fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Facing Forward to Find More Fitness

Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.

I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.

And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.

I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to  the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)  

Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.

Their posts hit me hard.

In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)

All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.

Image of a mountain road with rocks and trees on the right hand side and blue sky above. White centre text reads 'Don't look back. You're not going that way.' Mary Engelbreit  White text in the bottom right corner reads 'University of Liverpool Online Programmes'
Sure, it’s obvious but it’s not untrue.

And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).

This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’

That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.

I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.

I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.

I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.

I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.

I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.

I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.

A multicoloured background with white text that reads 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for. (from slickwords.com)
This is my new plan.


*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to  help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.

fitness · health · illness · self care

The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck

Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.

For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.

I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.

However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.

My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology,  has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.

She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.

The author, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a black shirt and glasses is not looking directly at the camera. She is sitting in a room with green walls and there is a white door behind her.
I just happened to take this photo the day before my conversation with M. I was participating in a web chat about writing and I was having trouble concentrating. I was tired, I knew I was going to have a headache the next day because of the specific way that my neck was aching. I did some stretches and took some ibuprofen in hopes of warding it off but it didn’t work – it never does, actually but I always try it.

I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**

I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.

M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)

Timeline graph of migraine symptoms. The background is purple and the timeline is orange. The graph illustrates that there are a few hours or days of symptoms that precede a migraine, the migraine itself lasts from 4-72 hours and there there is a 24-48 hour recovery period.
I had no idea that things like concentration and difficulty sleeping could precede a migraine. This graph was found here: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/

Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.

This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.

With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***

Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?

Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.

Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.

I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.

And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.

I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’  As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.

Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.

And that’s not fit.

For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.

*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.

**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.

***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.

fitness

Fit Feminist Challenge Group Update

One of Christine’s lovely graphics that she designed for our Fit Feminist Challenge Group.

Hey everyone. Remember way back in September when Cate, Christine and I started the blog’s first “Fit Feminist Challenge Group”? Well guess what? The first iteration of three month challenge group is winding down this week and it’s been a fabulous experience.

We kind of jumped into it not knowing exactly how it would go or even having a clear idea of what we planned. We were firm in our commitment to try different things and see what worked and what didn’t.

Most of all we wanted to create a supportive community where people could get ideas, focus their goals and strategize how to meet them, and feel the motivational and inspirational force of being in a group where people are happy to cheer you on. And in keeping with the blog’s feminist principles, we encouraged people to shift their focus away from dieting and weight loss and looking a certain way.

I’m happy to report that we mostly did that. Though not everyone who joined at the beginning stayed plugged in as a major presence (and there may be things we can do to prevent that next time), the community remained supportive and encouraging to the end, and we really didn’t need to remind people to steer clear of weight loss and dieting as conversational topics in the group.

For the first couple of months we stuck more or less to themes for each day of the week: Motivation Monday, Try This Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Tag Thursday, Fun Friday, Sum Up Saturday, and Strategize Sunday. Cate, Christine, and I took turns posting to the group on the theme and invited people to share in the comments. Christine designed some colourful and fun images to go with each day, and things rolled along with one of us taking responsibility for a couple of days each week and rotating through every third Sunday.

Over time, we got more inventive (or maybe we felt the themes were getting old), drifting away from the set script and being more free with our posts when we felt like it.

We also tried a few things that didn’t work well. The main thing that didn’t work as we thought it might was breaking people up into small groups that were asked to check in with one another on specific days of the week. So there was a Monday check-in group, a Tuesday check-in group, etc. We thought this would give people a chance to bond with a smaller group, but instead it resulted in many people being confused about whether they could post outside of that weekly check-in, and hence they felt alienated from the larger group. That had never been our intention, so after we felt it not coming together, we did a little poll that confirmed our suspicion. Out with the small groups!

We also have determined that three months might just be a little too long to keep the momentum and energy going unless the facilitators have a lot of time and energy to doing just that (and even then, you really do need to switch things up regularly to keep everyone’s attention). The next versions of challenge groups will be shorter in duration and more focused in purpose. 

Overall, as I said in my post to the group for this morning’s “Talk about it Tuesday” (we morphed into that from Try This Tuesday after we thought it unreasonable to have people try something new every single week!), my greatest insight from the challenge group experience was how much I enjoy being accountable to and a part of a supportive group. It’s super inspiring to gain energy from the energy and enthusiasm of others.

