I’ve been working on a project on women and cycling, which begins by looking at the role the bicycle played in early feminism. One of the things I’m interested in seeing is whether the attitudes to women on bikes in the 1800s have entirely gone away. What I argue, in the course of a longer paper on the subject, is that they haven’t. In fact, I think some of the same attitudes pose an obstacle to getting more women on bikes now.
Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I was part of a conversation about exercise procrastination.
Exercise procrastination is when you put off starting today’s exercise session.
So, this isn’t about people who don’t want to exercise, nor is it about people who are putting off starting an exercise program. This is about people who have an exercise habit but have trouble getting started on a given day.
I know that lots of people have no issue at all with fitting exercise into their schedule. For them, it’s automatic. There’s no need to convince themselves to get started, no ‘talking themselves into it’ and, from what I can tell from chatting with them, this whole post would make no sense to them at all.
But for everyone of those ‘just schedule a time and do it’ people, there are people like me who spend a lot of time convincing themselves to start moving.
I know that, for me, there are ADHD factors at play here.
I have trouble with switching tasks and I struggle with task initiation. Both of those things make stopping what I am doing and then starting an exercise session a tricky proposition.
And, since it requires sustained concentration and effort, my brain treats a 30 minute exercise session like it is a HUGE task instead of a small part of my day.*
But I also know that, once I get moving, I really enjoy exercising. It’s just that getting started is hard.
So, to lower the obstacles between me and exercise, I have two practices in place.
I set a reminder for 10 minutes before I want to get started so I have some warning that I will have to switch tasks.
I tell myself that I only HAVE to exercise for 10 minutes.
(Yes, apparently the number 10 is a big factor in my exercise plans.)
Most of the time, the 10 minute reminder is enough notice for my brain to get used to the idea of switching from one task to another, so that change doesn’t feel abrupt. And, ages ago, I figured out that once I am exercising for 10 minutes, I usually start to enjoy myself.
Obviously, sometimes I start having fun right away but sometimes it doesn’t seem fun at any point. I don’t necessarily stop when exercising isn’t fun but having the 10 minute escape hatch is still helpful. Knowing that I *can* stop in just 10 minutes makes it easier to get started.
I still procrastinate when it comes to exercise but since I put those two practices in place, I do it far less.
How about you?
Do you procrastinate about exercise?
How do you get past the procrastination and get moving?
*I’m not even going to get into the whole rigmarole that my brain puts me through with picking the ‘right’ time to exercise and the ‘right’ exercise to do, those things are outside the scope of this procrastination thing.
I was walking in front of two young women undergrads on my way to the gym. Their conversation was personal and painful. Back when my knee worked I would have picked up the pace. Now I can’t. I just had to listen.
I won’t share the whole story because of possible identifiable details but the main theme is familiar to blog readers, body shame and size anxiety
Young woman 1 (YW1) says she went home for the weekend and cried the whole time. It started when her mother bought her new pants.
“I hate it when people buy me clothes. I HATE IT.”
Noted. But why tears? She continues.
“They were a size too big. What does she think I am, a fat cow? I can’t believe she thinks I’m that big.”
Friend asked sensibly what prompted her mother to buy her clothes. So far I’m liking the friend.
Turns out YW1 had messaged home that none of her clothes fit and she’d gained weight eating in the cafeteria even though she went to the gym everyday.
Friend now drops out of my favour when she commiserates. “And your mom thought you wanted to stay big? Who wants that? You need to get back into your regular clothes. Let’s just workout and skip lunch. F*CK your mom.”
On behalf of moms everywhere let me just say she was trying to help! You said none of your clothes fit! She likely carefully looked at labels and bought one size up. Care, concern, detective work. Problem solving is what moms love to do. Over the years, I’ve learned that isn’t always what’s wanted. Sometimes they want you just to listen. That’s a hard lesson to learn.
But also as they both passed me, now heading to the gym with resolution and speed, I couldn’t help but notice how tiny they both were. Single digit sizes for sure. I noted that even though I know it doesn’t make a difference. I’m sorry you’re stressed and crying all weekend about weight gain. University life isn’t easy. Just a few weeks ago I was walking through the residences, knocking on doors and talking to students about the first few weeks of university. It’s part of a program here at U of G called House Calls They knew we were coming so I thought they might not be home. But no, they seemed to appreciate the connection and openly shared some of the problems. Sometimes I helped and sometimes I just listened.
