fitness

Getting my workout gear on the go

By MarthaFitat55

I have written previously about the lamentable lack of attractive, fashionable workout gear for plus size fitfemmes. When I first started learning how to strength train, I was content with my not-quite-ancient yoga pants and one of my four classic grey tees for a very long while.

I graduated to plain black leggings and the odd coloured tee eventually when I realized I was in this powerlifting zone for the long haul. I realized I missed fun and bright amidst all the black and grey weights and machines.

I should say I missed fun and bright for me. We get awfully grey winters here on the east coast of Newfoundland, usually presaged by somewhat gloomy falls and followed by an equally dispirited spring. Pops of colour are a great way to beat the blahs, especially for someone like me who believes in basic fire engine red for pretty much any item of clothing.

Sadly, fun and colourful are not readily available in my size in the stores near to me. So when a friend posted pictures of her new leggings, I was intrigued. She connected me with her friend who sold these wonderful objects, and I bought two pairs: one a gorgeous floral and one in navy (can’t let go of some old ideas quite yet). I have since acquired a bunch more of these fun leggings including holiday-themed, Nordic influenced, and my latest is multi coloured polka dots.

I wear these leggings to the gym, I wear them to the grocery store, and I wear them when I want to stay home and chill with my book and latte. I wear them because they are fun and they give me a great boost. I wear them because lots of times I am tired of wearing my business clothes even though many of the items I own for that purpose are plenty colourful.

As a size 18, I know I am not going to be invisible in the gym regardless of what I wear. Also, when I want to be especially effective in a training session, I find dressing in something that pops gives me the mental kick in the pants I need to embrace the bar and the weight with extra energy.

I also like knowing I have clothing that has been created for active people. I like the security of knowing I have good gear that won’t fail at a crucial moment, or become see through when I execute certain exercises.

Since the advent of these fabulous leggings, I have tackled the swimsuit situation. I love my swim suit but after two years of fairly regular use, it was time to replace it. Sadly cherry red is not a colour they make available in any size, but I did find polka dots. Who knows? Perhaps in two years’ time when I need a new one, a cherry red suit will have found its way to the pool for me.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in Newfoundland.

fitness

Can we have game misconducts for sexism?

Earlier this week 7AFL took down a post of AFLW Tayla Harris which featured a photograph of her completing a spectacular football* kick. The member of the Australian women’s football league received high praise but then the trolls arrived and it all went down hill from there.

Here’s the photo:

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Photo shows Tayla Harris, Australian soccer player in mid jump with her right leg up high after completing a spectacular goal kick.

The AFLW was criticized for not responding more quickly to requests for moderation of the negative, crude posts. The organization’s Facebook page faced more criticism for removing the photo. Kaysey Symons writing for The Guardian said:

“While the messaging from the AFL’s official broadcast partner was somewhat admirable in that they acknowledged the harmful nature of the comments, their course of action to erase it, in effect, was even more damaging. Deleting the image, and Harris, from a digital discourse does not silence the haters and the trolls. It silences her. It silences the athletes. It silences everyone whose identity was vilified in those comments.”

Followers of the group responded to the photo’s removal by inserting it in subsequent posts regardless of the content. Finally, the administrators reposted the photo.

Perhaps we should be grateful the AFLW made this misstep because it has become an opportunity to look at the imagery we see of women excelling in sport.

We’ve all seen the fitspo posters in gyms featuring women in skimpy clothing posed provocatively. And when we do see it in media — newspapers, television, and social — it’s almost impossible to see the physicality of women in sport without people imposing a filter with sexual overtones.

The fact is, this is not the first time we’ve seen photos of women in sports which do not meet social expectations for docility and gentility. Nor is it the first time they have been critiqued.

Kaetlyn Osmond, Olympic figure skater faced controversy in 2013 when the Globe and Mail published a photograph on its front page which many readers felt was too revealing and inappropriate.

The Globe and Mail’s public editor Sylvia Stead weighed in on the controversy saying the photo should not have been used. Stead said: The readers and I both thought the photo could be embarrassing to anyone, although Kaetlyn, who is a good sport and a great skater, responded on Twitter that she was happy to be on the front page and said “I really like that picture.”

