Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Tracy I
Writer, feminist, vegan, runner, philosopher, yogi, knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018). Current project: a work-in-progress book on imperfect veganism.
I think it’s interesting to consider what motivates people to choose their words of the year and even whether they choose a noun (as most do) or a verb (as Anne did in 2020, and also, if you read her post, in 2018 and 2019, with “believe” and “bloom”).
My word for 2021 is “mindfulness.” Sometimes it happens that words that seem trendy or like platitudes take on new and profound meaning. Such is the case with me and the word “mindfulness” right now. I’ve seized onto it this year because I have found myself doing all sorts of distracted things since the pandemic started. Distracted eating. Distracted doom scrolling. Distracted television watching. Multi-tasking (I hate multi-tasking). It never feels good when I do things that I don’t feel present for — that’s how I think of mindlessness. And mindfulness, or being present to what’s in front of me, is the best way for me to reverse that habit of distraction.
My commitment to mindfulness grew out of the September meditation challenge using Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. Catherine gathered a bunch of us to commit to it as a blog book group. Daily meditation is a great way to be mindful, at least for 10-20 minutes or however long you’re on your meditation cushion. When I’m not doing anything else it’s easy for me to be immersed in the task at hand (even if that task is just to sit quietly).
Since I’ve adopted “mindfulness” as my word of the year (two weeks ago!) I can’t say I have been practicing it consistently. Indeed, this week has flown by in a blur so fast I can’t believe it’s already Friday. When that happens, it usually means I haven’t been paying attention.
We have just begun a new stay-at-home order here in Ontario. I do not want to come up for air at the end of this 28 days (is it a 28-day thing? I don’t even know) and wonder what happened, having spent a month in a distracted state of auto-pilot. So I’m committing to being mindful, paying attention, appreciating the details, tasting my food, showing up for my meditation, my yoga, my workouts, my walks and runs, and focusing on one thing at a time.
For people new to fitness routines or for people looking to kickstart a routine that’s stalled (for whatever reason), starting (or starting over) can be so overwhelming as to be a deal-breaker. My favourite advice, and I have sung its praises many times over and in lots of different ways right here on this blog, is “start small.”
What I like about this advice is that it applies to so many areas of my life, from writing books and articles to cleaning my condo to reading things I have to but don’t really feel like reading. If I start small, making a five-minute instead of one-hour commitment to a thing, then I can do it. And I bet you can too!
But this idea of the small start is not always what we have in mind. We’ve got those internal voices that are more reprimanding than encouraging, telling us that it’s not good enough. My non-expert opinion based on a lifetime of experience is that these voices are actually just part of an internalized shaming mechanism that, when it comes to “exercise,” tells us we “have to” because we are “lazy” and “out of shape” and exercise is hard and awful and we’re not good at it and we don’t do enough and if we start small we’ll never make any progress…It’s like a downward spiral that can land us in a “what’s the point?” headspace, which is a really difficult place from which to feel any sense of motivation.
Might as well grab some more chocolate (nothing wrong with chocolate, of course!) watch another episode of Bridgerton (nothing wrong with Bridgerton…well, maybe that’s not quite true but we all have our guilty pleasures). The thing is, by starting small we can have it all: some activity, chocolate, and Bridgerton!
Let me backtrack for a moment to say this: you don’t have to want to do anything. Physical activity is a choice, not an imperative. I’m only recommending starting small to those who want to start but don’t know how. No judgment here if chocolate and Bridgerton are exactly what you’d rather do. But if you’d rather do that AND have a fitness routine but don’t know how…that’s where starting with something small and manageable comes into the picture. No judgment here about doing 5 minutes, or 10 minutes of whatever you choose to do, at a leisurely pace or with light weights or in mostly resting postures. It’s cultural messaging that tells us that’s not good enough, not anything that has its basis in truth.
If I’ve managed to sell you on the idea that a small start constitutes mighty beginnings, I encourage you to pick a thing and commit to that small start. Here’s a quick summary of past posts on this theme and the related “do less” that form the basis of my quest to stay motivated:
Starting is kind of exciting, if you really think about it. That’s what so energizing (to me) about January. I realize it’s an arbitrary marker, but a new year is a like a fresh blank page with all sorts of potential. One of my “small start” things for 2021 is that I’ve started a commitment to get out for a walk or a run every day, even if it’s just short (like yesterday when I was out for a 15 minute walk, which I think I will do again right now). I still sometimes have to fend off that voice that says it’s not enough, but I’m get better at challenging it because I know deep down that it is enough.
