Last week I wrote about the wonders of walking lots, even if it won’t help you lose weight. At the end of the post I promised to talk about cardio exercises for those of us who can’t walk very much at all. I can manage a dog walk with my knee brace but I’m pretty slow moving and nervous with my seriously arthritic knees. Stairs are okay going up but impossible coming down.
I walk sometimes just for the joy of being outside but it’s not my go-to fitness activity.
But also it’s winter, in Canada, and some of my fitness time these days is in the gym.
My go fitness activities at the gym used to include running on a treadmill and that’s completely out of the question now. So with the help of a personal trainer (hi Meg!) I’ve been exploring some new cardio machines at the gym. Rowing was already on my hit list and I’ve left out cycling altogether. You’ve heard me talk lots about that. Yawn. Sometimes I go to the gym and just do 5 min of each of the following things and then repeat. It’s not a bad routine. Also, these machines are usually free even at the busiest of times. That’s one advantage of not using treadmills, elliptical machines, and the like.
These won’t work for everyone as some of them involve standing.
My gym, the campus fitness center, has all of the following machines:
Hand cycle: You can do both steady state and sprints with these. It’s more work than you might think.
Ski-erg: This was completely new to me and it feels like a pretty good full body workout.
Jacob’s Ladder: I’ve blogged about that before here.
Rowing machine: I’ve spent a lot of time erging, as rowers say. It’s a terrific workout. It’s the thing to me that feels most like the treadmill in that I can do it for awhile and listen to music. I often start my workouts with a 2k warm up and then try to do a speedier 2 k at the end.
There are also non-machine options, like aquafit and swimming, but I’ll leave those for another day.
How about you? What do you recommend for cardio that doesn’t involve knees very much?
You know you’ve been writing about fitness for a long time (hi there!) when a thing that was supposed to a Really Good Thing of which you can’t get enough, is now on the Bad For You list. We’ve been there with food. Eggs?Sugar?White bread? And also with exercise. Does running make you thin or fat? Who knows and who cares? Right? Right.
But now burpees. Really.
This all started with me picking up on Bicycling Magazine’s Charlee Atkins 10 essential exercises for cyclists. All in all it’s a pretty good list. I worked my way through the routine, only skipping the burpees. Because, knees.
So the next day I was chatting with Meg who is a personal trainer about another list, the three best exercises for women over 40, which I’d shared on Facebook with the comment, “What do you think the best exercises are? Around here we tend to say the best are the ones you enjoy, because you’ll both do them and add pleasure to your day. “
That list also has burpees and I was kind of surprised.
Meg did not have good things to say about burpees. She didn’t think they should have made either list. Burpees, it turns out, are going out of favour.
They’ve certainly gone out of favour with me since my knee injuries. As with running, there are no burpees in my future. But in my day, I’ve done a lot of burpees, including a full-on, all burpees all the time, summer challenge. It was a lot of hard work and I kind of enjoyed it in that weird way you can enjoy really hard things.
Here’s the case for burpees, from the 3 best exercises for women over 40 piece: “Burpees are one of the best full-body functional exercises you can do. Think about it — what is a burpee, really? It’s just lying down on the ground and getting back up again. I can’t count how many women I’ve trained who could not lie down and get back up when they first began getting serious about fitness, but I can guarantee that they’re all more than capable of a full-out, chest-to-ground burpee now. “
Up until now, that’s what I would have thought too: excellent, all round exercise, good for functional fitness.
“Ben Bruno doesn’t believe in burpees. The Los Angeles-based trainer to celebrities like Kate Upton, Chelsea Handler, and Victoria’s Secret model Barbara Fialho, among others, took to Twitter and Instagram recently to profess his loathing for the exercise that many of us, frankly, also hate.
“There’s no such thing as a bad exercise, just bad application,” Bruno wrote sarcastically, before throwing in a series of asterisks to caveat that burpees are “pretty dumb,” along with kipping pull-ups (a pull-up variation in which you use momentum to get your chin above the bar) and American kettlebell swings (a two-handed kettlebell swing variation where the weight is swung overhead). “Instead, pick literally anything else,” he concluded.”
What’s so bad about burpees? Most people don’t have enough strength to do them properly, do them improperly, and risk serious injury.
Do you love or hate burpees? Where do you stand on the great burpee controversy?
Ups! January ends on a high note! I’m writing this post somewhere warm. I’m riding my bike in Florida. Whee! Last year it was Clermont. This year it’s the nearby town of Mount Dora. Here’s our very cute cottage rental and me amid the lush shrubbery.
This very cute Florida town is home of the Mount Dora Bike Festival though we’re not here for that. The festival is in October and we’re here in January hoping to make good use of their route maps for the rides. Later in the week we’ll be taking on that classic Florida climb, Sugarloaf.
Earlier in the month I was at a conference in Arizona. That was fun too. It’s an excellent conference. But I missed having my bike. There are so many cyclists in Arizona many of them from Canada. Instead, I did Yoga with Adriene in my hotel room and went for walks in the nature trails around the resort.