Do you like the idea of online challenge groups as a way of incorporating more consistent fitness practices into your life? Have you had any experience with this type of support environment? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

body image · fitness · Guest Post · stereotypes · swimming

Learning to Swim and Loving My Body in the Process (Guest Post)

Although I never learned to swim, my whole life I’ve had dreams in which I can swim and I love those dreams and the feeling they give me. Recently, I met a new friend, about my age, and when she asked me if I wanted to go to the spa, and the whirlpool, and the pool, I found myself saying yes. Because I did want to go. I’d wanted to go for decades and had only ever gone to a spa one other time, just after I turned 50.

There’s something about your 50s – it’s like you start over. You look at all the baggage you’ve been hauling around since your 20s and ask yourself what it’s for. As it turns out, most of it doesn’t even belong to you, and a lot of it is stuff nobody needs.

Among my baggage was the idea that I needed to avoid pools because I have an unruly body that doesn’t look ‘good’ in a bathing suit. I knew this to be true because I’d had constant reminders that my body was somehow inappropriate.

In all fairness, had JLo or the Kardashians been the beauty standard during my teens, I might have received more positive attention for what became, by 13 or so, my big hips and big butt and small waist, but among my age group I was merely an aberration.

I could hear snickers when I got up to write at the blackboard in class. I lived in mortal fear of gym and of any social activities that might involve sports or a pool because I would have to expose my body in shorts or, my greatest horror, in a bathing suit.

Although by my early 20s I’d developed a way of dressing to pretty much camouflage what I suspected was my aberrant body, there’s nowhere to hide anything in a bathing suit. The very thought of wearing one filled me with anxiety and humiliation.

As I got older, I became the classic example of the woman to whom people would ‘you would be beautiful IF ONLY you lost x number of pounds.” The amounts varied, since my weight varied and, of course, ‘thin’ ideals were changeable. Sometimes it was 20, sometimes 40, sometimes 60 pounds.

I hope the world has changed and that young women don’t go through this anymore and Irealize I should have told every single person who felt free to comment to go fly a kite, and sometimes I did. My aunts said it, even my mom said it. There was me, and then there was beautiful/acceptable and, to get there, I would basically have to alter my body type.

As I struggled to articulate all of this to my new spa friend, she said ‘if you want a bikini body then just put your body in a bikini.’ This sounded suspiciously wise to me – I was certain I was missing something. I put on my bathing suit.

I loved the whirlpool. When I balked a bit at the pool and said I couldn’t swim, she just shrugged and said it didn’t matter – I didn’t have to swim to go in the pool. I’d never thought of it that way. I gave myself permission to go in the pool. After all, I was already in bathing suit, and what could be harder than that?

And then she said maybe I should try to float, still hanging onto the side of course. I immediately said I couldn’t float and that I had scientific proof of this from my many failed childhood attempts. In my particular case, I said emphatically, it was impossible. Sometimes we believe things for so long that we don’t realize they’re ridiculous and sometimes the way you can tell is the way your friend looks at you when you say them.

She said that instead of thinking about the water as something threatening, maybe I could think of it as something that was there to support me. The water would help me – the water wanted me to float. I didn’t really have to do anything. That was interesting to me. It would be particularly helpful, she added, if I didn’t think about it too much. That made me laugh since I’d had a psychiatrist in my 20s who spent a lot of time teaching me that thinking is different from feeling.

The sensation I felt, the first time I full-body floated, still holding onto the side of the pool, is still hard to describe. It was very emotional – suddenly, the body that I felt had betrayed me on so many occasions, the body I spent a lot of my life exasperated with and pointedly ignoring, was both weightless and present. I could feel the water surrounding me and holding me up. I became aware of my arms and legs and hips as wonderful, positive things, floating there in the water. Maybe even beautiful. I had the feeling that I had in my dreams. It was not a thinking feeling, but just feeling. So, for the last month or so, I’ve been working in the water to learn to actually swim – I feel I’m almost there but I’m not in any hurry.

The sensations that come with moving my body in the water are new, and exhilarating, and have started to feel natural. I love every minute of finding my balance, letting go of the ledge, working out how to propel myself, bobbing along in my very elementary way, perfectly quiet and peaceful. Well, not perfectly quiet. Sometimes I giggle. Out loud. I move my arms and my legs and the water responds to me. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel my body is perfect.

