The Flu and My Friend’s Fitness Journey (Guest Post)

Last week I got unexpectedly hit with the flu. (Come to think of it, is it ever really expected?) Anyway, it knocked me out hard and I was upset by the rough start to my 2017. (Needless to say I haven’t worked out but proudly made it to a Yin yoga class which my post-flu body could barely handle.)

While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do appreciate a New Year’s reflection on my overall life trajectory. What have I accomplished? What haven’t I? Where would I like to see things going over the next year?

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New Year’s resolutions for me, like lots of people, tend to fall flat by Week 2. Sam wrote about December 1st as the new January 1st. I actually like the idea of getting a jump on a new year the months leading up to it.

In the fall, I was excited to recommit to my health and fitness. I’ve written here about how I am learning to see myself as an active person who is takes her wellbeing seriously. One of the people who inspired me to make the change in my own life also recommitted to her health and wellbeing exactly one year before I did (she in November 2015, and I in November 2016).

I thought that I would speak more formally with her about her experience, as there are things I recognize as similar about both of our stories: we both started out as relatively active children and young women but became discouraged and anxious about fitness as we got older. We both had multiple false starts over the years, and we both decided to integrate fitness and wellness in our lives around the same time.

 

Tracy: What does being “fit” mean to you?

Jaclyn: Being fit means loving, embracing and accepting my body for all the amazing things that I can do. This is not to say that now I love my body because it is leaner and has more muscle mass, and that I could not love my body before because I had a much higher body fat percentage. Getting stronger, lifting heavier, and getting my cardio up to a level I didn’t know was possible has led to an appreciation for myself and my body that I never had when I spent most of my days drinking, partying, and subsequently binge eating my hangover away the next day.

Tracy: Since you mention it, regarding your drinking/partying in the past, do you feel like you simply “replaced” those old habits with new ones or is it more complex? (Do you feel like a different person now than you were back then?)

Jaclyn: I think it’s more complex than that. I’m the same person, yet a different person. I think a part of the drinking was me trying to cover over parts of me that I didn’t like (or that I thought I needed to change to be liked). When I began my fitness journey, my new habits (nutrition, fitness, sleep, water intake, etc.) replaced old habits (binge drinking, binge eating, partying).  As my new habits began to slowly weed out and replace my old ones, there was a moment that I realized I was truly and genuinely happy. In that moment, I realized that this new lifestyle fuels me and allows me to be my most authentic and genuine self.

Tracy: That’s so wonderful and it’s been amazing to see your progress. What was your previous experience with fitness? Were you an active child?

Jaclyn: I grew up an active kid; I was on the swim and synchronized swimming teams, played soccer, and did ballet. My family loves to camp, so I’d frequently go canoeing, hiking, swimming and kayaking with them. But gym class was a nightmare for me. As a shy and introverted child, cliques in gym classes (which often involved choosing partners and teams) intimidated me. My intuition was to skip the classes to avoid this.

In undergrad, I joined a couple gyms but never stuck with them because I had no knowledge about what I should be doing, how to use the machines and free weights, or how to bring variety into my workouts and how to eat in accordance with my goals.

I would never even dream of asking someone to show me how to do something, and I was too afraid of being judged using free weighs since I had never used them before.  So, I would go over to the one machine I knew – the treadmill – walk for 40 minutes and leave as quickly as I could.  After a couple weeks, I would get bored of the same old routine and frustrated by the lack of any tangible kind of progress, I would quit the gym.  Looking back, my social anxiety, shyness and introversion were the biggest obstacles for getting into fitness.

Tracy: I think that can be quite common—sometimes people see “gym culture” as macho or unfriendly, especially for someone who is new to working out or not that knowledgeable when it comes to fitness. How did you find this and what strategies did you find helpful in overcoming that?

Jaclyn: As someone with little knowledge about fitness and exercise, and as an introvert with social anxiety, breaking into the gym and developing a consistent routine was a huge obstacle. This time, however, I didn’t want to run; I wanted to face this challenge and move myself into a space where I could walk into a gym and do my routine comfortably.

As I’ve grown with my anxiety, I have learned things that I can do to help reduce attacks.  For example, in a conference setting, the more research I have done on my topic, the more comfortable I felt.  So, this was my first strategy in wanting to become more comfortable at the gym, to gain knowledge.

