Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
I'm a self described fat feminist 43 year old mother of two teenage minions who loves her high energy life partner of over 23 years. I love moving my body and sometimes do yoga, triathlons and dance like a fool. My next measure of success will be being more fierce and less fearful as I roll through my 40s.
I tried to think of the first exercise I ever learned. I can’t put my finger on it but I bet it was skipping, running, push ups, summersaults or sit ups.
For me body weight exercises are the basics, the foundation of where I build my fitness. From walking to cycling to yoga, moving my body starts first with getting the moves right.
The past month I’ve had a lot of hip and lower back pain. It was so bad I had to stop my activities, including walking to work, and rest my body.
Now that the acute pain has passed I’m going back to basics with a beginner body weight workout. I like this one by Nerd fitness. It’s customizable and I can draw on my previous knowledge to pick the variations on each exercise that work.
For example toe push-ups are not accessible to me right now and knee push-ups are painful from varicose veins across my knees so I started with wall push-ups. You get parallel to a wall with your arms extended, step back on your tippy-toes and do your push-ups. It allows me to dial in my form and check in with my body. After 3 circuits I can feel the burn in my chest & triceps.
My partner and I joked our little 20 minute routine was just a warm up until the aches set in two days later. It might be the squats, the lunges or the giant bag of rice we used as a weight but whatever it was we were both humbled by how much the routine asked of our bodies.
I want to slowly ramp back up to weights. I also know if I do a body weight routine for a few months my core, flexibility and form will support my future fitness goals and reduce my chances of injury.
This rice seemed, at just under 8kg, a good rowing weight.
What exercises do you go back to time & again? What is the first exercises you remember learning?
Thursday night was the last game of the season for my Co-Ed soccer team. We, for the fourth year in a row, won B division.
There are few original players from 4 years ago. We range in age from 20 to 50 something. I often joke I’m the second oldest player and nearly double the age of half the team.
The skill range is wide, from those who played internationally and in university or college to beginners and dabblers. I love it.
I learn a bit more about the sport each year. Apparently there are rules?
My biggest achievement is not injuring myself the past couple seasons. It means I’m not the most aggressive player on the team and occasionally find myself flinching from the ball. But hey, we aren’t out there to make money, it’s supposed to be for fun & fitness.
I love the energy of the younger players and appreciate seeing colleagues in a different mode of being. It’s given me a few more friendly faces at work and offered me new friends.
Soccer is the only team sport I do these days and I’m going to miss these lugnuts. Until next year Zidane!
I haven’t had to get new cycling shorts for 3 years thanks to massively gearing up that year. As I wore through shorts I realized my favourite bib shorts were a New Zealand brand not available in Canada. It totally bummed me out as I struggle to find women’s XXL shorts. Many companies simply don’t make them. Others have very limited offerings. In addition I prefer to get goods shipped within Canada.
After 3 months of researching I was thrilled to find that Garneau offered XXL women’s shorts across all lines. Wahoooooooooo!
I ended up ordering a pair of Neo Power Art Motion 7 and Optimum 7 women’s cycling shorts. With taxes and shipping that ran just over $200 CDN.
I fricking love my new shorts. I picked the floral print design for the first pair and basic black for the second. Thank n my inaugural ride with the black pair I had a hideous period. I was stopping to change my tampon every 45 minutes and still bled through. I mean soaked to my knees. MY BEAUTIFUL NEW SHORTS!! Fortunately a quick hand wash of the shorts, my bike and me and all was right as rain.
I had decided for ease of roadside toilet breaks I would eschew bibs and just go with shorts. It was the right choice for me. I had worried that they would ride down. Nope!
I’m super pumped about comfortable gear that fits me and looks great.
I got plenty of compliments on the fun print. I just love my shorts!
They held up great for longer rides and I’m very happy with the chamois and cut. I often struggle to find shorts that don’t cut in at the hem or push against my varicose veins. No problem with these!
