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family · fitness · Guest Post

Role Models (Guest post)

Waking up in my parents’ house as a child the conversation always included a discussion of the weather conditions and what physical activities were on the agenda.  Frequent reminders not to forget a swim cap or pair of tap shoes in your bag for the day were constant.  My mother had the weekly routine down to a science of lunch boxes and ballet uniforms.  On the weekends the weather discussion led directly into an appraisal of the cross-country ski conditions, or opportunity to go for a hike after breakfast (depending on the season).

Today nothing has changed.  Calls to my mother (and father) usually begin with a discussion of whether they are on their way to or back home from yoga class or some other activity.  If the weather is not good for a run on the mountain or a tennis game there will no doubt be a Zumba class as a last minute substitute.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up in a household where going for a walk around the neighbourhood was a nightly routine in the summer and my parents led by example in terms of physical fitness.

I was too young to remember going to aerobics classes in a baby carrier (apparently I was happy to kick my feet to the beat of the music) or to “mommy and me” swimming classes at 6 months of age but these and all the other activities no doubt left a lasting impression on my attitudes towards physical fitness.

Physical activities were not something that you did grudgingly out of a sense of duty but the fun things that made the car rides and going out in dreary Canadian winters fun.  Some of my closest friends to this day are the ones I made at dance class at an age that I can barely remember and because are accustomed to doing activities together we still meet up for bike rides, runs and for dance workshops as our main drivers of socializing.

What, if anything, does this have to do with having an active mother?  Research shows that having a positive female role model is especially important for girls in a way that it is not for boys.  Linda Bunker has found that “Girls’ involvement in sports is largely impacted by the attitudes of parents and other role models.”  It is not clear why boys do not require the same encouragement to engage in sports (it may be that they are expected to like sports and that the pressure to conform is already a big enough driver).  Given that childhood habits are a good predictor of future involvement in sports and fitness activities, it would seem that it is extremely important for girls to have positive associations with physical activities at a young age.

My mother certainly does not think of herself as an athlete (or runner or yogi) in spite of her constant physical efforts and I am by no means an athlete myself but the fun that we had and continue to have doing physical activities is the backbone not only for a healthy lifestyle but it is also how we continue to socialize together and with other friends.  This social aspect to “activities” points to some of the reasons that I never liked going to the gym or any other activity that I thought of as “exercise”.

Most if not all of the activities that I have done over the years have had a large social element and this is one of the main drivers that has always motivated me to get out the door and go.  The activity has to be fun too, of course, but I am much more likely to push myself to do physically demanding things with my body if there is someone else doing it with me.  I am not in competition with my friend or family member but the mere fact of having someone else doing the same thing motivates me to a. Show up when I said I would and b. Push myself harder to keep up.

Running alone on a treadmill indoors does nothing to make me want to improve.  Chatting with a friend while jogging I don’t even notice the time and the kilometers passing.  Having great friends and a sense of community at my activities has been the best part of being active.  My mom is definitely my number one partner as well as role model.

Do you have fond memories of physical activities with your mother or other role model?  I am looking forward to many more bike rides, hikes, yoga retreats and dog walks with my mom.  Thanks for being an inspiration through your healthy habits and for making exercise fun!


Aviva is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.  She is a yoga enthusiast, dancer, cyclist, foodie and animal lover.  She lives in Montreal with her Kung-Fu devotee partner and their dog and two cats.

advertising · cycling · stereotypes

Respect the ponytail? How about just respect girls and women?

I don’t know very much about this Trek ad except it keeps appearing in my Facebook newsfeed and some of my women cycling friends aren’t fond of it. On the one hand, it is an image  of women on bikes rather than men on bikes and women on podiums. (See Is it time to kiss the podium girls goodbye?) But on the other, it’s not a particularly diverse image of female fitness. The women are not racers. They aren’t wearing team kit. And not all women who ride bikes have ponytails. (Though at times I’ve been tempted to stick on a fake one! See Women cyclists, implicit bias, and helmet pigtails.)

I’m not particularly bothered or offended by the ad. It’s better than lots of the stuff one sees in the media about women cyclists.

What do you think? I’d like a more diverse range of images of women on bikes, some racing, others not. I’d also like respect on the road, whether or not I’ve got a ponytail. I’m curious to know what you think about this Trek ad campaign.