I’m fortunate that I could afford a starter package with a personal trainer.  My thought process was that if I was willing to spend the money I previously did on booze, then I could certainly take that money and invest in myself and buy some training sessions.  I thought that if I had an expert take me through the gym, show me how to use the machines and show me some free weight exercises, I would feel more confident walking in and doing it on my own.

Further, I thought that if I could learn the basics of form, that when I went on my own I would be less likely to injure myself.  Another alternative to training packages is to take full advantage of the growing fitness industry via social media platforms (such as YouTube). I used this to watch how certain exercises are done, would mimic the motions in the privacy of my own house, and then try them at the gym. Utilizing the knowledge from the training sessions and from my research online helped me feel more confident in the gym.

Tracy: You’ve mentioned your social anxieties, which I think are common for many people, especially when it comes to trying new things. How has fitness allowed you to grow in this area, and allowed you to become less fearful of being judged, etc.?

Jaclyn: In addition to gaining the knowledge necessary to make me more comfortable at the gym, I made sure to go during quieter periods (i.e., not during peak times), especially at the beginning. I would also wear a baseball hat, which almost acted like blinders—it helped me feel more “in the zone” and focus more on myself and less on others around me.

Over time, I became more and more confident in myself and in my place at the gym. The better I became at lifting, the less I worried about being judged.  Moreover, the more I fell in love with lifting, the less I cared about being judged; in fact, I don’t worry at all about this because I know that weight lifting involves stalling on reps, or failing a certain move.  I know saw failure as opportunity to grow and learn – understood that this was part and parcel of the process itself – and so I no longer feared being judged.  This process of working on my anxieties in the gym was by no means a speedy one, but I can now happily say that about one year later, I do not need to wear a hat, and I can walk into any gym, at any time, and get to the grind with no fear and no anxieties.

I found that this newfound confidence in the gym spilled into other aspects of my life.  Looking back at where I started and where I am now made me realize how strong and resilient I am.  It helped me realize what I want out of life, and what I wasn’t willing to compromise.

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Tracy: What surprised you most about the new lifestyle that you wouldn’t have expected?

Jaclyn: I never expected to fall in love with fitness and weightlifting like I did, but perhaps more surprising was the humbling self-love and acceptance that arose naturally out of the process.  I have cellulite and big thighs, but this no longer bothers me like it used to.  Instead, I am amazed by how strong and resilient I have become since I started.  I have become humbled by fitness and developed a love for myself that was absent from the larger part of my life.

Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Speaking with Jaclyn over the last few months have helped to keep me both motivated and patient with myself. It’s especially helpful when I have my own hang-ups or things that slow me down—like the flu, or like fainting (which I wrote about in last month’s post). I’m grateful to have her as a friend and role model and thank her for letting me write about this so openly in this month’s post!

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Finding my fitness spirit animal (Guest post)

I have figured out my fitness spirit animal.

My desire to get in better shape has been a long time coming. I’ve always dreamed of being the kind of person who truly enjoys physical activity, who opts for a salad instead of something crunchy and deep-fried. One of my good friends is one of these people. It seems to come to her naturally—she runs marathons for fun and honestly enjoys vegetables. She often says that her spirit animal is a hamster because she can relate to the need to run on a wheel that doesn’t go anywhere—just to burn the energy.

I envy these people. And I cannot relate to them at all.

In the past I’ve related most closely to lazy housecats. Or maybe to a blubbery seal sunbathing on a rock with half-eaten fishtail dangling from its mouth.

 

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This is how I spent much of the last two years: sprawled out on my couch with Netflix and a family-size bag of chips balanced expertly on my chest. (For you non-snackers, a family-size bag is much bigger than a regular size bag.) I was going through some intense stuff in my personal life and so hibernation seemed the most sensible option for a time when I was feeling so emotionally raw. And don’t get me wrong…I do have some fond memories of nights alone surrounded by blankets and snacks, like any happy seal would. I don’t regret this perhaps necessarily indulgent time in my life. But the problem was that it became a fairly regular habit. From “What the heck, just this once!” to “Oh, maybe I’ll only indulge on weekends,” to “Well, Thursday and Friday are basically the weekend,” and so forth. You get it – it got out of hand.

I think part of the problem was also that I viewed myself as a very physically awkward person, so anxiety around my own physical awkwardness prevented me from taking action sooner. I just never thought of myself as an “athletic person.” And this would always be reinforced when, in the past, I’d be working out and feeling strong and graceful, only to catch my reflection in an ill-placed mirror and suddenly think, Oh God! Is that what I look like right now?? (Have you ever seen a seal try to get around on land? It ain’t pretty.)

