Fear · fitness · Martha's Musings · weight lifting

Embracing the fear

A couple of months ago, my trainer bought a Halloween skeleton as a joke. She posed it in different machines with appropriate captions. One of the pictures featuredfilippo-ruffini-427590 the skeleton on the Jacob’s ladder, a climbing machine that can go at different speeds.

I don’t like the machine; in fact, I avoid it at all costs. When I learned it was not working, I expressed an immoderate amount of happiness. My trainer, who is as perceptive as she is focused, asked what the issue was. I told her I despised the jake and furthermore I was afraid of it. Her response: If you genuinely hate it, we can leave it out. If it’s fear, then when we face it is your call.”

That comment stopped me in my tracks. While I might not like a particular exercise (go away Bulgarian split squats),  I usually complete them and do the best job I can. It never occurred to me to think about why I was afraid of that machine and why I hid the fear behind the more innocuous phrasing of “dislike” or the even stronger word “despise.”

My dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” I’m not afraid of many things, but two I know for sure: heights and small spaces. The first is a consequence of mid-life hearing loss but the latter I have always had as did one of my parents. My claustrophobia is not limited to small spaces, but also includes masks which cover my face.

While I haven’t figured out what is at the root of my fear of the Jacob’s ladder, I know it is more than dislike. It is also not a function of mechanics. Once I am shown how to do something, I am usually pretty good at managing the parts involved in executing the action.

I know I am not ready to train on the bar by myself without a spotter, and that’s a safety issue. My arthritis sometimes makes my grip weak; with the greater weights I’m using now, I am not confident I can hang on to them, especialy when I get tired.

Fear is a pretty complex emotion. It can stop you from trying new things or maintaining others. While I am not ready to tackle the Jacob’s ladder, I do have other cardio-intensive activities I can choose to replace it.

Since I have started thinking more about the difference between disliking something and being afraid of it, I wonder what role fear plays in women choosing certain forms of activity compared to others. Last month in my column for our daily newspaper, I looked at how our fear of assault and harassment can limit our activities:

“…  how we live our lives as women is very different from how men live their lives. Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Durham University (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-41614720) has spent the last five years looking at the choices women make to manage their fear of sexual harassment and assault. Her work is echoed by another piece of research in which more than half of the 42,000 women surveyed reported limiting their activities out of fear.

Another researcher, Liz Kelly, talks about this as “safety work”, the conscious and unconscious strategy development we do every day to make sure we don’t put ourselves at risk. As Ver-Gray puts it, “Despite how common it is, or perhaps because of it, we rarely even think about the routine choices and changes we make to maintain a sense of safety.””

But I’m also thinking about my trainer’s comment that when I am ready to tackle the ladder, we will do it on my terms. That the decision is in my hands makes the fear more manageable. I can approach it when and where I choose. Having that element of control matters hugely, even if it also seems contradictory. After all, I go to a gym and work with a trainer precisely because I want someone to tell me what to do and when.

I’ve concluded the best thing I take away from incorporating fitness in my daily routine and gaining strength through powerlifting is how I maintain my own sense of power and agency. It also means learning how to face your fears and embrace them for the teachings they offer.

— MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s.






Vegan for Weight Loss? Not Necessarily but Don’t Let That Discourage You! #tbt

We hear all sorts of things about plant-based diets and how if you follow one you’ll lose weight. That’s not necessarily true. But that’s not a reason not to do it. People ask me all the time whether it’s an easy transition. My answer is always, “It’s easier than you think it will be.” That’s not to say it doesn’t mean making changes that take some thought and sometimes planning. But all in all, despite it not being a miracle diet, it’s a good way to eat and it’s not difficult to do.


Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.  http://www.theppk.com/2013/09/everyday-pad-thai/ Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese. http://www.theppk.com/2013/09/everyday-pad-thai/

It’s making the rounds again–the idea that a vegan or at least vegetarian diet is the best way to lose weight.  According to this article:

Overweight and obese adults who wanted to lose weight were randomly assigned to one of five low-fat and low-glycemic index diets: vegan (no animal products), vegetarian (dairy products included), pesco-vegetarian (dairy products and seafood included), semi-vegetarian (all food included, but red meat no more than once a week and poultry no more than five times a week), or omnivorous (no restrictions on food type and frequency).

