cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Hammer Down in Flanders (Guest Post)

Pam! Let’s put the hammer down!

Let this be your cheer, your mantra, your slogan, your driving force in your next bike race or in whatever kind of racing you do. (Note Pam! is not someone’s name, but more like bam! or wham!)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig gives an exciting play-by-play of how she raced in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, aka Tour of Flanders, bike race last weekend. The Dane came in third, but she’s a winner in her heart. She loves the race, the fans, the energy of big-time pro cycling in Belgium. At the critical moment in the race, she and her breakaway companions saw they had the lead, but the main group was closing in fast. At that moment: “Pam! Let’s put the hammer down!” so the break could stay away.

Direct link for mobile users:

The Tour of Flanders featured women’s and men’s races, with huge crowds lining the roads because: Belgium. Cycling is the most popular sport in the country. The women raced 157 km, and the men raced 265 km.  However, both women and men raced over the same famous short steep climbs like the Kanarieberg,  the Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg. These hills brutalize the legs with uneven cobblestones and gradients from 8% to 22%. And the winner often comes from the leading groups over these climbs.

I’ve watched many post-race interviews with cyclists (men and women) who say milk toasty things like, “I felt strong, the team was great, I’m happy to win” in their I’m-too-cool-and-accustomed-to-winning monotone. Not so for Cecilie, who puts us on the bike next to her in the race: the effort, the anticipation, split-second decisions in the breakaway, the exhaustion. And most important: THE JOY OF RACING.

Unfortunately, some in the male-dominated cycling media christened this video “hilarious.” It seems like a bit of a put-down. Because it’s funny when women show excitement and emotion? Because she didn’t listen to the media-training about not moving around and using her hands? Because she laughs? Come on, boys, bike racing is fun! I prefer adjectives like “fantastic” or “awesome” for her race re-cap.

Cecilie inspires me, and I hope she inspires you.  Her compatriots in New York feel the joy, too.  @DenmarkinNY re-tweeted the video with: “May you live every day with the same confidence and enthusiasm as Danish cyclist Cecilia Uttrup Ludwig!”

For more about Cecilie and her path to pro cycling,  check out Rouleur’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig – conveyor belt to success.

Mary Reynolds splits her time between Berlin and Tucson, and blogs with her partner at

fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · habits · health · Metrics · motivation · Tools · trackers

A WayBetter way to exercise? (Guest post)

Elan Paulson is an exercise-curious, occasional guest blogger on FIAFI.

The world of business has many concepts to describe how it sells things to people. One is innovation. According to Clayton M. Christiansen here and in other places, there are two main kinds of innovation.

  • Sustaining innovation refers to how businesses with many resources (those that dominate the market) make a product better for their target consumers.
  • Disruptive innovation refers to how businesses with fewer resources explore new ways of meeting the demands and interests of new or underserved consumers.

According to Christiansen, sustainers focus on improving a product, while disruptors challenge sustainer dominance by focusing on changing processes (of product creation, distribution, etc.). Disruption occurs when the innovation becomes mainstream.

There’s more to say about these concepts, including my critique of them as lens for sense-making, but for the moment I want to use them to understand WayBetter, a subscription service that has emerged in the health and wellness app industry.

In its About section, one of the WayBetter co-founders describes its services as “a whole category of games that help people stick to their commitments” because “life is better when you can turn work into play.”

This is what he means: Users bet their own money that they can accomplish a specific time-bound exercise goal. After the allotted time, users who achieved the behaviour-based goal receive back their own money (through a point system) as well as a cut of what was ponied up by those who did not meet the goal. Picture-taking and sync-ups with exercise tracking technology are put in place to minimize cheating.

In Christiansen’s terms, WayBetter is a disruptive innovation for how it has found a new process to promote exercise behaviours. (Its name suggests that it has literally found a “better way” to exercise). While other companies sell on-site, group-based fitness memberships and training services, WayBetter offers the flexibility of anytime, anywhere activity as well as the support of a group. WayBetter emphasizes how the process is fun: pay yourself for exercising. WayBetter has developed a market not in exercise programming but in exercise motivating.

