Dancing · health · training

If You Stack A Cord of Wood, Do You Still Need to Workout?

Functional fitness (aka functional movement) is a thing now. That’s exercises that train our muscles for regular life activities, like squatting to pick up something we’ve dropped, or reaching for something on a high shelf (or even climbing onto the kitchen counter to reach something, as I did a few days ago). But, do our regular life activities support our workouts? Can movement with a function substitute for a workout? 

I asked myself this question a couple of weeks ago, when a cord of wood was dumped in our driveway at 8 a.m. Just looking at it was pretty daunting. Even though I knew from previous years the stacking wouldn’t take more than an hour (for two of us), all those logs in a giant, jumbled mound sitting in a bed of dust and bits of scattered bark said, “Cancel anything else you planned for the day. I’m the boss of you today.”  

60% of a cord of wood stacked in the garage. My mountain bike resting against the logs, for some scale perspective.

Sorry to break it to you, bossy logs, my day was actually a lot fuller. It went like this. Meditation for 30 minutes. Trip to the farmer’s market to stock up on spectacular veggies and fruit. Breakfast with my partner at the local coffee shop on our way home. (Tried a new wildberry paleo muffin with honey and finishing salt. Not bad. Plus the hard boiled eggs I’d brought with me to supplement the baked goods.) Stacked all the wood in the garage. Filled one plastic tub and the ash can with bark and wood remnants to use as kindling. Swept the garage floor, finishing touches with the shop vac. Swept and hosed the driveway. Cleaned the house. Removed, washed and wrestled every slip cover back on to couches, benches, chairs and stools. Caught up on email. Had a work call. Went for a tempo run in the mountains. Collapsed on the couch and watched German television (Dark-– a great mind game of a show). 

Technically, I did “only” a 50-minute workout. Even though I pushed on my run, it was a lighter day in the arc of my current training. Except … I also stacked wood for another hour, which is physically demanding. And I cleaned, a lighter physical demand than the other two, but very taxing (plus, dishpan hands—can anyone recommend a truly effective hand cream?). 

How should I count my workout for the day? 50 minutes. Some percentage of wood stacking and cleaning, plus 50 minutes? Why does it matter? 

Three reasons: First, because if I don’t account for all that activity, then I wonder why I’m so tired during my workout the next day. Second, because actual movement makes you stronger. Why not give myself some credit, instead of partaking of the female tendency to downplay accomplishments?! And third, instead of doing a series of functional movement exercises, I engaged in the actual movement that the exercises prepare us for. And by the way, no functional fitness exercise is going to fully prepare me for the incredibly awkward and disparate shapes and sizes of logs, with all their sharp, pokey bits, plus the arm and chest abrasions, not to mention the wood dust in the eyes. 

How incredibly satisfying to finish the task.

I gave myself another 50 mins of workout credit for the day. Added it to the tally in the back of my mind. Felt good about my strength. Decided I’d done some next level functional fitness. 

Biking around New York City is another place this actual movement vs workout question comes up. Some days I might bike from place to place for an hour or more. Though I’m not pushing, as I would in a workout, the activity is not nothing. I’ve developed a personal algorithm for Citibike. I count 30% of the time toward my total workout time on that day. A bonus. My movement serves a function.  

Functional movement is an excellent concept. Or as this article in Women’s Health puts it, “your butt isn’t there just to look pretty.” Our health is a resource, not simply an end goal in itself. We want to be healthy so we can participate in and contribute to the world (and get the chores done). Also, to have fun, as Catherine pointed out in her piece about functional movement and parkour.  

So, how can we think about actual movement’s contributions to our workouts? 

Like this: Our daily activity strengthens and prepares us to be better athletes. 

