athletes · body image

Why don’t journalists tell us the weights of female athletes?

Commenting on NBC’s images of male and female snowboarders Josh Levin writes,

You can probably spot the difference. Kotsenburg is 20 years old, lives in Park City, stands 5-foot-10, and weighs 165 pounds. Anderson is 23, calls South Lake Tahoe home, is 5-foot-3, and weighs … well, it’s unclear how much she weighs.

NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey confirms that these on-screen bios comes from the network’s graphics department, and not from a world feed. If the network did want to provide comprehensive physiological statistics, it could easily get them from the official Sochi 2014 website, which provides heights and weights for male and female Olympians. On the Sochi site, Kotsenburg is again listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, while Anderson is 5-foot-3 and 119 pounds. For some reason, NBC doesn’t want you to know that last stat.

NBC Doesn’t Want Us to Know How Much Female Snowboarders Weigh

But it’s not just snowboarding. Read How Much Does Maria Sharapova Weigh? And does the public have the right to know?

To be clear, tennis and snowboarding aren’t sports with weight categories. Really there’s no reason for us to know the weights of the women or the men involved. So why do we care?

Partly I think we want to compare the specs of the elite athletes to our own measurements. We’re also fascinated with the different sizes and shapes top athletes come in. See Tracy’s post The Shape of an Athlete.I’m fascinated both by self selection and by the way our physical pursuits mold our shapes.  While I’m happy for me to carry extra muscle that slows me down running and riding up hills, elite athletes go to some interesting extremes in pursuit of top performance. See Weight Training Only for my discussion of body composition and compromise.
So then why the difference? Men tend to be much more matter of fact about their weight. I laugh watching my sons and my partner weigh and measure themselves and compare. My partner has been outstripped in height by both of our sons, now 16 and soon 18, for a few years but recently teen athlete son (rugby, football, basketball) overtook him in weight too. It was a proud moment for him. So odd to hear someone cheer that they weigh more. Can you imagine similar weighing and comparing between mothers and daughters? I can’t. The subject is still too fraught.
I think we react differently to women’s weights, even for larger athletic women. See Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question. I’ve occasionally shared my weight with people and gotten shocked looks. As if I had just broken some great social taboo, which I suppose, I did. It felt like mentioning one’s income which I’ve also been known to do. Beyond “fat” and “chubby” we even lack a vocabulary for talking about larger women’s bodies. See Fat or big: What’s in a name? Women, more than men, are more likely to feel themselves to be defined by their weight. Very few women are able to view that number on the scale neutrally. And athletes too suffer from eating disorders, sometimes sacrificing performance for a smaller number on the scale.So the effects of reporting women’s weights are different than that of sharing men’s. Since the information about Olympic athletes is there and people want to know, I can see why journalists share it. I’m torn. I don’t like the differential treatment. I want to live in a world where weight is just one fact among many about a person, athlete or not.

training · Uncategorized

If not Rest, then at least Active Recovery, Right?

Cat in lotus position (cartoon).
Cat in lotus position (cartoon).

Sam has blogged about the importance of rest days. More than once in fact (see here and here).  When I was mostly into weight training and not much else, I had a good handle on rest days as necessary for giving muscles time to repair and, more importantly, to build.  I understood that without adequate rest, I was at risk of overtraining.

That’s not to say that I always respected that knowledge. I get into things. And then I have difficulty taking adequate breaks. It’s one of these tendencies I need to stay aware of. I’m more likely to want to do something than nothing, even if it’s walking to work or taking in a yin yoga class.

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at:

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at:

Lately I’ve learned about something else: active recovery.  What is active recovery? According to this post at Built Lean:

Active recovery could be defined as an easier workout compared to your normal routine. Typically this workout would be done on off day from training. Generally an active recovery workout is less intense and has less volume. For example, a trainee worried about body composition goals could do active recovery by taking a brisk walk on an off day.

When defining active recovery, context comes into play. To a marathon runner, jogging at a slow pace on an off day will likely have little impact on their ability to maintain intense workouts on their scheduled training days; in fact, it ultimately may help their fitness goals.

You’re supposed to feel better, not worse, after you do something that counts as active recovery.

