Play To Strength

Housekeeping (on the blog) and pulling things together again

19 Aug

After neglecting this blog for so long, I wanted to put a note here to say that I have temporarily removed the pages while I rework them as I start things up again.

For over a  year I had some things hijack my life in a way which meant working as a trainer was impossible. I had others I needed to take care of and it also affected my health. As my health continues to improve, I am working now to prepare to get the business going again, looking into possible online options and such as well. I will be updating here as I progress on doing this. 

New Year’s Planning

31 Dec

The tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions may have actually started out as a positive thing, however, it has an ominous tone for many. Typically these promises are about lifestyle changes which often involve deprivation (diets!) or discipline (hard-core exercise!) or both and, today, most people start it off with a “joke” that they will have failed by Valentine’s Day. It really has become a time for big proclamations with little intent to succeed, as most of these resolutions revolve around promising to do things you don’t want to do for a goal that society has told you you should strive for.

So instead, why not consider some plans, plans that might get you moving, might get you wanting to eat things that make you feel better but are not around arbitrary weight goals or to meet what society or your mother think you should be doing?  And, most importantly, things that are fun! 

As always, these plans need to be personal and need to be about what you want to do this year. Perhaps you really think the Zombie races or Mud Runs sound fun, start making a plan to be able to run one this year, find one near you and sign up! None of these races are about winning, they’re about having fun getting down and dirty! Perhaps a long walk is more your speed and you’ve always wanted to do one to help out a cause, start or step up your walking program and find such a walk in your area. Maybe you always wanted to learn to tango, maybe take your partner out for an anniversary dance, time to find lessons and sign up!

The important thing in finding joy in movement for the New Year is making plans to play. Leave the deprivation and discipline talk behind in 2012 and find your movement bliss!

If you’re having fun, who cares if you’re good?

10 Oct

A few days ago a quote went by on Facebook from Captain CB “Sully” Sullenberger, a bit of a paraphrase, from an interview on Runner’s World “I’m a Runner: “Sully” Sullenberger: The pilot and hero explains how running is like flying.”  I’ll include a bit more of the paragraph it was from, with some snippping:

“I was never a good runner or a great runner. I was just kind of an average, cruising-around runner. ….. But I really enjoyed it, even though I was not good at it. I got into a comfortable enough way of running with my stride and pace so that it felt kind of the way I describe flying. There’s a duality in the sense of mastery and of freedom. When you get out there–my hair was longer then–I could feel the wind blowing through my hair. I would often get up in the hills and just take my shirt off on a warm day. It’s a freeing exercise. Frees the mind, frees the spirit. You let your body take you places. The mastery part of it, I think, is that you know that not everyone can do this to that level. Even as someone who’s not particularly good at running, I’m still better than someone who doesn’t do it all. I think it’s also satisfying. I was never competitive in terms of wanting to run races. I never really pushed myself to the ultimate limits. I just enjoy getting out there and taking in the scene and being part of nature, basically.

The parts in bold are the ones I think are important. The bit about “I’m still better than someone who doesn’t do it all” which was the emphasis of what I saw posted, isn’t something I would even say. See, I’m not a good runner either and I couldn’t say in all honesty than I’m a better runner than everyone who doesn’t run, not in all ways anyway.  I’m totally sure that there are many young people who are healthy, fit in other ways and genetically gifted who could easily out run me in speed and distance. Mind you, any of them might be a hurting unit the next day while I might be free of any soreness because their muscles aren’t use to it and won’t recover without “complaint.”

My lung capacity is diminished, this is probably something I was born with although it wasn’t picked up until a few years ago. I have lived with the symptoms. Despite taking up running 35 or more years ago, I’m still easily short of breath and I have zero buoyancy (I’m also never going to be a good swimmer).  Dreams I had back when I started of doing long distance racing never came to fruition.  It’s not hard for someone to have greater endurance than I do just based on their health.

