cycling · meditation · mindfulness · motivation

Mountain Bike Meditation

I love mountain biking. In these COVID-times, with all the additional stresses, the sport is a meditative source of grounding, focus and joy.

This was not always so. It took me a lot of years to arrive at the relationship I have with the sport (and my bike). I dabbled in mountain biking for many years; i.e. a couple of decades. The first time I tried out mountain biking was more than 30 years ago. I bought a mountain bike to replace the city cruiser I had, figuring that it could do double duty—replace my dilapidated cruiser and be a source of off-road fun exercise too. I couldn’t quite achieve the off-road fun bit. I didn’t trust myself or my bike. I was so frustrated by my lack of skill, that I could never relax enough to develop the skills. I spent a lot of time walking my bike, while simultaneously cursing my ineptitude.

Then about eleven years ago, we bought this place I’m at in the California mountains that’s a stone’s throw from a huge network of fabulous trails. I ride out the driveway and I’m on single track trails within 2 minutes. I started riding once a week, as an off-day from trail running (another love). I still walked my bike a lot, but I improved. Very. Slowly. Then, when various running injuries forced me to reduce my mileage, I started to ramp up my time on the mountain bike. Well, hello, turns out when I ride more than once a week, I actually improve. Noticeably. And that’s a pleasant virtuous cycle—the more I improve, the more I enjoy the sport. I’ll come back to what I mean by improve in a moment. Then 5 years ago, as solace after my father died, I bought a new mountain bike. And holy cow, was I shocked to discover that all the new bike tech really did notch up my potential. For the first time I really felt like I was riding with a partner and friend—my bike, that is. I painted a flower on her crossbar with green nail polish, in thanks.

This year I’ve been riding a lot. Not because I can’t run, but because I want to ride. In a period of such pervasive anxiety (societal anxiety fuels personal anxiety and around the merry-go-round the anxiety goes), mountain biking demands my complete presence and attention. When my mind strays, I get knocked off my bike. When my mind focuses, I make it over, through and around obstacles I thought were impossible. Over and over again on my bike, I get an up close and personal look at how my mind either obstructs my progress or harmonizes fluidly with the world. In the best moments, I feel like I’m dancing on my bike. Pure woohoo joy (yes, I shout out loud, the happiness is too much to resist). In the less harmonious moments, I can usually see exactly how my own thoughts interfered.

There are, for example, certain obstacles I only “make” on some days—a steep sandy uphill, a hairpin over rock clusters, a pincer gap between two boulders. The days I don’t make them, it’s most often because I’ve started talking myself out of it before I get there. I’m thinking too much about whether I’ll achieve. The days I stay on the bike, I find the flow between going for it and not worrying about the outcome. So, when I mentioned above that I have improved my bike skill, that’s the skill I mean. Not whether I can ride over, around or through an obstacle, but whether I can find the right mindset.  In other words, my mountain bike rides feel like an object lesson in learning to find that harmony between effort and no effort that allows us to feel in flow with the world. I liken this harmony or flow to what Taoism calls wu wei, or effortless action.  

Being in flow on my mountain bike certainly doesn’t mean that everything is possible. There are still obstacles that are objectively not within my skill set. Yet. Or maybe ever. Staying open to the flow and noticing its ebbs, enables me to see more readily where I can do more and where I should stay humble, get off my bike and leave that steep rock drop off for another day.

One more reason why mountain biking works as a meditation—because, even as my skill evolves, every previous challenge has stayed fresh in my mind. Even if the last time an obstacle stumped me was a decade ago, I am grateful each time I meet it with ease. There’s no complacence in my developing skill. Going around rocks, whooshing through gulleys or popping over fat tree roots, I remember that they used to stop me in my tracks and I take an extra breath of thanks. Gratitude fortifies my ongoing curiosity and seasons each new skill I acquire with humility. Inside this sport, I am present with the delicate balance between acquiring and acknowledging my own expertise, while simultaneously staying curious (without judgment) to what’s new or changed.  

The more I can learn to notice these subtleties in my rides, the more I can see how the same patterns play out in my life off-the-bike. How can I foster the harmonious coexistence of expertise and curiosity? Where can I find more flow? When am I giving up too soon? What can I let go of?

In meditation practice, being in the flow is what teachers describe as finding the calm below the turbulence of the waves in an ocean, or letting the silt settle to reveal the clear water in a glass. These are the metaphors for a clear, uncluttered, unobstructed mind. More than any other activity in my life (including my longstanding meditation practice), when I’m on my mountain bike, I get robust glimpses of the power of my clear mind. Again, meditation teachers tell us that the more familiar we are with that space and its possibilities, the more readily we can access our clear mind again.

