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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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

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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Serious off season training begins, now!

It’s the middle of January and I’m getting serious about off season training. It’s been going on for awhile but now it’s just one month until I’ll get to ride my new bike on the road, not the trainer.

I’m spending a week’s holiday in Arizona with my partner and my bike. (We’ve been there before and you read about my last Arizona cycling holiday here and see some photos here. )

I love this description of the terrain: “Long open roads that tend to be very straight with low rolling hills.  This tour has been designed to enjoy the warmth of long rides in the fabulous winter sunshine.”

In fact, there are hills but you have you to choose them and seek them out. I think we have one hilly day in the mountains.

I’ve got some new cycling goals for summer. Not so much distance, a bit more, but not a lot. But more speed!

I’ve got some running goals too, a faster 5 km and to be able to run 10 km regularly without injury.

I’ve signed up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon with Tracy, Mallory, Natalie, Susan and bunch of other friends too.

I’m doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally again with a different Susan.

And I’m aiming to do the MEC Century on August 30th, 160 km, the day before my 51st birthday.  I’m hoping to do some local bike races, and a longer duathlon or two during the season. Maybe this one again: Fun end of summer race, complete with age group medals!

I’m pacing myself right now. I’m doing a weekly spin class with Cheryl Madligar at Pulse Spin Studio and two trainer classes a week with Coach Chris. (See Tracy’s post about her winter basement cycling tour.)  I’m also spending time with friends on the weekend riding rollers and trainers together. See Spin, roll, or ride the trainer: What’s the best choice?

I’m also back at CrossFit and I’m a regular at Aikido.

I’m tracking all my workouts with Garmin Connect and tracking all my food with My Fitness Paul. (I like tracking.)

I check in each week with cycling coach Chris about how I feel and how training is going. It all feels pretty good.

So one month until I leave for Arizona! Whee! I’m excited. Can you tell?

And a big summer of outdoor adventures soon after that. Though I’m still hoping to sneak in some winter activities, snow shoeing and cross country skiing before winter’s done.

Here we go!

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2 km erg test: How far the mighty have fallen

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I’m not rowing these days. Not just because it’s winter. I’m also not training indoors with the London Rowing Club.

I first stopped when I was helping to care for a seriously ill family member but even after her death I didn’t go back. I loved rowing but it wasn’t a perfect fit. There wasn’t enough local racing to keep me interested. The time spent driving versus the time spent racing seemed all wrong in the case of out of town regettas. Most importantly though my work travel schedule doesn’t fit well with taking a seat in a racing boat. I’m just away too much.

I’m okay with that. Really.

I loved rowing and expect I’ll do it again some day. I’m still excited and nervous when confronted with a 2 km erg test. When I first started indoor training for rowing, I wrote about the monthly 2 km erg tests. I liked the erg more than I thought I would and I actually won the masters women class in a local ergatta and blogged about that too here.

At CrossFit the other day, a timed 2000 m row was part of the workout. Yikes. Coach Dave asked if we had a best time we wanted to beat. The thing is I do have a best time, see posts linked above for details, but when I’m only training on the erg occasionally at CrossFit I can’t honestly expect to beat it. I settled on a time above my best ever time and aimed for that instead.

I was chatting that day with two other women who were trying to balance different goals, with varying degrees of commitments to different sports. I can rank the various things I do: cycling, Aikido, CrossFit, running…

I’m not quite a Jill of all sports, it’s easier to think of me as a polyamorous athlete with primary and secondary, etc commitments to various sports.

Rowing, I’m sorry. When I think about it that way you’re at best an occasional date.

I’ll keep my best ever 2 km time in my sights but I won’t sweat it too much if I fall short.

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Thinking about CrossFit in the New Year?

Of all the things I do, the one that intrigues non participants the most seems to be CrossFit. I get asked often about what it’s like and I find people have a lot of misconceptions.

As we approach the new year, I know lots of people are starting to think about beginning new programs of exercise, including CrossFit. Here’s my two cents.

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First, what’s CrossFit all about anyway? Here’s the official line:

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit involves a series of short-interval exercises that, done day after day, will result in an overall stronger, fitter you. It is designed to improve 10 physical attributes: cardiovascular/respiratory resistance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

Workouts of the Day or WODs are constantly varied and are typically short (20 minutes or less) and intense, demanding all-out physical exertion. Classes consist of a warm-up, strength training, WOD and cool down with mobility. They typically last around 45 – 60 minutes and can be scaled for all fitness levels.

If you’re thinking about starting CrossFit, here’s my advice. Keep in mind that I’m me. YMMV, as they say. I’m a 50 year old reasonably physically fit woman. I’m not easily intimated. I’m a pretty large woman. And I like high intensity physical activity and thrive when presented with challenges. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a couple of years, here in London, Ontario and also in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I first started.

First, it’s not just for already fit athletes. I hear a lot of people talk about getting in shape to join CrossFit but that’s just silly. I can see how you might think that if your main exposure to CrossFit is through the CrossFit games on television but in the real world, there’s a wide range of people doing CrossFit. The slogan at the London CrossFit box might be “forging elite fitness” but there a lot of regular people there just having fun and doing their best.

In fact, the CrossFit workouts are incredibly scalable to different levels. See my post Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts

And if you don’t believe me here’s someone talking about the message they heard at their level 1 CrossFit certification:

“If you think we are programming for (elite) athletes, you are dead wrong; they are but a fraction of the people working out in our gyms. What we do scales for the 70 year old grandmother as well as elite athletes.”