However, WayBetter is a disruptor not because it turns “work into play” but because one could regard this as a betting service, or a form of gambling. (Waybetter). On one hand, the “game” is betting on yourself, and getting back your money simply by doing the exercise that you said you would do. On the other hand, an enterprising exerciser could choose “runbets” that other exercisers might be less likely to complete, thus maximizing their chance of a higher return than what they initially bet. WayBetter turns exercise into a game of predictive markets, and exercisers into investors.

So, it’s possible to think about WayBetter as a disrupter not for how it reaches underserved consumers (read unsuccessful/unmotivated exercisers) but for how it has created a new market—one of venture capitalism. Motivate yourself not simply to do exercise but to earn money off of the failure of others to motivate themselves to exercise.

At the moment, WayBetter’s dietbet claims 700,000 users, and the runbet website boasts that users have logged over 1,677,000 miles. I don’t know details about its income, but WayBetter takes a rake of each bet and uses third-party advertising. With no compensation, stock, acquisitions, or other company information currently available on Bloomberg, it’s not fully clear whether WayBetter’s disruptive innovation will become a sustained innovation.

But I believe it will become a sustained innovation because the value of its ability to change behaviour pales in its ability to change in mindset about exercise not (only) as a game but as a financial investment. WayBetter’s legacy may very well be how it and other services like it will change the very meaning of exercise by casting it (explicitly or implicitly) in market terms.

And, whether consumers win, recover, or lose their money, WayBetter still comes out Way Ahead.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Guest Post · weight lifting

A Deadlift of the Will (Guest Post)

The deadlift is my least favourite exercise. I know it’s good for me. It hits every major muscle, and yet…

Part of it is physical. I have really small hands, and this makes for a weak grip. My hands fail me long before my legs and back. Part of it is psychological. It is hard to muster all those useful emotions that help with other lifts, such as anger and fear.  There is no adrenalin that the barbell will crush you on the bench or that you will be trapped in the hole with the squat. In the deadlift, the barbell is just on the floor, minding its own business until you upset it. Why not let dead barbells lie?

This year I have been training for my first strong woman competition which involves a “last man standing” deadlift event, where competitors will have to perform a 90 kilogram deadlift every 30 seconds until they can’t. In order to train for that, I have recently been lifting 100 kilogram deadlifts every 20 seconds. I’m sure I’ve done more deadlifts this year then I have in my entire training life.  And it has changed my attitude to deadlifts.

When I am asked by people who do not do so much weight training about the events, many puzzle on the word “deadlift”. Why is it called that? Yes, of course, because you are lifting a dead weight off the ground. But is there more to it than that?

I have read on many fitness blogs that the history of the deadlift goes back to ancient Rome from soldiers lifting their dead from the battlefields. But no sources are ever cited and I am a bit dubious. It’s also not a universal term. In Swedish, the deadlift is sensibly called marklyft or floor lift and in French soulevé de terre, elevated from the ground. These words reflect the English meaning of picking up dead weight without assistance of any kind. While the deadlift as a particular kind of weightlifting exercise does not have such a long history, the concept of picking up a dead weight from the ground and lifting it, surely does not need an origin story.

Yet the deadlift has a rich history of more figurative meanings. I am very sympathetic to an earlier meaning of deadlift recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary that was apparently common in the 17th Century: “A position or juncture in which one can do no more, an extremity, ‘a hopeless exigence’.

Deadlifts also crop up frequently in the 19th century. Artist William Morris describes the neglect of art appreciation as requiring a “deadlift”, the historian Thomas Carlyle explores various “deadlift efforts” in history, and novelist F. Anstey talks about “the burden of a conversational deadlift”. And then, I came across this gem from the Transactions of the Michigan State Teachers Association of 1877:

“It is not true that mental exercise is useful only when it is repulsive and distasteful, needing a deadlift of the will; but it is true that a good many ‘lifts’ have to be made, and the child must be got ready for them by lifting. It is true that no subject is good for the training of a child in which the child is not capable of achieving something, and of enjoying the achievement; but it is not true that a subject is always good for him in the long run, in proportion to his present capacity and liking for it. Sometimes it is the case that a child, or older pupil, who has small capacity for a subject, and finds little pleasure in its pursuit, develops, through application and study, great capacity and pleasure.” (my emphasis)

I am going to take that as sage advice from a 19th century writer who would likely be shocked to learn of its application to a strong woman competition in the 21st century. When it comes to deadlifts, I am that child, but slowly through increased application and study, the deadlift is growing in capacity and pleasure.