Sally is an art historian, professor, department chair, Italophile, film buff, heavy metal AND country music enthusiast, and fitness newbie.

accessibility · aging · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation

Courtesy, seniors and fitness assumptions

By MarthaFitAt55

I’ve discovered that I can be seduced by click bait. I see the headlines, and boom, there I am reading an article and fuming over the ridiculousness of it all.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss screamer headlines and their unsubstantiated content, but sometimes, you get drawn into an article because you just can’t help yourself.

STOP OFFERING YOUR SEAT TO ELDERLY PEOPLE ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT, ADVISE HEALTH EXPERTS

So I went there and was appalled and a little angry. Appalled as the article recommends not offering seniors a seat as standing is way better than sitting. Angry because the article makes no mention of the risk of falls from a lurching bus or tram.

Seniors riding a bus
Image shows seniors riding the The Rapid (the bus system serving Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

The Reader’s Digest version is this: older people need encouragement to keep fit. Sedentary activity, including sitting on public transport, leads to negative health effects. Encourage them to be active, like taking the stairs or walking for ten minutes a day. In fact, the expert quoted in the article says we should “think twice before giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person. Standing up is great exercise for them.”

For those of us under 60 with a reasonable amount of calcium in our diet, the risk posed by an unexpected lurch or stop on the bus is at most a possible wrench or at least a bark of our shins against someone’s briefcase or shopping bag.

For seniors, it’s a different story. I found a guide encouraging active living habits for seniors on line, and even it warned them about the risks of sudden stops on public transport. To wit,

“It is also important to be alert so that you do not accidentally get injured on public transportation. Busses and taxis are notorious for being rough rides, and during quick turns or stops you may jerk forward in your seat. If you are not paying attention, then you could fall out of your seat and injure yourself. Always hold onto the bottom of your seat or onto a railing in the bus or taxi to keep yourself secured.”

According to Indiana University, the impact of falls is great:

  • Falls are the leading cause of a move to skilled-care facilities, often long term.
  • 20-30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe physical injuries including breaks, cuts, and bruising.
  • Falls often result in long-term pain.
  • Falls involving a hip fracture lead to 10-15% reduction in life expectancy.
  • Older adults who fall are likely to worry about the future and loss of independence.
  • Loss of self-esteem and mobility leads to decreased activity and eventually inability to perform activities of daily living.
  • Because of decreased confidence and physical functioning, patients who fall are likely to fall again.
  • Elderly who fall are less likely to take part in beneficial activities like exercising or socializing because of a fear of getting hurt again and the embarrassment of a fall.

I don’t know about you, but if I were 65 or older, I would rather be seen as someone in need of a seat rather than someone in need of a hike. Mostly it’s simple courtesy as one should never assume that one is either fit or unfit. Maybe they’ve just come back from a rousing afternoon with the grand children; perhaps they’ve just spent time in a gym pushing weights around. Who knows? Sometimes, we just like to sit and watch the passing scene out the window.

Next time I see a senior, I’ll ask them if they want my seat and let them make the choice, not me.

— MarthaFitat55 has been working hard to build strong bones and muscles so she can keep standing for a long, long time.

fitness · Martha's Musings · swimming

Me and Dory just keep swimming

By Marthafitat55

You may know about Dory, the little blue fish with the positive attitude from animated Pixar film Finding Nemo. Despite the challenges she faces with her short-term memory, Dory focuses on moving forward. “Just keep swimming,” she says, and off she goes.

Not a picture of my pool, but close enough. Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I wrote last month about the universal design aspects of our new recreation centre, and since then, I’ve been going to the pool three times a week, channeling my inner Dory. Unlike Dory though, I have been taking notes about some of the things I’ve learned so far.

My usual routine before the pool opened was to get two weight training sessions in a week, and complementing that effort with some floor work at home and trail walking a couple of times a week. My walking partner had to take a break around the same time I got introduced to the new pool.

My first two times in the pool I managed six laps each time. Almost a month later, I get in 10 to 12 laps a session depending on the time I have and whether or not I want to spend some time in the therapy pool playing with the currents. The main thing though is I have picked up my endurance and my speed.

