(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly column written by Cate; for last month, go here. Questions for future columns are welcome via the facebook page or in the comments).
Dear Fieldpoppy: I’m trying to find the sweet spot between “being kind to myself” and feeling motivated to stay consistent in my routine and push a little in my workouts. Like for example if I follow my coach’s encouragement to take it easy if I want, I end up taking it easy more than I end up pushing hard. Overall I’m not sure that’s “better.” Any thoughts on the best balance? — How often is it okay to just lie down?
Dear Fieldpoppy: What do you think about the “placebo effect” as it relates to exercise? For example, there have always been differing viewpoints on everything from stretching to running shoes and how the placebo effect shapes our views on options. I am a fan of the placebo effect personally. If I stretch and I feel better and it makes me run better, whether it is doing anything from a physiological perspective or not, seems irrelevant to me, and the stretching has value. Curious what your thoughts are on this topic? — What is real?
Thank you for these excellent questions — which are actually about the same thing: how do I find the frame of mind that works best for me to move my body and nurture my soul? Is there a “right” way?
The thing is, there’s no one objective truth about movement (just look at how many times the New York Times can write a slightly different version of the Best! 7! Minute! Workout!). Everything is narrative in one way or another. The coach in the first letter is giving advice — “take it easy!” — that is its own narrative counterpoint to dominant fitness narratives like “get out of your comfort zone” or (more offensively) “you don’t get a good ass by sitting on it.” Advice about stretching, training, physiology, etc. are all just narratives — some have some connection to actual research, but most of that research comes from the realm of performance sport, where people are trying to shave 3 seconds off a 5000 metre race. Transplanted into recreational fitness, it’s just another narrative about Doing It Right — possibly informative, possibly useful, possibly irrelevant, definitely not prescriptive.
So how to find the sweet spot? What is it YOU need, outside someone else’s definition of a Good Workout or To Stretch or Not to Stretch? I think there is a lot to learn from yet another narrative — the one related to intuitive eating, which Tracy has written about frequently for the blog. This post outlines 10 principles of intuitive eating I think apply really well to making choices about our own personal fitness, especially “feel your fullness” and “exercise: feel the difference.”
Just as it’s important to find a space for eating that frees us up from the food police (don’t even ask me about the server who recently commented on the fact that I’d eaten my whole dinner with “wow, you must have missed breakfast”), it’s great to find a fitness space that frees us up from fitness dictators. And, it means you have to find your own meaning in it. What kind of movement makes you feel “full” — as in, satisfied, endorphin-y, tired enough to sleep well, like you’re as strong and flexible as you want to be for the life you have right now? When you decide to lie down or take it easy, what are you basing that on — what someone else says, or a scan that tells you your body is actually tired or sore or tender? Start tuning into linking your workouts to what your body needs to build your own practice of “intuitive movement.”
So how does the concept of whether stretching or fancy zoomy shoes are a “placebo” fit into this? I don’t think it’s the best metaphor. There’s no “true facts” vs “fake facts that make me feel better.” If the shoes make you feel like a rockstar, and that’s what you need to get out there and run, and running is what makes your body and soul happy? Buy ’em! If you’re going to buy them and constantly argue with them in your head (like I did with a not-quite-right pair of trail runners I just bought because they Seemed Good)? Let them go. They aren’t going to help.
Dear Fieldpoppy: What do I do about working out in the heat, especially when you don’t have AC at home and getting sweaty means staying sweaty? It feels like a trivial complaint about our changing climate but it’s starting to really bother me. I don’t have AC at home or in my car and I have marginal AC, for environmental reasons, at work. It feels like there is no good time to work out. — Hot and bothered
Dear Hot and Bothered,
I hear you. I am in a bit of a loop right now where I have to work out because it’s the only place I can process the anxiety of The World We Live In — and yet, when I’m running outside, I keep thinking about that old Star Trek: Next Gen episode where Picard plays a haunting tune on a pipe and lives a whole life on a dying planet where everyone has to shroud themselves from the sun.
It worked out for Picard (it was some kind of simulation or time jump) but for us, it’s right here. So how do we cope?
Intuitive movement serves you too. First, there are all the obvious things — sun protection clothing (sunshirts and sleeves can actually cool you, they don’t just protect from the sun), good sunglasses, lots of sunblock, electrolytes, way more water than you might imagine, frequently. Icy when you start out if you can manage it. Cooling showers or cold cloths on the back of your neck as soon as you can manage it.
But beyond trying to cool your passage through the overheated world, it doesn’t make sense to just try to transplant our cooler workouts to the humid blasting furnace that can be the Ontario summer. Scan for what your body actually wants and needs, and adjust accordingly. Slow your pace, shorten your workout, change up your frequency or timing — don’t get too caught up in “shoulds.” Heat intensifies the impact of our workouts, and 5km on a sunny 30C day isn’t even the same as 5km on a cloudy 27C day. I went for a short run yesterday at the height of the heat, and realized when I stopped to drink that I was seeing spots. I slowed down and stopped and drank more. This is definitely “don’t be a hero” time — unless you like vomiting or fainting or having a massive sun-stroke headache.
Keep moving, adjust your energy levels, keep yourself protected — and keep training. We’ll need our strength, fortitude and agility for whatever world challenge we’re facing next.
Dear Fieldpoppy: I used to ride my bike everywhere when I was younger. Now that I am older I find bike riding uncomfortable. I can’t seem to find a comfortable seat. How do you go about test-driving bike seats seeing how everyone has different shapes, different amounts of muscle and fat for padding etc? — I have plenty of padding of my own
Yay you, cycling — and you’ve hit on one of the most common questions around cycling. Getting a bike that’s comfortable and easy to ride is probably the most important factor in whether you’ll use it — which includes the right seat, but also overall fit. So if you can, bring your full self to an actual bike shop that offers fit assessment and get them to help you make sure you have the right frame for your height and that your seat is at the right height and in the right forward position and angle for your body.
As for types of saddle, here is an excellent, thorough resource about how to pick a saddle. Here is another one aimed at bigger riders (TW for language about weight). The one thing I will say is that sometimes we assume that the wider, more padded the seat, the more comfortable — and that isn’t necessarily true. I personally find a well-designed narrower seat far more comfortable, because I distribute the weight more evenly between my butt, legs, feet and arms, and I find a wider seat can make chafing worse. (On my holiday two weeks ago, I went for an 85 km ride on a rented hard tail mountain bike with a pretty basic seat and without padded shorts — and my butt was fine).
So — find a bike shop you trust; get a basic fitting done; sit on a few seats. The right bike seat is the one you’ll ride. And get a good, fun bell!
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who lives and works on the land we currently call Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies.