Having the Confidence to be Confident

Yes, it has been a minute since my last post.  Big thanks (and apologies) to anyone who sent me emails or left comments asking about when I’m going to post again.  I just needed a minute.

Fitness blogs started to kind of scared me.  More accurately, my participation in the Age of Fitness Blogging scared me. Everyone and their mom has a blog.   Many of them are just like mine.  The more time I spent reading them, the more I had to wonder if I was really contributing anything new to the world or if I was just being redundant.  After all, fitness experts and personal trainers are crammed in at about 1,000 per square foot of blogosphere.  And we are all so damn presumptuous.

Blogging is all about voice and audience.  Who am I talking to?  Recently, when I started to picture my audience, it was all over.  Am I talking down to someone?  Who do I think I am?  The whole premise of the blog was to send the message—hey, I’m not an expert.  I’m just this chick who got fit and learned to like herself.  Come get fit and like yourself with me!  But lately I am forced to remember that I’ve been doing this so long that I just make people feel bad when I swear that I relate to being overweight.  A friend politely pointed this out (thank you, Friend!!), and I haven’t been able to get my voice back since.

As you may be able to tell, I had started to picture the haters in my audience.  Oh yes, I have haters.  And I got a little freaked out by them. They are actually reading this right now—because that’s what haters do.  This is a very personal blog—all the best fitness blogs really are—and that leaves me wide open and vulnerable to critics and weirdos.  Which straight up creeped me the hell out.

I began to see myself through the eyes of the haters—who does she think she is?  Who decided that she was an expert?  She’s not even that great.  God, what a selfish mom.  I’d have time to get fit too if I had [fill in something, it could be anything].  Is fitness really even that important in the grand scheme of things?  And on and on.  Total existential crisis.  It’s never my peers in the industry, either.  It’s never the people I look up to whose opinions I really value.  It’s always the insecure ones who hate their bodies and take it out on me.  My existence makes their day bad.  These haters find each other and are comforted by other overweight self-haters and motivate each other on Pinterest using images of women who look much like me, but aren’t me, because the anonymity makes it ok.  Sometimes they even go out of their way to NOT do what I do.  If this makes you giggle, good.  Because once I got over the hurt of it, I couldn’t stop laughing.  I now giggle from time to time when I walk in the room and see that I’ve just ruined some woman’s day by living.  This might make me a bad person, but I tried to be nice.  And I’m not without fault—I have feelings too.

I ran away for a bit, into the safety of silence.  I closed myself off and away from vulnerability.  I stopped blogging.  I stopped actively marketing myself and my business on social media.  I made myself less so that other women wouldn’t be insecure.  But who does that benefit?  I went into the fitness industry with a specific goal—first, it was to stop hating myself.  And then, it was to help other women stop hating themselves too.  I want to affect change in body image and self esteem.  If one person reads my blog and is affected positively, then I’ve reached my goal.   So I’m going to keep writing, because I’m presumptuous enough to believe that I have something important to say.

Interestingly enough, my change of heart was inspired by a teenager.  Well, a conversation I have been having with this teenager.  She is a volleyball player on the team I coach for.  At 14, she was putting in more work than some professional athletes I know.  She is intense, she is driven, and she is not afraid to call her shots. She will work tirelessly for every claim she makes.  And she is misunderstood.  People mistake her determination for cockiness, her focus for snobbiness, and because many of them never see the long hours she puts in at the track or in the gym, they just don’t understand that she is backing it all up.   They just don’t understand her.  They don’t get where she is coming from.  And they are incredibly jealous of her unapologetic confidence.  So few people have the confidence to be confident—and when people meet the ones who do, it highlights their insecurities.

This would be upsetting to anyone, but at age 15 this is a lot to deal with.  Of course, as an adult, it’s plain as day.  Keep working, I told her—no one will be laughing when you make it to the Olympics.  People don’t understand intense people, but don’t let that stop you, I told her.  I even shared with her my favorite quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

Well.  Some lessons are a lot easier taught than learned, aren’t they?  And a lot easier spoken than lived.  It was easy to see why she has haters, and it was easy to recommend that she just push on and do her thing.  They’re just jealous.  But for me to accept that someone is jealous and keep pushing forward?  Well, I feel cocky and awful just typing it.  More advice to my young athlete:  accept the jealousy for what it is (it’s ok to get a few giggles in from time to time when you start to see how transparent their behavior is), let it humble you, and move on.

So here I am, back to my blog.  Humbled (and maybe a little entertained…) by my haters, forced to accept my own advice, inspired by a young athlete, and unapologetically determined to affect positive change in women around issues of body image and self esteem.

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Women Should Run if They Like it: My Response

 

http://wildopenheart.com/2013/04/19/why-women-should-run-they-just-need-to-have-more-fun-doing-it/

 

http://www.dangerouslyhardcore.com/5343/why-women-should-not-run/

 

It started with a link I saw on my Facebook feed.  “Why Women Should Not Run.”  This title certainly necessitated my undivided attention!  How can anyone ignore such a bold title?  However, I read the article and moved on, giving it very little thought afterward, because like most of them, it said some stuff I agreed with as well as a bunch of stuff I didn’t agree with.  I read dozens of articles like it every day.  No big deal.  But then, the link popped up on my feed again and again.  Someone tagged me in it.  Someone else sent me a link via private message.  Several times, I started to comment but then decided against it.  After all, I don’t want to be “that person” who disagrees with everything.  So I kept my opinion to myself, resolving neither to approve nor disapprove of the opinions stated in the article.

But then, I started receiving concerned messages from clients, friends, and general acquaintances asking me for advice.  Can I not run? Should I stop?  How much is “too much?”  Someone heard five miles or less was ok, but someone else heard anything over two was bad.  People wanted to me to give them a number!  Oh dear.  After putting out several small fires, I began to realize that we now have a much larger fire on our hands.  It seems that, in an attempt to clear up some myths and point out some very destructive habits that we see often in women who are trying to lose weight, the message may not have been received as intended.  I believe the writer had a good intention, but with full respect for the author I believe it was miscommunicated slightly.

Surely, no one would mean tell women not to run.  Surely, no one would mean to suggest that no woman should ever run a marathon, under any condition?

And then the second article came out, I’m sure among many responses to the original.  So now my friends are more confused than ever.  One says women shouldn’t run, the other says they should.  Now what?  I feel the need to respond on my own blog, for my own clients and readers, because both of these articles contradict what many of my clients know to be my own belief regarding fitness.  And because there should always be a compromise.  One-size-fits-all fitness is not my style.  I’ll be the Iceland of fitness advice.

Here goes: The problem is not running.  The problem, if we should refer to it in the singular, is the combination of calorie restriction, running for the sake of burning calories, and the belief that the simple “calories in/calories out” equation will result in the lean bodies that so many are striving for.

For some, running is entirely counterintuitive to fitness goals, especially if the goals include a lean, muscular physique.  As the original article pointed out, excessive cardio is catabolic—meaning, essentially, you burn your own muscle for fuel.  And, as the article pointed out, it can lean to imbalances in cortisol and thyroid function.  Hello skinnyfat.

For others, running is a release.  I know many women who run for the love of running.  Guess what?  I’m one of them.  I love a good run.  That’s my mediation time, my release.  In fact (and I have no research to back this claim I am about to make…), I find that running really helps me loosen up through my shoulders, which are chronically tight from heavy lifting.  I’m no marathoner, nor do I care to necessarily become competitive with it, but I certainly love it.

However, I have many friends who are very healthy marathon runners—and I feel that the original article failed to discuss the ways in which running could be approached healthfully.   For instance, my runner friends eat to support their runs, cross train with some pretty heavy lifting to maintain their strength and muscle, and are not even concerned with weight loss.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even care if they are skinnyfat, just like many powerlifters don’t care about being perceived as “too big.”  As hard as we work to fight articles that claim lifting makes women “bulky,” how could we be so quick to embrace an article that claims the opposite?  One size and shape does not fit all.

To summarize, in case you do what I do and skip to the end of the blog to catch the bullet points:

  • If you like running, keep doing it.  If you don’t like running, don’t force yourself through it just to lose weight—there are more effective methods!
  • If you are going to run, your nutrition needs to support it
  • Don’t skip the crosstraining  days (included in most smart running programs)—it’s critical to your success in terms of physical health and in terms of running!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unwrapping Motivation: Not All Who are Fit are Healthy

It’s been a minute since I last wrote.  Honestly, I’ve had a lot on my mind!  Between the recent inclusion of women in the UFC, mainstream acceptance of female muscle, and emphasis on body image I’ve been seeing in the media, there has been a lot to take in.  Sometimes it’s nice just to be quiet and observe. After a pause, here is my major observation: there are two conversations happening around women and fitness.  One is taking place within the sports and fitness industry, and the other is taking place outside of it—and each affects the other.

Let me sum up these conversations quickly with some tags and key ideas:

Fitness industry: metabolic disorder, too much cardio and dieting, becoming unhealthy, reaching goals, body image issues

Outside the industry:  motivational photos, muscle, too much muscle, body as work in progress, striving to get fit, reaching goals, body image issues

Did anyone spot the overlap?  While competitors inside the industry are coming forward with stories of metabolic damage, eating disorders, and ruined lives, people outside of the industry are being motivated by images of them.  And, in both circles, more and more women are blogging about body image and self esteem, while striving like hell to reach fitness and body goals.  You may also have noticed a little more optimism in the second set than in the first—I believe that the fitness industry is reaching a dangerous point of negativity and frustration, while still providing hope to outsiders who have still never heard of metabolic disorder.  So how can we be so focused on self-acceptance while still being so willing to abuse our own bodies?  Because goal attainment is extremely important to a person’s self worth; and, as has always been the case for women, deprivation, sacrifice, and self-improvement are the key motivating forces behind most fitness goals. And it can’t be ignored that somewhere, someone is making a lot of money off women who will buy anything to feel better.

This new ideal of the fit woman is being used against us and few even realize it. In fact, the conditions by which most eating disorders develop exist in extremely high concentrations within women’s sports, and it’s starting to show.  Despite messages of health and self-empowerment, we really are back where we started when Kate Moss was the reigning ideal.

What do I mean?  Well, to sum it up, I’ll use the most popular answer from a recent poll on Sioux Country which asked competitors to name one thing they wish they’d have known before they started competing:  “That I would never see my body or food the same way again.”  Many can never feel “good enough.”  Once you’ve seen yourself at single digit body fat, it’s quite difficult to feel comfortable at 18-20%.  Suddenly everyone comments on how great you look, and with all of that reinforcement, it’s difficult to go back to maintaining a normal and healthy body.  But, a woman generally cannot comfortably maintain low bodyfat for longer than is necessary to peak for her sport, and that can be really difficult to wrap her mind around.  This affects female athletes across many sports, including MMA, gymnastics, and even volleyball. The more the mainstream adopts these ideals, the more women outside of sports will be affected.