I love hearing other people’s stories of small starts that blossomed into big adventures or solid routines. If you’ve got such a story, please share it in the comments.
Since COVID sidelined so many runners from taking part in organized events where we feed off the energy of running alongside (hundreds and sometimes thousands of) others, race organizers have had time to come up with alternative approaches. A few friends have talked about “virtual races,” where you sign up and do your own route on the appointed day. This year, the Around the Bay 30K organizers are offering a virtual race, recognizing that it’s likely a done deal that we won’t all be vaccinated by the end of March.
The virtual event will have a 5K, 10K, and 15K options as well as the full 30K. Runners who register (or who transfer their registration from last year’s cancelled event) will pick a day between March 25 and April 25 to do their chosen distance, and will be able to submit their result to be recorded on Sportstat. Information about this event and about the Around the Bay Fun Challenge (a new challenge a day for each day in January, like January 1st: “do 5 jumping jacks everytime you say or type ‘happy new year'”) can be found on the ATB website.
Different people have different feelings about virtual events. Today, we will present two perspectives. Nicole likes the idea. Tracy, not so much.
Nicole: Yes, please!
When I first heard about the Virtual Run Around the Bay, I thought “that could be a good way of increasing my mileage throughout the winter”. I also thought “that’s a definite maybe”. I already have a lot planned for the coming months, with my regular HIIT workouts, spinning at home, yoga, walking and weekly run. Plus, non-exercise things, such as a new university course I’m starting in January and the usual things such as work, books on my list to read and downtime. I love my downtime.
I am going to sign up and these are the reasons why:
While I have continued running throughout the pandemic, my last long race was the half marathon I participated in, in October 2019. I did get up to 10k in the summer and part of what helped me stay on track was signing up for the virtual Run for the Cure and setting a personal commitment of 10K, even though the Run for the Cure is 5k. That’s because I already run 5k on a regular basis and if I am going to sign up for a cause, I feel it should be more of a challenge than the every day routines.
I signed up for the Run Around the Bay 10 years ago. I signed up just before I met someone and started a romantic relationship that lasted about 4 months. I let my training slide, partly because it was a very messy, cold, winter, and partly, because I was preoccupied with the new relationship. That new relationship ended really badly and I would have been better off focussing on training for the Race! Needless to say, I didn’t run it that year and that’s the only Race I’ve everysigned up for that I haven’t completed.
I don’t drive anymore and I don’t have a car. Sure, I can ask my husband, who I affectionately call Uber Gavin, to drive me to Hamilton, when the Race is back to real life, but I like that idea that I can run the distance of the Run Around the Bay, without having to go to Hamilton (from Toronto). Might seem silly, but that’s a factor 🙂
I like the flexibility that will be allowed by a virtual Race. It can get really messy in January and February, which can impede longer runs. Also, it’s a bit late already to start training for 30k for March 25th. So, I’m going to pick April 25th and commit to completing the 30k race by April 25th.
Unlike Tracy, I don’t love the crowd aspect of a race. I enjoy the in-between part, when runners are more spread apart. There is definitely incentive, adrenaline and camaraderie that is gained from running with a group. But I don’t enjoy the before or after part when there are large crowds. I’m a bit crowd-adverse. I don’t enjoy the chatter at the beginning from others talking about how well they think they are going to do. I liken it to chatter before an exam. Happy to do without it. I will sign up for an in-person race when I can, because I enjoy the in-between part and the finish, but I will also appreciate the solitary race. I run mostly by myself and I enjoy running by myself for the active meditation it provides me.
Tracy: No thanks
First, let me be clear that this isn’t actually a hard “no.” But the idea of a virtual event just doesn’t move me. What I love most about actual events like Around the Bay is the race day energy. I mean, I guess we can run 30K whenever and wherever we like if we’ve trained for it. But doing it with 9000 other people is so much fun and impossible to replicate. I did the ATB 30K in 2015 and 2019, and the two-person relay in 2018. (Reports here, here, and here).
When you’re struggling up a hill, someone else is struggling up the same hill just ahead of you. You get to fall into pace with similarly paced runners, and it’s a comfort to see them just up ahead, taking turns overtaking each other and then dropping back, or even pacing alongside for periods of time. You develop a bit of camaraderie with those people who were strangers at the beginning of the race.
