Better when I’m dancing

“Cate’s over there having a dance party,” Leslie laughed.

We were in the first rest minute of four rounds of five back squats at my feminist fitness studio, and I was dancing around my bar, treating it like a gracious partner. When the minute clicked over and I turned back to my weights, I quickly moved up to the heaviest weight I’ve lifted in this position.

I never go OUT dancing. But at the gym and when I’m running? I dance almost every day.

I’ve been gushing for months about the feminist #getstrong cross-fit style classes I’ve been doing since March. There are about 25 reasons I love this studio, ranging from its woman-focused, body-positive perspective, to discovering I can deadlift 145 lbs (and counting!), to the profound sense of community and encouragement I feel there. (Hi Nicole!) I think I’ve mentioned this before, but this is the only workout thing I’ve ever done I’m willing to do at 7 am.

The one thing I haven’t written about, though, is the impact of the music in the classes on me.

I’ve always been the kind of person who listens to music while I work out or run, but my music choices can get kind of repetitive. Sometimes I’m running and I think, “oh, this song reminds me of running in White Rock!” — and then I remember that I lived in White Rock more than 10 years ago. If my soundtrack is stale, is it possible that my workouts are stale too?

Judging by how re-activated I’ve become since I started working out at Move, I think the answer is a resounding yes. And yes, it’s the structure and the coaches and the community and the strength-discovery — but it’s also the music. Often, in the rest periods between sets, I dance around. Even — like in the back squat day — when I arrive at class feeling exhausted, the kind of moment where if I hadn’t signed up in advance, I would never go. (Late cancels aren’t refundable. It’s a good policy).

When the music hits the right note, I get energized — and then I’m dancing around the rig, or over to get a heavier weight. It particularly happens in Alex’ classes — she picks playlists that speak to me — and she always notices and cracks up. And in that moment, I am HAPPY from the inside out.

Last weekend I danced at the Shawn Mendes concert with my sister and nieces, which was fun — I especially enjoyed all of these girls and young women being completed unfettered.

(Well, I did get a little bored toward the end — my niece took a photo of me doing a crossword puzzle on my phone). But at this point in my life, I can’t imagine actually going OUT dancing. It STARTS after I’m already in BED! But when I’m moving my body in exercise, sometimes I’m approximating dancing — and sometimes — at Move or at lights when I’m running, I’m actually dancing.

In writing this post, I thought I’d end with sharing my current playlist. And then I realized I really just want an excuse to gush about Lizzo.

From my vantage point, 2019 was the summer of Lizzo. (If you haven’t watched her Tiny Desk concert, do yourself a favour and spend the next 10 minutes doing that now. It’s pure delight).

At the beginning of the summer, a colleague shared with me that the night before, she’d been at her best friend’s 40th birthday party — and her gift to her friend was a burlesque number she’d put together to Lizzo’s Because I Love You. “Because I love her,” she said simply. (I got to see some of the video — it was awesome). That embodied what I love about Lizzo — full-bodied, sexy, unapologetic, full-voiced, love yourself and your friends who get and accept you.

And then there’s this:

When I’m working out or running, I channel Lizzo. I’m my own soulmate — “look in the mirror like damn she the one.” Here’s my current playlist, so you can channel her yourself. It starts with Lizzo’s Juice and then wanders through an array of (mostly) women who’ve inspired me, raunchy, sexy, delicate, vulnerable and honest, all summer. (You can find it on Spotify under my cateinTO i.d).

Do you dance when you’re working out? What’s your soundtrack?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and dances in Toronto.


Filthy Fifty Rebranded for the Holidays

I walked into CrossFit London on December 24th for the 7 am workout.

The WOD (workout of the day) was posted on the board, Kris Kringle Fifty.

Um, rebranding has its limits.

For time:
50 Box jump, 20/24 inch box
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings, 12 kg/16kg
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 Knees to elbows
50 Push press, 20/25 kg
50 Back extensions
50 Wall ball shots, 14/20 kg ball
50 Burpees
50 Double unders

That’s CrossFit’s notorious Filthy Fifty.