I’m really enjoying it for several reasons. It’s a great way to kick off my day and I get it done by 8 so I am washed, dressed, and ready to work by 9 a.m. I work from home so it’s a good feeling to be at the office by the start of business.

It’s something I can do with my family. My husband and I both have busy work lives; swimming is a place where we engage in idle chatter helping us leave our work preccupations at the door.

I also find it very relaxing. There’s a very meditative feeling to swimming laps, where you go up to the deep end of the pool and then flip back to swim to the shallow end. The repetition is soothing and you don’t have to think hard about the motion.

When I am lifting weights, I am super conscious about my form, ensuring I am in the right position to lift or squat. I’m hyper-focused, in fact, on what my hips and knees are saying, given their previous injury experiences.

In the pool, my biggest risk is running into people. I wear high-level prescription glasses but don’t use them in the pool. As a result, I only see blobs, and sometimes it could just be a trick of the light, while at other times, it could be a person. So far I have avoided any collisions with either people or walls.

The biggest benefit I have found is how helpful the buoyancy of the water has been to my hips and knees. Unlike the trail walking, with its uneven pitch and occasionally slippery gravel (and in winter, sheets of ice), there is no stress placed on my knees or hips in the pool.

In fact, going swimming the day after my weight training has helped ease the tension and stress different muscles feel after a new workout or exercise variation. Swimming helps me get moving more quickly and it has noticeably improved the fluidity of my lifting.

Overall swimming has given me a new appreciation of how our bodies work differently on land and in water. I’m aware of the resistance water can give you against a current in the same way running or walking uphill forces your lungs to work harder. Most importantly, it’s lots of fun and, for me at least, easy to fit into my schedule.

I’m glad I have found a fun activity that complements my weight training instead of working against it. How about you, dear readers? What kinds of activities are you employing to add interest and variety to your fitness goals and objectives? What are some things you have learned from mixing up your fitness tools?

— Martha lives in St. John’s and enjoys weight training, trail walking, and swimming.

fitness

What are Women’s Bodies for, Anyway?

 

 

katie sandwina holding 3 dudes
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of Katie Sandwina, a circus strongwoman from the early 20th Century. Here she holds 3 adult men in suits up as balance on her arms and shoulders. Sandwina was capable of lifting over 300 pounds above her head and defeated Eugene Sandow (a famous circus strongman) in a weightlifting competition.

 

Happy Saturday to all of you taking the time to read this morning! For this month’s post, I decided to collaborate with my friend, Jaclyn, who has been mentioned in some of my other posts here and here.

We begin our reflection with this question from 1909, posed by a girl’s Phys. Ed. teacher:

“Who would suggest that the delicate, anaemic, hothouse plant type of girl, afraid of sun, wind, and rain, timid, nervous and clinging, … will make a better wife or mother than the strong, full-blooded, physically courageous woman, a companion for her husband on the golf links and a playmate with her children?” (Verbrugge 2002, 58).

Vintage Muscle
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from the 1920’s, posing with her arm flexed. She has visible muscle in her biceps, triceps, forearms and shoulders. This juxtaposed with her vintage pincurl hairstyle makes for a striking image.

The suggestion being that women who were physically fit would make for better wives and mothers. In other words, the purpose of a woman’s fitness was not necessarily to benefit herself, but rather, to benefit those around her. The statement came at a time when cultural values were shifting away from the image of delicate femininity to what was referred to as the “New Woman,” who was seen as active, modern, vibrant and wholesome (55).

Some might look at this and laugh. Sure, this was over a hundred years ago. But things have changed. Right?

 

Rene Campbell bodybuilder
Image Description: This is a photograph of Rene Campbell, a professional female bodybuilder from the UK. She is in a black bikini and flexes her arms above her head. She is very visibly muscular. Female bodybuilders are often criticized for looking “manly,” “too masculine,” and have even been called “gross” or “disgusting” in reference to their muscular bodies.

 

We’re not so sure. In various chats over the last few months, we’ve noticed a staggering degree of negative comments and attitudes towards women who choose to pursue weightlifting. (Each activity receives its own negative commentary, but we’re going to stick to what we’re most familiar with.)

Jaclyn compiled a list of some of the highlights:

“Don’t get too fit”

“You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder chicks, are you?”

