Last month, I invested in a pair of knee sleeves after trying a borrowed pair for several training sessions. I said I would comment on the results of any changes that I observed.
First the qualitative results: I noticed right away that when I wore the knee sleeves, I felt more comfortable squatting more deeply. My trainer noticed this too. Goal of ass to grass is well underway!
What I didn’t expect was how I would feel in between sessions when I didn’t wear knee sleeves. There was an obvious decrease in knee pain from the grumpy left knee, and I also noticed that my hip joints didn’t ache. I don’t know why this is happening but I am thinking that my knees are being retrained in how to support my body.
With my knees feeling better able to support my body, I feel more comfortable in completing certain exercises, so much so, my trainer has added a few variations in the split squat department. I have been doing more cage squats and heavier weight goblet squats and my ability to get closer to the ground and feel more comfortable there has increased too.
In the last week of May, I recorded the following records in my notebook:
Bench 42 kg/ Squat 186 lbs/Deadlift 101 kg
By June 5, with almost three weeks of training using the sleeves complete, I achieved the following PRs:
Bench 48.5 kg / Squat 200 lbs/Deadlift 105 kg.
The squat is particularly pleasing as it represents a 14 lb jump. The bench represents an unofficial provincial record too.
If you have been thinking about incorporating some of these tools, like the sleeves or belts to increase your core stability and to support your (possibly aging) joints, then perhaps my experience may give you the extra push you need.
I’m happy I made the investment. They have made a difference for me in a short time, and I am looking forward to seeing what this summer’s training will produce in both qualitative and quantitative results.
— Martha is a writer getting her fit on through powerlifting.
My exercise routine has been sporadic this past month. There were caregiving responsibilities, March break with my family, and a nasty cold.
I reviewed my activity data and was surprised to find my most active days for fitness were weekdays. What? In the warm weather I’m a Weekend Warrior, doing lots on weekends but little activity or exercise during the week.
This winter and early spring are the exact opposite, I’ve become The Reverse Weekend Warrior by walking my commute and scheduling four half-hour workouts during the week.
It hasn’t been pretty but I do feel good in my body. I never got around to spinning on Thursdays and Saturdays. The previous winters I did spin for up to an hour on Saturdays and a few times during the week. Not this year.
I’m looking forward to the warmer weather so I can garden, ride my bicycle and have drinks on my porch. Who knows, my weekends may even catch up to my weekday activities.
If that happens I’ve no idea what I’ll call myself!
When I started working with a trainer, I really didn’t think much about why I was doing certain things in the gym. Most days my goal was to execute the drills as required and not make a fool of myself in front of all the other gym goers.
As time went on, I realized those who train seriously aren’t really paying attention to who else is doing what except to make sure no one is moving into a working area to avoid collision or to negotiate access to a piece of equipment.
Working out in a gym where lifters practice has been quite different for me from your average commercial gym. It’s not that people are working harder in a performance training gym – anyone who hauls their butt to a place filled with tools to make their bodies move hard gets my respect – it’s that people there look differently.
Talk to any woman and they will tell you about the look. We’ve all had it happen one time or another. Some describe it as being undressed or stripped; some will say they are being measured and found wanting, either in body shape or what they are wearing. In fact, there are some gyms that address forthrightly the need to keep eyes to self to avoid making their female customers feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their workout spaces.
Perhaps working with a trainer has, over time, insulated me from looks; that is, it’s not about whether I meet an ideal of womanhood, or if I am wearing the latest gym fashion (plain tee shirt and capris over here), but whether or not I am performing the exercise properly.
I learned very quickly that form is the beginning and the end, the be all and end all of working out. Without paying attention to form, you risk injury, or you overlook the first signs of a problem, or you fail to get maximum benefit from a particular action in the program.
I’ve recovered twice from new injuries, recovered from a couple of relapses, and a recent trip in the gym and in every case, the focus on form is what has helped me get back on track and strengthen those areas that need support.
Here’s the thing: focusing on form invites scrutiny. Intense scrutiny. Muscles are being looked at and being poked at. How you move is being looked at: the start, the execution, the finish.
That level of scrutiny without the baggage of the “male” gaze is a different experience all together. Having worked with a male trainer and a female trainer, each applying the same level of intensity to the gaze, has been hugely helpful in unpacking some of my earlier, less positive gym experiences.
Yes, there is judgment. After all, by training with someone whose expertise is movement, fitness and workout programming, I am inviting scrutiny and critique. And there is the key difference.
Most times women don’t want the look. They just want to do their work in the gym and get their fit on. And my friends have told me they can always tell when the look is not of appreciation for their great skill at the bench but for their other physical attributes.