Here’s one life activity that prepares us for everything (and that a lot of us here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue like to do): Dancing. I love it. Not for a workout, not choreographed, just turning up the volume, drowning in music and dancing my not-just-pretty butt off. A woman described to me recently being bored on a treadmill, loving the music she was listening to and wanting to get off the exercise machine and dance. She asked, “What should I do?” She was worried that dancing wouldn’t count as a workout. I said, “Dance.” Dance is uncategorizable. A daily activity. A workout. A practice of freeing the mind and body. Others here have written buoyant posts about dance. Catherine’s a dancing queen, Christine is dancing for 100 Days and Sam’s looking for more no-regrets opportunities to dance like a sexy Muppet. 

Dance is the ultimate functional movement, preparing us for joy. And if you’re dancing for no functional or workout reason, my personal algorithm says—give yourself time and a half bonus credit (150%) in your workout log!   

aging · Dancing · fitness

Regrets, Sam’s had a few

This morning, on Facebook, one friend said that the most disturbing aspect of growing older is the closing down of possibilities conjoined with the pressure of time. Ouch. But they’re right.

And the other posted this.

Cheerful, but I think wrong. Sometimes you are too old and it is too late.

I guess I’m trying to be realistic when I say that there are things for which it’s definitely too late, I’ve blogged before about my commitment to stop saying, it’s never too late. I won’t give birth to more children, for example. I’m not sad about that but it’s obviously true

I’m thinking about limits and aging this week as yet another friend is being forced to give up soccer and running because of knee problems. It’s so hard. I still miss soccer and running and Aikido.

So all of this got me thinking what can I do now that I might not be able to do later? What opportunities should I seize because possible now and might not be later?

I’ve written about my regret that I didn’t play team sports until late in life. As it turns out by the time I started there weren’t many years left. See my older post on team sports and childhood regrets. What else might be like that? What should I start now?

Regret is one thing we might think about when making decisions. Yes, we want to maximize our future happiness. We might also think about minimizing future regret.

What all I regret if I don’t do it now?

I started thinking about this as two other bloggers here posted about dancing. Christine is doing a 100 days dancing challenge. Catherine recalls her dancing days and her ongoing status as a dancing queen, even if it’s in her kitchen.

I’d love to be able to dance. My current dancing style has been described as “sexy Muppet.” I’ve got some work to do.

Maybe this is me! Maybe I don’t have actual learning to do. I just need to find more opportunities to dance.

Dancing · fitness

I just remembered: I’m a dancing queen/fool/dancer! My own #TBT

Who here dances around their kitchen in the morning/noon/evening/night? Come on, let me see those hands.

WWoman with hands in the air, presumably dancing. by Unsplash.
Woman with hands in the air, presumably like she just doesn’t care. by Unsplash.

This morning, after turning on my internet radio (second-favorite gift from my former partner, first being fancy espresso machine), I found myself distracted from coffee making by some great grooves emanating from said radio. I programmed in my favorite jazz stations from all over North America (and one from France), and rotate/update as the spirit moves me.

This morning, even before coffee consumption, I found myself dancing to some funky jazz. Because of the miracle/burden of the internet, I looked up the playlist and found it: Houston Person, “Walking the Dog”. I recommend taking your phone or computer to your kitchen now, hitting play, and seeing what happens. Other locations may work just as well.

There’s nothing like a little Hammond B-3 organ to get you going in the morning.

Since it’s summer and I was having a moment of delightful leisure, I let myself go with the flow (please forgive the previous phrase–I’m feeling carried away). It was so fun. I kept dancing– moving my hips, adding in arms, no real footwork, just some lazy morning grooving.

The tune is 8 minutes long, so there was time for memories to rush in. Muscle memories showed up in waves. You see, I used to be/was/am a dancer.

I don’t remember any time in my childhood when there wasn’t groovy music playing, with someone swiveling hips, snapping fingers, etc. I was born into a Motown household in the 60s. We always had a funky soundtrack for the work of the day.

High school dances (yes we had them back in the late 70s) were all about the funk. The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and yes, even Lionel Ritchie were the rhythms of the day.