Also, when you do the event with someone with whom you’ve trained, like Julie (2015) and Anita (2018), you’re in for a nice long chat if you decide to run together for most of the race. And then of course there is the post-event feeling of individual and collective satisfaction, of having all endured the same thing — those knowing looks exchanged as you try to stretch seized up legs or eat that green banana (I often don’t get to the food before the only remaining bananas are green lol).
A virtual race won’t do that. And though I do like to challenge myself to exceed my previous time, I don’t think I’d be able to stay motivated for 30K without the energy of others, even the bystanders offering encouraging words or holding up inspirational signs.
At the same time, I do recognize that race day is just one day, and that it is motivating to have an event to train for. My Around the Bay experiences were themselves really satisfying, and it’s unlikely that I would have trained as consistently with that level of dedication if I hadn’t had the spectre of a 30K event pushing me to do so. Knowing myself, I can’t see a virtual event inspiring the same sort of commitment for me. It might be different for someone who has a training partner or small running group. But through COVID I have taken to running on my own again, so that’s not my situation at present.
While for me a virtual event has little allure, I am looking forward to signing up for an in person something — probably 10K — as soon as we are able to do that again. I love race day. I miss race day. I hold out hope that there will be a race day for me in 2021.
Question for you: does a virtual race appeal to you or not? Let us know in the comments, including your “why.” 🙂
The other day I didn’t have the energy for a run, so I checked in with my out-of-town running buddy, Violetta, and said I might “just” do some yoga or “just” go for a walk. She said she’d been feeling the same that day, but that she wanted to stop putting “just” in front of these choices, as if they are somehow lesser, inferior, or slack options that we need to apologize for. I agree. Indeed, I even thought it as I was texting the “just yoga” message.
I know I’m not the only person who imposes conditions on the types of activity that it’s “okay” to count. I’ve blogged about this before (see “What counts?” and “More than six years later and Tracy has the same questions about what counts”). And it has come up again and again during the “220 in 2020” group. That’s a group where we keep track of our workouts with the goal of doing 220 by December 31, 2020. Next year the goal will be 2021. Today I logged my 408th workout of the year. I have fewer questions about what counts.
2020 is the year where movement has become a part of my daily routine. Almost every day I do something intentional, whether yoga, a zoom weight training session, a run, a walk, a hike. And sometimes the very goal of daily movement is what gets me moving. It used to be the 220 in 2020 but I’ve long since surpassed 220, so the goal had to shift away from a total number and more to “something every day,” away from outcome and towards process or maybe a habit checklist type of approach. Workout? Check!
Just because some of what we do is different in level of exertion or the amount of time we spend on it from some of the other things we doesn’t mean it’s less than. During the pandemic more than ever it’s become important to me (and I know I’m not alone in this) to be intentional about movement because some days, if I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t even reach 1000 steps. I go from my bedroom to the kitchen to my home office to the kitchen again all day. At night I sit down to read or watch something. And then I go to bed. I go out much less than I used to. Because it requires choice, I’m at the point where intentional physical activity that I wouldn’t otherwise choose to do “counts.”
Even as I say that I am aware that there is a level of self-shaming that so many of us engage in when we compare. And it’s not always when I compare myself to others who I regard as more fit, stronger, faster, more active, or more committed to what they do. It’s also when I compare what I did yesterday in my one hour sweaty, kick-butt Superhero workout to what I did today (a 3K run and some gentle yoga). They’re all workouts. They all count. I’m not cheating when I track them.
It’s interesting to me to look back on my angst over the years about what counts because I don’t feel that anymore. I have a solid sense of confidence that I get to decide on my own criteria, and that it doesn’t make sense for me to think that every workout has to be equal to every other workout in its demandingness for it to legitimately count.
And it’s also okay, even necessary, at least sometimes to choose rest. That’s a healthy choice, too (even if it doesn’t count as a workout).
Do you consciously or unconsciously rank certain activities as superior or inferior to others? Do you discount some of your workouts because they’re not “demanding enough?”
[Shout-out to Violetta: Happy birthday, my friend!]
Motivation. That’s probably the number one theme for anyone who struggles with working out. Yes, we deal with injury, weather, and interrupted routines. But how to get and stay motivated? That can be our undoing. Today I want to zero in on one really specific thing that people say they are not motivated to do: get up for an early morning workout.
