fitness · Guest Post

Even World-Record Breaking Strongwomen Feel Pressured to be Smaller (Guest Post)

IPF World Champion Natalie Hanson was recently interviewed by Greg Nuckols and Eric Trexler on their podcast, Stronger By Science. (Skip ahead 1h 48m, if you want to hear the section I’m referencing.) In the interview, she said that one of the biggest barriers to women reaching their strength goals is the persistent desire to be smaller.

Hanson, who recently broke a world record for bench press and also works as a powerlifting coach, says that a common barrier to the sport for women is that they have to deal with social pressures around body image and aesthetic appearance. “Don’t get too bulky,” is a message that might get joked about “but it still carries through. It’s a component we shouldn’t overlook.” She says it’s less common with women who are fully bought into the sport, and more likely an issue for “general population” women who have an interest in starting powerlifting. They hear from men “that they are going to get big and buff, and that’s a problem.” She points out that “A guy is never going to hear that.” “That discrepancy when women begin a strength journey and men is stark, and alarming to [her] that it’s still a thing.” So, when women reach out to her for coaching, “they are interested in powerlifting and joining the sport, and they want to drop a weight class.” She describes this challenge as “interesting and concerning.”

It is important to point out, and Eric and Greg comment on this, that amongst strength athletes, it is universally understood that folks are stronger when they are larger. This is easier for men to accept than it is for women, and they have seen the impact of this pressure on women when they choose to at least remain in their current weight class, if not drop one, even though it reduces their success in their chosen sport.

Hanson also mentions incidences where she’s had to deal with comments from men about her body size, even in the gym where she trains regularly. “I’d been powerlifting for about a year and I was just going up a weight class. . . I had put on a lot of weight, muscle and fat, and generally got bigger, and that’s fine. And I looked a lot stronger. And I was training at the gym . . . and some older guy walked up to me and said, ‘Wow, you’re a thoroughbred.’” She expresses her confusion in the moment and how it changed her feeling about working out at that gym. She thinks he meant it as a compliment, but she was clearly baffled that he felt that it was ok to comment on her body at all.

Her advice to men, “If you wouldn’t say this to a friend that’s a male, don’t say it to a friend that’s a female.” She clarifies that she knows that guys who are really close will “give each other shit,” but she’s talking about how men talk with acquaintances.

I find it startling to learn that a woman at the top of her game has to deal with these pressures, and that the women she trains are still focusing on their size over performance goals, even when they are there ostensibly to become a world class lifter. Hanson acknowledges that she is happy to work on aesthetic goals with her clients, if that is what women would rather work on, but that the two goals–to be a competitive lifter and to be smaller–work at cross-purposes. Having a larger body makes you a stronger lifter. And women who are faced with this choice–to be the best lifter they can be, but have a larger body, or to be less of a lifter but comply more closely with society’s expectations–many of the women she works with choose the latter.

And it makes me sad to learn this, as I like imagining when I watch an amazing lift pulled from an incredible female athlete, that she has broken through the barriers the rest of us must wrestle with. Somehow, it seems, she’s accepted that she’s going to stand out, and she chooses her personal goals over bullshit pressures from outside of herself. Apparently, however, she’s likely dealing with the bullshit, too.

It occurs to me that this means we really don’t know how strong women can be. Because as long as women are battling pressures to be less-than at the same time that they are competing, they are hobbling themselves. In order to really test women’s strength, women need to feel equally safe as men pursuing the sport to its limits. And at that time, maybe we can comment on a woman’s body and lifting without it being an issue. As Hanson says, “it would be great if we got to a point where we were all so comfortable and proud of our bodies and what our bodies are capable of that we could freely talk about things like that, say ‘you’re looking jacked’ or ‘you’re looking huge,’ without it being a potential trigger or offensive comment.” Until that time, we should “stop making comments on how women look.”

What do you think?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, OR.


Sam’s Summer Bike Plans

I’ve returned from the big bike holiday in Newfoundland, feeling fit and frisky and wanting to build on it, rather than have my bike fitness fade away.