Stead went on to say that readers “want photos to show our athletes in the best possible light and not to (potentially) embarrass them. And while the news imperative is to show action photos of athletes, there were many other photos of Kaetlyn (such as the one included with this blog post) and the other victorious Canadian skaters that could have shown their strength and grace.”

But let’s go all the way back to the end of the 20th century when the web was still new and burgeoning with potential and concepts like virality and doxing were unknown but flaming on news groups and listservs was still a thing.

Back in 1999, US soccer player Brandi Chastain was captured in celebratory glee taking off her shirt after making the penalty kick which won the team the Women’s World Cup gold medal game. The horror: a woman’s bra was shown on a sports field!

In a BBC story, Chastain recalls the moment: “I whipped off that shirt and I kind of whipped it around in the air over my head and dropped to my knees as a ‘Yes!’ moment that we had done what we set out to do. I had no idea that would be my reaction – it was truly genuine and it was insane and it was a relief and it was joy and it was gratitude all wrapped into one.”

While many male athletes are presented taking off their jerseys, Chastain’s action was seen as abnormal. However, she said “There’s something primal about sport that doesn’t exist anywhere else – when you have a moment like scoring a winning goal in the World Cup championship, you are allowed to release this feeling, this emotion, this response that is not elicited anywhere else.”

I like seeing pictures of women doing their sport well. When I was growing up, the only women we saw sportsing were usually figure skaters or tennis players. Let’s focus on the fact that women are excelling in sport and they are doing physical things which are not in themselves sexual. And if the trolls can’t handle that, then administrators need to step up and moderate comments or not allow them if the result is going to be bigotry and sexism.

*Thanks to one of our commenters below, I have learned that Australian football is not like soccer. It is a high contact sport that shares many similarities with Gaelic football, which is also not like European football/soccer.

— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

equality · femalestrength · fitness · Martha's Musings · martial arts

The only way to keep going is to keep getting back up

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Image shows two Lego minifigures, with Wonder Woman in her red and blue one piece swimsuit on the left and Wildstyle in her purple and black flight suit on the right. Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

By MarthaFitat55

I went to see Captain Marvel on the weekend with my family. I enjoyed it very much. The characters were nicely developed; the story line was engaging; the writing was clever. The hero was not hyper-sexualized and there was no love story. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I was more than ready for an action movie featuring a woman in a central role that did not require a skimpy outfit.

Captain Marvel is a woman who thinks for herself and seeks solutions. When she ends up stranded on earth, she figures out how she is going to communicate with her team. She’s not afraid of hard work nor is she afraid of training hard. Her fitness and strength are tools she uses to defeat her opponents while outsmarting them.

Like many noble warrior heroes, Marvel is challenged to find her true self. Her memory has been fragmented, but over time, the bits she has retrieved form a story. There are three pivotal moments for me in the film and they all come pretty closely together in the final quarter of the film.

The first is when Vers remembers her real name, the second when she comes into her full powers, and the third when Carol quashes her former mentor’s ego. These three moments have a lot to offer women in pursuit of fitness, strength and power in the gym.

When Vers remembers who she is, she rejects the name she was given and asserts her real name. “My name is Carol,” and she pushes back with all her strength. Women are often told they shouldn’t lift weights; that working with the bar will change their essential nature, that they will change shape and not in a good way. I’ve learned that when I walk into the gym and assume my role as power-lifter, that when I accept I am there to lift all the heavy things, then the dynamic between the bar and me is quite different.

When Carol thinks and reflects on what she is hearing, she is able to reframe what she knows. She’s been convinced for too long that she has no power except for what her oppressors have allowed her to express. She remembers all the times she fell down, the times she was taunted and told she could not do what she planned, the times she was scolded for having dreams that were too big for “normal.” Most importantly, Carol remembers all the times she got back up.

When I am at the gym, I remember all the times I got back up even though I didn’t want to. My trainer even has “Always stand up” taped to the squat cage. This winter has been hard with extra cold weather and a cranky hip. It’s surprising what strength you can find when you say those three little words.

Finally, Carol takes joy in her strength and power. She revels in what she can do — defeat bad guys, look after the good guys, and organize a plan to make change happen for the people she helps. When the bad guy tries to take credit for her skill and power, Carol tells him she has nothing to prove to him.

