fitness · running · training

Why a Running Clinic May Be a Good Way to Start the New Year

Head shot of two smiling women (Julie left and Tracy right). Julie has long light hair and is wearing glasses. Tracy is wearing a multi-coloured headband and a neon pink running jacket. I resurrected this post from 2014–started but not finished. Today seems like a good time to finish it as many of us think about what we want to do activity-wise for 2018.

In our resolutions post I said I basically want to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s working for me and I’m feeling great — definitely in the best shape of my life, with the healthiest attitude about food and weight that I’ve ever had and a workout routine where I look forward to my workouts most days.

Over the years I’ve had excellent experiences with running clinics. I find them especially helpful to get me through the winter. When it’s cold and icy, it’s easy to hibernate. If you’re like me and can’t handle treadmill running for more than about 30 minutes at a stretch, then hibernating through the winter is not an option.

Enter the running clinic. My first winter running clinic was a 10K group that started in November and continued through to the spring. Having scheduled runs with a group helped me get out the door at least three times a week, whatever the weather. The camaraderie of slogging it out in a snow storm or a cold windy night makes all the difference. I have found that every group has its commiserators and its encouragers. Both offer needed support.

The year after the 10K clinic I signed up for the Around the Bay 30K training clinic. It followed marathon training more or less. That was the year of the polar vortex and I’m telling you, it was a tough commitment some days. But that clinic cemented my friendship with Julie, whom I’d originally met at the 10K clinic the year before. We have now been running friends for years and have done many an event together (including Around the Bay, both in the 30K and as a 2-person relay team.

Clinics are good for the info you get as well. Every group will have one night a week where a speaker comes to talk about shoes or nutrition or clothing and gear or injuries (prevention and treatment) and any number of other helpful topics.

Another great thing about them is that they cater to all levels. No matter what your pace, there are almost always others who run at that pace. Of course if you’re new to running you won’t start with a half marathon group. You’ll start with a learn to run group and build speed and distance from there.

Most local running shops have training clubs and clinics starting up over the next week or two. If you’re looking for a good way to get through the winter as an outdoor runner, check out the schedule and sign up.

If you’ve had a good experience with running clinics let us know. Enjoy!

martial arts · training

Getting My Brain to Trust Me

I find it challenging not to over-think my movements in Taekwondo.*

There’s a certain stage of practice that requires me to think a lot about how my body moves. I need to say the ‘choreography’ of each step aloud to myself so I can make sure I get all the pieces in the right place. If I don’t verbally walk myself through the movements, it’s nearly impossible for me to learn something new.

Here’s my foot in side kick position. If I am doing this as part of a new technique, you can rest assured that if I have remembered to pull my toes back and point them down, I will have forgotten to breathe, or lean, or do some other crucial part.

However, when it comes to actually pulling the pieces together, I have to stop thinking and just do. That does not come easily to me. I often end up so focused on accomplishing one part of the movement that I forget to let my body do the things it knows how to do. If I am learning a new kick, I will concentrate on getting my foot in place but I will forget to breathe out at the right point. If I am trying a different punch combination, I will focus on my hands and forget to lean my head away to avoid a blow.

I know that this is part of my learning process, but it would a whole lot easier if I could just layer on the new things without (temporarily) losing any of the old ones.

Even though I know that my mind gets in the way of my movements, it still takes a lot of effort to turn off my thinking and just move. Right now, a combination of perfectionism and a lack of trust in my body is impeding me.

I don’t want to just do a new move any old way, I want to get it right. I want to feel good about the results. I want to be in control of what I’m doing.

Despite the fact that I have been doing Taekwondo for 8 years now, my brain still doesn’t trust that my body knows its stuff. My mind doesn’t quite believe that my body understands how to move, that it can take direction and learn new things.

So, my brain hangs on tightly. It wants me to learn, to ‘get it.’ But, it focuses so clearly on just one aspect of the new move that it prevents me from actually ‘getting it’, it keeps me from pulling all the pieces together.

I know that, with practice, I always reach a point where there the mental process becomes automatic. Or, at least,I reach a point where I am not conscious of the commentary any more. Yet, no matter how many times I am successful after I give up that mental control of my movements, my mind still resists.

This is a different sort of challenge for me in Taekwondo. This isn’t about trying to learn a new physical thing, it’s about changing a mental pattern. Like I said above, I know part of it has to do with me wanting to do it ‘right’ and not wanting to look foolish by making a mistake. Mostly, though, it’s a habit. It’s me being used to living in my head and forgetting to trust my body to do what I ask it to.

