fitness · strength training · weight lifting

How Much Weight Should I Lift?

I have a confession to make–I had a crush on Susan Powter in the early 2000’s. Do you remember her and Stop the Insanity!? I was a little late to the party, I admit, but I became a real believer for a while there. If you missed out on the fun, Powter was big in the low fat craze during the nineties, but don’t worry, that’s not what I’m here to write about today. She also made a whole series of exercise videos in classic nineties style–including yards of Spandex, step aerobics, interval training, simple weightlifting routines, and the like, and refreshingly, with people of all sorts of body types. And the real magic was that in all of her videos she offered modifications for movements, constantly encouraging people to “work within their fitness level.” “Only by working within your fitness level will you be able to advance to the next one.” And she was right.

A friend recently asked if it was ok she was doing her weightlifting with “just 8 pound dumbbells,” because that’s all she could do. My answer? Yes of course it was ok, and in fact, it’s necessary in order for her to build strength. I could hear Susan Powter in my head, telling us that my friend needs to work at her current strength level in order to build to the next one.

What Powter was pushing against, and what I’m going to push back on today, is this myth in fitness that we have to “go hard” for it to count. Or maybe more accurately, it’s to acknowledge that “hard” is a relative term. It just needs to be hard enough FOR YOU.

Here’s an analogy. My therapy sessions frequently focus on managing my trauma. Trauma can narrow your “emotional window of tolerance.” In other words, the range of emotional experiences you can handle before you are either hyperaroused (go into fight/flight/freeze) or hypoaroused (numb, emotionally disconnected) narrows. The goal of trauma therapy is to slowly increase the range of emotional experiences I can tolerate without going into either a heightened or collapsed state. My therapist and I work just inside my window of tolerance, we attempt to get close but not go over what I can handle. Becoming triggered is counter-productive; no one can learn when their nervous system is trying to flee. And by working within this window over time, the range of experiences I can tolerate gets broader.

That’s what I’m doing when I lift weights successfully, too. I need to find the level of strength that is challenging enough to push myself, without “traumatizing” my muscles. And just like emotional experiences, muscles will have a range of experiences that will promote growth–it’s not a single, set weight or number of reps but a moving target. It will vary depending on how much sleep I’ve had, how well fed I am, what exercises I did yesterday, how strong I currently am, and so much more. Therefore, each of us has to learn to feel our way into the right weights each day. And the right weight is almost never a weight we can’t control. It’s not a cop-out to reduce the weight to the level at which you can control it; it’s actually necessary in order to keep getting stronger.

Each of us must continually work to find the right level of challenge for where we’re at today. There is both freedom and responsibility in acknowledging this. You don’t have to lift what someone else is lifting; you’re free to find your own way. However, you also have to stay present enough to listen to your body, both to make sure you’re continuing to challenge yourself but also to ensure that you’re being responsive to your limits. Susan Powter was right. You’ve got to work within your fitness level to get to the next one. It isn’t a race; there’s no finish line. Give yourself permission to work at the right level for yourself, and you’ll be rewarded with increased strength over time, Spandex optional.

Image description: Three White women in form-fitting workout clothes, doing some kind of leg lift that might be donkey kicks on pink mats.

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

fitness · inclusiveness · stereotypes · strength training

It’s 2020 York Dumbbells. Get with it!

It’s here!

They finally arrived!

My York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set is in the house, “The versatility of the York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set works for all your arm and shoulder exercises. The specially-designed threaded collars allow quick and simple changes of weight up to 22.6 kg, so you can squeeze the most reps out of a limited time.”

There are two bars and 8 x 2.5lb., 4 x 5lb. cast iron plates. Lots of flexibility.

York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set | Sport Chek
Weights

I recently decided not to return to my discount gym. It’s reopening but I am not going. They were very understanding about allowing me to pause my memberships. I have warm fuzzy feeling about the nice letter they sent me and I’m definitely going back there when I am ready to go back.

Read When will you feel okay about going back to the gym? and COVID-19 and the Gym: Building Engineers Weigh In about some of the views here on the blog about working out at home or in the gym.

But that’s not what I am here to write about. Decisions about returning to the gym are hard and complicated and the gym plays different roles in our overall mental health. I get that reasonable people will make different decisions. I miss deadlifting!

You know what’s not complicated? Understanding that not only men lift weights!

Here’s the instructions that came with my dumbbell system.