Here’s what I’ve got planned:

July 21, Tour de Norfolk, 100 km

Aug 11, 1 day bike rally, Toronto to Port Hope, 110 km

Aug 16-18 2019 Triadventure

August 31-September 1, Birthday weekend at home with bikes and friends. There will be cake and bike riding, 55 km.

Sept 7 Prince Edward County gran fondo, 100 km

No date yet but now that Sarah and I both have bikes that are happy on gravel, I’d like to ride the Guelph to Goderich rail trail. Or maybe for this year just the day trip version, 90 km out and back on the Kissing Bridge Trailway.

I’ve also been thinking of riding with some local bike clubs, though that makes me nervous!

climbing · fat · fitness · Guest Post

On boundaries, in life and at the climbing gym (Guest post)

by Alisa Joy McClain

I’m a fat woman climber. And, I’m a person who directly pushes back when people invade my space. Given Bettina’s recent post about mansplainers at the climbing gym and Susan’s mention of my name as a Boundary Hero in the comments, I thought it might be fun to share a few of the internal thoughts that have enabled and empowered me to say, “NO,” when someone has overstepped a boundary with me without spending precious emotional labor trying to protect their image of me or getting them to like me.

A frequent event for me at the climbing gym is this: I am waiting to get on a boulder or a wall. I’m positioned a polite distance away but close enough that my claim should be obvious. Because it happens often enough that my mere presence is not enough of a stakeholder, I’ve widened my stance and put my hands on my hips to non-verbally say, “I mean business. I am here with purpose.” When the space becomes available, it is not terribly unusual for a guy to just step between me and the wall like I don’t exist or that my fat body is actually invisible.

I have some choices here.

1) I can just move to another wall; give up my claim.

2) I can stand there and glare at the guy, passive aggressively communicating my displeasure and hoping he notices and is more aware in the future.

3) I can wait and let him know verbally at the end of his use of the wall.

4) I can politely interrupt him before he gets started and say, “Excuse me. I’m sorry, but I was waiting for that. Do you mind if I go first?”

5) I can interrupt him before he gets started and say, “I was waiting for that.” I usually do this in a slightly raised voice, aiming for mild social distress as a negative reinforce.

More and more often, I opt for number 5 or its equivalent.

So, these are things that I have thought about over the years to make this a near-automatic and pretty unapologetic response.

Option 1: If I give up my claim, the guy is definitely going to keep doing it to me and everybody else. He was probably oblivious to my existence and will continue to be oblivious to my existence.

Option 2: If I wait and glare, he’ll probably write me off as a bitch and I am the only person who has been inconvenienced. He has already demonstrated that I do not exist for him, so I have serious doubts my glaring will result in a behaviour change.

Option 3: It is still largely me that is inconvenienced, and I actually have already decided that a person who doesn’t observe the space and see if anyone is waiting doesn’t really care that much about social interactions and community environment. In the past, at most, I have gotten a non-satisfying apology, a glare, or actual verbal abuse when I pursued this option.

Option 4: I tried this for a while, but when I ask nicely and politely for something I shouldn’t have to ask for at all, it feels like I erase myself. It feels like this guy has given me his emotional discomfort with waiting, and I have accepted the burden and will tend to the burden carefully to ensure that I don’t give it back to him while meekly asking for a tiny share of respect. This option doesn’t feel good, and I don’t’ think it’s my job to help grown men who are actual strangers to me (and have already shown me I have no interest in getting to know them) develop basic social skills.

