that my pattern seems to be guilt to exercise from either the bad food I eat or the fact that my team is counting on me. The stepper itself is not motivating, but it keeps me honest in a way that I probably would not be without it, especially at 11:30pm at night.

Final Entry: Many, many days of <10,000 steps. Will walk today. Guilt.

Certain patterns have emerged in my 15 comments. These include:

Getting to a certain number of steps: 7 mentions
Mention of food or beverages: 6 mentions
Statements of criticism or guilt: 5 mentions
Statements of affirmation and satisfaction: 3 mentions

Early in the step challenge, I noticed that “I enjoy the exercise when I do it, and it offsets my guilt or gives me something to enjoy.” However, mid-way through I also noted that “when my frustration or tiredness is stronger than my guilt I do not exercise.” On some occasions I expressed frustration with the stepper itself, such as on a travel day I wrote: “Dropped it and it slid into the airport bathroom stall beside me, and I almost didn’t say anything to get it back.”

There were days when I cut myself more slack, such as when I spent half of a day in a hospital’s emergency room. “Getting sick puts the step challenge off the table,” I wrote. “I feel like I’ve let my team down when my exercise for the day is walking to and from the various rooms of the hospital building (but at least I didn’t take the wheelchair!)”

A quarter of the way through my step challenge, I have determined that my friends (challenge teammates, soccer team, etc.) push me to exercise, and guilt over food or drink often pulls me. I describe myself exercising just to work off the pizza I had, or running in circles in my bedroom just before midnight just to get to an even number of steps.

In conclusion, because I have been so focused on achieving a certain number of steps, rather than associating the exercise with my health, so far overall I have not been motivated by my stepper in positive ways to increase daily activity levels. I’m not sure that this is what the Global Challenge folks had in mind, but at least this added “mental exercise” has given me pause for reflection on my current habits.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to finish this post and get off my computer to go for a walk, as I’m only at 3000 steps and it’s already 5pm.

Elan Paulson is soon to be newly employed, and is an occasional FIAFI blogger.

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running

Sam misses running and sometimes even cries about it

Pride Run selfie of Sam, Sarah, and Susan. June 2017. Also, Sam’s last ever 5 km running event.

On the blog, we often simplify things. We say Tracy is the runner and I’m the cyclist. That’s mostly true except Tracy is back to commuting by bike for fun and convenience, not speed. And me, I’ve had a complicated relationship with running through the years and though we’ve broken up for good now I really really miss it.

It’s not been easy. See Sam struggles not to run, ever!

The other night I was really upset (moving stress, family stress, new big job stress, all the stress!) and I wanted nothing more than to run with my feelings. See “Angry running” and running as running away.

But I couldn’t. Not with my busted knee. Even if I go the full surgical route and get total knee replacement, I’ll never run again. Instead, I ate some ice cream and watched some Netflix, not the healthiest substitution, but I got through the rough patch.

It’s hard. It’s a big change in identity. I’m still struggling. When the photo above of last year’s Pride Run came through my newsfeed I burst into tears.

Reading the post you can see that even then I was having issues.

The Pride Run is one of my favorite athletic events. There are runners of every stripe and speed, kids, runners in costumes, walkers, and so many people cheering the runners on. Such a great atmosphere. This year I registered early but once again ended up with knee issues that meant I couldn’t really train for the event. Other than my holiday running streak there hasn’t been much running for me this year. Instead I was going to regular knee physio. Thankfully Sarah ran with me and helped keep me running at a reasonable pace. We set out to run 5 and walk 1 but a couple of times we ran extra minutes to make it uphills or to the water station. I was so slow–my slowest, happiest 5 km ever– but I was running. I was smiling. And in the end nothing hurt. What a happy day!

Now I’m not running and still, my knee hurts. This year’s Pride March was tough even walking it. I feel like I might need “goodbye running” therapy! Or maybe something new to take its place, like Snipe racing.