 I mean, I probably suffer from an average degree of female-related self-consciousness about my body, but the combination of athletic anxiety and my perceived physical awkwardness didn’t help.

Who knows, maybe it’s that “fitness clothes” (bright and skin-tight) just aren’t that flattering on bodies like mine (soft and curvy with doughy bits). Don’t get me wrong, I do love my body and have admired myself in many a reflection on a good day—I even considered entering a burlesque show once—but by today’s standards of “fitness,” or what it means “to be fit,” I often see myself as too round, soft, and flat out awkward to be an “in shape” person. And it doesn’t help to see people with gazelle-like grace running past me on the street while I get sweaty just from walking around with a backpack on. My idea of what it meant to be active had become too dichotomous.

However, during my time of hibernation, another friend of mine had completely transformed herself from a hard partyer to heavy weight lifter. It was inspiring to see her journey and what appealed to me most about her story was that she had done so with no previous experience or even inclination to make such a change. When I asked her about her experience, she told me that she too had been initially intimidated by fitness culture and by gyms, never daring to try more than the elliptical or treadmill. But the real clincher for me was when she told me she still indulges in homemade desserts and other delicious treats every night. She still has nights sprawled out on her couch with Netflix.

It was a revelation.

Never before had I meant a healthy and fit person with the same lazy, snack-fueled inclinations as myself.

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I used to think there were two kinds of people: the gazelles and the hamsters of the world who love to run and don’t eat junk food, and the housecats and blubbery seals like me, doomed to lie about on our rocks and couches indefinitely. And while I know that different people have different inclinations (health- and activity-wise), it took me a while to realize that “fitness” is a wide-ranging sliding scale.

I used to think that being healthy and fit meant pretty much never eating fun stuff again, never lazing about guilt-free again. And this would mean that becoming healthier would be changing who I am and giving up some of the things I truly enjoy. It hadn’t occurred to me that incorporating fitness into my life would be about harmonizing my internal athlete and couch potato, my inner hamster and housecat.

While so much of the culture around “being fit” can seem impenetrable, exclusive, and intimidating—especially for someone who has never known quite how to go about it—finding someone who had found a way to take control of her health and wellness in her own way was eye-opening for me. I just had to find my own way that worked for me.

Strangely, I had been afraid that becoming healthier and more active would mean losing a part of myself. But what I learned was that I had it in me the whole time. My fitness spirit animal is still 100% a blubbery seal. But here’s the thing about blubbery seals, they know how to relax on land, but they get down to business under water. They are my fitness spirit animal: the perfect combination of awkward and graceful, blubbery and strong, lazy and active.

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Tracy de Boer is a real adult lady currently living in Toronto and completing her PhD in political philosophy at Western University. She is passionate about the ways philosophy enables people to think critically about everyday life. She is also very sad about the results of the U.S. election. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram, @tracyrwdeboer.

 

Getting Equipped

By Martha Fit at 55

My sneakers died last month. I loved them, my bright turquoise and green shoes that always perked me up, but they gave up the ghost after a rather epic hike.img_3072

Luckily I have another pair, as a result of acquiring some proper lifting footwear.

My beloved walking shoes, fabulous as they were for walking through miles of bog and barren as well as unevenly paved urban streets, simply weren’t suitable, even when brand new, for the heavy work I was now undertaking in the gym environment.

After a winter spent rebuilding my fitness foundation due to a misbehaving knee, I started working on gaining more depth with my squat, and also establishing more stability for my deadlifts. Fortunately, my trainer realized I needed proper squat shoes as well as deadlift shoes, so I could get closer to the floor, literally and figuratively.

I am the first to admit they are the oddest things I have put on my feet. The squat shoes are inflexible, while the deadlift shoes are a souped up version of ballet shoes. Both involve complicated laces, and they are rather dull in colour (one is black and the other is a dark grey) and as an added bonus, the squat shoes come with Velcro.

But they do the job they are meant to do. And I love them. Plus they were way easier to acquire than any of my other workout gear. Take my search for a swimsuit last month. It was, admittedly, not an ideal time to be looking. Nonetheless, I had hope. At the very least, I thought I could pick up a cute pair of gym shorts and a tank, and call it a day. After all, spandex is spandex.

No such luck.

