Crossfit · running · weight lifting · yoga

Tracy is taking suggestions…bring ’em on

mage description: Tracy's shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.
Image description: Tracy’s shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.

I’m bored with my workout routine. It’s not that I don’t like the things I’m doing. I’m getting stronger in personal training. I love yoga and feel as if I don’t do enough of it these days. And I’m itching to get back to running after my back injury took me out of it for more than a month and I’ve only just dipped my toe back into it since then.

But I feel as if a change is in the air. As much as I’m enjoying personal training, there have been quite a few developments in resistance-training these days, with more small gyms popping up offering different kinds of weight training in more of a group-class setting. One example, that I’ve not yet tried but has been recommended to me is Revkor. We have a studio here in London, and the idea of resistance band training intrigues me.

Another option, which I also have never tried, is something along the lines of CrossFit. My friend Tara has been going to a gym downtown where they do that sort of group workout and she is loving it.

I’m kind of old school and worry that if I’m not hitting heavy free weights in a gym setting I won’t actually get stronger. But at the same time, with my 14-month leave coming up, I feel as if I might need some more opportunities to be around people, and that these group workouts at specialty gyms might be just the thing. And though not cheap, they’re cheaper than personal training.

I’m also planning to spend the summer doing 10K training, 3-4 times a week. And I want to up my yoga classes from once a week to 2-3 times a week. At least that’s what I’ve got in mind.

But I’m open to suggestions. Have you tried anything lately that’s different and that you’re so jazzed about that you want to encourage others to give it a go? If so, please tell me about it and why you’re attracted to it.

aging · Crossfit · fitness

Love these new CrossFit videos

Moves such as burpees and squats are often seen as intense or extreme fitness activities. And that they can be. Ask Tracy or me about our summer of the 100 burpee challenge. But they are, when you get down to it really about functional fitness. Squat not so that you can get a great butt or win a powerlifting competition, squat so that you can get out of chair without help as you age. Burpees are all about getting down on the ground and getting back up again. People tend not to believe but scalability is at the heart of CrossFit workouts. Yes, there’s a recommended range of movement or recommended reps or amount of weight but the basic exercises can be adjusted for all ages and abilities. You have to leave your ego on the shelf but that’s a different sort of struggle.

I had the same thought watching CrossFit athlete and sports nutritionist Jennifer Broxterman doing her post-surgery rehab exercises in her CrossFit box. She was doing sit to stands with the aid of a cane. Functional fitness, it’s what it’s all about. (I’ve been doing sit to stands too as part of my knee physio.)

You can read about Jennifer’s Fight Gone Right.

And in the meantime, these CrossFit videos have been making me smile.



The burpee is a mainstay movement in CrossFit used to develop fitness. In certain populations, the burpee (prone to stand) is a critical skill required to safely lower one’s body to the ground and stand back up. ” 

“The squat (sit to stand) is essential to your well-being. The squat can both greatly improve your athleticism and keep your hips, back, and knees sound and functioning in your senior years.” 
Crossfit · cycling · fitness · fitness classes · Rowing

Sam Tries Orange Theory Fitness

It’s January. It’s cold and grey and I’ve been feeling in a bit of a fitness rut. Besides the campus gym I haven’t really stepped out into the fitness world in Guelph. But my options are limited here. There’s less going on than in Toronto where I spent sabbatical and even less going on than in London.

Sarah and I tried out Zwift at the Bike Shed on Saturday and on my own I went and tried out Orange Theory.

I’ve always been a bit of an attention deficit disorder exerciser. I like to have lots of options. And lately it’s been feeling like it’s just a matter of giving things up: running, soccer, Aikido and CrossFit.

Snipe racing is new but it’s winter.

Enter Orange Theory. I first noticed them in London and there’s one in Guelph. I knew the format. Like CrossFit it’s a group workout, a mix of cardio and strength training. I have friends who go and think it’s fun.

I stopped in on Friday for a demo class. I was equipped with a heart rate monitor and my name and heart rate appeared on a screen in the gym. The instructor asked about my fitness background and got points for not even once mentioning weight loss.