Honestly, I forget I have a high maintenance body. It’s only when I meet new people and see their genuine shock at what I do to keep my body feeling good that I realize I’m high maintenance.
I strive to walk every day. My walking commute helps me manage my stress and incorporate movement in my life in a manageable way. My partner is also a fan of a post-evening meal stroll. I also walk on my Wednesday lunches with two dear friends who happen to be colleagues. We laugh, catch up and enjoy the beautiful park near our work.
I play rec league soccer once a week with other colleagues. I play defense and am the second oldest player on the team. (Right Sue?)
Lately I’ve been back on my bike on the weekends in preparation for our local MS Bike Tour. I love cycling. It’s the one activity I do that gives me a big endorphin boost. These days 40 km is enough to get that lovely feeling.
Twice a week I’m doing weights at lunch with another colleague at the little gym onsite. We joke about how pumped we are getting. I’m trying to manage some tennis elbow & shoulder pain that has been nagging me.
Sometimes, not as much lately, I go to yoga on Sundays. In the nice weather I’m much more likely to be out in my garden digging, dividing and weeding. Turns out it’s a lot of squats and wheelbarrow dead lifts!
With all this movement surely I look like a shredded, buff, lean woman? Oh heck no. All this movement is just enough to support my mobility and mental health. I’m so high maintenance!
I’m very thankful I can do all these things that involve movement and often great company. I feel confident in what my body can do and don’t really feel any compulsion to abide by anyone else’s ideas of what I should or should not be doing.
I joke with friends that in my mid-forties I get to choose: pain from lack of movement or pain from working out. The working out pain has a different texture and flavour. I feel kind of badass as I limp around the day after soccer.
I’m fairly sure I can only achieve this level of activity thanks to regular massage, chiropractic, a night guard, good footwear, blood pressure medication and a CPAP machine.
Have you ever been surprised by others reactions to your activity level? I’d love to hear about it.
I have been thinking a lot about my contributions to this blog over the years. Sometimes I make a point of spelling out why a topic or post is feminist but often I leave it unsaid, my assumption is that readers who follow or find this blog are already interested or knowledgeable about feminism and can make their own inferences. That could be a mistake so I wanted to put it out there why I often just write about my fitness journey and how that can be feminist.
Who does my fitness serve?
Reflecting back on posts often merely writing about fitness and finding joy in it is radically different than many media messages we receive.
I get worried that sexism’s under a lot of fitness writing that tells women to work out to be fit for others or to look a certain way. I understand fitness as feminist when it’s offered and engaged with for our own purposes. To feel strong, to care for ourselves and to enjoy what our bodies can do.
Where is the money?
A lot of times fitness writing is either to propose a problem a product can solve or sell an aesthetic that is only achievable through buying services or products. Yes. I am a wee bit of a pinko commie so I find fitness writing that is truly to give me information rather than sell me a product more likely to be feminist.
What is the goal or outcome?
When I do my best feminist fitness writing the desired goal or outcome is doing the activity for its own sake and the immediate rewards of feeling better in the moment and doing activities with friends.
Who looks “fit”?
Many of my posts, and other contributors, question common ideas of what “fit” bodies look like. We are often sent ideas and images that a certain body build or proportion are the only “fit” bodies and that all other bodies must be patrolled.
As a fat woman simply sharing my work outs help debunk myths around fatness, laziness and health.
Careful, you might become a radical too!
I joke all the time that I’m a “bad influence” on new friends as I sell feminist approaches to fitness and gleefully wear Lycra in public. (GASP, Does she know at her age/weight/whatever she shouldn’t be wearing that!)
It turns out though that confronting the realities of sexism in our society can be gut wrenchingly terrible. The good news is by raising awareness of the impacts of sexism we can debunk myths, support each other and be fit enough to rip the patriarchy apart one action or blog post at a time.
I used to love lifting free weights in college and over the many years since dabbled from time to time with various strength training regimes.