After trekking through multiple stores, I had to ask: where are the cute prints, the funky suits, and the sassy, saucy tops I see all over Instagram and Facebook?

They’re not in my hometown, that’s for sure.

Nor are they to be found all that easily online. If you are lucky enough to find something in your size, there’s little variety, it’s often uninspiring in design, and if it is actually pretty, it’s totes expensive.

So why do I embrace the solid, frankly unsleek, squat shoe and its equally uninspiring-looking companion the deadlift shoe, all while chafing at and whining about the miserable selection of available pants and tops? Why do I love my unpretty lifting shoes that have changed how I work in the gym? Is it because no one cares what’s on my feet? That it doesn’t matter if you are a size 8 or a size 18 when it comes to shoes?

I’ve been thinking about the contradictions my desire for new workout gear poses for me, and I don’t yet have a lot of concrete conclusions. As I get more assertive with my lifts, more committed to my training, and more confident in my results, I want a bolder exterior to match the inner changes I’ve made these past three years. After all, outside the gym, I’m not one to shy away from advocating, arguing, and persuading, so why skulk around the corners, metaphorically speaking, in the gym?

Because it’s not always that simple or easy to walk into a gym when you are so often surrounded by norms for attractiveness and appropriate size that do not reflect your own experience. Nor is it comfortable to always be told “I’m sorry; we only carry clothes that go up to size 12.”

However, lifting has taught me something worth remembering: when you commit to picking up heavy things and putting them down, you take up space, and there’s no running away from that. Quite simply the strength you bring is visible, unavoidable, and yes, audacious. And just like my much-loved sneakers, there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to old ways of thinking/seeing, and say hello to something so new, it will take you further than you have ever imagined.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s who finally caught her reindeer last week, and is now looking for a new target to aim for in her deadlift.

Getting strong and feeling it

By MarthaFitAt55

I remember when I started running, and my shins hurt, friends said to me in encouragement, “wait until you get the runner’s high – you will feel fantastic.”

And it is true, you do. But to be honest, the emotion I usually felt when I worked out, or learned a new sport, was frustration. I had to work at learning all of it: how to stretch, how to move my feet, how to move my arms, how to recover, how to prevent injury and stress. I was not a natural athlete.

Often I would drag myself home, physically, and emotionally, in a lather muttering imprecations and not a few curses.

Of course, there were great moments. I remember the joy I felt at completing two ten-mile road races and competing in two regattas. I remember how thrilled I was to take five minutes off my time from one year to the next in the road race, and how excited I got when I finally felt at home in the boat with the team and the oars.

I remember how sad I felt when the season ended, when my rowing team members decided to pursue other interests, when my knees said no to running.

When I started weight training, I figured there would be similar highs and lows. And yes, there were times when I gritted my teeth doing the last set of split squats, or when I sat in the change room wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into.

Generally though, I liked, and still like, what I was doing. I was so happy when I started working with the trap bar, and then, when I graduated to the squat, bench and deadlift. So I have run the gamut – frustration, delight, excitement, anticipation, and sadness.

In one of my most recent training sessions, though, I encountered a new one: anger.

My trainer has suggested over the last couple of months that I work on my mental approach as well as thinking about my tactical approach to lifting large weights. I’ve been liking the ideas very much, and can see the difference in my squats.

The most consistent advice has been to focus on attacking the bar, whether I jam it in the right spot on my shoulders, or if it’s saying to myself, ”this weight is super heavy, but I am going to really go after this lift.“delicateflower

The fact is, I’m not used to physical aggression, or being physically aggressive. Now getting angry with inanimate objects was not foreign to me; I have wrestled with my share of awkward pie doughs, nasty zippers on toddler snow suits, and resistant corks in wine bottles. But getting angry in public, in a gym?

That was new, and it was uncomfortable and it was unsettling.

But I usually try anything my trainer suggests at least once, because so far I have received good advice and excellent coaching. So I attacked the bar. I was not going to be defeated by pieces of metal. I lifted that weight, and I did it seven times.

I expected to be wrung out, because we were on our next to last set, but instead I was buzzing with the power of the focused anger. It was overwhelming and confusing at once.

That night as I was thinking about that session, I wondered if, too often, we let those social roles set for women as peaceable, as accommodating, as flexible means we don’t get to own our aggression, passion, and anger in disciplined ways. It’s not just in weight and powerlifting, of course; it’s also in boxing and martial arts, to just name two.