Nevermind the muscle-y stereotypical shirtless guy thing . I would have been okay a muscle-y woman beside him. I wasn’t hoping for body diversity or racial diversity or even gender diversity. Yes, there could have been a person using a wheelchair also lifting but that was too much to hope for.

Scream with me now. NOT ONLY MEN LIFT WEIGHTS!

And you know when companies do get it right, I’m so happy it’s ridiculous.

Dear York, Please do better. It’s 2020! Thanks, Sam and the other bloggers at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

fitness · strength training · weight lifting

Get it Done with Myo Reps

Not loving your lifting workout and just want to get it over with? Myo reps.
Have less time, but want to feel like you’re not cheating your progress when shortening your workout? Myo reps.
Only have a 10lb dumbbell but you need 25 lbs to fatigue a lift in 10 reps? Myo reps.

During the pandemic, myo reps have become my favorite way to get it done. If you aren’t familiar with them, they’re pretty easy to perform. Take a lift and do it to near failure. Count about 4 breaths and then immediately do your next set, this time all the way to failure. Count 4 breaths, and repeat. Do this until you’ve done 3-5 sets, when your muscles will likely be telling you they can’t take it anymore.

I’ve been lifting at home since March. I have dumbbells–1, 3, 5, 7, and 20 pound pairs. I have some sturdy exercise bands, including a set that can be anchored into a door. I have some adjustable ankle weights that can give me 0.5-9 pounds of resistance per leg (or arm, if I’m desperate). And of course, I have my body and whatever I can jerryrig from the dining room table, the bench in the entrance, off the futon and on the floor.

I began my workouts as an extension of the work I’d been doing with a trainer. I substituted in moves and lowered weights when necessitated by my limited equipment and just did as many reps as necessary to fatigue my muscles. However, 5 sets of 30-40 reps became commonplace, and my mental stamina was beginning to give out sooner than my muscular stamina! I needed to find a way to do the work without feeling so exhausted from it; life during the pandemic was exhausting enough.

Enter myo reps.

In the months since I began using them, myo reps have become a flexible tool in my lifting toolbox. I’m pretty good at remaining consistent doing the work, but as the months have dragged on, no question I’m loving my home lifting less and less. Sometimes I just want to check off the box and move on with my day. With myo reps, I can perform my workout in far less time and still feel like I’ve given my muscles a meaningful stimulus.

For example, if I’m doing dumbbell bicep curls, I currently have a choice between using 7 lbs or 20 lbs. Twenty pounds borders on too much for me for a bicep curl. (I can do 6 reps without cheating; I just ran upstairs to check!) With seven pounds, I can go on and on. However, with myo reps, I start with that really long set at 7 lbs–maybe 40? I don’t really count–but the second set is a more reasonable 12, then 8, then 8 again. There’s some research out there that suggests these reps can be as effective as straight sets, and I’m done in about 2 minutes.

I don’t recommend you try these with heavy, complex movements. You don’t want to get too fatigued squatting with a lot of weight on your back or pressed overhead. But for lighter and simpler movements, I have found them to be a welcome source of variation. It’s important to me to continue to be consistent with my workouts. Finding flexible solutions to the challenges of this time allows me to keep doing the work, to get it done and to move on with my day.

How about you, dear reader? Have you tried myo reps? Is there another strategy you’ve found to remain flexible and consistent with your lifts?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found pre-fatiguing her muscles, picking up heavy things (like her own body), and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

athletes · body image · fitness · strength training · weight lifting · weight stigma

Where are the muscular, larger women’s bodies?

There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.

First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.

Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.

See CampaignBrawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign

Brawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign
#StrengthHasNoGender

Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.

Okay, Nat did in this post.

I think it is important to show that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

Third, I’ve been wondering if we’ll ever have any idea about women’s true strength potential in sports as long as women athletes are worried about how they look and about gaining weight. I’ve written about this a lot. See, for example, Big women and strength and Bigger, better, stronger? On women and weightlifting. When even women Olympic lifters want to lose weight–see  From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holley— you know the forces at work are pretty powerful.

Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.

I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”

So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.

*************************

Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.

Vintage Muscle
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from the 1920’s, posing with her arm flexed. She has visible muscle in her biceps, triceps, forearms and shoulders. This juxtaposed with her vintage pincurl hairstyle makes for a striking image.

This photo is from a guest blog post called What are Women’s Bodies for, Anyway? Thanks Tracy de Boer.

