aging · motivation · weight lifting

Love the story, hate the headline: On guilt and fitness messaging

Occasionally stories come across my newsfeed where I love the story and hate the headline. This is one.: She’s Powerlifting at 76, So You’re Officially Out of Excuses.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love that Patricia Horn, age 76, starting lifting on the advice of her physiotherapist to strengthen her legs and help with knee pain. I love that she lifts with a group of women who call themselves The Golden Girls.

She also looks super happy in the photos of her with weights. Go Patricia!

But the no excuses talk? I hate it.

Cheryl hates it too. She blogged about giving up “no excuse” talk and personal training from the point of view of body positivity. I think I’ve blogged about the “no excuses” fit mom thing before but now I can’t find it. But hey, here’s a new, really good piece on misogyny and the “fit mom” trend.From the article: “The presumption of the “No excuses” trope is that mothers are leaning on motherhood to indulge their natural tendency to be lazy and gluttonous. This idea is misogynistic.”

I especially hate older people or disabled people being held up as super-heroes. The “they can do it, what’s your excuse?” trope is insulting to disabled/older people and insulting to those of us with our own struggles. I have to say, for me at least, it’s not particularly motivational.

femalestrength · weight lifting

Sam bench presses a young, male puma

You’ll recall from this post that it can be fun to measure weight in animals. For the record, I weigh about 3.4 wombats.

Photo of a puma. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In the same spirit, I can bench press a young, male puma. Well, not really. Likely he’d be all wriggly and sharp clawed and would growl at me. But according to this that’s the equivalent in weight animal I’m picking up and putting down with authority. I was amused to find the calculator on Rebecca K’s Facebook wall this morning. She can lift a Wildebeest, it turns out. Who knew?

On my post about deadlift day I was amused to see that I could easily deadlift a black bear and that I’m on my way I hope to someday deadlifting a panda.

How about you? What animal are you picking up and putting down with authority?

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · menopause · walking · weight lifting

Menopause, memory and fitness

By MarthaFitAt55

 

katie-moum-446408-unsplash.jpg
Picture shows a paved highway shrouded in fog. Photo credit: Katie Moum on Unsplash

Last week SamB shared an interesting article from the New York Times discussing the brain fog of menopause. I was mightily relieved to read the article. Like the subject of the article, I once enjoyed a wonderful memory, and in recent times, I was dismayed to discover it had left me.

 

To learn there is a link between brain fog and menopause offers me hope. Over the past five years I have been actively working on improving my fitness. I have found yoga to be quite useful in helping me loosen up my ligaments. I have found swimming to be excellent at working my hip joints. My trainer creates programs that are diverse, work different parts, and are usually fun to do.

The challenge has been remembering how the strength exercises work. Despite the fact I have been doing a hip abductor stretch for five years, I never remember which arm goes up with which knee. Or she’ll say let’s do (insert name of exercise I’ve done multiple times) and all I remember is “blah, blah arms” or “blah, blah glutes.” What I do with the arms or my glutes is a mystery and I wait expectantly for my trainer to fill in my all too frequent blanks.

For awhile there, I was feeling quite stupid about not being able to remember an exercise from one week to another. Or I could remember someting I learned more than two decades earlier, but couldn’t recall a simple piece of information several hours after learning it.

Brain fog, or more properly termed “menopause-related cognitive impairment,” in women is disconcerting. We are responsible for many things: appointments, processes at home and at work, information, data. When you are used to being able to manage all the little bits in life without much effort, it can become worrisome when you lose that facility.

Luckily severe cases of brain fog can be managed with a short course of hormone therapy. However, if that’s not suitable, here something that can help: more exercise!

According to a report published last spring by Harvard Health, regular exercise can rewire your brain and help improve your cognitive skills and your recall. Plus regular exercise can help you sleep better, which also helps maintain your cognitive abilities and keep your mood elevated.

The good news is that cardio exerise really helps; the bad news is that strength training does not. However that doesn’t mean you need to ditch the weights. Variety in exercise offers you benefits in different areas and you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over.

Right now I’m going to keep focused on my workout plan, I am not going to stress myself out over the need for repetition in instruction, and I will add in a couple of extra walks to keep the blood flowing to my brain as well as my feet. I will also celebrate the small wins like remembring when it is my turn to post!

— Martha is a powerlifter who lives and writes in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

 

 

 

fitness · weight lifting

So, anybody heard about this weight training thing?

Hey everyone– I just had this really great new exercise experience and wanted to share it with y’all.  It’s called weight training.  You do it either with machines like this:

A woman doing leg presses on a leg press machine.
A woman doing leg presses on a leg press machine.

Or you can do it with weights that you hold in your hands:

A woman lifting dumbbells, with another woman helping her with form.
A woman lifting dumbbells, with another woman helping her with form.

