Own the space


By MarthaFitat55

My news feeds the past day or so are filled with stories reporting on Mary Cain’s truthtelling about her experience with Nike. Tagged as an Olympic hopeful, Cain was known as the fastest girl in America, until, as she puts it, she wasn’t.

The pressure to become thinner and thinner led to serious health consequences for Cain, including osteoporosis (she broke five bones) and infertility (she did not have a period for three years).

Sadly, Cain, is no longer the fastest girl in America. Her athletic career may be gone., but more powerfully perhaps, she is reclaiming her space in the world.  And that is no small thing.

Image shows a running track with several women running. They have strong bodies, and several have visible leg muscles. Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

I often teach and coach individuals and groups on thinking quickly, presenting effectively and getting messages across. A couple of times I have had all-female groups and I give them an exercise. It seems so simple yet it terrifies them the first time they do it. I make them throw their arms in the air and say “my name is (insert name) and I am fabulous!”

But after doing the exercise two to four times, the women are more confident, they feel empowered by owning that space, and they see the benefits of challenging their fears.

As a result of my teaching work, I have made a habit of watching how people speak and deliver day-to-day. Recently I had to attend a meeting which was focused on some pretty high powered issues. The person running the meeting was the woman in charge, although her voice and her body language didn’t send that message — the complete opposite in fact.

Not long after that experience, I had the chance to listen to another individual describe her early forays in civic activism and I was struck by how she owned the space she was in. And revelled in it.

One woman with power and afraid to use it; another who used her power to be effective in her work. It made me think and the following questions came to me: Why do we continue to impose expectations about behaviour that effectively makes women smaller and invisible? Why do we take young women with great promise and force them into something they are not? Why do we diminish their power?

It makes me sad when we see young women’s dreams altered, shrunken, and swept aside. However, I am happy Cain and her athletic colleagues are fighting back. Women are taking back their space, making it their own, and showing others how it’s done. Cain makes no apology for speaking out against Nike, and she should not give the shocking way she was treated.

Back in July 2019, blogging colleague Marjorie Rose wrote a post in which she looked at how weightlifting women are also pressured to be smaller. Marjorie wrote:

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.

If Mary Cain had felt truly safe and supported in the pursuit of running excellence, where would she be today? We have to stop the pressure to become small and invisible. Stand up and own your space. I know who you are and I see you. You are fabulous.

-MarthaFitat55 writes from St. John’s.


test test test

By MarthaFitat55

I remember the day it happened. One day I was overweight; the next day, I was obese.

No, I didn’t consume a tandem load of Girl Guide cookies. Nor did I suddenly get a new scale with ultra-accurate technology.

What really happened was the insurance companies got their way and the range for the Body-Mass Index shifted upward.

Systems recalibrate all the time. But in 1998, large groups of people went from having a slightly concerning (or none at all) issue with their weight to one in which massive interventions were required to stave off an earlier than desired departure from this mortal plane.

So you couldn’t colour me surprised when I read this article in the Medium about the racist origins of the BMI. But I was taken aback to see this quote:

While Quetelet’s work was used to justify scientific racism for decades to come, he was clear about one aspect of the BMI: it was never intended as a measure of individual body fat, build or health. For its inventor, the BMI was a way of measuring populations, not individuals — and it was designed for the purposes of statistics, not individual health. medicine.

Think about that: it was designed for the purposes of statistics not individual health.

And yet today, health media abounds with stories of how BMI is being used in grade schools to measure childhood obesity, on an individual level.

In the gym, I measure my success individually, but with precise tools. I didn’t start out lifting 230 pounds but overtime I and my trainer built up my endurance, my strength and my skill. The BMI is never used because it’s an inappropriate tool. Even the Centre for Disease Control in the US provides guidance to health practitioners on how to use the tool.

With the changes in the ranges for risk for BMI, people’s health status changed overnight. For many, they went from having little, or some risk, to a lot. What does that mean in practical terms?

When I became pregnant, I went from a low pregnancy risk category to a high one. When I was having a minor procedure a couple of years ago, the nurse sent me for a surgical risk screening based solely on what my BMI said: not what my blood pressure, my strength, or my general level of fitness showed.

It’s good to manage risk, but you have to do it properly. Using a flawed tool does not minimize risk. In fact, it may increase your level of risk for inappropriate treatment or intervention. It’s time we talked in greater detail on the issues surrounding BMI and understood more how fitness through regular activity can reduce risk rather than applying some numbers.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s.