Participants were told they could eat small amounts of nuts and nut butters, avocados, seeds, and olives in their diets but were encouraged to focus on lower-fat food options. The dieters were not given goals for limiting the number of calories they ate. As the researchers put it, “participants were free…

View original post 422 more words


On the home stretch!

I entered my 202nd workout of the year in the 217 in 2017 Facebook group.

There are 19 days left in the year and I have 15 workouts left to complete.

I’m on the home stretch. I can do this.

Yes, the injured knee means no snowy dog hikes, no winter bike commuting, no cross country skiing, and no fat biking but it does mean an awful lot of physio and spinning.

My Facebook friend Jason Breen is at it again for 2018.

Jason asks,


For the past two years, I have been hosting a fun and free fitness accountability group. We each did 216 workouts in 2016, we are on track for 217 in 2017.

I would love for you to join us for 218 in 2018.

LEAVE YOUR NAME and “I’M IN” in the comments and I’ll add you to the 2018 group.

You can read below for more info.

WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2018 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 218 times in those 365 days.

WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also count. Do what inspires you to move your body. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a check mark for every workout you complete. (3) Share your progress with the group.

Let’s get cracking!

fitness · skiing

Women to women information? Or just mansplaining marketing about athletic gear?

We love our Fit is a Feminist Issue readers and Facebook followers– they are always letting us know about interesting, vexing, puzzling or useful stories.  One of the latest involves the Womentowomen site for Blizzard skis.  It purports to provide women with needed information so they will feel less intimidated when going to purchase skis.  Here’s their blurb on Facebook:

This is a post from the Blizzard Facebook page offering to help women understand what skis they should buy from Blizzard, and showing a variety of pastel colors of ski offerings.
This is a post from the Blizzard Facebook page offering to help women understand what skis they should buy from Blizzard, and showing a variety of pastel colors of ski offerings.

The responses from women skiers ranged from eye-rolling and sighing to comments that showed that no, they don’t need any terminology breakdowns; they got this.  The main thrust was that Blizzard offers no terminology tutorial in its men-specific or general information sites; why target women particularly when it sells to all levels of skiers of all genders?

I looked a little more at their marketing, and the soft-soap/hand holding approach for women seems popular in their marketing department.  Let’s take a quick look at the copy for two sets of skis, both designed for expert skiers.  First, the men’s skis:

Ad copy for men's ski Rustler 10-- "the ski of choice for those looking to have fun while pushing themselves to ski better and explore all corners of the hill in any snow conditions".
Ad copy for men’s ski Rustler 10– “the ski of choice for those looking to have fun while pushing themselves to ski better and explore all corners of the hill in any snow conditions”.

Yeah, alright!  Let’s do some shredding, dude.

Now to the women’s ski, also designed for expert skiers:

Ad copy for the women's expert ski, including thes snippets: "fun and forgiving, while offering up stability and versatility... confidence inspiring, elevated skiing experience... Who wants to work hard when you can play harder?"
Ad copy for the women’s expert ski, including these snippets: “fun and forgiving, while offering up stability and versatility… confidence inspiring, elevated skiing experience… Who wants to work hard when you can play harder?”

Argh.  Really?  The expert women skiers are supposed to respond to “confidence-building”, “fun and forgiving”, and buy a ski because they don’t want to work hard?

I don’t think this woman is looking not to work hard; do you?

A woman skiing in deep powder at Alta in Utah.
A woman skiing in deep powder at Alta in Utah.

This woman doesn’t need any forgiveness from her skis– she is telling them exactly what to do and is in charge.

A woman in an orange ski jacket carving  turn down the side of a mountain.
A woman in an orange ski jacket carving turn down the side of a mountain.


