219 in 2019 · fitness

I did it! 219 in 2019. Early even. Now what’s next?

I’m sure everyone who reads the blog knows that a bunch of us here are in an accountability group with the goal of working out 219 times in 2019.

And Sunday I met that goal. My 219th workout was a spin class as part of my cycle instructor training.

What counts as a workout for the purposes of the challenge? Whatever works for you. Some people are aiming for working out 219 days in 2019 for example. I count discrete chunks of intentional movement. Like Cate, I count 4 hour paddles as 1 and I count a 30 minute lunch hour exercise class as 1. I count 100 km bike rides as 1 and 10 km local commutes as 1. I figure it evens out in the end.

The one exception are my bike commutes to work. They’re too short. Just 4 km round trip. And they’re part of my baseline of physical activity. So I count them only if I also do something else. So I count a bike commute plus dog walk as one, a bike commute plus abs as one, etc. It’s all about motivation to do more.

I’ve written before about possibly shooting for 300. If I’ve already done 219 workouts I would need to do 81 more to make it to 300. There are 94 days left in the year. Is that manageable? Maybe. I’d get 13 off days roughly one rest day per week. Certainly it would be good motivation to see me through the dark days of November and the holiday busyness of December.

I think I will. Shooting for 300 workouts in 2019 is my new goal now. Wish me luck!

feminism · fitness · strength training · weight lifting

Is Grunting While I Lift Contributing to Patriarchy?

Over the last couple months, I have returned to the gym after nearly 2 months away. I have been healing from a hysterectomy, and it is time to get back into my pre-surgical routines. In addition to being “newly back,” I am also trying out a new gym. I had problems with the culture of my last gym, and we moved a couple weeks prior to my hysterectomy, so I had an easy excuse to break things off and try some place new.

The new gym is mostly unmonitored, so the ownership uses a board to communicate policies, recent equipment repairs and such. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, the members seem to feel free to add their own two cents.

The board recently stated the reminder from the male gym owner, “Fellow Men, Please be aware of the energetic physical space we take up. For example, grunts are for homes, not gyms.”

What followed were comments from the community, including, “PATRIARCHY = men get to take up more space than other genders. . . stop ignoring power dynamics,” alongside requests that someone stop erasing the word “men” and changing it to “human,” and a note from the gym owner that “if you dislike the word ‘man’ you are likely the reason it was written in the first place.”

Image description: A portion of the whiteboard at my gym. It reads “Fellow men: please be aware of the energetic physical space we take up. For example, grunts are for homes, not gyms. Wear shoes at all times. Yes, please. Please leave laptop on Pandora only,” and more.

And all this back and forth leaves me wondering, IS grunting contributing to the patriarchy?

There are definitely guys who take up more “energetic physical space” than I would like them to do. These men grunt, growl or yelp with every repetition, from the first set to the last. Often, they are also whipping from one exercise to the next in a manner that feels frenetic to me. My totally judgmental opinion of these guys is that they are deeply insecure, and they are making up for their lack of confidence as a lifter by supplementing their strength with vocalizations and momentum (swinging a dumbbell up rather than doing a strict lift, for example).

On the other hand, I, too, sometimes grunt during a difficult session! Especially now, as I’m taking extra care to ensure that I’m not holding my breath while I’m lifting (and thus increasing the internal downward pressure in my abdomen and pelvic floor), I intentionally expel air during the toughest part of the movement. Sometimes, that just means I make a “puf” sound. But sometimes it’s more!

When I’m lifting heavily, there can be something wonderful and freeing about pushing out a breath during a hard lift. Think about the incredible, strong and powerful movements of Bruce Lee and all his accompanying vocalizations! The man’s movements were a work of art, and he used his breathing to help power them. Now, I’m no Bruce Lee, but I feel like I tap into something powerful nonetheless when I let out an involuntary “whoff” as I stand strong in a lift. It makes the lift less arduous. I feel stronger and more capable. I feel more prepared to do it again for another rep.

Am I buying into patriarchy by making these noises? Am I somehow collaborating or contributing to the oppression of others by “conforming” to men’s norms in this way? No, I don’t think so.

Grunting and other vocalizations while lifting is, technically, something I can control, but only as much as we can control how we sneeze. Yes, I can hold in my breath, cover my nose, and try to make a “cute” sneeze that seems more feminine. Or, I can relax, exhale, and let it out loud and proud. Either way, I’m going to sneeze. Likewise, to some extent, grunting is unavoidable. I have some control over the volume and nature of it, but sometimes, as I’m straining all the way up, tension riding up into my neck and shoulders, I’m releasing air through tightened vocal cords to fuel that final contraction, and “UGHHH.” The noise is part of the effort.