When you train though with a trainer, you invite the gaze, and it is one with a specific purpose. There is more power for me in that relationship because I am working collaboratively with someone to acquire new skills and techniques, and to improve. When the gaze is uninvited, the power is all in the eye of the beholder, with none in the object of the gaze, and that is not a good thing.
And I have found, for me, when you train in a gym where most people are aiming for huge goals, the appreciative look feels differently. I think it is because I have had to learn how to look critically myself so I can replicate the movement, and when I am waiting my turn, and I see someone else execute a move beautifully, all I can think of is “wow, I want to learn how to do that.”
Because when someone is working hard and doing great work, it doesn’t matter what they look like or what they are wearing. What only matters is the beauty and power of their form.
— Martha Muzychka is still learning all the ways to be strong and fit.
By Elan Paulson
Treat every practice as if it were a game. I heard this expression playing ball as a kid, and then recently saw it again as an inspirational sports meme. The advice is to practice like every second matters, take play seriously, and give 100% effort as if one were in an actual game.
But after I had just played my first recreational mixed ball game in over six years this past week, I had to tell myself the opposite: treat every game as if it were a practice.
As a reader of Fit is a Feminist Issue, you already recognize the pervasiveness of media-reinforced stereotypes about women and their marginalization in sports. In Women, Media and Sport: Challenging Gender Values, Pamela Creedon notes that “By denying access to the game as players, we are taught that women are less qualified, powerful or physical than men. By limiting women to largely stereotypical support roles, […] we also learn that women should be subservient” (6).
Clearly, this is an ignorant view at best, but if you know mixed ball teams you may also know there visible and invisible rules that re-affirm that women indeed play a “support” role in the game. (I refer a mandatory numbers of female players in a line up, or the tendency to place women in positions that see the least action or require the least skill.)
I have a strong desire to challenge the gendered stereotypes in sports that Creedon references. It’s also in my nature to be conscientious and want to make a positive contribution to team efforts. As a result, I am hard on myself and unforgiving of my own mistakes (both off and on the field).
When I struck out last week, my desire to challenge gendered sports stereotypes, combined with my inherent self-criticism, mixed a poisoning of my enjoyment of a fun afternoon outdoors playing rec ball with nice people. A team member of mine had noticed my frustration, commenting, “You don’t look like you are having much fun.”
Now, at the time I was wearing the all-in-good-fun bright pink t-shirt that team members must wear as “punishment” for striking out (another gendered marker that subtly associates weak play with women). But I wasn’t having fun because the pink shirt a) equated women with inferiority in sports and, b) equated inferiority in sports with me.
So, going forward this season I plan to give myself explicit permission during every “practice” to try a new strategy, to screw up, to fail, and to strike out.
If I punish myself for every missed play, and feel further humiliated by the pink shirt, I internalize not only the very gendered stereotypes I challenge but also an approach that is hypercompetitive and stereotypically masculine (Creedon, 7) that I also wish to avoid. Even when my failure may look as if I am reinforcing gendered norms, having fun is the more important “win” for me.
So, going forward, every game is an opportunity to practice…both my skills in baseball and self-forgiveness. And living my values is the real feminist “play” in my sports life. FIAFI readers, is this a needed reminder for you in team sports as well?
Creedon, Pamela J. Women, Media, and Sport: Challenging Gender Values. Sage Publications, 1994.
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with depression and anxiety for a few years now, which really emerged in a big way while I was pursuing my MA in philosophy. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, but I’ve found myself able to manage my depression and anxiety through therapy and exercise. I’ve also had longstanding issues with procrastination, which contributes to the endless cycle of self-talk with “You’re not doing enough,” “You don’t belong here,” “If you were really serious about philosophy, you wouldn’t have to push yourself to work,” and other things like that.
While doing my MA, I sought therapy through Student Services and worked with a therapist there, who was herself a PhD student, and our sessions were extremely helpful to me. There are lots of really great lessons I took from the sessions, but two in particular have really stuck out: 1) I need to set significantly lower expectations for myself, and 2) action precedes motivation. As far as low expectations go, the way I think of it is this: if I tell myself that today I’m going to accomplish Things A, B, C, and D, but only end up accomplishing Things A and B, I’ll feel disappointed in myself, and that fires up the cycle of negative self-talk. But if I set out to accomplish Thing A, find that that fires me up a bit, and then also get Things B and C done, then I can feel good about what I’ve accomplished (even if it wasn’t Things A through D). As for action preceding motivation, it’s almost exactly what it sounds like: sometimes, you simply don’t want to do things until you’ve started doing them, but once you get going, it actually feels okay or even fun, and you find yourself motivated to do it.