Option 5: My best option so far. In this case, I am returning the burden of discomfort. It’s like a ball he threw at me when I wasn’t willing to catch it, and I’m just tossing it right back at him. “Sorry, I think you dropped this.” I affirm my own right to exist. I am just loud enough to make sure that anyone nearby can hear because I feel like it protects me from an escalation in violence. I’m relying on social expectation to help this guy reconsider his options next time because his actions told me that my opinion of him is already not enough to change his behavior. The world tells me on a regular basis that I don’t deserve space in the world, and asserting myself and my right to exist in these interactions is one of the ways I reject the word’s erasure of my existence. I am treating myself with respect. This guy is probably not going to like me very much, but he already didn’t respect me and I don’t actually want to invite him into my life. I don’t owe the person who just told me that my existence is at their convenience any great efforts in kindness. Every once in a while the guy I do this to will offer a genuine apology, and I will then profusely thank them. That’s when they re-earn my respect and my effort towards active kindness. Janis Spring says “You don’t restore your humanity when you forgive an unapologetic offender; he restores his humanity when he works to earn your forgiveness.”

Bystanders are often uncomfortable with my choice of option number 5. When I’m with friends, I have to remember to not exercise option number 5 on their behalf (when the guy gets in THEIR way) because it’s their choice to do so or not and not mine and I don’t want to make my friend uncomfortable if they aren’t choosing these kinds of interactions. Susan mentioned her visceral discomfort in her comment about me on Bettina’s post. I get it. It’s also part of what I choose when I decided option number 5 was my default. I understand that discomfort as one of two things:

1. an expectation that I, as a woman, continue to defer to men or 2) a rejection of their own desire to do the same; not yet ready to take on the social disapproval of stating a boundary firmly and with expectation. Whelp, I am not going to start deferring to men; I’m just not house trained. And, I compassionately understand the bystander rejection of my boundary setting, but I’m not going to bend for it. After all, to not set boundaries for myself feels like participating in my own social erasure, and I have to live with myself for the rest of my life.

Harriet Lerner has written some great books on women’s anger and boundaries. In it, she says, “You can have change or you can have people like you. You often can’t have both.” When you put it that way, I’ll have change especially over winning the favor of men who will mansplain to me, take my space, or generally treat me as less than them.

I just don’t need them to like me nearly as much as I need to like myself.

Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.

fitness · temperature and exercise

Midsummer heat too much? Try cold exercise…

Some people are never satisfied with the weather. When it’s cold outside, they yearn for warm summer breezes. When that breeze comes, it’s either too windy, or it’s too darn hot.

Me? I love love love the summer and the heat that comes with it. I do have my limits, though. In Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days before a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, temps hit 108F/42C. That’s too much for me. But at 7000 feet above sea level, the south rim of the Canyon was great. And Sedona, although hot and dry (upper 90sF/35-36C), provided us with delicious swimming holes with delicious cold water. I love love loved it– the water was cold but refreshing and invigorating (no euphemisms here– it really was great).

But suppose you don’t have the benefit of cold fresh (or salt) water at your disposal? What can a cold-seeking person do in the midst of summer to move around chillily? Of course there’s always Newfoundland and Labrador, which are plenty cool enough– just ask Samantha, Cate, Susan, Sarah, David, and the rest of their recent bike trip crowd. You can read more about their cold cycling adventures here and here.

But suppose you just want to experience the rush of cold during a gym or yoga workout. Is there such a thing? Of course there is. This New York Times article talks about gyms that specialize in colder-temperature workouts. One in particular, a gym called Brrrn, features souped-up gimmicky (IMO) cardio, using ropes and slide boards and weights and such like.

Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.
Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.

Brrrn used to offer cold yoga-like classes, but their website no longer shows them. Pity that, because I have often said that I would love a lower-temperature yoga class. In fact, I searched all over the internet for minutes on end, and haven’t found one. Sure, there are lots of links to “cold indoor yoga”, but in the end, all my leads have gone, well, cold.

Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh...)
Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh…)

Why would anyone want to do physical activity in cold temperatures? People (including me) cite their hard limits to heat tolerance that curtail or even rule out hot-weather workouts. I don’t do well cycling in hot temperatures, although I do better over time if I keep it up consistently. This strategy, by the way, is endorsed by none other than the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where I found this rather detailed article (including graphs tracking rectal temperatures– these people are serious) about acclimating to aerobic exercise in heat.