Crossfit · weight lifting

SlamPow: Sis Do You Even Lift?

Here’s a fun video blog about the images of women in CrossFit. (That’s something I’ve blogged about in my post The women of Crossfit.)

But here the SlamPow duo of Shanika and Sam also talk about CrossFit and race.

It’s short, sweet, under 3 minutes, and definitely worth watching. You can also like them on Facebook.

men · sports nutrition · training

Gonna Make You Sweat

This week we’ve had our first “extreme heat advisory” which comes along with the usual warnings about outdoor exercise and intense physical activity. Some people retreat to the gym but not me, I still like playing outside better.

On Friday I rode my bike 50 km with my daughter in the heat in part to get to church camp and in part to mark the longest day of play. I actually like riding my bike in the heat. You get a breeze and it feels lots better than walking or running in the heat. The breeze dries the sweat off quickly and you actually have to pay attention and drink lots because in dry heat (hello Arizona, hello Canberra!) you can be misled into thinking you’re not sweating at all. I also know that if I did take the car, I’d turn on the air conditioning and become part of the smog creation problem.

Sunday I had a warm, steamy row on the lake in the morning and an evening outdoor soccer game. I even threw some backyard burpees in in the middle. And as you might imagine a lot of sweat was involved and a lot of water was consumed.

As readers of this blog know, I’m an adult onset athlete. I regret that I didn’t discover my athletic self until well into my adult life. Read more about that here and also here. And so when I did start to learn to run, ride a bike, lift weights etc that was really my first encounter with serious sweat.  I also grew up on the cool East coast of Canada in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where days above 25 Celsius were rare. I started my regular exercise routine in Chicago and Toronto, in the summer. Yikes. Heat, humidity, and sweat.

Learning to like sweat was a funny thing. It was a bit of hurdle to liking being physically active outside in this part of the world. But since I’m driven indoors midwinter by the ice and cold, I certainly didn’t want to have the heat be another limiting factor to my enjoyment of outdoor exercise.

How did I come to like sweat?

First, I did some reading. Yes, I’m an a academic and that’s what we do best. Sweating is all about thremoregulation or temperature control. We sweat, our skin gets wet, the sweat evaporates, and cooling commences.  Interesting things happen when humans move from cold to hot climates. Our bodies adapt to sweat more and the composition of sweat changes.

Second, I started to think about the connections between class and the dislike of sweat. I’ve been watching Downton Abbey lately and thinking more about the clash between ladylike values and the norms of athletic performance. There are interesting class associations with sweat and manual labour.

Third, I tried to focus on the  fun associations  many of us have with sweat. Dancing late into the night in clubs when I was younger was one such image. I have also come to love hot yoga and there’s no doing that without sweating buckets.

Fourth, I realized that sweat doesn’t actually smell that bad, fresh sweat that is. I ride my bike to and from work and keep a towel and clean clothes in my office. I don’t have quick, easy access to a shower but I do have access to a sink and private washroom. I keep antiperspirant in my office and change when I’ve cooled down after arriving at work.

Fifth, I learned through experience that I do actually feel better when I sweat lots.  Sweating it turns out is a very good thing and and as you become fit, you sweat more, not less.  Read  why athletes sweat more than unfit people here.  See also Better athletes sweat more. Also, annoyingly it turns out that men are better sweaters.  Read Men Perspire, Women Glow: Men Are More Efficient at Sweating, Study Finds.

“Women have to work harder than men in order to start sweating, while men are more effective sweaters during exercise, according to new research published in the journal Experimental Physiology.The study by Japanese scientists at Osaka International University and Kobe University looked at differences between men and women’s sweating response to changes in exercise intensity. The researchers asked four groups of subjects (trained and untrained females, trained and untrained males) to cycle continuously for an hour in a controlled climate with increasing intensity intervals.

The results showed that men are more efficient at sweating. While exercise training improves sweating in both sexes, the degree of improvement is greater in men, with the difference becoming even more pronounced as the level of exercise intensity increases. The untrained females had the worst sweating response of all requiring a higher body temperature than the other groups (or work intensity) to begin sweating. In other words, women need to get hotter than men before they get sweaty.

The study’s coordinator Yoshimitsu Inoue commented: ‘It appears that women are at a disadvantage when they need to sweat a lot during exercise, especially in hot conditions.'”