Women aren’t supposed to show anger or aggression. If we feel it, we are supposed to swallow it, or hide it, because expressing those strong emotions means we are challenging the status quo, speaking our truths loud, and standing our ground.

But I have come to the conclusion that we need to show our strength, and if that means being loud, angry, and aggressive with the weight, then so be it. There are lots of lessons in the weight room that can carry over into the board room and perhaps it’s high time more of us were learning to harness that particular power effectively.

— MarthaFitAt55 has decided to replace her striped tabby cat inner self with a sleek black jaguar. So far so good.

Finding the strength within

There I was, happily heading into the very last repeat of my very last set of exercises of my workout, when bam! I fell over my feet and executed a perfect faceplant. In front of several other gym goers no less, one of whom was at the rack doing her own workout.

The experience was not a little surreal. I knew as I was reaching the last third of the sled pull that something was happening with my feet. They felt wrong, but I knew I was not able to right myself in time, that I was going to fall regardless, so I let go and met the floor.

It wasn’t graceful.

As I heard the concerned voice of my trainer asking me if I was all right, I was quickly running through all the body parts that hit the floor, checking nothing was damaged or broken, especially my knees and hands.

I was lucky. A couple of reddish spots where clothing and skin had rubbed the floor was all we could see. Nothing was bruised except my dignity. After several minutes to recover and gently flexing moving parts, I was up and getting ready to go as per usual.

Over the next couple of days, post super hot shower and prophylactic icing of problem areas like my knees, all was good. I checked with my trainer that any stiffness or soreness was the result of the new elements in the workout and not the after effect of my tumble.

Since then, though, I’ve spent some time thinking about what happens when your body does something you didn’t expect.

Not two weeks before, I had approached the bar to execute a military press to lift a new weight. It was a very small increase given it was the next to last set of repetitions so I wasn’t expecting any trouble. But when I put my hands on the bar, stepped back and prepared to lift, nothing happened.

The bar refused to go up. I tried twice to lift the bar I had lifted moments before. My body said “nope, not gonna.”

We stepped back into the rack. I figured my trainer was going to whip off the extra weight, but she asked me to shift my hands a little wider and to try again. Boom! This time the bar went up in response to my body’s command.

In thinking about what happened in each instance, I was struck by one main thought: I approach every exercise assuming I can perform. It may not be great, especially if the action is designed to fatigue and I’ve been going full tilt, but I do assume I can do it.

The fact that twice now I have not been able to make it do what I wanted, either lift or stop myself from falling, offered an opportunity to think about the difference between technique, fatigue, momentum, and energy.

Sometimes in a workout, when I have pushed and pushed, I feel I simply cannot even go one more rep. That’s exhaustion speaking and occasionally a little self-pity whining “there’s nothing left in the tank.”

Both of my trainers, with their experience of assessing and evaluating my performance, were and are able to see if I truly cannot do more, or if I just need that little shout of encouragement to reach that last rep.

In the case of the bar, it was an issue of technique, a matter of shifting my hand position so I could better leverage the weight and perform the press properly. In the case of my sled pull, the lower weight on the sled, coupled with my need (let’s be honest, my pride!) to finish my workout as John Stanton says of running, upright and smiling, drove my unexpected speed which led to my legs saying “nope, not gonna.”

Understanding that we need to adapt and still perform properly to avoid injury is always important. I have arthritis so some days my grip strength on one side is not what it should be. I pay attention, I add more chalk, or I adjust position.

But with my tumble, I also learned that sometimes, when you think your tank is empty, and you start anyway because who doesn’t want to perform their best and call your workout not just done but fabulous, you find, amazingly, you still have power and strength left, and that feeling? It feels glorious.

— Martha Muzychka is still learning all the wonderful ways it means to be strong and fit.

Five things I learned from my trainer in two years

Near the beginning of 2016, my trainer, with whom I had been working for the last two years, let me know he was moving into a new career later this year and would be giving up personal training in the spring. The news made me sad, as I have learned a lot from him, but I understand the need to move on to new adventures that call your name.

Over the last month as we have wrapped up our last sessions, I had the opportunity to reflect on some the lessons I have learned from training, and I am not referring to the latest machine or the newest exercise.

  1. Show up – It sounds funny, but perhaps the most important lesson I learned was always show up at the gym ready to train. It came down to keeping my promise to myself. Part of it came from how I started my sessions – by taking advantage of cancellations. My trainer was much in demand and when I got a slot, it would take a serious issue for me to give it up.

