Making fitness spaces functional and friendly

By MarthaFitAt55

I started swimming again last week. The new recreation centre finally opened in my neighbourhood and after three swims, I’m hooked.

I like swimming and was lucky to have a mom who believed we should all know how to swim, given we live on an island and have inland areas dotted extensively with ponds and lakes.

So I can swim and like it, but I didn’t always get to a pool because it was not a simple thing for me to manage.

Most of the time it was because the change rooms were poorly designed. There was no space to hang your towels while you showered so everything got wet. Or the lockers were too far away and you dripped water coming and going post swim.

Or the spaces were too small and there was too many people to manage the washing, dressing, drying etc. Or the spaces catered too much to people who fit more culturally accepted norms for body types and sizes.

The new pool is a dream come true. Surrounded by windows, the pool centre is bright and airy and features a splash pad, a physio area, and a hot tub and water walking combo.

But what really makes this place special for me is that it’s obvious people put thought into the planning the change areas and the details to make the space functional.

Each area has a dedicated change cubicle and a shower cubicle that is wheel chair accessible. Regardless of the label, the showers in all the cubicles work on a push button mechanism. No twisting and no turning. The soap dispensers have a lever you push. The temperature is also set so you neither freeze nor boil.

As you approach the pool area, the pre-swim showers also operate with a simple push button. You can either use a set of wide steps or a ramp to get in the pool. If you use a wheelchair, there’s also a lift.

So it’s obvious that universal design principles have been built in. But there are other things here that make the space accessible in ways other places do not.

The pool centre has made the women’s change area three times larger than the men’s. There are gender neutral bathrooms on the outside of the gender defined change areas.

Unlike other pool centres I have been to, everyone has space they can use as they need. The private cubicles can hold at least two people so if you had a child, you could manage to corral child(ren), wash and dress all in a contained area.

In fact, the only open areas are for hair drying/combing.. Whatever your reason, if you needed a private space to change, wash, and get dressed, you have one. Some people, regardless of gender, are comfortable in open change spaces. Others are not. The new pool centre meets those needs and then some.

What I can tell you is that I have seen more senior women and more women with diverse body shapes/ sizes, etc in the pool than anywhere else I have been. By building in functionality, privacy and comfort, more doors are open for accessibility and for inclusion.

I’m interested in hearing if these sorts of things matter for you and what does it look like. And not just pools. I know gyms are also looking at how they can be inclusive and respectful of all kinds of needs. My training space for example has wide doors, a street level entrance and extra large bathrooms that can hold a wheel chair or a walker. Please share in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

— Martha is delighted to be back in the water and her hips and knees love it too.

Why I’m glad I stopped worrying about sugar and other weird food obsessions

I had a funny exchange the other day on Facebook. There was a link about the dangers of the cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese. I commented on my friend’s post that when we can, we should rely on whole foods to make mac and cheese. Being an American, my friend thought I meant the food chain Whole Foods, which is not so cheekily known as Whole PayCheque for the high cost of it items.

Image: White bowl with pasta noodles, red tomatoes, and green basil.

Not macaroni and cheese, but my favourite feta, basil and tomato pasta supper.

Nonetheless we had a good chat about how expensive it can be to eat whole, unprocessed foods, and that led us to a whole other thread about clean eating, healthy eating, good foods, bad foods, cheat meals, etc. We weren’t actually talking about our approach to nutrition but the way the words we use to talk about food get co-opted by all kinds of agendas. It’s quite easy to have all sorts of “isms” and attitudes creep in, altering our meaning and twisting our understanding of food as fuel in our lives and how we relate to it in different contexts.

That same day SamB brought my attention to this article about Anthony Warner, described by the Guardian as “(the Angry Chef) who is on a mission to confront the ‘alternative facts’ surrounding nutritional fads and myths.”  Warner writes a blog on food fads, and he doesn’t hold back. He’s now written a book called The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, and I ‘m adding it to my reading list.

That’s because when you start a fitness program, there’s all manner of advice on how to eat, what to eat, and why the one true way (insert your favourite fad — howsoever you define it —  diet here) will be all that you need. Even if your goal is not weight loss, there’s all kinds of recommendations (cough, cough, rules!) on how to eat to train.

Heck, you don’t even have to be training to get food advice. I’m convinced all you have to be is female and not meet someone’s pre-conceived notion of how female should look, for the advice to come pouring in, accompanied by a generous helping of side eye finished with a soupcon of shade, if the advisor deems your food choices not to meet their definition of “healthy” eating.

What appealed to me about Warner is his evidence-based approach. In the article he says: “A lot of the clean-eating people, I just think they have a broken relationship with the truth. (…) They’re selling something that is impossible to justify in the context of evidence-based medicine.” I like science and research and critical thinking. Sadly, there’s too little of it when it comes to talking about food and part of it goes back to the agendas behind the particular terms used.

Warner says our fascination with fads or trends in food and eating is connected with our innate need for certainty. He explains it this way: “We really want to be able to say: ‘Is coffee good or bad for us?’ Well, it’s not good or bad for you, it just is. And we have to accept that; that’s what science says. So your brain goes, ‘I don’t like that level of uncertainty.’ Certainty is really appealing for a lot of people and that’s what a lot of these people are selling – certainly at the darker end.”

And he’s right. The people who have preached to me about gluten free diets when they aren’t celiac are utterly convinced of the rightness of their belief that going gluten-free cured their ills. Equally certain are the people who now look upon sugar with the same fear and revulsion we bring to edible oil masquerading as coffee creamer.

As I survey the speciality food shelves in my local shops, I’m enchanted by all of the interesting food stuffs and yet, truthfully, I am also challenged by how these same items are elevated in social media, on Instagram, and by celebrities to miracle food status. Warner, who lives in the UK and works for a food manufacturer is clear about the limitations food makers face when it comes to making claims about food: “If I made a food product and I wanted to say ‘it detoxes you’, I absolutely couldn’t. There are really clear laws: I can’t say it in the advertising, I can’t say it on the pack, I can’t make any sort of claim that isn’t hugely backed in evidence. But if I wrote a recipe book, I can say what I want.”

If you have been wondering how Gwyneth Paltrow can make pots of money selling her fans coconut oil as a mouthwash and wasp’s nests as a vaginal cleanser, there’s your answer. The trick is to stop engaging in magical thinking when it comes to food and applying some common sense. Warner’s advice: “eat a sensible and varied diet, not too much nor too little. If you have junk food every so often, don’t feel guilty; if you’re going full Morgan Spurlock, you’re probably overdoing it. Eat fish, especially oily ones such as salmon and mackerel, when you can. Don’t consume too much sugar, but equally don’t believe people who tell you it’s “toxic” and has “no nutritional value.”

Or you can go the Reader’s Digest version and follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Excuse me now, as I forage in the fridge for the leftover maple syrup glazed salmon.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in training exploring a whole new world of food as fuel.

 

 

 

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.