fitness · Guest Post · motivation

Aim Small: Why Big Goals Aren’t Always The Way to Start (Guest Post)

By Ella Connor

It’s a funny time of year to be involved with fitness. On the one hand it’s wonderful to see so much focus in the media and in general consciousness on the things that I value – health, fitness, strength, all the mental and physical benefits that come from exercise. Having those things in the forefront of people’s minds, if only for a few weeks, is undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand though, I do find some of the messages around it, particularly on social media, to be unhelpful and, more importantly, actually potentially damaging in terms of people sustaining new fitness habits. 

An awful lot of the fitness messages that we receive at this time of year are grand in scale – “New Year, New You”, “Set Your Goals and Smash Them”, “Transform Yourself in 2020”, “Go hard or go home”. That sense of optimism and unlimited possibility is what gets an awful lot of people through the gym doors in January. But I’m not convinced it’s the best approach to keeping them there in February, March or 2021. Now, I’m not knocking big goals – I’ve trained for things in my life that a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have dreamed possible – but I didn’t start on the journey with those things in mind. Huge transformations are possible in anyone’s life, but they don’t happen overnight. The difficulty with starting your fitness journey with a big, transformative goal is that it won’t happen quickly and, quite often, it may not happen at all. Fitness isn’t linear, life gets in the way, stuff happens and best laid plans can go awry. Sometimes it turns out that the goal simply isn’t possible. I know we’re all supposed to believe that “if you dream it, you can do it”, but the hard reality of our fallible bodies, with their individual strengths, weaknesses and quirks is that sometimes you can’t. And it’s often not until you try that you find that out. 

If that’s the case, and your journey was entirely motivated by a fixed, inflexible end goal or vision, it’s hard not to see it as failure. And that sense of failure can kibosh the entire operation – “I tried, I failed, I give up”. Out goes the baby with the bath water – too much investment in an overarching end goal as the focus of a regime invariably means the little victories along the way go unnoticed. If your entire focus is being a size 10, and after three months of training you’re a size 12 with much better movement patterns and greater strength, chances are you’re going to see yourself as a failure and maybe throw away all those hard won benefits which could have taken you in a new direction. 

As a trainer, whilst I love new clients who have enthusiasm for change, I am always concerned about those who bubble over at the start with talk of how this is going to change their lives and be a totally fresh start for a new them. That all or nothing spirit and heavy investment in an imagined, often slightly abstract, outcome is unlikely to last through the inevitable set backs and hiccups that any kind of fitness journey involves. And it’s hard to get people with that mindset to appreciate the achievement of adding 5kg to their deadlift or improving their movement pattern for a squat because it doesn’t feel relevant to the reason why they are there. 

Often it’s the clients who start out with the aim of just starting who last the course. When you start any kind of fitness regime, it’s not a bad idea to simply see the process as the goal. Commit to three workouts a week rather than losing three stone, or getting totally shredded or being a size 10 by March. Decide that three workouts or runs or yoga sessions a week is good thing for you to do (because it definitely is!), do it for that reason and just see what happens. 

Chances are, as you progress, you’ll discover your own new smaller, measurable, more personal, achievable goals (nail that downward dog posture, run a sub 30 min 5 km, deadlift your body weight) which will motivate you along the way much better and lead to bigger goals in time. You might actually discover that your chosen end goal is an entirely different beast from the one you thought it was at the start – some of my best moments as a trainer have been when I’ve seen my client’s thoughts switch from a generic long term fat loss or aesthetic goal to a personal target of strength or speed – that’s when I know they have real investment in the process and a chance of genuine change. 

Slow change doesn’t make for great copy. “Be consistent and see what happens” is never going to be as catchy as “smashing your goals”. But it might just work. 

Ella Connor

I am a former lawyer turned personal trainer and fitness instructor. I love to lift heavy objects, run and climb obstacles. I work and train in Essex, UK.

competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running · swimming · triathalon

Is this what retirement is like? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.

Author in a comfortable arm chair, sitting in front of a fireplace with her feet up, reading a book with her dog at her side.

And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.

It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day.  No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?

I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible? 

Empty YMCA pool.  All lanes free.

