body image · femalestrength · training · weight lifting

Tracy’s first day at a body-positive gym

Image description: Block letters on dark background that say: “BODY-POSITIVE FITNESS & PERSONAL TRAINING GYM” (from the BPM website: http://bpmfitness.ca

I’ve just started in on one of the most wonderful privileges of an academic year: sabbatical and admin/study leave. This time around, I have accumulated 8 months of administrative leave (from my four years as Associate Dean Academic) and another 6 months of sabbatical leave that I postponed from four years ago when I took up that admin position. That means I have the next 14 months to focus on my research.

It also means I will rarely be going to campus. I’ll set myself up mostly to work at home. This is a long way around to saying why I decided to join a gym again. I have been doing personal training for my weight training workouts for almost four years now. It’s been great and I’ve definitely gotten stronger. But as much as I enjoy spending time with my trainer, Paul, I feel that on my leave I would prefer to have some community. I already have a bit of that with yoga and running. But yoga is only once a week (maybe I will increase it during my leave) and other than my Sunday mornings, I usually run by myself.

My friend Tara has had a great experience at a small gym that does personal training and group fitness. BPM claims itself as a body-positive gym. Tara started going to classes there in January and she has really committed to regular training since then. So it made sense for me to consider BPM, based on her recommendation and also that I already know (and really like) one of the owners, Chelsea. Added bonus, I can walk there from home in under ten minutes.

Yesterday was my first class, day one of my two week free trial. They have at least six classes a day, starting at 6 a.m. Then 7, 9:30. 12:15, 4:30, 5:30 and some days also 6:30. They are 45 minute workouts where you do a series of timed sets of various exercises. Each set is 35 seconds with a 10 second rest before moving on to the next exercise for 35 seconds, then the next and the next. After three rounds of those, you switch to another group of exercises that you work through the same way — timed sets for three sets.

Finally, we ended on a brutal set where we built from one, then two, then three, up to a sequence of eight different exercises, then pyramided down again until we were back to where we started. We followed that with a cool down.

At personal training I’m used to taking a bit more rest between sets and also lifting heavier. But the endurance and strength required for today’s workout really surprised me. I don’t know why it surprised me as much as it did — maybe because I consider myself to be strong. But the repetitions with little rest in between forced me to push hard to keep up. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up at all and needed to take a time out for a few seconds before resuming.

It was a humbling experience and I felt kind of weak, actually, In personal training I’ve been doing 3×13 pull-ups. Today we did something similar (she called them chin-ups) and I could hardly even do 6, with a band for support. I think it’s because of coming in the second part, after I’d already done three taxing sets that involved push-ups and burpees, among other things (lunges and some shoulder presses). Anyway, it was tough. I worked up a sweat and I am sure that I will be feeling it.

There were only 8-10 people in the class, all women. It’s not the kind of gym I’ve ever attended before. It’s very basic. You turn left at the top of the stairs and boom: you’re in the studio.

Besides being a tough workout, which I like, the body positive message felt good. Honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym class, but my memory is that there is a lot of talk about losing weight and “getting in shape” and looking good. This class wasn’t like that at all. It was focused entirely on doing the exercises at your own pace and strength. I felt encouraged and challengged the entire time.

I’ve already signed up for three more classes this week, as well as one dedicated strength training session for next week. The strength training classes are smaller than the “fitness bootcamp” that I attended. Strength sessions max out at eight people and I couldn’t find one with space in it until next Tuesday.

It feels good to work out with a group again. And it’s nice to be going to a gym where I can sometimes go workout with Tara. I’m attracted to working out with my peeps — I’ve got my running crew, my yoga crew, and may potentially get a little gym crew going. In any case, I appreciate the free two-week trial — that seems a rare thing these days, but it’s a great way to get to know a new gym. And knowing that all the classes I do over the next couple of weeks are free, I feel motivated to do as many as I can. I’m excited and hopeful that this is a going to be a nice element of routine in my leave, helping me add a bit of structure along with the benefits of a fitness community.

Are gyms with an explicit body-positive message showing up in your area these days? Have you tried one?

fitness

Serena speaks up: “It’s never been easy…but I think of the next girl”

Image description: Serena Williams in her controversial black catsuit with red belt, action shot from last year’s French Open, on clay court. (photo credit: Christian Hartmann/Reuters )

Many of us here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue are Serena Williams fans. We have watched her be body policed (see Catherine’s post on athleticism and beauty), clothing policed (see Mina’s post on the catsuit), and just generally treated with disrespect (see Catherine’s post about the infamous 2018 US Open).

In an oddly titled article — “Serena Williams poses unretouched for Harper’s BAZAAR” –Serena Williams offers a candid personal essay about her love of tennis, her success as a champion, and the challenges she has faced in tennis as a woman and an African American woman.

Serena Williams has been known to lose her cool on occasion on the court. She has taken umpires to task, thrown down her racket, been penalized for standing up for herself over a penalty she didn’t think she deserved. She has also dominated the game for 20 years already, more than holding her own in a sport in which she looks different from the majority of other competitors. She is a strong and muscular, for one thing. She is African American for another.

