My new four-letter word

Image description: Four green letter tiles spell out the word REST against a white background.
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It’s been a weird two and a half years. I say that because my 2020 started with a wicked snow hurricane, and it just carried on from there. It’s also been a busy time even with the pandemic. Lots of family responsibilities, some new adventures (hello beautiful greenhouse!), and a few undesirable results of getting older (back again, wonky hips?).

I like coming up with ways to keep myself focused. I used to do it while studying (cramming) for exams in university and later when I needed reminders of anything I didn’t want to forget. Lately, I have become delighted with the alarm function on my phone and I made a novel discovery I could use actual songs from playlist to sound the alarms instead of the preset list of ring tones. If you hear Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, that would be my reminder to do my piriformis stretches.

I got into doodling during the pandemic and found it a great way to track key insights from meetings. I give nicknames to my warm up exercises (I startled my trainer once when I asked them to check my form on the waitress exercise, so called because I felt like one holding a tray up high while balancing on one knee).

Mneomics is what they call these tips formally — they can be pictures, songs, acronyms — whatever helps you retain and retrieve information. I was chatting with a colleague and she commented about a discussion they had concluded at work, saying she hoped “they would give it a rest.”

Now you wouldn’t think an idiomatic expression would prompt a rethink about priorities, work-life balance, and so on, but it did. A rest is a pause, a space in which one refreshes, recovers, rejuvenates. If you give something a rest, you are suspending the discussion, allowing space for something else to move in.

I decided I need to give things in my life a rest too by elevating the things that matter. The next half of the year starts in two weeks and my focus is going to be on REST — Reclaim, Exhale, Stretch, and Time.

I’m going to reclaim my head space by reading more books and making more things. I’m going to focus on exhaling, remembering to breathe, focusing on deliberate movement, and maybe, just maybe starting meditation. I’m going to stretch more, and not just my body, but my mind as well. It’s good to challenge old ideas and try new things. Finally, I’m going to make time for fitness a bigger priority in my weekly calendar.

REST. I think the next six months are going to be good.


True Confessions

Last week I did a very bad thing. I didn’t mean to, but looking back, I am glad as I learned something very important.

Black and white photo shows cat at laptop with a Zoom meeting of cats. Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

The bad thing: I was working on a major document that required validation. It’s a very useful process whereby someone very skilled reviews your document and makes sure everything follows logically. However, I ended up sitting at my desk for pretty much the whole afternoon.

The thing I learned: when you sit for too long at my age (well any age really, but at my age, it is exceptionally bad), your muscles tighten, and when they tighten they pull at your bones. If you have a hypermobile hip joint like mine, tight muscles from sitting for too long without stretching result in very unhappy joints because they get pulled out of their rightful place, usually silently, often resentfully, and later, painfully.

Image shows white cat howling, a pretty accurate description of how I felt after sitting too long. Photo by Carlos Deleon on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I’ve done something this stunned to myself, but now I know. Previously my hips joints have sloughed off their restrictive socket layers when I have stepped into sinky snowbanks, leapt gazelle-like down uneven steps, or even turned over the wrong way in my sleep.

This Learning Moment (LM) reminded me how easy it is to forget everything when I am in the writing zone: food, drink, movement, conversation etc.

Luckily, there is a remedy. I have started setting alarms — chirpy buzzes, whimsical little tunes, exuberant and energetic rock songs — to remind me to get up and do one of my required exercises. (I have a whole slew of them. I can do them standing up, lying down, and yes, even while sitting in a chair. I know how many reps, how many sets, and how many seconds for each one.)

While I am working on paying attention more mindfully to my body cues, I have found the audio cues work better at interrupting my head space and since I have to shut them off using my phone, I have also renamed the labels on the alarms with the names of the key stretches I am required to complete.

I do feel a little like a jack in the box when the alarms go off; however, I can’t deny they have been helping. Perhaps in a month, the habit will be ingrained but until then, I’ll have an ear open for my alarms ready to put those hip flexors back where they belong.

— MarthaFitat55 is looking forward to the summer.


Would you garden naked?

I like messing about in gardens like many people. It’s great to be in the fresh air, seeing all the lovely green things thriving, hearing all the birds that make themselves at home in the trees, smelling the earth scent of excellent sun-baked compost …

Hands holding soil while light streams. Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

You get the picture.