Many of you may be wondering what I mean by “metabolic damage.”  Basically, hours of cardio and extreme calorie deficits have caused hormonal imbalances that result in thyroids that become sluggish or completely shut down, reproductive hormones that cause their bodies and moods to go haywire, and adrenals that fail to function properly, among other complications. Eventually, not only can they no longer lose weight, but many gain more weight than they had to begin with, causing body images and relationships with food to deteriorate.   Somewhere floating around in that nightmare are psychological problems including but not limited to disordered eating and over-exercising.

This is increasingly common in the fitness/bodybuilding industry, but certainly not limited to it.  As acceptance of female muscle leads to new ideals in mainstream culture (which is GREAT!), unrealistic goals and misunderstandings about how to get there are making these problems more common outside of the fitness industry.  I’m already seeing them show up in my non-competitive clients in alarming numbers.

People often look at photos of competitors for inspiration and motivation.  At least, this is what they say.  But really, the motivating force behind these photos is the hope of one day looking like them.  Or maybe even half way—but even then, these photos become a measuring post.  And this is where the danger lies.  Many of these photos involve chemical enhancement, strict dieting, and more cardio than anyone should do.  Even the healthy ones have made sacrifices to their social lives, lifestyles, and careers that would be unrealistic for most people. I would invite anyone to look closely at my lifestyle and see how, exactly, I make it work—most of you would turn away immediately and readjust your goals and expectations.  If you want to be an elite athlete, you need to train and eat like one, definitely.  You might even look like one.  But not everyone needs to be a competitive athlete, and it’s ok to accept this.

And that brings me to my point: I promote health and fitness, yes, but I do not promote spending one’s entire life in the pursuit of looking better or different.   And, as much as I advocate for family fitness and women in strength sports, it’s just not realistic for most people’s households to revolve around fitness 100% of the time.  Yes, for most people fitness involves some level of sacrifice.  Like, sacrificing pancakes for oatmeal, and sacrificing Big Macs for home cooking.  But not like sacrificing all carbs, avoiding all social situations,  or depriving yourself all day every day in the name of glory.  There is no glory in that.

Fitness inspiration photos capture one of two things: someone who took drastic measures to look like that for a very short time, or someone whose life revolves around fitness.  Both are fine—I do both, and I know firsthand that both can be done in a healthy way.  However, it is not for everyone, and therefore the apperance is not for everyone. Strive for something else!  The question you have to ask yourself is, “what are these photos motivating me to DO?”  Diet harder?  Lose more weight?  Even the photos that show women working hard often depict THIN women working hard.  Or they focus on the [often temporary] end result, instead of the process.  Not to say that thin women can’t work hard, or can’t be motivating—the photos often focus on the reward of thinness, and not the work it took to get there.

To be clear, a large majority of what you see from the fitness industry is unhealthy.  Diets with no variety, two hours of cardio per day, demolished families, budgets, social lives, and even metabolisms are all heavily prevalent.  More and more women are coming forward with stories of eating disorders and metabolic disorders—many of whom will never compete again, nor ever get back even to the weight they started at!  And, sadly, many started in the same place: simply wanting to reach a body ideal.

I have been in that place.  During preparation for my first show, I was doing over two hours of cardio a day, while lifting and eating only 1000 calories.  After the show, when it was time to go back to looking normal, suddenly “normal” was no longer good enough.  I felt like everyone expected me to look like I did for the show, and I soon developed a very unhealthy relationship with food and my body that has taken me years to correct.  The second show was better, but afterward I took two years off with no plans of ever competing again.  I had a new goal: to let a cookie just be a cookie.  To eat a damned bowl of cereal from time to time.  To ban food guilt from my life forever.  And, honestly, I won the battle and went on to compete again.  In fact, this blog was created in the hope of reaching people with a new idea of what it means to be fit and healthy.

So what does this mean for my non-competitor readers?  First, it is so important to have a clear understanding of the entire process—before, during, and after.  Here are some tips to help you stay in the safe zone with your fitness lifestyle:

  • Set appropriate and realistic goals
  • understand fully what it will take to reach and maintain them
  • be able to picture life “after” you’ve reached your goal
  • Single digit bodyfat will not happen year round for women; for most women, bodyfat in the low to mid teens will require ridiculous sacrifices—if this is your goal, be prepared to make them
  • Unless you are competing, I do not recommend setting goals that you have no intention of maintaining
  • HALF OF YOUR FITNESS GOAL SHOULD INVOLVE ACCEPTANCE OF YOUR BODY AS-IS.  If you can’t accept yourself now, how will you accept yourself after you’ve lost weight?
  • DO NOT divide food into black and white categories; once you view food as “good” or “bad,” it’s difficult to undo.  (It is ok, however, to recognize “fuel” and “not fuel,” such as McDonald’s)
  • Eat a cookie every now and then, and don’t you dare feel bad about it

If you are looking for healthy inspiration, I strongly recommend getting plugged into these two places:

http://www.siouxcountry.com/

http://www.sweatybettiesfitness.com/

Gluten Free Carrot Cake Recipe

The thing I hate most about gluten-free baking is that every recipe seems to call for way too many ingredients.  In my baking, as with my cooking, I prefer to keep it simple.  I like recipes that I can prepare with things I have laying around my house, or at the very least, things I will use again.  Gluten free baking seems to depend on a number of different starches and flours, and if I had a bag full of every kind of flour I’ve read about in recipes…well, I’d have a pantry full of bags.

