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.

cycling · fitness · fitness classes · gender policing · training

Why I Hate Spin*

*If you’ve not already done so, please have a look at Cate (Fieldpoppy) Creede’s wonderful and inspiring post about loving the gym (the YMCA in her neighbourhood), which went up on Wednesday. I know I feel about a thousand times better for having read it. And yes, I’m going to check out my (new) local Y this weekend!

Ok, so I don’t actually hate spin. I came to road racing through spin! I met brilliant, smart, funny female athletes through spin. I still “spin” every Tuesday evening in the basement of my friend Chris Helwig’s house, along with others he coaches, and with other friends. It’s a terrific, supportive, entertaining 90 minutes of pain.

But last night, I went to a class that reminded me of what, at its least positive and supportive, spin can be. This is a post about that experience, and I’m writing it to remind us all that we do not have to put up with this kind of crap when we are training, exercising, or just trying to have fun on a bike. We can avoid it; we can call it out; and we can resist it in many other, tiny ways.

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There’s more than one way spin can hurt you. This image features a cheeky drawing of a woman in traditional Victorian dress comforting a man, seated, with the words “I’m sorry you almost died in Spin Class today.”

There’s a large, independently owned bike shop near me, where I stop sometimes after a ride, and where I’ve bought quite a few accessories and had a couple of tune-ups. The team are friendly, and the shop is well stocked. I like it, as a shop.

Back in late autumn I learned that they host spin classes, so I tried one out. I had been told that, although I could not bring my home trainer (they have spin bikes, and only X number of bikes, to keep numbers in check), the class was geared for cyclists, so I’d feel at home and it would fit in with my training plan.

This was not my experience at the first class, though I had fun. It was taught by a funny woman with a good play list; everyone seemed to be enjoying their time on the bike (a plus!). I was clearly the only serious cyclist in the room, so I had to adapt her instructions to make them more sensible for me, but I know how to do that so it was fine. It didn’t affect my fun, or anyone else’s.

(What do I mean by adapting for my own training needs? For example, if we are going to go all out for 30 seconds, I need 30 seconds of actual recovery, about 20 beats per minute down or more from the 30-second max. Because when I go all out I am actually trying to hit my V02 max; there’s no point otherwise, from a training perspective. Many spin instructions are based on the assumption that students are not, actually, going all out when they are told to go all out – which is fair if you’re exercising but not training to a plan. I use a heart rate monitor to keep myself on track, and if I need to adapt a spin instruction to ensure my HR recovers properly, I do. It’s a safety thing as well as a training thing.)

I chalked the quirks in this first class up to the fact that it was super-early in the training season, and vowed to come back at some point to try again.

That some point was last night. It’s now February; the list of others signed up for the class online was long, and was largely male. Though that didn’t impress me, I took it as a sign that I would be riding with others training for cycling season. (Alas, men continue to outnumber women on the MAMIL circuit. It’s a gross reality – though my new local club is way more gender-diverse than my old local club. More on that in an upcoming post, once the season kicks off.)

When I arrived, I noticed I was not only the only woman in the class, but one of only two women in the entire space. (The other was working the cash and cleaning a bike in the shop.) The man in charge, moreover, was obviously someone for whom my presence was a bit of a surprise. He didn’t know me, and he definitely did not know how to read me.

But this, I should add, he should have done. After all, I arrived wearing my bib shorts from a race in 2016, a headband, with cycling shoes and a camelback water bottle. One look at those accessories, let alone my body, can tell you I’m in training: my leg muscles show the evidence. I set up my chosen bike with total confidence, knowing exactly how to fit it (right down to the seat-stem distance) to my frame.

What happened next? First, the instructor/dude in charge (DiC) asked me if I’d been to a class before. I told him I’d been once before at this shop. He asked if I had a card – that is, if I had bought multiple classes. I said no; I have a home trainer and prefer to train on it. He made a big deal of how much easier it is for them (the shop) if one buys multiple classes. I told him I would be more than happy to pay for the class in cash. I did not have a use for multiple classes at this time.