I live on the east coast of Canada in Newfoundland. While the rest of the country has been overflowing with all the spring things for a couple of months, my tulips are only now poking up out of the ground, and the little scilla look absolutely frozen stiff.

When Sam said May 7 is World Naked Gardening Day, I laughed.

There was snow in Friday’s forecast, and if we are lucky, we may reach a high of 6 degrees C on Saturday itself.

Not gonna lie. Not going to be naked in May in my garden, nor for that matter, on any days where the temperature is more accomodating. When it gets warm, we get mosquitoes and when it gets hot, we get flies.

Nope, nope-ity, nope.

The founders of the day are pretty casual about it. In fact, they are so casual, in their approach, they are okay with Canada celebrating WNGD in June and New Zealand in the fall. Their goal is to celebrate gardening, body positivity, clothing-optional lifestyles, and so on. If that’s your thing, go for it. I know someone who likes to take a run naked when the first snow falls.

You do you, as Sam often says.

As for me, I’ll be out (and definitely well wrapped) to see how the lilac tree fared after Friday’s snowfall.

-MarthaFitat55 likes her cardio to be wind-chill free.


Fitness as self care

I was having a chat with a colleague earlier in the spring and I mentioned how much I was enjoying the gym after a hiatus in the early winter due to COVID. While I could have substituted walking for the gym, I rarely enjoy walking in the winter as the ice scares me; after a loved one slipped and broke their leg, I have even more cause to fear winter walking.

My colleague told me how much they enjoy exercise and how they see their workouts as self-care. It’s a concept that really resonated with me and encapsulated some of how I have started to change my thinking about the role of exercise and fitness in my life. Before the pandemic, for example, I tended to think of self-care as booking a massage or a manicure (thanks wellness industry) or even taking a cup of tea and just staring out the window looking at the birds, the neighbourhood cats, and the passing clouds, but exercise as self-care? I never dug deep enough to explore how that might work.

I get exercise as important for heart health, keeping my joints mobile and ligaments and muscles elastic, but it is something I do so I can be functional and able for as along as possible. While I often find swimming meditative (even though I am not fond of meditation as a practice), lifting weights is about the deliberate movement and effort involved, and it’s not necessarily focused on calming my mind.

When I first started focusing on my fitness work, I looked at it as caring for my physical self, but not as part of holistic approach to supporting good mental health or recovering from stress. The buzz you get from a great session, the runner’s high, the overall sense of wellbeing, that was the bonus of working out, the cherry on the fitness cake, if you will.

These days I’ve changed tack. Getting a walk in, readying myself for a return to the pool, getting back into yoga are all about shaking off the stress of life — work deadlines, caregiving needs etc. Juggling all the balls is mentally taxing and when you add in the protective measures to deal with the pandemic, well, your faithful blogger was quickly becoming a stressed out, crispy kitty.

This white cat can’t even any more as it looms grumpily from its perch on a wooden post. Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

The fact that my heart works better, I can lift weights, swim laps or garden happily, is fabulous. But I am liking how much more grounded I feel after a workout or a nice walk even if my fingers are ready to fall off from the cold. I’ve discovered I work more efficiently, that I am processing stuff effectively and I no longer feel like Ms Grumpykins above. My goal is to be like Ms Ginger below: relaxed, loose and ready to chill for the weekend with a good book or a new sewing project.

A ginger cat stretches luxuriously on whitewashed wooden flooring. Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

Stay safe and well friends!

MarthaFitat55 lives and works and plays in St. John’s, NL, the far east of Canada.


The shape of things to come

I normally don’t follow fashion news. With the pandemic, I have had no need of new clothes. Zoom fashion has added longevity to my business clothing.

Pop star Lizzo has launched a new line of shapewear, called Yitty, and the line will have sizing from 6X to XS. (Yes, that formatting is deliberate.)

Back in the day, when I was a youngster, shapewear was limited two items, usually a girdle and a bra that literally trussed your body like a turkey ready for Thanksgiving.

Spandex really revolutionized shapewear and instead of being focused on smoothing things out (anyone remember the horrors of the VPL, or Visible Panty Line?) and giving breasts a lift up, shapewear really moved into hyperdrive mode to force your body into a shape that could wear the available fashions, instead of fashions working with your natural shape.

