fitness for bibliophiles: circe

It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.

–Circe, by Madeline Miller

My usual retort to any cis woman when she tells me that she doesn’t want to lift heavy weights because she doesn’t want to bulk up goes something like this: “Are you eating 200 grams of protein a day and taking testosterone supplements? Cause if you’re not, lifting some weights is not going to bulk you up.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true. Generally speaking, if you are genetically female, you are not designed to get substantially bulky without outside help. Lifting twenty pounds instead of two will not change that, though it will make you stronger.

There are two important things in fitness, and you don’t exactly get them at the same time: muscular strength and muscular endurance. Strength is what you can lift, right? Endurance is how often or for how long you can lift it. Want to increase your strength? Go high weight, low rep. Want to increase your endurance? Go low weight, high rep. Want to be fit? Do both.

Low weight, high rep is how many workouts marketed to women are designed: LA Fitness’ Body Works Plus Abs program, barre classes, and Pound are some examples. They trade on the fear that women have about bulking up, which is too bad, because they could just market themselves as muscular endurance classes without the fear-mongering. They are fantastic for that! But at some point you also have to work on more sustained and heavier exercises if you want to get stronger. Lifting heavy weight to failure in, say, six reps will do wonders for your overall strength, while lifting light weights to failure in, say, 32 reps, will help you with your stamina.

Please do both. Please.

There’s nothing new or interesting about saying that women are shamed a lot when it comes to fitness. We are told not to do things that will make us bulk up, even though that’s not how science works anyway, and we’re told we’re always inadequate but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to “improve” every day, and and and. But if there’s one thing I can impart to you (and assume about you), it’s that you should not be afraid of lifting heavier weights (and you probably aren’t doing a lot of it). That doesn’t literally mean you have to go bench press 200 pounds, though feel free if you want to. It could also mean doing slow bodyweight exercises, throwing some pushups into your routine, strapping on or setting up some resistance bands to push and pull. But don’t speed through everything with two pounds.

The goddess Circe doesn’t give any fucks about society’s wishes for her, though in our human defense, we don’t have centuries upon centuries to unlearn harmful body messages, and she did. Though this book starts out kind of boring, essentially just giving us summaries of all the major Greek myths, it gradually turns into this really fantastic feminist tale, and I’m so glad I stuck with the initial boring bits to get to the amazing rest of it all. Highly recommend.

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june’s links worth reading

Physicians should avoid attribution bias, or blaming a health condition on a patient’s weight because it is low-hanging fruit. Patients across the weight continuum develop a variety of diseases. Obesity does not make patients immune to conditions smaller patients develop and vice versa, and this fallacy can be fatal to patients. Weight-based stigma shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of doctors giving care and patients seeking it.

I have a lot of terrible things to say about how doctors “treat” patients and how many terrible experiences I’ve had with them (I go to nurse practitioners whenever possible, and I will evangelize forever and suggest you go to them too), but at least this is not something I’ve experienced. Doctors need to stop this shit.

It saddens me that my gorgeous friends wish my body upon themselves and that they’ve been so conditioned to think of themselves as not good enough unless they’re an unattainable weight.

I have an idea. Let’s stop using the phrase “thinspo” at all, but also listen to this girl and think about how troubling it is to say that bodies suffering through illness are something to aspire to.

I do love lifting. I love it with a strength and dedication I didn’t know I was capable of. I love how much of what I learn in training is applicable to real life. The only deadlift advice I can ever remember is “it is always hard.”

Alyssa and I became friends on Twitter, and while we have many feminist and activist interests in common, I think it was when I posted that I wanted friends on MyFitnessPal that we really started interacting regularly. Her entries inspire me every day, because I feel I still have a long way to go to be a really fit person, but I can identify a lot with her sentiments here and can see how maybe in the future I will feel them even more strongly.

Why is “summer” the goal, a reason to get fit? Is there some magical countdown to Memorial Day, where I’m shamed into wearing a sweatsuit on the beach unless my arms are perfectly sculpted and my thighs no longer lovingly rub together?

I’m nowhere near perfect at this, but I try in every class not to use shaming, problematic language like this, and then I hope to transfer it to my self-shaming.

fitness for bibliophiles: the elya yelnats

Every day Elya carried the little piglet up the mountain and sang to it as it drank from the stream. As the pig grew fatter, Elya grew stronger.

Holes, by Louis Sachar

One of the classes I teach is a strength training class. You choose dumbbells, and unless you want to leave the fitness room and go dig something up on the main floor, your choices are 2.5-, 5-, and 7-lb weights. Not all that heavy. That’s because the class is a low weight, high rep class where I make you do the same movement 20-40 times. What that does is work your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which give you muscular endurance.

That’s awesome. It teaches your body and muscles not to get fatigued too easily.

It’s not a strength building class, though. You’re not really working your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones that kick in if all of a sudden you’re hit with a huge load of weight. So you need to do both. And even with the low weight, high rep class, at some point you’re probably going to want to go up a weight, or at least have a slightly heavier one for when we do lower body work and you’re just letting your weights hang out on your trapezius. (I only ever use 2.5-pounders, but that’s because if I did something heavier, I’d be paying attention to my workout, and it’s the class I’m supposed to be giving my attention to. I do other strength work on my own time.)

So, to build muscular strength you need to find weight that you can only hold for a maximum of about five times before you reach failure. If you’re at a gym, this will take you a little while to look around and test things out, and it’s likely that with whatever type of lifestyle you have or activities you already do, you will find that you need much heavier weights when working some muscles than others. Just make sure you test them out, and as you get stronger, don’t get complacent. Keep using gradually heavier weights and then you’ll always have a challenge, rather than a plateau.

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