“Don’t get too muscular though, you won’t look feminine anymore”

“You’re not going to be one of those chicks that looks like a man—that’s gross”

…and one of our all-time eye-rolling favourites: “Okay, but don’t get too bulky because men don’t like that.”

Tracy, while newer to weight training, has experienced some similar cautionary comments:

“Okay, but don’t work out too much.”

“Don’t get too jacked/ripped.”

“Don’t be that person.”

These comments not only come from a place of misinformation, but they perpetuate damaging assumptions about women and heteronormativity. We discussed the possibility of comments like this coming from a place of concern for health. But Jaclyn noted that these comments aren’t exactly along the (more concerned) lines of: “You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder women, are you? …Because I hear that involves the use of drugs which can have a negative impact on your mood, fertility, and general health or because overtraining can cause physical/mental burnouts.” Nope.

 

bikini
Image Description: This is a photograph of three women posing for a bikini competition. Each of the women are tanned, with long hair and full make up. They strike poses so as to highlight small waists and curves around their hips and busts. Unlike body building which focuses on larger muscle mass and definition, bikini competitions place emphasis on more slender muscle. This is typically seen as the “physical goal” for women’s bodies.

 

For the most part, comments like these instead seem to implicitly “fit shame” (the flip side of fat shaming) or “police” individual behaviors that threaten societal ideas of what it is for a body to be feminine (i.e., slender, with only “feminine muscle” or femininely acceptable muscle.) See Sam’s recent post about the new popular aesthetic of a slender woman with a larger bum.

All of this not only perpetuates the damaging assumption that bodies are either feminine or masculine (and that this strict binary only allows for bodies that fit within a certain standard), but it reinforces the messages that women’s bodies are always bodies-for.  In other words, women’s bodies are always bodies-for-other-people but never primarily for themselves. In the case of Jaclyn’s experience, she is (implicitly, though often explicitly) being told that her body is a body-for-men when people say things like “Okay, but don’t get too bulky, because men don’t like that”.  This comment, which she frequently encounters, involves multiple problematic assumptions:  first, that all men are only attracted to the stereotypically “feminine body”, second, that all men are only attracted to women, third, that her sexual orientation is straight.  While we will not address these and other assumptions in this post, it is important to note the amount of troubling assumptions at play in the “bodies-for” message that women in fitness often encounter.

We didn’t even touch on assumptions around motherhood and aesthetics more broadly (i.e., What if she doesn’t want to be a mother? What if she wants to have large, bulky ?).

And certainly, while much has changed in women’s favour in the last century or so, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed. The prevailing comments in response to women’s fitness pursuits aren’t always explicitly about how this will affect her as a housewife, mother, or golf partner, but the fact is that we still encounter this “bodies-for” messaging everywhere. Looking ahead, we wonder how much things will change a hundred years from now. Hopefully, for the better.

 

Katie (Sandwina)
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photo of Katie Sandwina who is posing in a one-piece jumper while holding a man above her head with one arm. 

 

 

 

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

Tracy is a freelance writer living in Toronto and completing her PhD in political philosophy.

fitness

Horse Magic (Guest Post)

I ride horses. It is my absolute favourite sport. And yet, I have never blogged about it. When I talk about the sports I participate in to people, I sometimes don’t mention it. It’s like my secret sport but that isn’t intentional.

When I committed to a regular guest post here, I cast my mind about to think of topics I could draw on and that was when horses occurred to me. But that made me wonder why it hadn’t before. I usually write about experiences or advances or issues that have an edge of angst. Since I was a random poster, the only reason I’d write something was because it struck me some way or another.

Horses are another matter, another level. Horses are magic.

I was privileged (in all meanings of that word) to be able to learn to ride when I was about 11 years old. It started at summer camp and then eventually, I was allowed weekly lessons at an English riding barn north of Toronto. I suppose I was doing Hunter/Jumper work but all I knew is I got to ride every week and it was pretty much the only place I was happy in the disaster of a social world that was me, age 11-16 years old. It was fun. I was good at it and the whole thing revolved around these creatures that I couldn’t get enough of. Huge strong beasts that let me ride them. They listened to what I told them and took me flying. They had soft noses and big beautiful eyes. They smelled so good. Even their poop smelled good to me.

Then my parents tricked me. I also liked to play saxophone at school. I had a choice. I could continue riding or they could buy me a really great sax. I chose the sax and horses faded from my life. Freud would have a field day with this, but I digress. . .

