When tools help

by MarthaFitat55

Last month, I invested in a pair of knee sleeves after trying a borrowed pair for several training sessions. I said I would comment on the results of any changes that I observed.

First the qualitative results: I noticed right away that when I wore the knee sleeves, I felt more comfortable squatting more deeply. My trainer noticed this too. Goal of ass to grass is well underway!

What I didn’t expect was how I would feel in between sessions when I didn’t wear knee sleeves. There was an obvious decrease in knee pain from the grumpy left knee, and I also noticed that my hip joints didn’t ache. I don’t know why this is happening but I am thinking that my knees are being retrained in how to support my body.

With my knees feeling better able to support my body, I feel more comfortable in completing certain exercises, so much so, my trainer has added a few variations in the split squat department. I have been doing more cage squats and heavier weight goblet squats and my ability to get closer to the ground and feel more comfortable there has increased too.

In the last week of May, I recorded the following records in my notebook:

Bench 42 kg/ Squat 186 lbs/Deadlift 101 kg

By June 5, with almost three weeks of training using the sleeves complete, I achieved the following PRs:

Bench 48.5 kg / Squat 200 lbs/Deadlift 105 kg.

The squat is particularly pleasing as it represents a 14 lb jump. The bench represents an unofficial provincial record too.

If you have been thinking about incorporating some of these tools, like the sleeves or belts to increase your core stability and to support your (possibly aging) joints, then perhaps my experience may give you the extra push you need.

I’m happy I made the investment. They have made a difference for me in a short time, and I am looking forward to seeing what this summer’s training will produce in both qualitative and quantitative results.

— Martha is a writer getting her fit on through powerlifting.

Moving from involved to committed

By MarthaFitat55

Image shows two bent tubes of neoprene fabric in black with red accents

Martha’s new gear! Image shows two bent tubes of neoprene fabric in black with red accents

What’s the difference between being involved and being committed? The business fable uses bacon and eggs to explain: the pig is committed, while the hen is involved.

When we talk about fitness, it’s a bit of both. This week, I made the leap from involved to committed. I bought a pair of knee sleeves.

For the last three years, my fitness clothing has been nothing fancy. I originally started with a pair of ratty yoga pants and a tee shirt. Then I graduated to a pair of capris found on the sale rack.

Occasionally when it gets superwarm in the gym during the summer, I rescue one of my old rowing tanks. And while I’ve always invested in good footwear, when a friend offered a pair of deadlift shoes at a discount, I bought them to save her the hassle of returning them. Luckily they turned out to be a good fit, and if I ever decided to stop lifting, they could probably work for something else.

So my approach to workout gear has been minimal at best; involved if you like.

But these knee sleeves are the first thing I have thought about, tried out, and decided to expend the funds necessary for me to have my very own pair so I can lift well and with the proper support.

That’s because these sleeves are simply miraculous, and I don’t use that word lightly.

This winter, my trainer and I have been working on developing greater depth for my squats. I have a regimen of exercises to strengthen my hips, and over time, I have been able to drop lower and lower.

It’s been all good. Except when I watched videos of fabulous women lifters getting their “ass to grass” in squats, I admit I felt a wee bit jealous.

During a cold spell last month, my knees became cranky. My trainer suggested I try the sleeves when we reached higher weights on the bar. I borrowed a pair for the session, and I did not want to give them back. As I worked my way through the sets, I began scheming how these sleeves would be mine.

Since I like the owner, I decided they should stay where they belonged. I did borrow them again a couple of times to be sure they were as good as they felt the first time, and this week, I went online and committed.

The sleeves provide a level of support I did not think was possible, and yet, when I wear them during squat sessions, I have no hesitation standing up after dropping down. Though they are working on the knees, the sleeves send a message to my hips that the knees are in charge and stability is the goal. And while I’m not as close to the level as I see on the training videos, I am achieving very creditable squats that pass the form test quite well for depth and control.

I see you grass and I am coming for you.

— Martha lifts and writes in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Dressing for fitness

By MarthaFitat55

I had an interesting cardio experience the other day after my workout. I tried to take my sports bra off after a particularly challenging session where I worked my arms extra hard.

It had gotten rolled up in a weirdly awkward place and the more I tried, the more difficult it was to peel this item of clothing off my body.

It isn’t an unusual event for women who exercise.  My trainer once texted her husband for help when she got stuck trying a new one in a shop. But I was home, by myself, and unable to fish my phone from my pocket. Eventually I worked my way out of this predicament, and I think it left me more tired than the original set of exercises.

But while practicing deep breaths and making myself relax, I had time to think about my alternatives.