Last September she lost the US Open to Naomi Osaka. The loss came after a series of penalties against Serena Williams, including being docked a game for her outburst over previous penalties. In the Harper’s Bazaar essay, Serena admits that Naomi played the better game and that her own (Serena’s) behaviour detracted from Naomi’s moment as the US Open Champion and first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam. Serena writes that she knew she owed Naomi an apology, and sent said apology with further congratulations.

Naomi Osaka received the apology with grace and reassurance, so much so that it brought Serena Williams to tears. Osaka said: “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two. No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing’.”

Last week I wrote about Venus Williams in relation to role modeling and mentoring of the next generation of athletes. Serena Williams is similarly an idol of many up and coming young tennis players, and an icon in the sport. Her essay in Harper’s shows a degree of self-awareness, social and political awareness, humanity, self-confidence, humility, and concern for the next generation — “the next girl who comes along and looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.”

In so many ways it’s precisely because of the hardship and challenges that Serena has experienced that she has been forced to “represent” and to see herself as a role model for “the next girl who comes along and looks like” her.

Men in tennis don’t have to see themselves in this manner because they are not scrutinized in the manner that Serena has been. She stands out when she stands up for herself because it’s not comfortable for women to do that. It’s not comfortable for African American women to claim their space and their voice the way Serena has. This is not to say none has done it before. But she has a particular position as a long reigning champion that has put her in a role that, though not chosen, she must embrace. As Naomi Osaka pointed out to her, Serena is a trailblazer. Blazing the trail isn’t easy, but it’s welcome, commendable, and heroic.

fitness · racing · running

Showing respect to the back of the pack

I read a story that could have been discouraging if left unaddressed, but turned out to have a happy-ish ending. The story was about the back-of-the-pack runners in the London marathon, who were bullied and fat-shamed by the clean-up crew, among others. But the race organizers investigated and made good. They offered free guaranteed spots to anyone who finished in 7 hours or longer.

The headline of the Runner’s World article about it reads, “Bullied London Marathoners Harassed for Being ‘Fat’ and ‘Slow’ Offered Free Race Entry for 2020.” What’s sad and discouraging about this story is that these runners were actually following an official pacer. So the race officially said it was okay to take 7 1/2 hours. So why was the course even being cleaned up before then?

I had this happen to me when I did the Mississauga Marathon. It took me close to six hours, and the last 10K were pretty much the worst 10K of my life. What I said then I still believe now: there is a certain kind of respect owed to people who stick it out for that long. Of course I am in awe of the speedsters who finish marathons in under 2:30, under 3:00, under 4:00. When you get into the 5 or more hour range, it’s a different kind of endurance that’s required. The mental game goes on for longer. The physical challenge drags on for longer.

I get that this is a choice. That those of us who are slower runners know going in that we will take a long time. But if a race has a window before which they announce in advance the course will be open, then the course should be open for that duration. When I did my marathon (my only marathon, and probably to remain forever my only marathon because it was a miserable experience in myriad ways–if you’re curious, here’s my report), they started packing up the course ahead of me. Since I was among the last few runners, that made it difficult to know sometimes where I was supposed to go. When I got to the finish line, they were out of food. I get that the volunteers had been out for hours. But you know what? So had I.

But at least I wasn’t harangued on top of all that for being slow or fat. That’s absolutely shameful because anyone who makes it to the finish line, or even close, deserves to be congratulated for their efforts. Likely everyone who enters a marathon, regardless of when they expect to finish, has trained for the event, has covered a ton of ground in the months leading up, is nervous, is excited, and is doing something rare and wonderful.

It’s good news that the organizers of the London Marathon recognized that this is not the race experience they promise. That’s why they did a thorough investigation and when the allegations of mistreatment turned out to be true, they sent around an email to those slower runners: “We are sorry that your race day experience was not to the standard we set ourselves. As a result we would be delighted to invite you to be part of the 40th Race Day.”

I hope that at least some of the affected runners take up the offer. For me, an offer of free registration for the next iteration of the event would not have got me to do it again. Regardless, the organizers’ response shows respect for those of us in the bottom few. And it’s a deserved and earned respect.

If you’re a slower endurance runner, has your experience at events like marathons been overall good or overall more challenging as far as race organization goes?

fitness

On inspiring, mentoring and being role models for the next generation of women athletes

I’m sure lots of people have read the story by now of Coco Gauff, the 15 year old who beat Venus Williams in round one of Wimbledon this week. It’s always exciting to see young athletes step into elite levels of competition and succeed. But there was something all the more poignant about this story because apparently, as they approached the umpire to shake hands, Venus did the good sport thing and congratulated Coco. Coco in turn, thanked. Venus, saying “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

I missed the match and I didn’t hear either of them interviewed, but this tweet just warmed my heart. Here is a young athlete who has just won against the very woman who inspired her.