I’m sorry we live in a world where that’s the thing you choose to name and cry about because I’m pretty sure it’s not the only thing going on in your life.
I’m sorry double digit, high end of the straight sizes, me had to hear you calling yourself fat and thinking that one size is up is cow sized.
I reminded myself that all bodies are good bodies and went to look for some cows that make me smile.
I’m back inside riding. Why hello Zwift! It’s been awhile. So much fun.
I’m also continuing the path to become an indoor cycling instructor. I wrote the test yesterday. Scary. It won’t be graded for a few weeks. I’ll let you know. Next up, playing apprentice instructor in a few classes.
But I’m still trying to go for short outside rides too. I’m commuting by bike and I’m looking forward to playing in the snow with bikes. I even blogged about my transition to being an all season rider. That makes fall less sad. But so too do plans to go riding in January in Florida
And before that I was in Munich for a conference on Neglected Relationships talking about chosen family. What a big month!
So dark! And getting darker still next weekend. Pretty soon I’ll be getting up in the dark, riding to work in the dark, and riding home in the dark too. I’ve got my warm, reflective gear ready along with all the lights for my bike out and fully charged.
I’ve also decided to order some full spectrum lights to help with the season of darkness. Do you do that? Does it help?
My knee pain continues. I’m not able to walk very far without my knee brace but even with the knee brace it’s limited. I’ve pretty much cut out long walks which is hard. I didn’t see much of Munich. I miss walking Cheddar!
I’m losing weight still and still conflicted about all of that. I’m at the stage of needing to replace some clothes. On the upside I can now fit into my smaller jeans again.
I’m trying to avoid the internalized version of you’ve lost weight, you look great. That’s a little bit too easy of a trap to fall into if I try being body positive about my slightly smaller body. Body positivity is easier for me at smaller sizes. No surprise. And it feels mean to my former size. Given that I know the odds of never seeing that size again aren’t great, I’m trying to avoid all of that.
Instead I’ve been trying out Tracy’s body neutrality attitude. This is a good body. So too was my larger body. It’s just that the larger body wasn’t such a good match for my aging arthritic joints. It was better for some things and this body is better for others.
The tone of incredulity was hard to miss. My mother, who I love very much and is, and has always been, very different from me, clearly could not fathom why I would want to learn to lift heavier weights. You see, I’ve recently hired a personal trainer to teach me the big barbell lifts, and while I am thrilled about it, my mother is clearly concerned.
I don’t share her fears. And I LOVE lifting weights. Why?
Lifting gives me a sense of mastery of a skill–a skill that few have pursued with seriousness, male or female, but especially us females. We aren’t encouraged, of course, but there is something wonderful about feeling really and truly capable at lifting heavy things. Or perhaps in part, it is because it is not encouraged? There is definitely something subversive about the pursuit of strength for a woman–a willingness to stand out, to stand up proud, and to possibly pursue taking up MORE space in a world that encourages us to achieve endless smallness instead.
Lifting gives me a space to focus purely upon myself and my own goals. I do it for myself, because I like it, and I enjoy the results. I know not everyone here supports aesthetic goals associated with exercise, but I admit, I like the definition in my arms when I flex. I like the subtle ripple of muscles on my back when I move. I celebrate these changes in my physique as evidence that my body, at least to some extent, is something I can mold to my desires. I grew up bigger and softer than most of my peers, and I falsely believed it was my fate to remain that way. Redefining my goals with lifting has shown me that I have more control than that over my appearance–they aren’t always dramatic these changes, and I’ll likely never look like a fitness model, but they are real, and measurable proof that I can have some impact on my appearance, to look more on the outside like the strong person I know I am on the inside. Lifting helps my appearance more closely mirror an authentic sense of myself.
Truly though, the goal for me is so much more than the pursuit of an aesthetic; I enjoy feeling strong. Feeling and truly being strong helps me feel safe and in control. I like how it allows me to move with confidence through the world, literally changing how I show up. Because of my lifting, I hold my shoulders and head up a bit higher, walk a bit more confidently, move with more self-assurance. Lifting also reduces my pain so I move a bit less like the “old lady” I can feel like some days, and it gives me agency to improve upon challenges that otherwise I’d have no venue to improve. I am strong enough to dig my own holes, open my own jars, and assemble my own Ikea cupboards. Lifting gives me the confidence to do these physical tasks and to believe I can be competent at them.
