Guest Post · strength training

Lifting weights for strength (cw: brief discussion of weight, guest post)

Last week the Fit is a Feminist Issue Facebook page posted this article from Strength Training 101: Is it better to lift heavier weights or do more reps?, written by a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, suggesting there are ways to get “sleek and toned” muscles and ways to “bulk up”. (Sam’s Note to Self: When postings for discussion, make that clear!) Almost immediately, Jennifer F. responded with “Wow, was that written in the 90s? There are a couple of valid points in there, but I thought all that was debunked years ago?” then linked to an article from Lies in the gym.

Thanks Jennifer, you saved me a few steps! I was about to hunt down a debunking article myself.

The author does not lift weights heavier than 7 pounds to avoid bulking up her shoulders, back and chest. Now I’m all for lifting appropriately and I’ll never say 7 pounds isn’t enough if that’s what your body allows but avoiding more than that to prevent bulky muscles seems like a strange limitation to put on one’s self. Most of the coaches I have spoken to over the years have laughed at the idea of women accidentally becoming bulky from weightlifting, because that has just never happened. The women I know who have competed in body building competitions have worked extremely hard, strictly monitored food intake in the days leading up to competition and have looked amazingly muscular, but not what I’d call “bulky”.

COVID closed down the gym for a while and I’m still trying to get my groove back, but at the height of my sportzing career, I was lifting 5 days a week, and was going for strength. My bench press was 160lbs shortly before we went into lock down and my partial deadlifts were 275lb. My traps were well defined, and still mostly are, as were my biceps and triceps. No matter how much I lifted though, I couldn’t get really big muscles.

I have been lifting weights for 10+ years now. I’m strong enough to open my own jars, help my husband lift heavy appliances off the back of the truck, and I broke up a significant share of concrete after tearing down my barn, using only a sledgehammer and my own power. I lift heavy bee boxes because my husband made it clear he had no intention of becoming a beekeeper, and if I was going to become one, I needed to figure it out.

I have put on weight over the last few years, surprisingly not during lockdown, but from so much work travel in the few years before that. You can’t eat in restaurants every night with at least one glass of wine or beer at dinner, without adding to the waistline, and it’s been hard to remove it. That is my “bulk” and it seems to be very attached to me. I call that my protective cover, but under all that, my muscles are solid and capable and I’ll lift as heavy as I can for as long as I can.

Sandi in a T-Shirt and sweatpants, swinging a 10lb hammer over a large piece of concrete foundation.

Back at it…for reals this time (Guest post)

I’ve started exercising again for the 8th time since COVID hit. I wrote about starting once in April. I’m amazed at just how incredibly difficult it has been to motivate myself. I keep hovering around the 220 in 2020 accountability group on Facebook hoping I’ll be inspired and while I’m impressed so many are continuing to be fully active, I’m as motivated as I am by watching sports with a bowl of chips on my lap. No matter how much hockey I’ll watch, I’m not going to strap on a pair of skates.

It’s been hard. I have things at home. One of our workouts is done in my garage/lawn where a friend comes over and we do HIIT workouts with ropes, tires, hammers and slam balls and a few other things we switch around. I even suggested to my husband we set up a circuit and leave everything set up so we’re more likely to workout more. We didn’t. The other half of our workout is at a friend’s house where he’s got a full gym set up in the basement and he provides a bit of coaching. We’ve respected the rules and didn’t get together until just the last few weeks. We started with a weekly HIIT workout and this week we’ll be back to a regular routine where we switch up between houses.

I haven’t really worked out since October of last year, between injuries and COVID, other than physio, and even then I’ve had a hard time keeping it consistent. I had my grip strength tested this week at my first in-person physio appointment in months, and while my right hand seems pretty good (31KG), my left hand is barely 15KG. I’ll need to focus my physio primarily on strength now. Two weeks ago I made it through 4 circuits of the HIIT workout, but just barely. I was out of breath and fatigued. I could barely lift the hex bar for deadlifts with about 125 lbs on it. (At peak strength, I dead-lifted 380lbs). Last week I nearly threw up, but I managed to lift the weights a bit more, and cardio was exhausting. I’m astounded at how much my fitness has dropped since October. This week was better. I was a little bit stronger, I was able to increase the volume of lifts and actually felt good after the workout.

