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.
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Children are the Greatest Inspiration!

 

Last week, I watched my daughter become aware of her body for the first time.

“Mommy,” she asked, “how come I’m not skinny like you?” I’m pretty sure I felt my heart stop at that moment.  There really are no words for what I felt at that moment. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “my tummy pokes out.  I can suck it in and make it like yours but I can’t keep it like that. Is that what other people do all the time?”  I felt like I had just been dropped off the side of a cliff.  At an age where “beautiful” means a long dress, and “rich” means ten dollars, it makes sense that “fat” means a big belly—including her beautiful child’s tummy.  I was crushed.

I wanted to scoop her up and run with her all the way to the North Pole, where I could find a cabin and hide her away from the world.  But I realized that the world isn’t the problem yet—she is human, and she is simply understanding her Self in comparison to Others.  Isn’t this one of the natural stages of development?

Instead of panicking (ok, maybe in addition to panicking…), I took a deep breath and listened.  Really listened.  Now, if you haven’t experienced a deep conversation with a seven year old, then let me tell you—it’s harder than it sounds.  But you don’t know what you’re missing.  We talked about our plants, friends, shiny things, tummies, TV shows…and luckily, I began to understand that the crisis I was prepared to face really wasn’t a crisis at all.  She was just genuinely curious.  It still has not crossed her mind that different equals bad, or that her body might be somehow flawed.  She had simply observed a difference and was trying to make sense of it.  But how amazing to be present for and aware of this critical moment in her life!  Now it is my job to introduce her to the different ways of appreciating her body, and to make sure she grows up plugged into things that make her body make sense to her.

As a personal trainer and coach, this is very similar to the situation I’m in with my clients–only they’ve had years to make sense of things in their own ways. I have become the confidant of all things body related, the listener to the rambling thoughts of the body conscious, and the answerer of all questions health-related.  I am often the first person to explain body types, to help them understand why they have fought with their bodies for so much of their lives, or to introduce even the concept of non-aesthetic body goals.  Often, I find myself wishing I could go back in time and catch everyone at age seven and present a greater variety of body ideals.  The body best suited for sprinting, for instance, may not do so well in volleyball.  The body best suited for gymnastics may not excel as well in ballet.  If someone could have told us these things early, how differently might we perceive our bodies now?

 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

― Albert Einstein

 

It is not enough to simply put people on a cookie cutter workout plan or meal plan that will help them burn a few calories and lose a few pounds —I must instead attempt to plug each one into a style of training that best suits his or her body and interests, and help to re-program his or her understanding of body ideals, health, and fitness.  “Fit” for an endomorph is quite different than “fit” for an ectomorph—and without that understanding, we will get absolutely nowhere in setting, defining, and reaching goals.  And I think this is the step where many people get lost and give up.  They resign to being “too skinny,” or “too fat,” or “too muscular” and simply give up—or worse, fall into unhealthy habits that set them further back in the long run.  We could prevent this simply by setting performance goals that are appropriate for our bodies.

So how do we quantify non-aesthetic goals? Can we conceptualize a fitness goal that has nothing to do with pounds or inches lost? In some cases, these are critical goals that can mean the difference between health or a future with life-threatening illnesses.  But for many, these could really be seen as peripheral goals.  I promise that with good nutrition and training programs in place, we can make inches and pounds disappear.  Why focus so much of our attention on how our bodies look? Why run for the sake of weight loss but hate running?  Why not focus more on what we can do when we apply ourselves at something we enjoy?  What kind of life will you lead if every day is spent in misery over the pursuit of an image in the mirror?

Here’s where you can call me out.  But Sheena, you may be thinking, aren’t you involved in a purely aesthetic sport?  And yes, I am.  But believe it or not, I am not motivated by an aesthetic goal to train every day. Even the best bodybuilders I know understand that the pursuit of a perfect physique has to come in cycles in order to be effective—that is, to look our best for one night on stage, we have to be willing to step away from that as an immediate goal and focus on strength, rebuilding, and repair.  And we all set goals during that time—a bigger bench, a stronger squat, a faster sprint—that keep us motivated even when we’re taking time off from the immediate aesthetic reward.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about our aesthetic outcome—I am suggesting that we consider our bodies in other ways as well.

This week, don’t look at your tummy (yes, tummy…) and wonder why it doesn’t look like someone else’s.  Don’t envision what your body will look like when you grow up…er, I mean, reach your goal.  Don’t look in the mirror and wonder if it could be different—not today.  Don’t skip breakfast because your jeans were tight this morning.  Look at the bigger picture—learn to understand your body in a greater sense.  It would have been great to have started at age 7, but it is not too late to start now.

I am challenging everyone to set (and achieve!) a non-aesthetic fitness goal.  Push yourself in a way you normally might not.  Get stronger, get faster, get moving when you often wouldn’t, or achieve consistency when you think you can’t.  Get started, or get re-started.  Get through one training session without being motivated or shamed by an aesthetic outlook.  Test yourself and fall in love with what you can do. 

Example: that’s my daughter in the photo at the top.  She hiked Blood Mountain at age 6.  In the dark. On New Year’s Eve, in the cold.  The second time, just a month ago, she looked up and wasn’t sure she could do it.  That photo was taken at the top.  Now, she defines herself as a good hiker who set a goal and achieved it.  🙂

Spotting the Bull$%^: The Unhealthy Messages Behind Thinspiration

Because anyone who doesn’t look like her eats junk. And because we all want to look like her…WTF America? And I hope they aren’t implying that her trunk holds junk!  Um, you can see her…er, front…from the back…kinda weird.