Since shortly into the pandemic, I have been doing Superhero Workouts with fieldpoppy Cate’s amazing trainer, Alex of ABH Movement (I guess Alex now counts as my trainer too, since I’ve been working with her since May). These are one-hour live Zoom workouts, where Alex leads and a fluctuating number of us (usually somewhere between 8-15 these days) follow. Because we’re live, Alex can give us pointers on our form and we can ask questions or request alternatives. And I definitely work harder than I would if I had to make up my own workout and do it alone. My time of choice: 6 a.m. (MWF) or 6:30 a.m. (Tuesdays). On Saturdays it’s at 9:30 a.m., so that’s not a motivational challenge as far as the time is concerned. Thursdays it’s from 7:30-8:30 a.m., which is too late for me most days because of work. On MWF there is also a 9 a.m. class, and that draws its own regular crowd but I have never been. I like the early workout.
A few people told me flat-out that I would never see them at a 6 a.m. workout because that’s just way too early. I confess that as much as I love the early workouts, sometimes I need to give myself a pep talk to make it out of bed. The absolute best part of working out this early in the day is that by 7 a.m. (or 7:30 on Tuesdays) my workout is done! So how do I get out of bed for an early workout several times a week? Here are some of my strategies:
I get to bed early enough the night before…This sort of goes without saying but it’s key. If I don’t get at least (or close to) seven hours of sleep, I’m not likely to make it out of bed for the early workout. I set my alarm for 5:20 on the 6 a.m. workout days. That means I need to do my best to be sleeping by 10:30 at the latest.
I don’t get up right before the workout; give myself some time…Lots of people who have a 6 a.m. workout would probably get up at 5:50, especially if they don’t need to go anywhere. Even when I used to do swim training at 6 a.m. at the Y, I used to get up at 5:40 and just pull on my suit and my sweats and go. But now I have a different routine that involves hanging out with the kittens, feeding them, and perhaps meditating before the workout if there is 20 minutes of time. That means that by the time the workout starts I’m awake, not groggy. My usual wake-up time for the 6 a.m. workout: 5:20 a.m.
Have a pep talk ready for those days I don’t want to get out of bed…I have those mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed. But I also know myself. I’m the type of person who, once I am out of bed I’m ready to go. But if it’s raining, or snowing, or cold, or dark, or some combination of those things, then bed feels so cozy. The number one thing I tell myself is: “think of how good I’ll feel by 7 a.m. when I’m done my workout!” But I also tell myself: “I’m going to feel glad I got up within a few minutes of getting out of bed–really I will.” My pep talks aren’t of the style in Welcome to the Grind (have you seen that? -It’s a bit too earnest for me but I include a link here since some people find it really motivating and inspiring).
I work out with a group…That’s another thing that gets me going: “It’ll be fun to connect with the team.” Alex has great energy and really gets us going in the early morning, and I am starting to know some of the others (albeit in a very limited way because we’re Zooming) as well. Since I first tried group training I have come to appreciate its motivational magic. I feel the loss when I miss out on a group workout. I miss them. They notice I’m gone. Working out alone is rarely a replacement for a group workout, even though solo workouts always have their place in my training. It’s not just about accountability. It’s also about the energy of others. I love what Alex has created with the Virtual Superhero team and I always feel better not just for having done it, but while I am doing it.
I work out with friends... This is similar to working out with a group, but it’s more direct. On Tuesdays, a friend of mine whom I introduced to Alex’s workouts has started coming to the 6:30 class as well. When we touch base the night before to say we’re both doing the 6:30 class the next day, that’s basically enough to guarantee I’ll get out of bed for that workout. It’s not that much different from planning to meet a friend at the gym at 6:30 — you would not want to stand someone up that early in the morning (if ever!).
I take afternoon naps…I know naps are killers for some people, making it difficult for them to sleep at bedtime. But I learned the virtues of a power nap from my Dad, who used to come home from the office at lunch, eat, and then have a 10-minute nap before heading back to work. I usually go for a bit longer, but rarely longer than 30 minutes (I set a timer). It’s a great refresher that I can fit in now that I’m working at home. The kittens love it too (they always come and nap with me). And if I’m feeling tired from having been awake since 5:20, it’s gives me enough of a boost to feel good until bedtime without interfering with my ability to sleep at night.
I am flexible; sometimes I bail…I don’t always follow through with the early workouts. About once or twice a month, on those mornings when I got to bed too late or if I feel ache-y or if my body or mind needs more rest, I turn off my alarm, cancel my workout, and go back to sleep.