Of course not all ski marketing treats expert women skiers as in need of confidence-building.  Here’s an ad I would definitely respond to (if I were a downhill skier):

A female skier headed down a very seriously steep descent; the ad copy reads "the Lange RX 110 is for an expert skier who pushes her limits in the steeps."
A female skier headed down a very seriously steep descent; the ad copy reads “the Lange RX 110 is for an expert skier who pushes her limits in the steeps.”

Yeah!  That’s what I’m talking about.  I want to see women skiing down scary steeps, taking air, navigating drops, and pushing their limits.  We want adrenaline rushes (at least in aspirational marketing material) as much as the men do.  Or at least we want it as an option.

So enough already with the namby-pamby “this is easy” and “let us explain this to you” business.  Give us thrills and chills and hard-driving rock soundtracks.  And less pastel-colored gear, while you’re at it.


“I am the cyclist in my life,” says Sam

Dear bike shop staff,

Please don’t assume that female customers are Christmas shopping for that “special cyclist in their life.” They might actually be taking a break from shopping for others to look for something for themselves.

When someone asked me that, I smiled and said that I was the cyclist in my life.

All fine, all fixed.


A pink bike with a blue basket leaning against a black fence
Photo by Dana Vollenweider on Unsplash
fitness · Uncategorized

In a tizzy

I’m in a tizzy these days.  In case you’re wondering what that means:

A definition of the word "tizzy": a state of nervous excitement or agitation. "he got into a tizzy and was talking absolute nonsense". synonyms: frenzy, state of anxiety, state of agitation, nervous panic, fret, hysteria.
A definition of the word “tizzy”: a state of nervous excitement or agitation. “he got into a tizzy and was talking absolute nonsense”. synonyms: frenzy, state of anxiety, state of agitation, nervous panic, fret, hysteria.

Why?  Here are some reasons:

  1. It’s that period of maximum activity between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the US, in which we are bidden to feast, shop, party, cook, attend holiday-themed events, plan travel or visits from others, finish up plans for 2017 and devise new plans for 2018.
  2. It’s the last week of my academic semester in which both my students and I have the most work to do (me–grading; them–assignments) and they are at their most panicked (provoking same in me).
  3. Because of the aforementioned conditions outlined in 1) and 2), all of my exercise/activity/self-care regimens have gone by the wayside– seriously by the wayside.  The wayside by which they have gone is not even remotely in sight anymore.
  4. I’m still doing some yoga everyday (today is day 66!), but the amount of yoga has shrunk to a few sun salutations, legs up the wall, a twist or two, and sometimes a yoga-in-bed video, which lasts 5–7 minutes.  I really need and want more yoga, but it’s also by that long-since-left wayside mentioned in 3).
  5. Just when I think the world can’t possibly accommodate even one more additional depressing or appalling news story, several come galloping across my news feed.

I don’t feel even a smidgen of control over my life right now.  Naturally, 1)–5) are contributing to this feeling.  But even apart from them, I’m not sure exactly what to do or how to prioritize things I want or need to do.  I’m not sure how fast or slow I should be going.  I do know that going slow feels good until time passes and I realize how little I’ve gotten accomplished.  I also know that going fast is a limited option– I can manage it to finish an urgent deadline, but then I collapse for a while.

So I’ve decided to come up with my Christmas/holiday gift list a bit early.  Here’s what I want:

  1. permission (from myself and the universe, by which I really just mean myself) to be in this state of tizziness.  It won’t make the tizzy go away, but at least it won’t add a layer of useless guilt.
  2. a little more quiet, so I can listen to myself.  I think we often know what we want and need, but have to listen.  Right now there’s too much cacophony to be able to hear anything.
  3. clarity for honest appraisal of what I think I can and want to do.  Yes, I have a lot of goals– athletic, academic, domestic, social, etc.   But not all of them are doable or even really at the top of my list, provided I had one.  Time to focus.
  4. sufficient gumption to prioritize goals, plans, activities.  I’m lucky and privileged to have a job where I have some control over some of my activities, and I am very grateful.  All the more reason not to waste this gift.  Instead I’d like to put it to work for me and others.
  5. oh, I would like a new (to-me; it can be used) commuter bike, specifications to be named later.  I figured while I’m making my wish list, I might as well add that to it.

