Moderate Fitspo Works for Me

mod fitspo easier betterA few days ago something wonderful went viral:  moderate fitspo from Lean Girl in  Training.   At first it looks like regular old (unmotivating at best, shaming and even dangerous at worst) fitspo.

But in fact, it’s not like that at all.  It writes over and adds stuff to the regular fitspo it cribs from. The message “It doesn’t get easier, you just get better,” has been scrawled over so that it now reads, “It does get easier & you also get better.”

And “four simple rules” have been changed into four simple “tips” that support moderation:

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Yes, “Lean Girl in Training” has her height-weight stats and is trying to lose weight.  But in addition to the goal weights, she has another goal, which she thinks of as her ultimate goal:  “Ultimate goal: to be free from chronic tendinitis; to be able to write, lift, walk and run without chronic pain; to respect my body and learn to treat it well.”

People can have the goals they want to have, but in the scheme of goals that make me smile and that resonate with me, this kind of thing, especially learning to respect our bodies and treat them well, works.

And the moderate fitspo messages work.  Way back when I blogged about the inspirational dis-value of fitspo, I complained that (for me) fitspo has the opposite affect of what’s intended. Photos of slender, youthful, ripped bodies that will never be mine don’t get me out of bed in the morning for my workouts.  And I think that’s  good thing because it means I’m realistic. That’s progress. I haven’t always been realistic. Or moderate. Or kind to myself.

Even if regular hardcore fitspo works for some people, the messages are dangerous and unloving. They lead to overtraining.  As the revised message in the “tips” says, we are not machines. We’re just doing our best to live an active lifestyle–ideally because it feels like a loving thing to do for ourselves.

Sam blogged earlier this week about what to do with our blog’s moderate message of finding stuff you love to do and opening up space in your life to do them if you’re not able to find any activities that you love.  She had some good suggestions that ranged from resisting “healthism” and “the health imperative” to building activity into your everyday life–things you do anyway like gardening, cleaning the house, carrying the groceries.

For me, realizing that it was getting harder to carry the groceries a couple of years ago got me back into the gym. At first, I didn’t like it much, but I stuck it out and eventually it got me where I am now–leading a pretty active lifestyle and doing things I love, even things I never ever thought I would do (like triathlon!). See my post about never saying “never” here.
Fitspo was never going to get me there. Neither was a bunch of seemingly hardcore fitness enthusiasts telling me what *they* do. Why? Because to someone who is not active, or who is doing things in moderation, photos of people who look like they spend hours a day in the gym, or the workout schedules of people who actually DO spend hours a day “exercising,” are disheartening.

They’re also shaming. They send a message about what you’re “supposed” to look like and what you’re “supposed” to do to get there.  None of that’s true.  For all the messages we are bombarded with, we do get to make choices and we can resist.

That’s why moderate fitspo makes me happy. I love the idea that “three days without exercise is a holiday” and that “if you don’t go all the way, just go halfway.”  These are realistic messages that keep me at it and take the pressure off when I don’t stick to my schedule.

For me, they’re motivational because they’re humane.  We love that kind of thing here.

Rest days? Excellent! Blanket hugging on a rainy morning?  Go for it! Doing less?  By all means!

mod fitspo half hearted

[all image credit goes to Lean Girl in Training]

 

I don’t cook, I clean

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I love this t-shirt. I might even get one. Christmas is coming. Hint!

I like doing cleans even though I still feel like a beginner at this move and maybe I always will.

What’s the clean anyway? It’s half of the clean and jerk. Okay so what’s the clean and jerk?

“The clean and jerk is a lift that is a composite of two weightlifting movements: the clean and the jerk. The clean portion consists of the lifter moving a weighted barbell from the floor to a racked position across deltoids and clavicles. The jerk portion involves lifting the weight above the head until the arms are straight and the bar is stationary.Several variants of the clean and jerk exist, with the most common being the Olympic clean and jerk. The clean and jerk is one of the two Olympic weightlifting events, the other being the snatch.”

The women’s world record for the Clean and Jerk in the 75kg+ category, is 190.0 kilograms (418.9 lb) as of the 2013.  To give you some perspective the most I’ve managed is 44 kg though I like to think I’m limited by timing and execution rather than strength. Truth be told, it’s likely a bit of both. But I’m working on it, getting better, getting stronger, slowly but surely.

Why learn to clean? Functional strength is the main answer. It’s like the deadlift that way.