But I am a better runner than I would be if I didn’t run. And, yes, probably a better runner than any 50 year old woman with bad lungs who doesn’t run. And I’m a better breather, given this lung issue, than I would be. In fact, I’m really quite good at it for someone who does get short of breath. My lungs can sort through what they need and use it in ways that confuse nurses. I can get a blood oxygen level in room air that most people need to be on oxygen to get. I had a nurse actually look at the reading and tell me that wasn’t possible. I put that to running and my body’s need to do what it does because of it.

But the real reason I do it is in the other highlighted bits “Sully’s” account.  It’s fun for me. I enjoy it. It’s freeing. It fills me joy. I’m not running to compete with anyone, I, well, I run like a puppy, just for the joy of running. Often I run with puppies as well. Through the woods, jumping over things that are not impressive but who cares? Just out there playing.

I know not everyone feels this way about running. On the one hand, I will say that I have found a lot of people who don’t like to run have been doing it wrong. Sometimes it is that whole comparing to other people that makes how they are doing it wrong. For others it’s bad coaching, running heal-to-toe is a common issue for it is unnatural, high-impact and uncomfortable.* But some people just don’t find it fun and I’ll face that, as confusing as it might be for me. LOL

My point here isn’t to convince you to run or isn’t to convince you running is fun. It’s just to get back to reminding you that what you do for fitness should be fun. For you. So if running isn’t fun, do something that is. And don’t worry if if think you stink at it or if someone else is better or if you have a physical or medical issue that keeps you from being great at it (as long as it doesn’t make it unsafe for you). “Dance like no one is watching” whether it is dancing or running or cycling or tennis or a martial art…. Even if it is a sport, forget about the competition part and just play.  No matter how well someone else can do something, if you do it you will be better than you were. Every time you do it, a bit more. And possibly in ways you can’t even connect to it. Ways that might sneak up on you. Some of which will be nothing more than that you have had some fun, that alone can do wonders for a soul.

*Two great books on more natural running forms are Danny Abshire and Brian Metzler Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running and Danny and Kathryn Dreyer, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

The Athletic Body

31 May

Many people take up exercise to attain a certain look. Fitness is even often sold on the concept of looks whether it’s looking thinner or looking buffer. Many today are starting to get the message that being very thin isn’t always the best goal, that it is, in fact, often a dangerous one, therefore some have begun to say they want to “look athletic.” This goal, however, is another example of the problem with going for a look, as opposed to going for health benefits or greater strength, endurance and other goals, including that of actually becoming an athlete. When we go for a look, we are even less likely to attain that look than we might attain athletic ability. And just what does an athlete look like, anyway?

Our actual image of “the athletic body” is really that of the current trend of athletic models. Yes, occasionally we do see actual athletes in adds, but the majority of layouts which we see in advertising and sports fashion are done with models who have the required look. Most athletes, especially female, who get contracted for advertising or fashion layouts also tend to have the right look as well as be popular.  It might even be argued that for female athletes real popularity requires having an appropriate look as well.  This has been for women, rather small framed with some muscle definition but not “too muscular” and very little body fat. For men the frame is bigger, taller and slightly more muscular but still not too muscular and very little body fat. (Dworkin and Wach, Body Panic)

Real athletic bodies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The photo to the right is one that has gone around the blogosphere and FB quite a bit. It is just a section of a spread from The Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein. I recommend their site (front page may not be work-friendly or friendly to those who have issues with nudity) to see more or buy the book, not only is it a great inspiration for those who want to see different athletic bodies in action and awesome if you are an artist with a lack of diverse real-life model to work from (for the layout this shot comes from, which you can also find elsewhere, is far from the only photo, there are photographs of bodies in motion).

The young woman in the center of this, Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth, is featured in an Independent Lens documentary called Strong! which I saw last week. The viewing was followed by a discussion, although there was no official panel as there often is with IL films even in the little VT city we saw it in. The discussion touched upon Health At Every Size ™, well, of course it did as I and a lovely HAES focused dietician who was there (yay! networking). The movie does bring up issues that even an Olympic athlete has to face in our size-obsessed society, that even a woman so graceful that she can balance the sort of weight she does (and it does take grace) and who can leap higher and more accurately than most of us could even dream of can feel graceless in the eyes of others…which even becomes her own eyes.