When I was able to get my own regular slots each week, I made sure they were booked into my calendar automatically. That way if a meeting request came up, I could choose a different time for the meeting rather than give up my session. Only noro virus, car trouble, injury (and even then for only one or two sessions), and vacation (his or mine) would be just cause to postpone a session.

  1. Always put in your best effort – I learned there were things I really enjoyed doing – planks, leg curls, goblet squats – and there were things I did not – split squats with or without the cable, Bulgarian split squats, and kettle bell work. And yet, I embraced it all. I made a point to understand why some exercises bothered me so I could work through them more effectively, and I also took time to understand why my trainer programmed those particular things I didn’t enjoy doing.

In the end, I learned my resistance to certain activities could be attributed to either fear or insecurity. Once I was able to identify the cause, I found the effort required to master a technique was not quite so intimidating. I might not like it, but I learned to lump it. One thing I didn’t do was whine about it. As long as I tried to do my best, it was all good.

  1. There will be good days and bad days – Not every single workout will be stellar. Even with your best effort, some sessions aren’t going to leave you with that pleasant buzz you get when you’ve done your best and everything has worked really well.

Build a bridge and get over it, I would say to myself as I would shuffle into my outdoor clothes and get myself into the car for the drive home post workout. I built a lot of bridges, and I am sure I will continue to do so.

The key thing here was understanding why I might have a bad day. I learned to pay attention to the messages my body was sending during the workout. I learned to experiment with my breakfast on training days and the amount of sleep I got the night before a training session. And sometime, a poor session was simply just that, a poor session and overthinking it was not helpful.

  1. Injury may hamper work in one area but you can always work on another – The first time I missed two weeks of sessions due to injury, I was seriously upset by it. I worried about how much ground I was going to lose. I worried that I was going to hurt myself again once I came back.

But I worked with my trainer to redirect my energies to working other areas. The second time I experienced an injury – this time a different part – I wasn’t quite so freaked. Time and again, I discovered that once I resumed work on the injured area, my performance improved.

The corollary was that we always found another way to get the job done. My hands are becoming arthritic, and some days my grip is not what it should be. Those are the days I use lots of chalk, or I attach pads to the dumbbells, or we add in a pause in the first set to get used to the weight before going full throttle.

  1. Small changes add up – I had a number of goals that I wanted to achieve, and which I discussed with my trainer. One thing I wasn’t interested in pursuing was the traditional measures many people use to judge progress. So my trainer would keep track of my Personal Records or Bests (PRs or PBs) and let me know on a regular basis how I was doing.

Focusing on smaller achievements worked for me, and I noticed over time, how my trainer used small tweaks to shift the effort higher. Technique was always king, but I learned that making small changes to the execution of the exercise – adding a weight to the split squat or using a bar for a walking lunge – meant a bigger pay off in strength and endurance.

What’s next? I have now started with a new trainer, and I will let that relationship grow over the coming months before thinking about what is different and identifying the new lessons I’m learning. For now, these five from my first trainer have been invaluable in giving me a solid footing so I can continue to learn new things in the gym.

— Martha is a writer who has embraced the power and joy of the deadlift, while tolerating the split squat.

Muscles and Aging Women’s Bodies

I loved Nanette’s post about strength training and the feminine ideal a couple of weeks ago, and I have to admit that it made me long for those days as a grad student in my twenties when I used to work out at the gym a lot and, like Nanette, I could literally see the results. If you didn’t see Nanette’s post, here she is and this is what it’s like to have a buff, young body that shows your effort:

nanette Back shotI know we’re not all about looks here, and for all sorts of reasons. I’ve talked openly about the inspirational disvalue of fitspo. But oh how fabulous those back muscles look.

Lots of us aren’t in our twenties anymore. And lots of us have bodies that never really did show the fruits of our labor in quite that same dramatic way (if at all) in the first place. For women with aging bodies, much of the mental work goes into accepting that we may never look the way we think we should, should have (or wish we would or would have) or we may not be able to maintain the body we had in our twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, etc.

We need to let go of some of those more superficial dreams because hanging onto an appearance ideal is the biggest indicator of who is going struggle with aging. Check out Sam’s post about this topic here.

We don’t have to fight aging. Instead, we can age well. See what Sam has to say about that here.