Indeed, if there is one thing you take away from this post (and the movie), is that the only person to whom you must be accountable is yourself. You show up, do the work, and get on with the job at hand.

How about you? Do you find inspiration from action movies?

— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s.

femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting

Fostering resilience through fitness

By MarthaFitat55

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Image shows a small fire surrounded by stones in the woods. In the background, a person wearing jeans and a plaid shirt holds a small branch. Photo by Jenelle Hayes on Unsplash

Every day I find myself using something I learned in my almost ten years with the Guiding movement.

While I might not ever go camping in the woods again by choice, should I land there, I know how to build shelter and fire and how to find water. I use my map reading and orienteering skills when I travel; I am conscious of my footprint on the earth and what I need to do to take care of it.

With my Brownie pack and my Girl Guide company, I learned to be part of a team, to solve problems jointly, and to respect others and their gifts. I learned to set goals, to acquire new skills, and to cultivate resilience and strength in myself and others.

I am grateful to the fabulous women who gave their time to support us girls in growing up to become competent, committed, and engaged members of our society.

Today is Thinking Day and I am reminded of what a great space for girls and young women the Guiding world is to learn some practical skills. And this reminds me that I have found or built other spaces where I can continue to grow and develop.

Like the gym. Not the gym of my childhood though. That place was fraught with stress and fear, the kind that is negative and immobilizing. While I know my gym of today can sometimes cause me stress (hello, wonky hip) and a little fear (goodbye Jacob’s ladder), it’s the good kind of stress and fear.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash
Image shows a gym with green carpet and grey tile. In the background, a person moves ropes while another does pushups. Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

The gym is a place for me where I can build the skills that will make me strong, and I hope, keep me that way for a very long time.

The gym is a place where I can push myself to try new things. And it’s a place, when things don’t work, I can try again, or figure out a way to do it differently.

The gym is a place where I learn how marvelous our bodies are: for the things they do naturally and the things they don’t and the things we may need to re-learn how to do all over again.

For me, the gym has become a place of opportunity and a place where I value physical strength, in the same way being in Guides developed and supported others kinds of strength.

How about you? What does the gym mean to you (if you go to one)? What are the other places where you grow and support resilience and strength through fitness?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer lifting all the things, physical and mental.

fitness · health · Martha's Musings · motivation · research

Guilt-free heart health for women

By MarthaFitat55

February is Heart Month and there are lots of messages across multiple platforms on how to be heart healthy. In the past two decades, we’ve seen a lot of attention being paid to heart health and its links to obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.

The messages fall into three camps: what to eat, how to exercise, and why it all matters. There are multiple diets focusing on optimal cardiac health, an almost equally dizzying array of guidelines on exercise, and tonnes of research on the risks and genetic factors present in 21-century populations.

In more recent years, there’s been significant work looking at women and heart health. We are often misdiagnosed, we don’t get the right treatments, and we are less likely to have the better outcomes. In its landmark report in 2018,  aptly named Ms. Understood, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation said the following:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada (dying before reaching their expected lifespan).
  • Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
  • Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies from heart disease.
  • Five times as many women die from heart disease as breast cancer.
  • Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men.
  • Women who have a heart attack are more likely to die or suffer a second heart attack compared to men.

Why this matters became even more critical this year when the the Foundation released a new piece of research demonstrating the link between heart disease and increased rates of dementia. The report (found here as a PDF) says its research “mapped the connections between heart, brain and mind diseases and conditions for the first time and found even stronger links and a much greater impact than anticipated. People managing these conditions are overwhelmed and the system is overloaded. This is a crisis and it is not sustainable. We need to find solutions now.”

So we know what’s happening, and we know what we are supposed to do. But are we actually doing the work we need to prevent and reduce the risks? Well, there is another piece of research, this time at the University of Alberta, which challenges some of our assumptions on the messages we use in promoting heart health.  Says one of the co authors, Tami Oliphant: “Women are told they need to exercise more, they need to lose weight, they need to be social and all these heart-healthy activities, but we found that these messages made the women feel guilty, like they had caused their heart disease,”

We know we should reduce the stress we feel, but hey, women deal with a lot of stress. Reducing it isn’t necessarily an easy option. Many of us can’t afford some of the more common stress reducers recommended to women. And then there is the social pressures women face in keeping family and community together, let alone taking time for themselves.