Spanx, a leading shapewear brand, earned $15 million in 2002 to an astounding $400 million in 2014. Often called form-fitting, shapewear is tight and Spanx was no exception. Jokes abounded even as the company’s profits soared. Here’s one of my favourites:

I’ve written about my battles with sports bras so I empathize with the challenges of putting on shapewear. I put up with sports bras because I need the support. I’ve not often seen the need for shapewear except for those occasions when you want a seamless look to your dress or pantsuit.

But I do wonder about shapewear that squishes everything to achieve a smaller look. After all, the pre 20th-century women who cinched their waists with their corsets and stays did experience problems breathing and long-term use could not have been good.

There’s a lot of baggage to unpack in shapewear, and even if it is available in a wide size range and it reflects an ethos of agency, I feel conflicted. If you get into weights, lots of us still get messages about not getting bulky. Then you go to a store and the fashion message is buy shapewear so you don’t show your rolls, your poochy stomach, or heaven forbid, any saggy arms or thighs.

Lizzo’s been focused on body positivity, especially for the plus and super plus size set and she is known for pushing back against changing your body to fit a style or image.

Lizzo intends to make pieces that every single body can feel good in, whether that means under clothing or as clothing itself. “I’m selling a mentality that ‘I can do what I want with my body, wear what I want and feel good while doing it,” she said.

Lizzo’s tag line states it’s for every damn body, however you want to wear her clothing — inside, outside etc. I like that, given how hard it is to find fun, funky and pretty clothing above size 18. From what I’ve seen it looks lovely and who doesn’t want to wear something that makes you feel fine? I know I do. Hopefully, we will see more body-positive clothing in the future.

MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in St. John’s. She has lost every battle in taking off shapewear and finally decided ten years ago to stop.


It’s Waffle (Deadlift) Day!

I know, I know. It seems like every day is a day to celebrate something: chocolate, coffee, cupcakes, siblings, cats, dogs…

Today though is Waffle Day and after my Friday morning training, I was offered a waffle. Cool and yummy.

Image of two waffles dusted with icing sugar and raspberries. Photo by Joyful on Unsplash

Even cooler though was the story my trainer told me. Turns out Eleiko, the world famous maker of weight lifting plates, originally made waffle irons and toasters. Back in the 50s, bars were snapping and cracking under the weights and lifters were frustrated.

So an employee of Eleiko, himself a weightlifter took on the task of harnessing the knowledge from waffle plates to barbells. He got the go-ahead to proceed from one Mrs. Johanssen, the managing director. Finally, in 1963, weights with Eleiko bars were hoisted in an official competition without any snapping, crackling or popping and in 1969, Eleiko was certified as an official maker of weight lifting equipment.

As a nod to the waffle origin, the knurling on the bar (the textured bit) is the same pattern as the Eleiko waffle iron.

The image shows a series of blue, yellow and green plates made by Eleiko. Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

My waffles were tasty, my deadlifts were fast, and my day has been enriched with food, fitness, and fun facts! Thank you Waffle Day designators, thank you Eleiko, and thank you super trainer and friend Vicky!

MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s and she has not met a waffle she did not like.


Taking time to notice

It’s almost the first day of spring. We haven’t had much of a winter given the lack of snow. Since we’ve been dealing with the pandemic for so long, one could be forgiven for not really noticing the transition from one season to another.

But the other day, it was lovely: a blue sky, sunshine, not too much wind. I could hear birds chirping in the trees. I could hear the water running from the melting ice and snow.

I never know how to describe the scent of spring. It is a combination of thawing earth, the heat of rotting leaves, the sweetness of cedar mulch.

Then there is the feel of your feet on the ground, still hard but also slightly yielding and a weird springiness that feels odd after the crunch of snow and ice. The shiver of surprise when you can feel, see and hear that spring is really coming.

But what made the day extra special was that it was my first day in the gym in three months. As I walked in, I started paying attention to what I was feeling and seeing.

The slide of the straps on my feet in the erg. The way my fingers curled on the bar as I rowed. The rhythm of the push and pull matching my breath in and out.

I had been afraid that the interval away would mean I had forgotten what to do. Yet as soon as I felt the solidness and hot/cold texture of the weight in my hands, it came back.