I have found that to be true, on my mountain bike (and in life). The difficult part is that it takes constant curiosity. I was going to say hard work or vigilance, but those are such effortful terms. Just like peace is not achieved through violence, finding the flow of effortless action is not achieved by forced labour. What’s needed is expansive, open-hearted curiosity. Over and over. Staying alive to possibility is challenging. I want to do better. My mountain bike meditations help, but I’ve got a long road ahead. But then again, if the journey is the destination, to bowdlerize Ralph Waldo Emerson, well then, I’m doing okay.

How about you? Where do you find flow most easily in your life?    

fun · habits · health · motivation

Christine works out with Wakeout

I’ve been having big fun with the Wakeout app.

Wakeout, which bills itself as ‘Exercise for busy people,’ delivers exactly what it promises – short, fun workouts to do in a variety of settings.  

As you probably know, I find it challenging to decide what exercise to do when and how long to do it for. Wakeout helps me sidestep those issues because I can set a reminder in advance (always useful for me!) and then I only have to choose the location and duration of my exercise. 

The duration choices are short  – one, three, or six 30-sec exercises (although you can do multiple Wakeouts in a row) and the settings are limited – you can choose home, office, travel, or outdoors and then select different categories within each. Even though there is a lot of possibility contained within each category, I find the process of choosing to be quite straightforward in this case. 

A light haired dog sleeps on a partially-made bed. There are bookshelves in the background.
This morning, I had to do my Wakeout on my chair instead of the edge of the bed because Khalee had made other plans.

I really like that the exercises are done in 30 second bursts instead of by reps – I love a timer but I hate counting reps. I appreciate just sinking into the movement and not having to focus on counting.

And I like the types of movements the app gets me to do.  

It’s not just bicep curls or squats, it’s movements on all sorts of different planes. For example, 

In a recent Wakeout, I was holding a pillow and moving sort of sideways figure eight with my arms – as if I were in a pillow fight and had an opponent on either side of me. This exercise had me moving my arms in a whole different way than I would normally do and I felt like my range of movement increased over all. 

I am much too used to working forward, sideways, or up-and-down and I forget about making more circular sorts of movements. Wakeout’s prompt to move different, helped me to engage different muscles or at least to engages the same muscles in different ways and that really really felt great.

One of my favourite exercises that I had to do involved standing in front of the counter in the kitchen and reaching upward into a high cupboard. That specific movement felt great for my arms, my back and my legs and I have repeated it often even when I wasn’t doing the app – sure, sometimes I was just reaching for something in the cupboard but mostly it was for a little extra stretch.

The app keeps track of your workouts and tells you your accumulated minutes and how many minutes it will take to reach the next level. I also enjoy this encouraging feature and it’s rewarding to push a little hard to get that visible (on the screen) result.  One of my ongoing challenges with consistent exercise is how hard it is to SEE the benefits of my efforts. This small visual makes a big difference for me. 

A screen cap of the Wakeout app.  A black background with green text and images. It says 'Awesome' at the top and then shows an image of a green bear with sunglasses surfing through some planets. Below the image are some stats revealing that the user is at Activity level 5 and that they can reach the next level  in 12.5 active minutes.  They have 6 total wakeouts, a 6 day streak, and 9 active minutes. At the bottom is a green button inviting them to wakeout again.
Sure, it’s only a small thing but I love seeing these numbers and knowing exactly what I have to do to get to the next level. Even if the level itself only has meaning inside the app, it coaxes me to keep moving.

Often, I will shy away from short workouts because of the decisions involved – trying to figure out what is ‘enough’ to do is especially tricky for people with ADHD. The Wakeout app removes some of my obstacles to bothering with a short workout – I can just open the app and do what it says and not have to think too much about it. 

Obviously, I would have to either do a lot of Wakeouts to become seriously fit but I find these small bursts of activity encouraging and rewarding and they really feel great.

I haven’t been through all of the workouts yet, of course, but from the ones I have seen so far, I would like to see a greater variety of body types/sizes and abilities represented in the demos. (To be fair, though there may be greater variety than there currently appears to be. I may just not have seen everyone yet.)  

I like that the demo models aren’t all white but not having seen the entire range of workouts yet I cannot comment on whether the diversity of the models is truly representative or just a nod to inclusion. I am hoping that it is the former rather than the latter.

Overall, I really enjoy the workouts and features in this app. I didn’t it like it much when one of the reminders made me feel entirely responsible for our sedentary society but that’s on my overdeveloped guilt reflex, not on the makers of the app!

I don’t know if it would be helpful or frustrating for someone who already spends a large part of their day exercising. It might be enjoyable to try some different movements – especially if any part of their day was spent at desk work – or it might be annoying to do these small exercises that might not work their bodies hard enough for their liking. 