And here’s a modern day image of a strong woman. Jennifer Ferguson is A BC nurse in her 40s who is one of the strongest women in the world. She deadlifts cars for fun.

fitness · online exercise · strength training

And then, just like that, I did a handstand!

Tuesday mornings are becoming my favourite. I’m not a morning person AT ALL, but my strength class begins at 7:30, so no choice. I get up around 7am to fling the dog around the block; if I don’t she is a right pest all through the class.

Tuesdays are “skill work”, which is Alex-speak for circus tricks. I am not a flying trapeze kinda gal, but I have to say, moderate tricksterness is delightful to try on for size. I’ve learned the key to crow pose (and also fallen on my head, largely because of the sweatiness of the matter), mastered the wall walk, and that means the big fish left to me is… HANDSTAND.

woman-doing-cartwheel-type-5_1f938-1f3fe-200d-2640-fe0f
Woman doing cartwheel emoji: she has medium-brown skin and is wearing a green and pink bodysuit against a blue background. I LOVE this emoji. I think of it as “delighted handstand joy!!!” emoji. I use it for almost all happy things when I’m texting with my partner.

Today in Alex class (if you’re not already familiar with our blog crush on Alex the trainer, go here) skill work practice involved kicking up; half the team on the call were handstand experts, and the rest (including me) had never got up into handstand before (or tried).*

[OK, well, not quite: I have done two handstands before: one with the support of two fellow yogis in an Iyengar class about a year ago, and the other with the support of my teacher in another Iyengar class, using block props against a wall to achieve the correct low back and rib posture for the pose. In neither case would I really call this “a handstand” insofar as I had a lot of help. But it’s true that both helped me envision the experience and record it in my body, which made a difference to my confidence.]

c6b36f89786dac3077e680618736c627
A split-screen image of a thin white woman in handstand. On the left, the correct posture; on the right, less good posture. The tl:dr is, engage your core and firm your shoulders; push into the floor and relax your head. Be sure to firm your legs and squeeze your glutes a bit too.

As usual, Alex demo’d all the moves before we got going. She made the “kick up practice” moves look so manageable that my fear began to dissipate almost immediately. After our “practice round” I realized I was feeling mobile in my hips and getting some decent air in my kicked-up leg. And I won’t lie: when Alex shouted at me through the screen, “KIM YOU ARE THERE!!!” it really helped.

It was half way into our first proper round when I did it: I touched the wall with my elevated foot. (This was another Alex tip: don’t stress about getting up! Just try to touch the wall with your free foot. You’ll be totally safe and see what you’re capable of! #besteveradvice.)

Then, just like that, BAM: I was in a handstand.

To my surprise, it did NOT feel that hard to hold. Alex began cueing me, to turn me from woman on right (above) into woman on left; this will be a work in progress. But the reality is, Cate and Alex and everyone else was right: I absolutely have the upper body strength to hold myself in a handstand. I do pull-ups and push-ups and all kinds of things. I can row a boat (strongly enough to pull it off course – not very well, in other words, but pretty powerfully). OF COURSE I CAN STAND ON MY HANDS.

Why did I think I couldn’t? Being upside down has always been a source of fear for me; it may be for you too. Slowly, I developed a sense of my own strength, and that happened primarily right-side-up. With good teaching and coaching, in both yoga and personal training, I began to nudge the edges of the possible. Working with people I trust to protect me and – crucially – to help me focus on good form, I got further and further into “hey! this is possible I think!!” territory.

And then one day, alone in my kitchen, with the dog on the rug and Alex on Zoom, I pushed through that barrier into a whole new fitness place.

I’m not here to tell you to try a handstand right now; if it’s not your thing or in your wish-box, do not worry – you do you! But I am here to say that the barrier you perceive is not impermeable; if you want to knock it down, you got this.

  1. Step one: identify it, and the fear you feel around it.
  2. Step two: find some supportive, skilled humans to help.
  3. Step three: give it some time. I promise it is possible!

[Insert future photo of me in handstand. I tried to take a few, but the one that actually included my head also saw me totally falling out of the pose. Which is a great lesson, too: I fell out of handstand, and survived!]

What about you, friends? Have you made any surprise fitness breakthroughs lately? What fears did you have to push through to get there?