25-ish years later, I ask my 8 year old daughter if she wants to learn to ride. I am living in a town that has quick access to many teaching barns. She says yes. I go to the barn to help her get ready and I’m shaking. I burst into tears of joy and longing. I’m so happy to be home.

It took about 6 months for it to dawn on me that I could also ride again. I didn’t actually have to live vicariously through my daughter. Those first lessons were chaotic. My body and mind remembered so much and yet so much had changed. I was 40, not 16 and I was weak in places I didn’t remember needed to be strong. I fell off. I screwed up. I got yelled at by my teacher. It was fantastic.

I had to come to terms with my body and the profound truth that if I wanted to continue to ride, I had to do other things so that I could ride. I needed more strength and balance. I needed more endurance. So I started to do strength training and running and yoga. I restarted Pilates. I kept riding. So did my daughter.

8 years later, my 15 year old daughter and I ride in the same group lesson. We ride Hunter/Jumper and every week we are in the presence of these magnificent creatures with soft noses and huge eyes. They let us ride them. They pay attention to every move, every breath, every thought that goes through our heads and when it all aligns, they take us flying.

In the journey back to horses, I have learned to run a 6 minute kilometer, reacquired my core strength, built up my shoulders and upper body, learned to cycle fast on skinny tires, led canoe trips and become more or less fearless about trying new things. In some ways, it led me back to myself at a time of tremendous transition. It wouldn’t have happened the same way without that imperative, that longing to get back up there and fly.

I still don’t fully understand why it’s so strong, the love of that sport. Maybe it isn’t the sport at all. It’s them. It’s the way they look at you or the way they ignore you. It’s the way they demand treats by searching all your pockets or, in one case, trying to find them in my pants. It’s how they stop and check on you right after dumping you into the dirt at the base of a jump. It’s how they let you cry on them when you are a lonely sad 14 year old girl. Even now, writing this post makes me weep with. . .something. . .love, joy, grief. It’s horse magic.

snowbound
Snowbound, he who searches pockets and pants for treats

fitness · training

Fitness and the Pomodoro Technique

tomato kitchen timerAnyone who knows me is aware that my favorite “productivity”/time management thing in the world is The Pomodoro Technique.

It’s a simple and profound way of getting things done in small, do-able increments of time called, not surprisingly given the technique’s name, “pomodoros.”

I started using it years ago, when the only thing on their now-snazzy website was a bit of info and a downloadable free pdf that explained how it works.  It’s all about parsing out uninterrupted time for your projects. I needed (and need) it because I am a world-class procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing.

Being such an accomplished procrastinator means that when deadlines approach (and there always seem to be deadlines looming), I take to weeping and hyperventilating. Add winter to that, which I know came late and so we’ve gotten off easy but it’s wicked cold now and we’re about to get a bunch of snow, and all I want to do is hibernate.

Here’s how the pomodoro technique works (the fitness activity angle is coming, I promise). Pick a task–let’s say you have a paper due on February 1st that you’ve known about for almost two years and you can’t push the deadline anymore than you already have (it was actually due December 1st). You set your timer — that’s where the technique gets it’s name from, those kitchen timers that look like tomatoes, and “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato–for 25 minutes. That’s the length of a pomodoro. It’s so do-able. Who doesn’t have 25 minutes? C’mon, sure you do!

So you set it for 25 minutes and during the whole time the timer is counting down your 25 minutes you keep working on your task, uninterrupted. If someone wants to interrupt you, you tell them to come back after 25 minutes. Because after that first pomodoro, you get a little 5 minute timed break to do whatever you want. And then you do another pomodoro. And another 5 minutes. And two more pomodoros. By the end of four in a row, you can take a longer, 15 minute break. But you don’t have to do four in a row. Sometimes one is good enough, depending on the task.

I’m not giving away any secret that they only tell you if you pay money. Their website outlines the basics of how to get started with the technique.

You can be amazingly productive in these 25 minute chunks. I’ve written whole articles and book chapters using this method. In fact, I used something similar, called “the unschedule,” which divides work time into 30 minute chunks and puts a limit of no more than 5 hours a day on your project, to write an entire book (and revise it from beginning to end too).