While I am a big fan of the concept behind putting my own mask on first so I can help others, it’s a bit of a juggle and for some, a bit of a fight. Not being able to meet those recommended guidelines can pile on guilt which leads to more stress, etc etc etc.

The research at the U of A suggests we tailor our health messages to the needs of different audiences. That means creating different messages for women compared to men.The symptoms for heart attack in women are different, so the messages building awareness have to differentiate between male and female experiences of cardiac disease to be effective.

It also means letting women know what the alternatives can be for reducing risk. As one of the researchers noted, if you hate running and you can’t find something else in the “sports” field to get your 150 minutes of cardio in a week, what else is there? Ordinary activity for one. Vacuuming is a form of activity and while it may not help you run marathons, it does keep you moving.

The most positive aspect of this focus on women’s experience of heart disease is the empowerment of women. For quite a long time, we have not had control of many aspecs of our health, especially reproductive health. Researcher Oliphant said: “Women’s bodies are perceived as problematic, post-menopausal, whereas when you’re treating men for heart disease it’s about efficiency and getting them back up to speed. So women are diagnosed later, they delay treatment, they can be disbelieved and sometimes they’re even discouraged from seeing a health-care practitioner.”

There is some work on understanding the experience different groups of women will have with heart disease. What else can we be doing to support heart health in women beyond the healthy weight, be active, live smoke-free messages?

Image: A red heart on a square yellow sheet of paper clothespinned to a strong and hanging on a white wall.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
addiction · advertising · alcohol · fitness · food · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings

Canada’s New Food Guide

By MarthaFitat55

Health Canada released its long awaited update to its food guide this week and the response has been swift. Overall I quite like it, and I wrote about it here in my bi-weekly column. The old food guide was prescriptive (eat something from these four food groups and here’s how much). The new food guide is much more aspirational and as I wrote, it reflects diversity in food choice and food culture.

I thought I would pull together a bunch of responses to the guide in this post. The Globe and Mail has several pieces I liked, with the first from one from Andre Picard, the Globe’s health reporter, in which he looks at food insecurity and the food guide’s recommendations. Leslie Beck, the Globe’s dietitian commentator, offers up her thanks for Health Canada’s building a guide on science while Ann Hui also of the Globe and Mail, provides a good overview of the key changes here.

Cassandra Lszklarski from the Canadian Press focuses on the guide’s position on alcohol. Health Canada has stepped away from recommending milk as the preferred beverage and tells us to drink more water. At the same time, it is also came out strongly against alcohol consumption (non drinkers shouldn’t start for example). Previous guides highlighted the sugar and calories in alcohol, but this version talks about the links between alcohol and obesity, cancer, and addiction.

Yoni Freedhoff looks at the implications for institutional change. On Weighty Matters, Freedhoff’s blog, he wrote how the new food guide is a radical departure from previous more modest iterations:

“Whether it was consequent to past criticisms, or the insulation of the revision process from the food industry, or a change in leadership, or some combination of those and more factors, the 2019 Food Guide is incredibly different from all of its predecessors. Gone is dairy as its own food group (that doesn’t mean the guide is recommending against dairy consumption), gone is wishy-washy language that excused refined grains, gone are explicit recommendations to consume 2 glasses of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oils daily, gone is overarching fat-phobia, gone is juice being a fruit and vegetable equivalent, gone is the notion that sugar-sweetened milk is a health food, and gone is an antiquated nutrient-focused approach.”

Freedhoff also talks about what to do next, now that the food guide is out without its dependence on food-based marketing recommendations. In this post, he looks at what needs to change for good healthy food policy to happen. Freedhoff describes them as hills but they include removal of fast food from schools, a national school food policy, a ban on food marketing to children, implementation of a soda tax, removal of front of package claims, and an overhaul of supplement regulation.

The food insecurity issue is one that I will be looking at in the future, but in the meantime, I am excited by the new food guide and what it means for reflecting diversity and health on my plate.

