weight lifting

Bigger, better, stronger? On women and weightlifting

There are various myths around size and fitness that just have to die. Take the myth that thin equals fit. Go die a fire-y death! How about the myth that large women can’t run or bike? Go jump off a cliff!

But the one that I find just puzzling is the idea that large women aren’t strong.  From the BBC: “Rebecca Roberts is “morbidly obese”, according to Body Mass Index (BMI). She’s also one of the UK’s Strongest Women. Newsbeat has been speaking to people who say that “bigger is better” – and that their size is an advantage in their jobs. Rebecca has overcome bullying during her childhood and says she’s learned to embrace her bigger size and weight.” See Bigger is better’: The weightlifter

But why is the strength of bigger women a surprise to us?  It really shouldn’t be.

We’ve written about it here. See Big women and strength.

Among other things it’s why there are weight classes in competition. The strongest women overall are also the largest. It’s why it’s sometimes to useful to think of strength relative to your body weight. You can disagree about the numbers but it’s why strength benchmarks use bodyweight as a guide.  According to 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Women you should be able to deadlift 150% of your bodyweight and bench 75% of your body weight.

That’s more meaningful than thinking of it in terms of bears. (I can deadlift something between a black bear and a panda, FWIW.)

But even large women known for their tremendous physical strength aren’t immune from the pressure to look smaller, to be lean and trim.

I was shocked when  U.S. Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold decided to take part in the Biggest Loser. Read about it in this post From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holley.

In the end she didn’t do that well on the show,Ousted ‘Biggest Loser,’ Olympian Holley Mangold.

And she didn’t make the next Olympic team, U.S. Olympic women’s weightlifting team complete; no Holley Mangold

There I wrote. “We say “strong is the new skinny.” But really, few people mean that. The strongest women, like the strongest men, are big. That’s why lifting has weight divisions. And we tend not to see pictures of strong women like Holley on the “strong is the new skinny” fitspo posters.”

I think we ought to start admiring really strong women and having a mental image of them when we say, “Strong is the new skinny.”

Here’s one more, closer to home. See B.C. nurse still the strongest woman over 40 in the world

At 42 years old, Ferguson has only been taking part in strength competitions for two years — earning  gold in the Master’s division of the North American Strongman Championships in 2015, then going on to claim either the top or runner-up positions in numerous other competitions in B.C., Canada and North America.

To win in Raleigh, Ferguson had to lift metal logs, run with a 500 lb. yoke on her back and deadlift a car as many times as possible in 60 seconds.

 

I’d like to be able to deadlift a car. It’s Bike to Work Month again and lots of people in my newsfeed are sharing this older clip of a very strong man moving a car out of the bike lane. A girl can dream! #goals

fitness · fitness classes · holiday fitness · holidays · walking · weight lifting

Working out onboard, staying active on a cruise ship, part 2

So far here on the ship I’ve found a few fitness options on board. We only have two days out of twelve total when we’re at sea. But when we had one, I wandered around scoping out my options for staying active.

First, there are fitness classes. There’s yoga and spin and social walking/jogging groups.

Second, there’s a salt water pool. I described it as a wave pool (it’s very wavy) but Susan pointed out that it’s likely just the motion of the boat causing the waves. It’s salt water, which I like, and not too warm. I like that. I was worried it would be hot.

Third, there’s the walking/running track above the pool. It’s busy in the morning and there are some serious runners and walkers up there.

Fourth, there is a gym. It’s got some weight machines, two benches, all the dumbbells, treadmills galore, one rowing machine and some elliptical trainers.

So what did I do?

First step, as always, everyday was knee physio in our room.

Second, I did a lot of lifting with dumbbells in the gym. One weird thing is that the ship’s motion is a lot more noticeable when you’re lying on a bench with fifty lbs over your head. There’s a lot of extra stabilization involved.

Third, I jogged in the salt water pool and chatted with some Australian women about the South Pacific. Like, why are you here? Isn’t it warm at home? Aren’t a lot of the birds and plants the same? They were fascinated by the islands and their history and this is a great way to see them.

I’d count this fitness activity on our day at sea as a success.

fitness · Martha's Musings · Metrics · weight lifting

Changing how I think one plate at a time

 

An athlete wears red sneakers with a kettle bell next to their feet

Two weeks ago, I had a day in the gym that was perfect. Every motion flowed like silk. After having a pause for the holidays, getting back in the groove felt great.

Last week, while my form was still on point, the flow was uneven. I finally understood what competition commenters mean when they say a lifter grinds out a set.

The amount of effort to move the plates was huge, at least for the first lift of the set. The speed picked up for each one after that first time, but still over the course of the session, my trainer and I could see that my brain and my legs were fighting each other on my first approach to the bar.

These weren’t lightweights, but neither were they really heavy ones either. And yet, they resisted movement. Each time I started a set, I dragged that bar over my shins, knees to finally come to rest at the hip.

My trainer made a couple of suggestions on modifying my approach. She showed me three different ways people set up at the bar. We split one approach into smaller steps, and I worked through each one to finally find the right stance for me.