“A lifter pulls a weight from the floor, heaves it into the air for a split second, squats beneath it with lightning-fast precision and catches it at shoulder level. The power clean is an impressive sight, but unless you belong to a gym specializing in Olympic weightlifting, it’s a rare one. And that’s too bad, because it’s one of the most functional strength-training movements you can do.“Power cleans build not just strength, but full-body power — the ability to move weight quickly,” says Mike Robertson, MS, co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. That’s essential for athletes’ need to achieve more speed. But anyone can benefit. As Olympic weightlifting coach Mike Burgener puts it, “Anytime you lift something from the floor to your shoulders — whether it’s a barbell, a toolbox or a toddler — you’re doing a version of the power clean.””

From Learn to power clean

Couch potatoes come in lots of different shapes and sizes

PatatesAs university professors who spent a lot of hours reading, researching, writing, and talking at seminar tables with students Tracy and I are concerned about how many hours we spend sitting.

See past posts:

Short answer to the last question: NO!

We’d like to think we’re combating sitting disease by being really active. You know, running, biking, swimming, weight lifting , yoga, soccer, Aikido, rowing and all that stuff we do.

But new research suggests athletes spend just as many hours sitting as the average person. Even those training for marathons can be couch potatoes, it turns out.

See The Marathon Runner as Couch Potato in today’s New York Times.

Gretchen Reynolds writes about a study of how many hours very active people spent sitting:

“As expected, the runners, training as they were for a marathon or half-marathon, reported spending considerable time sweating. On average, they exercised vigorously for nearly seven hours per week, “which far exceeds the standard exercise recommendation,” said Dr. Whitfield, who is now an Epidemiological Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

But those hours of exercise do not seem to have reduced sedentary time. On an average workday, the runners reported sitting for more than 10 hours at the office and at home, easily topping the likely national average. (Almost all of the participants were employed; a few were students.) On non-workdays, the runners spent about eight hours inactive.

The researchers found no correlation between running pace or training volume and sedentary time; fast runners and slow runners both sat equally often, as did those who were putting in the most or the fewest hours each week training.

In effect, the data showed that “time spent exercising does not supplant time spent sitting,” said Harold Kohl, a professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas and senior author of the study. “It seems that people can be simultaneously very active and very sedentary.”

Yikes. We’ve also written about the sloth like ways of otherwise very active people in this post, Sedentary athletes, not a contradiction in terms.

My standing desk helps, I think. And I try to work lots of everyday exercise into my life. See In praise of everyday movement but like most things, it’s a work in progress.

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Being a Habitat for Humanity Team Leader (Guest Post)

I love travel. Seeing pictures of the wonders in this world is not enough

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime’ Mark Twain

Several years ago I joined my husband and then 11 year old daughter for a safari in Tanzania. This was the first time that we had travelled since our honeymoon in Thailand. While the wildlife viewing was stupendous, I was stricken with guilt. Our tour was a camping trip so was less luxurious than a lodge safari. However we still had a personal cook and a driver/guide for the duration of the safari and helpers at every campsite so that we didn’t have to lift a finger. We were literally walled away from any local inhabitants. Driving by children lugging huge jugs of water home from school was routine.

Finally an incident cemented my resolve to never travel again without contributing a lasting footprint in the country that I was visiting. With good intentions we handed our uneaten lunches out of the window to some children waiting outside of the gate of a game park. To our horror only the quickest and the strongest were able to receive any food.

So began my mission to find an organization that would fit my skills and my availability. As a respiratory therapist I am too specialized to be of use in most primary health initiatives. While small children are cute and wonderful I wanted to do more than be a helper in an orphanage. Enter the Global Village volunteer program that sends team to observe and participate first hand with Habitat for Humanity’s affiliate partners in 100 countries. Low-income families are assisted to build their home with volunteer labour, donated materials and no-profit, no-interest mortgages tailored to their income level.

What is appealing to me is that each program is unique to the local needs. We do not try to force our values on the community and we work with the local contractors following their instructions for what tasks are to be done.

In December 2012, I was a co-leader of a team of 17 people to the Chitwan area of Nepal. This Habitat affiliate there partners with a women’s collective that provides micro loans to the women in households (even if they have a spouse). The collective ensures that the loans are supported by a business plan such as room rentals , aesthetic services, or retail. That year 400 homes were built.

Surprisingly, on most build projects women form the majority of the teams. Perhaps 25% of the team members are men. I will not speculate here on the reason here but that is just a fact. I have seen women happily step out of their comfort zones and get dirty mixing cement manually with a shovel and lifting and carrying trays of materials for hours on end.