Weights at a gym. Photo by Evan Wise. Unsplash.

Virginia is an associate professor of literature and a powerlifter.

clothing · fashion · gear · Guest Post

Attention Barbell Apparel: I am your target market

I lift weights. I am cis-female. I buy jeans.

When I go to the mall to buy jeans, I can literally try on every style in Macy’s or Nordstroms and walk away without a single pair that fits me well. I have a narrower-than-average waist (28-29 inches) and wider-than-average thighs (each about 24 inches around). So, I often have to choose between fitting my legs into pants and then having enormous gapping at the waist, or squeezing my legs in tight enough that I’m at risk of losing circulation when I sit down so that it fits around my middle.

Needless to say, I was THRILLED therefore to discover Barbell Apparel, who markets their jeans to lifters–with sizing not just for the waist measurement but with a THIGH measurement too! I enthusiastically became their customer and signed up for their email list to keep up on marketing. These pants are not cheap, and I knew I’d want to restock when they were on sale.

And for the last 2 years, EVERY email I’ve gotten from them since, minus perhaps one at Christmas, has been targeted exclusively to men and their men’s line.

Some weeks ago, I sent them feedback–are they aware that they only market their men’s line? It might be good to have two types of emails–one targeted to the folks buying women’s clothes and one for those buying men’s. Alternately, maybe include images from both lines in each email? It would help me feel valued and part of the club! After all, women lifters already are a minority within a minority (I’ve written about my own experiences with this previously). Any company that helps me feel like I’m in the club will win my appreciation and loyalty!

The response I got back suggested they didn’t get it. “We are excited to announce we will be adding to our women’s line very soon!” Ok, but do you hear me saying that you are excluding me by marketing only the men’s products?

It is frustrating. And I now feel more ambivalent about their products. I love the idea of celebrating my proportions–my big, strong thighs are NOT typically treated as admirable, but here is a clothing line with proud tank tops declaring “Thunder Thighs!” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they show that pride in their marketing materials, too.

What say you? Do you feel included and celebrated by the manufacturers of products you are loyal to? What types of inclusivity do you value in advertising?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Guest Post

Navigating fitness in a body that doesn’t fit expectations (Guest post)

By Andrea Zanin

CN for size, body image and fitness stuff (but this is not about me trying to lose weight, in case that makes a difference to you).

Tried out a pilates class tonight at a new gym. I ended up on a mat at the very front of the class in front of the mirror (I’m usually a “back corner” kind of class participant). It was… weird. I don’t know if it was the angles, or the light, or actual reality, but from where I stood I was able to notice a few things.

One, I was bigger than pretty much everyone else in the class. I’m not huge – but I sure felt like it in that context, especially being positioned very much in the spotlight. It was uncomfortable not because I didn’t like my appearance, but because I’m hyper-aware (as someone who used to work in the fitness industry in a past life) of how desperately important Being Skinny is to many gym-going women. So seeing my curvy ass up ahead was likely serving as a “before” picture for them. It reminded me of why I dislike gym culture even as I love working out, and of how gendered certain types of exercise are even when they’re really good for all sorts of people.

Two, I was stronger than most people in the class. The moves felt nearly effortless, so much so that I at times wondered if I was doing them wrong. As I looked around at a room full of skinny women in skinny designer workout clothes (I was in a HotDocs t-shirt!) sweating and straining and shaking, I remembered how prioritizing being skinny means you try not to build muscle, you maybe don’t eat enough to nourish muscle development, you maybe don’t have the blood sugar to stay firm and grounded when you’re making efforts you’re not used to, especially with peripheral muscles. My years in the weight room, on the climbing wall, in the yoga studio, plus my everyday cycling, means my body feels like a thick old tree trunk at this point – deeply rooted, strong as fuck, well nourished, balanced even in my weather-beaten imbalance.

Three, separately from the mirror situation, I also noticed how certain moves *were* actually super challenging for me – not from lack of strength, but from impinged mobility. The ones that involved lots of articulated spine movement showed me how my strong muscles also hold a great deal of stiffness, despite megadosing on magnesium and stretching lots. Like, when doing ab crunches with a hard foam roller under my middle back, the sit-up part was easy, but draping my back over the roller for the “resting” part was a painstaking, scary operation. This is exacerbated by the range of motion I can’t reach in my lower back because it triggers nerve pain, what with the remaining lump of cancer on my spinal cord plus scar tissue and missing spinal bones. This is probably a permanent limitation, so I’ll need to figure out how to work around it if I want to ramp up my overall fitness level. I love being a tree trunk – it’s certainly better than the block of concrete I used to be – but I need to become a bit more like a reed. More flexible, more functional, less rigid.