 

 

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.

strength training

Resistance bands and home workouts

Like many people I bought resistance bands as part of my at home workout plan. I even bought some that were too strong–they had a woman on the box, I was charmed and surprised–and blogged about it: Pleasant surprise!

Since then we’ve bought more and between them and the sandbags and the water jugs, we’ve been working out lots on the back deck. Will I keep this up when my son, who is usually a frequent gym goer moves out next month? I hope so. Stay tuned.

Here’s some useful links to find out more:

The benefits of resistance bands

All You Need to Create Literally *Any* Piece of Gym Equipment at Home Is This $15 Resistance Band

Five Great Things about Working Out with Resistance Bands

Best resistance band exercises for legs

Sam in a blue tshirt on her back deck working out with a green resistance band
covid19 · family · fitness · strength training

Mixing it up with bags of sand and jugs of water

A few weeks before official ‘stay at home’ recommendations were issued, I left the gym and started working out at home. We started out strength training with resistance bands, the TRX and a lone kettlebell.

It all began in the livingroom but with the nice weather we’ve moved to the back deck and the back yard. The first purchases were a mount for the punching bag and a giant tire for flipping.

Recently, we’ve added sand bags and water jugs to our lifting repertoire. Both work well for workouts with partners who lift different amounts. Here it’s me and my 22 year old son who significantly stronger than me.

I confess these purchases were his, both the inspiration and the execution. He’s been planning and provisioning for our back deck workouts. In the “220 workouts in 2020” someone called me a “badass.” That’s partly true but it’s more true I raised one and he is good about including his mom in his workouts. He owes me for all the time on the 401 when he played rugby! Also, it’s nice to workout with company.

The sandbag is one large bag with handles and then smaller bags filled with sand go inside. You buy the bags and the sand separately, of course, for reasons of shipping.

What do you do with sandbags? Pretty much anything you’d do with dumbells.

See 12 Sandbag Exercises That Work Twice As Many Muscles in Half the Time.

What’s the advantage of working out with sandbags?

First, there’s the one I mentioned above. You can load up the bag with a different number of sandbags for different people or different exercises.

Second, the instability of the sand gives the workout an added edge.

“One of the most versatile tools you’re probably not using, a sandbag is great for when you want to work out but also don’t want to spend all day working out. With a sandbag, the center of gravity is always shifting, because the sand moves back and forth, causing your core to engage in a different way than with a stable weight, even when you aren’t doing a core-focused exercise, explains Patrick McGrath, a certified personal trainer at Project by Equinox and SLT studio in New York City.”

Here’s a sample sandbag workout.

If you find they are all sold out online, there are lots of DIY solutions. Fill up your own bags with sand. We’re not travelling now anyway. You can also weigh them using the handy scales that we used to use to weigh our luggage–back in the before times.

The water jugs are the same idea. We have two sets of different sizes and you can (obviously) fill them up with different amounts of water. As with the sand, the water is unstable making for an extra challenge.

Today we used the heavy water jugs for deadlifts and farmer walks.

But here are some more ideas.

I will say that we aren’t the neatest when it comes to filling and emptying the jugs so for us it’s a good thing that these are outdoor workouts. Also, I think the lawn appreciates it!

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).

feminism · fitness · men · sexism · strength training · weight lifting

Women are ‘Someone,’ Too

“Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.” (1)

“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.” (2)

I love lifting weights. I enjoy the exertion, the challenge, and the self-confidence that it brings. I’m not alone–women are a growing number of the competitive lifters around the world. Women participate in competitive physique, strong”man”, weightlifting and powerlifting. And this reflects a boom in interest amongst us non-competitive folks, too, likely at least in part fueled by the popularity and accessibility of crossfit in the last decade.

And yet, the mostly male-dominated media space has not caught up. When lifters are discussed, there is an overwhelming tendency to treat “lifters” as synonymous with “men.”

And to be perfectly frank, it’s starting to piss me off. Every time a guy says “someone” and what they really mean is “men,” I want to yell, “HEY, I’m SOMEONE, too!”

I want to see myself in the programs put out there. I want trainers to give me potential solutions to the challenges I face in reaching my goals. I want to know that my needs and concerns have answers. I want realistic metrics to which I can compare myself and help with goal setting. In short, I want representation.

Instead, there’s an endless parade of articles and other media around men’s insecurities and challenges–how to get 6-pack abs! Build your squat to 3x bodyweight! How to get to 12% body fat and stay there!