I’ll report back from time to time and let you know how life after running is going.

Have you ever given up a sport or activity, even one with which you had a complicated relationship, like running and me? How did it go? Advice welcome.

fitness · yoga

Good/bad yogi me? How about just yogi me?

I’ve been doing more yoga lately, which makes me very happy.  I like taking time out for focused and thoughtful movement, some of which is easier and some of which is harder for me.  I’m reminded of limits and also opportunities– there’s a modification of most yoga poses for lots of people, and I’ve gotten comfortable with not trying to kill myself to do something that I simply cannot do that day, these days, or ever.  Like this one– not happening:

A person (I think just one but am not entirely sure) with a head on the floor, leg(s?) behind head, arms behind back.
A person (I think just one but am not entirely sure) with a head on the floor, legs behind head, arms behind back.

One of my favs is this legs up the wall restorative pose, which I could do all day:

A woman in turquoise tights and a purple top lying down with her legs up and against a wall. She looks relaxed (probably because she is).
A woman in turquoise tights and a purple top lying down with her legs up and against a wall. She looks relaxed (probably because she is).

I love my local yoga studio, Artemis Yoga, which is near my house, beautiful inside, and filled with friendly and chill yoga aficionados of all sorts.  I’ve also been supplementing my classes with at-home yoga, using the Bad Yogi youtube videos.  Erin Motz is the Bad Yogi, and she has a veritable cornucopia of yoga video classes for every mood/method/body part that one might want to practice with on the mat. I did her 30-day yoga challenge last year, which included some undoable-by-me workouts; I just ignored them and did some other happier-for-me classes.  The videos are 10–20 minutes long, which is enough to make me feel good and also squeezable into my schedule. If I’m feeling the need for more, I just do another video. Bad Yogi yoga is explicit about welcoming everyone to yoga, demystifying the practice of yoga, and offering a variety of ways to enjoy what yoga has to offer.  This sounds great to me.

Yesterday I decided to check out the Bad Yogi website in more detail. I’m rather sorry I did, because I found that Bad Yogi has branched out into health and wellness and fitness and nutritional advice, replete with lots of messaging about how to be GOOD.

Bad Yogi advertisement for a Cleanse Kit, saying "be good, feel good".
Bad Yogi advertisement for a Cleanse Kit, saying “be good, feel good”.

Apparently, being good may sometimes involve cleansing, whatever that is (although I see an avocado graphic, and I like avocados). Excuse me, but what does cleansing have to do with yoga? What does cleansing have to do with being good? With feeling good?

Tracy wrote a great post on cleansing here (spoiler alert: four days of non-diary coconut ice cream may not be a great idea).

I get it that there’s a whole industry around “cleansing” (as opposed to actual cleansing, which to me means something to do with laundry), and I happily ignore it.  But I’m really disappointed that my online yoga friend Bad Yogi is promoting this.  And with the extra ka-pow message of “be good”. No.  No on so many fronts:

  • No to me being asked to be good– I can be how I choose.
  • No to me being asked to be good– I can be how I am.
  • No to identifying being good with doing some food deprivation regimen.
  • No to linking feeling good with being good (that’s way too much to untangle right now).
  • No to linking feeling good with eating particular food items (or abstaining from them).
  • No to making feeling good a goal (maybe that’s too high a bar sometimes).
  • No to more things I haven’t listed but would agree to if someone else told me.

Here’s where I am on yoga:  I’m there. Just there. I’m not good, I’m not bad, I’m just yoga-ing.

What about you, yogic readers: what’s your yoga about these days?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

fitness · swimming · training

Thanks, Coach! Thoughts on Drills, Good Form and the Importance of Mixing it Up (Guest Post)

Image description: Headshot of Jennifer, medium length blond hair, blue eyes, smiling at the poolside, outdoor pool with lines on the bottom, deck with deck chairs, and trees in the background on an overcast day.
Image description: Headshot of Jennifer, medium length blond hair, blue eyes, smiling at the poolside, outdoor pool with lines on the bottom, deck with deck chairs, and trees in the background on an overcast day.