IMG_1533

The amazing baker, with her cakes, at Life Grocery-Cafe. Whether you are gluten-free, vegan, or just looking for a healthy alternative, I highly recommend you check this place out!!

The inspiration for this recipe comes from the amazing quinoa-based cakes at Life Grocery in Marietta, GA.  Their cakes are incredibly moist (not easy to do in gluten-free baking), sweet but not too sweet, and best of all, are made with quinoa, which is a complete protein.   Unfortunately, these cakes are about 20 minutes away from my house, and it’s a rainy-lazy day…so I decided to give it a whirl and make my own.  I didn’t have big hopes of creating a cake that begins to match the awesomeness of Life’s carrot cake, and to be honest I really wanted to see what I could do with just the ingredients I have at the house.  It would be blasphemy to suggest that (cough) my cake was better than Life Grocery’s (IMPOSSIBLE!), but…it was good in a different way.  A little more moist.  Just saying.

I’m sure there are scientific reasons why gluten-free recipes usually require a blend of multiple flours, but I don’t think baking or cooking should be that complicated.   I will say, however, that in my own baking I have discovered that brown rice flour used by itself yields a product that basically just tastes like brown rice—same with oat flour, quinoa flour, almond meal, etc.   So, I made flour out of equal parts of three grains—oat, brown rice, and quinoa—and added a little xantham gum for good luck.  And it totally worked.

carrotcake

So here it is, the recipe!  As you read down the ingredients list, imagine me scouring my fridge for potential ingredients—because that’s exactly what I did.  For instance, pineapple.  Um…you see, I had an extra little fruit cup leftover from my daughter’s snack stash—she decided she hated pineapple after she’d eaten five of them.  So I figured I’d use it now or end up throwing it away one day…and I’m glad I did!  My advice is to not go out and buy a bunch of apples or pineapple just because I used them—look around your kitchen to see what you can throw in!  Zucchini, banana, pumpkin, and squash would all be good choices.

  • ½ cup dry oats (be careful to use gluten-free oats, or omit and use coconut instead)
  • ½ cup dry brown rice
  • ½ cup dry quinoa
  • 1 teaspoon xantham gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • cinnamon
  • pumpkin pie spice (I was out of nutmeg….)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 small green apple, grated
  • ½ cup crushed pineapple
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine oil and brown sugar and mix until smooth; whisk in eggs.  Add fruits to sugar mixture, and then stir into dry mixture.  Bake in greased cake pan at 350 for 45 minutes, or until fork inserted into the middle comes out clean.  I covered with tinfoil for the second half of the baking time. Top with cream cheese frosting.

Beginner’s Burnout: Why More is not More

I love the motivation I’m seeing in people this month!  I have observed, in more than one gym, a relatively large number of newcomers still on the fitness wagon.  Awesome!  But, I’ve also noticed a trend that is going to lead to injury, unwanted time off, frustration over goals not met, or maybe even all three at once.  Somewhere in the fitness motivation memes, photos, and rhetoric, a message of “more is more” has made its way to gym newcomers—and it’s hard to watch!

gymmeme

This is “the guy” we are referring to when we say, “don’t be that guy.”

Newly motivated people often say things like, “Man!  I came in this morning, and I’m here again, and then I’m gonna train AGAIN TONIGHT!  High five!”  Hmmm.  I’m not going to give a nod of approval to this—I’m going to ask you what the hell your plan is, and why you think this is a good idea!  At this rate, it won’t take long to burn out, have to take a week or two off, and have trouble getting started again.  Doing a lot in one week is good, but to still be doing it in two months is way better—so pace yourself!  Set a goal, have a plan that is conducive to reaching that goal, and don’t do more or less than what’s on the plan.

My workouts would look very odd to a newcomer.  If I’m in bodybuilding mode, my training is usually done in 45 minutes.  If I am in power lifting mode, I could look even sillier—at 5 minutes between sets (at LEAST—my training partners are pushing me to rest longer!), and often only 1-3 reps in a set, I probably look like I’m just sitting around all the time!   Depending on my goal, sometimes I train twice a day, with my second workout being an intense conditioning session that I can complete within 30 minutes!  But all of my workouts have something in common: when I’m done, I’m done.  With some intuitive exceptions, if my set calls for three reps, I do three reps even if I could have done five.  If my workout calls for five exercises, I do those five.  If my plan is to do 20 minutes of HIIT, then after 20 minutes I stop.  The type of training I’m doing depends on my goal, and the structure of my training follows accordingly.  If I stray from the plan today, I risk screwing over tomorrow’s plan.

Fitness beginners often believe that all training is for the same purpose, and that “go hard or go home” means 2 hours at the gym is better than a 1-hour quality workout.  This is evident in the way that most people describe their goals.  People usually list all or several of the following: lose weight, gain some muscle, tone up, get shredded, have abs, get bigger biceps.  Back up: do you want to lose weight, or get bigger biceps? Do you want to have abs, or put on more muscle? Appearing to have bigger muscles and actually having bigger muscles are not the same thing.  And, one month of “working out” isn’t going to be a cure-all approach to reaching every goal under the sun.

When I meet a new client, I have a responsibility to not just put them on a cookie-cutter workout plan.  I spend a lot of time up front on trying to define realistic goals, get us on the same page with terminology, and discuss exactly how we want to approach and prioritize the goals.  I map out a long-term plan, and break it up into short-term plans of execution and really make sure the client understands why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how each part will contribute to the goal.