This is why we need to forget the messages that we should look a certain way, whether it’s “athletic,” “skinny,” “curvy” or what every the narrow preference someone wants to project on us which is not possible for all of us. We come in different sizes and shapes and, you know what, all sizes are beautiful. We can’t force our bodies into a different body type. But all can be graceful and functional, also with some limits due to real ability issues for some but even within that, if we can move, we can attain greater function by doing so. “Athletic” is about what we can do, not what we look like. And any mobile body, even if all parts aren’t mobile, can become more athletic through movement, even if  few of us can attain Olympic levels.

We can find those things we can be good at, even if by “good” it means we’re having fun and might not impress anyone. Because unless we are competitive athletes we don’t need to impress, not with how we look or what we do, we just need to enjoy our activities and improve from where we were. It’s an ongoing process, never a set goal. And when we do this, when we move our bodies and make them stronger, we don’t just look like athletes we are athletes.

Strong! will be airing on PBS in July, check your local listings (it’ll be listed as Independent Lens, you may find other films in the series interesting to, check it out!)
The Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein
Body Panic: Gender Health and the Selling of Fitness by Shari L. Dworkin and Fay Linda Wach

Photo from The Athlete Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein (if such bothers you or you’re at work, please note there is nudity on the splash page) were originally scanned to ANTHROPOLOGY 390-080: Honors Colloquium: Anthropology of Sports

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Staying Fit

15 May

This isn’t going to be about advising you to get a dog so that you’ll get more exercise by walking her/him. While dogs can make great workout partners, it’s not a reason to get a dog in and of itself.  But I did figure I needed to explain why I have a photo of two of my dogs on the top of this page and my FaceBook page.

Figuring out how to decorate this page has been difficult. While photos of weights or people lifting them or people running might excite me it doesn’t excite everyone. One of my primary goals as a personal trainer is to find ways that makes exercise exciting for everyone, regardless of what they might find interesting. While I might like the “old standbys” of fitness, not everyone does and for those who don’t seeing them doesn’t really create an interest in doing anything. I don’t want to give the message that because I like running and lifting weights that it’s all I offer. I want to help each client find the things that they enjoy doing, that they’ll stick to or come back to as they run through the variety of things they might enjoy.

So I figured I’d use a photo of my dogs just enjoying themselves.

And this is precisely what we can learn from dogs about fitness. That it should be about fun. These two up top are Gleann and Sachairi and they are two of the fittest individuals I know. Sach, the littler one who has the toy, is also 12 now (11 in these photos, but still as active nearly a year later). They need their runs at least a couple of times a day, feeling anxious and getting obnoxious if they don’t get them. They run with abandon, whether it’s through the woods exploring or in the field chasing toys (actually Gleann more chases Sach chasing the toy).

Our other two dogs, Cù and Òrlaith, are Greyhounds, they are more relaxed. They are happier to just snooze the day away, but they do need at least one good long walk a day (right now we don’t have a fence up and, being Greyhounds, they have no real call back so they’re not let off leash). They find these walks highly entertaining, the world is quite exciting and full of bunnies even if they can’t chase them (actual real bunnies, which they smell far more than they see, our area is full of hares).

Dogs exercise because it’s fun, because they find great joy in running and playing. They don’t worry what they look like. They aren’t concentrating on their health. They do it because they’re instincts calls for it. They do it for the shear joy of being alive.

We all need to remember this. This is what exercise should be. Play. Fun. We need to find the ways we can make our bodies move that move us in spirit as well, that are fun for us, that are play. That give us shear joy in being alive.

Building a Relationship with Exercise

03 Apr

I’m certainly not being innovative when I use the analogy that many people have problematic relationships with exercise. Ragen Chastain wrote about this in Repairing Our Relationships with Exercise and some discussion in the comments of a later post of hers where she also brought it up Projection is for Films not Fatties got me thinking about it more.