The possibly insecure men whose noises annoy me are grunting because they are often lifting too much for them to control properly. They can control their vocalizations most readily by being realistic about their current fitness level and starting with more appropriate weights for their present strength. I don’t think they’re being patriarchal, they’re just being human. My advice to them isn’t “never grunt at the gym,” it’s to be mindful of how your lifting impacts others (and maybe get a trainer to help you set realistic goals).

I don’t deny that there is more pressure for women to be quiet, out of the way, and more conscientious of how their behaviors may impact others. I feel that pressure, too, as I set up my lifts off to one side, out of the line of sight of folks who might need the mirror, the dumbbell rack or some mat space. And as such, men likely give less thought to how their noises may make some people uncomfortable, or may intrude upon their gym experiences. I have no problem with reminding people to be thoughtful of others’ needs and to remember that those needs are diverse and varied. But I can’t help but wonder, if there were more women who lifted, would there be more understanding of the occasional need to grunt?

Feel free to leave me a comment below and let me know what YOU think!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found occasionally grunting, and often picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, OR. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .


My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

CW: discussion of scales, weight, worries about weight change.

Since I bought my fancy shapa scale in 2017, I’ve put it away, brought it back out, and so on a couple of times. I took it back out a month ago. Turns out, I still fear what it will tell me. And I resent its power over me. But I haven’t yet found a way out of that often-unhappy collaboration.

One update about the scale software: the company has smoothed out the messages it sends. It doesn’t say things like “good” anymore. Instead it uses colors and slightly more subtle messaging. But I get their message–less weight is better, and more weight is worse.

So check out this post, and I’ll be following up in more detail later.



Almost Over (But Not Quite)

Usually, by the time I’m coming to the end of one of my short challenges, I’m tired and kind of sick of posting about it.

This is not the case with my ‘September is for Yoga‘ challenge! 

Instead I’m finding myself with feeling that I’m just getting started.  I feel like I’m just beginning to explore around the edges of what yoga can bring to my life.

I like the way my body feels. I like how I’m moving. I like the fact that yoga feels available to me as a stress relief. 

And I enjoy checking in every day with the group, sharing a yoga monster drawing, and giving our gold stars.

A white index card   covered in  twenty  seven-shaped monsters  in multiple colours. The words  Day 27  are written above the monsters.
My monsters for Day 27. No, there aren’t 27 monsters, there are 20 seven-shaped monsters.

Yes, I do think I’m funny.

I think I have finally found a level of accountability magic (more to come about that in a later post.) 

Basically, everything about this process feels good – the yoga, the group, and the results.

I’ll post about yoga one more time this month but don’t think that that will be the last time I have something to say about it.

Our group has decided that October is for yoga, too. 😉


My Feet On the Ground

I started running again. It’s fall, it’s cool and it’s getting dark early. The days of long cycles are almost gone and the truth is if I don’t have a goal, I won’t do anything. I don’t love running much. I have never loved it or really liked it at all to be truthful. Upon being encouraged by Cate, I signed up for a run in the spring and now I guess I’m prepping for a 10k. I took my old dog out with me today and we both slowly and just a little bit painfully squeezed out 4k. But that’s what it’s like at our age. Everything is a little slower and a little more painful. It would be so easy to just let it all go and just stop trying. That’s what I was thinking about as I ran, feeling that familiar uncomfortable burn in my chest and the weight of my legs as I willed them to move. “Why am I doing this?”

“Why AM I doing this? Why Why Why Why” the rhythm of my feet in time to the question. It’s not because I will win any races. I am no performance athlete. I am not doing it to change my body in any profound way. I don’t have to do it to maintain anything, I walk enough to meet all the minimum standards of movement for health. I’m trying to get hold of what is going on with me these last months, some seriously profound shift in who I am is bubbling up. Somehow this choice to run again is part of it.