The Fit Bottomed Girls have even put together a sweat themed playlist for your workout pleasure including the song that is the title of this post, one of my favorite grad school songs to dance to. My actual favorite sweaty song is the Prince song here:

meditation · yoga

Yoga Sadhana: Deepening Our Practice, Getting Quiet, and Fostering a Sense of Community

Summer-Forest-Dark-Green-Vegetation Every summer at the Iyengar yoga studio I’ve been a student at since 2000, the senior teacher runs a sadhana. The word translates into English as “practice.” It usually thought to be a spiritual practice with a goal. In his book, Light on Life, BKS Iyengar calls sadhana “the way of accomplishing something.”

At our studio, the sadhana is a daily practice for one week. Students come from 6-7:30 a.m. every day for seven days in a row. It is always around this time of year, making it easy to get up early because it is already light outside.

The sadhana is one of my favourite events at the studio for several reasons.

  • I love how it focuses me on going to bed early and getting up early. It’s important to get enough rest during sadhana or the early morning practice is difficult to appreciate.
  • There is an experience of deepening practice during sadhana. A lot of this has to do with the time of day, but also with the way the classes are structured. Our instructor treats sadhana week as one long class.  Each day builds upon lessons from the day before, so there is a real opportunity for epiphanies of understanding.  There is also an increase in intensity during the first part of the week, with days 1 and 2 easing us into it, days 3-5 being quite intense and energetic (I can attest to that from this morning’s challenging practice!), and things easing off again on days 6 and 7.
  • During sadhana, we maintain silence in the yoga studio (other than our teacher’s instructions).  If you have never been to an Iyengar class before, there is a lot of moving of equipment (blocks, chairs, blankets, mats, straps, slanted planks, to name just a few of the props we use regularly), changing of the set-up, gathering around the instructor for demonstrations, and group work. All of this can lend itself to chatter.  The silence that we maintain during sadhana, including before class when we enter the room and after class as we put things away, promotes a focused and inward practice.
  • I love the sense of yoga community that the sadhana fosters. As with any challenge (and believe me, seven days in a row of Iyengar yoga at 6 a.m. is a challenge), a kind of bonding happens during sadhana that doesn’t happen at any other time of the yoga calendar.  We see the same people every day for one week, first thing in the morning when everyone is still feeling quiet and the day hasn’t yet gotten away from them.  Spontaneous breakfast outings happen after class.  Every other year, our instructor has a garden party to mark the end of sadana.
  • It’s a nice change of pace from my regular class, which meets weekly on Tuesday mornings at 6:30. I know everyone in that class and feel comfortable with them. During sadhana week, we get to practice with students from different classes and at different levels.  Over the years, I have come to know quite a few people just because of sadhana. Again, it expands my feelings of the community at the studio.
  • We usually take some time during sadhana to learn about yoga beyond the physical practice. This year, each morning we watch a part of a film (entitled Leap of Faith) about Iyengar and his understanding of the kosas or what are also known asthe sheaths of being.”   I doubt I’m going to have a deep grasp of the kosas after watching the film, but it’s interesting to learn about the broader system of thought behind yoga and it’s fascinating to see actual footage and hear audio of BKS Iyengar himself.  The control he has over his body and the strength he displays when he does yoga is inspiring and riveting to watch. He’s full of wisdom and has extraordinary insight and understanding about yoga and the mind-body connection.
  • Something happens to me during sadhana week every year that spills beyond my yoga practice.  I feel quieter.  I become more aware of everything and the world looks richer and crisper — greens are greener, the sky is bluer, the moon is brighter. Really. I can’t explain why but I like it.

For more on sadhana as practice, here’s a video of Dr. Geeta Iyengar, daughter of BKS Iyengar. She is an accomplished yogi herself, and probably the world’s leading expert on yoga and women’s health.

I’ve got a couple of other posts on Iyengar yoga, if you’re interested in reading more:

There’s Yoga and There’s Yoga

Yoga’s Red Tent

On Doing Less

[image credit: http://poetrycorner.freedomblogging.com/2012/06/28/all-things-green-alive-from-a-poets-eye-in-june/]

charity · cycling · Guest Post · training · traveling

Supporting each other makes us all better! (Guest post)

Joux-Verte-sign-bwSam and Tracy have asked me to contribute a few guest posts because I’m currently preparing for the biggest challenge of my career as a feminist amateur athlete. On 6 and 7 July 2013, I am going to (try my very best to) ride from London, England to Paris in just 24 hours, as part of a charity event organized by Scope. (Read about the event here; if you read my posts and get inspired to support me you can also find my team’s fundraising page here.)