I confess that I still fall short with rest, simply because I have so many things that I’m trying to fit in and I can’t quite imagine what a day without exercise of any kind feels like. But active recovery? I can get on board with that.

Much of what I read about active recovery recommends low to no impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, walking, yoga, or foam rolling.  But you know, any of these (well, perhaps not foam rolling, but I’m not even sure of that) can be gentle or intense.  I’m not sure who I’m fooling when I try to sub in a very demanding 90 minute Iyengar yoga class as my active recovery day.  And my triathlon swim training is not active recovery. It’s an intense workout.

So I need to check myself and watch out for my tendency to want to keep at it and do everything at a high level of intensity all the time.  I have recently “counted” both yoga and swim training as active recovery. I’ve even counted easy but long runs.

And I’m ratting myself out right here and now by saying that the fact is, I do not have a rest day.  Sundays are my prescribed rest day for the Lean Eating Program, but I have my long run with my 10K training group on Sunday mornings.  It’s easy, but it’s long. And I don’t feel as fresh as a daisy afterwards. And my schedule of workouts resumes promptly at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings.

How do you do rest and active recovery? I’d love to hear from people who do a better job at it than I do.

athletes · competition · cycling · training

Why care about resting heart rate?

heart rate pictureIn May of 2012, I posted a note on Facebook that eventually led to my shared project with Tracy and which later led to this blog.

I wrote,

As I approach the two year countdown to 50 (I turn 48 at the end of this summer) I’d like to set an ambitious fitness goal. Roughly, I’d like to be the most fit I’ve ever been at 50. Fifty seems like a good time to peak and it’s doable given that I’m an adult onset athlete (no childhood sports trophies collecting dust in the cabinets for me!) There is a bit of a challenge given that I had a similar goal at 40 and I was 10 years younger then. But then I was starting from close to zero and my goal was to get in shape. Now I’ve got a pretty good basis on which to build. The big problem is how to measure. Not weight. That’s silly. I was my thinnest when I smoked and drank a lot of coffee and didn’t eat much actual food. Looked  great but was winded walking up stairs. Those days are gone. I’m strong, fit, robust, resilient but ‘thin’ I’ll never be. Body composition? Not weight but per cent body fat….maybe. Hard to care about that though and not focus on numbers on a scale, even if they are different numbers. Running? Maybe. I know my PBs for 5 and 10 km. But I’m also anxious not to invoke another stress fracture. Certainly more than 10km just isn’t doable. Strength? I do know what I’ve been lifting through the years so maybe. Might work. I’m loving the intensity of crossfit and they are good at measuring progress…. Cycling? Hmmm. Flying laps or centuries? Time trial times are a pretty good measure of fitness. Aikido: I could aim for a brown belt by 50 but that might be too ambitious. Yoga: No goals there. I just like to melt and stretch in the heat. Soccer: My only goal is to have fun….

Suggestions, fitness friends?

My fitness friends indeed had some intriguing suggestions:

One-handed inversions! One-handed inversions! Make *that* your Fit at Fifty goal! . (Also, you should obviously blog about this, right. A perfect 2-year blog project that you can put to be — and then turn into a book! — when you’re done.)

I suggest using strength. If you are doing Crossfit then you are getting used to some basic strength lifts such as squatting, dead lifting and benching. Dead lifting and squatting bodyweight is a great goal to build on and benching 1/2 bodyweight is another.

Distance cycling? On or around your 50th a 500k ride? Better yet a 1000k brevet!

But the most intriguing suggestion was also the simplest, resting heart rate.

Resting heart rate? The KISS principle.

What’s resting heart all about anyway?

First. your resting heart means really resting, as in in bed, before rising.

You need to take your heart rate manually. It’s either that or wear your heart rate monitor to bed. I didn’t ever actually wear my heart rate monitor to bed. Too many jokes about things that might raise it. Sex, on the one hand, arguments about differences in politics on the other.