Up until now, the mental game was tough. There’s been far more going on in my head than has been going on physically. Everything seems to be getting better and I’m actually looking forward to the group workouts again. I finally can’t wait to start lifting again!

fitness · Guest Post

Getting back at the workouts

Things have been tough the last several months from a workout perspective. I’ve been dealing with a wonky shoulder, broken wrist and burnout. After temporarily wrecking my shoulder, I fell and broke my wrist, then spent 12 weeks in a cast. I waffled between general burnout and depression throughout all this, so working out just didn’t feel like an option most of the time.

After getting my cast removed, I resumed physiotherapy on my shoulder as well as my wrist, then COVID happened. My physio went online and I’ve spent the last 4 weeks trying to find the right chair height so I can work at my home desk without wrecking something else.

All in all, it’s been hard to get back at activity. My smart watch alerted me to the fact that I had 12 move minutes in my first week of working from home and I managed to work my way up to 15 the second week. Everything hurt and the only things I was doing was physio once a day. I’ve gone from lifting pretty heavy weights to barely being able to carry a half-filled plate, so really needed to do the strengthening work. Did I mention the lack of sleep? Turns out that my already tenuous sleep habits got significantly worse without movement.

Getting back into workouts has been mentally challenging and so I’ve started with doing my physio as often as I’m supposed to, maybe a little bit more. My physiotherapist has given me exercises for my wrist, hand, shoulder and back which is a bit above and beyond the original issues, but much appreciated. So, I’ve started turning off my video camera so I can do physio in longer meetings, and while watching the Marvel movies in chronological order. I’ve paced out a quarter mile in my backyard and am walking laps, when it’s not too cold, because I’m still a big baby, and I’ve pulled out the DVD I bought just before I wrecked myself to do some stretching.

This is stretching for circus performers, so for those of us who lift, but don’t stretch EVER, it’s so hard! Turns out I am NOT a circus performer. A full hour of hip opening, hamstring and calf stretching and back and shoulder stretching. Should I be out of breath when I stretch? It’s like aerobics, but worse! Anyways, it turns out the stretching is a good antidote to sitting through COVID and is a great way to get back into exercise.  I may not be able to start my circus career in my 50s, but maybe I can at least keep myself from feeling so old! Hopefully I can keep it up.


Bull riding adventures (Guest post)

A few months ago, I was doing some work in a Casino and my co-worker Michel somehow convinced me that I should ride the mechanical bull in one of their bars. Maybe it was less convince and more dared?

To me, riding the bull was just something I should try. I didn’t have a big audience, and none of them knew me, so what did I have to lose? Being the researching type, I quickly reviewed some videos on YouTube and went in with a plan. Keep your thighs tight on the bull, move it with, lean back as far as possible to balance when the bull moves forward. Great advice, not quite enough though.

Turns out you also need to do yoga…months before! My lack of flexibility meant I couldn’t lean back enough to balance.

I managed to squeeze in 30 seconds, before tumbling head first over the front of the bull. I laughed hysterically. It was ridiculously fun, even if I couldn’t stay on. I laughed as I left the bar, but also noticed reactions of the people in bar. They all stopped to watch and gave me that impressed, thumbs up, kind of look. They were all talking about it. Weird.

When I got home, I told my husband about it and told him how I want to try again…I think I know how to stay on longer! I also told him about the reactions in the bar. Even the hostess gave me a big hug and told me how excited she was that I tried. I thought their reactions were a bit over the top!

So he explained to me that “I’m a middle aged women…riding a bull”.

