fitness · fitness classes · training · weight lifting

Fitness on the cheap: Sam joins a discount gym

Our group of regular bloggers is pretty privileged. Between us we pay for spin classes, CrossFit style studio memberships, rock climbing, coaches of all sorts, yoga classes, monthly access to indoor bike trainer facilities, Zwift memberships, personal training, and more. We try new things, like Orange Theory. I tell people I don’t have other hobbies and it’s my my form of recreation. But still, it’s costly.

(We’re not even going to talk about gear or clothing or bikes or boats, just the places we work out.)

Does fitness have to be expensive?

Recently I joined a discount gym. It’s not a chain fitness studio and it’s not $10 a month. But it’s close. It’s $20 a month and it’s open all the time, 24/7. I joined because I like to work out with my son sometimes and he’s got an all hours kind of schedule. It’s my personal trainer’s home gym and also the gym my physiotherapist goes to so I figured it must be okay.

What’s the price contrast? Let’s see, an hour of personal training costs twice as much as one month at the discount gym. A month at the gym costs the same as one session at the bike studio. Zwift is $15/month and that’s just a virtual world. You still need a bike and a trainer.

What I love so far:

  • When it’s staffed (regular hours) I can bring a friend anytime. It can be the same friend every time. And there is no pressure on them to join. After hours, there’s no staff and you use your card to get in. If you’re nervous, there are emergency call buttons on lanyards you can keep with you. 
  • It’s got every piece of workout equipment possible. It’s enormous. There are three big rooms and one is set up CrossFit style with room for ropes, tires, etc. There’s a sled to push and pull. There’s also a fitness studio with an app and workout videos to choose from to display on a big screen.
  • The other customers are an incredibly diverse bunch. I love the range of clothes people wear to workout. There are Italian grandmothers in cardigans, elastic waist pants, and flat dress shoes. There are serious powerlifters in all the gear. And everything in between. I love the high school students who come in after school in pretty much what they are wearing. Ditto the guys in construction boots and nurses still partly in uniform. There’s zero pressure to look all matchy-matchy in nice workout outfits. People are doing lots of different kinds of work outs and it’s all good.

What’s not so great?

  • Unlike classes and personal training and coached cycling/rowing workouts and boutique fitness studios like Cate’s feminist CrossFit or Tracy’s body-positive boot camp, or Orange Theory, you need to have a plan. It’s on you. You need to have a plan for what you are going to do when you get there. I cheat. I follow my son’s workout at about half the weight. But on my own I’m sometimes stuck and go back to old favourites. Lat pull down and bench press and deadlift, anyone? You also need to get there. When there isn’t a group and things start whenever you get there, I sometimes have a harder time getting myself out the door. Without a person whose expectations I want to live up to, sometimes it’s challenging to push yourself. 
  • Also because you can go anytime–24/7!–I can tend to put off going to the gym until later. I sometimes think what I need is a series of workouts on my phone that I can follow along with at the gym but my bad knee means I have to pick and choose. I manage. But I could be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.

Okay, now about you? Are your fitness activities all planned by you or by a trainer or by the agenda of group fitness? Do you go to pricey boutique studios or the generic discount gym? How much do finances and cost play a role in your choices?

people in gym exercising
A photo of a gym, lots of free weights, by Mark Bertulfo, Unsplash.

 

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?

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.

Crossfit · running · weight lifting · yoga

Tracy is taking suggestions…bring ’em on

mage description: Tracy's shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.
Image description: Tracy’s shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.

I’m bored with my workout routine. It’s not that I don’t like the things I’m doing. I’m getting stronger in personal training. I love yoga and feel as if I don’t do enough of it these days. And I’m itching to get back to running after my back injury took me out of it for more than a month and I’ve only just dipped my toe back into it since then.

But I feel as if a change is in the air. As much as I’m enjoying personal training, there have been quite a few developments in resistance-training these days, with more small gyms popping up offering different kinds of weight training in more of a group-class setting. One example, that I’ve not yet tried but has been recommended to me is Revkor. We have a studio here in London, and the idea of resistance band training intrigues me.

Another option, which I also have never tried, is something along the lines of CrossFit. My friend Tara has been going to a gym downtown where they do that sort of group workout and she is loving it.

I’m kind of old school and worry that if I’m not hitting heavy free weights in a gym setting I won’t actually get stronger. But at the same time, with my 14-month leave coming up, I feel as if I might need some more opportunities to be around people, and that these group workouts at specialty gyms might be just the thing. And though not cheap, they’re cheaper than personal training.

I’m also planning to spend the summer doing 10K training, 3-4 times a week. And I want to up my yoga classes from once a week to 2-3 times a week. At least that’s what I’ve got in mind.

But I’m open to suggestions. Have you tried anything lately that’s different and that you’re so jazzed about that you want to encourage others to give it a go? If so, please tell me about it and why you’re attracted to it.

Sat with Nat · weight lifting

The humbling moment when you go back to lifting weights

I used to love lifting free weights in college and over the many years since dabbled from time to time with various strength training regimes.

The past two weeks my colleague Michelle and I have been warming up with cardio then doing a circuit of the weight machines at our workplace gym.

It’s humbling to not recognize the exercise the machine is intended to be used for and Michelle has been graciously guiding me through the equipment.