The Isley Brothers, who are good for whatever you need to oppose today.

Ballet at age 8 was my rocky start to structured dance, abandoned 3 months after (don’t remember why). It took until college, when, on a whim, I signed up for tap class and ballet class, to discover my dancer self. Ballet was not where that happened. I enjoyed it and learned a lot about my body; taking ballet can teach you almost as much as yoga about what your body can/can’t/loves to/flat-out-refuses to do.

But jazz tap– man, I found my home! It was like I remembered who I had been in a previous life. If you’re unfamiliar with the wonders of jazz or rhythm tap (unlike Broadway-style tap, which is a different thing) you can look at this very famous and showy number by the Nicholas Brothers. If you’re still interested, check out these smooth moves by Jimmy Slyde. Yes, women tap dance too. Here’s a piece by two of my teachers, Dianne Walker and the late great Pamela Raff, doing a number they taught me. Go to 1:30 where the dancing starts. And I can’t leave out tap master Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, who makes it look impossibly effortless here , in her gorgeous performance here (that opens with one of my favorite jazz standards, Tenderly).

Lest you think that rhythm tap is a genre limited to jazz lovers (not that I find this a limitation, but…), check out the Syncopated Ladies‘ number to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.

Syncopated Ladies, showing mastery of footwork, body movement and feeling the funk.

My prime tap years were from my late 20s through my mid-30s. I studied with great teachers in Boston (I even did master classes with Savion Glover and the late great Gregory Hines). I taught classes to adults and kids, did workshops, and studied privately with the above-mentioned Pamela Raff and also Katherine Kramer. I was able to perform with live jazz combos, solo and with friends and teachers.

Some gigs were more modest than others. Two friends and I, armed with boom box , went to an assisted-living facility to do a little show. We tap danced to recorded jazz standards and I sang a little bit while my friends tapped (our “crowdpleaser” number was All of Me). Halfway through the show, an announcement came on over the PA system, saying that the bus to Stop ‘n’ Shop was leaving in five minutes. We lost a third of the audience then. Whaddya gonna do? Seniors need groceries.

There’s no one reason why tap didn’t stay with me, or I didn’t stay with tap. I was changing jobs and moving, traveling a lot, and tap requires access to teachers and studios with wood floors and communities and connections. DO NOT TRY IT AT HOME, unless you live in a single family house alone or with a soundproof basement. It is loud. Very loud.

Lately I’ve been thinking about returning to the floor. Listening to more jazz has put me in mind and mood for dancing again. My body isn’t what it was then (no need for reminders about this; I’m trying to be nicer and more accepting, but having a harder time with it these days; another story for another post).

Can I still tap? Yes. Can I still boogie? Absolutely. Maybe it’s time to start dancing again.

Hey readers– any dancers out there? What makes you get your groove on (yes, I know you’re cringing just reading this; please forgive me). I would love to hear from you.

My actual tap shoes are in my basement (time to get them out!), but I’ll leave you with a portrait of my black-and-white Dansky custom tap shoes. Artist Shari Hersch was nice enough to do this as a commission for me. It was some of the best money I ever spent.

My used and much-loved Dansky tap shoes, a work done in oil by Shari Hersch.
My used and much-loved Dansky tap shoes, a work done in oil by Shari Hersch.
Dancing · fashion · femalestrength · fitness classes

Nia With My Mum

Nia girl drawing
Self-portrait stick figure drawing of Mina doing Nia

A few weeks ago I went to my mother’s Nia class with her. I like trying new things. Especially ones that ask me to move my body. I was inspired, too, by Tracy’s report on her new SUP on this blog. I didn’t have any good idea about what Nia was. I had gleaned that it was something dance-y, with maybe a dash of martial arts. Yes. And more. I’ll get to that. I also assumed that it wouldn’t be too challenging physically. After all, my mother, who is vigorous but in her 70s, does the class. I imagined it peopled with other women her age. I imagined it would be a dawdle. Nope.