Reflections on Thanksgiving

By MarthaFitat55

Friday, I was buzzing around like a stressed little bee meeting deadlines; scrambling to find my keys, my glasses, my whatevers; reacting to my various alarms I set as reminders — you know, the usual minutiae of modern life. I piled out the front door and turned to lock it. And I stopped, transfixed. 


My burning bush had burst into flame with the overnight frost. The mid afternoon sun struck it at exactly the right angle to highlight every scarlet leaf. It was so beautiful I forgot I was supposed to be at an appointment in 15 minutes; I ignored the Fitbit alarm, and I just looked.

I looked and looked and looked. The rest of my day was just as busy but I was transformed by the beauty of that moment.

This Thanksgiving weekend, take those moments to breathe, to look, to notice, to appreciate. 

It’s the little things that will ground you. It’s the little things that will add joy to your day. 

Have a joyful, thankful weekend friends.


fall · family · fitness · habits · Martha's Musings · motivation

Keeping fitness a priority when winter hibernation calls

by MarthaFitat55

It’s turning into a lovely fall here in the far east of Canada. The cold crisp air is a nice complement against the crunchy leaves and the gorgeous fall colours. When the sun shines, brisk walks are great, but already I can feel the desire to burrow, to get cozy under the quilt, and to ponder the virtue of hot tea or hot chocolate on swiftly darkening afternoons.

A line of leaves changing from green to red. Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

It’s the time of year that I find the most challenging in maintaining my fitness routine. This fall seems exceptional — my local pool has been closed since the end of August and won’t reopen until November; my work schedule is a little wonkier than usual; and I am managing some home repairs that will be most appreciated when we are in the deep of winter.

To keep myself on track, I have booked out my training time in my calendar. I know it might get moved around, but at least this way I won’t book something else by accident. When I see the weekly schedule, I know I have made fitness a priority.

I have started slotting out time for other things as well. I’ve always enjoyed doing handwork (although I am an atrocious knitter) and this summer, while on a car trip, I crocheted a whole dish cloth. I signed up for a quilt course in September and to keep on top of the project, I slotted out a chunk of time during the week and on the weekend.

A friend of mine told me years ago she found chunking up projects to be really helpful. Breaking things down into smaller bits makes large things seem achievable. As my schedule grew more challenging, I found chunking my time into slots reserved for fun things not only got me through various projects but also offered a welcome distraction.

I got my Fitbit involved as well. I have a timer set off to go at ten to the hour. This alarm reminds me to get up and move, because all too often I am likely to stay in my chair writing one more paragraph so I can call it done. I’ve already incorporated little tricks like parking at the far end of the lot, going up the stairs whenever I can, or timing myself to see how fast I can get up the hill.

When I was younger, I looked at scheduling as something rather regimented and limiting. Now that I am older, and have way more on my plate, I find scheduling is really helpful on several fronts: fitness, food/grocery planning , family fun, and me time. Balance is what I am aiming for here; not perfection.

Image shows a calendar opened to September. Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Scheduling helps with consistency and for me, if I want to keep on track with my fitness goals, creating routines is what works for me. I know there will be days when the snooze button calls and the duvet wraps itself even closer around me. I also know by choosing optimal times for training and building in the time for the things that matter, I will be able to keep getting my fitness on.

How about you? What tips or tricks have worked for you to keep your momentum going when fall moves in?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer who likes to get her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.

advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

It’s hard to know what we are supposed to do these days. The most recent research suggests recommendations against red meat consumption are flawed, and it’s okay to plop a steak on the BBQ.

Published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study says researchers have not been able to conclude definitively that eating red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease:

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans. These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.”

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

I haven’t had time to read the study through, but let’s say that reaction was swift and blunt. After all, it was only last winter that Canada released its newly updated food guide recommending we eat less meat and more plant based options. I’m sure we are going to see more discussion because flip-flopping on food recommendations is something food scientists do really well.

Last month Catherine W looked at a study which assessed the life threatening properties of sugary drinks (aka sodas). Two years ago, the Independent trumpeted the value of sugar in maintaining our brain health. Apparently brains love sugar, even if our hearts, circulatory systems and pancreas do not.