I had an epiphany in the pool last week. I finally figured out what was wrong with my kick! And as anyone who has struggled with mastering an athletic or other skill knows, nothing beats the sweet satisfaction that comes when you suddenly get it and never look back.

This underscored for me why regular technique check-ups are an essential part of a good training regimen and highlighted the critical role that coaches can play in that process.

Spring is a time of renewal for me. After the relentless pace of the academic year, I need time to recover, to recharge and then to reflect on the big picture and set goals for the coming year. Part of this process is to take a look at those things that tend to turn over year on year unless we think consciously about them, such as course content, teaching methods, service activities, volunteering, kids’ activities, finances and … fitness and health!

Over the years, I have found the refreshing change of format from indoor to outdoor swimming is a great time to check in with where I am at with my training.

First, in addition to being outside, I also go from swimming at night to swimming at sunrise. There is something about the early light of a summer morning (I swim at 6 am), with its promise of day ahead that fills me with inspiration.

Next, unlike the rest of the year where, aside from open Sunday practices, we swim twice a week at a set time with the same swimmers, we can swim as often as we like in the summer and choose from 15 different practice times. Since lane composition on any given day or time is rarely the same, this adds an element of spontaneity and fun to practice. Training with different swimmers gives us a chance to break out of old patterns and habits (like who leads the lane, who is “best” at this or that stroke etc). I also love being able to reconnect with friends who swim at other times during the year and to meet new people.

Finally, our canny coaches take advantage of the more relaxed summer mood and the different swimmer combinations to mix it up in our workouts too.

The switch in training focus was obvious last week when the theme was “Skills and Drills”. Not everyone was thrilled, however. Many Masters swimmers swim to stay fit and it is natural to focus on speed and endurance. But as we grind through thousands of meters a year, even the best technique degrades. These slippages are subtle but over time they have an effect. For older swimmers particularly, bad habits can increase the risk of injury, but attention to technique is also an important element of performance improvement. Getting faster or stronger is not just about pushing the heart and lungs, it is about moving as efficiently as possible in the water.

Since swimming movements are complex, it is impossible to think of everything at once. Working on technique usually requires breaking a stroke down into its components (kick, pull, catch, breathing, rotation, turns and so on) and focusing on one element at a time, often in a progression of connected steps that are brought together at the end.

For my part, I love doing drills because I always learn (or re-learn) something and I enjoy sensing the subtle variations in movement that typically ensue. Most of the time drills are useful to reign in sloppy form or to undo entrenched habits. But every now and then, a drill brings about a shift that transforms your technique. And that is what happened to me last week as we worked on flutter kick, the weakest component of my freestyle and backstroke.

Though I am very good swimmer, the relative ineffectiveness of my kick has been an endless source of frustration. As a runner, I have a lot of leg muscle and power on the pavement but in the water my torso, shoulders and arms do most of the work. Kick sets are my nightmare – moving my legs faster and harder never seems to make a difference to my speed while exhausting the muscles after a very short time. Given this, I was not relishing last Tuesday’s workout focused on kick and flip turns. My lack of enthusiasm however, was no match for my amazing coach.

Our primary coach this summer is one of the founders of our club who was, until a few years ago, the head coach of our youth competitive teams. This shows in her style of coaching, which is very relaxed and understated. Rather than emphasizing straight up effort (something kids hate, but which many Masters swimmers delight in), she keeps you busy with sets that integrate unusual drills (with names like alligator breath), designed to work on correct form in the water.

Do not get me wrong, many of these drills are in fact very hard work, but not in the usual “grind it out” way that we typically associate with effort. Rather, this kind of focus on form is taxing because isolating weak or difficult parts of the stroke takes us out of our comfort zone and requires concentration, something that is hard to sustain as physical exertion increases.