Second, it’s not just for twenty somethings. Yes, there are a lot of twenty somethings there but there are also a lot of people in their forties, fifties, and beyond. Here is my favorite CrossFit image, of a deadlifting grandma.

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Third, it won’t necessarily transform the way your body looks. It will change the way your body works. You’ll get stronger, fitter, faster, and generally more powerful but not everybody ends up looking like the images you find if you Google “women and CrossFit.” See CrossFit and women’s bodies. My only positive thought is that all the beautiful strong body images help counteract the idea that lifting makes women big and bulky. Personally, I’m not afraid of big and bulky. Come visit. In the real world of CrossFit you see women of all shapes and sizes. The cool thing isn’t how they look. It’s how much they lift.

I like thinking of the slogan “strong is the new skinny” as a shift to performance from aesthetics but I know I’m in the minority. Still, CrossFit is the environment where I hear very little from other women about weight, about diets, and about percent body fat. Mostly, the women talk about their goals in terms of strength.

Fourth, there’s a lot of coaching and instruction. I hear a lot of complaints from people who do other kinds of lifting about CrossFit coaching but in my experience those worries are way off the mark. Typically people complain about the number of participants to coaches and they worry about new people trying difficult lifts without supervision. In the places I’ve attended there’s nothing further from the truth. First, there’s a structured entry program where you learn the basics. Second, there’s a lot of attention from coaches while you lift.

Usually we have about a dozen athletes and one coach. That seems just right to me.

I can’t imagine learning to deadlift by myself in the gym. CrossFit is a terrific alternative.

I think maybe these complaints come from places where CrossFit is wildly popular and there are crowded understaffed classes. But that’s never been my experience.

Okay, what’s a typical class like?

It starts with a 10 min warm up, on your own. I used to hate the “on your own” bit and wanted someone to tell me what to do but I’ve come to see its virtues. People come to CrossFit with different strengths and weaknesses and while we all need to do a bit of cardio warm up (there’s skipping ropes, rowing machines, and a bike) and some mobility work to warm up joints before lifting often we also have our own body parts that require special attention.

Next there’s the bit that I think of as skill work. It’s not timed. There’s no race. The emphasis is on getting a particular lift right. Sometimes our focus is a certain part of the lift. Other times it’s strength and going for new personal bests. But it’s focused and careful. We usually work in small groups.

Today we worked on back squats, working up to 8 sets of 2 at 70% of your one rep max. I like that the groups are broken down by strength not gender and while it’s mostly women at the lighter end of the room, and mostly men at the heavier end, in the middle, where I’m often found there’s a good mix of men and women.

Then we put weights away and look at the Work Out of the Day (WOD) on the white board.

Today’s was 3 rounds of the following:
7 Push Press (Rx, or recommended, weight for women 30 kg)
30 push ups
30 air squats.

When you’re done you yell “time” and your time gets written on the board. I did it in 8:11.

I used the RX weight for the push press but I can only get out 10 push ups if I do them from the toes. So I scaled the workout and that’s okay. Possible scaling is discussed in advance. Some people lowered the weight and a woman with knee injuries substituted sit ups for the air squats.

At the end, you put away gear and stretch. I usually leave sweaty and smiling.

Come play sometime!

See also Can Feminists Find a Home in Crossfit? and Six Things I Love about CrossFit

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November goals

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I find it helps to have short term goals, medium term goals, and long term goals. Five years from now, what do I want to do be doing? What do I want to do next summer? But also, what do I want to do in November?

I’ll confess that November isn’t my favorite month. It’s the start of the cold and the dark, for one. It’s also the anniversary of my sister’s death and that makes me sad. And it’s also that point in the university term when I’m up to my ears in meetings, writing letters of recommendation, grading papers, preparing lectures, giving talks, etc etc etc.

So it’s good to have something else to focus on. For November I have three things I want to accomplish.

First, I’m training to test in Aikido. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get to test. Lots to learn and new skills to master between now and the test date, November 22. I’m committed to the process even if my progress is slow. Aikido, like yoga, is a practice. You can read about what’s on my test here: Training for my 4th Kyu Test in Aikido.

Second, I’m getting back to CrossFit  after taking the summer off due to injury (stupid knee), learning to once again to fit early morning high intensity exercise back into my schedule. The challenge is, as always, getting to bed early enough so I can get eight hours sleep and make it to a 6 am workout. The math isn’t pretty.

Third, I’ve never used a trainer over the winter before though I’ve done other things. See Seven winter cycling options (I’ve tried them all!) But this winter I’ve committed to working with a cycling coach and that’s part of our plan. I bought the trainer below and it just arrived in the mail. Now that weekday evening rides are over, Tracy and I will be both taking trainer classes with Coach Chris. and with Cheryl of Happy is the New Healthy. I hope to still get out on my actual bike in the actual outdoors on the weekends when I aim for the middle of the day when it’s lighter and warmer.

November can be a tough month for me fitness wise. University life is super busy, there’s no challenging rides to keep in shape for, and it’s tempting to let everything slide, rest, and start fresh in January. But this year I have other plans. A change is as good as a rest, my grandmother used to say.

Wish me luck!

What do you have planned for November?