I ended up doing step ups on the box and lowering the weight on the wall ball shots. I was happy that I could stick with the Rx (recommended) weight on the push press and on the kettlebell swings. No pink kettlebells for me!

One of my favourite things about CrossFits is how scalable the workouts are. See my earlier post on modifying CrossFit workouts.

I took the advice of the CrossFit coach and “chipped away at it.” I did sets of 10 and made no effort to do 50 in a row, “unbroken” as they say, of any of it. I just focused on the one thing I had to do and I didn’t even look at what was next. Taking off my glasses helped as I couldn’t see the board.

But even with modifying it and breaking it into pieces there’s still not much nice to say about a workout that has 50 burpees in it!

Here’s what Men’s Fitness has to say about this workout.

“A CrossFit staple, the Filthy 50 is a brutal series of taxing exercises that’s likely to seem endless if you’ve never done it before. The circuit includes 50 reps of 10 different exercises, all done as quickly as possible. Do 50 box jumps with a 24-inch box, 50 jumping pullups, 50 kettlebell swings, 50 walking lunge steps, 50 knees to elbows, 50 reps of push press with 45 pounds, 50 back extensions, 50 wallballs using a 20-pound ball, 50 burpees (dropping all the way to the floor), 50 double-unders.

This workout does a good job conveying the basics, and the madness, of CrossFit. This WOD gets to a lot of people at the knees to elbows stage, according to Sara Haley, star of Sweat Unlimited, a DVD series of extreme five-minute workouts. 
“[The Filthy 50] is such a challenge because you have to literally be good at everything. It’s a full-body workout** that includes cardio.” The sheer number of exercises can be hard to fathom, so it’s best to just pace yourself and focus on the task at hand, not on how much more there is to do. Of course, you can also modify this and do less of each exercise if you’re new to CrossFit and don’t want to dive in headfirst—try 20 or 25 of each during your first time through the circuit.”

Men’s Fitness lists a Challenge Time of 25 minutes. Even with modifications it took me 33:01. I enjoyed watching one of the super fit athletes do it Rx, as recommended, in a mere 20 something minutes. Strong and speedy.

In a weird way I’m hoping we do it again next Christmas Eve and I can do it either with fewer modifications or with a faster time, or both.

Image: CrossFit Christmas card
Image: CrossFit Christmas card

athletes · Crossfit · cycling · Rowing · training

Are athletes masochists?


The image above comes from a rowing tumblr, Don’t Feed the Lightweight. It’s tagged “Me trying to describe a 2 km erg test.” It made me laugh but it illustrates nicely, I think, the relationship between athletes and pain, and raises the question, “Are athletes masochists?”

What’s a masochist? Most dictionaries define “masochist” as one who requires or associates the experience of pain with sexual pleasure. But a secondary definition drops sex out the picture and it’s the non-sexual aspect of “pain-as-pleasure” that interests us here.

Elite athletes have even been dubbed “benign masochists” because they appear to enjoy the pain of exertion, says Dominic Micklewright, a researcher and curriculum director at the Centre for Sports & Exercise Science at the University of Essex in the U.K. Mocklewright is interviewed in a Wall Street Journal article on what separates those who love exercise from those who don’t. (I think the use of the word “benign” here is just a little bit “judgey,” as the kids say, okay as my kids say, since it suggests that sexual masochism is not so harmless but that’s a topic for another time, another blog.)

In my masters rowing group, we meet over the winter at the boathouse for regular erg sessions, But we also do something called Strength and Mobility training, and of course, it’s known as meeting up for  “S & M.” Nervous giggles ensue.

How close to the truth is it? What’s going on with the sports masochist?

Here are some possibilities:

1. We could think they experience less pain than the person who hates hard exercise because it’s painful. And it’s true that athletes generally have a higher threshold for pain. Have a look at Why athletes can handle more pain, Time Magazine. “Researchers didn’t crack the code, but they suggest resistance to pain can be learned over time, and an increase in exercise intensity can lead to endorphin release.”