I feel ready to take my fitness up a notch. I want better circulation, stronger cardiovascular capacity, and greater flexibility, and to drain out leftover feelings of fragility and fear after my long period of disability. But I’m not sure I want to invest my time and effort in a setting where I feel like my body is going to be everyone else’s bad example – and this isn’t even because anyone *said* anything. Imagine if they did. I’m picturing myself turning from a serene old oak into the Whomping Willow…

So, not sure what comes next. More yoga (where there is more body diversity). More cycling as the weather warms – I’ve done 60 short rides so far this year (!), which is great, but I think it’s time for longer ones, and daily, or close to it. Maybe some personal training or physio for advice on the mobility stuff. And maybe a gym membership, though first I’ll have to decide whether not fitting in is a sufficient deterrent.

I would love to hear about others’ experiences of navigating fitness if you don’t fit into straight society’s expectations of what your body should be like, what your goals should be, and how you measure success.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

Guest Post · weight lifting

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barbell (Guest Post)

Catherine of Siena

I am a bit obsessed with bodies. Sinful bodies, holy bodies, compassionate bodies, sick bodies, extraordinary bodies, ordinary bodies. I wrote my dissertation about medieval regimes designed to stretch the body to its uttermost limit while maintaining mental and moral clarity. This spanned from the male desert ascetics to the mostly female late medieval mystics. Yet somehow in the course of this research, I neglected my own body. 

So, shortly after submitting, I decided to redirect my focus and in typical all or nothing fashion, I entered a bodybuilding contest to the outright horror and curious amusement of my academic friends.

It was a difficult and wonderful experience. It made me fall in love with my research again in that vulnerable time after you finish your PhD and nothing makes sense anymore. Whether or not female mystics saw God or not, the shared sensations of physical rigor – little sleep, extreme mortification (okay, we may be comparing lifting barbells with bathing lepers, but for the sake of argument), controlled nutrition – connected me to these women in both material and non-material ways. For myself, I experienced an unexpected pleasure and relief in being my own sadist and masochist. 

I started writing my bodybuilding story many years ago, reshaping it in various narrative voices: empowered, desperate, confused, arch. I’m still not satisfied, but it something about grief, friendship, guilt, self-image, transcendence, being a body and a soul. 

My powerlifting story is simpler. It is a story about my ass.

One of the goals of bodybuilding is symmetry and I am not naturally symmetrical. I have and always will be bottom-heavy, which meant I couldn’t really develop my lower body, which was always the most fun for me. 

So I decided to try powerlifting a few years ago. 

And I love it. Powerlifting is not an act of feminism or bravery that I perform for anyone else. It is a regime of self care. (Although some would say that wearing a Lycra singlet after the age of 30 is pretty damn courageous.) 

When I say it is a regime of self care, I don’t mean that it is healthy. I mean a psychological regime of self care. For me, powerlifting is the perfect antidote for academic anxiety. You slowly progress, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. There are some set-backs but you largely get out of it what you put in to it. 

Powerlifting consists in three lifts: bench press, dead lift and squat. You lift a certain weight and that is that. There is no unclear basis of comparison, uncertain benchmarks, luck of the draw. The weight I lift is the weight that I lift. Sure, I have strong days and I have not so strong days. But I can be fairly confident in my numbers, that it is not a fluke. It is not so clear cut with an academic career. 

And to get back to my ass, I love to squat. There is something really awesome and invigorating about packing on twice your body weight (and for some people, much, much more) onto a bar and then lowering it down without a clear idea of whether you will be able to bring it back up. Most of the time, you do, but sometimes you don’t. And the rack or someone else will catch it. Failure is part of getting stronger. That is just is not the case outside the gym. 

Bodybuilding was an academic exercise. But with powerlifting, I am no longer pumping irony. It is all much more earnest than that. You are there to do something specific. And if you want to be ironic about that, lose your focus, you might miss your lift. And not only would that look tragically ridiculous, but it might hurt.