As far as I can tell, Wakeout is only available for Apple products so far. You get a 7 day free trial and then you can purchase a monthly plan for $6.99 which you can share with up to 6 people. I enjoyed it enough to sign up for the monthly plan but I wish I could include my family members who use other non-Apple devices. 

fitness · motivation · strength training

Mashing Up A New Workout Routine to Replace the Spin and Aerial Studios

Like most everyone here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue, I’ve modified my workouts in response to COVID. On the curve, I’d place myself on the low end of creativity in this regard. For the first several months, I was in California and had access to mountain trails, so my only modification was switching from yoga in a studio to live virtual. And even then, when I’m in California I only do yoga once every 10 days or so. So that wasn’t a big adjustment. I did buy a $7 jump rope, to fill in for some incidental movement that I wasn’t getting (thank you, Cate Creede, a fellow blogger here, for the idea).

But now I’m back in New York City and there’s more to replace. Here, I usually do aerial yoga classes, instead of regular mat yoga. And I can’t replicate it at home in my apartment. The Anti-Gravity studio is not offering any virtual classes and, if they did, I’d have to figure out how to install a hammock at home, which requires either access to a major structural beam or quite a bit of space for a hammock stand. In pre-COVID times, I did aerial yoga at least once a week, and very often twice (riding a Citibike back and forth to the class).

Then there’s indoor cycling classes, or studio cycling or spin classes, whatever I’m supposed to call them, at Soul Cycle. That’s currently impossible and I can’t even imagine when next I’ll feel comfortable enough to spin furiously, sweat profusely and breathe heavily in an enclosed space with a group of people. So that’s off the table. I don’t have a peloton or Zwift or anything at home that gives me a biking option. Oh, except for my actual road bike in the closet, which I somehow cannot get up the energy to freshen up for the season. Road cycling, unlike running, is one of those sports that I need to do with a friend. And I’m short on cycling company at the moment.  

So running and live virtual yoga are my go-tos. But as time has gone on, I’ve gotten inspired by all the home gym initiatives that others (particularly on this blog) have taken. I’ve been experimenting with building one new routine (baby steps). Early on, I added in Trail Runner’s eight-minute speed legs. Then, when I got back to NYC, I decided to upgrade my jump rope to a Crossrope. Theoretically, I can now clip on and off different weights of rope up to 2 lbs. I haven’t actually purchased anything other than the ¼ pound rope so far. I liked the green colour. And I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually want to use it. It turns out that a good jump rope is actually pretty fab. I liked the rope so much, that I decided to mash up the eight-minute legs and the rope together, plus throw in the pushups I do randomly at the end of runs.

The routine takes about 20 minutes (including some what-I-feel-like-in-the-moment stretching in between activities while I’m catching my breath). I’ve been using an 8 lb weight for the speed legs exercises, but I may add the other 8 lb weight I happened to have around and see how it goes.

Green jump rope and the 8lb weight I’m currently using; plus the other 8lb weight I might add in this week.

Here’s the workout (in case you are looking for new ideas):

120 skips (60 two feet and 60 alternating feet)/25 pushups/50 alternating back lunges/120 skips (2x 30 two feet and 30 alternating feet)/25 pushups/20x each leg Bulgarian split squats/120 skips (3x 20 two feet and 20 alternating feet)/25 pushups/20x each leg Romanian deadlifts/120 skips (4x 15 two feet and 15 alternating feet)/25 pushups/20 squats/100 fast skips, crossover arms every 10th/25x each leg step ups

For the first couple of weeks, I did this as an add-on after running. But I was also increasing my mileage and my body was overtired on running days and not-quite-satisfied on yoga days. Now I’ve switched to doing the routine first thing in the morning on yoga days. The yoga may happen at any time later in the day, depending on when there’s a class I can fit in.

View from my apartment building roof, aka my home gym

At first, I did the routine in my apartment, but then I took it to the roof deck of my apartment building. Which is lovely. I’m super lucky to have a view of Riverside Park and the Hudson River up to the George Washington Bridge from the roof. The only tiny downside is this—I’m self-conscious. There’s a camera feed from the roof that shows up on a monitor in my superintendent’s apartment. Carlos has a screen inside his front door that shows live feeds from all the security cameras in our building. I keep imagining him or his wife, Debbie, or his son, Matt, catching a glimpse of me doing my routine. And while I feel strong inside myself when I’m doing it (and I think I’ve noticed a few more muscles on my body), I realize that part of that feeling comes from being alone, outdoors, away from anyone else’s judgment. To add to my self-consciousness, Matt is a personal trainer. He has a serious home gym set up in their apartment now, so he can do online sessions with his clients. I imagine him thinking, “her form is all wrong” or “she should be working harder” or “she calls that a pushup?” 

I persist. Because I’m starting to love my new workout and the location (despite the camera). Fresh air. A view. Some burning muscles. And the comfort, that it’s just not interesting enough to watch me skip and lunge. I’ve even had the fleeting thought that maybe I should do a few sessions with Matt on the roof and get some tips.  Not yet. For the same reason I haven’t sought out any other online trainer. I’m enjoying the freedom of mashing up my own routine.