As for the class itself, there was a nice gender mix, mostly women but some men. I used the rowing machine and the spin bike instead of running on the treadmill for the cardio bit. I alternated 400 m segments of rowing with 1 mile efforts on the bike as prescribed by the workout of the day. The classes are 1 hour long and that felt just right.

The strength training was mostly chest and triceps using the bench, dumbbells, and the TRX. Each person got their own station. Unlike CrossFit there was no competition and no team efforts. There was no measuring or comparing. I have mixed feelings about that but right now, that works for me.

The instructor also got points for showing me where the heavier dumbbells live!

What did I like? As with personal training it feels good just to show up and have some one else plan the workout. I liked that about CrossFit too. I like the cardio and strength training mix, again like CrossFit. The group vibe works for me. I like that it’s month by month so I could sign up for the worst of winter, say January through March, and then say goodbye and head outside again. It also works with my limitations right now.

I could do without the calorie counts. Yawn.

Have you ever tried Orange Theory Fitness? Love it? Hate it? Tell us your story!

Here’s the results of my workout emailed to me after the class. Lots of time in the green cardio zone but also I was just learning my way around.

Crossfit · fitness · fitness classes

Learning from CrossFit (Guest Post)

By Cassandra

CrossFit has always seemed like one of those ‘too intense for me’ things, even though I have been secretly envious of the limits to which the athletes can push themselves. Having got that out in the open, I’m in fact finally exploring CrossFit as a fitness option and finding it to be the psychological and physical challenge that I need in my life.

I am by no means a CrossFit athlete but I have been doing CrossFit workouts and challenges, such as pullups and powerlifting, for the past year. I take it at my own pace and I push myself when I feel like it. I don’t want this post to be specifically about CrossFit, rather I want to share the reimagining of fitness that it has allowed me.

Now 36 years old, I started going to the gym over a decade ago in an attempt to address body image and self-esteem issues. I got hooked and have been working out, weightlifting, and cross training, ever since. I have learned a lot from reading about different training techniques, mostly from fitness magazines, so-called ‘experts’, and blogs, but mostly I have based my workout routines on what my body is telling me any given day or week. Having followed different routines and 30-day workout programs, I feel like I’ve seen a lot.

Here is where CrossFit comes in. I first was exposed to CrossFit with a fellow gym-mom at a Goodlife gym in Orleans, Ontario last year. She had been doing CrossFit, in a serious way for over 5 years and persuaded me to try out a CrossFit gym for a free trial. I don’t like saying ‘no’ to a challenge so I went. The place was a warehouse that was outfitted with equipment and I did one regularly scheduled class with a crew of 10 other regulars. It kicked my butt, but I walked away with less of my tail between my legs than I expected.The take away was an enormous adrenaline high. This is nothing new to someone who knows the endorphin rush of a good pump or a muscle burning run. However, the difference here was the equalizing power of CrossFit in busting gender stereotypes of strength and endurance. The most impressive person in the class was a woman, easily ten years younger then me, and someone who was obviously able to crush the Workout Of the Day (aka WOD).

Here is what the workout looked like: 25 thrusters (80% maximum weight on a barbell, bring bar to your chin and push up, repeat), 100 pullups (with an assistance resistance band, but still horribly difficult), 50 wall balls (throw a 10-15lbs medicine ball to a point 10 metres up the wall, repeat), 200 double unders (skipping rope, spin the rope over your head twice in one jump- I could only do 15!). We had 20 minutes to finish and she finished in 14 minutes. Unbelievable.

The take away was an enormous adrenaline high. This is nothing new to someone who knows the endorphin rush of a good pump or a muscle burning run. However, the difference here was the equalizing power of CrossFit in busting gender stereotypes of strength and endurance. The most impressive person in the class was a woman, easily ten years younger then me, and someone who was obviously able to crush the Workout Of the Day (aka WOD).