Going without is not an option. I need the support. Avoiding the uni-boob arising from compression type sports bras is also important because it’s just plain uncomfortable.

Recently I followed a number of sewists on Instagram. These women sew their own clothes, and one of them shared her latest creation, a fancy bra. I took a look at my current bra and have been thinking about making my own.

I should be more precise: I’m thinking about finding someone who could make one or two for me. While I know how to sew, I don’t work with stretchy fabrics.

I also think it might be a better option than trying to find something that fits but was made in a sweatshop or using child labour. I’m still thinkinG about my choices, but I know one thing for sure. The next sports bra I own has to have an escape mechanism.

Have you ever gotten trapped by your workout gear? What do you look for in exercise clothing? Please share in the comments!

— Martha lives in St. John’s. When she’s not playing with heavy plates, she writes.

Shaking things up outside the gym

By MarthaFitat55

A couple of months ago I decided I wanted to shake things up on the exercise front. It’s been a bad winter and my trail walks have not been on the schedule due to the impeccable timing of storms and the subsequent blockage of said trails with snow and ice.

Also, to my distress and annoyance, the new fitness centre the city just finished building near my home has not yet opened (soon, they say, soon, but so far the Image shows the word Flourish in capital letters against a dark background of flowers.doors are still shut!).

There are only so many times going up and down the stairs in my house can offer an effective number of steps before I am bored to tears. My trainer, bless her, offered to create a program that I can mix and match from to ensure variety and coverage in between sessions.

Now while there are times I feel like I am in my own real-life version of a Choose Your own Adventure storybook, creating my own routine by choosing one to two options from each of column A, column B and column C really works for me.

The exercises are simple as my dyslexia often causes me to reverse positions, choose the wrong direction consistently, or just make a complete hash of something I have learned to do multiple times. Even now as I think about doing a series of bird dog repetitions, I have to think very, very consciously which arm to lift and which leg to push out.

The exercises also do not require any special equipment. I have lots of tubing thanks to physio, and I did buy a couple of bands to avoid falling over knots in bands I made myself. My laundry room provides useful bottles to serve as goblets for squats or wonky looking kettle bells, and my stairs offer leverage for split squats and stretches.

So I have a program, I have a way to implement it, now I need to fit in the routine into my daily schedule. Experts say forming a habit requires at least 30 days of practice to develop and maintain. I was interrupted in my new habit by overseas travel but I made up for it by getting a whack of steps in and getting a new Fitbit badge.

I am back now and have set up a spreadsheet. I even found a cute star jpg to mark off the days. I have set an alarm on my Fitbit to act as a reminder. I work from home as a writer and researcher, which means I do a lot of sitting. I know I should move more, but I often get lost in my work when I am on a roll. The Fitbit alarm is a vibrating one and it is annoying as heck, but I’ll take whatever works to jolt me back to the here and now.

However, despite my plans, I know I need an incentive to aim for. I have decided once I reach 30 stars, just like Starbucks, I’m going to get a little treat. So yes, I am a little detailed in my plan, but as I say to my clients, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I’ll let you know how I make out next month.

I am curious though what you FIFI readers do to ensure you keep fitness on schedule in your lives. Is this something only women worry about because of competing demands from work, life and family? Or is this a gender neutral consideration? And what incentives do you use to keep yourself going? Or is a fly by the seat of your pants approach one that works for you? Share in the comments!

— Martha enjoys getting her fit on by lifting all the heavy things in the gym.

Lessons in confidence from the gym

By MarthaFitat55

Last week the Internet was agog at the sight of a little girl walking into her father’s live TV interview. Her insouciance was astonishing; her swagger delightful.

Her stance was all ”hey dad, what’s happening?” and she was totally chill even when her brother rolled in followed by her mother scrambling to get the little ones out of sight.

I got to thinking about the little girl’s supreme confidence, and just how wonderful it was to see. This new gif has been making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason.

Little girl with yellow sweater and eye glasses walks proudly while baby rolls in walker

It also got me thinking about what we do in our cultures to crush the spirits of little girls in different ways and through the different ‘isms.

A place where this happens big time is in the gym. There’s a lot of emphasis on how female bodies should look and what must happen if yours doesn’t measure up.

Of course, there are also prescriptions re: the ways women can get fit and the ways some people think we shouldn’t. For example, I see lots online, of what people call concern-trolling, if you start working with weights. Watch out, you will get too bulky or big, and other comments of that ilk, are frequent.

It isn’t anything I have heard within the walls of the gym where I train, but I know it does happen. Regardless, I’m already a woman who takes up space, so that isn’t a concern of mine.