Or you can use big weights that are on a bar. And you can use your own body weight, as I have learned.

A woman doing core strength exercises.
A woman doing core strength exercises.

So I thought it imperative to share all this new information with you ASAP. 

Of course I’m kidding. Well, not completely. Here’s the real story: 

This week in physical therapy my therapist got me started on strength training to help me be more stable, given that I have had multiple sprains and some fractures in both ankles. We’re working on hips and glutes, among other muscles. It’s hard work, but I’m finding that I like it.

This is the real news:  I am really loving weight training. I always thought I hated it. In the past, I’ve gone to gyms, gotten rudimentary info about using machines, worked on them half-heartedly, and then abandoned them in favor of cardio workouts and stretching. I never made the effort to get proper instruction, and I never really experienced what it’s like to do these workouts over time. But now, recognizing the importance, nay imperative nature of this kind of workout to my future self, and experiencing how interesting and cool it feels to my current self to work my body in these ways, I am pretty stoked.  Sam predicted this, and you’re right!

Now, I just need three more things, and I will be all set. 

Thing one: a gym.  I’ve got to go shopping for a gym, as I’m in between memberships. I’ve been a member at an all-women’s gym, which I enjoyed, but it was expensive and had no pool.  And the chain gym I tried, I didn’t love. But of course that was before I discovered weight training. So that is a task before me.

Thing two: a personal trainer.  I’ve tried reading books and even cutting out pages from magazines or printing out web pages with workouts, but I’ve never managed to translate the print into an actual workout over time for me.  I would like an actual person to help me get started on figuring out where I want to start, how to start, and what to do once I’ve started.

Thing three:  some aspirational goals and realistic plans for them. I don’t know how much time I want to or can or spend on this, as it’s all new.  Of course the trainer can help me. 

All of this (except maybe picking out a gym– I can do that) seems pretty overwhelming.  I’m not sure how to start.  Except I guess I already have. 

I’ll be posting some in the upcoming weeks/months, asking advice about personal trainers, gyms, workouts, etc.  And I’ll let you know how things are going.  But for now, I just wanted to say that I’ve found my way to the weight room, and I’m ready to… uh…pump some iron?  Do people still say that?

Help on weight training slang would also be most appreciated. 

weight lifting

Sam lifts heavy things in the wild, part 2!


I’ve written before about lifting heavy things as part of my everyday life. It feels really good to me to have my fitness be useful. It’s not just a gym thing. It’s not just about looking good or even just about lifting carefully calibrated weights in controlled circumstances. It’s also about doing things that make a difference in my life.

What sort of things? Well, moving furniture and getting ready for the holidays this past weekend. We also picked up furniture for the kid who is getting her own apartment. Hi Mallory!! Also there was holding ladders in place so that other people can climb them. Also there’s lifting those ladders. Why? Stringing Christmas lights. See above. Thanks Sarah.

And then there’s carrying boxes of Ikea shelves.

Sarah and I topped off the weekend by lugging these babies to Sarah’s car from her office. They’re pressure reducing valves, I’m told. They weigh about 50 lbs each, or more. And unlike heavy weights in the gym they don’t have smooth handles and no spikey bits sticking out. One has no handles and you have to carry it like ball. The other had handles but also sharp bits sticking out of it so you need to hold it away from your body for a bonus challenge.

I might be grimacing but it feels good to know that even with my busted knee I can still lift heavy things. That is, as long as I don’t have to carry them up and down stairs.

How are you putting your strength to use these days?

 

aging · nutrition · weight lifting

Muscle loss is in the news again

A rock, painted white, with the words “as strong as a wolf” painted on it. Seen outside the athletic centre at the University of Guelph.


But this time with a weight loss angle.

See my past posts: Protein, age, and muscle loss.  and Want to keep muscle after 40?: Eat all the protein and lift all the things

It’s a thing that I care about. 

And I hate the idea that some people, especially women, might welcome it, because it means weight loss.

From an article in the Globe and Mail, by Alex Hutchinson, We need better guidelines to deal with age-related muscle loss.

“You might be relieved to hear that the creeping weight gain of middle age – a pound or two (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a year starting in your 20s, on average – eventually grinds to a halt. By the time you’re in your 50s, you’ll typically start slowly shedding weight. Don’t celebrate yet, though. There’s a good chance that the weight you’re losing is muscle – precisely what you need to hang onto to stay metabolically healthy and independent into old age. “

Why does this happen? Partly because we exercise less but that’s not the whole story. The article talks about ‘anabolic resistance.’ Our bodies no longer, as we age, respond the same way to strength training and protein. Like insulin resistance in diabetics our bodies no longer respond as effectively to protein and to exercise. We need more of both, not less, as we age.

There’s also a concern about the kinds of protein and when we eat them.