Whaaaat?!?! I suppose it’s a good thing this took me by surprise, because I don’t feel like it!

fitness · Guest Post

Anxiety in competition (Guest post)

I competed in a Women’s Masters Competition, the Victoria Highland Games, in beautiful Victoria, BC a few weeks ago. (See here for local coverage.) My husband was there for the Canadian Championships, and since I was flying out with him, I decided to get a look at the schedule to see if it made sense for me to compete as well. They had three women’s competitions going, so I signed up for one. Most of my competitions have been local and the group of women I normally compete against are friends. When I went to Key West early in the year, I travelled with one of my practice buddies, so knew at least one person on the field.

Coming into Victoria, I knew no one I would be competing against. I was competing early in the morning and my husband would be starting at 1:00, so it didn’t make sense for him to come to the field early and wait around for several hours. I had friends coming to the field to cheer me on, but not until part way through the competition.

My usual routine before competition where I could drive someplace for a good breakfast to fuel my day, hit the field at my own pace and know everyone on the field was just not possible. The evening before, I didn’t know where I’d eat, how I’d get to the field (taxis were always an option) and what kind of competition I had on the field. I always have a good time on the field, but occasionally run into imposter syndrome, possibly because of having started my athletic career at 45. I got all weirded out and nervous and all my social anxieties that I normally keep at bay came to the surface. I briefly thought about backing out.

Before going to bed the night before, I googled restaurants and found one in walking distance to the hotel that was open at 6:00am. I was informed that a ride was arranged for the next morning and I admitted to my husband that I was freaking out. He joined me at breakfast the next morning, gave me a big hug and told me he’d meet me on the field before I was done. I went to the field, put on my big girl kilt, introduced myself to strangers and started warming up.

The day was awesome. The women I competed against were all friendly and an absolute blast to spend time with. While I didn’t get much practice before the games, what I did do included some really great coaching. My throws were all great and I ended up coming in second. I was thrilled…and like usual, I made a new set of really great friends. I don’t know what I was worried about.


Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.

fitness · yoga

Goat Obsessions & Yoga (Guest Post)

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of an obsession for goats. My family raised goats when I was a kid and we had several babies born on our farm. My team at work knows I’m obsessed and even decorated an office tree with paper goats for my birthday. So it was no surprise that when goat yoga became a thing many of my friends tagged me in videos on Facebook.

Last week Sam put out a yoga call but I had plans, so this week when she went back, I joined her. Turns out this place is 15 minutes from home. Finding a yoga place close to home is a big deal, because I live in the middle of nowhere, so I was pretty excited.

Normally I’d be a bit nervous about going into a new yoga place. I’m barely flexible and weight lifting doesn’t really help. I complain-bragged the other day to a co-worker that my biceps get in the way for some of the poses, so its hard.

When I told my husband I was going to goat yoga, he said he knew I was going for the goats. But, really, why can’t I do both?

The beautiful thing about goat yoga is that it’s real yoga, there are a lot of beginners, so the poses aren’t terribly difficult AND they don’t take themselves too seriously. There are no yoga snobs at goat yoga. If you need to pause because you can’t do a pose, don’t want to do a pose, or need to pet a goat, you do. No judgement. If you’re self-conscious about stopping you look at a goat, you smile, breathe, think about your life choices and jump back into the next pose.

This is seriously, the best way to do yoga.

Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.


Here’s the info on goat yoga in London, Ontario.

Ocean Yoga & Pilates comes to the ranch for “GOAT YOGA AT DUSK” Every Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. all summer!

Find tranquility with by connecting with yourself, your breath and nature.

Come join us for a unique experience of yoga at the ranch. The goats and other animals will join the classes which are held in the indoor riding arena, rain or shine.