What are your homemade routines? I’d love more ideas for things to change up in my mix.

fitness · motivation

Tricking Myself Into Getting Started

I know that a lot of our bloggers and our readers are into exercise for its own sake. They don’t have to ‘convince’ themselves to start and they look forward to their workouts. 

For me, exercise can be a bit like this famous writing quote attributed to Dorothy Parker

A purple background with an image of writer Dorothy Parker, in the foreground is text that reads 'I hate writing. I love having written. '~ Dorothy Parker

It’s not completely accurate because I enjoy exercise once I have started – I just have trouble making myself start.

So, I do everything I can to reduce the challenges of getting started and make the whole process as easy as possible so there are fewer parts that I dread. (To be clear, I do challenge myself with my workouts, I’m not taking it easy in that sense, I just try to find ways to keep my brain from arguing with me about exercising.)

So, I have a few handy tricks that I use to reduce my mental static around exercise. These aren’t particularly innovative or new but they are handy so I thought I would share three of them in case they are useful for someone else, too.

Counting Down

When I have reps ahead of me, I prefer counting down to counting up. Whether I am counting bicep curls or jumping jacks or trips up the stairs, I start with the number I am aiming for and count downwards. 

This might be an ADHD thing. Any challenging task, even an enjoyable one, is hard to start because it feels like it might go on forever. If I count upwards, it could continue for ages. If I count downward, it has to end at zero. 

I mean, yeah, I could go into negative numbers but the risk of me doing that is minimal at best. 

Savasana

When I do yoga, I always tell myself that I can just do a single pose – corpse pose. I rarely ever stick with that but I have promised myself that I can always stop after 13* breaths in that pose.  

Knowing that something so relatively easy still ‘counts’ is freeing and it makes my yoga more of a choice than an obligation.

An  upside down photo of the author’s head and shoulders.  She is lying on a greenish-blue yoga mat  and she is smirking in a friendly  way.
Upside down smirking still counts!

Music/Audiobooks/Podcasts 

This isn’t particularly quirky but it was a big deal for me when I figured it out. 

I have a few workout playlists but I sometimes find that they don’t match my mood or the activity I want to do that day and that makes me feel kind of blah about getting started. So I have given myself ‘permission’ to listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I exercise instead. 

Not only does that mean that I am less likely to get bored (the overarching fear of the ADHD brain) but knowing that I get another episode or chapter gives me additional motivation to exercise.

How about you?

Do you have these kinds of quirks or tricks to help you get moving?

Do you have a workout playlist or a podcast that you can recommend?

*I do all kinds of things in increments of 13 (13 reps, 13 breaths, 13 minutes of writing/tidying/reading) For starters, despite its reputation, 13 has always been a lucky number for me. Also, 10 minutes often feels too short to be ‘worth it’ but 15 minutes can seem like a long time so 13 is a solid compromise.

220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.

Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.

By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!

But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.

Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.

The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.

This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.

When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).

As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.

So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]

So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).

covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation · training

5 Motivating Things to Tell Yourself to Get Exercising Again

Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.

“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.

“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?

“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.

“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.

“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.

In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.

Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Image description: Someone standing in white sneakers on a checked carpet.
220 in 2020 · fitness · motivation

Sam and Cheddar and the Plank Challenge

One of my favorite things about the 220 in 2020 group which we’ve all blogged about lots is how it motivates me to do new things. When I bike commute or walk the dog, often that doesn’t feel like it’s enough on its own to count as a workout. Sometimes I add on knee physio exercises or a bit of yoga, but I’ve also been adding on planks.

I’ve been using an app to do that, Plank Workout, which syncs with GoogleFit. Here’s a review of the app which weirdly mentions weight loss even though the app itself doesn’t mention weight loss at all.

“Plank workout is another great plank challenge apps for android and iOS users. It provides different plank variations to help you lose weight, gain strength and get a stronger core. It comes with three different difficulty levels for weight loss for both men and women. You can easily customize your training plan according to your own preferences. It provides customized workout which reminders help you make planking a daily workout routine. One of the best feature of this app is to provide detailed instruction, animation, and video guide.” From Best 10 Plank Challenge Apps.

I’ve blogged about working at home in the time of the novel coronavirus. Sarah and I are installing a TRX hook in the dining room. And certainly Yoga With Adriene and the plank challenge will be part of that. I’m not sure how happy I am about that. I’ll miss the gym if it comes to that but Cheddar will enjoy it! He likes to plank and do yoga with me on the floor.

Things I like about it: It’s a short time commitment. I can do it while supper is cooking. I’ve got a yoga mat in the living room and I can do planks in my work clothes. The gradual increase in difficulty is good so far. I’m just at the beginner level. My view might change when I go up to moderate or advanced.