There’s been a lot of press about the idea that cold weather workouts are more fat-burning, and that cold exposure promotes the conversion of white fat (“bad”) to beige fat (“sort of good but not as good as brown fat, which is really good”). There is some preliminary science suggesting that exposure to slightly colder temperatures over time can help convert white fat to brown fat (as usual, this study was done on 21-year-old men). Even so, exposure to warm temperatures reverses the effect. As for cold-weather workouts burning more fat— despite the hype, there’s just not research out there to support the claim. (If you find studies, please put them in the comments! I’d love to see them).

Back to exercise in a chill(y) environment just for purposes of fun and variety: from what I have found (through minutes on end of searching), commercial cold-room indoor gym exercise or yoga hasn’t caught on (yet). If Brrrn is still open the next time I go to NYC, I am definitely trying it (with my friend Martin, who is game for just about anything).

In the meantime, there’s plenty of refreshing cool and cold water around where I live for a chill swim workout.

And it’s good to remember that to every thing there is a season. And a time for every purpose. Including Snow-ga. Which may or may not be a thing. See below and check out this article.

A person doing yoga in backbend with one leg up, on mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr...
A person doing a backbend with one leg up, on a yoga mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr…

Are you enjoying being active in the heat? Are you avoiding it? How does the heat affect your activity schedules and regimens? I’d love to hear from you.


Has the evil of orange juice finally been established?

Here at Fit is a Feminist Issue we’re big believers in moderation. We also think the language of good and evil doesn’t really apply to food.

We’ve defended both orange juice and grapes from their critics as well as fruit in general. Pro tip: Grapes are not the Skittles of the fruit world!

I’ve even defended sugar. See here and here.

But maybe it’s time to change our tune. After all, this week is full of headlines about orange juice raising the risk of cancer. Cancer!

Moderation isn’t usually appropriate for things that cause cancer. We aren’t moderates about cigarettes.

Tracy and I aren’t even moderates about alcohol.

Maybe we shouldn’t be moderates about fruit juice either.

Now to be clear it wasn’t just orange juice that the study in question targeted. It was sugary beverages, including both orange juice and Coke. Some media sources went for the Coke version of the story. But that’s not sure dramatic. Most people already think Coke is evil. So the majority put “orange juice” center stage.

The reporting on the study was everywhere, with very scary sounding headlines.

But Twitter for me was a very different story. My Twitter feed was full of scientists and researchers criticizing both the study and its methodology and the reporting on the study.

Here’s a sample:

Interestingly none of that criticism appears in any reports on the study.

It was striking the gap between the scientific reception of the study and how much it was reported on uncritically.

To be clear, I haven’t read the study beyond the abstract. But so far there’s nothing there to make me abandon my moderate ways. I don’t make fruit juice or any sugary beverage a daily habit. But for special occasions, this alcohol-abstainer will be celebrating with mocktails that contain juice.

Today I had a Hibiscus-Ginger mocktail.

What’s your favourite?


Hello and welcome to Day 6? 7? 4?

This is actually Day 7, of course, but the 7th day of the program is supposed to be a rest day.

I took my rest unexpectedly on Day 4 so I don’t know what to call today. I did the Day 6 exercises so make of that what you will.

I’m still feeling a bit off today, not dizzy per se but feeling like one wrong move could tip me into dizziness.

Luckily, the program for Day 6 is all stretches so I didn’t have to worry about quick movements or leaning too weirdly.*

The stretches were great.

I did a better butterfly stretch than I have ever done before.

There was a significant improvement in my wall splits and I had no issues with holding them for 90 seconds. (Usually the side of my knee starts hurting before a minute is up.)

Frog stretch felt marvellous AND purposeful.

I won’t go through every stretch but suffice it to say that they felt useful, it felt like they were doing their job. My hips and legs feel like I am taking good care of them. They feel pleasantly loose and very mobile.

Even though I faced some unexpected challenges, I give Samery Moras‘ How to Kick Higher program a thumbs up!

A white woman wearing a white v-necked shirt is in front of a light green wall. She is smirking and she is giving a thumbs up with her right hand.
A more triumphant smirk today!