See the article “Higher pain tolerance in athletes may hold clues for pain management,”

2. We might also think that the experience itself is different, that it feels different, that the elite hard driving athlete experiences what we’d call pain as pleasure. But I don’t think that’s quite right. Read the descriptions below. They’re talking about pain and suffering in the normal, usual senses of the word.

3. What seems different though is how the experience is valenced. You might recognize it as pain but find value in the painful experience. Suffering is good in this context, it makes you stronger, and over time you come to have positive associations with the feeling. I’ve written before about my three experiences of undrugged childbirth. Those are experiences that I thought were meaningful and I wouldn’t want to not have experienced that pain as odd as it is to say that. Tracy puzzled about suffering in her recent post on the good that comes from a tough ride.

Me, I like tough painful workouts. See one of my earliest posts on this blog, Why are painful workouts so much fun? I knew from cycling that I’d like rowing, for example. Both have a reputation for pain. I wasn’t worried about that aspect of CrossFit. Given a choice between a long slow indoor row or a twenty minute session with lots of sprints, I’ll take the latter anyday. Long slow steady state workouts bore me to tears and boredom looms larger for me than pain. Outdoor rowing and cycling, even on long slow days I do okay. That’s because I like the outside and I like talking to friends but I couldn’t do a slow recovery ride inside on a trainer without distraction. Without music, I’d be doomed and even then I might find an excuse to cut it short.

Clearly liking pain isn’t sufficient to excel sports.

Obviously fitness and strength matter more. It’s only true that she who suffers the most wins among equally well trained athletes. Suffering by itself won’t get you across the finish line first.

But is liking pain necessary to succeeding in sports? I’m not so sure.

(For an explanation of necessary and sufficient conditions see here.)

I think tolerance for pain is one asset in sports performance but there are other psychological traits athletes need. Different people bring different strengths to training and competition and I think some characteristics matter more for some sports than others.

It’s a matter of knowing yourself and knowing what strengths you bring to a sport. An appreciation of pain is something I’ve got but there are other traits I lack, such as concentration and focus during longer efforts. Time trials over 20 km and I start to write philosophy papers in my head. During rowing I often heard, “Sam, eyes in the boat.”

I’ll close with more quotes about rowing and cycling and pain. There are lots of them out there and they’re so very good.


“The hardest thing to teach an athlete is the ability to suffer. Those who know how to suffer know how to win.” US Olympic Rower Erin Cavarro

At the end of this year’s eventful Boat Race. “It’s very common for people to collapse in rowing,” explains Moore, “because they are racing to destruction.” It’s a sport, in short, for masochists. As Emery tells me: “You’ve got to enjoy the pain.” Read Rowing: the sport of masochists, Rowing is a punishing physical and mental workout. But you’ve got to enjoy the pain

“The aim is to bury yourself completely,” said Cracknell, with the kind of honesty about the event which suggests that whatever career opens up for him after he has stopped rowing, it is unlikely to be in advertising. “I like these machine because everyone else hates them. It hurts, really it hurts, but you mustn’t let it beat you. If you get psyched out by it, you’re in massive trouble. And believe me, even at the top level, people get psyched out. It’s a tough thing. It’s about commitment, not talent.” The mass masochism of indoor rowing


“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain… Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. ’Pleasure?’ I said. ’I don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t do it for pleasure, I did it for pain.” Lance Armstrong

“Suffering is what professional cycling is all about, and champions suffer the longest. The ability to suffer can be heightened through training, which is why racers go out on the road for up to seven hours most days during winter and early spring.” — Samuel Abt (cycling journalist)

“Cycling is suffering.” — Fausto Coppi (5-time Giro winner, 2-time TdF winner)

More quotes on pain and cycling here.



One year anniversary at CrossFit London

Yesterday was my one year anniversary at CrossFit London and I decided to renew my vows. In plain terms, I renewed my membership. My plan is two classes a week over the summer, three in the fall and winter. I’d do more but I like the outside too much.

CrossFit in New Zealand was a bit more outdoorsy. Hill running, stair repeats, and flipping giant tires.

I’ve written before about some things I love about CrossFit and other things about which I’m less certain. See Six Things I Love about Crossfit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About. On balance, it’s definitely positive.