I also like Cheddar’s company

Cheddar and me!
motivation · winter

In a slump

In autumn 2018, I was all abuzz with advice on how to keep up fitness momentum during the shorter days. It also wasn’t a problem for me last autumn, although a small operation on my hyperactive parathyroid kept me off the streets for some time. But now, reader, with what feels like interminable darkness, greyness and rain, I am in a slump.

I have always struggled more towards the end of winter than at the beginning. For a lot of people, November is a really hard month. Or January (so long!). For me, it’s February. It’s short, but for me it’s the four weeks by which winter is too long. Come March, I can tell myself that things are looking up, the days are longer, and if you’re lucky you can get some decent spring weather already. But not in February. Oh no. February is blech.

Low-hanging clouds in a grey sky over a forest. This is more or less what our winter has looked like, except the trees also had no leaves, so it has been even more grim.
Photo by Julian Ebert on Unsplash

The weather has been especially unhelpful this year: in this part of the world, the winter has been unseasonably warm, i.e. somewhere around 10 C most of the time, and rather wet. Actually, this is quite normal February weather around here, but we’ve had it since December now. Meteorologically speaking, it has been my least favourite month of the year for two and a half months. It’s cold enough to be unpleasant but not cold enough to get any snow or these really cold, crisp, sunny winter days I love. There have been a few, but not enough. As a result, the temptation to stay on the couch with a blanket rather than get moving has been too strong on too many occasions.

So I need to know: what are your motivation strategies for the end of winter?

Book Reviews · fitness · motivation

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 91-100, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.

Read about Day 1 here.

Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘

Read about Days 11-20 here.

Read about Days 21-30 here.

Read about Days 31-40 here.

Read about Days 41-50 here.

Read about Days 51-60 here.

Read about Days 61-70 here.

Read about Days 71-80 here.

Read about Days 81-90 here.

Samantha:

Nia saves some of her advanced messaging for the end. I like that approach. Day 91 tells us that pursuing our fitness journey won’t be easy. Also, “overnight success” is an illusion and we need to be in it for the long non-sexy haul. Nia advises us not to be afraid of putting in the time and the work. This goes counter to lots of things we say here on the blog about small change and loving what you do but I think Nia is right actually even though it’s a harder message to hear. For me these days with my knee, I’m realizing that I need to do a lot of non-fun things and my focus is often on grit and determination rather than pleasure.

Day 93’s message is about another tough emotion, fear. It’s okay to be afraid. But you need courage to do the thing anyway. You needn’t be fearless, says Nia. But you need to be afraid and act anyway. Again, there’s some hard messages here about what it takes to reach your goals. It won’t be easy but that’s okay.

Don’t compare. That’s really a reminder message on Day 94.

Like Christine I loved the idea of a palate cleanse when what you’re doing is no longer working. Change it up and try something new. That’s the Day 95 message.

On Day 96 we’re asked to think about the shortness of life as motivation. We’ve only got one kick at this can. Nia’s use of death as motivation is interesting. I think it works for some people but not others.

There’s more tough love on Days 99 and 100 which talk about change being hard but persevering anyway. This is the sort of talk that might have had you putting the book aside if you encountered it in the early days but by end of the 100 Day Reclaim you’re likely more ready for this kind of message. Also, I think Nia is right. It is hard.

Overall, I loved this book and would definitely share with friends looking for their own fitness journey,

In fact, I think I’d give them them this 3 book set!

Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey

Run Like a Girl 365 Days a Year: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes

The 100-Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as It Should Be

I’ve really enjoyed this process of reading along with Catherine and Christine and sharing our reflections together.

Christine:

This final section of the 100 Day reclaim is a good reflection on the rest of the contents of the book. In fact, I think that one section of Day 96 summarizes her whole approach, reminding the reader to ‘Put your focus, energy and limited time where they matter most’ and to shield ourselves from the other noise that might interrupt our fitness journeys.

In Days 91-100, Shanks is reminding us that this is not an overnight project, that there will be challenging parts, and that it is okay to change things to help make them more appealing or more do-able.

In Days 91 & 99, she reminds us that change is hard and that our mindset can help us get through our challenges. In Day 91, she reminds us to manage our expectations and to be aware of our patterns so we recognize familiar challenges and find our way past them. In Day 99, she coaxes us to take a long view and to try and see how doing something challenging today will help us in the future.

Day 92’s ‘It’s okay to change direction’ gives us permission to make changes in our plans without feeling like we are somehow failing. Personally, my ADHD loves to interpret a change in plans as a failure or as being lazy, so I particularly enjoyed this reminder that change is often the right way to proceed. I found it fit in really well with Day 95’s advice to do a ‘Palate Cleanse’ and mix things up a bit when our routines are getting stale.