Measuring your morning heart rate is pretty simple. All you need is a digital watch,  a small notebook and a pen on your nightstand. As soon as you wake up in the morning, find your pulse on your neck, just under your chin, or on your wrist. Using the watch, count the number of times your heart beats for 20 seconds. Multiply this number by three and you have your resting heart rate (RHR) in beats per minute (bpm). Record this number in your notebook next to the day’s date. Now make sure to repeat this process every morning. See Think You’re Overtraining? Check Your Pulse – Competitor Running

It’s a useful measure of two things.

Your resting heart rate is often a good determination as to how fit you are, as well as indicating if you’re either over training or unwell which will show up as an unexplained increases in resting heart rate.

See What Does Your Resting Heart Rate Mean?

When I was bike training seriously morning heart rate was one of things our coach asked us to record. Over time, it’s a good measure of improvements in fitness. But it’s also an excellent way to see if you’re over training and not recovering from hard workouts. How do you tell if you’re over training? What do the numbers mean? Here’s what Competitive Runner has to say:

Keep an eye on your resting morning heart rate in the two or three days after a hard workout. If it’s significantly elevated from its normal average (7 or more beats per minute), that’s a sign that you’re not fully recovered from the workout. Remember, there is going to be some variability in your daily heart rate regardless of your recovery level, do don’t be concerned if you’re 3 to 4 bpm over your normal average on a given day. In my experience, it takes a reading that’s 7 bpm higher than normal to signify excessive training fatigue.

Changes matter more than comparing your resting heart to that of famous elite athletes. Gender and age both make a difference in addition to fitness.

While the normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute, conditioned athletes and other highly fit individuals might have normal resting heart rates of 40 to 60 beats per minute. This indicates a high level of cardiovascular fitness. Gender is another factor in resting heart rate norms because women at various fitness levels tend to have higher pulse rates on average than men of comparable fitness levels. For example, the average resting heart rate of an elite 30-year-old female athlete ranges from 54 to 59 beats per minute, while the resting heart rate for men of the same age and fitness level ranges from 49 to 54, according to the YMCA’s “Y’s Way to Fitness.” See Average Heart Rate for Athletes



Sochi: Can We Hate the Laws Yet Love the Games?

Olympic rings against rainbow flag with caption "Sochi 2014."Going into the second week of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the controversy over Russia’s draconian laws against gay “propaganda” has all but faded into the background. Where some were calling for a full-out boycott, others insisted that a boycott would only hurt the athletes.

No boycott, no protests. This article says,

The silence is deafening. On Russia’s anti-gay law, on corruption, and on environmental violations in the run up to the Games, there has not been a single protest.

As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its national associations have made it clear to competitors that they should not use the Games as a place to make “political points”, the Russian authorities have used a combination of carrot and stick to ensure that homegrown critics also stay quiet.

The athletes, having been duly warned, have opted to keep their political views to themselves:

…the focus remains firmly on sport despite an attempt by gay rights groups to sign athletes up to condemn Russia’s law against ‘homosexual propaganda’.The law, much discussed in the runup to the Games, has not been raised even in a roundabout way by athletes. When the openly gay Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst won a medal early on in the Games, she made no protest and even admitted to having a “cuddle” with Vladimir Putin.

The Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who had previously said she planned to speak out strongly against the law, was decidedly circumspect on Sunday after she finished her event, saying she did not think the Games were the right place to vent her frustration. She said she had received hate mail on Twitter for her opposition to the law but also hinted she might have rethought her stance.

“I’ve had hate tweets. But it’s good getting different sides of the story, and trying to open your eyes a lot more before you say anything,” she said.

Austrian Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, who married her partner Isabel Stolz last year, refused to be drawn on the anti-gay law after she won a silver medal in ski jumping last week.

“I know Russia will go and make the right steps in the future and we should give them time,” she said.

Members of a small but vocal group of environmental protesters, “who for several years have suffered police pressure, threats and home searches as they attempted to bring environmental violations and injustices committed against Sochi residents during the Olympic construction spree to light,” have been under close scrutiny. One of them, Evgeny Vitishko, was jailed for three years last Wednesday.

But we don’t hear about this when we’re watching the Olympics on television. Canada’s coverage is all about the games, the athletes, and little politically neutral snippets about Russian history and culture.