Here is what the workout looked like: 25 thrusters (80% maximum weight on a barbell, bring bar to your chin and push up, repeat), 100 pullups (with an assistance resistance band, but still horribly difficult), 50 wall balls (throw a 10-15lbs medicine ball to a point 10 metres up the wall, repeat), 200 double unders (skipping rope, spin the rope over your head twice in one jump- I could only do 15!). We had 20 minutes to finish and she finished in 14 minutes. Unbelievable.

Returning to my workout routine at the gym after that exposure was strange. All the equipment that once gave me a sense of accomplishment felt boring, limited, and static. After that initial CrossFit workout I craved the full-body challenge and power I felt. I never signed up for the CrossFit membership, which is $100/month, hardly an affordable option for a working mom who doesn’t work out everyday. No, I took the lessons from CrossFit and started doing my research. I found workouts online and started making my own goals: learn how to do a CrossFit pull-up (aka kipping pull-up, look it up online), learn power cleans (also, look it up), and ultimately, do a single muscle-up (a pull-up where you bring your torse over the bar).

As I worked on slowly building my skill and strength to beat these new physical challenges, I found myself completely forgetting about my thoughts about body image. I was grunting and yanking my body around at the gym without a care for how silly I looked, how grossly contorted my face would get, or how loud I might sound. Not only had I discovered a workout style that pulled me further away from the image obsessed gym routine, but I felt more proud of my accomplishments then I ever had. I started thinking of my journey as an over-all athlete- getting stronger in a way that barbells and seated leg press machines had never given me.

Now, I should mention one of the major downsides to CrossFit style fitness- injury. My body is not a stranger to pain incurred during athletic activity but now that I’m a working mom, I can’t afford to lose my general physical abilities. I have been very cautious with how far I push myself to meet my CrossFit challenges and that is why when people ask if I do CrossFit I say, ‘I do CrossFit-lite,’ which suits me just fine. When I talk to other women about CrossFit I try to explain the way it has help me burst through the typical gym workout and the lessons it has taught me on functional fitness vs. image fitness. I don’t often use the much over-used term ‘empowerment,’ but CrossFit is part of my own journey towards greater physical and psychological resilience and strength.

Like so many other fitness blog posts, I would say I have learned a lot from CrossFit, but I can also say I have left a fair amount behind, only taking what seems to make sense to me, my body, and my lifestyle. I’m also not a particularly competitive person, so I don’t get much out of the official CrossFit workouts and culture, which are all about competing for ‘best times’. My CrossFit-lite is all about personal records and kicking my self-esteem issues to the curb, in the most sweaty, red-face, and grunt-y kind of a way!

Cassandra has been a feminist since she could remember – something about being raised by a political, feminist, engineer, single-mom. She studied environmental studies and wrote her Master’s on transnational muslim feminist organizing, and works in community engagement for non-profits. Though her dream was to become a chef and she worked many long-hours in fancy kitchens she prefers community building- oh, and maybe the macho kitchen culture didn’t help. Currently, she lives in Orleans, Ontario with her husband and two ridiculously busy toddlers.

body image · Crossfit · fitness · running

The case against pants

Nat visited me with bake goods recently after I had surgery. (I’m good, I’m recovering, everything is fine, it wasn’t for my knee, and I’ll be back out there on my bike soon.)

It was 8 degrees Celsius and rainy. In June! Brrrrr. This is a sign we’re really good friends, she said. Not the baked goods necessarily. (Nat is a wonderful baker who readily shares her talents with the world. Blueberry lavender scones, mmmm.) Rather her clothing.

“I put on pants to bring these over,” she announced.

That’s serious friendship.

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Nat and I share a lot of attitudes about the world. But the one attitude of hers that amuses me the most is her hatred
of pants. I share it. But she ramps up the vitriol times 10. I hate pants but Nat really hates pants.

Not everyone gets it. So I thought I’d explain why I, at least, hate pants.

Actually, some people must get it given all the pants hating memes these days. These images all come from the nopantsbrigade tumblr. But I’ll explain away anyway. It’s what professors do best.