The physiology of someone born with female parts is different than the physiologies of people born with male parts. We have more essential levels of fat–requiring higher body fat levels in order to function healthfully. Our hormone profile changes how we respond to lifting, with only 5-10% of the testosterone of a typical adult man making building muscle a potentially slower process. Our smaller joints and bone structures change the size of our muscular potentials. Estrogen is protective in many ways, making women and other people who produce more of it, more resilient to higher-rep lifting, possibly meaning we require shorter rest periods. Some research on Olympic level athletes suggests that our abilities to recover even changes throughout our menstrual cycles. And none of this gets into the nuances of lifting around pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomies, mastectomies and so many other experiences shared by so many people with a uterus.

But I’m not asking that every article, interview, podcast and blog post dig into all of these caveats every time they want to offer me 5 new ways to do push-ups. No, I just want the language used to be inclusive. I want pictures of strong people of all genders doing the work. I want it to be clear that I am a potential member of the target audience. So many trainers complain about how women are afraid of lifting weights, that we’re afraid of the barbell, that we’re afraid of the results we might get. But if 90% of the images we see are men on gear working on showing off that 6-pack, why should we expect a majority of women would be drawn to that? (To be clear, I have no problem with lean, muscular women with six-pack abs, I just recognize that they are a subset of the population.) We need to be represented in order to imagine it as a real possibility.

So in absence of another solution, I propose a simple test to determine if women are being acknowledged as people who do serious strength training. Blog post, podcast, article or interview, let’s call it the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test (3) which asks that fitness experts:

one. Directly mention women and/or include them in images.
two. And ensure that any goals and/or metrics referenced include those appropriate for women and other people born with a uterus.

So, back to the quotes at the top: “Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.”

This may be true for men who lift seriously over time. It is not ever true for women. I just checked the current raw powerlifting records for women, and the drug-tested, open world record for squat for women is 502 pounds. So women are excluded by the speaker and he fails the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test.

“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.”

The second speaker also fails the test, since an 8% bodyfat is nearly unattainable even by the most competitive female bodybuilders. It is certainly not a “walking around” level of leanness for most women, when it might be for an especially disciplined, genetically gifted, and/or possibly just highly neurotic man.

In comparison, a recent article on Nerd Fitness (on the Star Wars workout) passed the test easily. Images of women. No metrics of success that are gendered at all. Steve Kamb did a great job of using entirely neutral language so that any reader can see themselves in the article.

Another win goes out to a great podcast, Stronger by Science. In their recent discussion on gut health and training nutrition, they interviewed a female expert and used gender-neutral language throughout. When it was appropriate to specify male vs. female metrics, both were included.

A quick search of recent Bodybuilding.com training articles finds some sort-of wins and some straight up losses. For example, this article on shoulder exercises does a good job of using gender-neutral language, but fails due to exclusively using men in the images.

T-Nation fairs not even as well as that. There are many examples to pull from, but here’s a training article that even the title (“The V-Taper Workout and Diet Plan”) excludes women as a target. The “V-Taper” is a shape of shoulders and waist that is specifically identified as a desirable male attribute (think comic book Superman with his wide shoulders and impossibly narrow waist). Notably, the author never acknowledges that he’s writing for a male audience. Major fail.

Not surprisingly, women lifters and authors consistently do a better job including women. Some female trainers are directing their business at other women as their primary market, and so they explicitly include women in their media. However, there are also female trainers and bloggers who do a good job of inclusive, but not female-centric language. A standout example is Meghan Callaway.

Women lift weights. We like to track our progress and gauge our success against other lifters. We want to know reasonable goals for goal setting and to see ourselves represented in media aimed at folks who strength train. Representation matters, and it’s well-past time for fitness authors, podcast hosts, and trainers to make a more consistent effort to represent women equally in their spaces.

Photo description: The torso, arms and legs of a woman holding a weight plate in a gym. She is wearing a black t-shirt and shorts, and she has defined forearm and quad muscles.

(1) Maybe not an exact quote, but definitely the gist from a recent interview with Dr. Mike Zourdos on the Iron Culture podcast, which incidentally, is an awesome podcast! But I know they can do better with representation.

(2) Not going to link to this one, as the podcast I was trying out became so fat-phobic in a rant that I don’t want to encourage others to listen to it.

(3) Named in homage of and to give credit to the Bechdel Test which gives a simple way of identifying if women are present in film.

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