The issue of sport and politics comes up in other ways as well. As I make plans for my summer triathlons, especially the Olympic distance that is my “fittest by fifty” goal, I can’t help but feel a bit hesitant about one of the major series in Ontario–the Milk series. I’m an ethical vegan with all sorts of moral qualms about the dairy industry. So the Milk series just doesn’t sit right with me.

I can’t say it’s an utter deal breaker–if there were no other viable options, I would probably do the Olympic distance in one of the Milk races. But I’ve found an alternative and I’m happy that I did.

How much do we pay attention to who is sponsoring the races we sign up for, or which charities the races are supporting? And yet it does matter. When an event is a success, the sponsors get lots of good press, the charities raise lots of money. And it’s only successful if people show up.

In the case of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee does its best to remain politically neutral and encourages the athletes to do the same. They’ve explicitly distanced themselves from the Vitishko case, insisting that it has nothing to do with the games.

The group of which Vitishko is a part thinks otherwise:

In an angry response to the IOC, the environmental activists released a statement saying that “everything that has happened … prior and during the Olympic Games has to do with the Olympic Games.”

The statement says the group’s activists have been “harassed, questioned, detained, and spent days in dingy cells” because of the Games, and had their office and property attacked.

I’m not sure I would call for an all out boycott, but I think that the IOC is unrealistic in trying to promote the idea that the Olympics are only about sport. They’re a significant international event that brings world attention and an economic boon to the host country and region.

Not only that, it’s completely inappropriate for the IOC to silence athletes from voicing their political views during the Games.

We may like to think that sport and politics don’t mix. But the reality is that they do. And when they do, athletes, participant nations, host countries, sponsors, and the community of spectators who support these events need to think about what they’re supporting.


Happy Family Day!

For those of you not living in Canada, Family Day is observed in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan on the third Monday of February. (In British Columbia, Family Day falls on the second Monday of February.) This holiday celebrates the importance of families and family life to people and their communities.

And basically it’s an excuse to sneak a statutory holiday into February, which of any month (in the Northern hemisphere) certain needs a holiday.

I’m not doing much to mark Family Day having just spent the weekend out of province with my immediate family at a memorial service for another family member. See Rough times, tough choices for the story there.

But in the meantime have fun reading some of these older posts on families and fitness:

Members of a royal family

competition · diets · eating

I’m not fat, I’m fluffy: The puzzle of animal obesity

fluffy fluffyYou know that I hate Weight Watchers.

What you might not know is that for many people, going to the vet can take on rather the same flavour as a visit to your favourite weekly weight loss program. A visit to the vet, a diagnosis of canine/feline obesity and the next thing you know it’s a prescription for diet food, prescribed portions, a ban on treats, daily exercise orders, and weekly weigh ins. You can also go the medication route if lifestyle changes are ineffective. In 2007 the first drug to treat canine obesity was released.

And there are, of course, pet dieting competitions! See Pictures: Fat pets before and after slimming – BBC, photos from the annual UK pet slimmer of the year competition.

dog before and afterAccording to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats in the U.S. are obese or overweight. And it’s not just dogs and cats. twenty per cent of horses and bunnies are obese too.

There’s a lot of hand wringing about pets looking like their owners and about bad habits spreading and that our inactive, snack happy lifestyles are KILLING THE CUTE CATS AND DOGS! See Are you killing your pet with love? according to which doggie ill health and obesity is due to their fat, lazy owners.

Not sure if your cat is fat? Here’s a Fit or Fat? Infographic for cat owners.

(Now can you see why you might feel judged putting your pooch on the scale at the vets and finding out they’ve gained?)

This piece in the Atlantic What Are They Feeding You? 50% of U.S. Cats and Dogs Are Overweight gives you some of the flavour of the discussion if it’s new to you. It features photos of fat rabbits, before and after photos (of course!), and talks about exercise programs and personal trainers for Fifi and Fido. Sound familiar?

See also It’s Not Just Us: Even American Animals Are Getting Fatter  (The Wire).

Lack of companion animal activity and too much snacking mirrors the “move more/eat less” messaging that human animals hear. But what if it’s much more complicated than that?

