body image · femalestrength · training · weight lifting

Tracy’s first day at a body-positive gym

Image description: Block letters on dark background that say: “BODY-POSITIVE FITNESS & PERSONAL TRAINING GYM” (from the BPM website: http://bpmfitness.ca

I’ve just started in on one of the most wonderful privileges of an academic year: sabbatical and admin/study leave. This time around, I have accumulated 8 months of administrative leave (from my four years as Associate Dean Academic) and another 6 months of sabbatical leave that I postponed from four years ago when I took up that admin position. That means I have the next 14 months to focus on my research.

It also means I will rarely be going to campus. I’ll set myself up mostly to work at home. This is a long way around to saying why I decided to join a gym again. I have been doing personal training for my weight training workouts for almost four years now. It’s been great and I’ve definitely gotten stronger. But as much as I enjoy spending time with my trainer, Paul, I feel that on my leave I would prefer to have some community. I already have a bit of that with yoga and running. But yoga is only once a week (maybe I will increase it during my leave) and other than my Sunday mornings, I usually run by myself.

My friend Tara has had a great experience at a small gym that does personal training and group fitness. BPM claims itself as a body-positive gym. Tara started going to classes there in January and she has really committed to regular training since then. So it made sense for me to consider BPM, based on her recommendation and also that I already know (and really like) one of the owners, Chelsea. Added bonus, I can walk there from home in under ten minutes.

Yesterday was my first class, day one of my two week free trial. They have at least six classes a day, starting at 6 a.m. Then 7, 9:30. 12:15, 4:30, 5:30 and some days also 6:30. They are 45 minute workouts where you do a series of timed sets of various exercises. Each set is 35 seconds with a 10 second rest before moving on to the next exercise for 35 seconds, then the next and the next. After three rounds of those, you switch to another group of exercises that you work through the same way — timed sets for three sets.

Finally, we ended on a brutal set where we built from one, then two, then three, up to a sequence of eight different exercises, then pyramided down again until we were back to where we started. We followed that with a cool down.

At personal training I’m used to taking a bit more rest between sets and also lifting heavier. But the endurance and strength required for today’s workout really surprised me. I don’t know why it surprised me as much as it did — maybe because I consider myself to be strong. But the repetitions with little rest in between forced me to push hard to keep up. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up at all and needed to take a time out for a few seconds before resuming.

It was a humbling experience and I felt kind of weak, actually, In personal training I’ve been doing 3×13 pull-ups. Today we did something similar (she called them chin-ups) and I could hardly even do 6, with a band for support. I think it’s because of coming in the second part, after I’d already done three taxing sets that involved push-ups and burpees, among other things (lunges and some shoulder presses). Anyway, it was tough. I worked up a sweat and I am sure that I will be feeling it.

There were only 8-10 people in the class, all women. It’s not the kind of gym I’ve ever attended before. It’s very basic. You turn left at the top of the stairs and boom: you’re in the studio.

Besides being a tough workout, which I like, the body positive message felt good. Honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym class, but my memory is that there is a lot of talk about losing weight and “getting in shape” and looking good. This class wasn’t like that at all. It was focused entirely on doing the exercises at your own pace and strength. I felt encouraged and challengged the entire time.

I’ve already signed up for three more classes this week, as well as one dedicated strength training session for next week. The strength training classes are smaller than the “fitness bootcamp” that I attended. Strength sessions max out at eight people and I couldn’t find one with space in it until next Tuesday.

It feels good to work out with a group again. And it’s nice to be going to a gym where I can sometimes go workout with Tara. I’m attracted to working out with my peeps — I’ve got my running crew, my yoga crew, and may potentially get a little gym crew going. In any case, I appreciate the free two-week trial — that seems a rare thing these days, but it’s a great way to get to know a new gym. And knowing that all the classes I do over the next couple of weeks are free, I feel motivated to do as many as I can. I’m excited and hopeful that this is a going to be a nice element of routine in my leave, helping me add a bit of structure along with the benefits of a fitness community.