Downs! These are just January initiatives that weren’t as successful as I’d hoped they’d be. They’re not serious downs or failures. I tried to do Yoga with Adriene at home. I should have done it in my office! I just don’t have room at home. Here’s Cheddar “helping.”
I started out doing the bike everyday in January thing, #31DaysofWinterBiking. I managed commuting by bike lots of days but not all of them. I rode inside some of the time–loving Zwift!–and now I’m spending the last week of winter biking riding in Florida. That hardly counts. 🙂
Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.
She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”
Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:
Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”
So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.
Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.
This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.
The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”
For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.
(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)
Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.
There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.
Catherine blogged about her most uncomfortable yoga poses and what she does instead. I’ve also become “that free spirit yoga lady” who just appears to be doing her own thing in yoga class. It’s winter and I’m back at hot yoga in a studio and despite all the talk of ‘only you know your body’ and ‘this is your practice’ I feel some pressure to go along with the sequence of poses.
I thought I’d share my recent yoga frustrations with you. Or when I’m in a mood, let’s just call it “my most hated yoga pose.” It’s Hero or Virasana. Here it’s described as balm for tired legs at the end of a long day but for me it’s just excruciating pain. Also, several physios and a knee surgeon or two have just out and out told me not to do it. So I don’t.
Searching for “hero pose” on Unsplash–a royalty free photo site–the best I got was this image. Not exactly what I had in mind!
Here’s Yoga with Adriene explaining how to set it up:
Knees are precious she tells us. Learn how to set up hero pose mindfully.
But the video also has the following text description:
” Yoga workshop! Learn the foundations of Hero Pose – or Virasana with Yoga With Adriene! Learn this delicate but powerful seated pose with at-home supports. No fancy yoga props needed. Learn to self adjust and use props intuitively and mindfully. Hero is a great stretch for the legs and feet. It can ground and calm the body with regular practice and help with digestion and bloating. Learn to explore a posture in a way that feels good. Avoid this posture if you have injury in the knee or ankle. “
The bold bit is mine.
And that’s the thing. No amount of modification will help. There is no right number of blocks, no proper arrangement of towels that will fix things.
Other poses are challenging–pigeon, child’s pose, bow–but I can find modifications that work. Not in this case and that’s okay. There is no way to make all the yoga poses work for every body despite what some yoga teachers seem to think.
Instead, you can find me off doing my own thing. And I’ll join you again for the next posture.
Is there a yoga pose that your body simply can’t do? No matter how many modifications? Make feel less alone here. Tell me your story. 🙂
I’ve kept quiet about this latest physical problem because next to my knee arthritis and pending knee replacement surgery, it seems minor. However, I’ve had x-rays, seen a regular doctor and a foot specialist and the diagnosis is that I also have a seriously arthritic big toe on my left foot.
Oh, aging. I’m reminded of my father a lot these days. I know what he would have said. “Yes, aging sucks but it sure beats the alternative.” My father died four years ago, just before Christmas. I think about him a lot at this time of year. They’re good memories and I’m glad that I have them.
Back to my big toe. Yes, just one. The one of the left foot. The one on my right foot is fine.
“A crucial element of big-toe function is the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, which joins the first long bone (metatarsal) in the forefoot to the first bone of the big toe (phalanx). Every time you take a step, the MTP joint bends, allowing the foot to roll forward and push off. During this phase of the walking cycle, the joint supports 50% of the body’s weight. If the joint doesn’t function properly, not only walking, but also exercising and many other activities of daily life can be difficult, sometimes impossible. One of the most common ailments of the big toe joint is hallux rigidus — literally, “stiff big toe.”
So what’s the prognosis? If you read the article linked above, I’m at the conservative, symptom management stage. Take ibuprofen. (Thanks, already doing that for the knee.) Wear shoes with a large toe box. (Looking at my existing shoe collection with side eye.)
These are my new favorites, obviously not a large toe box. It’s a double shoe selfie with my friend Andrea Zanin, who guest blogs here occasionally. She’s wearing the sparkly pink, red festive shoes and mine are black with silver buckles.
I’ve also ordered custom orthotics that will help support the midfoot and give me better lift off for walking. Thanks again benefits.
Finally, there’s toe physio. Friends will remember my amusement years ago when I was sent to a finger physio clinic and assigned an awful lot of exercises after I broke my finger walking my dogs. It wasn’t the big one who caused the broken finger. It was the medium sized dog Olivia who took off after a dog on the street and I smashed my hand on the pavement.
I miss these dogs. They also both died in 2015. It wasn’t a great year.
Eventually I stopped mocking the finger physio clinic and their exercises and I did them. I’m good that way. I now have full mobility back in that joint. So I suspect I’ll get there with toe physio. I’ll do the exercises while watching whatever show I’m watching over the holidays. That’s currently Fleabag.
In the scheme of things this isn’t a big deal. My foot hurts and I get cramps. But on top of the knee it feels super annoying. Really? Knee and toe physio exercises? Really?
Yes. That’s my life now. But echoing my dad, it beats the alternative.
There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.
Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.
Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.
It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.
As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.
I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.
So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?
Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.
There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.
All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.
Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”
So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.
First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.
A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.
In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”
The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.
From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”
When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.
Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.
I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.
What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.
Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.
There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.
Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.
Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.