It was hard doing movements I had not done for a while. I realized in some respects it was the shape of things. A 25 pound hand weight doesn’t move the same way a 25 pound bag of potatoes does.

I realized I missed the repetition of training and how sets evolve from awkwardness to fluidity, from the “i am not sure how to do this” to ”i see how this works.” I also missed the satisfaction that comes from the deliberate demand on and stress of muscles.

It was a good day outside and a good day inside.

Small white spring flowers, Unsplash

marthafitat55 lives and trains in st. John’s.


Energy drinks and what they mean for the space we make for women and fitness

I was idly scrolling through my news feeds when a dramatic headline caught my eye: My Teen’s Energy Drink Habit Led Me To Learn Of Their Dangers For Kids. The author described the development of her child’s caffeine habit from imbibing an energy drink.

Image shows a water bottle with lemon slices, ice and water. There’s a skipping rope in the background. Photo by quokkabottles on Unsplash

Notoriously high in stimulants, energy drinks aren’t meant to be drunk by kids. However, like coolers and spritzers, brightly coloured (blue, purple and hot pink!) energy drinks look more like funky sodas and are popular with younger teens.

It got me wondering, what is the consumption of energy drinks among adults, especially women? First, though, the content of energy drinks made me stop in my tracks. An average 8oz cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine while your average energy drink contains about five times as much, about 500 mg.

There’s no real risk to women and people with uteruses, except when pregnant. Then the recommended amount of caffeine should be less than 200 mg a day. However, teens generally should avoid energy drinks because of the risk for high blood pressure, poor sleep, upset stomach, and increased irritability and jittery nerves.

There’s no real difference in the numbers of male and female persons who consume energy drinks. It’s just shy of 30% each. But men are over-represented in the purchasing of such drinks at almost 60%.

Here are some other interesting numbers about energy drink consumption:

  • Gen Zers are 238% more likely to consume energy drinks than Boomers, with only 8% of that demo report consuming energy drinks.
  • Exercise is the number one energy drink usage occasion at 37.3%; followed by sports at 24.7%; household chores at 20.2%; and studying at 17.1%.
  • 41.2% of males consume energy drinks for exercise in comparison to the 31.5% of females, whilst only 15.5% of men consume energy drinks for household chores compared to 27.2% of women.

Energy drinks are primarily marketed towards men. A feature article about the industry noted there was only one female CEO leading an energy drink company. Back in 2011, there was an energy drink developed and marketed for women. Called Rockstar Pink, and packaged in a very intense pink-coloured can, this drink’s prime selling feature was the fact it was less than 10 calories per serving.

I don’t care for either energy or sports drinks as I prefer to drink my caffeine as a latte, preferably in the morning with a book and a cozy couch and not chugging it back in a gym.

However, I do recognize that some sports drinks or solutions offer some value in replacing electrolytes and stabilizing blood sugar levels during particularly challenging workouts. That said, is there a need for monster claws, large kapow stars, or giant letters on a can, all pointing out that in your hands you hold A Very Important Drink?

I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that sports/energy drinks are now something you consume outside of the gym, and the industry would like you to serve such drinks at your next social gathering, pending pandemic guidelines, of course. Mind you, if you intend to dance all night long, an energy-boosting beverage is probably going to go over well, especially with the younger clientele now taking up the largest market share.

Nor was I surprised to learn energy drinks are replacing soda as the beverage of choice among millennials, especially female millennials. I was surprised by this quote: “While millennial men typically are the face of energy and sports drinks products, the category is gaining momentum with other consumers. Women, in general, are less likely to consume sports drinks, but millennial women consume sports drinks at levels that exceed their male counterparts. Similarly, women aged 50 and older also exceed males in consumption of energy drinks.” (emphasis added)

I honestly thought I was going to find research showing the increased consumption of energy drinks was connected to increased physical activity, but I was wrong.

Actual physical exercise definitely helps relieve stress and boosts energy. But do we actually have time for fitness in lives full of work demands, parenting labour and family responsibilities? For women, the answer is no. According to a UN Women Count study, women’s unpaid workload has increased to the point that women are contributing as much as a full day of unpaid labour weekly compared to men.