Are gyms with an explicit body-positive message showing up in your area these days? Have you tried one?

martial arts · training

Christine’s Kicking It Day 3 – plot twist

I can feel that this kicking program is helping. I’m not testing my kicks every day so I can’t report back on that per se but I can feel a definite difference in my hips.

I even feel a bit more mobile when I’m walking or crouching down to get something.

Today’s exercises introduced the frog stretch. Now I’ve done this before in yoga but I hadn’t really thought of it in relation to helping me with my kicking.

My challenges with the frog stretch, and with some of the other stretches over the past few days, are making me wonder if overly-tight adductor muscles are a bigger factor in both my kick height and my overall tight hips than I realized.

I’m going to do some extra stretching for those muscles over the next while and see if it helps.

Today’s workout ended up being a bit strange because something weird happened.

I woke up with a stiff neck this morning and I thought that I had managed to move and stretch the stiffness out. However, when I started to do one drill that involved holding onto the wall with one hand and practising my kicks while my foot was looped into a strap, my neck muscles spasmed and I got very dizzy.*

I took a break to recover and then, since it didn’t seem to be related to exertion,I went back to the exercises. I took it easy, and lay on the floor to do the remaining work in case the dizziness came back.

It did.

So I called it quits for today.

A white woman with light brown hair is visible from the shoulders up. She is wearing a black shirt and a blue headband. She is smirking.
You will notice that my smirk is more grim than mischievous today. I felt horrible while taking this.

I have to say that while I expected to have some hip issues or at least some tight muscles in that area, I did not expect a problem with my neck to interfere with me completing a set of these exercises!

I’m still calling today a success though. After all, I returned to my practice for the third day in a row, I can feel progress, and I can identify specific things to work on. That’s all good.

*To be clear, I am not ignoring a serious injury or a major health event. I don’t have any symptoms of anything else and I have a history of feeling dizzy when this specific muscle gets tight. I will check in with my doctor if things don’t improve.

fitness · motivation · training

On overcoming FOMO: How Tracy got over it without even trying

I had an amazing moment a couple of weekends ago when I went to cheer on my nephew, Cameron, do his first triathlon. In the car on the way to Welland very early that morning, I started to wonder if I was going to get there and start wishing I was doing it too. I mean, I had a few summers where triathlon was my “thing,” and despite giving it up because of my road phobia that made me dread outdoor bike training, I did love the events.

Image description: headshot of Tracy in run tank, ball cap, sunglasses, wearing ear buds, smiling, road and trees in background. Happy to be doing exactly what she is doing.

The amazing moment came when I arrived and saw everyone checking in and going for body marking and racking their bikes and setting up their gear in the transition area. No FOMO!

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has made me do many a thing. I did the 100 days of step counting the year after I said I would never do it again because of FOMO. I stuck with triathlon a bit longer than I probably needed to because of FOMO. But as I cheered on Cameron and his friend, Ahmed, I was truly excited for them. And proud of them. And the only thought I had that had anything to with me was: “I’m glad I’m not doing this.” This was despite recognizing that it’s a nice swim and an apparently flat and fast bike course, and an equally flat run.

This week Sam, Cate, Sarah, Susan, and David are all on a bike trip in Newfoundland. It’s a hilly bike trip and they cover lots of ground every day. There is a lot of climbing and some zooming fast down hills. Cate commented that I would hate it. I replied that I knew I would hate it even before they left. Hence the reason it never crossed my mind to go and it never crossed their minds to invite me. I only thought how fun it would be to meet them for meals.

In the past I might have actually signed up because hey, people I like are going riding together for a few days and wouldn’t that (maybe?) be fun. I have enjoyed watching their progress reports as they come in on social media, with lots of photos of colourful mail boxes and houses and beautiful scenery. And lots of complaints about the hills that reinforce my view (and Cate’s) that I would not like this trip.