It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.

Was this what retirement is like?

The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out. 

I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side. 

Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for. 

I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired. 

I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there. 

Done! I signed up. 

Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East. 

As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else. 

I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been. 

I think I might  be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.” 

I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends. 

Author, School photo.  Looking very professional in a pink top and pearls.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.  

climbing · fitness · Guest Post

On route names in climbing (guest post)

When you enter a long distance trail race, it isn’t called the Wet Dirty Crack 100k. When you enter a soccer tournament, it isn’t called the Spread ‘Em Baby Tournament.

When you take up rock climbing, you don’t have that “luxury.” You have entered a subculture where adolescent male sexual humour has had free play. By convention, the “first ascensionist” of a climbing route gets to name the route, and they name it for whatever is on their mind. Sometimes the results are delightful and witty. Names emerge from days of hanging out at the cliff, working hard, shooting the breeze with friends. There’s a rich kind of free association and play that works its alchemy.

But alchemists don’t always turn lead into gold. Sometimes they just end up with lead. Here’s a page from the recently released guidebook for the climbing in the Blue Mountains in Australia.


Jennifer Wigglesworth at Queen’s University in Ontario (Canada) is working on a PhD on women’s experiences in climbing. The Globe and Mail this year published an article on her work. My own local community figures in that article, with a gym owner and route developer defending these so-called spicy names. You gotta like that the journalist ended the piece with a classic quote from him: he says that the critics of these naming practices should grow up.

It took me some time to get my head around everything I think is wrong with this route-naming practice. There’s still lots of open discussion to have in the community–about what’s problematic and about how to bring about change.

There’s the obvious colonial history of people “finding” places and naming them as they please. The history of climbing is historically deeply entwined with the European project of “finding” places that were never lost.

I see sexualized route names as a form of sexual harassment. Consider the comparison I started with. If someone down at my university’s athletic centre wanted to name a soccer tournament “Spread ‘Em Baby”, students would have reasonable grounds to object to that as a form of sexual harassment. Making it a price of admission to the sport that you have to take part in (or exclude yourself from) activities with sexualized names is just that.

Some people don’t take the analysis that far: what they object to is derogatory names, not sexualized names. So our local community’s new guidebook (not the one pictured above) has derogatory names removed–where the authors correctly identified that a name was derogatory. Derogatory names that they didn’t think of looking up in the urban dictionary remain. And the book treats us to nice long trips down memory lane explaining the previous derogatory names.

Sigh. Like buddy down at the gym who wanted to call it the “Spread ‘Em Baby” tournament was told no, he can’t do that—so he planted himself at the registration table and told everyone who registered how he came up with this oh-so-funny name and why, with the wisdom of age, since he has a daughter himself now after all, he now sees that “Spread” alone is better. “Spread” is a tournament he would be comfortable having his daughter register in.

One perspective you don’t see in The Globe and Mail article (one a local coach mentioned to me) is that the names become a problem when you are coaching a group of kids. What kind of crag are you willing to bring other peoples’ kids to?

This has been the germ of a whole new perspective I have on this naming behaviour. Given the well-known ability of 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls to crush hard routes that virtually all grown men only dream of climbing, I suspect the whole practice is really a move to keep away the most threatening competition.

I’ve made some surprising connections in my local community with women who love my suggestions for feminist revenge names. The process of thinking up revenge names is fun. Handy tip: you can just take the first ascensionist’s name and call the route “[Insert name]’s Sad [Dick/Crack/Hole] Joke”. I’m also planning a whole crag built around lyrics from Beyoncé’s Lemonade album.

I tried making a plea for some minimal standards with the sexualized joke names. Cracks are a rock feature often climbed. You can see where this is going. You can just imagine how worked up a sexually frustrated quasi-adolescent gets when repeating the word “crack” over and over again all day while trying to perform a physically challenging act on said crack. Crack climbs are absolutely the low-hanging fruit of sexualized route names.

So I proposed that we could at least have a moratorium on “crack” double entendres, on the minimal grounds that they’re just too obvious. To my surprise, some people in our little facebook debate were genuinely surprised to learn that their crack joke was not seen by everyone to be as clever as they thought it was. I guess that’s how potty humour perpetuates itself–generation after generation failing to perceive the obvious.