The fact is more women than men are reporting higher rates of burnout, and the pandemic isn’t helping. A recent American survey asked for ideas on alleviating burnout and they got a number of suggestions: “additional paid time off (22%), a condensed four-day workweek (22%), schedule flexibility (17%), remote work options (13%), company-wide mental health days (13%) and a lighter workload (12%).”

So the next time you pass a rack of energy drinks, think about what it really means in terms of time and fitness. Because when it comes to women, it seems the reason we need the energy boost is not because of a hard session in the gym.

MarthaFitat55 enjoys powerlifting, trail walking, swimming and yoga when she can find the time.


Recognizing diversity in body shapes and parts

I loved the running bras I used to wear in the early aughts. They were comfortable and supportive, whether I was running or rowing. I remember texting my husband from Spain when I heard the local running shop had a sale on. I think I got four new ones at an unbelievable price.

There finally came a day when the company discontinued that line. Despite my best efforts at searching the Internet, I never found any others. I acquired a new line and the best I can say about them was they were okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay.

The illustration shows a white woman wearing a tank and sports bra combo balancing on a wobble ball. This is not a photo of the author. Photo by Andreea Boncota on Unsplash

But really, should I, or any person with breasts wanting decent coverage and support, have to settle for just okay?

My fear is getting stuck, arms atangle, especially after a workout when I’m all sweaty and in need of a shower. This in fact did happen to me once and it was a very unpleasant half hour until I escaped the spandex manacles. I have a friend who got trapped in one once and had to text her partner to rush to her aid.

So you can imagine my happiness when I heard the news from Adidas. They have expanded their line of sports bras to 43 styles. Their ad campaign is equally exciting.

Image is of a Tweet and photo illustration of multiple pairs of breasts of all kinds, shapes, and skin tones.

Before readymade clothes, what we wore was created to shape our bodies. While there were patterns, you could adjust and alter to ensure a perfect fit. These days we squish and push our bodies to conform to what’s available, as some of us lack the skills or the cash to custom fit our clothing. Again, I ask, why do we have to assume only one kind of body is suitable regardless of the item we search for?

The fact that Adidas has so many lines is laudable, but what I really appreciate is the validation that we are all different in how we are shaped, and that our bodies also represent our life history. I also really appreciate the sheer audacity Adidas has brought to this campaign.

Embracing body diversity is really important, and as the Olympics play out this month, it’s wonderful to see strength and skills on the ice, on the hill and on the trails.

There’s also the issue of padded bras taking over the bra shopping marketplace, which Sam discussed here. One of the things Sam raises is nipple phobia. We all know the ruckus that results if someone catches sight of a free nipple when a child is breastfed, when you attend a meeting in an air-conditioned board room or experience a wardrobe malfunction on global television!

There’s no end of public opinion on bras, breasts, and nipples. While I haven’t had the opportunity to check out the line Adidas offers, I hope, regardless of our size, shape, and wish (padded or sheer, silky or spandexed), we all get what we need and want when it comes to our preferred sports bra. At the very least, I do hope there’s a bra out there that won’t compress my chest into one uniboob of seamless, uplifted perfection.


Tracking activity

I’ve not tracked my activity for two weeks now. I broke my Fitbit strap and there was no easy way to keep the tracker on my person while I waited for a replacement.

My new strap arrived today and after retrieving the Fitbit from the charger, I put it together and promptly put it on. It was like welcoming an old friend. It’s true: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Image shows a fitness tracker against a bright purple blackground. Photo by Nikita Kostrykin on Unsplash

I missed counting steps, checking my heart rate, responding to my stretch reminders, looking at my sleep records. As I work at my desk for a large part of my day, I like ensuring I have a minimum number of steps. Not having my Fitbit available had left me somewhat adrift.

Tracking simple things for me is a habit that works to keep focused. It’s easier than I like with the ebbs and flows of public health restrictions to lose my attention on intentional movement. I have felt the absence of my Fitbit these past two weeks; I’ve been lost without its little vibrating nudges of my pre-set reminders. I can’t prove it, but I know my activity has been less and I know my sleep hasn’t been great.

So I’ve refreshed my data, double checked the charge, and I’m excited about counting my steps again. It’s the small things that make a difference. What are the little things that keep you going on your fitness journey? Tell us in the comments!

MarthaFitA55 lives and works in St. John’s.