This evolution out of FOMO is a big deal for me. I have recently heard of JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out. Christina Crook wrote a book about it. I like the idea a lot. It goes well with my commitment (or is it a yearning?) to do less.

I think what it means to me right now is that I’m feeling good about my choices. They make me happy. And I’m accepting that I cannot do ALL THE THINGS. And I would rather miss some of them than try to get excited about things I don’t actually want to do just because other people are doing them.

I am less than six months away from my 55th birthday. I am really done doing stuff I don’t want to do. Yes I realize that it’s not possible always to do only what I want. But when it comes to my leisure and fitness stuff, I am privileged to have choices. When it comes to travel, I am privileged to I have choices. And that means setting stuff aside when it doesn’t draw me in. Others doing it is not a good enough reason.

So there you have it. I have either overcome or outgrown FOMO. It is no longer a big motivator in my life.

How much or little does FOMO motivate you?

fitness · running · training

Tracy’s lost cardio fitness

Oh wow is it ever a challenge getting back to running since I took an involuntary hiatus from it after the Around the Bay 30K sidelined me with debilitating back pain. By the time that started to resolve it was time to go to Rwanda. Then I was only home for 12 hours before flying to Vancouver. And then the jet lag kicked my butt. And then I got home to the week (or was it 10 days?) from hell.

During all that time (just over 2.5 months) I have run four or five times, not for more than 30 minutes. And I can report with confidence that 2.5 months is sufficient time to lose whatever cardio fitness I had gained through a winter of training for 30K.

My most palpable rude awakening came this past Sunday. Before that, all my runs were tentative, cautious outings aimed at testing my back more than anything else. But Sunday, my back having not given me any trouble for at least a month and no jet lag, I ventured out for a short run with the express purpose of getting back to routine. I planned for about 20-25 minutes of continuous running at an easy pace. Instead, after just 7 minutes I could hardy breathe, and that’s not because I went out too quickly. I just didn’t have the endurance anymore. I ended up being out for about 30 minutes of run-walk and it all felt pretty laboured.

I try not to feel discouraged when I have set backs. It happens. The conditioning will return. I know this. But it did shock me how very difficult that short run felt.

On a positive note: my strength training hasn’t suffered to quite the same degree. I managed 3 sets of 13 pull ups yesterday. And I have new shoes, which I tested out for the first time Sunday. They’re great!

Image description: overhead shot looking down at pavement, with grass beside, Tracy’s lower legs and feet visible in her new pink running shoes.

What’s your best strategy for getting back on track after a voluntary or involuntary hiatus?

habits · motivation · training

Is Grit Good or Bad?

It’s Monday. Even though I don’t work a Monday-to-Friday job, nor do I have children on a school schedule, Monday morning always feels like a moment to re-up my commitment to … well to pretty much everything, from work to sports. Monday is for grit. For courage and resolve. And I think of that as a good thing.

So when Samantha shared The Case Against Grit with us on Facebook the other day, I thought: What? Grit is in the doghouse now? Being a quitter is cool? Great. I don’t have to persevere anymore. So much more relaxing. I’ll just stay in bed on Mondays.

Turns out, the article was not actually anti-grit, but pro-quit. No surprise, the piece argued that laser focus on one pursuit to the exclusion of all others and against all odds may not be the best decision. 

I agree. Sticking to something just because we’ve invested a lot of resources in it already is not a good reason. I quit being a lawyer after investing years of my life in school and practice. Nothing I do now even remotely requires a law degree. On my worst days, I’ll wonder why I wasted so much time. Most days though, I don’t regret those years. I recognize them as building blocks in the life I’ve constructed. I credit law school with teaching me how to be organized and complete projects, how to think structurally.  

The problem with the never-quit motivational-speak is that it forgets about discernment. We have to choose wisely what to get gritty about. We have to try different things, to know what to stick with. If we don’t delete, then we will never have the resources (time/space/money) to invest in trying new things. 

We have to check in with ourselves regularly about why we stick with a pursuit:  

·     Why am I doing this activity? 