I know you’re all smart and savvy feminists, so by now you are probably seeing the fitness angle in all of this. It came to me when I was running with friends the other day and complaining about how I’m not getting enough running into my week. “Maybe,” I said, “if I just zip downstairs (to the exercise room in my condo because, yay, I got to move in finally after 4 months of temporarily having to live elsewhere) and spend 25 minutes (=one pomodoro) on the treadmill at some point during the week, that will be just the thing.”

Because (see above) who doesn’t have 25 minutes to do something? It’s in keeping with my whole “do less” approach.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t get their workouts in, or don’t start any sort of workout program in the first place, is purported lack of time. But the idea behind the pomodoro is that giving some activity or task our sustained attention for 25 minutes can make a world of difference.

It’s not just about being productive at work, though it’s really great for that too. There are even apps that will count down your pomodoros for you.  I use this one.

And don’t think you need to read the book or the pdf to get started. The amazing simplicity of the technique is that it distills down to just what I explained. I starting using it five minutes after I read about it and never had to read that pdf to make it work for me. But you can buy the book in hardcover or as an e-book too.

If you’re struggling to find time to get a workout in, try scaling back to a pomodoro or two.  Let us know how it goes. Or if you have some other tips for fitness time management/productivity, please share about them in the comments.

fitness

Good Advice, Bad Advice: some thoughts from our bloggers on 2015

As this year wraps up, we’ve all been awash in benedictions on 2015 and expectations for 2016. Still, it’s cheering to look forward to fresh slates and new possibilities. This includes fitness. I’ll be posting Sunday on my fitness goals for 2016. For now, as a final adieu to 2015, I asked our bloggers what were some of their favorite fitness advice or revelations for this year. I also asked them what was the worst piece of fitness advice they ran across. Here are some of their responses (edited for brevity).

Let’s start with the revelations and good advice.

Gyms? You don’t necessarily need them.

I let my membership lapse in February, intending to switch to the YMCA; I then experimented with not joining, to see if all my outdoor activities could make the gym redundant. And they did. I cycled as usual with my club… I joined a rowing club in town and was motivated to get out on the water as often as possible because, no gym… I took up yoga at a specialist Iyengar studio in town because I could justify the added cost. And I swam, swam, swam at community pools around town, including my gorgeous outdoor neighbourhood pool.

Now, here we are at the end of the year, deep into winter, and I have no plans to head back to the gym! I am riding outside until it snows, riding my rollers, doing a trainer class with friends, using the ergometers at the rowing club as well as their weight equipment, and I’ve hired a personal trainer that my friends rave about, and indeed he is superb. I don’t miss the gym one bit. It’s true that all this stuff together costs a bit more than a year’s gym membership, but not much. Best of all, I’ve realised that doing sports stuff I love is WAY more fun this way.

Know that you can go slow.

I turned 50 this year and the biggest shift for me was to accept that I’m slowing down and taking longer to recover, that I won’t be in the faster group of runners or cyclists anymore. That was hard to swallow and I fought it. But acknowledging It helped me be present to what is true for me — that I’m 50 and can still ride 525 km through the Vietnamese hills with only my base fitness, I can run 10km with ease and joy — but all only if I slow down, stretch, remember that I’m preserving my body for mobility for another several decades rather than trying to win something in the now. 

For daunting exercises, divide and conquer.

There’s always a couple of exercises in my sets that make me anxious. A friend told me to divide my reps by three and make them more manageable chunks. It works beautifully!

Enjoy the immediate gratification of good feeling that exercise can bring.

Exercise does NOT have to hurt to be beneficial.

Just say NO to fat shaming at your doctor’s office.

Finally, after years of putting off medical care and gritting my teeth when I finally trudged into my doctor’s office, I changed practices and started afresh with someone I could be honest with. I told her I would not agree to be weighed anymore (except at a yearly physical), or unless it was needed (e.g. pre-operative appointment). I explained my position and she didn’t argue with me. I still get asked to be weighed each time to go (even for a cough—argh), but I say no each time and briefly remind them of the conversation we had. I’d prefer not being asked, but I can handle this, and it makes medical appointments much less stressful.

Goals/Schmoals—you can do the movement you do without judgment, assessment, or goals.