First, they’re uncomfortable. They fit at exactly the one part of my body that changes size with meals etc. They are either too tight or too loose. Because I’m a cyclist they either fit my waist or my legs. And if they’re even vaguely skinny jeans like, they’re tight on my calves. I’ve written about this here and so has Caitlin at Fit and Feminist.

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Second, I gain or lose three pounds and I need to change sizes of pants. I’ve got dresses I’ve worn through weight gain and loss of twenty pounds, no problem, but pants? They can be too small in the morning and too big at night. I own pants in at least three different sizes. That’s pretty much required.

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Third, they’re never the right length. Women’s pants, unlike men’s, generally don’t come in lengths. If you’re short legged like me that means you pay $10 extra per pair of pants to hem then, wear heels, or smile sweetly at your mother and ask if there’s any computer help she needs.

Elizabeth at Hello Giggles on has even more reasons, a full ten reasons she hates pants.

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What’s the alternative?

Well, it depends on how strong your no pants hatred runs and how famous you are and how good your butt looks in just undies and whether you care about that. If you’re Lady Gaga maybe you just wear the whole outfit you would have worn minus the pants..

Me, I have to wear more than undies. This is Canada and we’re frugal and environmentally minded and our house is often cold in the winter. Also, teenagers and their friends, lots of them.

I don’t mind yoga pants, leggings, sweat pants, pajama bottoms. I own a pink rabbit onesie, thanks teenagers, and a Darth Vader onesie, thanks Rob.

I do mind jeans and dress pants. I mind pants the most when they involve a fly and zipper and a belt and fussy pant appropriate underwear.

If I have to wear pants I’m a big fan of yoga jeans and I recently broke down and bought a pair of yoga dress pants.

I also love dresses and skirts. This year I was happy to discover fleece lined tights which pretty much carried me through winter except for the boots issue which is ongoing.

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athletes · body image · Crossfit · running

Fear of frail? In which Sam pledges not to body shame skinny runners…

Unlike Tracy I’ve never been drawn to the bodies of marathon runners. Not as aspirational bodies for myself nor am I attracted to them in the ways one appreciates the bodies of other people.

In her post, Is It True that Endurance Training Won’t Make You Thin and Lean Anymore Than Playing Basketball Will Make You Tall and Lanky? Tracy writes,

We’ve all seen those endurance athletes–the marathoners and triathletes. Thin and wiry, as lean as they come, with hardly any fat on their lithe bodies. And even those of us who don’t think we’ll ever look like that (or don’t aspire to be have that sinewy thin physique) have long thought that with enough training, we too might “lean out” to some degree.

Now I know that we don’t all get lean even when we do lots of endurance exercise. There are many plus sized endurance athletes who put in a lot of hours training and who remain well above average in size. See my posts on plus sized endurance athletes and on why plus sized athletes don’t all lose weight.

But returning to the stereotype of the endurance athlete, I have to say that “lean” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think of the stereotypical marathoner’s body. They don’t look lean to me. They look positively frail. Like spindly elves. I worry that they might fall and break and something. They look like they couldn’t lift very much.

In my post on CrossFit and women, I talked about how much I like the look of muscles. I wrote, “I love muscles, on me and on other women. Frail people have always made me a bit nervous. And for a long time, I associated skinny with frail. And yes, I know there are people who are naturally very thin, just like there are people who are naturally very large. And I know we can be beautiful and healthy at every size, but here I’m just stating a purely aesthetic preference. Make of it what you will.

So when I see the quote below from strength training coach Mark Rippetoe, I’m not offended. It makes me smile. Sorry if that puts me in the Bad Feminist corner but there it is. I’ll see you when my detention is over.

Rip: “You would look better if you gained about 10 lbs of muscle” Woman responds with look of utter horror.

Rip: “Trust me, I’ve been looking at women a long time, and I’m really good at it.”

– Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe, http://startingstrength.wikia.com”

I know this is just my own bias sneaking through. I know that all bodies, thin and fat, are good bodies. I know bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes. I’m good with that. Really I am.