But what if you don’t have a personal trainer?  Not everyone needs one, but you still deserve better than a cookie cutter plan.  You deserve more than to keep performing aimless workouts and wondering why you aren’t getting anywhere.  You should understand what the machines do—and don’t do.  You should understand that biceps curls aren’t going to directly contribute to fat loss, and that crunches won’t really change the appearance of your midsection.  And you should know that more work is not necessarily going to equal more progress.  Too many people go to the gym, perform every exercise they found in some magazine (7 variations of the biceps curl…good job…), go home totally spent, and then wake up and do the exact same thing the next day.  You can only do that so many times before you get bored, get hurt, over-train, or give up.  And everyone does, eventually.  I’ve done it myself.  I call it Beginner’s Burnout.

So what can you do to avoid Beginner’s Burnout?

  • Work smarter, not harder.  THINK, plan, execute.  Know what step 2 will be before you start step 1.  Don’t kill yourself on Monday and then remember than you have basketball practice on Tuesday.  Build your plan to accommodate both.
  • REST!  Unless you are a competitive athlete (and maybe even then…),  back-to-back workouts, or training 12 times in one week, , will not help you.  Especially if you’re not doing the next step…
  • Eat for recovery!!  You break your body down in the gym, you build it back up with nutrition.  It’s that simple.  If you have two workouts back-to-back, both workouts are going to suffer if you don’t fuel your body to recover and perform again.  If you break your body down repeatedly, but never recover and repair, then you just end up with a broken down body.   (Example: skinny arms and legs, belly fat, generally “untoned” all over…).
  • Utilize your resources!  Find a good online resource and do some research!  Or, solicit the help of a trainer.  A personal trainer doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment.  Most of us are happy to consult with you for one or two sessions.  Those of us who do this job because we want to help people will be happy to see you succeed with or without us!  Identify a trainer who specializes in what it is you want to do—and if you don’t know, we will point you in the right direction.

Good luck reaching your goals!  It’s already February, so if you’re one of the New Year’s crowd and you’ve made it this far, you’re in the clear!  If you stop seeing progress, don’t give up–get your eyes on the prize and start focusing your workouts!

 

 

New Year’s Resolution Check-In: Objective Self-Assessment

newyear

So…how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

WAIT!  Don’t answer that!  I don’t want the short answer.  Let’s consider this for a minute.

There are really only three short answers: they are going well, they are not going well, or you gave up.  Sometimes—and more often than not, in my experience—the difference between the optimistic answer and the pessimistic answer is perspective.  It’s a matter of outlook, context, and expectations.  Those who have already abandoned their fitness resolutions most likely gave up because they felt as if they were failing; many people reach this point because they don’t know how to set appropriate goals and measure success along the way.

Since I started competing in bodybuilding and power lifting, I have been plagued by a very simple question that, so far, I can’t answer quite so simply: “How did you do?”  The short answer just won’t cut it.  I panic every time. I’m usually proud of what I’ve accomplished, frustrated with something I could have done better, and excited to make it better for next time.  But that’s not what people want to hear–they want to know if I won or lost.  But in these sports, outcome is arbitrary.

First of all, there aren’t a lot of women my size in these sports to begin with—so placings matter very little if at all.   I won the gold medal in the raw 123 class twice in power lifting.  Should I just say that, or should I mention that both times, I was the only person in my class?  Should I discuss the frustration of getting red-lighted on my squat, or talk about everything that went wrong?  I can put myself down and raise myself up using the same information.  It’s a matter of how I spin it.

I wouldn't consider this a lot of weight, but really it depends on who is looking at it.  Someone may be striving for this, while someone else may consider this warmup weight!

Second of all, these sports are about personal bests that are sometimes relative to opponents, but are more often concerned only with improvements sometimes so minor that they aren’t discernible to anyone else.  In my last meet, I squatted the same weight as before but with better technique…this mattered to me but who else would care?  I dead lifted 15 pounds more than 2 years ago, but 15 pounds less than I had hoped to.  Which do I report? In bodybuilding, I could make every adjustment and come in with a physique that is precisely what I wanted, and still lose to someone else.  Would I discuss this as a success, or as a failure?

An athlete should always be able to name something that went well and something that could be improved.  This is because to us, there is more to success than outcome—there are the multiple components that must come together in order to perform a lift, run a race, or win a game.  We are constantly evaluating our successes and failures, searching for anything that could be improved.  If we perform well, we still want to improve.  If we do poorly, we need to be able to understand why.  And, we must also be able to accept and acknowledge the things that we’ve done right—there must always be this balance.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, there is something to be learned from this.  Can you look at your progress objectively and see the good and the not-so-good?  Can you see your successes as well as where you can make improvements?  Too much of one or the other will cause you to fail at reaching your goals.  Those of you who set fitness-related goals for the new year have been at it for a few weeks now, which means you’ve had a chance to get your feet wet.  By now, you’ve encountered a few problems or setbacks, or you’ve identified your challenges—take this opportunity to do an honest self-assessment, including both the positive and the negative.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How am I measuring success-in-progress?
  • How will I respond to setbacks?
  • Am I comparing myself to others, or am I able to see my success in terms of my own performance?
  • What things are going right, and where can I make improvements?
  • What things are beyond my control, and how can I redefine my goals accordingly?

newgoals

Re-evaluate your goals to be sure that the ones you started with are still relevant.  Maybe  by now you’ve realized that eating 100% clean all the time is unrealistic, or you’ve discovered that you will only make it to the gym 3 times a week instead of 6.  That’s ok!  It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you need to make adjustments.  Now, start thinking about the things that have gone well—has anything been easier than you expected? Are you particularly strong on a lift that you’d never even tried before? Are you running longer or faster than you were before, or is it getting any easier to get to the gym?