Great coaches know that to get swimmers to make changes to their strokes, they have to be creative – and sly. Under the guise of working one item, say, kick, they will design a drill that passively works on another skill, like body position in the water. Done well, leaving some of the drill work to occur naturally, without drawing attention to it directly, allows swimmers to approach the drill without preconceived ideas about what should happen. This creates the mental space for them to just experience the water, something that provides invaluable physical feedback on what the body is – or is not – doing.

So what happened last Tuesday? We did a lot of kick, but the focus was on tightening the glutes, not on leg movement. Using the large muscles of the glutes is essential for a strong kick, but it is easier said than done. Part of the problem is getting the amount of muscle engagement right. At first, I tightened the muscles as hard as I could, with little noticeable effect. When I mentioned this to my coach, she said: “Relax. You’re trying too hard. Let up a bit. Experiment with it.” I persevered, but the sweet spot remained elusive.

Then we worked on flip turns and my mind focused on hitting the wall correctly with my toes. What my coach did not mention is that turns help your kick because you must release the glutes to initiate the turn. It provides a break in the muscle effort that also allows for subtle recalibration before reengaging the muscle after the turn. Midway through the set I came off the wall and – bingo! – felt a surge of power as my glutes engaged at the just the right level.

All of a sudden the kicking felt, well, not pleasant, but like it was making a difference, not just to the forward motion of my stroke but also to keeping my body horizontal at the surface of the water. I was astounded at the change – I have been swimming since I was a toddler, and noticeable improvements are pretty rare.

It goes without saying that I will need to continue to focus on my glutes for a while until it becomes an unconscious part of my stroke – practice makes permanent, as they say. I am also curious to see whether the perception of fluidity I have now will translate into faster times.

Even if it does not, however, with each practice my kick feels easier and more natural, which is reward enough.

Thanks, Coach!

Bio: An avid runner and swimmer who also enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, and yoga, Jennifer is a mother of three and a professor in the Civil Law Section of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.

gear · walking · yoga

Summer Victory! Christine troubleshoots her outdoor fitness

I’m my own superhero this week – gleefully removing obstacles that prevent me from going outside to play.

 

How did I do that you may ask?  I bought a mat and a new pair of sneakers.

 

I know, it doesn’t sound heroic at all, blah de blah, Christine bought things, but I had to do a ridiculous amount of thinking to figure that those were the things I needed.

 

I’m sure I have told you before how my ADD makes it hard to break a problem into pieces, I usually refer to it as a reverse ‘forest for the trees’ problem – it’s not that I can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s that I can’t see that the forest is made of trees. So, when I meet some resistance to things I am trying to do, I often can’t see what the solvable issue is – I just see the whole situation as difficult.

 

So, given that it is (finally) getting summer(ish) here in Newfoundland*, I want to do more things outdoors, especially exercise. I love to go for walks and I love to do yoga in the sunshine in my yard.

 

But, last summer and fall, I found myself a bit reluctant to go out walking. I liked the process of being on a walk but it was hard to get myself to put on my sneakers.

 

And, also last summer, I really liked the times that I did yoga in the yard but I didn’t do it as often as I meant to.

 

I know that some of the more fitness-driven readers might be thinking – oh, just do it and stop whining about it. You’re right, of course, that’s a lot of the issue. I ‘just’ need to get over myself but there was more to it, and this week,for some reason, I managed to zero in on the issues with both activities.

 

First, the walking… 

 

My old sneakers had holes in the sole. I don’t mean that I had worn a hole in them, I mean that the design was such that there were a series of spaces in the sole of the shoe. That may not seem like a big deal until you realize that the holes are big enough to pick up rocks. So, every time I wear them, I have to stop and pry rocks out over and over. It’s annoying but apparently the task had sunk at least part way into my subconscious, so I didn’t really realize what a hassle it had become.