I’ve been reflecting on all of this lately because, not suprisingly for a woman in her fifties, I have lots of friends in their fifties too. And we all have thoughts about aging. Lots of “battle” language in my conversations with friends these days as they continue to fight their bodies.

I’ve already sworn off talking about people’s weight loss goals and diets with them. Not interested.

But I realize too that, true to the challenge Sam and I set for ourselves in 2012 when we started the blog, taking weight loss and body composition out of the equation, I am in fact the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I feel pretty awesome. This week, another friend of mine, also in her fifties and also the fittest of her life, came with her partner to spend some time with us for a few days on our sailboat in the Bahamas.

We were super active, walking, hiking, swimming, kayaking, and even taking in a yoga class on the beach one day. We talked about how hard we work to stay strong and physically healthy these days, and also how energized and committed we feel to our respective routines. Being on vacation, it didn’t even cross our minds not to stay active. These things just evolved as part of each day.

Part of that “battle” language I talked about just now has to do with rejecting the aging body.  We are told that at a certain age, our bodies become “unsightly.” I swear someone invented the tankini to shame older women into ditching their two piece bikinis so no one would have to look at our bellies. If, as Nanette says, the feminine ideal is for women to be soft and demure and weak, the older woman is supposed to be even softer, weaker, and more invisible.

Not too long ago, it wasn’t uncommon to encounter lists of things that that women “of a certain age” should not wear.  According to this article:

Our bodies change and in many cases not for the better. Arms don’t have the muscle tone that they used to have and totally sleeveless tops show this is off so well. This will be equally true of thin woman as those who are overweight.

If these articles had their way, we would be walking that fine edge between being too frumpy and dressing in an age-appropriate way.  And no one is spared–the fat and the thin are equally at risk of getting it all wrong. But that was before it became clear that those women were a force to be reckoned with, responding with a loud and resounding “f**k that!”

The mental work of overcoming internalized and externally imposed expectations about how we are supposed to look has a huge impact on our ability to feel good in the bodies we have, no matter how the passing of time may affect how we look. I’ve heard lots of people say, and I believe it to be true, that body confidence is a lot more attractive, sexy even (and yes, we get to keep being sexy and get to — gasp — keep having sex), than even the most objectively perfect-looking body of an insecure person (remember: the more wedded we are to our looks, the tougher it is to age).

Anyway, if there’s one thing Cindi and I rocked this week it was body confidence. Why? Because both of us feel strong and healthy and energized by what we’re doing. We may not have tons of it, but both of us have some muscle that we didn’t have a few years ago and we feel it. Here’s Cindi, rocking her new found pipes on the beach.

My friend Cindi, looking awesome after beach yoga and a long swim in the ocean.

My friend Cindi, looking awesome after beach yoga and a long swim in the ocean.

And here we are after a bit of a hike to see “the monument” at the top of the ridge, down to the beach on the other side, and then back over again, on our way to the long and deserted beach that ranks as my favourite place to go swimming in the entire world. Smooth white sand, soft surf (on the calmer days), and clear turquoise colored water.

Cindi and I, expressing our trees with enthusiasm from atop the ridge. Photo credit: Jan Hertsens.

Cindi and I, expressing our trees with enthusiasm from atop the ridge. Photo credit: Jan Hertsens.

If Sam is right that aging is a lifestyle choice, it’s a lifestyle choice we’re not choosing to make right now, at least not in that way.  If you’re an older woman whose body isn’t quite the lean machine it once was, or maybe never was, then maybe it’s time to make the choice to love what you have and work it to its best potential.

I’m a bit squishier than my younger self, with the muscle I have hiding under a less lean physique, but I’m feeling strong and vibrant. And life is good. I can still do yoga. I can do squats, lunges, bench presses, dips, and am coming close to being able to complete a full pull-up for the first time in my life (stay tuned for a progress report when that day finally comes). Not to mention (but I will) the triathlons, half marathons, marathons…

We may be getting older, but we are not ready for those tankinis yet, unless that’s what we want, because as the Huff Post rebuttle to the ridiculous idea that people get to police our clothing choices says:

You are over 50 for fuck’s sake. Wear whatever you want. If you’ve made it to 50 and still need to consult articles on how to dress appropriately then you are so missing out on one of the best things about being over 50. One of the best things about getting older is realizing that we don’t have to spend our energy worrying what other people think and we get to be comfortable in our own skin…