And being attractive to me needn’t be anyone’s goal. That’s what I think when some dude in a truck pulls up besides my bike  and makes a comment about my weight. Sorry to disappoint but I’m not out here for your viewing pleasure. I also think “Hey, I’m out here exercising. That’s a good thing, right? Would you rather I were home watching television? ” You can’t please some people.

But back to me and thin people: I’ve never yelled “go eat a sandwich” at anyone. Not even in my head.

I’ve wondered at times where my anti-frail bias comes from. It’s true I admire tough and tumble sports like martial arts and rugby. And the athletes who compete in these sports are rarely thin people. I remember being struck at my first few triathlon events at how much more I liked the look of triathletes than the look of pure runners. The triathletes are more muscular and more resilient looking. It’s something about all that swimming (shoulders! ) and biking (quads and calves).

Is it an age related bias? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like people who look robust. Men have the word “brawny” but there isn’t really a good descriptive word for larger, strong, athletic women. Think of the Williams sisters or of women rowers. It’s their power I admire.

I’ve thought of the thin look as a downside of endurance exercise. Now maybe that’s a case of sour grapes. I can run and bike a lot and never leave the land of overweight. I will never be mistaken for an endurance runner.

In recent years with the rise of CrossFit, images like the ones below have started making the rounds. With the slogan “strong is the new skinny” we’ve come to appreciate a larger, stronger female form.

Who looks more like a well rounded athlete to you, the wizened marathoner or the muscular sprinter?

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The differences in the physical demands placed on sprinters vs. marathoners is explained here:

First, those photos are chosen just to make this point. Not all sprinters are so muscular. On the JK Conditioning blog, Jon-Erik Kawamoto writes “Notice how they never compare distance runners to Jeremy Wariner? He’s super lean and has run the third fastest 400-m in history: 43.45. He’s a sprinter, but because of his genetics, he doesn’t look like the sprinter pictured above.”

Second, it’s one thing to note that the very top athletes in a given sport share a certain physique, as Tracy talks about in her basketball post and I talk about in my women of CrossFit post, and another thing altogether to think that undertaking training in that sport will give you that body.

Cheryl, at happy is the new healthy, writes,
“What would it be like to exercise for a reason that’s got nothing to do with how our bodies look? We have this grand idea that if we start CrossFit we’ll look like a CrossFitter, or that if we start running, we’ll look like a runner. But CrossFit boxes celebrate the fact that they’re filled with all shapes and sizes. And go to any marathon and watch the people crossing the finish line and you’ll see that there are finishers who occupy a range of body sizes and types.”

Third, fear of ending up like a marathon elf shouldn’t put people off running.

In Building the Hybrid Athlete James Fell writes, “Think You Can’t Do Both Weightlifting And Cardio? Time To Get Out Of The Stone Age.”

To me, lifting and cardio never seemed like an “either/or” choice. They can be complementary, with both creating positive adaptations in physiology and psychology. I love both ends of the spectrum, and divide my time between cardio and weights based on what I feel like doing.

And while there can be some interference between them, it’s probably less than you think. At elite levels, marathoners don’t want to be jacked and powerlifters don’t want to risk losing any strength — but are you elite? What are your goals? Just how far can one go as a hybrid athlete?

In this piece Fell interviews Alex Aragon as an example of the hybrid athlete, someone who trains for both strength and endurance.

He describes Alex as “a prime example of how you can be good at both strength and endurance. His raw (no equipment) lifting PRs are: squat: 705, deadlift: 715, bench: 465. That’s pretty heavy. Also, he’s done two Ironman triathlons, and while the first “went horribly,” in the second he finished in under 13 hours, which is a pretty good time. He’s also run a 5K in 17:12 (very speedy) and, get this, can run a mile in a blistering 4:28.”

Fourth, you should do what you love, looks aside. In that same blog post, Kawamato writes, “Runners love running because they love to run, plain and simple. Most hate going to the gym and would rather run with a couple friends in the rain than spend 30-minutes pumping iron. They don’t mind that they don’t look like Captain America or Thor but mind setting new personal bests for their favourite race distances.”