Virginia is an associate professor of literature and a powerlifter.

Blue, yellow, and green plates
eating disorders · Guest Post · weight lifting

The Meditation of Weightlifting (Guest Post)

This is me at the Minnesota Open.  I am doing a clean and jerk.  

To talk about all the beneficial and amazing things weightlifting has given to me, it is necessary to talk about the not so great things that brought me there.  A bit of a perfect storm in my late 20s landed me in the dark and very scary depths of an eating disorder.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it.  I was very lucky to find and be admitted to a new intensive out-patient program in my area.  I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder.  Unofficially I was diagnosed with exercise anorexia and orthorexia, which are not diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM); therefore they are not “official” diagnoses. 

The behaviors I experienced (and sometimes still do) as part of disordered included assigning judgement to food, difficulties with body image, eating large amounts of food, exercising as a form of punishment, eliminating entire food groups, obsession with “good foods”, and a fear of not having food available.  This last one is fairly unique and part of the perfect storm I previously referenced.  I experienced extreme food insecurity for quite a few years, which can later lead to disordered eating. 

As I was working my way towards recovery I spent a lot of time in group and individual therapy.  There were certain patterns etched into my brain that needed to be broken.  On some days it was an all-out internal war, trying to create new healthier thoughts and behaviors.  Even now, in my late 40s, I still struggle and have little relapses that need to be righted.  I can recognize them more quickly and my tool box is much larger and much more easily accessed. 

Part of changing behaviors meant changing my relationship with food.  Nothing is off limits.  No food is a “bad” food and no food is a “good” food.  Food is fuel.  Food is fun.  Food is social.  I am a person who really likes food.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  For years I felt guilt about enjoying and eating food.  On the same note, exercise is not punishment.  It is not something I have to do because I ate food.  I don’t earn food by exercising.  I don’t do exercise activities I personally dislike. 

For years, therapists suggested yoga as a way for me to increase mindfulness.  I did yoga for years.  Guess what.  I don’t like yoga!  I finally figured that out and I don’t do it.  I do enjoy lots of sports.  I’ve been a runner, a cross-country skier, a martial artist, a swimmer, a biker…  The list could go on.  Recently I’ve found my sporting true love.  I am in love with Olympic weight lifting.  It is a release mentally and physically.  For me, it is meditative.  When I am lifting weights I rarely think of anything else.  I love to focus on all the nuances of the lift and the tiny adjustments I need to make in order to complete the best lift possible.  When the movement clicks, it is like magic.  The endorphins flow and I feel amazing.

There is a saying in lifting, “If the weight doesn’t scare you, it isn’t heavy enough.”  Honestly, the weight I am focusing on these days is how much weight is on the bar, not the weight on the scale.  I’ve learned to fuel my body so that I feel good.  This means having enough energy throughout the day and making sure I have good sources of fuel to keep me feeling healthy.  I know what works for me.  It may not work for others. 

In addition to finding weight lifting meditative and empowering I’ve also discovered a phenomenal group of supportive, body positive people.  When competing in Olympic Weightlifting one must wear a spandex weight lifting singlet, much like the ones wrestlers wear to compete.  I remember my first meet.  I had the singlet and it was under a lot of clothes.  I did my warmup.  I was standing in the line-up area feeling very anxious about getting down to the singlet.  All around me people of all sizes were shedding warm-up clothing and getting down to the business of singlet wearing.  I took a deep breath and off the clothes went.  Guess what?  No one said a word or raised an eyebrow.  As a matter of fact, after lifting I got nothing but a round of congratulations on my lifts.  As I have continued lifting I’ve meet men and women of all sizes who are nothing but supportive, uplifting and kind. 

I’ve used to be a person who literally hid at home eating food and didn’t go outside to exercise due to shame.  Now I go to the gym 5 days a week, but without feeling obligation or like it is punishment.  I go for the pure joy of it.  I’ve found my fitness love and I’ve found my fitness home.  Thanks to an amazing group of supportive athletes, a phenomenal coach (who took the time to learn about eating disorders) and gym mates I am free to be myself and be my best.   

Amy Lesher is a small business owner. She has owned a developmental/behavioral pediatric clinic for 10 years. When she is not running a business she spends her time lifting weights and attending CrossFit classes. She competes in Olympic weightlifting and holds the Minnesota state record for the Olympic lifting total in her division.