I go to a lot of new-to-me movement studios. One of the first things I do when I’m traveling somewhere is research my workout options (besides running) for while I’m there. Going to a studio in a new city is a fun way to check out the vibe of the whole town. On occasion I’ll look back through the studios that pop up on my Mindbody app, reminding me of some of the places I’ve been—yoga in Asheville, Toronto and Boulder; spinning in Phoenix, Calgary and Portland; aerial in Reno and Paris, plus rowing and SLT in New York. Susan Meehan’s Nia class in London, Ontario is one of the friendliest, warmest new places I’ve ever been.

I was still nervous. I don’t go to dance classes terribly often. I’m a bit awkward, and I’ve never been good at following choreography. I get self-conscious about my lack of grace. In this case, I added the extra fear of being a disappointing daughter, all elbows and knees. To be clear, that’s a self-generated thought, not anything my mother says!

First thing I noticed—the age range in the class seemed to go from mid-thirties through well into the seventies. I revised my expectations around anticipated exertion. The class started quickly, which I like because it keeps me focused. I was a couple of beats behind for most of the class, but the sequences repeated enough times that I started to catch the groove. Nia is indeed dance-related, plus martial arts, plus women’s empowerment, plus root-chakra-flirt, plus wild and free, plus a red face and a fast heartbeat. And a whole lot of sassy booty.

That’s another thing I’m not good at: inhabiting the traditional sexy-hips-and-shoulder moves. They feel false in my body, like something put on to please other people, not myself. I feel sexy when I’m just home from a strong run, or striding across town in my favourite green velvet boots. Have I mentioned the Nia outfits? Love them. Pants that widen outrageously below the knee, possible ribbon adornment, sleeveless off the shoulder on one side and sheer on the other. That’s just what I witnessed at the class I went to. This is a workout with fashion flair potential.

images
Photo of woman wearing black flared Nia pants with ribbon at the knee

The class also included a portion of free dance, or really free-to-move-however. I relish any opportunity to let my body climb inside some music and see what happens; so energizing. By the end of the class, despite my various bits of fear, I was sweaty and limber, and my heart felt big and full.

Will I go to Nia now that I’m home in New York? I’m not sure. I’d have to give up one of the other workouts I love so much. But just knowing that I have it as an option in my back pocket is great; for a day I might need a bit of vavavoom. And I have a workout for with my mum.

How about you—any Nia practitioners? Or other saucy workouts you suggest?

boats · canoe · Dancing · nature

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing (Guest Post)

Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!

Approximately 12 green canoes sitting on a hill on a island in Algonquin

A bunch (too many to count) of tents and people with a campfire nearby

There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):

  • the variety in skill level and equipment
  • the number of international students
  • how accessible the club makes trips like this
  • the cost
  • beautiful scenery

Scenic shot of a lake with fall coloured trees on islands on either side. It is raining quite heavily.

However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.

Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here

Dancing · fitness classes · motivation

Gloriously Awful – Christine Heads to Dance Class

You know how I can be when learning something new – I get all tangled up in helping my body move in the way my brain wants to and then I get annoyed with myself. My annoyance makes me tense and the tension makes me worse at whatever I was struggling with in the first place.

Yes, I do get on my own nerves just thinking about it.

One of the few times I have sidestepped this scenario is when I tried Zumba on the Xbox a few years ago. Instead of being frustrated when I didn’t ‘get’ it, I found myself laughing at my mistakes and then just carrying on. It was eye-opening.

Unfortunately, soon after I got into the habit of laughing at my ineptness, changes in the Xbox menu made it tricky for me to access Zumba easily. It was a tiny obstacle, but enough to deter me.

I remembered that feeling though. I am rarely casual about learning new things, and I hardly ever laugh in the process of making mistakes. I wanted to have that feeling again, in other contexts, but it didn’t happen.

Then, last spring, I was lucky enough to take a Nia dance class from my friend Elaine.