So don’t let wanting a certain look be the reason you do one sport and not others. Basketball won’t make you tall, marathons don’t turn you into a lean, wiry person, and not everyone who does CrossFit, even very well, ends up looking like the finalists in the CrossFit games.

Whether your motivation is positive, I want to look like someone who does that sport, or negative as in my reaction to the bodies of top marathoners, it’s all kind of besides the point. Do what you love, aesthetics be damned.

This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. #motivation #motivational #quote #quotes #inspiration

Crossfit · fitness · Guest Post

Maybe I Like CrossFit (Guest Post)

11134277_10152813312708157_1498054266_nIn May 2014, emboldened by my successful adventures in cycling – embarking on a new physical activity after 60 (see my Guest Post on this)– I decided that I should try CrossFit. Now CrossFit has many detractors, as well as possibly fanatical supporters, and I have to say I was skeptical. My life’s partner had been coming home looking very beat up after his workout sessions and I couldn’t help wondering why someone would do that to themselves. But he was telling me it was fun and I had read Samantha’s post on CrossFit and in April while cycling round Fiesta Island in San Diego during the Pacific APA, she cautiously – that is, non-fanatically – recommended it as well. She also suggested I blog about it and, as you can see, it has taken me a year to do that. Why?

Well let’s just say that CrossFit and I didn’t hit it off right away.

My first two sessions seemed all right. My trainer (the awesome Brandy Adams at LA Jolla CrossFit) and I were getting to know each other. I did some squats, lunges, relatively light weights, some things with the BOSU, but then in the third session we moved to things I had never done before – kettle bell swings and wall balls. I think it was the I kettle bell that did it. I was afraid that I would swing it up over my head and it would come crashing down on me – a completely irrational fear that would require defying the laws of physics to be realized. To prevent this horrible calamity, I gripped my back in some way that sent it into spasm and I experienced my first serious sports injury. I’m over 60 so I suppose I’d been pretty lucky up till then. The result was more than six months of bad back pain.

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I am not sure why I didn’t just give up at that point.  But instead, I read the injury as revealing a weakness that I was determined to correct and so I kept training – at first, around my back, focusing on my core, and finally not only did my back return to pre-injury pain-free status, but I am a hell of lot stronger than I have ever been.

The whole process has been weird though because I actually couldn’t figure out why I was persisting, since I was very sore a lot of the time and tweaked quite a few other parts of my body in the process – none as badly as my back – but still hurting myself has never been one of my favorite things to do. Consequently, I have thought a lot about why I work out. People would say to me “You’ll lose weight.” That would have been okay with me I guess, but I didn’t and if fact, I found I didn’t really care very much about that. They would say “You’ll look great!” Well, I guess that’s nice, but again, that wasn’t really what was motivating me. I was going in part because of the relationship with my trainer – but I was traveling a lot this academic year for stretches of several months at a time and I was working out pretty hard on my own, so it wasn’t just Brandy. Again, I found my behavior puzzling – why was I doing things that were so hard? Like Burpees and workouts called “Fight Gone Bad” – I mean, with a name like that you know it can’t be pleasant.

So here’s my considered conclusion. I keep doing it because it feels good. Not the actual workouts – but being strong – doing things like throwing my luggage in the overhead bin with hardly any effort. Feeling good is not only enough to motivate me to continue, but I actually really look forward to working out – I even get excited about it.

After consideration, I offer this list of things that I particularly like about CrossFit:

1) Strength – I don’t do heavy weights yet but today I bench pressed a PR of 65 lbs and that felt pretty cool

2) Balance – when I walk I feel powerful – never tentative – it’s hard to describe exactly how this is different but it really is

3)Transportability – while having a place with equipment is nice, I have done pretty great workouts without any equipment, even in small hotel rooms. All I need is enough space to do lunges, squats, push ups and sit ups. I can put them together into a routine that feels like a total work out

4) Sweat – particularly sweating with my guy.

I’m having fun, I’ve learned new things, and I think I’m starting to like this CrossFit thing.

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