I don’t know if my kicks are any higher, I’m not even going to try to determine that until I get this dizziness figured out. I can’t do a really high kick without leaning over and that’s not worth it.

I don’t want to risk feeling as bad as I did on Tuesday for no reason!

But, as I said yesterday, my kicks are BETTER. I can feel that my form is better, that I am using my muscles more effectively, that my kicks are improving, no matter what height they are currently at.

And THAT, my friends, is a victory.

I will be incorporating a lot of the drills and stretches from this program into my regular workouts so I can keep improving.


*Leaning from side to side is the challenge here, leaning over frontwards doesn’t seem to be an issue.

climbing · men

Men explain things to me: the bouldering edition

This week, I was going to post about my new bike and commuting with it, but I’m afraid this is going to have to wait until another time (though spoiler: I’m loving it). Something happened to me this week that really annoyed me, and I need a space to vent.

Mansplaining apparently never gets old. When I prepare a post I always double-check it hasn’t already been written, or what the other fit feminists here think about a topic. Lo and behold, when I checked for “mansplaining”, a post from Sam came up from 2014: Men explain things to me: The Gran Fondo Edition. Five years later, enter the bouldering edition!*

I’ve written before about how bouldering is a social sport that is a lot of fun in a group, and it is. Even if it so happens that you show up at the bouldering gym alone, you will usually end up chatting to someone about a problem that you’re both working on. And most of the time it’s nice. On Monday, however, it so happened that I just wanted a bit of quiet time figuring stuff out for myself. It’s been really busy round here, we have visitors at home (whom my partner was taking care of for the day), and I needed a bit of space. So maybe it wasn’t the best idea to engage in an activity that usually provokes chats. Maybe I should’ve just gone for a run. But I wanted to boulder, so off I went.

A smiling Bettina hanging off a bouldering wall, enjoying the triumph of a solved problem.

Oh boy, did people talk to me. And by “people”, I mean men. Out of an admittedly small sample of n=3, 100% of the people to give me unsolicited advice on problems I was working on were male. I got so pissed off I left earlier than I normally would have, or else specimen no. 4 would have had a “CAN A PERSON NOT HAVE SOME SPACE IN HERE?!” thrown at them. I didn’t want a hypothetical specimen no. 4 to suffer thusly.

The most blatantly mansplainy exchange was this:

ME: *works quietly on a boulder problem, chickens out before the end because doesn’t want to slip and bite the wall*
RANDOM GUY (RG): But you almost had it, you just have to step up on the last bit!
ME: But I didn’t want to. If you slipped there, it would be really nasty.
RG: Hm, OK. But have you tried this problem? *points to problem next to the one I’d been trying*
ME: No, I haven’t.
RG: You should, it’s a fun one.
ME: OK, sure, I’ll give it a whirl.
RG: Try it, and then I’ll show you how.

I mean, seriously???!!! I hadn’t asked him for help, I hadn’t asked him what problem to do next, and I certainly hadn’t asked him to “show me how”. The conversation went on like this for a bit as I tried my hand at the problem (he wasn’t wrong, it was kind of fun, just not with a random guy watching and doling out “helpful” advice). Eventually, I sort of bowed out and scampered off to the other end of the gym. Yes, I enabled this guy by agreeing to do the second problem. But what does one do in such a situation? Is there a way of shutting mansplainers down without being rude? Or should one just be rude?

Interestingly, I have hardly ever encountered unsolicited advice-giving from women. Mostly, they either don’t say anything, or they wait till you ask. On rare occasions, they have said something along the lines of “Have you tried doing this or that? It might not work for you, but it did for me!” As in, not just telling me what I “just have to do”, and waiting a while until politely offering a possible solution, while being aware of the fact that it may not work for me.

Often, I’ll have an exchange with someone and a witty reply will come to me after the fact. This time, I’m still stumped. What would you have done? How do you all deal with this sort of situation?

*Others have written about this too, notably Kim in her post “Why I hate spin“.