About a year ago, the final chapter of the second book of my life trilogy, if you will, was coming to a tragic end. I clung to movement to ground my grief. I would get up and walk or stretch of lie on the floor in Shavasana weeping and tending to my body, my literal heart, holding pieces together with remembering I was still a whole physical being, if not a whole emotional one. I tried running a few times in the spring but each run left me with a feeling of being broken somewhere, like my body was a minefield and I made a wrong step. I stuck to the bicycle. The rhythm of my legs going round and round was more tolerable to me in more than just my body. Cycling has more range of experience. I could be gradual about it ramping up and down in the intensity based on the way a hill rolled. They physics of cycling is just kinder in all the ways than running. I needed kindness.

I was learning to live alone, preparing to live totally alone as my youngest child made her way through grade 12 and out the door to her adult life. There was relief in it, and frustration, and an exhaustion that pulled me down flat so much of the time. I guess that’s depression, to be technical, a deep nearly unreachable grief. I actually can’t run from that, as much as I have said so in another blog of mine. This was a grief about myself and I couldn’t escape. Running pressed buttons that seemed to make it worse.

Then the summer happened and the ridiculous intensity of that cycling trip to Newfoundland. Cate wrote about it here, using the experience to explore the idea of Grit. Upon reflection, that trip loomed up, surprised me and broke something else. It wasn’t the kind of breaking that the attempts at running were creating. It was more like it broke me open and exposed the seeds of what was next. The intense physicality and emotional strain of that trip (there was some weeping in a ditch) reminded me I was alive in ways I did not expect. It reminded me I wanted more life and I wasn’t settled and I wasn’t done and whatever the heck was happening wasn’t quite right either. After that trip, the physicality of my life became more joyful, even as it was trying. I realized that my sense of internal brokenness had abated and my body synced up differently. I still felt pain and fatigue but I no longer felt wounded.

When I did the TriAdventure weekend in August, I decided to run the loop once (about 4.3k) and it was not horrible at all. I ran another time up north, no hills, and that wasn’t gross either. Then there was today.

It’s seems I can’t run with a broken heart. When I think of my life and with whom I have run and why, that makes complete sense to me. It’s just one of those weird mind body expressions that I have learned to pay attention to. Here I am, in the first chapter of the third book in the trilogy. I don’t know how long this book will be or whether there will be one of those really meaningful epilogues at the end. Yet I do know that I have found my way to being more profoundly embodied than I was before, with more connections and more attention paid to what that means. Moving through to menopause ups the ante even more, as I drop into the netherworld of societal location that is the post-fertile woman. Lots of attention is being paid in the media these days to this process. Maybe Gen X can make a mark after all as we question the significance of our state change. Perhaps it IS significant, this emergent Crone in running shoes who is not clinging to youth but rather embodying something else.

So ya, I’m running again and it’s kind of okay. My heart pounds but it feels in one piece now. I’m on my own but embedded in community and other people’s lives in the best ways. I’m just getting started, it seems. Watch out :).

A beautiful Crone in a black red white and gold kerchief wearing a brown coat. She is smiling wisely at you and she definitely knows things you don’t.
fitness · gear

What a difference a lighted helmet makes… Maybe. I hope.

I just got the coolest new bike helmet. It’s by Lumos, and has lights on the front, lights on the back, and lights on the side.

The lights on the side aren’t on in these photos, but they are amber lights and work as turn signals. You operate them from a remote you strap onto your handlebars. That is so cool…

A Lumos bike helmet from back, with red triangle light in center, and V-lights in amber on left side. Remote is below, with L button lit.

So why did I buy this shiny new toy, uh, new safety device for cycling?

Well, there are two answers. In philosophy, we used to (and I suppose some still do) distinguish between what people call “the context of discovery” and “the context of justification. Yeah, I know– it sounds super-stodgy. I can’t take full responsibility for this– I just work there (that is, in philosophy…)

Anyway, the distinction is meant to show the difference between a story of how something came to say, believe or do something, and what justifies us in believing for doing that thing.

First, the discovery part: my friend Rachel (avid cyclist of all sorts and sometime guest blogger here) texted me to ask if I wanted to ride to meet some folks for dinner Saturday night. I had been planning on going, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to ride my bike there, even though it was a scant 2.4 miles/3.8 km one way. Of course I said yes, and then got out my lights. Rachel rolled up to my house, wearing one of these beauteous helmets– hers was a lovely shade of blue.

Blue Lumos helmet, with lights on front, side and back.
Blue Lumos helmet, with lights on front, side and back.

I was impressed, the more so on the way home. She showed me how the turn signals worked, which was soooo cooool! We both used lights on front and back of our bikes, but her helmet made her much more visible to everyone on the road.