It’s not just pets that are getting fatter. Lab animals are too. And that’s a puzzle.

Most intriguingly, perhaps, the laboratory animals showed more pronounced gains than those living outside a lab. This is strange because the sorts of lab animals the researchers looked at tend to be given lots of food and left to nibble at leisure. This practice has not changed for decades. That the animals put on weight nonetheless suggests the phenomenon cannot be caused solely by pet owners appeasing their Garfields, or feral rats rummaging through refuse composed of ever larger quantities of calorie-rich processed food. Dr Klimentidis is unable to pinpoint any single mechanism that could account for his results. But this does not stop his data from lending exculpatory explanations for fat tummies more credence.

Read the rest at The fat cat cometh: It is not just human beings that are getting fatter. Animals are, too (Economist).

Recently researchers have been looking at increases in animal size to help shed light on human weight gain. David Allison, a biostatistician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was looking for a relationship between body weight and longevity in a population of marmosets but what he found made him wonder about the standard story about the causes of weight gain across all species.

The surge in human obesity is generally attributed to an increasing consumption of calories and a decrease in physical activity. “But maybe there are other things that are important — because those things can’t be acting on the marmosets, or the rats and mice in the National Toxicology Program,” he says.

See Lab animals and pets face obesity epidemic.

It’s also true for animals in zoos. See It’s Not Just All of the People Around You That Are Getting Fatter.

But while pets are on some level a reflection of the lives of their owners—they eat our food scraps and also, well, if you’re too lazy to go out and take your dog for a vigorous walk you’re not the only thing that’s going to get fat—zoo animals, whose lives are highly regimented and designed to promote health, are also growing around the middle. Chimpanzees get about the same food and the same level of exercise that they always have. And yet:

Among colonized chimpanzees, males and females, respectively, experienced a 33.2 and 37.2 per cent weight gain per decade, and a nearly 18-fold and 11-fold increase in the odds of obesity. In vervets, for females and males, respectively, there were 9.4 and 2.9 per cent increases in body weight per decade associated with 83 and 834 per cent increases in the odds of obesity. Among marmosets, females experienced a 9.7 per cent increase in body weight per decade, and a 1.73-fold increase in the odds of obesity. Among males, there was a 9.2 per cent increase in body weight per decade, and a 64 per cent increase in the odds of obesity.

Okay, so lab animals, pets, and zoo animals are often eating food that humans have produced. So maybe we could be to blame in these cases, even if we don’t exactly what we’re doing, we’re still doing something wrong. But what about wild animals? Some of them are getting bigger too.

For a discussion of possible causes–including electricity, viruses, and artificial lighting–read this fascinating essay by David Berreby, The obesity era: As the American people got fatter, so did marmosets, vervet monkeys and mice. The problem may be bigger than any of us.


Bad race ideas? Prison Break!

I’ve written before about races that just aren’t to my taste. See XRated Run: One race I won’t be running.

And I’ve written about races that I think are just a very bad idea. See The skirt chaser: Worst race idea ever?

But I’m not sure what to make of this one, Prison Break!

It looks to be in its second year and in 2014 will be held in Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax. Here’s the basic run down:

You have been convicted of a crime
you did not commit

Equipped with a belt and 3 flags*, you have 3 attempts to escape.
*Flag football belt
Run a challenging 5 km course to make it to freedom.
15 obstacles will test your strength, your endurance, your dexterity, your brain and above all, your determination.
Between the obstacles, stay alert! The guards will want to take your 3 flags. If a guard takes one of your flags, your escape continues.

At the end of this physical challenge:

If you have no flags left, you will be punished and sent to the mud hole.

If you still have at least one flag left, you are free and a handsome man or a beautiful woman will be waiting for you with a cold beer.

For more details on the race, see RACE INFO

Read about the first of these events held in Ottawa last year here.

I guess it could be terrifying and triggering for anyone who has had bad experiences being chased by the police. Or who has ever been falsely imprisoned and tried to escape. Personally, people in uniform yelling at me and chasing me would be a bit much.

What do you think? Great idea, sign me up? Or fine for some but not to your taste? Or just a bad idea all round?