I really loved Day 93’s theme ‘It’s not about being fearless.’ In my experience, a lot of fitness experts underestimate the intimidation factor in trying new activities and the logistics of participating in fitness classes, strength training and the like. Her reminder that your apprehension can be overcome is very valuable to me and it reminded me of one of my favourite quotes (shown in the image below)

In Days 94 & 96, we’re advised not to use comparison as a measuring tool and to keep our eyes on the big picture, solid reminders for a long term project that is supposed to be about doing things that serve ourselves well.

Day 97’s ‘Regain Control’ was very useful, reminding us that we have power over the choices we make and that we can choose flexible plans that give us room to make mistakes and learn from them. This section reminded me about how, after reading an article about this word use a few years ago, I decided to stop thinking of ‘trying to get control’ of my efforts and instead aim to ‘take charge.’ Since I am comfortable taking charge but things can be out of my control, I find it very empowering to see opportunities to ‘take charge’ of my choices. A minor difference, perhaps, but still useful for me.

Day 100 – PersevereThis was a perfect note on which to end the book and it was a terrific connection point for me. Perseverance is one of the tenets of taekwondo and it is a principle I embrace fully. I think my ADHD serves me well in this area because, while I struggle with consistency and with seeing how my current efforts will add up to the result I seek, I am endlessly willing to start over and keep trying different approaches to achieve the result I am looking for. For me, starting again is not discouraging, it’s hopeful, ‘Maybe this time I’ll get it right!’ and having a reminder to apply that to my fitness efforts outside of TKD was terrific.

So far, I have worked my way to becoming a 3rd degree blackbelt in TKD, by persevering, perhaps I can become a ‘blackbelt’ in other areas of fitness, too.

The 100 Day Reclaim by Nia Shanks has really served me well and I am very glad that I read it. I have some more work to do to apply the principles that I need but now I have a clearer idea about how to proceed and my reading has revealed some of the tricky thinking habits that were in my way. While the messaging in this book wasn’t always a direct fit for me, I think it does a great job of reaching out to a wide audience and I think it will do a lot of good in the world.

I have really enjoyed this group practice of reading and reflecting on this book and I have gotten as much out of seeing Sam and Catherine’s responses to the material as I did out of my own reading. We are all at different places in our fitness journeys and we all have different approaches to maintaining/improving our fitness, it’s been cool to see what resonated (or didn’t resonate) with each of us.

I hope we can choose another book to read together soon.

Catherine:

Saying goodbye is hard. I’m terrible at it. When I visit friends and family and it’s time to go, I announce my upcoming leaving, stick around at least 30 more minutes, repeat my thanks and farewells multiple times, and still fail to head out the door. Finally, I go, but usually because I’m on the verge of being late for the next thing.

So it is with Nia’s book. I’ve really enjoyed settling in and getting to know her approach to self-care, her ways of motivating and speaking truth to us. In days 91—100, it’s time to go out on our own, and Nia wants to prepare us for that journey. She reminds us that achieving our health/fitness-to-us goals won’t be easy, we may be scared along the way, and that some day, we’re all gonna die (she’s up front about this on day 96).

But Nia balances out the harsh reality reminders with strategies for handling rough patches: changing directions is always an option, especially when we’re feeling stuck. In fact, she recommends an activity palate cleanse as good on its own merits. Last spring break (yes, I look forward to it even though I’ve been a professor for 26.5 years) I tried out two new and different activities, taking parkour and aerial silks yoga classes. The first one inspired me, and the second one made me feel claustrophobic (and a bit queasy, to be honest). But I felt stimulated and proud of myself for going out there and trying something new. A change really can be as good as a rest.

Nia saves the best messages for last. Yes, oh yes, success comes in so many colors, and in so many moments. I think this is the biggest boon she has given us. Here is what success looks like in my life: making it to yoga class when I’m soooo tired, but know that I’ll feel better after; recognizing that I just can’t make it to that yoga class, so I go home and rest, doing a video yoga practice before bed; trying out a class with a new teacher, even though I’m worried about the level; getting enough sleep (a non-negotiable need); bringing my lunch to work, even when it’s unexciting, so I’ll have fed myself; I could go on.

These are not stunning feats of JLo/Shakira performance. They are stunning feats of ordinary self-care. They work individually, each time we do them, and they work over time, through perseverance—Nia’s last word to us. Through perseverance, we develop stamina, resilience, kindness for ourselves, and maybe some wisdom. Thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with us, Nia.

Suppose we decided to do another joint read/review? Do you have a book you’d recommend? Suggestions welcome.

We’re thinking about this one…The Joy of Movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage

advice · Book Reviews · fitness · motivation

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 81-90, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.

Read about Day 1 here.

Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘

Read about Days 11-20 here.

Read about Days 21-30 here.

Read about Days 31-40 here.

Read about Days 41-50 here.