We laugh and fastidiously clean each bench before moving on. I remember using most of the stack of weights many years ago so sliding the pin into that second plate feels, well, humbling. I know I need to get used to aligning my body for each set, that I need to find the seat height and configurations that get the most out of each set.

I’m a plodding person who moves slowly and under control as I try to maximize the range of motion for each move. It’s not interesting or cinematic.

Michelle and I chat briefly between sets without wasting time.

It’s nice to connect outside of our work and support our wellbeing.

My upper body has been giving me grief now that I’m treating my sleep apnea. My chiropractor wisely noted I’m likely not moving as much in my sleep.

My lower body gets lots of exercise with my walking commute, the upcoming soccer season and riding my bike. Yoga has been great for stretching and keeping me flexible but I’ve realized I need some engagement of my upper body to feel well.

So here is to humble beginnings and not letting my ego get in the way of a good workout.

Selfie of Nat smiling at the camera wearing a purple shirt with white stripes

competition · femalestrength · weight lifting

CFP: **Strong A(s) F(eminist): Power in Strength Sports**

**Strong A(s) F(eminist): Power in Strength Sports** 
Noelle Brigden, Melissa M. Forbis, and Katie Rose Hajtmanek are seeking contributors to an edited volume on strength sports.

“Despite sports being a powerful site of social control and resistance in most parts of the globe throughout modern history, they have too often been ignored by scholars. Situated within this context of ongoing political struggles, and building on a literature that explores the intersectional politics of embodied practice and physical culture, this edited volume takes up the importance of sport, and analyzes the unique potential of strength sports as a site of gender contestation to the existing order.

Recognizing the importance of this radical understanding of empowerment for the future of strength sports and its potential to disrupt white supremacist patriarchy, we welcome intersectional feminist analyses of gender in strength sports, beyond a singular focus on women’s participation. This volume defines strength sports as activities in which the competition outcomes depend exclusively on the individual capacity to move weight, including but not limited to: functional fitness training, powerlifting, weightlifting, kettlebells, strongman/woman, highland games, and historic feats of strength.”

Guest Post · weight lifting

A Deadlift of the Will (Guest Post)

The deadlift is my least favourite exercise. I know it’s good for me. It hits every major muscle, and yet…

Part of it is physical. I have really small hands, and this makes for a weak grip. My hands fail me long before my legs and back. Part of it is psychological. It is hard to muster all those useful emotions that help with other lifts, such as anger and fear.  There is no adrenalin that the barbell will crush you on the bench or that you will be trapped in the hole with the squat. In the deadlift, the barbell is just on the floor, minding its own business until you upset it. Why not let dead barbells lie?

This year I have been training for my first strong woman competition which involves a “last man standing” deadlift event, where competitors will have to perform a 90 kilogram deadlift every 30 seconds until they can’t. In order to train for that, I have recently been lifting 100 kilogram deadlifts every 20 seconds. I’m sure I’ve done more deadlifts this year then I have in my entire training life.  And it has changed my attitude to deadlifts.

When I am asked by people who do not do so much weight training about the events, many puzzle on the word “deadlift”. Why is it called that? Yes, of course, because you are lifting a dead weight off the ground. But is there more to it than that?

I have read on many fitness blogs that the history of the deadlift goes back to ancient Rome from soldiers lifting their dead from the battlefields. But no sources are ever cited and I am a bit dubious. It’s also not a universal term. In Swedish, the deadlift is sensibly called marklyft or floor lift and in French soulevé de terre, elevated from the ground. These words reflect the English meaning of picking up dead weight without assistance of any kind. While the deadlift as a particular kind of weightlifting exercise does not have such a long history, the concept of picking up a dead weight from the ground and lifting it, surely does not need an origin story.

Yet the deadlift has a rich history of more figurative meanings. I am very sympathetic to an earlier meaning of deadlift recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary that was apparently common in the 17th Century: “A position or juncture in which one can do no more, an extremity, ‘a hopeless exigence’.

Deadlifts also crop up frequently in the 19th century. Artist William Morris describes the neglect of art appreciation as requiring a “deadlift”, the historian Thomas Carlyle explores various “deadlift efforts” in history, and novelist F. Anstey talks about “the burden of a conversational deadlift”. And then, I came across this gem from the Transactions of the Michigan State Teachers Association of 1877:

“It is not true that mental exercise is useful only when it is repulsive and distasteful, needing a deadlift of the will; but it is true that a good many ‘lifts’ have to be made, and the child must be got ready for them by lifting. It is true that no subject is good for the training of a child in which the child is not capable of achieving something, and of enjoying the achievement; but it is not true that a subject is always good for him in the long run, in proportion to his present capacity and liking for it. Sometimes it is the case that a child, or older pupil, who has small capacity for a subject, and finds little pleasure in its pursuit, develops, through application and study, great capacity and pleasure.” (my emphasis)

I am going to take that as sage advice from a 19th century writer who would likely be shocked to learn of its application to a strong woman competition in the 21st century. When it comes to deadlifts, I am that child, but slowly through increased application and study, the deadlift is growing in capacity and pleasure.

Weights at a gym. Photo by Evan Wise. Unsplash.

Virginia is an associate professor of literature and a powerlifter.