When we went down to the cash so I could pay, I had to sign a waiver; I hadn’t recalled doing that before, though I suspect I did (I mean, it’s a policy for anyone new in a gym/in a class, for safety reasons). While I was filling the form out, he said to me:

“when we get up there, I’m happy to help you set up your bike…”

Remember: I’d already done that. TO SPEC.

I told him: “don’t worry, I’m very experienced. But thank you very much.”

I did not look up from the waiver while I said this; I didn’t meet his eyes. I’m pretty sure I would have smirked at him, and I didn’t want to be rude. But I also wanted to be very clear: that’s a condescending question and I’m not taking time away from this task (filling out the form) to address it.

He reacted respectfully, but he did throw his hands up. Uh-huh.

Once I got onto the bike, things got worse. He made a point of coming up to me, not once but twice, before class started. First, he wanted me to set the “touch pads”: the point where the flywheel touches the pads to indicate you have resistance on the bike. I had already more than found it; I was already at this point warming up (a spin instructor can tell when you are warming up properly, by the way). In fact, my heart rate was up to a good 118bpm (my low zone 2).

As a result of his meddling, though, my HR dropped into zone 1. Thanks, DiC.

A minute later, he came up to me AGAIN. This time he asked me to stop the flywheel. (I suspect this was a test to see if I knew about the emergency stop mechanism – I’m pretty sure I was being “tested” the entire time, though probably he was not conscious of doing this, as most DiCs are not.) He asked me to put my pedals “at three and nine” and he looked me up and down from the side of the bike, sizing up my form. Super comfortable for me, btw.

“Perfect,” he declared. Then he said, “From the front, it looked like something was off.”

Nope, I repeated once more. I’M FINE. I know exactly what I’m doing. I know my own bicycle form.

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Thanks for that super helpful mansplain! This Mad Men style graphic shows a man’s upper body, in a suit and tie, and part of his face, with his left hand up and mouth open, clearly explaining something to a woman in a green blazer. Her arms are folded and her head is turned away.

The class was OK; it was a hill repeats class and I adjusted instructions as usual to follow the indicators my HR gives me. The others in the class were mostly in cycling kit, but I was, once again, the only person with a heart rate monitor. (The fact that I arrived to the class with my Garmin Edge should also have told the DiC that I was an actual cyclist, with actual experience, but whatevs. Reading obvious cues hard when blindsided by strong woman, clearly.)

There was a lot of yelling; DiC kept shouting “HALF A TURN UP!!!!!!” really, really loudly. It’s the kind of loud that makes you think, I’d better do this! Mostly I did. Honestly, I just didn’t want to give him any reason to call me out or come over to my bike again. I wanted to be left alone to train as best I could under the circumstances.

When the class ended I did some of the stretches, again trying not to stand out as a dilettante. I was fed up by this point and wanted to go home, but I didn’t want to garner any snide or overly-patronizing, “supportive” comments at the end. Finally, as I left, he said: “thanks for coming” in what I can only describe as a very strained, kind of uncomfortable voice with a bit of an uptick at the end. I don’t think it was an angry voice; I think it belied his ultimate confusion over what to do with me.

Maybe not a lot of Lady Cyclists go to this shop’s spins. Or maybe I was new and confident and a girl, and that was weird for him. Or maybe he has no clue whatsoever that he behaves this way around strong women.

Maybe I just caught him on an off night. Though I doubt it.

Whatever. Not my problem.

I did what I could to have a good class. I stayed in zone 3 a good part of the time and jumped into zone 4 a reasonable amount, but not too much – I had done a concentrated anaerobic workout on my trainer the night before, while catching up on Master of None (TOTAL IRONY ALERT). I stood up for myself as best I could, and I tried to keep it comfortable for myself under the circumstances. For that reason I resisted engaging the guy in a private conversation afterward about his practice as an instructor (which, truly, seemed too fatiguing at the time, and perhaps would not have had any real point).

I do wonder if I should have called him on it. But I think I’d prefer just to share this story, remind us all that we are strong and mansplaining at the gym is ALWAYS out of order, and never, ever go to spin at that shop again.

/rant over.