Not even a year ago in October (18, 2018), BBC Food published an article extolling the virtues of eggs, saying the humble egg has impressive health credentials. But six months later, in March 2019, the New York Times weighed in on the risks posed by eating eggs (TLDR: cholesterol will kill you!). The study found: Each additional half-egg a day was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent increased risk of early death.

In the 80s and 90s , we all ditched butter to embrace margarine because we were told the heart-clogging abilities of butter would hasten our demise that much faster (hey eggs, move over!). Butter has been somewhat rehabilitated since then because additional research says a little is okay given that margarine and other trans fasts are actually a whole lot worse.

Oh noes: buttered bread, a boiled egg and a cup of tea for breakfast! Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

In all seriousness, what are we to do? The reality is, as Paul Taylor wrote in the Globe and Mail in March 2016, dietary studies, flawed as they may be, have a huge impact on public health and can shape nutritional habits and food buying patterns. More of us are reading labels, questioning sodium content, and looking more critically at the food we eat even when it’s being marketed as healthful (Beyond Meat Burger anyone?).

It’s a good thing when we can become more critical, and it is even better when we can vary our diet to eat from every part of the rainbow. Everything in moderation so we can ensure all foods can fit (some better than others).

About that study tho — as an omnivore, I will still keep eating meat, but my family and I have embarked on meatless Mondays with a goal to to eat meat free at least two to three meals a week. I’ll still consider the latest study, but I will place in the greater context to understand its implications fully. How about you, dear readers? Are you easily influenced by the latest food research, or are you likely to go your own way regardless of the latest fad?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.


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.


SOAP: Not just for bathtime!

by MarthaFitat55

Inspired by Catherine’s piece on creating a SOAP note for herself as a cyclist, I decided that almost six years after making a decision to train regularly and cultivate functional fitness as an ongoing goal, I too should write a SOAP note for myself.

First a quick recap. Catherine describes a SOAP note thusly:

“It’s a method that health care providers use to write notes on a patient’s medical record. SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. Roughly it involves getting a description from the patient about their current condition, noting the results of observation, testing and physical examination of the patient, offering some suggestions about diagnosis and possible causes of current problem, and finally a plan for treatment. Sounds like a reasonable system to me.”

And it is. I found it an enlightening exercise and one I plan to share with my trainer as we look to the year ahead.


  • 58 year old female presents today for an evaluation of powerlifting practice
  • Reports she has been weight training for almost six years and would like to improve her overall flexibility now that core strength has improved significantly
  • Self-identified strengths include willingness to learn, general upper and lower body strength, overall comfort with cardio exercises, adaptability to home-based modifications,
  • Self-identified weaknesses include lack of comfort with complicated exercises, fear of reinjuring hypermobile hip joints, and concerns with impact on fitness level and consistency in practice due to gaps in training


  • Head – is capable of understanding complex directions when she practices patience and increases focus
  • Eyes – tends to carry out certain movements with eyes closed to minimize distractions and to avoid chalk dust; notes she recognizes that this can be a barrier re addressing safety concerns
  • Ears – listens to trainer, tries to block the sounds of others in the gym to increase focus
  • Lungs – has tendency to exercise-induced asthma when working out in cold weather (includes brisk walks in winter when going uphill)
  • Heart – in great shape for 58 but recognizes more cardio would be of benefit for overall heart-lung function
  • MSK (musculoskeletal) – can deadlift with ease 175lb (3X) (Personal Best 231 lbs) and can squat a weight between 175 and 200 lbs fairly confidently although fears of hip reinjury can interfere with progress; core strength has improved significantly based on progress with increasingly complex planks
  • Neuro – plans approach for lifts and squats, is able to self assess areas which need tweaking, has adopted techniques to address attention and focus
  • Psych – gets anxious about losing ground when off for recovery or when trying something totally new


  • Powerlifter: past beginner level and approaching intermediate skill level, more than ready to advance to greater skills and weights with commitment to a consistent routine
  • Human: knowledgeable of options available; needs to increase confidence by recognizing existing skills and strengths developed in the past six years


  • Continue to weight train
  • Identify new goals for the coming year
  • Establish routine for maintaining/ adding complementary activities such as swimming and walking to support cardio development and yoga to support flexibility
  • Implement safety check to reduce/eliminate fears about certain exercises
  • Remember to always stand up
  • Have fun

Have any of you readers decided to create a SOAP note? Let us know in the comments!