What do you think? How important has the food guide been in managing your nutritional needs? What do you like or dislike about Health Canada’s guide?

— Martha Muzychka is a writer living in St. John’s who swims, lifts and walks as much as she can.

fitness · gear · Martha's Musings · Tools

Tools to help ease cranky muscles

By MarthaFitat55

I love a good massage for my muscles bothered by cranky hip joints and uncompliant vertebrae. But I needed to find some useful and affordable alternatives that would provide some relief in between appointments and training sessions.

In the last five years, I have collected and learned how to use some pretty nifty tools and I thought I would talk about how I use them and some possible options for cheaper alternatives.

When I first experienced problems with my back, my massage therapist recommended a theraband, which looked like a giant plastic sash. I usually wrap my hands around each end then flip it over my head to stretch out my back. You can also use it to strengthen arms. Put one end under your foot on the floor and then wrap it around your hand, tuck your elbow into your body and raise your hand to your shoulder or mid-chest.

The advantage of the theraband is that it can also fold up pretty small so it’s the size of a small wallet. That makes it very handy for toting on travels. I often see them at Winners (or TJ Maxx for our American readers) for cheap. A yoga belt can also work well, although I find for the back stretches, there isn’t the same give as what you get with the Theraband. If you think of it during spring time, one of those springy bubblegum pink skipping ropes will work as well and they have that flex you need.

When my hip joint decided to get all fussy on me, I had some pretty miserable muscle cramps. What gave relief was a rolling pin. I had an extra one that I didn’t use but if you don’t have a pin, a sturdy long-necked bottle from wine or vinegar will do as well. I just rolled my calf muscles whenever they felt twitchy.

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The Tigertail, a portable massage stick

If you have some ready cash, you can buy something similar called a tigertail. The company that makes them calls them a portable massage stick. It comes with a small index-card sized guide with nifty exercises and you can travel with it pretty easily. It’s thinner and longer than a rolling pin so you can get in more hard to reach places. There are different types with smooth rollers or bumpy ones. I prefer the smooth roller but you may find the ridged one better for your needs.

I travel for my work a fair bit so I started putting together a small kit I could pack. Along with the Theraband, I added a couple of portable handwarmers, my travel size tube of Voltaren, a topical pain relief gel, and a lacrosse ball. You can use a tennis ball but that’s squishier than a lacrosse ball. This bright orange-coloured ball, which is also about the same size as an orange, is very firm. As such, it does a good job getting rid of muscle knots. You can also relax your feet by rolling it with the ball of your foot, and you can also have fun trying to pick it up with your toes.

Most recently, I have acquired a Swiss ball and a textured foam roller. I borrowed the ball from my trainer after she showed me some exercises I could do at home to provide some relief for tension in my lower back. I loved it so much I ordered one for myself. They cost around $15 so not really a huge cost. They are slightly bigger than a softball and they are my new favourite way to use a wall or a floor to work out the knots. I usually put the ball just above the glute muscles and then shimmy back and forth against the wall. I will be honest: it’s not the most pleasant sensation when you start. However, about an hour after you stop, you will notice you can move so much more easily.

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A round black ball and a bright turquoise tube rest on the floor with a pillow.

I haven’t had great relationships with foam rollers. I find it hard to balance on them for leg work, hence my preference for the tigertail or the swiss ball. If you are super flexible, you can sit on it and roll back and forth. I am not so I tend to use it right now just for my upperback.

I spend a lot of time sitting or standing over my laptop. This leads to hunched and very knotty shoulders. I put my foam roller on the floor and then I lie down on it so that it’s about three to four inches below the base of my neck. I roll back and forth gently and it really works out the kinks.

I lucked into my bright blue textured roller at Winners on deep discount. It’s also hollow inside, so if I wanted to take it with me on my travels, I could use the hollow space for my shoes or slippers, or a hoodie. But you can do similar exercises with the Swiss ball if you only want to invest and own one thing.

To keep the tools where I can see them (and thus remember to use them), I have a bascket in which I corral the works. As I like to learn and try new things, feel free to share in the comments what nifty gadgets you have found or used that can also work in a pinch for a massage.