This post is a bit different though. I want to evaluate the “me” side of the relationship, looking at where I might improve.

Here’s some things I pledge to do differently in year two:

1. I need to a better job figuring out where I can push myself harder, which modifications make sense and where I can level up. I’ve written a bit about this here, Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts, and now it’s time to think it through and act.

2. I need to make more of a community for me. It matters to me. See Crossfit and what does it mean to say, “I would never do that by myself?” and Things you learn from working out with others for some of the reasons why. True most of the people are lots younger than me but we’re all there to get fitter, faster, stronger.

3. I need to not be intimidated by CrossFit competitions. I like competitions! There’s no age categories in the cross fit open. Maybe that’s what scares me off. But I can do it. It’ll be good for me and I’ll enjoy it.

So bring it on.

This is the year I’ll manage double unders and pull ups!

Crossfit · fitness · fitness classes

Crossfit and what does it mean to say, “I would never do that by myself?”

Sometimes I get myself out the door to Crossfit by telling myself it probably won’t be a particularly tough workout. Strategic self deception. You know the drill. Like when we tell ourselves it’s not that cold outside really. I fantasize that this morning will be all about skill development and will involve not very many reps of some heavy weights.

There are days like that at Crossfit. It’s true. But today wasn’t one of them.

Today we did the following:

40 wall ball throws (with medicine ball) You can see these here,

30 sit ups

20 push ups

10 burpees

You complete that in 3 min and then take a 3 min rest, repeat 5 times. If you can’t complete it in 3 minutes, you scale the workout. The first time through I only did 1 burpee so I dropped the weight on the medicine ball. I also do push ups from my knees. Please don’t judge.

This is exactly the sort of workout I would never do on my own. High intensity, high effort, racing for time. Of course, complete with a a giant timer on the wall and a beep to mark the end of 3 minutes.

On my own, I’d find excuses. But it’s not just that. For me, there’s a real positive value in watching others. I learn from them. I pace myself using the fastest and fittest. They’re doing the same routine but in weighted vests. They are good at pacing so I know if I follow them I’ll make it through in 3 minutes.

I also watch their technique. I wonder how Bob does burpees so fast so when it’s my turn to rest, I watch his form and try to copy it next time through.

Because we do this in shifts–my 3 min on is another person’s 3 min off– there are Crossfit work out friends there to cheer me on. It’s happy supportive cheering. We’re not mean to one another. (Unless someone asks.) And for me, that support definitely makes a difference.

At the end I often recall when I started Crossfit and couldn’t do a single burpee. Some people accuse Crossfit of being a bit cult like–and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. “It wouldn’t do if we all liked the same thing,” as my mother would have said to dogmatic child me.

For me it’s an extremely supportive workout community and while it’s true I’d never do five rounds of that workout by myself, it’s also true I don’t have to.

fashion · weight lifting

Why deadlift? I mean, besides for the cool socks

I had a deadlifting breakthrough this past week. When I started CrossFit eight months ago I could deadlift about 40 kg.

Deadlifting made me nervous because as a result of a rather dramatic run in with a wave on a beach in Australia (which ended in the emergency room after being picked up by a huge wave while body surfing and then being carried into shore and going boom, crash into the sand) followed by a cross country ski collision the following year, I have a pretty twitchy lower back. (Where “twitchy” is just absolutely amazing compared to the outrageous amount of pain I was in following these accidents. I had no idea that you could even be in that much pain as a result of sudden impact without having broken anything.)

But last week (on Thurs, Jan 10 to be precise) I hit a new 1 rep max in deadlifting: 95 kgs. I benefited from advice from Crossfit coach Dave Henry (I worked on my breathing, my stance, and my grip) and it helped being cheered on by my training partners. Tracy has blogged about the joys of working out alone but this style of lifting really requires training partners.

What is the deadlift?  You perform a deadlift by lifting a loaded barbell off the ground from a stabilized, bent over position. The deadlift is one of the three canonical powerlifting exercises, along with the squat and the bench press. (I plan to blog later about the distinction between powerlifting and Olympic lifting and about how both of these styles differ from muscle specific body building.)