Kim

fitness · fitness classes · holiday fitness · holidays · walking · weight lifting

Working out onboard, staying active on a cruise ship, part 2

So far here on the ship I’ve found a few fitness options on board. We only have two days out of twelve total when we’re at sea. But when we had one, I wandered around scoping out my options for staying active.

First, there are fitness classes. There’s yoga and spin and social walking/jogging groups.

Second, there’s a salt water pool. I described it as a wave pool (it’s very wavy) but Susan pointed out that it’s likely just the motion of the boat causing the waves. It’s salt water, which I like, and not too warm. I like that. I was worried it would be hot.

Third, there’s the walking/running track above the pool. It’s busy in the morning and there are some serious runners and walkers up there.

Fourth, there is a gym. It’s got some weight machines, two benches, all the dumbbells, treadmills galore, one rowing machine and some elliptical trainers.

So what did I do?

First step, as always, everyday was knee physio in our room.

Second, I did a lot of lifting with dumbbells in the gym. One weird thing is that the ship’s motion is a lot more noticeable when you’re lying on a bench with fifty lbs over your head. There’s a lot of extra stabilization involved.

Third, I jogged in the salt water pool and chatted with some Australian women about the South Pacific. Like, why are you here? Isn’t it warm at home? Aren’t a lot of the birds and plants the same? They were fascinated by the islands and their history and this is a great way to see them.

I’d count this fitness activity on our day at sea as a success.

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.

fitness classes · health

Welcome new people to the gym this January

Agreed!

I hate all the complaining about busy gyms in January.

Yes, there are some line-ups where there were none in December. But there are also lots of new people who could use a smiling face.

We talked about research being done by a post doc at Western about the gym as a gendered space which doesn’t feel welcoming to women. Tracy’s written too about women who work out in sheds because they’re embarrassed to be seen doing physical activity. I’ve written about women who run at night, even though it’s less safe, because they don’t want people to see them.

There’s not a lot we can do to change all of that. But one thing we can do is be nice to people at the gym who show up in January.

Smile and say hello.

Also read this post, Welcome to the gym! You belong here.

But also, at the same time, don’t make assumptions about who is new on the basis of size!

Welcome!

fitness · fitness classes

“We’re all in the same boat!” a report from women’s kayak classes

A few weeks ago I went to a weekend-long kayak symposium (yes, they call it a symposium) at James Island County Park near Charleston, SC.  The weather was warm and so was the water, so I was really looking forward to getting back in a boat after a long winter on dry land.

The event, called the East Coast Paddlesports Symposium (as a philosopher, this term cracks me up every time), features classes for kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders (SUPers), and canoeists of all levels.  I was looking to firm up my basic kayaking skills– paddling, getting in and out of the boat (yes, that’s a thing), boat handling techniques like edging and bracing, and solo and assisted rescues (getting myself and others back in our boats when we fall out, which happens).

The venue was crowded and festive, with vendors, loads of people trying out water craft of all types, and loads of people running around with paddles and PFDs (life jackets, now called Personal Flotation Devices).

Lots of people walking on a path, with kayaks, canoes, vendor tents and demos all around.
Lots of people walking on a path, with kayaks, canoes, vendor tents and demos all around.

My classes mostly consisted of being in (or out of) a kayak in this lovely sheltered lake area, and some nearby coves.  On Friday I took an edging and bracing class, where you learn how to shift your weight to put your boat (sort of) on edge while paddling to help control the direction of your boat, to compensate for currents and wind.

One particularly hilarious exercise we did, for which I was the first volunteer, was a surprise bracing lesson.  The instructor asked me to help him with a demo; I said yes.  Then he got out of his boat, swam over to mine, and proceeded to throw himself onto my front deck, sitting up and pushing my boat all over the place.  This resulted in lots of splashing, me screaming with laughter, delight and a little panic, and using my paddle to brace on either side to keep the boat upright.  Win.

The next Friday class was a solo and assisted rescue class.  I’ve done these sorts of classes a bunch of times, but still can’t consistently and confidently do a solo rescue– that is, get myself back in my kayak by myself in deep water.  We worked on both assisted rescues and solo ones, but I made little progress.  I left the class feeling a bit discouraged.