Writes Hutchinson: “It’s not just how much you eat. There’s some evidence that spreading your protein across three meals triggers more muscle growth than just downing a massive steak at dinner. And protein quality matters too, with certain amino acids such as leucine playing an outsized role in muscle growth. That means animal proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy tend to pack a bigger punch than plant proteins, although Oliveira emphasizes that variety is also important.”

It’s a challenge to eat the 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day that’s recommended. 

What about exercise? What should we do to stave off muscle loss?

“The overall picture from existing research is that full-body resistance training with loads that get progressively harder over time, two to three times a week, is optimal for older adults. One study published last year found that two harder workouts plus one easier one produced the best results, perhaps because older strength-trainers simply couldn’t recover quickly enough to do three hard workouts each week.”

See you at the gym! Maybe we can go for a protein shake after? 

fitness · gender policing · stereotypes · weight lifting

Give Me Strength (Guest Post)

Some of my favourite images from sports photography can be found in Howard Schatz’s 2002 book, Athletes. In his provocative work, Schatz photographs Olympic athletes from various sports in black, form-fitting clothing. Arranging them side-by-side, Schatz reveals the various shapes of the athletic female body. There are many ways of reading these images—I am not here to claim they are unproblematic—but the aspect I choose to focus on is how all of these women, in their varying shapes and sizes, represent strength.

I think society has a terrible time accepting physically strong women—women whose musculature is visible and takes up space. (The recent events surrounding Venus Williams come to mind.) We have adjectives for these types of bodies: “broad,” “big-boned,” “stocky,” and “handsome,” for example. But none of these words is meant to be flattering. (Brianne of Tarth, anyone?) As a 6’0’’ woman myself, I struggled well into my thirties with the question of how to be present physically in a room. I knew I wasn’t petite, small, or particularly fragile. I took up space—a lot of it.

For me, everything came to a head when I turned 36 and gave birth to my third child via c-section no. 3. The doctors who prepped me for surgery marvelled at my enormous baby bump, as if it were something glorious and Amazonian. I’ll never forget their astonishment when my beloved Quinton arrived, weighing in at 11 pounds, 1 ounce. I had given birth to a toddler. As for me, postpartum I had never been so heavy nor so chronically in pain. So, I decided I should do what any 36-year-old classically-trained musician would logically do: I decided to take lessons. I hired myself a brief stint with a personal trainer.

I arrived at the gym assuming my trainer would put me on the treadmill—what I had previously been urged to do to “slim down”—and yell at me in an emotionally-uplifting and inspiring way. (Reality tv wouldn’t steer me wrong, right?) But after five minutes of warm up, my trainer turned off the dreaded machine and led me to the free weights. She walked me past the familiar, dainty weights I had compulsively selected in past group exercise classes, and instead handed me the heavy “barbells” from the middle of the rack. Incredulous, I lifted. After a few sessions, it felt great.

In the first weeks working with this trainer I gained fifteen pounds…of muscle. And I grew strong. She quickly learned that we shared an interest in facts and physics. Together, we talked about everything from nutrition, to metabolism, to body mechanics. Herself being 5’4’’ and a competitive body builder, she looked at me and saw a remarkable template. It turned out, the construction of my previously-loathed body meant that I could actually accomplish some pretty remarkable things. She helped me to understand that my metabolism prioritised muscle and would grow it and protect it prior to burning off fat. This celebration of my construction was surprisingly new. And the strength training was far more effective in slimming me down than anything else I had ever done.

My trainer changed my life. She taught me what strength looks like—male or female. So many bodies that I would have previously thought were “bulky” actually belonged to incredibly strong, powerful women. I was astonished—considering myself a fairly educated individual—at how little I understood about the female body. And as I eliminated my fear of weights and of growing bulky, I also began to enjoy being myself a lot more than I had before. Exercising gave me a hobby that helped me moderate anxiety, eliminate chronic pain, play with my children without fear of “putting my back out,” and embrace failure as something amazing. In fact, failure in the gym is key. It is the best way to make you stronger.

Three years later, I still lift, although this summer I began running again as a chance to tackle new challenges. I cannot imagine life without regular exercise, and I talk with my children about strength and being strong. I fear, as a society, that there are far too many instances to undermine women’s ideas of strength, which, as Schatz’s image reveals, can come in many forms. And make no mistake, one doesn’t need to lift the heavy stuff to be a power house; strength manifests itself in remarkably different ways. Improving how I celebrate strength has been essential to improving my outlook on life, making me all the more excited to drive toward that next failure.

Kimberly Francis is Acting Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the University of Guelph, where she is also an Associate Professor of Music and a passionate feminist musicologist. She’s not ashamed to say that Taylor Swift, Guster, and many, many tracks from Big Shiny Tunes can all be found on her workout playlist.