To get an idea of what’s involved you can read the wiki-how instructions or watch the You Tube video here, Aneta Florczyk, three-time World’s Strongest Woman, deadlifts 250 kg.

Clearly I have room to get stronger. She’s amazing.

But you might be wondering, since this doesn’t look easy or particularly fun, why deadlift? Here’s some answers:

  • “The Deadlift is one of the most ancient, fundamental and just flat out alpha lifts out there. In no other lift do you raise hundreds of pounds of weight off the ground with your bare hands. There’s really something magical about the Deadlift. You just don’t feel the same amount of confidence and joy doing Squats or Bench Pressing as you do while Deadlifting. There’s a reason so many people look forward to Deadlift day.” The Deadlift
  • It’s a whole body exercise working almost all of the major muscle groups (Spinal Erectors, Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back, Middle and Upper Trapezius, Abdominals and Obliques, Lats, Calves) and whole body exercises are great for developing full body strength, especially in the core. Your back will thank you for it.
  • Deadlifting has real functional applications. Picking stuff up off the ground is something we actually do, a lot. “When you perform physical labor, you frequently pick up items off the floor and lift them. Performing deadlifts develops the muscles and the movements that are involved in many forms of physical labor. Also, because deadlifts normally involve lifting heavy weights, they help you develop a strong grip, which is also associated with many physical tasks.” Read more at Livestrong, What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?
  • “All lifters MUST wear extended knee socks when Deadlifting.”
    That’s what lifting competition rules say. And there is a practical reason, to prevent your shins from getting scraped. But they also come in lots of funky colours and patterns. See pic above and for more, lots more, see here. I know one reader of the blog wrote in to say she didn’t look forward to having to wear them to compete, but I have a soft spot for knee socks. Practical and cute.

athletes · fitness

Fitness, yes but fit for what?

Happy New Year!

For many of us, one of our goals for 2013 is to get more fit. But what do we mean by ‘fit’ exactly?

I’m just home from the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association held in Atlanta where I took part in a panel sponsored by the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport.

Defining fitness was one of the topics we discussed. Michael Brady, a philosopher at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale,  gave a great talk called “Crossfit: A Pragmatic Philosophy of Sport” which examined Crossfit’s pluralist account of fitness, of which I’m quite fond.

Writing about Crossfit, here’s what Tony Leyland has to say: “Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.” (Crossfit Journal)

Crossfit has a nice list of the elements which make up fitness:

1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance

2. Stamina

3. Strength

4. Flexibility

5. Power

6. Speed

7. Coordination

8. Agility

9. Balance

10. Accuracy

I’m asked a lot, in the context of this “fittest by fifty” campaign, what it means to be fit. I agree that ‘fit’ and ‘fitness’ have a few different meanings and maybe it’s not the most helpful concept. Some people think there’s only ‘fit’ in the sense of ‘fit for a specific task or event.’ But I like the Crossfit list approach.

The people who think there is only ‘fit for a particular activity’ within sports point to the wide range of abilities that athletes have.

In cycling, hill climbers aren’t sprinters and a really fit hill climber will look different and perform differently than a sprinter. The sprinters in the Tour de France struggle to make it up the mountains. They’re built for explosive speed, not climbing.

When you move between sports, it gets harder still. You can’t train for a marathon and build very much muscle. Body builders limit their cardio. You can’t weight train and build muscle and then compete in events that penalize weight.

What I’d like is to achieve is a kind of base level across activities that allows me to try new things without worrying about a fitness barrier. Marathon runners who can’t lift and weight lifters who can’t run have limited functional fitness.

One of the things that’s appealed to me about Crossfit is the ‘cross’ part, I like the mix of strength and speed workouts.I like the talk of General Physical Preparedness.

That’s part of the appeal of triathlon too. The extremes don’t interest me. No marathons in my future though I’d like to get good at what my friend Laura terms the middle distances, 5 and 10 km.

You can read more about Crossfit and fitness: and also “What is Fitness? in the Crossfit Journal

So yes, individualized fitness for specific sports but I still think there is a cross-sport account of fitness we can give. And in the new year that’s what I’m aiming for.

How about you?