So, what does all of this have to do with fitness?
Since starting my PhD study in a new country, the depression and anxiety have re-emerged. Thanks largely to this blog, I’ve managed to abandon the idea that exercise is for aesthetic reasons, and I now think of exercise’s role in my life as being one of maintaining general health, be it physical or mental. It’s not just anxiety that I’ve had this on-again, off-again relationship with, but also running. It’s not my favourite form of exercise (I’m much more in the swimming, weightlifting, and TRX camps), but there’s a lot about running it that draws me to it, like the relative lack of expense, and pretty minimal gear requirements. In my case, there’s also no travel time: I just put on my shoes, step outside, and start running. No need to get myself to a gym or pool first. One thing that often keeps me from running, though, is the idea that I’m just not good at it. I know, I know: how will I ever get good at it if I don’t do it? But what I’ve taken from my therapy sessions is largely applicable to running: like my work in philosophy, I need to remember to set lower expectations for myself, and remember that action precedes motivation. Now, I’m not a fast runner, and although I’m fairly tall, I don’t have that long graceful gazelle-like stride that seems to come so naturally to so many other tall runners. I get red in the face quite quickly and find myself huffing and puffing much sooner than I’d like to admit. But setting lower expectations for myself means deciding that some days, five minutes of red-faced, huffy puffy running is good enough. (Yeah, I know it’s significantly less than experts recommend. But if I try to convince myself to run for twenty minutes, I often don’t wind up going at all. Low expectations, remember?) And the other thing is, sometimes that five minutes turns into ten. And then the ten turns into twenty. And sometimes twenty even becomes thirty. Action precedes motivation.
Admittedly, when it comes to running, I don’t have much of a routine. Often, it’s just a matter of thinking, “A run might be nice,” for whatever reason (I’m cold and want to warm up, I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything that day, I want to feel strong, or I want to work through a philosophical problem that’s bothering me, for instance), and heading out the door five minutes later. I tend not to time myself or map out any particular route, because I know from my own experience that quantifying things is the fast track to taking the fun out of it. I’ll have to develop some kind of a routine over the next few months, since I spontaneously signed up for a half marathon just earlier today, but that’s quite a ways off and I still have time to enjoy the lack of structure. Again, low expectations are where I need to start.
Running is helpful in managing my depression and anxiety in two ways. There’s the obvious one: that exercise is simply good for your mental health. The second one, though, in my case, is that working at implementing those two lessons when I run is that I get that much better at implementing them in other areas of my life, notably my grad school work. Convincing myself to write just one paragraph or read just one article sometimes takes more effort than I wish it did, but the point is to start.
I recently attended a Project 500 Networking Day for female sports coaches called: Women in Sport – The next steps.
(Project 500 is an initiative to address the imbalance of female to male coaches in England – you can read more below, or on their website).
A major highlight of the event was the opportunity to hear a presentation by guest speaker Mara Yamauchi about her experiences as a female athlete, and her more recent move into coaching – you can read about it here.
For the second half of her presentation, Mara answered questions, and facilitated a discussion on issues relating to local women’s participation in sport – and “what works” to minimise any such barriers and increase engagement.
Just for clarity, these were personal views and experiences shared by the attendees (all local female sports coaches and volunteers) and do not represent in any way the views of Project 500; or Coaching Hampshire and Active Surrey who organised the event.
Competition and self-esteem
One issue that came up was that of women marathon runners not having other women to train with, and becoming demoralised if they trained with men and couldn’t keep up. A potential solution to this is to use a “garland” running course, so that mixed ability runners can complete the number of loops they wish to in their own time, while still training alongside others for companionship.
We also talked about how some (although by no means all) women dislike competition, and can benefit more from process goals, as opposed to outcome goals. These might include consistency of training, posture, recovery periods and so on.
Technology – help or hindrance?
We also talked about technology, as a mixed blessing. Mara expressed concerns that she sees a lot of runners get over-fixated on their GPS watches and other devices, and believe that they are the key to better performance. Whereas in fact, in Mara’s view, nothing beats good old-fashioned hard training 🙂
Mara also made the point that monitoring your speed and distance are not the be-all and end-all in training. In fact, things like using different terrains, and a mix of speed and recovery can be very effective training methods.
Another crucial skill is learning to be aware of and judge your own effort, and know how it feels to be at different intensities. As one participant explained it, At 50% you can still get your words out. At 90% you can’t!