Things to remember:
• Join us for a peaceful experience to pause, play and pet the goats (and other ranch friends!)
• Class is run rain or shine, as it is held in the indoor arena (it is not heated, so please dress for the weather)
• It is a ranch, you may get dirty! Puddles may appear, sprinkled with chocolate chips… bring your old mats and yoga clothes
• You also may get snuggles and/or playful nudges
• Class starts at 7 p.m, registration starts at 6:30 p.m. There is no pre-registration.
• After class yogis are welcome to visit with the other ranch animals from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

•Adults $20 per class
•Children (6-12 years old) $10 per class
•Kids under 5 years old free
*Children must be accompanied by an adult

•Cash only please

Place: Full Circle Ranch located at 44632 Mapleton Line, Central Elgin (Just 10 minutes outside London, off Highbury Rd.)


fitness · Guest Post

Fit and Far From Home… (Guest Post)

Last week I was in La Belle Province running a workshop and was hoping to try to hop back onto the fitness wagon. I’ve been travelling a lot lately for work and haven’t always had the opportunity/timing/inclination/energy to work out. I’ve added a few pounds to my mid-section and really need to shake it off. I’m not ready to go pants shopping again!  On top of that I’ll be competing in the World’s Masters Heavy Events Championships in June in Iceland and need to keep prepping for the 2 day competition.

Normally when I travel, I’ll scope out my hotel options ahead and ensure I get a place that meets my standards. My needs really aren’t outrageous, but I need 2 things: a great breakfast and a decent gym. By great breakfast, I mean eggs cooked when I order them, not sometime before I crawled out of bed and by decent gym, I’d like a working treadmill and some weights. Dumbbells or some kind of weight machine is acceptable. Since I’ve been travelling the last 3 out of 4 weeks, I ran out of time to scope out the hotel, and left the details to a colleague I’ve never travelled with and recommendations from a client who recommended the hotel solely for price. In my colleague’s defense, I didn’t tell him about my “high” standards.

This week I’m travelling with a vegetarian who doesn’t drink much, so I figured I’d get the opportunity to eat healthy and not be tempted by all the things that impact my waistline. He also likes to work out. Perfect, I thought! A good influence! All the stars were aligned.  Oh, but wait!

I brought my bathing suit, in case they had a pool. I peeked in the pool area on day 1 and saw it was full of local children having a swimming lesson. Seems like laps were an unlikely scenario.  I entered the nearby gym and turned on the light. Hmm…no lights at 6:00…perhaps it wasn’t used much?  Well, I thought, they have 2 treadmills, that’s good…if my colleague and I are both in the gym, we can both run. On closer inspection, I realized the room was really half-sized, and just had a wall of mirrors, and one treadmill.

The weight machine was missing parts, but had a weird bar attached to pulleys.

The weight bench sat alone, and the dumbbells were nowhere to be seen.

The treadmill was super noisy, and once it got up to half-speed the tread started slipping. Fearing injury, I stopped the treadmill and got off.

The elliptical was also loudly squeaky and needed some serious maintenance.

Within a few minutes of my arrival, my colleague joined me. We did some back squats with the weird bar, but it was challenging as the pulleys were very mobile and would flip 180 degrees at random. Eventually we gave up and went for a run, where there were no sidewalks and lots of cars. Turns out, I haven’t had a real run in a while, so had to give up pretty quickly when I realized my lungs were going to explode. My colleague kindly ran back with me, possibly fearing he’d have to call 911, delivered me back to the hotel then left to finish his run.

I showered, checked email, and went out for poutine.

Day 2, I was inspired by a friend’s burpee challenge and did some in my room. The room has an excess of furniture, but I managed to squeeze some burpees between the beds. Then I realized I could yoga. I signed up for a year of yoga online and started working through it. (Because online yoga is somewhat affordable). Considering how tight my hamstrings have been from flying, it was actually hugely beneficial…until I had to spread out in multiple directions. Done. Just like that. I swear, this hotel doesn’t want me to get healthy!

Luckily I’ve got friends who are looking out for me and in no time at all, after posting my woes on Facebook, had several recommendations for hotel / bodyweight workouts. Looks like I’ve still got options! Now, I just have to stay off the poutine!


Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.