It got me thinking back the Nike soccer video about dreams from a few weeks ago. It had a similar vibe, of the awareness of generations of athletes — of women – and how important it is that they support each other. The “elders” inspire and mentor. The youth aspire and show gratitude and respect. And everyone is a good sport about it.

Feminists and other social justice advocates have argued for the importance of mentors and role models in all areas. When we talk about importance of diverse representation in politics, in work places, in educational institutions, in movies, and yes, in sport, it’s because when we see people who look like us doing things, it makes it possible that we might too. And if we never do, then we often think “that must not be for people like me.” It’s not the whole story of course, but it is an important part of it.

And that’s the part that Coco’s tweet says so simply and straightforwardly. Venus Williams and her sister Serena have been trail blazers for women of colour in a sport that is mostly white. Their presence at the top of professional tennis for over a decade has changed the face of the sport. And it has shown girls of colour that professional tennis can indeed be for them.

Even if they never interacted before that day, Venus served as an inspiring role model for Coco. And Venus, accepting her defeat with grace, showed what it means to be a good sport. And that in itself is a type of mentorship, the kind that says, “This is how it’s done.”

Do you have any good stories of mentoring and inspiring the next generation?

fitness · motivation · training

On overcoming FOMO: How Tracy got over it without even trying

I had an amazing moment a couple of weekends ago when I went to cheer on my nephew, Cameron, do his first triathlon. In the car on the way to Welland very early that morning, I started to wonder if I was going to get there and start wishing I was doing it too. I mean, I had a few summers where triathlon was my “thing,” and despite giving it up because of my road phobia that made me dread outdoor bike training, I did love the events.

Image description: headshot of Tracy in run tank, ball cap, sunglasses, wearing ear buds, smiling, road and trees in background. Happy to be doing exactly what she is doing.

The amazing moment came when I arrived and saw everyone checking in and going for body marking and racking their bikes and setting up their gear in the transition area. No FOMO!

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has made me do many a thing. I did the 100 days of step counting the year after I said I would never do it again because of FOMO. I stuck with triathlon a bit longer than I probably needed to because of FOMO. But as I cheered on Cameron and his friend, Ahmed, I was truly excited for them. And proud of them. And the only thought I had that had anything to with me was: “I’m glad I’m not doing this.” This was despite recognizing that it’s a nice swim and an apparently flat and fast bike course, and an equally flat run.

This week Sam, Cate, Sarah, Susan, and David are all on a bike trip in Newfoundland. It’s a hilly bike trip and they cover lots of ground every day. There is a lot of climbing and some zooming fast down hills. Cate commented that I would hate it. I replied that I knew I would hate it even before they left. Hence the reason it never crossed my mind to go and it never crossed their minds to invite me. I only thought how fun it would be to meet them for meals.

In the past I might have actually signed up because hey, people I like are going riding together for a few days and wouldn’t that (maybe?) be fun. I have enjoyed watching their progress reports as they come in on social media, with lots of photos of colourful mail boxes and houses and beautiful scenery. And lots of complaints about the hills that reinforce my view (and Cate’s) that I would not like this trip.

This evolution out of FOMO is a big deal for me. I have recently heard of JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out. Christina Crook wrote a book about it. I like the idea a lot. It goes well with my commitment (or is it a yearning?) to do less.

I think what it means to me right now is that I’m feeling good about my choices. They make me happy. And I’m accepting that I cannot do ALL THE THINGS. And I would rather miss some of them than try to get excited about things I don’t actually want to do just because other people are doing them.

I am less than six months away from my 55th birthday. I am really done doing stuff I don’t want to do. Yes I realize that it’s not possible always to do only what I want. But when it comes to my leisure and fitness stuff, I am privileged to have choices. When it comes to travel, I am privileged to I have choices. And that means setting stuff aside when it doesn’t draw me in. Others doing it is not a good enough reason.

So there you have it. I have either overcome or outgrown FOMO. It is no longer a big motivator in my life.

How much or little does FOMO motivate you?

body image · fitness · tbt

The damn photo contest again (Sam and Tracy vent) #tbt

Yesterday the voting for the best women’s Precision Nutrition “transformation” started. I know this because during our fitness challenge I did the program (in 2014) and though there was lots to like, I absolutely despised (and wasn’t a part of) the photo contest. Sam isn’t a big fan of that either. Last year we ranted about it. Here’s our rant. I only want to add, “It is 2019–surely we can find better ways to evaluate progress than a photo contest of women in swimsuits.” (Tracy)

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Something more recent blog readers may not know is that before we turned 50, Sam and I each took at turn at the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program. We both came away with mixed feelings. Some of the info was helpful and the focus on “healthy habits” matched a lot of what we already thought. But we both absolutely despise the photo contest. And since we are former clients, we each get an email encouraging us to vote on the best “transformation” every six months (every six months they have a new group commit to a year of coaching). That happened this week. And we started venting to each other all over again. Now we are going to vent about it to whoever wants to read on…

Sam

What I hate most about the Precision Nutrition photo competition is the dishonesty.

In the very early 1980s my very best friend…

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body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?