I’m trying to get out of the mindset that leads to self judgement when I don’t achieve an arbitrary goal. Self judgement is super demotivating. I have become very mindful of the temptation to critique myself when I don’t run/bike/whatever. Instead, I look to the next opportunity to do it, not because I should, but because I want to take care of myself. It’s resulted in the achievement of goals, ironically. I am now the proud owner of a 10minute mile (6 minute kilometer). It’s not that I’ve abandoned goals altogether, I just don’t take my failure as seriously as I used to.

When you feel the need, go for speed.

Speed work actually works! In swimming and running my times improved from speed drills. I will be doing more of this in my training through the winter. 

No one else is going to call you a failure (so how about don’t do it to yourself?).

I took a trad climbing course this summer. That’s a rock climbing technique where you place your own protection in natural features in the rock instead of clipping into already set bolts. It’s completely terrifying, since it requires even more trust in your own ability than regular rock climbing does. After a particularly knee-shaking, life-choice-questioning climb that weekend, I was once again reminded of a life lesson I probably should have learned by now (I don’t actually think I’ve learned it yet), that most people out there are not the least bit concerned with branding you a failure. And when you come back down off the cliff convinced that your friends will never let you show your face near them again because of whatever inability you have just displayed, you find yourself proven utterly wrong. Because they really don’t care half as much as you do about how good you are at things.

All movement counts—the power of everyday exercise is not to be underestimated.

I’ve blogged about this a bunch, and my experience on sabbatical demonstrated that just being active every day can strengthen me, improve the quality of my sleep, and make me feel happier. I’m keeping it up now that I’m back.

Now to the bad fitness advice to be avoided.

Anything to do with linking fitness and BMI is bad bad bad, especially doctor weigh-ins.

I see a rheumatologist regularly because I have an autoimmune disease; every time I visit her office – EVERY TIME – I have to be weighed and my weight noted in my file. My rheumatologist knows that I am an athlete and we talk a lot about which activities are helpful and/or harmful for the joint condition, and how to mitigate the latter. She’s a very good and sensible doctor, and I know she’s not *asking* for my weight; it’s something that gets done as a matter of routine for all patients by the interns. But why, for heaven’s sake, does it need to be routine? It’s just like the regular weigh-in when I get my physical at the doctor; the nurse duly notes my weight and then gets out the BMI chart. I always want to scream: put that away! It tells you nothing about my body or my health!

It’s one of the things I hate about going to the doctor – it makes me anxious for a good period of time before I head into the appointment room. I get performance anxiety about it. Surely that’s not a good thing?

Just say NO to diet trends.

I find the whole gluten free/paleo/deprive yourself of whatever trendy item is in vogue diet to be quite tiresome [you said it, sister! –caw].

I dislike the endless cycling of diets and “bad” foods everyone is obsessed with. I’m still with Michael Pollans “eat food, not too much, mostly plants “and keep a special place in my heart for carbs if I’m working out hard.

Worst advice was was to eliminate grains & starches from my plate as part of the Prevent weightloss program I’m accessing through work. After a week of feeling deflated and falling asleep every night after dinner for two hours I put grains and starchy foods back on my plate. I need that energy!

Bogus advice from factory farming and self-serving “health” industries: Milk (and its many contaminants), it does a body good.

Once more with feeling: weight loss does NOT equal fitness.

I continue to encounter people (mostly in my practice) that are fixated on the fitness=weight loss equation. By that I mean, fitness is for weight loss or weight loss means I’m getting fit etc. I have become more vocal about steering people away from that as a goal. I try to shift the conversation to taking care of the body by moving it and fueling it well, instead of punishing it and starving it. Punitive strategies never work in the long term and do great damage over time.

Demonizing fatness and body positivity are wrong and scary, and we all have to stand together on this.

The most appalling thing I’ve been exposed to fitness-wise is the sub-group of people who have made it their personal mission to debunk Ragen Chastain and everything she says. People need to get a life. I found it shocking to learn that there are whole blogs devoted to inspecting date stamps on her training photos and so forth to prove that her claims about training can’t be true. Seriously? It’s fat hatred in action. It was enough to make me leave the Pathetic Triathletes group, which made me realize too that I prefer the feminist fitness community that we have cultivated to any other fitness community in the world.

So, readers, what are some of your favorite fitness revelations of the year? Any really bad advice that stands out? Let us know.

And Happy New Year from Fit is a Feminist Issue!

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