Read about Days 51-60 here.

Read about Days 61-70 here.

Read about Days 71-80 here.

Image result for 100 day reclaim nia shanks"

Catherine

As often happens, Nia’s observations and advice are eerily well-timed. Today I’m finishing up a big work committee project, and this week I’m wrapping up my hitch in a leadership role in my church. This means a lot of things that HAVE to be done NOW. It also means some looking back with regret that I didn’t do this or that, or I wish I had done something differently. With respect to the HAVE-TO-NOW items on my to-do list, we have day 83: “feeling like it” isn’t a requirement. With work, with physical activity, with cooking foods that feel healthy-to-me, I’m not always humming with inspiration. No. But that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important to me. They are—they were when I agreed to them or planned them, and they are now. It’s just that life’s many vagaries and ups and downs are happening at the same time. So, am I going to finish that last letter and go to my yoga class today? I hope so (and if I don’t it certainly won’t be Nia’s fault.. )

Hand-in-hand with day 83 is the advice of day 84: be ready for expectation bias. We’ve all been there: we sit at the desk, the yoga mat, the bike saddle, the cockpit of the kayak, and…. Nothing. There’s no juice, no flow, no feeling of gusto. So we (meaning I) conclude that something must be wrong. Here’s the thing: it’s not. It’s that life thing again. This absolutely bears repeating and rephrasing and repeating again.

Day 87—Fast or Slow?—is my favorite of this section. When I’m feeling pressured or tired (or enthusiastic or strong), my default setting is fast—well, as fast as I can. But “as fast as I can” isn’t sustainable. Yes, to meet that looming deadline, we push hard. To get up that last hill, we push hard. But we are not supposed to push hard all the time. Trainers tell us this, our mothers tell us this—it must be true. Thinking about what approach—fast or slow—we want to do today, or this moment, or this set, or this mile, or for this song is what Nia is suggesting. As always, slowing down and taking time to figure out what we want and what we need (which aren’t always the same thing—see day 83) will help make the decision much clearer.

I would like to write more about the other days, but I’ve got loads of work this week and some hard deadlines (including the one for this post). So I’ll close with following day 85—Play with what you have. I have to stop now. But see you next week for the triumphant conclusion of Nia’s book!

Sam

Day 82 is about the past. You can’t change the past but you don’t need to let it ruin your future either. Nia writes, “Improving your health and level of fitness, when distilled to its basic elements, is about eating nutritious foods most of the time and moving your body frequently and consistently.” But it’s not that simple and it doesn’t feel that easy. We know what we should do but we aren’t always moved to do it. Why is that? Part of the answer comes from our past experiences. Our past shaped our views of food, body image, weight, and fitness. There’s a lot to unravel there. Nia suggests that the past doesn’t define us and that we can choose differently starting today. She says, in an upbeat tone, you can always construct a new lifestyle. I’m not so sure about that. I think how hard it is to just ‘choose differently’ depends on the kind of childhood you had.

You don’t need to feel like it, says Nia on Day 83. We do lots of stuff we don’t feel like doing. Before I wrote this blog post I cleaned my bike and paid the electricity bill. I can assure that I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I’d just gotten home from work. It’s been a long day. I’m hungry. But somehow, before I had my broccoli soup and grilled cheese (fancy weekday cooking!) I wiped the mud off my frame (chain cleaning to come later) and logged onto to my banking app and paid bills. I didn’t expect to feel good before doing these tasks. I just did them. Some days fitness is like that.

Fast or slow? On Day 87 Nia discusses the choice between fast and furious, change all your habits at once, fitness efforts versus slow, steady, gradual change. What I like is that Nia doesn’t assume slow and steady is better. Slow and steady, small changes suit a lot of people but I like that she recognizes that some people do better going big. The year I quit smoking, started to commute to work by bike, and learned to lift weights was a very big all-in year. There were some enormous changes in my life. They didn’t all stick but that year did set me up for a confidence about what my body could do. I still think it was a positive thing. I have the same fond feelings for the two year count down to turning 50 that I shared with Tracy and documented in our book Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. Riding, rowing, running, soccer, CrossFit, and Aikido all at once. That was a lot. There was nothing small about that year. But I am happy to think of these things in waves and I loved that very big two year period.

Christine

As you can guess from my previous comments, there are many things that I love about this book. However, one of the things I love the most is how Shanks keeps the promises that she makes to her readers.

This promised to be a book about digging into your underlying mental challenges with developing a fitness routine and Shanks has really delivered for me.

She continues to deliver in Days 81-90 with an exploration of ways that our feelings and expectations can get in the way.

In Day 81 ‘Look Then Laugh’ she reminds us that it is okay to acknowledge that things sometimes go awry, despite our best efforts. We might as well be amused when that happens because there is no point in beating ourselves up about it. This kind of reminds me of that FB meme that encourages us to view our lives like a book or movie and to shout ‘Plot Twist!’ When things go wrong.