Just as in sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding, where you are on your fitness journey is relative to where you started, how far you’re trying to go, and what you’ve done along the way.  And, because your body is unique, your progress won’t look identical to anyone else’s–so don’t get caught up in the game of comparisons!  Do not be discouraged when someone asks how it’s going and you feel like your progress won’t sound as cool as it is in your mind.  Do not let yourself feel as if you are accountable to other people at the gym.  Some ask because they want to see you do well, while others ask because they want to see you fail.  Let them—make it your job to still be standing strong next time they ask.  And, give the long answer.  Sometimes, “good” and “bad” just don’t cover it.  The ones who care will listen, and the ones who don’t…well, they shouldn’t have asked!

Now, let me ask you again: How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

Fail-Proofing your Fitness Resolutions: 5 Silent Killers

I do not enjoy New Year’s resolutions.  From where I’m sitting, they are awful and annoying.  They bring a temporary surge of optimistic gym-goers who crowd my space just long enough to annoy me–and just when I figure out how to work around them, they’ve disappeared.  I am not as cynical as I sound (well, that may not be entirely true…), but I have spent so much of my time trying to help these people that I am now very guarded about accepting New Year newcomers.  By the way, if you are one of them, understand that the gym regulars may take a while to warm up to you–prove their assumptions wrong and you’ll have new friends in no time.

I do not subscribe to the idea that January 1 comes with a magical reset button.  However, I do believe in setting goals and making transformations, and sometimes the new year gives us the opportunity to stop and really think about our lives.  So, for those of you who will be starting, re-starting, or reaching for new levels in your fitness journeys, let’s talk about what stands between you and year-long commitment.

First of all, let me be clear: You WILL mess this up.  Accept this, and you will be fine. The difference between keeping your resolution and giving up before Valentine’s Day is sticking to your plan even when you don’t feel like it and things begin to go wrong.  At some point, usually before you reach the one-month mark, you will make a mistake.  And it’s never for the reason you’d expect.  Here are some of the silent killers—be prepared for them.

  1. You will run out of something.  Often.  No matter how perfect your meal plan is, it is impossible to be stocked perfectly with everything all of the time.  This is where it becomes important to understand WHY you are eating WHAT you are eating.  If your diet plan calls for almonds, you need to know that a handful of pretzels is not a good substitute.  If your meal plan calls for chicken, almonds aren’t going to do it.  If you’re reading this and don’t know why these are bad subs, google the term “macronutrients” and get started.
  2. Somebody at the gym will be mean to you, and it may make you feel so bad that you dread going and/or eventually give up.  I don’t mean to scare you, but there will always be one person of the same sex who absolutely hates you.  You are not crazy—she definitely hates you.  It’s not your fault.  Kill that bitch with kindness.  Bitches hate kindness.
  3. All of your cute clothes are dirty.  At some point you will get behind on laundry, and your “cute” pants/top/bra/socks are dirty.  Buying more does not help.  Trust me.  I buy several pairs of the same pants, and still ONE becomes the “good pair” and the others get pushed to the back of the drawer and dragged out in priority order until laundry day.  And despite the fact that all of my gym clothes match each other, there are still some tops that I swear only go with certain pants, or sports bras that can only be worn with certain tops.  And then there are the priority underwear.  It’s true—you can predict what kind of day it is going to be based on how far back you had to dig into your underwear drawer.  Don’t let this affect your workout!  Do more laundry, buy more underwear, but face it: sometimes you just have to go to the gym in your ugly stuff.  Do it.
  4. You will try to get creative.  The “healthy food” at the health foods store will begin to call your name, and the next thing you know you are adding coconut oil and agave to everything you cook.  In fact, you will be inspired to bake more in general, with all of your newfound healthy ingredients.  But you will fail to notice that your “healthy fats” and gluten-free products are calorically dense and contain 200 calories per teaspoon.  Don’t try to be a hero–just stick to your plan for now.
  5. OPP.  Other people’s plans.  In order to be successful, you’ll have to find community with other people who are doing what you’re doing.  You’ll hear about high carb diets, high fat diets, cheat meals, refeeds, carb loads, and all kinds of other approaches to dieting.  In fact, right now you may be wondering what a carb load is, so let me help you: if you don’t know, it’s not on your plan.  So don’t look it up and start trying to justify it.  You will see these terms, read some crap about why they are great ideas, and soon you’ll be piecing together some Frankenstein version of a diet plan that will do nothing but make you fat.  Stick to your plan.

Ultimately, you have to be committed to your goals. You will make mistakes, and you will have bad days.  You will not always feel like working out, and pizza may be much more appetizing than chicken–the honeymoon phase will wear off, and you will have to find a way to keep going.  Along the way, little things–and big things–will stand in the way of your success, and you will have to overcome them.  But your progress is made and broken by what you do consistently–so if you can get past these hangups to set a new habit by February 1, you will be half way to keeping your resolution.  Good luck!

Embracing In-Betweenness

As many have noticed (and have gracefully pointed out), I have been slowing down on my blog in these past couple of months.  I have been in the process of finishing up my Master’s thesis, which I successfully defended at the beginning of this month.  If you would have asked me a few months ago what I thought of my thesis, I’d have told you that it was the worst thing I have ever written and I just wanted it to be over with.  In fact, on the day I defended I knew I hadn’t said all of the things I really wanted to say; luckily, my amazing committee knew this and gave me a chance to get it all out there. To date, my thesis defense was the BEST experience of my academic career, and I could not be more proud of the finished product that is taking shape as a result.