For all these reasons, Mara sometimes just advises her athletes to leave their watches and other gadgets at home. We agreed that it was ironic that running is such a simple sport in itself – but people have become so very hung-up on their kit and technology these days.
Technology and gender . . . ?
Technology looks set to increase in importance. It’s very visible in the new UK Government’s Sports Strategy: Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, as an area to take forward:
Wearable technology which encourages people to be more physically active through quantifying their activity or competition and websites that enable simpler access to facilities have already transformed how people engage in sport and physical activity.
The increasing use of technology is one of the strongest examples of how meeting the needs and the demands of consumers can drive up levels of activity. Apps like MapMyRun and Strava and wearable technology like Fitbit and Jawbone have made participants in sport far more aware of what activity they have done, and introduced competition with both other people and themselves, for those that derive motivation that way. The ability of these apps and devices to capture data and encourage increased levels of activity will define the world of sport and physical activity in the coming decade (page 25)
But quite a few of us challenged this unquestioning championing of technology, as we believe it doesn’t necessarily appeal to all women. One woman said that she knew a coach who taught by Skype – and was finding it to be very popular with men, but had no female take-up at all.
Although we acknowledged the definite benefits of technology – for example allowing you to avoid a flooded road and find another path, there was also some discussion about how men seem to enjoy using technology in sport more, whereas for the women we coach (and ourselves too) the social side seems to be more important.
Obviously it’s undesirable to generalise too much. Plenty of women enjoy fitness technology – see for example Sarah Millin’s recent post on the excitement of upgrading to the Microsoft Band. But the general experience and view of all the coaches present seemed to be that women tend to be less keen on using sports technology.
We also discussed the pressures that technology can place on women and girls to feel that they need to look good while training or competing, especially since nowadays with social media use, photos of anyone and everyone appear on social media. When in fact, your appearance is probably the last thing you want to be worrying about during sporting activity.
We agreed that as noted above, technology is a mixed blessing, and has definitely done a lot of good to engage people who wouldn’t otherwise train. We need to try hard to get the most out of it, and do our best to stop it impacting negatively on our athletes.
Women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds
Several of the coaches present spoke about the ways they supported local women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate in sport. Obviously coming from an ethnic minority is not a barrier in itself; and many women from these groups engage easily in sport. The focus of our discussion was on supporting women from specific local communities within our area, where barriers to participation in sports do appear to exist for some women.
One prominent issue was women fearing to be seen out and about engaging in sport, either by other members of their community, or just in general. For some women, engaging in sport in public would be seen as shameful. One (cycling) coach said that she overcomes this by taking students out in large groups, and separating men and women into two groups, especially in the first instance while participants get used to doing sport.
Another issue that several coaches often came across was women wearing unsuitable clothing for sport, including “floaty” national dress and flip-flops. There was agreement that this needed to be gently challenged for safety reasons. If the women could not wear other clothes, there were various safety options available such as removing long, flowing scarves, and tying dresses. Some women were uncomfortable removing their scarves to wear a helmet, and leaving it on could create risks, if not done safely.
One coach added that she felt it important to dress in a relatively modest way herself, so as not to make the women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds feel uncomfortable.
Some of the coaches also said that women from these groups sometimes started out quite overweight, and with low levels of fitness, due to their lack of previous exercise.
As a general point (going beyond ethnicity or culture), it was agreed to be important not to take on too many adult beginners at once, and to ensure that there were enough experienced participants to support them.
The support of men
It was agreed that when women came from cultures which discouraged them from participating in sports clubs, the support and influence of men could be enormous (either positively or negatively).
We then moved on to talking about women’s participation in general, and the number of women who can appear to be fearful and unconfident in a sports setting. One participant queried as to whether some of the Project 500 marketing should in fact be aimed at men, to enlist their support for the programme goals.
All in all, it was a great experience to meet with local female sports leaders and discuss these issues as a like-minded group . . .
About Project 500: Project 500 started life in 2013 as an exciting initiative in the South East of England, to help address the imbalance of female to male coaches by recruiting, developing, deploying and retaining 500 female coaches.
Research from sports coach UK shows that just 30% of sports coaches are female and of newly qualified coaches each year, only 17% are women.
The initial two-year pilot was really successful, and recruited and retained over 530 female coaches across a variety of sports.
In celebration of this – and with an eye to the future – Coaching Hampshire and Active Surrey held a women-only networking day on 13 March 2016, which I attended on behalf of my dojo. This discussion was part of the day’ programme.
Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger. You can read more of her stories and articles at www.budo-inochi.com, or follow her Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/kaimorg