There’s a local crag (Sorrow’s End) with a route called “See with Joy.” Now there’s a name that captures something about the climbing experience. May there be many more names like that in the future.


cycling · Guest Post · planning · running · yoga

A different kind of running (Guest post)

By Shawna Lewkowitz

The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election. 

For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.

As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization,  Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.

 This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.

Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate. 

Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.

But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do. 

I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.

My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in. 

There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door. 

There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard. 

I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line. 

The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives. 

Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves. 

Crossfit · fitness · Guest Post · habits

Falling flat on day two of the New Year (Guest Post)

by Laura MacDonald

I love New Years.  In the dying days of December I love how anything seems possible.  A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends this year, what are you planning for in 2020?  I have lots of new ideas that I way toying with for 2020 (start a home yoga practice! learn to run!) but those were more fun ideas to think about than plans that I would likely follow through on. My true goal for 2020 was to return to consistency with my CrossFit workouts.  I have belonged to a CrossFit gym for seven years. It is a welcoming community of mixed ability athletes with wonderful coaches and outstanding programming. I love it. But it’s hard. I need to repeat that. I love it. But it’s hard. It can be very easy for me to decide to “unclick” myself from a class I registered for because I feel like I’m too tired, too drained from work to do a hard workout.  I struggle to see myself as an athlete and I can pretty easily get a case of the “I don’t wanna’s”’ when it comes to CrossFit. As a result, my attendance at the gym this fall has not been very consistent. But here we come with a new year, a new resolution and a renewed commitment to the CrossFit community that I love.

The gym was closed yesterday so today’s 7:00am class was my first class of my new habit.  Remember, I love a resolution! I packed my bag and laid out my clothing the night before. I got up before my alarm.  I drove to the gym in the dark. I briefing had two thoughts as I drove: 1) please God do not let this be a partner workout 2) please God do not let this be a long workout.  But I wasn’t really worried. Our workouts are usually short and partner workouts are unusual. 

Of course when I arrived at the gym, the workout was on the whiteboard.  It was long. Really long. It was also a partner workout. A hard one. 

I was unhappy but got ready for class nonetheless.  And then I read the skill portion of the workout – dodge ball.  Every third day of the week at my gym, the barbell lift portion of the class is replaced by a skill or occasionally a game.  I probably don’t need to tell you that I hate dodge ball, that I have some pretty terrible elementary school traumatic memories of dodge ball.  And do you know what friends? That was it. I picked up my gym bag, I put on my jacket and I left the gym. And I cried in my car for the whole drive home.

Seven years at this gym and I have never bailed on a workout.   And today I did.

Where does that leave me on day two of 2020?  Well, I’m booked to go back to the gym tomorrow and again on Saturday.  I’m booked to go to yoga this evening and on Sunday. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go for a walk with my dog in the sunshine.

Today I fell flat.  There really isn’t anything else to do but pick myself back up and try again. 

See you out there pals.  

2020 is still new.

Happy New Year! Text surrounded by leaves. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash .

Laura is a secondary school teacher in Hamilton Ontario.  She’s CrossFit athlete, regular walker, new yogi and occasional cyclist.  In 2019 she learned that she loved to count (steps and kilometres and workouts completed) and is currently counting her way to 300 workouts in 2020. 

219 in 2019 · fitness · Guest Post

20-20 Vision in 2020 (Guest Post)

by Alice MacLachlan

Sam asked me to tell you all about the 219 workouts in 2019 group, why I joined, and why I’m rejoining 220 for 2020.

Here’s the thing: the group is a fabulous idea. It’s a dynamic group of awesome people doing a wide range of activities. People’s workouts ranged from walking the dog or taking the kids skating, to Yoga with Adriene (a fan favourite), CrossFit, triathlon training, ballet, and serious resistance work. Seeing these exercises drift across your fb feed gives you new ideas for things to try, and the rising numbers (workout #20! Workout #42! Workout #210) are inspiring. It really is – or should be – a reliable recipe for success.