What I do when I'm not blogging or in the gym...

What I do when I’m not blogging or in the gym…

And what is this thesis about?  Short answer: bodybuilding.  My stuffy elevator pitch involves such keywords as gender, transgression, subversion, normativity, categories, femininity, masculinity, and opposing binaries.  But really, my thesis is about in-betweenness.  Stuckness.  That feeling of never quite fitting, despite pressure to fit.  Sound familiar? You don’t have to be a fitness competitor to understand this theme.

My research points out that, no matter how hard we try, we will never fit neatly into a category.  But we already knew this, right?  The question we are left with, however, is what to do with all of the people who don’t fit.  As the sport of bodybuilding demonstrates, but which happens all the time, the tendency is to simply create new categories.  But what do we get when we make new categories?  New spaces between categories.  The more categories we come up with, the more gutter space we create.  My research zooms in on these gutter spaces, examining how they can be useful to the people who inhabit them.

My daughter defines a rainbow as being a perfect mix of sun and rain.  In-betweenness at its best!

My daughter defines a rainbow as “a perfect mix of sun and rain.” In-betweenness at its best!

In the sport of bodybuilding, we navigate these in-between spaces constantly—it can mean being too big for Figure but too small for Women’s Bodybuilding, or having a perfect physique but not having the right hairstyle (really!).  For my non-bodybuilding friends out there, however, we can look at much more practical examples.  How many of you find that jeans never fit your waist and your butt at the same time?  Or that you are healthy and fit but still not thin?  Or very thin but not fit?  Has anyone noticed the pressure to be thin and fit, but also a social drinker/eater?  Or that to be successful in sports, women must un-learn how to be ladylike?  We are surrounded by labels, categories, classifications, and contradicting expectations—and we can never fit perfectly.

The way I see it, we have two choices: we can live in the pursuit of molding ourselves to fit a category, or we stand firmly in the gutter.  Which you choose depends on how hard you want to fight, and what you consider “winning.”  Some people go to unhealthy extremes to be thin, just to look good in a picture.  Bikini competitors often get breast implants because it will help them win a trophy.  They can have that.  Personally, I suggest we willfully inhabit the gutter!  Embrace not fitting.  By doing so—by remaining in the gutter space ON PURPOSE—we face frustrations, but we don’t sell ourselves out for a trophy, or a compliment, or some other meaningless recognition.  We stick it to the man.  We own that gutter.

I am learning to love being muscular and feminine at the same time.  I love embodying multiple dualisms (translation: being two opposites at once): feminine and strong, physical and intellectual,  small and big.  It makes me feel sneaky…

Embrace your in-betweenness!

Speaking of things that are in-between, this recipe for pumpkin pie is perfectly situated between “sweet” and “healthy.”  That is, it satisfies the sweet tooth and is a healthier alternative to traditional recipes.  I am especially happy about the quinoa flour, which was an excellent way to increase the protein content.   And, best of all, it passes the kid-test!

Filling:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup splenda
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • cinnamon

Crust:

  • ½ c oat flour
  • ½ c quinoa flour
  • ½ c oats
  • ¼  cup honey
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • pinch of salt

For crust:

Mix dry ingredients in bowl; stir in honey, oil, and milk.  Mix well with a fork or your fingers, until the mixture begins to stick together.  Press into a greased pie pan.  Bake for 10 minutes at 350.

To make the pie:

Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Add to pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cover with foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Have Your Progress and Own it Too

I have been noticing a terrible trend in the men and women around me, and it is time to address it. I apologize to my friends who will likely recognize themselves in the following examples—I write only out of love for you all.  But you are driving me crazy.  These are all real-life examples from friends and clients (male and female!) in this past week alone:

  • “A 105 squat isn’t that good, but it’s good for me…”
  • “This may not sound like much to the runners out there, but I ran 3 miles in 42 minutes!”
  • “I still can’t bench press very much, but it felt so much easier!”
  • “I can’t dead lift as much as [some random dude], but that was a personal record!”
  • “It’s not a lot, but three days in one week is good for me.”
  • “I put on ten pounds of lean mass! I know I’m still not very big, but it’s a lot for me.”
  • “I know I’m still fat, but I’ve lost six inches!”

STOP MINIMIZING YOUR SUCCESSES! Your journey is personal, and that makes your progress personal.  It’s yours, you earned it.  If you accomplish something, don’t downplay it! If it’s awesome for you, it’s awesome. Period.

strongforgirl

What I love most about power lifting is that it is ultimately an individual sport. And, to ensure fairness in competition, it is divided into multiple categories.  These categories exist for a reason!  I can’t bench press anywhere near the amount of weight my training partners put up, but they are men who outweigh me by well over 100 pounds!  It’s the same for runners–how could someone who has been running for three weeks possibly be expected to run as fast or as long as someone who has been running for 20 years?  We can apply this perspective to any sport or goal–it’s important to keep things in context.

Women have been taught to be humble, to be thin and weak, to be quiet about our accomplishments, to be unimposing and docile. To see so many women breaking past those boundaries to pursue strength, muscle, and endurance is absolutely mind blowing.  But it’s not enough to do it—we have to OWN it.  You may be new, face challenges, experience setbacks…but you are HERE dammit, and there is no reason not to claim your achievement.  If you do something awesome, let yourself have it!  No one is going to laugh if your progress isn’t in the same range as theirs.  The people who are ahead of you have just been doing it longer or have a different set of circumstances.  Men, you aren’t off the hook either—for you guys, it may even be harder because masculine ritual basically requires you to laugh at each other, but suck it up and keep your focus on what you’re doing.