The past two weeks my colleague Michelle and I have been warming up with cardio then doing a circuit of the weight machines at our workplace gym.
It’s humbling to not recognize the exercise the machine is intended to be used for and Michelle has been graciously guiding me through the equipment.
We laugh and fastidiously clean each bench before moving on. I remember using most of the stack of weights many years ago so sliding the pin into that second plate feels, well, humbling. I know I need to get used to aligning my body for each set, that I need to find the seat height and configurations that get the most out of each set.
I’m a plodding person who moves slowly and under control as I try to maximize the range of motion for each move. It’s not interesting or cinematic.
Michelle and I chat briefly between sets without wasting time.
It’s nice to connect outside of our work and support our wellbeing.
My upper body has been giving me grief now that I’m treating my sleep apnea. My chiropractor wisely noted I’m likely not moving as much in my sleep.
My lower body gets lots of exercise with my walking commute, the upcoming soccer season and riding my bike. Yoga has been great for stretching and keeping me flexible but I’ve realized I need some engagement of my upper body to feel well.
So here is to humble beginnings and not letting my ego get in the way of a good workout.
Fitness friends I do love talking about health, wellness and fitness as they intersect in my life.
Last fall I had gone to my family doctor about my snoring. I was referred to a sleep clinic. Both at no cost to me as I am a resident in Ontario, Canada. Go public health care!
I didn’t have a great time at the sleep clinic. The setting, the wires digging into my scalp and the pressure of the sensors on my throat triggered a series of panic attacks and migraines. Ya. It sucked.
The downside of public health care is it took 4 months to get my results. Despite only sleeping for just over 2 hours there was enough data to diagnose me with sleep apnea.
I had hoped it would be more of a manage my allergies type of solution to help reduce swelling in my airway.
The doctor recommended Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). I had a vague sense of what the machines were and was not prepared to take that on.
I asked about options. There’s a dental appliance that is more expensive and less effective. Surgery works in some cases 50% of the time. After a quick look at my nose and throat the specialist didn’t recommend surgery. Apparently the floppy throat bits they usually remove aren’t the ones causing my type of snoring. DAMNIT
The doctor outlined the dangers of sleep apnea both to help me understand why some intervention was required and to motivate me not to wait.
Friends, I have pretty serious sleep apnea, the kind that causes heart attacks in your fifties, and I was super upset. I was supposed to go into work after my appointment but ended up taking the day off and getting my CPAP.
The adjustment phase has been challenging. I’ve experienced every possible side effect from sinus infections, rashes on my face, condensation in the tube, swollen face, actually getting significantly less sleep. GAH!
Plus, the mask, is, well….not an invitation for spontaneous intimacy.
I’m motivated to getting used to this therapy for my health. My partner is committed to learning more and helping me advocate for my health. He got me a Red Velvet Cake in celebration of taking a positive step for my health. Through the awesomeness of social media I have tapped into a deep well of peer support of friends who I never knew used CPAP.
I’m thinking back to how much mornings have truly sucked over the past decade and kicking myself for not seeking help sooner.
The sleep clinic doctor mentioned that the degree of sleep apnea I have is highly correlated to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. He explained that oxygen deprivation suppresses metabolic rates as well as reducing the energy you have to do the activities you love.
So I’m committed to my health and I’m very fortunate that 75% of the cost of my machine is covered by my public health care. The remainder will be covered by my private insurance.
I had a twinge of ableist reaction to learning that sleep apnea is clustered under disability funding. I don’t feel disabled by my sleep apnea. I’m annoyed. I’m tired. I’m fortunate my daily activities weren’t drastically impacted.
The CPAP machine is a necessary assistive device in my life, like my night guard, my reading glasses, insoles and my blood pressure medication.
I’m hopeful that once I adjust to this change I’ll feel more rested and able to do more of the things I enjoy in life.
Currently I’m saving up to buy a portable power source so I can continue to enjoy off grid camping in the near future.