The bottom of a right sneaker. The sole is grey and green and the design of the surface includes ridges and a line of large holes. The sneaker is resting on a brown linoleum floor.
See what I mean? Imagine the rocks that could fit in there and click while you walk.

 

It was only this week, when I was putting the sneakers on to walk my son to school for an exam and I suggested a less rocky route, that I realized they were such an impediment. And the sneakers are several years old so I don’t even feel guilty about replacing a pair of ‘perfectly good sneakers’ because they aren’t perfectly good in other ways either.

 

So, now I have a pair of brand new sneakers and I have already taken the long way to get several places just to get a bit more of a walk in.

The author's feet in her new grey and pink sneakers. She is standing on black asphalt.

 

 

Next – yard yoga!

 

The grass in my backyard is bumpy. I’m sure that there are plenty of rocks getting in my way under the surface out there, as well. Perhaps the sod is not laid well, I don’t know, and I am not about to do the kind of landscaping that would fix it. If I put my yoga mat directly on the grass, I am all uneven, I’m on a slant, and I can’t do any poses requiring balance.

 

My back deck is old and the ‘floor’ is made of fairly widely spaced slats. If I put my yoga mat directly on that, I can feel the spaces under my feet or back or knee, and one of my fingers always ends up pushing my yoga mat into the space.

Three weathered brown deck boards. There are finger-width spaces between each one.
Look at those finger-trapping spaces. Ignore how badly the deck needs painting, we’ve only had about nice days so far, so painting will have to wait.

 

Last summer, I countered the problem by dragging a piece of plywood from behind the shed and placing it on the grass before putting my yoga mat down. It worked but it added one more task to the process of doing yoga and that was enough hassle to stop me sometimes.

 

After I bought my sneakers on Wednesday, my next errand was the grocery store.

 

Since I was in problem solving mode, I guess my brain decided it was a good time to kick up the memory of the patio mats I had seen at that store a couple of weeks before. Previous to that, I didn’t know patio mats existed.

 

This time, I put two and two together and, to quote my dad, ‘got something approximating four’ and realized that the patio mat would instantly remove the obstacle to putting my yoga mat on the deck.

 

A green yoga mat with flowers printed on it in yellow rests on a larger beige patio mat that has circular patters on it.
Yoga mat + deck mat = more yoga It’s mathematical!

 

I’ve already done two outdoor yoga sessions and it had only been a few days.

 

So, yeah, I’m my own obstacle-removing superhero this week. I don’t have a clever name yet though, and my costume will have to wait until I get back from a walk.

 

*My province is called Newfoundland and Labrador but I live on the island portion and I can’t speak for what the weather is like in Labrador.

accessibility · body image · fitness · gender policing · inclusiveness · swimming

Being Naked in Public, pt 2: languages of instruction

Back in December I wrote a post about being naked in public, three ways: in new “universal” change rooms in pools in my city of Hamilton, Ontario; in the same kinds of spaces (with WAY more cubicles and tight corners) in London, England; and in a public spa and thermal bath complex in Konstanz, Germany (few cubicles; lots of comfy nudity).

My questions in that post revolved around etiquette, protocol, expectation, and the cultural labour these spaces appear to be doing towards supporting inclusive, body-positive community (whether or not they are actually doing that labour).

Today, for the first time in a while, I returned to one of the facilities here in Hamilton that have converted to M/F/U change spaces; I was overbooked and had to skip my usual Friday swim (which happens at an older facility not yet renovated to include a gender-neutral room).

To my surprise, when I swanned toward the universal change room entryway, I found this:

fullsizeoutput_1046

(A sign, posted on a green cinder-block wall, that reads: “Change in dressing cubicle only; clothing or bathing suit myst be worn at all times outside dressing cubicle.” The images on the sign include a green circle around a woman’s body clad in a one-piece swim suit and a man’s body clad in swim shorts; and a red circle with a strike-through against the images of the same bodies, with one-piece and shorts off to the side. Note: I snapped this photo from the change-room threshold, which is barrier-free and opens onto the lobby. I made sure no bodies were nearby in order to respect the “no photography in change rooms” rule.)