Guest Post

Early season practicing (Guest post)

Back in January, I started my throwing season early. Five months early! I had heard about the Key West Games, that they were “all that, and more!” and felt the need to give it a try. I was a bit nervous about flying to Florida with the new immigration and travel rules, especially since I was travelling with Juan, my trusty pitchfork. I was fortunate that I didn’t run into problems, and that my pitchfork is legitimately considered sporting equipment so I was able to check it with little fanfare.

I don’t have a lot of girlfriends, and definitely don’t do the stereotypical girlfriend things, so when I had the opportunity to join my friend Kathy on this trip, I jumped at the chance. We flew together, rented a car and drove out to Marathon and spent the day before competition sight-seeing. We flew in Thursday and flew home Sunday, so it was quick, but we made the best of our time. As part of our play day, we stopped at a beach, where Kathy taught me some new footwork for throwing the stone. I was able to find an extremely non-aero-dynamic brick to practice with and worked it over for a half-hour. The new technique felt more comfortable than my previous and my throw immediately looked better, even if the distance wasn’t greatly increased.

Our competition was a women’s only field. This is a bit unusual, because the games are often focused on professional men, with masters, amateurs and women taking the back seat. We have our share of fans, but the sponsors and festivals are generally paying the pros to come in, and the rest of us pay our own way. We actually had a large enough group of women, we were able to break into 2 groups: open and masters. Throwing with women closer to my own age was also nice as I was a little more competitive than when throwing against university athletes younger than my child. The crowd loved having us there and I may even have made it into one of the Florida newspapers.

As per usual, this group of women were fantastic. Most of them were strangers to me when I arrived, and they were very welcoming and made me feel like we were old friends in no time. I connected with several on Facebook, so have been able to follow their adventures every weekend over the last 3 months. If I had unlimited time, energy and money, I would have happily joined them a few more times.

As the Florida season seems to be wrapping up, mine in Ontario is just getting started. We’re getting ready to schedule practices and I’ve managed to get myself into some early games, including flying out to Victoria, BC for a master’s competition in May. As my season is ramping up so is my work travel, so I’m looking at ways to squeeze in as many practices as possible over the next couple of months. It seems weird that at 49 I’m still improving my game – but am excited and grateful I can do it. The early start has me itching to get the equipment out and start practicing. I’m thinking Florida was the kick start I needed this year!


Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.



Travel and Exercise (Guest Post)

From time to time I need to travel for work. When I choose my hotel I always try to get a place with a full restaurant for breakfast and a decent gym. I have a few hotels that are my standard go-to chains that are guaranteed to work, but don’t always have that luxury as I’m not always in big cities that even have multiple hotels. My plan when I can’t use a gym is to just do some kind of hotel workout, sometimes it’s pushups and body weight squats, sometimes I’ll more closely follow the hotel workout posted a few years ago at Nerd Fitness . When there are weights, I’ll use them, when there are not, I’ll do cardio.

This week I was at a conference in Vegas, in a hotel with a couple of fitness centers that were quite exceptional. Day 1 I was pretty tired, so decided just to do cardio so I wouldn’t have to think too hard about choices. The gym was sparse as it often is with just a few of the types you’d expect to see, the dedicated runners who spend hours on the treadmill and a few bodybuilders in the weights corner. I did 40 minutes of fast walking on the treadmill, testing my feet on a short run to see how my toes would hold up. All was well.

Monday I hit the gym in the late afternoon and expected the same, but was surprised to see several people in the gym who didn’t meet the stereotypes that I expected to see in Vegas gyms. There was the runner on the treadmill beside me, who looked the part, there was a very attractive, thin blond woman on a bike, wearing her sports bra and with her hair perfectly coifed. There were a few older gentlemen who were doing some light medicine ball and treadmill work, focused primarily on the blond and a couple of men spending time around the weight machines.

40 minutes on the treadmill to warm up, working in intervals to start increasing my running time, then I moved to the weights. The blond had a circuit that she was following: very slowly biking for 5 minutes, holding 5 lb weights on her shoulders for a minute at a time, chatting with the older gentlemen, then walking out of the gym to chat on her phone. She completed this full circuit a few times. The experienced runner left, the older gentlemen left and it was just me, the blond and the vague workout routine guys (VWRG) that were left.

I started on the weights with bicep curls and triceps exercises, with 15lb dumbbells. Normally, I’ll increase by 5 lbs at a time, but when I reached for the 20lb weights, VWRG#1 rushed to the rack, picked up the 20s and carried them to the spot where he stored his cell phone, and set them down. He then moved to a machine to do other work. Clearly he’s never been schooled on gym etiquette. So, I skipped to 25s and carried on.

Because this gym had EVERYTHING, I went to the rack and decided to do some deadlifts. Normally I do partials at home, so wasn’t sure where to start with the full lifts. I started at 75lbs and started to increase pretty quickly from there. I didn’t have my weight belt so was careful to not overdo it. I ended at 225lbs x 3 (which was better than I expected) and when I looked up in the mirror, I saw VWRG#2 staring at me with his jaw dropped. He then put away his 12lb weights. I finished off with 30 x 30lb kettlebell swings, stretched out, then did some sit ups. When I was done, I was drenched. (Pretty blond was still beautifully coifed and not even glowing from exertion.) I grabbed my towel, lifted my shirt and wiped off my boob sweat. I looked up and VWRG#1 had stopped in front of me and was staring, slack jawed. Seriously dude…boob sweat…it’s a thing.

It’s weird working out in a space where other people are just going through some vague motions. Makes me really glad for my training partners who have helped me get into a routine, practice good technique and make me lift hard every week.

fitness · Guest Post

World Masters Championships (Guest Post)

This past weekend, I qualified and was able to compete for the first time in the Master’s Heavy Events World Championships held in Amherst, New York. We had 8 events over 4 days, including 2 stone throws (similar to shotput), two hammer throws (similar to Olympic hammers, but we stay stationary), two weights for distance (similar to discuss), caber, sheaf and weight over bar.

I went in with the attitude that I wasn’t there to win. I was competing against several women who’ve been throwing for a lot longer than I and who started this sport with some form of athletic background. This isn’t me making excuses or being defeatist, this is about being realistic about my capabilities and standings. My goal was to enjoy the experience, throw well and try to get some personal bests.

The weekend exceeded all my expectations. Friday night started with introductions and a speech by one of the Heavies veterans welcoming back this great big dysfunctional family. This is what the games are all about. I throw with many of the same women in the games in Canada, some of whom I practice with on a regular basis. Whenever we see each other, we have big hugs for each other and catch up while we throw. In Canada, we call this group our summer family, though many of these friendships continue year round. Thrower spouses/partners are part of the family too, and reconnecting with them created as much joy as seeing my throwing friends again. Sunday ended with new Facebook connections and promises to attend other games.

On the field with nearly 100 competitors from ages 40 to over 70, the support between competing athletes is the same world-wide as it is for us at home. Coaching each other to improve, even if it means you have to work harder to stay ahead is the norm. We had spectators asking us questions while we waited for our next turn, and several times I heard them comment on the camaraderie between athletes. Many were there to win, but they wanted to do it fairly and with solid competition. World records were broken and everyone was excited to see it happen, regardless of whether they were direct competition or not.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I came in 9th overall out of 10 women in my age group of 45 to 49 from Canada, the US and Germany. I reached a personal best of 20 feet by throwing a 10lb sheaf over a bar, with a pitchfork, and I placed, 4th, 8th and 9th a few times as well as 10th in the 8 events

This was an amazing experience. Two and half days with these people, where we met on and off the field was such a high. There was a ton of laughter, ton of support, lots of hugs, wee bit of wine slushies and lots of selfies with new friends. I’m so glad my husband and I backed out of our sport retirement plans and decided to give it another few years. Next year’s competition is Iceland, and you can bet I’ll be working hard to get there.