I should add that I’ve always been a morning person. I appreciate the quiet of an early morning. If we had to rate times of day from 1-10, where 10 is the time of day we love the most, I would rate 6-9 a.m. as a 10.
Those are my gentle strategies for getting out of bed for early morning workouts. How do you feel about early workouts? If you’re into them, how do you motivate yourself to get out of bed for them?
Winter running! Just the other day I posted in my 220 in 2020 group that I have officially become a “fairweather runner” because I skipped a Sunday run a couple of weeks ago. Susan chimed in and said, “because it was a hurricane!” Well, maybe not quite a hurricane, but the winds were gusting up to 90 km an hour and it was pouring rain. Not many people would want to venture out in that.
Fast forward a week, and it was a mild 1 degree C and snowing on Sunday morning. This time I actually felt eager to get out there. It was almost perfect, easy to dress right (early winter tights, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a buff to keep my ears protected and my head from getting wet, and a windproof/waterproof running jacket), and it felt somehow inviting. If it’s going to be cold, I’d rather have cold and snow than cold and rain. Plus I’d rather run in light snow than in blazing sun on a hot and humid day (yes, I’m Canadian :)).
Lots of people complain about winter running. I’ve blogged about it before. See my old old post “Gearing up for Winter Running” where, 8 years ago I was trying to figure my gear for my first season of winter running. I also used to feel fearful about it (see “Getting over the fear of winter running”). Sometimes I’ve had to brace myself for it. Sometimes I’ve hit a wall with winter running. It has its pitfalls. Like it can be icy, which is a hazard. Sunday wasn’t at all icy, though some slush had started to accumulate by the time I was well past the halfway point. It was mild enough that the pathway stayed reasonably clear. That’s not always the case. I’ve run through heavy snow before and it is not fun when there is no clear path and you’re wading through snow or taking risks on the road (I do not like doing that but I have done it).
Winter running can also be dark if you run in the early morning or after your work day. Pandemic life means I can get around that this year by going for more lunch time runs. In fact, I have a pact with a friend in another city in which we run “together” at lunch time a couple of times a week. That just means we text each other before we leave and check in about how it went after we’re back. Running buddies can really help with getting out the door in less than ideal weather, even when they’re somewhere else.
This year I didn’t have to brace myself for winter running. That’s because the first real winter run that I did landed on a temperate day with a little bit of snow. I bailed once the week before, where at Tuesday lunchtime it seemed like a blizzard. My pact friend and I decided to go for a walk instead that day, and once we were each out the door we called and had a phone call, walking and chatting with each other instead of running (it’s good to have a back-up plan for when you just can’t even). Compared to that day, my Sunday snowy run felt absolutely lovely. And we’re in the early days of winter right now, so I haven’t hit the wall. That said, I probably won’t force myself out into the kind of weather that would make me hit a winter running wall if I ran in it regularly. And I’ve had winters where, because I was training for a particular event, I couldn’t afford to skip a long Sunday run just because there was a blizzard. This year, I can cozy up with a cup of tea and watch the weather rage if that’s what I’d rather do.
That must be why I look so happy in the pic I’ve used in this post. This year, I get to go out in the winter weather that makes me feel good, not like I’m battling my way forward with each precarious step. And if I don’t feel like it, I’ll do something else instead.
Some people find Facebook’s memories thing to be annoying (and sometimes I do too when it reminds me of things that make me sad). But I like it when it reminds me of things that made me feel good. Like yesterday, when an eight year-old memory came up of my very first running event ever: a 5K with Sam and Tara, with race bibs but no timing chips (I finished in roughly 36 minutes), in support of the Learning Disabilities Association of London Ontario. Here are Sam and I on race day:
It’s hard to believe that was eight years ago–two years before our 50th birthday. I can hardly recall when 5K intimidated me. But on that day I was nervous and excited to be doing an official event for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect, and 5K was probably the furthest distance I ran in my regular training. Since then, I’ve done so many different running events I can’t even count them all, from 10Ks to half marathons and even the Around the Bay 30K a couple of times and one actual marathon (no more of that for me!). Less than two years after that first 5K, I had completed five or six triathlons, including two Olympic distance events, for Sam and my “fittest by 50” challenge.