I stopped for a minute, a bit gobsmacked. New sign; aggressive sign.

NO NUDITY! DO NOT EXIT THE CUBICLES NUDE! THIS IS A GENDER NEUTRAL SPACE!

OK, so that’s not exactly what the sign said. But it might as well have.

locker-room-etiquette-sign-s2-1269

I googled “gender-neutral change room etiquette” and this list of do’s and don’ts turned up. It is haranguing: be neat, tidy, and for god’s sake cover up your freaking horrific human of a body; don’t be lazy, slow, or glowery. Get the fuck out ASAP. Sounds familiar.)

I’m trained as a literature scholar and a scholar of theatre and performance; that means I read cultural texts for their nuances, for a living, and try to make sense of what they aim to accomplish amongst actual, human lives.

My pool’s universal change-room sign said the following to me.

The bright blue that backgrounds “Change in dressing cubicle ONLY” sets that text off in sharp relief. All-caps for ONLY is scolding typography, as though to say: DO NOT DARE LEAVE YOUR CUBICLE NAKED! It is fairly patronizing and deeply shaming.

The images are workmanlike and designed to be read across languages and cultural contexts (more or less; only North American Christianity could, if you ask me, dream up such a blatantly unsexy way to render human nudity). The communication is meant to cross language barriers because there are lots of immigrants in our community (I witnessed one Chinese-language speaker interacting with a lifeguard this afternoon, for example), and the sign is obviously in part, if not primarily, targeted at them.

So tick the xenophobia box too, please.

The sign makes no mention of the showers – my personal favourite part of locker-room-sanctioned nudity – but we can guess the implied protocol.

What to make of this?

Well, on a purely pragmatic level, I’ll tell you what I made of it in the split second it took me to decide what to do with my body upon encountering this sign.

I realized I could be my nude and joyous post-swimming self only in the women’s change room, so I went there.

And here’s the rub, the sad bit, the loss: I had to choose between body-positive feelings, and the gender-neutral change room.

Some neutrality; some body positivity!

gnr

(Another image that popped up in my google search. It reads, in a plain, sans-serif font: “A gender-neutral restroom designation means this restroom is safe for transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer people, as well as people of all gender identities and expressions. If you choose to use this restroom, you are aware that it is a safe space. Please refrain from gender policing… If you are uncomfortable using a gender-neutral restroom, please use any of the other restrooms, as this is your privilege.” NOW THIS SIGN I CAN SUPER GET BEHIND.)

I thought a lot about the change-room sign incident after I left the pool. I thought, too, about the several FFI community members who fed back about my original post and noted they would not be super comfortable nude in mixed spaces.

I realized that my biggest problem with the sign wasn’t the message it was (sort of, maybe, clumsily?) trying to communicate.

The problem was with language, and its intention.

The sign is trying, I think, to say this: DO NOT GET NAKED IN FRONT OF PEOPLE WHO DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU NAKED. ALSO: DO NOT GET NAKED AGGRESSIVELY.

This is, totally, a worthy goal.

But the language also, therefore, assumes predation, assumes a lack of tact and generosity on the part of body-positive users; it assumes that all bodies in the space share a sense of nudity-as-shame, nudity-as-aggression. Which isn’t true.

So in the car on the way to my next gig, I started thinking about how I might phrase some similar caution in a more welcoming, dare I say body-positive-positive, way.

I came up with this:

This change room is a gender-neutral, body-positive space that welcomes people of all identifications.

Please use the space in a way that respects the privacy and comfort level of others around you.

Thank you!

(I’m not sure about imagery. I’d love suggestions!)

The language I’m proposing states what I hope are the deep intentions behind the creation of the space: it’s for everyone, care-fully. I think that’s the idea behind gender-neutral spaces in Hamilton-area pools; I’m not sure, though. (My sense from the sign I encountered today is that they might be souped-up “family” change rooms. Sigh.)