Rachel is a year-long distance bike commuter, using a bike to ride 22–24 miles home from her job most days. She knows from good lights and helmets. I quickly decided I needed one, too for night riding. Easy peasy– order and it arrives a few days later.

Now to the justification part: I so enjoyed riding to and from the restaurant with Rachel on Saturday night. I love love love riding at night when the weather is warm or even a bit fresh and cool. But I don’t do it that often. I’m just not in the habit, and sometimes I worry about being visible enough.

Enter the lighted helmet. I am firmly convinced (don’t try to persuade me otherwise! 🙂 that having this helmet will put me in mind to figure out ways to ride at night more. For instance, this Sunday evening, a bunch of friends are going to dinner and the movies (Downton Abbey– don’t judge us). It is 3.5 miles/5.6 km each way, which is an easy ride. And I’m doing it, thanks to my new lighted helmet.

Now the trick is to keep this going. I’ll report back in a few months to see if the new helmet is luring me outside on my bike in the evenings more. Here’s hoping…

Readers, do you get inspired or motivated by new active gear or clothing? Let me know.


After years of mocking the game, Sam discovers that golf can be fun

Be brave enough to suck at something new

For years I’ve said no to golf. I’d rather be hiking or riding my bike. It’s a sport for rich people. It’s not for me.  “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” And then there is the environmental impact of golf courses themselves.

I’d look at people playing golf as I rode by on my bike and think I’d made the better choice. (Actually, I think that is true still.)

Once a year, at Guelph, the Board of Governors of the university organizes a golf tournament for the board and the senior leadership team of the university at Cutten Fields. Last year I had a crisis that needed dealing with and there was no golf for me. This year, no crisis. Golf instead. Surprise, surprise, I liked it.

A very old drawing of a woman playing golf

Now I wasn’t very good at it, my first time out. But I got lots of coaching from my teammates and got better over the course of the afternoon. We played 9 holes using the “best ball” format which meant that my team wasn’t penalized for having me along. Everyone else had played before and two of the people on my team were very good.

I liked it as a social workplace event. It was a good way to get to know some of the board members. It was also fun being outside and doing something active. On top of all that though, I liked the challenge of trying to hit the ball and make it go where I wanted it to go.

I also got to experience the full gamut of golfing weather. It started out hot and sunny but then big rain clouds moved in. Out came the golf umbrellas. We got wet but kept on playing.

My biggest challenge was when it came my turn to drive the golf cart! That’s a hilly course.

Oh, also what to wear. There was work before golf and a dinner after at the golf club. I went with leggings and a cute summer dress with a blazer over top and running shoes. That worked.

Also a challenge, finding my ball. Luckily the more experienced golfers were better at following my shots to where the ball ended up.

By the end of the afternoon I decided that it would be a lot more fun if I actually knew what I was doing. There may be golf lessons in my future and some time at a driving range whacking buckets of balls one by one.

What’s your view about golf? Love it? Hate it?

A golf ball with a women’s symbol with a raised first inside.
cycling · fitness · Guest Post · illness

Gut Job, Butt Job: On Cycling, Yoga and Long-Term Cancer Recovery (Guest Post)

by Andrea Zanin

Four years ago, I underwent the second of two surgeries and radiation treatment for a rare spinal cord tumour that caused me chronic pain for over twenty years. I’ve shared a few posts here about chronic pain and my experiences of figuring out how to be in my body and regaining fitness post-treatment. Today I’m doing a deep dive into some recent developments on that journey!

When I started cycling more post-cancer treatment, I used my feet and calves to pedal. Seemed the obvious choice. Then I realized that was doing a helluva number on my knees, which were getting creaky and painful. So I started consciously using my quads more. I also started making sure to press down with my big toes in order to stop my knees from winging out. I figured good alignment would help reduce pain. 

This in turn meant taking more of the effort along the inner line of my legs, which strengthened the muscles weakened by the ways long-term chronic nerve pain had affected my gait. Definitely an improvement—no more knee pain, much stronger legs over time. 

This summer, I started to notice that as I strengthened my core muscles with yoga, my body naturally wanted to use them in cycling too. As a result, my core started doing more of the work and pulling my legs along for the ride. The push and pull came from my gut muscles, while my legs were the pistons that were simply there to rise and fall, lending their weight to the job but doing less of the work.