·     What am I trying to prove and to whom? 

·     Why do I want to quit? 

·     Does this pursuit align with my values?

·     How will I feel if I quit? 

·     Where would I rather spend my grit?

With law, I was trying to prove I was smart and capable, to myself and others. But the whole endeavor was a performance of those qualities, not rooted in any fundamental desire to be a lawyer. I also wanted to be useful in the world. I wanted my life to have some of that elusive meaning, so many of us look for. Eventually, I realized that I could find meaning elsewhere and be more fulfilled. Quitting law wasn’t proof in a case against grit (nor did it prove I was a quitter). 

The topic is tangled. Samantha wrote about grit and her Aikido practice: Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle.  As Kenny sings, we need to know when to fold ‘em. And Tracy shared thoughts on grit, too: “Why am I doing this?” On wanting to quit but not quitting. Both posts are about the organic, ongoing need to assess the balance between sticking with something and strategic quitting. 

I also wrote about grit in my new book. Quick background, Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year is structured as a book of days. After all, that’s how we live; cyclically, seasonally, in loops that come back around again. I’m injured. I’m recovered. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m peaking. I’m flatlining. All of which takes grit to get through. 

May 12-15 in the book look at grit from various angles. Here’s May 13:  

. . . what’s right for you

Just because everybody is doing high-intensity interval training, or boxing, or long slow distance, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The only way you can figure out what sports your body loves and responds to is to try them on. See how an athletic pursuit fits. And quit when it’s not right for you. 

I pursued aerial arts for about a year. I learned how to climb a silk, wind myself up in the strong, stretchy fabric that hangs from high rafters, then flip and spin my way out. One day, just as I was starting to feel comfortable in the practice, I almost ripped my arm off grabbing at the silk in a moment of fear. Once my shoulder healed, I started back at the practice, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I kept forcing myself to go, because I thought, Well I’ve already invested a year on a steep learning curve. I can’t quit now. Yet I’d known, even before the injury, that I would never make the time to become as good as I’d like. I would have had to give up other sports I loved (such as running), not to mention that after the shoulder incident I better understood that I risked an injury, which could sideline my true passions. 

Still, I’m glad I tried. The experience of learning something radically different from anything I had ever done before was mind-bending. 

But I’m glad I quit. Soon after I was introduced to aerial yoga, which fulfilled my craving to fly. 

In addition to law and aerial arts, I have quit: triathlons, road marathons, downhill skiing, rock climbing. The list could go on. Sports are easier for me to quit. What I value is movement and diversity in how I engage my body, so there’s no one sport that demands I stick with it. 

I have also stuck with a lot of things, the things that matter most to me in my life. I’ve stuck with building a life around writing. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but nope, takes a lot of grit, pretty much every day. And I’ve stuck with moving my body a whole lot. The sports change, the commitment to getting out on the road or into a studio stays the same. 

Hand holding a pink sign with white lettering that says, “Practice Kindness”
from Unplash, by Sandrachile

We have to balance our grit with the grace of knowing when enough is enough.Tracy thought about quitting because of a mean and discouraging voice in her head. She didn’t listen to that voice in the end. The voice that should guide us in our decisions is the one of kindness. Kindness isn’t going to let us get away with being half-assed. That’s not kind. Kindness wants to hold us to our own highest standard. 

Grit is for the pursuits that nourish us! 

What’s gritty and what’s the voice of kindness suggesting you quit these days?

aging · fitness · training · weight lifting

An Old Woman and Her Weights (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

I joined a mainstream gym in August of 2006. I had been a gym member before but not for a long time. I was a ‘cardio’ woman. Faithfully, I mounted the treadmill and ran: warm-up, steady, peak, and cool down. That was me. Walking around on my way to and from the change room I would see these women lifting free weights. I didn’t know how to do that. I tried the machines. They were ok, a nice addition to my running. But, it seemed to me at the time, that they weren’t quite ‘it.’