Seriously, though, we can all use some time and space for reflection before/in lieu of getting caught up in the end-of-year and beginning-of-year frenzied planning.  What’s on your wish list during this time of year?

Here’s a pretty picture that maybe represents some stuff I want, including a spot on the beach next to those balancing rocks.

two rocks balancing on a flat rock, which is balancing on a triangular rock, sitting on a beach, with blue sky and sea in the background. Aaaaahhhh...
two rocks balancing on a flat rock, which is balancing on a triangular rock, sitting on a beach, with blue sky and sea in the background. Aaaaahhhh…



Why I’m Trying to Break Free of the Uniformity of Activewear

Nike Uniformity
Women’s activewear, while meant to be functional, often tends to all look the same. 

I decided last month to get back to the gym. It had been a while since I’d regularly attended, despite being in a good groove last winter. Going to the gym was about my alone time, my unwinding time. I’d put on a podcast and rather than rush to get there by taking my bike or transit, I’d walk the 30 minutes from my place to the YMCA on College street.

But, I always find getting back into gymming after time away to be challenging. And then there’s the gear. I’ve got to pack a bag complete with gym shoes, gym socks, sports bra, tights and gym shirt, Bluetooth headphones, a snack, protein shake, ball cap, iPhone, and a lock. It really becomes a whole “thing” to go to the gym.

So last month I decided to do something differently—what if I just didn’t make it a thing? What if I just worked out in whatever comfy home clothes I wore that day? What if I stopped by the Y as one of my various errands I had to do in the area? What if it wasn’t about getting a “good workout”, but just about going and doing the exercises I’ve been craving?

I was excited about this new mindset, but when I arrived in my baggy sweatpants and loose Homer Simpson t-shirt, I definitely noticed that I stood out from the other women there. Most women my age wear the same gym uniform: black or patterned tights and a snug sweat-wicking tank top. In fact, that’s what I normally wear too. But something felt different this time going dressed as “myself.”

My Homer-Simpson-as-the-Godfather t-shirt. One of my favourite workout t-shirts, (or hanging around the house t-shirts, or going grocery shopping t-shirts, or writing my dissertation t-shirts…). 

I think that, on some level, when I was dressed in the usual workout uniform, it was very easy for me to look to other women and their bodies and compare myself. After all, when we’re all wearing the same thing, it becomes pretty easy to notice the differences. Shes thinner. Shes more muscular. Shes got bigger x, or she’s smaller y. I know I’m not supposed to do this sort of thing. It’s bad for self-esteem, self-image, and generally doesn’t help with my own fitness goals or accomplishments. But it happens. Even when I don’t intend it to. Actually, especially, when I don’t intend it to.

Outside of the gym, I’m the kind of person who places a lot of my self-expression in my sense of style. Having fun with fashion is a big part of who I am. But donning the gym uniform felt to me as if I was stripping away a part of myself when I’d go workout. And while the clothes are also about function, I’ve just never been the sort of person who enjoys skin-tight clothes in any context. (So why did I think I’d enjoy it at the gym??)

Diane Keatonstyle
Diane Keaton, one of my style icons! I wonder what she wears to the gym? (Probably just regular gym clothes…)

Unfortunately, the activewear industry is for the most part fairly uniform these days, apart from some advances in certain areas (as with the launch of the Nike Pro Hijab). I was hard-pressed to think of other types of self-expression or diversity in activewear. Even a quick Google search of “diverse activewear” pretty much shows the same sorts of things: bright and tight.

Ah well, for now I’ll stick to my oversized Homer Simpson t-shirt.

Nike Hijab
Earlier this year, Nike announced upcoming release of it’s Nike Pro Hijab, a sweat-wicking, breathable Hijab for female Muslim athletes. 

What about you? Do you care about what you work out in? Is it about comfort physically or psychologically? Does it feel like “You” or an extension of You? Or do you feel self-conscious?