And yet, I didn’t do it. Not only did I not make 219 workouts, but I didn’t even come close. I stayed in the group and read everyone’s posts, liked as many as I could, and was glad to follow my friends. But I stopped updating – it felt silly, and then humiliating, to be in the low double-digits when everyone else was at three. And that’s ok: true, I hadn’t *initially* planned to broadcast the fact by blog post – but I was ok with it.

So, in some ways I’m absolutely the wrong person to write this post, but maybe in others that makes me the right one. Maybe you, the reader, are like me: you used to be someone who exercised, who loved and prioritized it, who made it a habit and a joy. Then things changed and life got more complicated, time filled and your body changed. Two gorgeous kids and a miscarriage took their toll, as did turning 40. Runs hurt instead of healed, yoga gave you time to fret rather than flex, muscles cramped, tendons swelled, and it became easier to just not.

I joined 219 in 2019 with the hope that I could use this group to turn it all around, to become the person I used to be. And it didn’t work. I was part of a lovely group doing all the right things, but it still didn’t work.

But I’m rejoining now with 20-20 vision, as it were, with a clearer vision of myself and my body and my plans. I’m going to revisit what counts as a workout for me (it might not be a long run, anymore; it might be a short walk to the playground for some rough and tumble play with my kids), and revise my expectations for how many I can do.

220 is a good goal, but so is 200, or even 20 + 20. I still like the idea of doing it surrounded – even virtually – by a group of excellent people. And I look forward to more ideas and inspiration. I recently learned that two of my fitness heroes (shoutout to Sam and Rebecca) only started working out seriously around my age. It’s nice to know I didn’t miss the boat.

When I round out 2020 I will probably be exactly the same person I am today, in exactly the same body. I plan to enjoy moving, and reading about the movements of others, along the way. Maybe even 220 times – who knows?!

Alice MacLachlan is a former marathon runner, boxer, and soccer player – and current expert on all things Frozen, Paw Patrol, and PJ Masks. She also teaches philosophy at YorkUniversity, co-edits Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, and thinks too much about civility, apologies, and forgiveness. 

climbing · fitness · Guest Post · strength training

Get a grip (guest post)

Shortly after starting indoor rock climbing, I found out that my grip strength was going to be a limiting factor, especially when I tried out the bouldering wall. So, I decided to train my grip strength. To get a baseline to measure my progress against, I asked my gym for a go at their grip strength tester.

I pulled about 100lbf. “You have excellent grip strength!” the gym attendant said, pointing at the last column of the “female” table, which topped out at 70lbf. That didn’t seem right to me because while I can open jars, I couldn’t hang on in any but the absolute easiest bouldering routes. So I checked the “male” table.

[img description: A grip strength tester reading about 100 pounds, set next to a paper showing two tables with age ranges and grip strength categories from “needs improvement” to “excellent”. The top table says “female” and the “excellent” grip strength column has numbers around 70 pounds. The bottom table says “male” and the “needs improvement” grip strength column has numbers around 90 pounds.]

“Poor,” it said.

Literally, this manufacturer’s grip strength assessment put the weakest of wimpy men at stronger than the strongest of women.

I would have understood overlapping results with “average” on the men’s table being a bit higher than on the womens. But this?

Anybody who trusts this table won’t recommend grip strength training to women but will to men, for the same strength measurement. It quite directly encourages men and discourages women from strength training. “Oh you’re plenty strong enough, lady,” it says. No need to get stronger.

Then people wonder why men tend stronger.

When I pointed this out to the gym attendant, he was shocked, and went looking for a better grip strength table, but all the ones he found on the internet had the same gap between the top of the women’s table and the bottom of the men’s table.

A much more useful grip strength table, in my opinion, wouldn’t be split by gender at all, and would have column headings like “can open most commercially sealed jars,” “can hang 50kg body weight with a 2 handed grip,” and so on. Because it looks to me like every female climber is going to be well into the “men’s” table,and whether your grip strength is “excellent” or “needs improvement” should really depend on what you need and want to do, not on some arbitrary and sexist value judgement

Varve is a nonbinary novice climber who is heartily sick of being told they can’t do something because they’re “a girl” – and has been since long before knowing there was anything outside the binary.