Lifting builds my mental toughness. Learning that what I thought were my limits were in fact surmountable feats has helped me to challenge other assumptions I’ve had about myself. Pushing the boundaries of strength in a climate that does not encourage me to do so has helped me to ignore naysayers who would try to hold me back in other aspects of my life. It is easier (although still not always easy) for me to speak up when I have had many opportunities to stand up for my space at the gym. It is easier for me to speak my truth when I have had to listen to myself and acknowledge my truth as an athlete.
Lifting challenges my own belief that I am a sickly person, who will always suffer poor health, bad luck, and the chronic pain that comes with it. I can be proactive in this way, when so much of my health is so out of my control. In this one element of my life, I can choose to increase the odds in my favor. It won’t grow back missing organs or wipe away the scars of surgeries. It doesn’t allow me to quit all my medications, although maybe it helps me manage with lower doses. It doesn’t end all my pain, although maybe it reduces the severity. It doesn’t mean I can suddenly ignore troublesome symptoms, although it may help me notice important changes sooner. I am not a genuinely healthy person, but lifting certainly makes me healthier.
Lifting for me is a celebration of life and abundance. I recognize my ability to lift is a gift and a privilege. Not everyone can do what I am doing. I have not always been able to do what I am doing. I may, some day, no longer get to do what I am doing today. I am so grateful for this time, for this opportunity to push myself and to have the health and strength and resources to lift like I do, as often as I get to do it. I love lifting weights because it brings me joy and gratitude for this moment. That is why I do it.
Now it’s your turn–do you have a powerful reason why you move the way you do? Please share your thoughts below!
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found joyfully picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
This weekend I’m at a conference called Feminism and Food, courtesy of CSWIP— the Canadian Society of Women in Philosophy. It’s happening at the University of Guelph, where Samantha works, and she’s one of the organizers. Thanks, Sam (and all the others), for such a great conference!
The talks have been so fun and thought-provoking (in very good ways), that I wanted to share a few of the tidbits with y’all. Here we go:
Maybe you’ve been thinking for a while now, “I wonder– is sourdough actually sexist?” Or not. But Vanessa Lehan-Streisel has thought a lot about it. She looked at the resurgence of sourdough bread and the rise of celebrity male bread bakers. What’s the upshot of all this: she says that they’ve injected technical terms (like algorithm) and use of super-fancy and super-expensive appliances that ignore the long ( I mean really long) tradition of women bakers, baking sourdough and all sorts of other bread without shouting about it or going on social media, etc. She’s got a point here.
Am I a compost pile? Well, no, but… Shannon Boss showed us that food is not only about health, but also about dissolution. We may not come from compost, but to compost we shall go. This may not seem like a happy message, but it was refreshing to be reminded that we are natural organisms, subject to the forces of nature.
There’s more to say, but the conference is still going on, and I don’t want to miss a crumb.
This weekend I spent an hour hanging upside down from a steel hoop (covered in hockey tape for ‘padding’) while simultaneously trying to pull my foot behind my head. On Tuesday I practised climbing up two pieces of stretchy fabric and wrapped it with my body to make human-fabric pretzel combinations.
It took several years to work up the courage to take my first aerial class, but once I did it quickly became a major passion in my life.
Aerial is a type of acrobatics performed from a hanging apparatus. These pictures illustrated aerial hoop and aerial silks – which has been my main source of body movement for the past 5 years. Over that time I’ve increased my fitness, become part of an incredible community and learned to do some pretty neat looking tricks often while hanging upside down. All without the need to run away from home.
Aerial is just one kind of circus training discipline. One of my favourite things about circus training is the diversity of options ranging from gymnastics type floor work like acrobatics and handstands, to manipulation disciplines like juggling, clown (of course) plus many new ones emerging all the time.
It’s the diversity of circus that has kept me interested for so long. When I get bored, injured* or am travelling and can’t get into the studio I work on something else. Most circus disciplines take a lot of practice to become skilled at so I’ve learned to make peace with being a beginner in lots of things. I love aerial and have developed a decent skill set in hoop and silks, but I’m also proud to be a beginner juggler, cyr wheeler and unicyclist.
So when I wanted to develop better flexibility I turned to contortion. Initially, I just worked on assuming the standard flexibility positions like pushing up into bridge, sitting in splits, pancake (straddle sit with chest/belly to floor) or whatever position I wanted to work on and tried to relax into the stretch (yeah right). After injuring myself doing splits last year I bought a few contortion books and videos to improve my training. What I’ve learned from them has been very surprising. Adult flexibility training is mostly about building strength!