I’ve been getting ready for what I call L2P24(2013) for some time now, but in the last couple of months training has kicked into high gear (figuratively and literally!). As part of our training (my husband Jarret and I are doing this event together, supporting each other at every stage along the way), Jarret and I are spending this weekend (20-23 June) on a cycle “holiday” (more on that in a minute) in Morzine, in the French alps. We are here with a UK-based company called RPM90; they provide us with food, accommodation, technical support, and support of many other, less tangible kinds. In fact, their motto is “you ride, we provide” (check them out here).

I’ve been nervous about this holiday; after all; riding about 100km a day in the mountains for two days, and then ending the weekend with the 2013 Morzine Sportive race, is relatively challenging, even for us; while there are perks at the chalet and some good food and drink, for our purposes this is a working weekend.

I’ve also been a bit worried about this holiday for another reason, one that came clearly into focus when we arrived in the Alps. Cycling is a very expensive sport – once you factor in a good bike, all the gear, and stuff like going to the Alps on a cycling holiday, you’re into the thousands of dollars/pounds, if not five figures – and I felt an immediate sense of class difference as soon as we got into our airport transfer van in Geneva. There are bankers on this trip, there are high-flying execs, and their bikes are worth, well, easily more than I make in a month. They are amateurs, but they are focused on their sport nevertheless, to the point that they seem willing to buy virtually anything (at pretty much any cost) that will help them to improve their performance. They are all decent, nice, friendly people (I gather, having known them for about 24 hours at the time of this writing), but they seem stunningly unaware of their privilege (economic as well as physical) in just being able to be here.

They are also all – with one exception plus me – men. Cycling is a very male sport in most nations where it rates; I probably don’t need to tell many of the readers of this blog how much sexism prevails in the sport (check out Sam’s recent post on podium girls, for example). So I wasn’t shocked to be surrounded by (more or less middle aged, pretty well off) men when we arrived. What did surprise me, though – and what has made all the difference to my riding experience so far (day one down!) – is that 50% of RPM90’s support team on this ride are women. And they are pros, and champions (Anja Rees Jones and Jo McRae).

This morning, starting out for our first ride, I was slightly panicked; the men in the group left a lot of testosterone on the floor during our first dinner and breakfast together (as well as in the airport van, sigh), and while I know this kind of banter is designed to be self-aggrandising and intimidating (and to cover insecurities, of course), it was, well, frankly intimidating to have to listen to. So it was a relief and also a thrill for me to get to ride quite a bit today with Jo, our female road bike pro; she put me at ease, encouraged me all along the way, made sure to note my strengths, and to remind me how strong I actually am at moments when I really needed that reminder. She also answered numerous questions and helped me to address some weaknesses: for example, I’ve never been a courageous descender, tending to brake a lot and not use my drops enough, but today she offered me observations, tips, and joined me on a couple of downhills, to the point where, by the end of the day, I was literally racing with her and Jarret down a mountain we had climbed in pretty freaking good time (this one – it’s actually slightly famous!). I felt incredibly strong, powerful, and free – and I have today’s mentorship from a really great female athlete to thank for that.

Even if the rest of the weekend turns out to be crap, I have had, thanks to Jo, an experience today that made the journey here (and all the boisterous bollocking this morning) worthwhile. It’s also an experience that I plan to pay forward. Like Sam and Tracy, I’m a teacher and researcher by profession and I write a lot about “activist” teaching on my own blog; with my larger life in mind I’ve also been broadly inspired by Jo today – reminded of how incredibly valuable positive reinforcement, coupled with useful, specific critique, and a willingness just to ride alongside, can be for students looking to up their game (and, of course, for students who don’t yet know that upping their game is their ultimate goal, or even a remote possibility). A great work lesson, a wonderful life lesson, and a fantastic sport lesson all rolled into one and wrapped in a mountain view. I feel privileged to be here, and thankful.


KIM SOLGA currently teaches theatre and performance theory and practice at Queen Mary, University of London. Catch her blog at www.theactivistclassroom.wordpress.com.