You can own your accomplishments and be humble.  In the same way that health and fitness must be a lifestyle, not a short-term endeavor, change is a long-term work in progress.  This is why I urge clients to choose goals that don’t focus on weight loss—the weight loss will come, but if that’s your only goal you will eventually tap out your potential.  With healthy fitness goals, there is always room to be bigger, stronger, faster, and to have more endurance.  You can recognize that you’ve gotten stronger without suggesting that you set the standard for strength.

Powerlifters and Strongmen set a pretty good example, in my opinion, of what it looks like to have tons of pride but still be humble.  I have seen 250 lb men who can squat 800lb (and aren’t ashamed to tell you all about it…) get excited about a 120lb girl who can squat 135.  It is understood that “awesome” means awesome to you.  Surround yourself by true athletes and good trainers who see past what you’re doing to recognize your potential, and learn to recognize this in others.

Also, never underestimate the influence you have on other people!  I know two women, one a friend and one a client, who don’t know each other—each has talked to me about how the other has inspired her at different times and in different ways, as they are both at different places in their journeys.  Whatever shape you’re in, wherever you are in your goal, remember that there is someone behind you trying to summon the courage to go forward, and sometimes it’s more inspiring to see someone else struggling to “get there” than it is to watch others who make it look easy.  Even elite athletes, coaches, and trainers can be inspired by your progress! I am humbled and inspired daily by the progress of my clients and others in my gym.  Here are a few examples:

candice

  • A client who brings her baby to the gym just to get her fit on! While the rest of us whine about what a pain in the butt it can be just to drive over to the gym, she’s lugging a pack and play in one hand, gym bag in the other, with a baby on one hip!
  • A young strength athlete in the gym with a prosthetic leg.  Remind me never to make an excuse for giving up.
  • A friend who recently overcame self-consciousness and self-doubt, bit the bullet, and is now learning how to lift in her mid-30s.
  •  A young athlete, one of three 12 year olds on a team of 15-18 year olds (and the smallest girl on the team), who pushed herself through the same rigorous team workout long past when her body began to fail, far beyond when someone else would have given up, to the point of crying.  And kept going! 

 Who inspires you?  Who do you inspire? If you keep your accomplishments to yourself, or if you make less of them, you rob others of the inspiration you could be providing.  Marianne Williamson said it best:

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.

Speaking of my awesome clients, one brought me cookies yesterday!  Big shout out to Candice, who gave me permission to share the recipe:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Ingredients
  • 1¼ cups old fashioned oats (instant will make the cookies a bit softer, I prefer traditional)
  • ½ cup white, almond flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp butter
Bake @350 for 10-12 min.  When mixing, mix all wet and dry separate first, then combine.

10 New-Kid Gym Tips

Face it: gyms are really strange spaces of pride, masculinity, and ritual.  Gyms can be intimidating, confusing, and even embarrassing.  Starting a membership at a gym is a very vulnerable time, like being the new kid at school.  Yes, the whole class is going to look at you, trying to decide if you have anything good to trade at lunch.   They will take in your backpack, your lunchbox, and your shoes, sizing you up to  decide whether your mom will bring cupcakes on your birthday.  It’s true.  But, like on the first day of school, you have some sizing up to do as well.  Who is the stinky kid?  Do you really need an elevator pass?  Who sits with whom at lunch?

My best advice is to just bite the bullet and go—once there you’ll find that you’re not the only one who is new.  But I am not going to lie to you—there is some weird stuff that goes on,  and some unspoken rules you need to be prepared for.  I could write about this topic all day long (and I just might, in a dissertation…), but for now I’ll keep it short with just ten tips.  For those of you who are gym regulars, take it easy on the new people, and feel free to laugh at the funny stuff we do.  Add to the list by leaving a comment!

  1. Monday is Universal Bench Press Day.  I know, this isn’t listed anywhere in the rules, and there is no way you could have known.  But now you do.  So if you’re new to a gym and don’t want to have to figure out when it’s your turn to use a bench, just take my advice and don’t EVER try to work chest on a Monday.
  2. There is no such thing as So-and-So’s [fill in the blank].   If you need a bench, and no one is using it, it’s yours.  Same goes for dumbbells, cables, or any other piece of equipment.
  3. Just because there are no other women in the weight room does NOT mean that women are not welcome.  Claim your space!
  4. There IS an alpha somewhere in the room—but do not be intimidated.  Identify this person; he or she will help you out.
  5. Be very careful about accepting advice from the loudest person in the room—this is the wanna be Alpha, and the noise is meant to confuse and distract you from his or her insecurities.
  6. It’s totally ok to look at yourself in the mirror—but if you’re going to do it, don’t try to hide it.  We see you.
  7. When a random person cheers you on or tries to encourage you, this is a sign of acceptance.  Just in case you were wondering, this is generally a good thing.
  8. Don’t try to talk to someone while they are in the middle of a set.
  9. When someone is about to lift something heavy, do not walk in front of the person, make any loud noises, or cause a distraction of any kind.
  10. Every gym has a Creepy Bastard.  He’s annoying, creepy, and…well, kind of a bastard, but generally harmless.

Bonus tip: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, wash your hands after you use the restroom!!!! People will notice, and they will tell others.  Then you’ll become the Stinky Kid and your life will be over and you’ll basically have to switch gyms