It also places the responsibility for fair use on a community of users, acting together in everyone’s best interests. (This is called democracy, btw. At least to me.)

Are you alone in the space? Go nuts! You do you! Get naked, sing ABBA. Rock on.

Is someone in the space with you who seems more modest, shy? Perhaps calibrate your ostentation to remember that they also share this space, and that your ostentation might be taking up more than its fair share of that space, for them.

Is someone in the space with you who might be nervous about your presence? That’s ok – they are here because they have trust and faith. Be you, but not aggressively. Instead, assert your good will toward that person.

Is someone in the space with you who might think you are unnerved by them? That’s ok – it’s part of the process of becoming a community. Be you, welcomingly.

This is just one shot – my shot – at a better way to say what needs to be made clear in gender-neutral spaces: some protocol for what to do once you’re inside, but not in a way that assumes a normative sense of embodiment, nor that assumes body-as-shame.

Do you have examples of, or suggestions for, gender-neutral change-room etiquette? I’d love to hear!

Yours swimmingly,

Kim

fitness · running

Where to start? Start small and go from there…

Image description: small green seedling plant with four leaves and more sprouting, in a little pile of soil, against a white background.
Image description: small green seedling plant with four leaves and more sprouting, in a little pile of soil, against a white background.

Starting anything new can feel totally overwhelming. Anecdotally, besides all the reasons we give for why we don’t have time, “where do I start?” is probably one of the biggest deterrents.

It’s also the question that is easy to answer with one of my absolute favourite suggestions we make, in many different ways, on the blog: start small. When I began running, somewhat reluctantly, when I was days away from my 48th birthday, I ran around the block. Then I ran around the block twice. Then I ventured away from the block and added in a few walk breaks between run intervals. Then the run intervals became longer than the walk breaks. Then I started stringing more walk-run intervals together. And so on and so on.  I celebrated the day I ran 20 minutes in a row with a blog post announcing that significant breakthrough in my running “career.”

Now, with 5K, 10K, half marathons, 30K, and even a full marathon behind me, I’ve come a long way, all because I started small and increased in small increments.

Tonight I was chatting with a friend who is about to embark on a new fitness plan. I said the first time I tried running I hated it. Why? Because back then, in my early twenties, I went out of the gate way too fast. I didn’t ease into it at all. No. I thought I should immediately be able to run 5 miles. It hurt. My body wasn’t used to it. After a few months (I think it was months), my hips started to hurt. And that was the end of that. I didn’t run again for almost 25 years.

But this time, it feels so much better. If you let your body adapt to each increase before pushing a little bit further or harder (emphasis on “a little bit”), amazing things start to happen.

You may not know how to start small. If we’re talking about running, try finding a local running clinic with “learn to run” sessions. That way you can meet other people, learn proper technique from the get-go, ease into it, and learn about shoes and clothing and nutrition in the pre-run talks. I got a lot out of all the clinics I did. I did a clinic to train up to each new distance (other than the marathon, but I had trained for the Around the Bay 30K). In the process I learned a ton about all sorts of things, from run safety to hydration and nutrition, to how to manage in cold weather and in hot weather. I also developed some lasting friendships through the run clubs and clinics I’ve done.

Another way of starting small is to use an app. Even though I did eventually do a “learn to run” clinic, I actually started with the “ease into 5K” app, which has a “start small” training plan built right into it. I really liked it and it served me well in the very early days when I thought I was the slowest runner in the world and couldn’t possibly ever run with other people because they would feel annoyed with me.

All activities have equivalent strategies for starting small and easing into it. That’s why they have “give it a tri” or “try a tri” triathlon events. And beginners yoga classes. And different lanes in the pool for training.

Great things come from small beginnings (did someone say that already? It sounds like a famous line…).

Do you have a “small start” fitness story?