Now, after a lengthy Achilles injury (now resolved) and the COVID pandemic (ongoing, as you already know), I’m not training for anything in particular. My last official event was the Around the Bay 30K in March 2019, when apparently I felt strong but just days later I experienced debilitating back pain and then when that resolved my Achilles forced me to back off of running for about a year. Truth be told, I’m not even sure I could do 5K in 36 minutes right now (maybe later today I’ll actually see if I can!). But it doesn’t matter.
During the eight years between then and now I also came to love running with people. But I haven’t done that in ages because of the injury and then the pandemic. I know lots of folks who run in packs still, including my old crew, but I’ve taken to running alone again. It lets me not have to be as scheduled (which right now I like) and I listen to audiobooks at least as often if not more than I listen to music.
I’ve considered getting back to training (with speed work even), this time with the 10K distance in mind. I’m not sure when though. I have started to think about whether I have any pre-60 year birthday fitness goals. I’ve got just under four years to reach them. If I start working with a coach again maybe, just maybe, I can realistically aspire to a 60-minute 10K (that’s high ambition for me!). But do I want that? Not sure.
When I look back at that photo of Sam and me I feel as if I am looking at a different version of myself. Tentative and a bit embarrassed about calling myself a runner at all, too insecure about how slow I was to feel I had a right to establish actual goals. But the more kilometres I racked up, the more comfortable I became in my shoes, at my pace, keeping my stride and not needing to prove myself to anyone. That’s what makes me hesitant about training for something instead of just sticking to the rhythm and routine of running for enjoyment that’s evolved over the past 18 months or so. At the same time, I’ve learned too, through our fittest by 50 challenge and just generally by making activity a part of my daily life, that having a goal can motivate me, and training to meet it increases my fitness and makes me feel energized and confident.
Whatever I decide to do with my running, I love that this memory prompted me to think back on eight years of pavement under my feet.
I’d love to hear about your latest fitness milestone. Congrats to you and please tell us about it in the comments.
Years ago, when I was new to triathlon, I used to train with groups for my swimming and running. Once, two days after some of my swim group had done the Around the Bay 30K (way before I ever thought I would do it myself, which I ultimately did), someone talked about how they had gone for a “light run” the next day. And here they were, back in the pool already. It seemed unbelievable to me that anyone would forgo a total rest day after running 30K. The reason they did it was to get the blood flowing to their tired legs. This approach to recovery is known as “active rest” or “active recovery.”
I used to feel guilty about that sort of thing and blogged about it way back in 2014. Recognizing the importance of rest days and my own struggles to feel okay about actual rest (for myself — I am not trying to be judgmental here about full-on rest), I blogged about taking active rest instead of total rest. But at the time, it wasn’t really incorporated into my workout life as rest or recovery, it was just that I didn’t like taking days off.
Six and a half (!!) years later, I still don’t often take a total rest day. But I vary the intensity of my workouts and take a more conscious approach to switching it up. I do this both with respect to the same activity — harder and easier runs, gentler and more strenuous yoga sessions, for example. And I also do this across my various activities–incorporating a mix of running, Superhero workouts, yoga (with and without Adriene), and walking. Especially since COVID but mostly since joining the 220 in 2020 group, it’s become important for me to do some sort of movement almost every day. That fits perfectly with the idea of active rest or active recovery. After a particularly demanding workout with Alex, I might make sure that if running in on my agenda the next day I take it easy on my run. That’s fine. My objective is to get out the door. Or if I don’t want to go anywhere (COVID has brought out the recluse in me some days), then I’ll do some yoga. A little bit of movement goes a long way to lifting my energy.
The most important thing about active recovery is that it is supposed to be a dialing-down. My personal trainer used to consider all yoga rest, but that’s because he’d never done a power yoga class. Even a demanding flow class wouldn’t really count as an active recovery workout because it’s too much exertion. So if you are going to be honest about incorporating active rest into your program, the experts recommend against using it to sneak in another intense workout under the guise of “active rest.”
This article, “11 of the best activities to do on active recovery days,” explains: “an active recovery day features easy workouts equivalent to no more than 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort (low to moderate intensity). For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you can use an active recovery day as an opportunity to walk a few easy miles or take a gentle yoga class to work on flexibility.”
I’m also a big fan of listening to my body, and have become a lot more intuitive about my workouts over the years. Though I have a general routine (running 3x a week, Superhero workout 3x a week, yoga several times a week), I know when to back off completely and perhaps do restorative or bedtime yoga and have a nap instead of anything else.