Day 82 ‘You Can’t Alter The Past’ – I really loved how this section acknowledges how our past affects our current perceptions and how we can become aware of what is happening and seek to change it. When I’m coaching people, I refer to this type of thing as ‘the stories we tell ourselves’ and encourage them to become aware of the stories and see which ones they want to keep. (That makes it sound incredibly simple – it is not- but it is the underlying principle of the practice.)

Day 83 – ‘Feeling Like It Is Not a Requirement’ – The fact that I didn’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it was HUGE revelation for me at one point in my life. I tell my writing coaching clients this all the time and I like the reminder here that we can apply this principle to fitness. Even when you have picked a fitness activity you enjoy, you won’t always feel like getting started but if you do it anyway, in whatever capacity you can at the moment, you will be happy you did. I like how she compares fitness activities to brushing your teeth – that’s always my go to comparison, too. We rarely skip brushing our teeth, no matter how little we feel like doing it, so it makes a good base-level example for this type of approach.

Day 84 – ‘Expectation Bias’ – I appreciated that this section reminded us that our expectations of a fitness session can affect the results (and our enjoyment.) I think we can all use the reminder that expectations colour what we experience. For me, personally, this gets tricky because of my oft-mentioned challenges with self-perception. I have to remind myself to balance that ‘try it anyway’ with the yoga advice ‘meet yourself where you are’ so I don’t judge myself too harshly for what I can or can’t do on a given day. This isn’t a problem with Shanks’ advice, just a moment of self-reflection!

Day 85 – ‘Play With What You Have’ – This section was a solid way to keep ourselves from falling into the ‘if only’ trap and, instead, to focus on what we have available to us in the moment and make the most of it. I like the playing cards metaphor she uses here and I will probably adapt it for my coaching practice. I often have to coax people to match their expectations to their reality (i.e. if you only have 5 minutes a week to write, don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t produce a novel in a month!) so the more ways I can explain that, the better.

Day 86 – ‘Change The Rhetoric’ – I really liked how she advises us to remember that getting to exercise/focus on fitness is a privilege and a luxury and that workouts do not make us warriors or heroes. Those ‘epic person’ ideas can be useful to a point but they can also get in our way and give us a harsh view of those who do not (or cannot) do what we can.

Day 87 – ‘Fast or Slow’ – This was a good reminder that there are different approaches to fitness goals and that we all need to pick the kind that serves us best. In Day 87, she focuses on the difference between going ‘all in’ with fitness and eating changes all at once versus taking an incremental approach. Of course, there are many combinations of those practices that will work differently for different people.

Day 88 – ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’ – For me, this section works very neatly with Day 84’s ‘Expectation Bias,’ Shanks is basically saying that by declaring what we can or cannot do before we even try it, we limit what might be possible.

I have seen this happen when I help students in Taekwondo (and I sometimes fall victim to it myself but I try to catch myself quickly.) Sometimes, people decide in advance that they will never be able to do a push-up/land a punch/ break a board and then they psych themselves out of being able to do it. As a step toward change, I try to encourage people to put the word ‘yet’ at the end of their pronouncements ‘I can’t break a board…yet.’ – it opens the possibility of being able to do it in the future.

When students say ‘I just can’t do…’ and there is no physical limitation on why they cannot, they end up grunting and groaning through any attempt and then they give up. That really doesn’t serve them well and it keeps them from learning how to improve.

Day 89 – ‘Friendly Reminders’ – Days 81-90 have been full of friendly reminders for me but this section really summed up a lot of especially good content from earlier in the book and this seemed like a good time to circle back to it. Reminders that you don’t have to ‘earn’ your food by exercising, that fitness practices should make you feel good about yourself, and that you can focus on mastering the basics first, were all very welcome.

Day 90 – ‘Own Your Personal Records’ – Ah, this is another time when my perception of my own efforts gets in my way! Shanks is advising us to celebrate our milestones (including milestones related to consistency) without putting any conditions on them.

So, she wants us to stop saying “I know it’s only a light weight but…’ or ‘I know it’s just 10 days but…’ and, instead, celebrate that we have had a victory of any sort.

I know that I do this with my own fitness victories and, for me, it ties into that whole ADHD thing of not being able to judge how hard I am working. So, I don’t want to make a big deal of something that is actually less that what I could do. Even though I might be proud of a victory, when I tell others about it, I might undersell it a little in case my perception of my effort is off.

I have to give this a bit more thought and see how I can take a more self-supportive approach.


Once again, I got a lot out of this section of the book and it has given me a lot to consider putting into practice. Even though I use a lot of this same advice in my coaching sessions, it is interesting and useful to see it applied in a fitness context and I look forward to seeing how I can make it work for me.