This post was born from a Facebook status that I posted recently.  I had had enough of watching fitness industry leaders and competitors posting statuses and photos with captions that militarize fitness and place blame and shame on anyone who is not fit.  And by “fit,” or “healthy,” they clearly mean thin.  My status was a little rash and was missing context, but basically expressed my frustration at people who post such things.  As highly visible participants in the health and fitness industry at a time when obesity and chronic illness rates are skyrocketing at an alarming rate, we have to recognize that people are looking to us for answers.  We have a responsibility, whether we want to accept it or not.

So first, let me explain something about participants in the fitness industry: we feel bad about ourselves at times, just like everyone else.  Some more than others.  We feel pressure to be thin, even if we appear to be thin or fit.  We don’t have the answers, and even if what we’re doing works, we are constantly striving for more.  In fact, many of us came to the industry because we felt bad about ourselves.  So not one of us can speak with authority as though we have been delivered from the natural human conditions of jealousy, body image crises, or mistakes—even if for some of us these conditions are temporary and fleeting.  The ones with the lowest self-esteems are the easiest to identify, because they are the ones most likely to fling shame on anyone they possibly can.  Especially those yucky fat people who don’t have the decency to get thin.

Is it fair to assume that anyone who wishes to look like this can achieve it by simply working for it?

That said, a lot of us do find success.  We find what works for our bodies, and we find balance in a rigorous and mentally challenging sport.  But none of us can—or should—deny the role that genetics plays in all of it.  I do well at maintaining a muscular frame because my body is inclined to do so.  But what most people outside of the industry don’t realize is that there are different categories within the fitness industry, and my body is really only genetically cut out for one or two of them—and even that depends on the judges.  The same goes for those in other categories—a bikini competitor is going to have to work for a very long time to compete in bodybuilding.  So not a single one of us is qualified to hold other women to our own standards of what “fitness” looks like.

If you don’t know your body type, or want to learn more about them, click here.

What really irks me, however, is when competitors take on the attitude that hard work and determination alone are enough to win shows, and that if every woman in America simply had the same work ethic, we could all win shows.  This is as ignorant as the super wealthy who believe that privilege had nothing to do with their success.  They are not wealthy because they work 60 hours a week, or plumbers and nurses and small business owners everywhere would be rich too.  The truth that no one wants to admit is that what you’re born with largely determines the cards you have to work with.  Can someone born into an obese family work his ass off to stay thin?  Sure.  Can someone with a high school education from a poor background find wealth through hard work?  It happens.  But neither happens often.

So there is no excuse for posts that shame and blame people who are overweight (and I take issue with that term—over what weight?!).   There is no excuse for the ignorance I see from  ectomorphs who honestly believe that hard work gave them a small bone structure.  Or that they naturally maintain 16% body fat because they eat less than “those fat people.”   The truth is, some have to work harder at it than others.  And some, despite all the hard work in the world, will never achieve thinness.  There is no excuse for constantly representing the fit body with a thin body.  With equating hard work with thinness.  I’m pretty sure I have worked for the photo on the left, but somehow still always have muscles in my arms and legs…

Just to give you an idea of what I mean, just in case you aren’t sure, I’m going to post some of the ignorant “inspiration” I see floating around on FB.  Even those with positive messages are plastered over images of half-naked, thin women with big boobs.  So even the very industry that claims to be helping women feel better about themselves contributes to self-hatred and mass production of unrealistic images of perfection.  In my next post, I’m going to discuss the ways that this language of “inspiration” in the fitness industry is identical to the language of self-hatred that can be found on virtually every pro-anorexia website.  Am I claiming that competitors share the same pathology as those with eating disorders?  Absolutely.  So please, if you are a competitor reading this post, cease and desist from using language of self-hatred; if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the women who look up to you.  And for everyone else, please be careful of who you look to for inspiration.

This is the one that put me over the edge. Posted by a bikini competitor who is also a personal trainer. Be careful who you hire.

From this image, I see no evidence of hard work. But I do see a formula. Big boobs+thin+pretty=fit. I guess the rest of us are F$#^ed.

Because anyone who doesn’t look like her is a loser. And we are losers because we don’t work hard. And why the hell is she just hanging on those chains?  I’d love to hear her thoughts on the benefits of training with chain weight.

(Posted by the same person who posted the first one on this list). Like, duh!  Isn’t it obvious?  Clearly every woman at the gym is hiding an ass like this. Genetics have nothing to do with anything…the rest of us just “overeat constantly.”

Side note: I have an ongoing game I call “spot the bullshit.”  Athletic apparel ads featuring women who clearly don’t work out posing in their best athletic poses pretty much always win.  Photos of people squatting hardcore with 65lbs are a personal favorite.  And the #1 most over-done B.S. photo is hand wraps on women who have probably never been hit in the face, trying to look bad-ass (and they NEVER wrap between the fingers…solid giveaway).  Oh, and chains.  Because chains look pretty bad ass–but I guarantee that very few–if any–of them have ever actually trained with chains!  Play this game yourself and see how fun it is!