This past summer on a build project in Portugal I was amazed to hear whoops of joy coming from an adjoining room. Is sounded like something you would hear at an amusement park! The cause was several school teachers and a retired accountant demolishing a cement floor with a jack hammer. That day it was difficult to get them to leave their tasks to take a lunch break.

My next project is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 30-April 11, 2014. As a team leader I can choose the time and place for my projects. After becoming fascinated by the culture and history of the country the Canadian office approached the Ethiopian affiliate on my behalf with my proposed dates and I was approved to bring a team of 12 people. At the time of writing I have 6 team members so I would invite you to visit my webflyer to apply for this opportunity, at http://habitatglobalvillage.ca/tripschedulec235.php

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Tammy Carter lives in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa with her husband and teenaged children and works as a Respiratory Therapist in a busy ICU. At 47 years old she has parented 11 foster children, participated on 4 international volunteer projects, and can deadlift twice her bodyweight. With no athletic ability prior to age 41 she has been affectionately known as ‘The Unlikely Bodybuilder’ and has competed in 8 physique competitions bringing some top 3 hardware. As an accidental feminist she just finds what inspires her and goes for it.

Welcome!

A big warm Wednesday welcome to all of the new followers who found us via this wonderful article on feminist fitness bloggers by Avital Norman Nathman. It’s on the Ms Magazine blog and it’s called The Femisphere: Fitness Bloggers.

Natham writes:

“In a culture that conflates health with a particular body type–often achieved via Photoshop–it’s both refreshing and a relief to read fitness posts that are actually about being healthy. Striving for a certain media-based idea of “perfection” seems to have become the norm when it comes to discussing health and fitness. Not only does this continue to promote unhealthy and unrealistic ideals of beauty, but it can also lead to behavior that is the antithesis of being fit. Thankfully, there are many out there writing about fitness from a feminist perspective, and in doing so they challenge societal norms.”

We’re in great company. She also profiles Feminista Jones and Krista Scott Dixon. We feel honoured.

It’s always lovely to have new followers but it’s especially lovely when they come to us from a feminist referral. It’s nice to know we share some values at the start of a friendship.

You can also like the Fit, Feminist and (Almost Fifty) Philosophers (now with added friends) on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

But why do that, you ask, since you can get the blog posts here?

We post lots of other fitness content on our Facebook page and there’s a lovely community of like minded people there. Come join in, if that’s your thing. We’d love to have you. Please share and help spread the word.

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What’s love got to do with it?

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I’ve got a friend who is exercising entirely for instrumental reasons, on medical advice. She’s exercising for health only, loathes every minute of it, and wants to strangle those of us who preach “do what you love.” And it’s even worse when we say if you don’t love it, don’t do it.

Her problem is that she doesn’t love any of it. But she has medical advice in favour of doing it anyway.

Yoga? Weights? Running? Zumba? Hiking? She’s tried it all and hated it all.

She loves books, good movies, the company of friends, fine food, good wine. She leads a rich full busy life, with a rewarding career and loving family.

So, she says, I keep reading your blog and it really annoys me. You have no advice for someone like me.

And she’s right. We don’t. This is the blog of two people who care very much about fitness and who love our chosen physical activities. We’ve set goals of being the fittest we’ve ever been by the age of fifty. But we don’t think all people in their late forties need to get on board with us.

You don’t need to share our passion. Your thing needn’t be my thing and that’s okay too.

Indeed, I wondered why people who don’t care about fitness read the blog at all, close friends, families, stalkers, lurkers aside. I have a friend who is an avid fly fisher and who reads fishing blogs. I’ve never looked. Don’t care. Fishing isn’t my thing. I appreciate his passion even if I don’t share it.

Why can’t my friend feel that way about our fitness blog? It’s written for people who share our interests, feminism and fitness. There are people who read and hate our feminism too. And again, when they send hateful email I’m puzzled. “After reading twenty of your posts I could feel my IQ dropping.” Then why did you keep reading after one? After five? No one is forcing you to read our blog.

I also am puzzled by the person who sent an email they intended to be hateful calling me a “fat lesbian.” If you read the blog, you’d know those aren’t things I think are bad. As insults they fail to hit their target.

But I’m digressing. Back to the friend who hates physical activity.

I think the reason she feels compelled is that fitness is the sort of thing we’re all supposed to care about. It’s different from fly fishing that way. The heath imperative tells us to take care of our bodies and that movement is good for us.

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So what options does my friend have?