One thing I don’t see the concern trolls recognizing is how weight training, and finding your fit in whatever way you choose to move overall, provides you with new ways of managing new challenges. Not just in the gym with the various pieces of equipment and weights, but in life too.

Recently, I heard a writing friend speak about how she has come to see where the principles underpinning her particular martial art appear in her daily life. Her commentary made me think about what weight training and developing strength has given me.

And I have to say, it’s confidence. None of my friends and colleagues would describe me as a shrinking violet because I do my best to be prepared and be ready to take on whatever comes my way. But I have to admit, I haven’t always liked dealing with some of the challenges I’ve faced, partly because a little piece of me wasn’t always 100% sure I could do it, even though I have prepared for everything.

However, the confidence I get from my progress with training has given me the edge I need when I absolutely have to persuade a client or a colleague to get on board with what I am recommending.

I have started to carry the “I got this” feeling I get when I see the plates my trainer is loading on the bar, or when she shows me a new exercise or technique, into other places. It’s not that I am overconfident, but I know I have everything I need mentally to get the job done.

While I may not be four years old anymore like Marion Kelly, thanks to the gym, I feel like I am well able to meet any new challenge and own it with the confidence four-year-old girls have the world over.

— Martha is a writer who delights in the new discoveries training offers her. She is a regular contributor to Fit is a Feminist Issue.

Embracing my growing strength

Red and white printed blanket covering a personBy MarthaFitat55

I’m not a big fan of our winter season. The weather is often horrible, spring seems like it will never arrive, and the multiple layers required to survive the cold make going to the gym a chore.

When the sky is blue, and the snow is soft and fluffy, I can work up the enthusiasm to enjoy a walk or a snowshoe. When it is wet and miserable with sleety snow, I want to curl up under my quilt and not surface until May.

Part of my resistance to winter exercise comes from my fear of falling. I have actually fallen several times, with my first reliable memory being a fall at 14 that resulted in a wicked headache.

I have tumbled over icy stairs (that one within earshot of my mother who heard me use language suitable for blistering paint) and I have skidded across parking lots.

I have also fallen indoors, and while I have been fortunate enough not to experience lasting ill effects, as I grow older, my fear of falling has grown exponentially.

I often ask people if they remember the rubber boots many of us wore as kids, and if they specifically recall how stiff and unyielding the rubber would get as we walked to and from school in January and February. Over time the rubber would crack and the wet would seep in.

That’s how I feel my muscles go in the winter cold: hard, inflexible, and yet ready to shatter at the slightest pressure.

Last year, three of my friends and one of my relatives were laid up with broken bones, all women. Two experienced the breaks as a result of slips and falls on icy sidewalks, thus adding to my fear and resistance.

I shouldn’t be surprised: after all, women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, and one in five is likely to experience a fracture after age 40. The fact is my fear of falling need not be limited to the winter season, given the data.

Since hiding under a quilt is not really an option I can indulge in, I have looked for ways to reduce my risk of falls. I make sure I have good shoes, grippy sneakers, and sturdy boots. I have learned to walk like a penguin, with my feet pointed out, when going up or down hills and across icy surfaces.

I found some really useful tips here on the BC’s government’s health website. One tip which really stood out for me was eating foods high in calcium and Vitamin D. I had found increasing my fish intake was helping with my arthritis, so I wasn’t too surprised that nutrition could help. I had also long known about the calcium connection for bone health, but was not aware of the importance Vitamin D brings to muscle strength.

Last month, I had reason to be grateful for working on my fitness and nutrition. I had noticed increasing tightness and soreness around the hip joint post training and my trainer had noticed some oddities in my form during a subsequent squat session.

I decided to get checked as I was worried that something new was about to be added to the injury roster. I was somewhat startled to learn that it was the same hip problem. When I asked why the symptoms were different, my physiotherapist said my muscle strength had improved significantly over the past year to compensate for my hip moving out of alignment.

When I thought about the other times my hip joint has shifted, I realized several things. First, the time between injury and the onset of discomfort and pain was usually quite short. This time, it was a little over three weeks before things got really sore. Second, the recovery time post alignment was often quite long, with the pain and stiffness taking as much as three to five weeks to disappear. This time, I was really only uncomfortable for about 48 to 72 hours.

So what has this got to do with my fear of falling? I’m still cautious, but now I have developed my core strength so I am strong enough to reduce the impact. I also know my improved nutrition has helped my muscles recover faster from training, and this is also helpful in dealing with stress and injury.

What this means long term, I am not sure yet. For now, I am happy to continue with the work I am doing with the knowledge that I have made a difference in reducing the effects of injury and speeding up recovery.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s documenting a continuing journey of making fitness and work-life balance part of her everyday lifestyle.