I was so excited I wanted to try a whole new set, but alas, it was the end of the session, and I knew too well that my unrestrained enthusiasm could lead to a wrong move and that could lead to injury. As I had just reached one year without any complaint from the wonky hip, I had to concede. But at my next session, I promised myself, I would remember the tweaks and try them again.

That same day I received cartoon celebrating the knowledge we gain from failure. The cartoonist observed “Failure just means not yet.” It made me think a little more deeply about the reluctant bar.

Had I just kept on getting smooth as silk lifts with these lower weights, what would have happened once I aimed for the higher weights I want to try this year? Without learning some of the tricks and tips to adjust or modify my approach before trying again, I might have stayed stuck for a whole lot longer and experienced significant frustration at not moving forward (or upward as the case may be).

I’m trying to document some of these insights, along with the PRs and the key anniversaries (yay one year without a recurrence!) so that I can see all the ways I am moving forward even when it feels by only one metric like I’m not. What are other ways we can measure progress or changes in our fitness that are meaningful and realistic?

— MarthaFitat55 enjoys powerlifting even when the bar fights her command.

food · nutrition · sports nutrition · weight lifting

Want to keep muscle after 40?: Eat all the protein and lift all the things

A cricket protein bar
A cricket protein bar

Researchers at nearby MacMaster University set out to do a meta analysis in search of an answer to the question of whether protein consumption made a difference to ordinary adults over 40 who set out to gain muscle.

What’s nice, from this blog’s perspective, about the studies is that many of them included women.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote about their research in the New York Times.

Lift Weights, Eat More Protein, Especially if You’re Over 40

“They wound up with 49 high-quality past experiments that had studied a total of 1,863 people, including men and women, young and old, and experienced weight trainers as well as novices. The sources of the protein in the different studies had varied, as had the amounts and the times of day when people had downed them.

To answer the simplest question of whether taking in more protein during weight training led to larger increases in muscle size and strength, the researchers added all of the results together.And the answer was a resounding yes. Men and women who ate more protein while weight training did develop larger, stronger muscles than those who did not.”

How much protein? 1.6 grams per day per kilo of bodyweight. That’s well over the recommended daily amount of protein.

When? It didn’t matter when in the day people are the extra protein. So you don’t need to fuss about before or after workout or other special timing.

What kind of protein? That didn’t matter either. You can eat it in the form of animal protein or vegan protein. You can drink protein shakes. It’s all good.

See the scientific article here.

I haven’t tried the cricket protein bar just yet.

equality · fitness · Martha's Musings · swimming · weight lifting

On making and taking space

Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance
Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance

By MarthaFitat55

I started swimming because I wanted to do something different that would complement my current fitness routine (weight training twice a week and trail walking once a week) along with walking and stairclimbing through the day.

I quickly found swimming served as a form of meditation. I like doing laps even though I am not an especially fast or strong swimmer. Since August, I have been going at least twice a week, and sometimes I have managed even three or four times.

In many respects, swimming is my reset button.

The last swim of 2017 was interesting. The pool’s fast lane had been taken over by a swim team, leaving the triathalon trainees no choice but to take over the leisure swim area. We all (athletes and leisure swimmers alike) ended up staggering our departures from the shallow end, although it quickly became apparent why I am a leisure swimmer and not a tri candidate.

My first clue came from the waves generated by so many swimmers in one place. I haven’t seen waves like that since the last time I went pond swimming close to 30 years ago. My second clue was realizing they were lapping me easily. They were like Energizer bunnies, one after the other after the other, cleaving the pool with their arms and legs pumping rapidly like pistons.

By the time I started my third lap, I was feeling more frazzled instead of my usually relaxed state. In fact, I rather felt like a cat whose owner was rubbing its fur the wrong way.

As I made my way through the waves, I thought about leaving the leisure side and going to the therapy pool. I was feeling overwhelmed by the volume and the quality of swimmers, and more than a little uncomfortable, but I stayed and completed my usual set of laps. It wasn’t my best time and I was not in my usual state of zen post swim, but I did it.

I stayed because I knew I had the same right to access as anyone else. I might have been the slowest person in the pool, and I definitely had the weakest form, but I had made a promise to myself to go swimming and I wanted to keep it. So I made space for myself, and like the wonderful Dory from Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming.

I didn’t always think this way. I was one of those people who would join a gym in January and slink away in February or March. As I mix up right and left on a regular basis, aerobics classes (later replaced by zumba) were usually mortifying experiences requiring multiple apologies to participants for bumping into them. As a result, I was pretty self conscious about anything I did in a gym where there were other people.

After four years of weight training, I have not only built muscles, I have also increased my confidence. Weight training is all about competing with yourself as opposed to others. It’s also about recognizing everyone has a place in the gym and you learn to accomodate and respect where people are.