The upshot here is that all high intensity all the time is not a good strategy for anyone. It will result in burnout. But a little bit of movement even on the rest days is fine, and may be exactly what you need. This is not to say that total rest is something to avoid. It’s all a matter of striking the right balance.
Six and a half years ago I asked, “How do you do rest and active recovery?” At the time, I wanted to hear from people who did it “better than I” did. Today I am comfortable with how I do it and I’m always interested in hearing others’ experiences. Have a great weekend!
When Sam and I started the blog back in 2012, we were committed to offering feminist thoughts on fitness and to trying to incorporate our feminism into our fitness lifestyles as we approached our 50th birthdays. Now, as we approach our 56th birthdays in the next couple of months, we continue to reflect on the ways the fitness industry could be friendlier, more inclusive, and more approachable. We are both super pleased that we have managed to carve out and support a community of others who are seeking an alternative to the usual messaging.
I’ve been doing the virtual Superhero workouts with Alex (for more info, check out ABH Movement) a few times a week, and on Friday evening she had a team happy hour on Zoom. She sent around four questions for us to ponder before we met, with the plan to discuss them. We didn’t make it to all of them (because by the time we did a full round where we each talked about when we first started doing fitness classes, happy hour had already spilled into 90 fascinating minutes). But Kim and I thought the final question would make a great group blog post: What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today?
So I did the thing we do: I asked the Superhero team and the blog regulars for their answer to this question. And here’s what people had to say.
Nicole: I would take away the nutrition advice that some gyms provide. I don’t think there is a good way to do it in that environment. Also, it should be illegal for the instructor to say “did you indulge a little last night? Hungover? It’s OK, that’s why you are here!” No, I’m not here for that at all. Ever.
Tracy I (me): If I could wave a magic wand I would banish “weight loss” as a fitness goal from the entire industry. I would replace it with learning to believe in yourself and to love (or at least neutrally accept and value) and trust your body and appreciate it for what it can do, whatever that may be. Also: to encourage other women along the way to do the same. No comparing (I wrote about comparing back in the day)! ❤️
Cate: So many things– I’m 100% with both Tracy and Nicole on this — but I’d add I’d strip out any admonishment or encouragement to focus on anything except form. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing coaches — like Alex — plus yoga teachers and spin instructors who really understand how to support people to work for the next dimension while also emphasizing form, safety, alignment and the specific strength, needs and possibilities of your own body. But occasionally I wander into a class — like at the Y, or with a spin substitute — whose whole coaching is “harder!”. I went to a “boot camp” class at the Y a few years ago where the (20 something) instructor mocked me for doing my lunges slowly and carefully. This is obviously damaging for individual bodies and psyches, but also, I think, one of the biggest things that turns newbies away from fitness.
Sam: Oh there’s so much I would change if I ran the zoo. (Sorry, I can never resist that line from Dr. Suess.) But the most important thing for me would be a much greater emphasis on inclusion and diversity. I want room in my fitness world for people of all races, and genders and ages and physical abilities. Along with inclusion and diversity, I want to end the assumptions about who does what. I want more women in the weight room and more men in the yoga studio.
Coach Alex: As a coach, I desperately want everyone to know that if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t need to do it to “get in shape”. There’s this notion that certain movements/ways of exercising are most effective or necessary for the progress you want to make, and that’s simply untrue.
So many people struggle with developing a consistent and healthy relationship with fitness because it’s either a chore they feel they “have” to do OR they are fearful of starting in the first place (fitness is scary and intimidating). The reality is the fitness industry promotes fad diets, exercise trends, and equipment that ultimately will keep you hopping on and off the bandwagon- but if you find movement you LOVE (whether it’s weightlifting, Zumba, a sport, cycling, etc…) then THAT’S what’s going to keep you coming back. If you do burpees because you think you have to (but you hate them), you’re going to dislike that workout and dread coming back. I wish more people knew that just the act of MOVING is enough to keep you healthy and make fitness gains, and once you find a form of movement that sparks joy for you, that’s where the fun really starts 😜❤️
Chippy (Virtual Superhero teammate): What id like to change is that women are allowed to have muscles and that doesn’t make you unattractive. Those muscles take a tremendous amount of work and are beautiful. Strong is beautiful and there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with that for women 😊
And we’d love to hear from you. If you could change one thing about today’s fitness industry, what would it be?
I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.
Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.
By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!
But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.
Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.
The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.
This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.
When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).
As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.
So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]
So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).