This more concentrated core work also got my glutes involved. So flat-surface cycling was a gut job, like front-wheel drive, but uphill cycling became a butt job, like rear-wheel drive.

This week I’ve noticed two new things. One, my butt is strong as a fucking tank. I can *feel* the power of those big muscles every time they fire. It’s a lot like the pleasure of a deep yawn or a good stretch in the morning—I can feel blood filling up places it hasn’t reached in a long time, tingly and rich. Everyday squatting is a breeze (sitting, picking things up from the ground, etc). In yoga, balance poses are easy—line up the leg bones, grip the core, engage the glute and then just hang out in whatever weird one-legged position with barely a wobble. 

Also, the added strength means that I can do backward-bending movements that previously triggered leftover nerve pain. Because I can hold myself steady with my glutes, my lower back doesn’t collapse and put pressure on my surgical site with its missing bones and stripped nerves.

But it’s really more a feeling thing than a performance thing. It’s like a heating system that was shut off for many, many years is finally being shot full of power, and the coils are creaking and glowing. It’s still early days, I can tell, because I think in the next phase I won’t even notice this feeling anymore. At the moment it still feels new. 

The second thing is, when I cycle, those stronger butt muscles are collaborating with my core—so instead of front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive, cycling feels like four-wheel drive no matter what kind of incline I’m on. It’s like my parts are figuring out how to operate as a cohesive whole. I don’t need to tell them how or think about it. My body’s got this all by itself.

I’m almost exactly four years post-cancer treatment and I’m still healing. But this phase is unlike the others thus far. This phase isn’t about emerging from the deep hole of pain. This one is about building upward from flat ground, and discovering what this new body can do beyond surviving. I had years of thinking this wasn’t even possible. So please forgive the possibly TMI description of the inner workings of my butt muscles here—it just feels kinda amazing to experience this and I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at http://sexgeek.wordpress.comand tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

A green bike with rear basket against a red brick wall

Representation matters

A couple of weeks ago SamB shared a link to a feature in the New Yorker. The article considered the impact of photographs taken by Elinor Carrucci, many of them self portraits of herself and her family. The photos examine what midlife looks like from a woman’s point of view and the contrast is surprising, given how often aging women are deemed invisible.

The images are beautiful and unsettling, their subject in turn often vulnerable, strong, or deeply, almost intrusively intimate. They aren’t images we see often, with society’s focus on youth and perfection.

I started thinking about what would happen if we saw all kinds of bodies doing all kinds of things. I wondered what we would learn if we documented the reality of aging and the beauty of self discovery on bodies instead of trying to fix, replace, repair, and reform them so they continued to look like our former selves before age took over.

In many ways, writing for this blog has shown me again all the ways representation matters. Our focus is on fitness, feminism, and our experience of where both intersect with all the other things women do. Here are some recent experiences of mine at finding myself at mid-life:

I get my hair cut. The stylist comments on all the silver strands, how they shine in the light, how the texture contrasts with the darker, silkier bits. She admires the silver and the white. She tells me I have great hair. The best part: she doesn’t ask me if I want to dye my hair to hide the grey. I tell her about Margaret Atwood’s photo shoot and her spectacular hair. How cool, she says. It is, I tell her.

I stopped by a store, drawn in by a spectacular green coat. If they had had my size, I would have bought it. For years I wore sensible black, navy or grey coats and jackets. I look in my closet now and I have red and purple, fuchsia and turquoise, coral and lime green. I asked the owner what women my age are wearing now. Whatever you like and makes you feel good, she replies. I like that. Wear what makes you feel good.

I went for a stress test. The nurse explains how they will measure my heart rate as they stick tabs on my back and chest. They will start at a regular pace and then ramp things up progressively. We start. Each phase is preceded by her asking me how I’m feeling. Good I say, and then the pace increases. How am I feeling now? Good again, and up we go. And now? I tell the nurse my husband and son are both tall so I have to walk fast to keep up. This time she increases the speed and raises the incline. It’s tougher but I still keep up. The test ends and they monitor my recovery. I still have work to do, but overall I’m in good shape. This makes me happy. My post-menopausal body has not let me down.

I go to the gym. My gym clothes are bright and bold with lovely patterns. I try new things. I re- do old things because they feel good and I can do them well. I don’t think about anybody else in the gym. I’ve stopped thinking about how I look in the gym. I’ve stopped thinking about what other people are doing in the gym. I focus on my work. I focus on me.

I realize I am centred on my self. And that is a good thing.