Take back bending for example. I already knew that that developing core strength is a critical factor for overall fitness. And so I’ve done planks, mountain climbers, sit ups, V-ups, straddle ups and more planks. When I started contortion training, I realized that all of that work I’ve been doing has made me strong in contraction, but that as soon as my core muscles stretched out long they quickly lost all their power. The same thing happened with my legs and hips. Attempting to move my legs around in extension without the contraction power of quads and glutes felt like a puzzle just trying to figure out which muscles to use at all. This has become a weird source of frustration and enjoyment as I discover muscles in my own body that I’d swear weren’t there before.
My other favourite thing about circus is that it is an artistic practice rather than competitive. Beginner skills done with artistry and technique can be much more interesting to watch than the most dangerous high level skills executed poorly. I’m counting on this aspect to keep me going as I get older. There are limits to what my body can do when it comes to doing difficult tricks, but I can always improve how I do the skills within my capability. Professionals combine all three but there is also a world of recreational circus students out there ready to welcome anyone wanting to give it a try. We all start somewhere, so if you’ve been thinking about trying one of the circus disciplines I strongly recommend that you find a studio/school/club and give it a whirl.
Side note on injury and danger: I’ve been injured many times, but never from falling. Bruises and overuse injuries are common, but falling in aerial is not. Because many circus disciplines (aerial and acro especially) involve height and inverting it is important to learn under the supervision of a qualified instructor. Good teachers care deeply about student safety. Learning skills low to the ground with safety mats and proper progressions are critical. The good news is that under these conditions, falling is something I’ve never seen happen at the beginner level.
Renee Frigault is a professional engineer and recreational aerialist. She works and trains in Toronto, ON.
This has been a truly draining week. First there was massive election angst and I don’t do well with that I will admit. My strategy is to over involve myself up close with every minutia so I don’t miss anything that might give me hope. Of course, when I find a thing that qualifies as “hopeful” I am immediately terrified it will change or be wrong or otherwise disappear. I started this pattern after 2016 and it’s just continued. Even these days, where there are things that should technically give me hope or at least tamp down the horror (a Liberal minority up here with the balance of power in parties even farther left and a burgeoning impeachment case down south), I am not soothed. The speed at which this world has gone from something approximating a “right track” in some places to a general decent to tribal warfare is horrifying. I want to hide. But if I hide, that’s one less voice in protest, one less ally, one less person sandbagging against the flood of hate. So, hiding is not an option.
Around here, activity, rest, fitness, food. . .we think of them as in the service of something other than the dominant narrative. Nourishment, pleasure, strength, an outward impulse to go beyond zones of safety in order to gain a sense of aliveness. . .these are the things I think about when I try to write about how feminism and fitness intersect. These are the things that are necessary also to shore up my strung out heart and body so that I don’t hide. Extra important in that task is my choice of activity and whether I can like it. Because if I don’t like it, things will only feel worse in the end.
I have started weekly Pilates training again and I really like that. In part, I like how it is finicky and specific. I like how it is efficient in its impacts. I already feel stronger and more balanced, even though I can’t deadlift as much as Cate ( 170lbs, that is 2.5 yellow labs worth, that’s me plus a decent sized beagle. Can we just measure weight in dogs from now on? That would be fun right?).
I have also been running again. I try to go out once a week. I try not to push too hard. Running should not feel punishing and desperate and it has often felt that way to me. I think that is likely because I have run while comparing myself to people who are very much faster and more efficient than me. I have poor body mechanics for running and at some point I need to just accept that. Run how I run and leave it at that.
So, it was in that spirit that I went out yesterday. It was early evening and the sun was still shining. It was about 11 degrees which is perfect running weather for me. I did not want to go. I felt tired and weak and headachy. As I was walking out of my office, I had passed the open door of my colleague’s office. “Tell me to go run”, I said. She said, “Oh that’s a good idea, I should run too. I’ll go if you go.” I promised her I would and left to go home. I came in the door and didn’t pause. I changed and put my shoes on and grabbed the dog and went outside. The air was fresh and perfect and the leaves were spectacular. I started to move.