While I may be slow in the pool, just as I am on the running trail, it is good to remember I am always steady and persistent. Rather than get stressed out by what others are doing, or trying to guess what they are thinking about me in that shared space, I know that what really matters is setting and meeting my own pace every time I hit the gym or the pool. It didn’t feel like it initially, but on reflection, it was a good way to kick off the new year.

 

— Martha is looking forward to 2018 and making good on her big goals.

 

Fear · fitness · Martha's Musings · weight lifting

Embracing the fear

A couple of months ago, my trainer bought a Halloween skeleton as a joke. She posed it in different machines with appropriate captions. One of the pictures featuredfilippo-ruffini-427590 the skeleton on the Jacob’s ladder, a climbing machine that can go at different speeds.

I don’t like the machine; in fact, I avoid it at all costs. When I learned it was not working, I expressed an immoderate amount of happiness. My trainer, who is as perceptive as she is focused, asked what the issue was. I told her I despised the jake and furthermore I was afraid of it. Her response: If you genuinely hate it, we can leave it out. If it’s fear, then when we face it is your call.”

That comment stopped me in my tracks. While I might not like a particular exercise (go away Bulgarian split squats),  I usually complete them and do the best job I can. It never occurred to me to think about why I was afraid of that machine and why I hid the fear behind the more innocuous phrasing of “dislike” or the even stronger word “despise.”

My dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” I’m not afraid of many things, but two I know for sure: heights and small spaces. The first is a consequence of mid-life hearing loss but the latter I have always had as did one of my parents. My claustrophobia is not limited to small spaces, but also includes masks which cover my face.

While I haven’t figured out what is at the root of my fear of the Jacob’s ladder, I know it is more than dislike. It is also not a function of mechanics. Once I am shown how to do something, I am usually pretty good at managing the parts involved in executing the action.

I know I am not ready to train on the bar by myself without a spotter, and that’s a safety issue. My arthritis sometimes makes my grip weak; with the greater weights I’m using now, I am not confident I can hang on to them, especially when I get tired.

Fear is a pretty complex emotion. It can stop you from trying new things or maintaining others. While I am not ready to tackle the Jacob’s ladder, I do have other cardio-intensive activities I can choose to replace it.

Since I have started thinking more about the difference between disliking something and being afraid of it, I wonder what role fear plays in women choosing certain forms of activity compared to others. Last month in my column for our daily newspaper, I looked at how our fear of assault and harassment can limit our activities:

“…  how we live our lives as women is very different from how men live their lives. Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Durham University (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-41614720) has spent the last five years looking at the choices women make to manage their fear of sexual harassment and assault. Her work is echoed by another piece of research in which more than half of the 42,000 women surveyed reported limiting their activities out of fear.

Another researcher, Liz Kelly, talks about this as “safety work”, the conscious and unconscious strategy development we do every day to make sure we don’t put ourselves at risk. As Ver-Gray puts it, “Despite how common it is, or perhaps because of it, we rarely even think about the routine choices and changes we make to maintain a sense of safety.””

But I’m also thinking about my trainer’s comment that when I am ready to tackle the ladder, we will do it on my terms. That the decision is in my hands makes the fear more manageable. I can approach it when and where I choose. Having that element of control matters hugely, even if it also seems contradictory. After all, I go to a gym and work with a trainer precisely because I want someone to tell me what to do and when.

I’ve concluded the best thing I take away from incorporating fitness in my daily routine and gaining strength through powerlifting is how I maintain my own sense of power and agency. It also means learning how to face your fears and embrace them for the teachings they offer.

— MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s.

 

 

 

 

weight lifting

G-y-m not J-i-m

Recently Tracy and I got an email from a new post doc at Western. Her name is Stephanie Coen and she works in the Geography department. The cool thing, and the reason she got in touch with us, is that she works on gender and spaces for physical activity. Her website says, “My research in health geography is driven by an overarching concern for how everyday social and material contexts matter for health and health equity. I am particularly interested in how taken-for-granted—and often unquestioned—features of our day-to-day environments become implicated in the production of health outcomes, behaviours, and inequities.”

We had a great lunch and talked about powerlifting. That’s Stephanie’s sport. And we talked about academic life in general. We also talked about her latest publication. It’s called, “It’s gym, like g-y-m not J-i-m”: Exploring the role of place in the gendering of physical activity.”

There’s a link to the paper here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953617306536?via%3Dihub#sec6

And Stephanie gave us an author link that gives open access till the end of December so everyone can read it: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1W0uu-CmUdwEe

ABSTRACT: Although gyms are potentially sites for health promotion, they may also be places where gendered inequities in health opportunities emerge and are sustained. Our findings demonstrate that micro-level processes at the scale of the everyday exercise environment work to routinize gender disparities and differences in physical activity. Public health efforts to close the gender gap in physical activity must account for the socio-spatial processes that reproduce, as well as challenge, gender hegemony in everyday physical activity places such as the gym.

One of the things I love about the blog are meeting researchers from around the university and further afield whose work connects them to the blog.
A rack of colourful weights in an empty gym

Photo by Ricardo Estefânio on Unsplash