1. Resist healthism and the health imperative. I’ve written about healthism here. Musicians do things that hurt their bodies, choosing music over exercise, and risking serious overuse injuries. Some people smoke, others drink and they’re rational choices too. You can choose a pleasurable life of books and music over the added health that comes with physical activity. That’s a rational choice maybe if you really hate exercise. Decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

2. If you care about your health but hate physical activity, then treat it like medicine. No one expects you to enjoy your flu shot. I sometimes eat vegetables I don’t enjoy because they’re good for me. I get that it can feel doubly coercive to both be told your have to do something and told you have to love it. You don’t have to do it and you don’t have to love it. But you can do it without loving it too. If I were just exercising for its benefits, I’d go for high intensity interval training. It’s short, time efficient and brutally effective. See Gretchen Reynolds’ column on minimalist workouts.

3. Realize you’re not alone. It’s okay to hate it and do it anyway. You’ve got lots of company. See Bruce Willis below.

4. Build physical activity into your life so that it’s invisible. Walk to work, take the stairs, carry laundry and groceries, work on the garden.  Read In praise of everyday movement. For some people that does count as exercise. In an article on why people hate exercise, in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, it’s noted that often people do too much when first starting out.”Researchers at Iowa State University found that people’s physical capacity could be much lower than many realize, so many people push beyond their limits without realizing it. For example, for sedentary people, just cooking dinner could count as exercise and they need to build up to even walking, the researchers found.” Read the rest of “Wired to hate exercise?” here. It’s a great article.

So do it if you want, having weighed the costs and benefits. Or don’t. Up to you. And you don’t have to like it.

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Let’s Avoid the Language of “Cheating”

cheating_rectAt one point at the CSWIP conference on the weekend, I reached over to the dessert tray to grab some sort of chocolate coconut square.  I kind of bumped someone at the same time (once I had made the decision to go for the chocolate square, I was on it!) and said to her something about how I was cheating.

She looked kind of shocked to hear me talk about “cheating” because of course I am vocally and publicly anti-diet and had just talked about the harm of dieting the night before.

It became clear to me that she had mistaken my reference to “cheating” for the usual cultural meaning–as going off our “diet” usually by “succumbing” to a high fat dessert. In fact, that’s not what I meant at all. I don’t talk that way about desserts. Nope. I have great respect for them and think people can eat them if they want them and when they want them. Period.

But I’m vegan and the chocolate square wasn’t.  I’m all for vegan desserts, but there weren’t any at the conference. And after a few days, and a keynote, and great company, and excellent papers about food, well, I just wanted something other than fruit!  So I “cheated” in the sense that I (confession coming right up) set aside my vegan principles for a few minutes to eat dessert.

This whole incident made me reflect upon the notion of food, eating, and cheating. What’s the difference between using “cheating” the way I did instead of the “cheating on my diet” way?  I think they’re a bit different, but that probably it’s not quite the right word for what I did either.

Well, let’s think about what it means to cheat.  Cheating is associated with rules.  We usually say we are cheating if we are breaking the rules and trying to get away with it. We can cheat on an exam (scribble notes on our forearm, for example), cheat when we’re playing monopoly (grab some cash when no one is looking), cheat on our taxes (“no need to declare THAT little bit of extra income, right?”), or cheat on a partner.

The idea is that we’re *supposed* to be doing one thing but instead we do another.

That’s why my friend and colleague was so shocked to hear me talk about cheating in relation to food.  I’m all about food being beyond good and evil.  I’m really opposed to dieting.  So in my view there is no particular way that we are *supposed* to eat that would restrict desserts in a way that makes eating them akin to “cheating.”  Diets attempt to control us by imposing rules from the outside–we externalize the legislation of diets (even if we eventually internalize them, as I’ve discussed here in my view about tracking). I’m especially not partial to a rule-governed approach to food and eating.

My choice to be vegan is different from all of that.  It’s an ethical choice based on what I see as a principled objection to contributing to the needless suffering of animals.  It’s not about rules as much as it’s about principles. These are not principles imposed on me by anyone; I do not need to externalize them as a legislative force in my life to see them as legitimate and worth respecting.

Yes, going against my principles is an issue, but it’s not exactly right to call it cheating because I’m not trying to get away with anything, I’m not breaking any strict rules, and I’m not (exactly) compromising an explicit or implicit commitment I’ve made to others (the way cheating in monopoly does). No one else much cares, in fact, because it’s a matter of my own personal moral commitments and integrity.

I had some interesting conversations through the weekend with fellow vegans about how we handle different situations, and it made me realize that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. I do consider myself vegan despite the occasional lapse. And I think, much like wandering away from any “plan,” it’s best not to think of lapses in terms of cheating.