The next day– Saturday– was a real eye-opener for me.  I had signed up for all women’s only kayak classes.  They had dopey names–  “The Feminine Edge” and (ready to grit your teeth?) “Damsels in Distress, No More”.  Sigh.  Do we really need to set women’s courses apart in these ways?  Methinks not.  But I digress.

In every other way, though, these classes changed the way I think about myself and kayaking.  Seriously.

What do I mean here?  Well, up to then I had thought of myself as particularly ill-suited to sea kayaking because:

  1. I have lots of trouble getting in and out of the boat– I’m not graceful or comfortable or quick to settle myself in the cockpit.  I am really uncomfortable getting out of the boat– sometimes I just turn over in the surf and drag myself out.
  2. I feel major stress and fear of fat shaming when getting outfitted (I don’t own my own equipment…yet), as I worry about finding a boat big enough for me, as well as other equipment that will fit.  As a result, my rental PDFs never seem to fit (they float up to my ears when I’m in the water– a bad thing) and the cockpit never feels right.  I have been fat shamed (and felt fat shamed) most of the times I’ve gotten rental gear.  That’s no fun.
  3. I don’t feel strong enough, lithe enough, thin enough, etc. to perform solo rescues and some other techniques.  I get discouraged and tired and just want to quit.

After reading the above, you might think, “Well, Catherine, since life is short, maybe you might want to consider some other sport”.  Believe me, I have resolved to quit kayaking many times.  But I somehow keep finding my way back to the water.  When I can get away from the above worries, I have a wonderful time.  But I have to deal with these challenges.  Hence the women’s kayak classes.

So, what happened?

Well, first, let me say that almost all of the women in my classes had their own boats and had a lot of experience kayaking (some 15+ years).  Some of them had some pretty impressive skills.

But guess what?  It turns out that all of them had many of the same fears and same problems I have.  Sure, some of the women had more skills than I did, but:

ALL of them thought that solo rescues were really hard.

ALMOST ALL of them couldn’t do the standardly taught “cowboy” solo rescue without some help.

MANY of them were really nervous doing assisted rescues.

ALL of the large-breasted women complained about the fit of their PFDs, so I was in good company.

ALL of the women with their own boats told me that I would get a lot more comfortable if I bought my own boat.  And make sure to get it fitted properly– many women end up with boats that are actually too big for them, which doesn’t work.

So I learned that, when it comes to dealing with fears and worries about kayaking skills and stamina and gear, we’re all in the same boat.

What a relief.

Here’s me at the end of the day, smiling and happy (just before I turned my boat over in the surf and walked proudly, if soggily, onto shore).

Catherine, the happy paddler, returning at the end of the day.
Catherine, the happy paddler, returning at the end of the day.

Now to keep my eyes open for good used kayaks that are right for me.  Stay tuned.

Readers, have you had any eye-opening experiences when you took a women’s only physical activity or sport class?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

fitness classes · Sat with Nat · training

The Reverse Weekend Warrior

My exercise routine has been sporadic this past month. There were caregiving responsibilities, March break with my family, and a nasty cold. 

I reviewed my activity data and was surprised to find my most active days for fitness were weekdays. What? In the warm weather I’m a Weekend Warrior, doing lots on weekends but little activity or exercise during the week. 

This winter and early spring are the exact opposite, I’ve become The Reverse Weekend Warrior by walking my commute and scheduling four half-hour workouts during the week. 

Natalie stares at the camera ruddy faced, her short mousy brown hair a mess in the background are brown lockers
It hasn’t been pretty but I do feel good in my body. I never got around to spinning on Thursdays and Saturdays. The previous winters I did spin for up to an hour on Saturdays and a few times during the week. Not this year. 

Four bicycles lean against a brown bedroom wall under a window. The room has trainers, bicycle pumps and other sundry items strewn about.
Poor Ethel, my bicycle, has sat unloved. 

I’m looking forward to the warmer weather so I can garden, ride my bicycle and have drinks on my porch. Who knows, my weekends may even catch up to my weekday activities. 

If that happens I’ve no idea what I’ll call myself!