I made a mess of the movements* but I was laughing at myself. I was only getting about half of the choreography but I was having a grand time.

Two white middle-aged women (one with blonde hair, one with brown hair -dressed in all black exercise wear. They are reaching up to the left with their right arms, their right legs are extended to the right.
A rare moment when I was in sync with the rest of the class with Nia on the Rock. That’s me in the star pants in the front. My friend Krista is in the back. She’s an expert at laughing when things go awry – I’m learning to follow her example. Photo credit: Stephanie Moyst of Fannie’s Photography. 

I have been trying to fit more Nia in ever since but I have only managed to make that happen in the past few  weeks. Every Thursday morning, I go to class, flail around ridiculously and enjoy the hell out of it.

I can’t hear the changes in the music that tell me I should change steps. I routinely head in the wrong direction. I start too early and end too soon. As I told a friend of mine recently, I feel like I am gloriously awful at it.

I’m not putting myself down here. I’m probably not particularly bad at Nia – and the nature of Nia is that it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are anyway – I’m just celebrating the fact that I am not getting into that cycle of frustration while I learn. I am not the least bit concerned about how slowly I am learning – I am just reveling in the fun of the movements. I’m sure it helps that there are martial arts-type moves in the dances so I have a feeling of familiarity but, mostly, I’m just going with the feeling of glorious awfulness.

I LOVE being gloriously awful. I feel no pressure to get better at it – even though I am, no doubt, improving as we go along.  Getting better just doesn’t seem like something I should focus on – having fun does.

Being in this space is really fun for me and it has my brain whirring – how can I bring this same feeling to other movement I am trying to learn? Can I enjoy being awful at a new pattern? Can I be gloriously awful at parts of Taekwon-Do while I learn?

I certainly intend to find out.

Are you gloriously awful at any forms of exercise? Is being awful part of the reason you enjoy it?

*Learning new moves WHILE matching them to music is a challenge, at the very least.

Dancing · fitness

The joy of being a dancing fool: thanks, Mom

This week I went to hear a band I’ve loved since the early 80s– the English Beat. I last saw them in 1983, when they played at my university student center ballroom.  Another good band opened for them.  You may have heard of them–  REM.

Back to the present day— looking around the concert venue at this week’s show, just about everyone I saw was in their 50s or so (like me).  That wasn’t too surprising– this band was at their most popular when people around my age were in college.  And everyone was having a whale of a time– the English Beat are a ska band (one of my favorite genres for dancing), so their music is about as danceable as it gets.  If you doubt me, listen here

The whole crowd was grooving and swaying, and my friends and I were dancing the whole time, jumping up and down, sweating, singing, shouting, waving arms, enjoying ourselves to our fullest capacities, expending all available energy.  The drive home was a bit tiring, the next morning a little slower-moving than usual, but the evening was completely worth it.

Today is Mother’s Day, and this week’s dancing episode reminded me of how my mother always enjoyed (and still enjoys) dancing and music.  We had music playing all the time in my house and on the radio.  In those days in South Carolina it was a lot of Motown– R&B and Soul.  In the 70s we welcomed in the funk, and my mom took me to see Earth, Wind and Fire.  Check them out here.

Her favorite song to dance to with my dad was Sixty Minute Man, by Billy Ward and the Dominoes.  They were experts at dancing the shag (apologies to English readers– it doesn’t mean the same thing here in the US), a dance still popular in the Carolinas.  It’s a lazy-tempo dance, but with interesting footwork.  You can see it in action here.

Jimmy Fallon got a lot of attention and laughs with his now-infamous Evolution of Mom Dancing collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama.  And it’s funny.  But let’s not kid ourselves– Michelle Obama can move.  So can my mom.

So thanks to my mom and all the moms for dancing with us, playing that funky music, and helping us discover joy in musical movement.

Happy Mother’s Day!  (And if you like, you can still order Mom some swag from our website here.)