I’m not sure how to work on that. If my experience so far hasn’t taught me to stop over-thinking at Taekwondo, then I don’t think it will just *happen.* Perhaps some sort of mental practice, meditation, for example, would be beneficial.

I’m going to to try it and let you know what happens.

In the meantime, if you have any tips, let me know!

KI-YA!

*Anyone who knows me is laughing right now because this is the understatement of the year. And it’s not just Taekwondo, I am a champion over-thinker. I could compete in the over-thinking Olympics.

martial arts · training

Consistency and Confidence (Guest Post)

As I said in last week’s post, my main goal for Taekwondo this year is to be willing to be *seen* in class. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to build the mental and physical confidence to do that.
Obviously, for the mental confidence, there is going to be a certain amount of just ‘go for it’ involved, a willingness to accept the possibility of appearing foolish if I make a mistake. I can’t practice that until I am actually back in class but I am going to do some meditation and other practices to help me with enduring the discomfort I know I will feel.
Luckily, I’m not generally one of those people who needs to feel like they are doing things perfectly, I just need to feel like I have been steadily working. I don’t so much mind making mistakes if I have been putting effort in so I have to commit to practicing consistently.
The need to continue practicing my patterns goes almost without saying. For the record though, I am going to practice each pattern at least twice a week so I am never caught off guard by a request to perform any given one.
Aside from that though, I have realized that I really want to improve my overall fitness and strength so I can have a better sense that my body will do what I ask it to. I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t have strength or that I lack body confidence right now, I just want more.
I have always had trouble with consistency with my fitness training. Aside from my class time in Taekwondo, I find it challenging to schedule exercise. It seems like everything else has to fit in first and if our lives get busy or someone in my family is sick, my exercise time is the first thing to go.
I don’t want that to happen any more so I have to create a smoother path to a regular exercise habit – having my exercise clothes ready, having a plan for busy days, picking specific exercises and a dedicated time to do them. I know from past success in other areas that choosing my actions in advance means I am much more likely to do them in the moment.
So, my next step must be to make some advance choices about exercises.
I know that I want to have stronger arms and I want my arm muscles to be visible. I am already decently strong but I want to see a muscle when I look in the mirror. That’s going to require a variety of arm exercises.
I want to be able to feel more power in my strikes and my blocks. That means I need greater strength in my core. My back and I flatly refuse to do crunches, so I need a variety of ab exercises. The fact that those exercises will help my back is a bonus.
There’s a certain way my body moves and feels when I am getting enough cardio. There’s a strength in my movement and feeling of cooperation in my muscles. Those are good things and I want to feel like that all the time, so that means there is more cycling, more time on the rowing machine, more walking, and more jump rope in my future.
I want to refine my kicks. I’ve got good accuracy but I’d like to increase the strength and height of my kicking. That’s going to require some leg work and some hip work, so I’ll be doing a lot of lunges and squats and stretching.
Usually, I have trouble seeing how individual pieces make up part of a greater whole but the process of writing about these exercises has given me a strong mental picture of how they all fit together. I suddenly feel really excited about putting this program together for myself and bringing the results of my efforts into my classes in the fall.
One of my reasons for joining Taekwondo in the first place was that I wanted to have a warrior’s body to match my warrior’s mind. I do have a strong, capable body now but I want to inhabit it even more fully. I want to be more charge of what my muscles will do. I want to have even more strength. There is always room for a warrior to become more powerful.
KIYA!

Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer, creative life coach, and martial artist who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador. She is the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. She wishes she could help you be a little kinder to yourself – you are doing just fine.
aging · clothing · fitness · Martha's Musings · training

When tools help

by MarthaFitat55

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.

fitness classes · Sat with Nat · training

The Reverse Weekend Warrior

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. 

Natalie stares at the camera ruddy faced, her short mousy brown hair a mess in the background are brown lockers
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. 

Four bicycles lean against a brown bedroom wall under a window. The room has trainers, bicycle pumps and other sundry items strewn about.
Poor Ethel, my bicycle, has sat unloved. 

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!

fitness · objectification · stereotypes · training

Do you see what I see?

by MarthaFitat55

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.

Guest Post · training

Every Game is a Practice (Guest Post)

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?

References

Creedon, Pamela J. Women, Media, and Sport: Challenging Gender Values. Sage Publications, 1994.