I was aware of how I was holding my shoulders around my ears and I dropped them down. I was aware that my hip girdle was also tensed and I tried to move more fluidly. These are the benefits of Pilates, btw. I have reacquainted myself with a more nuanced sense of what my parts are doing and their state. So, I was moving along and noticing my breath. It was not very laboured and I thought, “That’s nice”. Then another thought occurred to me, “Could I enjoy this? Is there any pleasure here?” I realized, as I put one foot in front of the other, that I have never explored mindfully if there is any pleasure to be found in a run. I have found achievement. I have pushed boundaries. I have felt accomplished but, as I have said many times, I have never really liked it. I proceeded on for the next few kilometres and looked into my body experience to see if I could enjoy myself. I am happy to say that I found some success there. It helped that I deliberately didn’t try to run faster or push in anyway. I stuck to my 10 minutes of running and one minute of walking pattern. I noticed that after my one minute walk, I actually had a sense of feeling refreshed. It was, overall, a very hopeful experience.
I started this post talking about the election and my general fears about the world. Running isn’t going to solve anything. Running, and my engagement in what it has to offer, does mean that I am out in the world as a moving being. I’m not hiding and I’m not giving up. I won’t disengage. I will do things that are strengthening and find the pleasure in them. Something about that feels hopeful.
As much as I love writing for this blog, I also love reading blog posts here at Fit is a Feminist Issue. Tuesday’s post was by Nicole, our newest blogger– welcome Nicole! She wrote about her half-marathon, in which she was aware of previous injuries and pains. She experienced new sensations– some painful– during the race. I’m not going to spoil the ending– you can check it out here.
One thing she wrote really struck me: some of the runners were wearing signs that they were kind of injured, but doing the race anyway. I had never heard of such a thing. It’s…
This idea may not appeal to everyone. Some folks may want to be more private about their injuries. I have one friend who is super-private about her health and injury status, which made it really awkward when I accidentally blurted out to, oh 9 or 10 people that she’d had orthopedic surgery. Oops! Sorry (again).
Sometimes our injuries are noticeable to the outside world, so we don’t have control over that information. Other times they aren’t. On the plus side, it means we can try to be just one of the crowd, trotting along (albeit possibly slower or in a different way). But there are several minuses to having non-visible injuries: we might not get the support we need or want. We might get further injured by trying to move along at a pace or in a way we’re not up to. And, we might not finish, or reach the goals we had set for ourselves at the start line.
By the way, I’m using the word “injury” in a broad sense, mainly for its metaphoric power. I’m not trying to distinguish among injuries, disabilities, and other body changes or states here. I’m just going with the metaphor for now, and hoping you’ll go with me.
There’s a lot written on this blog about mobility, (dis)ability, and movement. Sam has written about her knee brace (lots of times, but check out herehere here to start), and also about her new Brompton foldable bike as a mobility aid.
We’ve also written a lot about invisible injuries– from stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, life events, etc. There are too many to link to, but you’ve probably read some of them.
So, to my inspired proposal: wouldn’t it be nice if we could get the support in life for our visible and invisible mind-body states the way you do in a race? Here’s what I have in mind.
Pace bunnies at the ready for long work days, labor-intensive times, finishing that thing you just cannot seem to get done.
I think pace bunnies are the best thing ever. In case this is new to you, they are runners who go at a specified pace; it could be for the whole race, or paced her km/mile. Here are some:
2. Bystanders not actively involved in what we’re doing, but there watching, offering us support, humor, affection, solidarity, the occasional warning, and a reality check that what we’re doing is hard but awesome.
3. Help, when we need it, from friends or family or colleagues or random strangers to make it across whatever line is ahead of us.
4. Permission from ourselves and others to DNF (did/do not finish) when we need to. Finishing isn’t always the right thing to do, and it’s not always possible. We can use some help with that, too.
I don’t have pictures for this one, as it’s hard to illustrate what it’s like to stop doing something. Also, there are lots of fitspo quotes telling you not to DNF. But here’s an article in praise of the DNF. It gives good advice for when to stop racing, which I will add to here:
when you can no longer stomach fuel or fluids (or can’t sleep, eat, function)
when an injury forces you to stop (we get hurt a lot and try to ignore it; maybe don’t)
when you catch a bug (or are ill, under the weather– don’t gut it out)
when– even after resting– your condition has not improved (I love this one! If we go back to it, and rest hasn’t helped, maybe this task or direction is not for us)
I’m not a runner (at all). But I wish I had race fans and fellow runners and helpers and lists of tips to help me sprint/slog/trudge/opt out of days that are hard.
Oh, wait a minute– I do! You! Thank you readers and bloggers (in addition to the people in my regular life)!
So, readers– any thoughts about getting support around DNFs, injuries, bonking, slogging through, in races or not? We’d love to hear from you.