There were a couple of women who were as regular with weights as I was with running. I was afraid, afraid I would injure myself or, in the case of kettle bells, others. Finally, I decided I wanted to try free weights and would ‘spring’ for some sessions with a trainer so I could learn how to use them properly and safely. My first trainer was nice but not happy where she was; most trainers don’t realize there are sales involved and there is always pressure to sell. She left for work in a factory.

They asked me to choose with whom I would like to work. I had seen a petite, well-muscled woman who always looked so serious and focused (at least to me). I pointed and said, “her.” The woman looked slightly puzzled, perhaps wondering why a mature woman like myself would choose an obviously serious trainer. “Alison, why?” she said. “Because I want to make her laugh,” I replied. For over a decade now, there has been lots of laughter along with lots of hard work. I learned that I was in control of the weights and the only limits were either genetic or self-imposed. Alison taught me how to overcome those self-imposed limits. When my, “no, I can’t” was based in fear, she pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. I did because I trusted her to know me, emotionally, intellectually, and physically, aside from my insecurities. For me, training is a team sport.

Nothing has empowered me more than lifting weights. It has enhanced my self-esteem, made me more independent and adventurous, and in control. I have a sense of pride in my ability to manipulate heavy objects and my body to lift them. Make no mistake, I am not good at it but I am a certified “gym rat.” Others recognize my determination and acknowledge my efforts. I belong. I have learned through experience at several gyms Alison and I have trained in that it isn’t really about the size or shape of your body, it’s about your dedication.

A few years have passed since I began training, thirteen as a matter of fact. I am old now or older if you prefer. My training has changed too. It is still about challenging myself and doing the best and most I can. The focus though has shifted to building muscles to protect my arthritic knees, to allow me to get out of a chair gracefully, to be strong enough to stand upright and firm (and throttle a fantasy purse snatcher). I may be old but I refuse to be vulnerable.

I will continue to do as much as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And Alison will be right there beside me to keep me from toppling over. And occasionally, there will be Queen (We are the Champions) and 200 pound deadlifts.

Thanks to Alison for allowing me to use her name. If you are looking for her, she’s at https://www.facebook.com/pg/alison.push/posts/?ref=page_internal

Image description: blue kettlebell in the green grass

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

cycling · fitness · planning · training · traveling

Sam goes spring riding with friends (finally!)

Sarah front and center takes a selfie. On the photo’s left are the blog’s Kim and Susan and on the right are David and Sam. We standing in front of the sign for Billie Bear Road.

It’s been a cold wet spring. As Tracy posted last week we’ve had a miserable few months of cold wet weather that hasn’t exactly been inspiring outdoor activity. I was envisioning months of outdoor riding leading up to our Newfoundland trip. (I think there’s still room, by the way.) Instead I’ve been riding inside even in May!

Well this weekend is the May holiday weekend in Canada and while the weather wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t terrible for riding either. Susan invited Sarah, David, Kim and me to her family cottage for the weekend and we all brought our bikes so could ride and get ready for our big Newfoundland adventure. Susan got to introduce us to her favorite nearby hilly road. You could tell it was warm and the holiday weekend because on Sunday there were three other groups of cyclists on that same stretch of road.

I think we all felt a bit rusty. Well, I did. Susan got to ride her fancy new bike. We all got to practise our group riding skills. The hills were demanding on the way up and “whee!”on the way down. I loved the hills. I wasn’t a big fan of all the gravel that had washed into the road. But there was a big smile on my face doing one of the things I liked most in the world, riding bikes with friends.

This week it’s back to work and back to my resolution of riding 20 km and writing 30 minutes each day.

The weekend ended wth the other great Canadian spring tradition, bbqing in the rain. Quite the thunderstorm. Thanks Sarah. Image description: Sarah in a red raincoat tending the BBQ on the deck with the lake in the background.

After riding there was food, of course. Here’s a bagel with black bean spread, avocado, and melted cheddar cheese. Yum!