I think Ms. Chastain has nailed why many of us get soured on exercise early on.  Gym classes ruined it for many of us who were not natural athletes, whether we were fat or skinny or in-between. They often became a place where the kids with natural talent got noticed by the teacher who was, at my school, also the coach for all the teams, and the rest of us were left humiliated. Everyone might have something they are good at physically, but in school the things that are actually valued are limited. Even worse when the school is small and the sports options are even sparser.

I was one of those kids, utterly uncoordinated. I do feel I was lucky, however, as when I was a teen I discovered I liked to run. I wasn’t fast, if I tried to go too fast I tripped over my own two feet. I didn’t have great endurance as it turns out I have underdeveloped lungs. I had hated running in gym class because being pressured to “keep up” often left me in a humiliating heap. I liked to run slowly, with “bad strike” (I am a mid-foot strike runner, which was “wrong” according to our gym teacher and other “experts” at the time, although is now rediscovered as a safer, more natural stride).

I learned, for myself, that what I need in an exercise relationship is to not have expectations placed on me by others and to keep it far from competition. I can enjoy things as long as I don’t feel I have to meet goals set by others. I might set my own. This has let me have good relationships with various other forms of exercise. Although not all. I definitely have a preference for fast and aggressive “personality” in my exercise.

What others might need to heal their exercise relationship issues will be different. It’s important to remember you’re not looking for a relationship with all exercises, only the right exercises. We don’t give up on all romantic relationships just because of one bad break-up, right?

Oh, wait we do. Often. “All relationships/men/women are alike! I’ve had it!” Sometimes such a break from relationships is important. It allows us time to heal, time to forgive ourselves for what we might see as our own failure and to realize that it probably wasn’t us but the person. Or exercise. It gives us time to evaluate what we really want out of a relationship. And then we can date, not get too involved at first the next time around.

It’s obvious when discussing personal relationships with people that there are other people and they are different, I think it’s often difficult in the fitness world where we often go through fads of This is The One to see that about exercise. But there really are a lot of options out there. It’s okay to date a few until you decide which ones are good matches. It’s okay to see that one isn’t right, that it’s no fun, that it just doesn’t work out for you. You do not have to commit immediately.

In fact, while being monogamous may be a preference for many in romantic relationships, it’s never really a good idea with exercise for various reasons.  One is that very few things out there offer a complete package of strength, endurance, flexibility and balance training, so first we need to be involved in things that offer what might be missing in others. But both our minds and our bodies need change from time to time. The body adapts, we hit plateaus and become more prone to injury if we do only the same things all the time. The mind becomes bored, even when doing things that we might enjoy for a time. Those of us who might be exercise-commitment oriented might need to consciously alter our training; those who are more flirtatious and like to have flings with various exercises might actually do better. You may find the ones you continuously go back to but even then, remember, no form of exercise is going to be hurt if you go dally with another for awhile (I cannot speak for some instructors, of course, so please remember and remind them this is between you and the exercise and is not about your relationship with them).

A key to relationship issues, both with people and with exercise, is unmet expectations. Often, nearly always, exercise promises weight loss, beauty, health and athletic prowess. And the truth it that it can’t deliver, this is a hard truth too given the lies we are told. Yes, some lose some weight, but often not the amount they are promised and long term, extreme weight loss is rarely successful. Yes, a fit person often radiates beauty, but few of us will meet the extremely narrow beauty standards our society pushes on us. Yes, exercise can increase our body’s ability to function, but only a few out there will be great athletes. Yes, exercise can help us gain better cardiovascular health and make us stronger, but there are illnesses which it cannot touch.

I can run better than I could because I do run. But I’m not going to win any races. In order to have the relationship I do with running, I had to learn to accept that. I had to take running for what it does give me. A sense of joy, of freedom, of my own accomplishments which might seem nothing to anyone else let alone someone who has won races.

So a major part of developing a healthy relationship is to appreciate exercise for what it actually does offer. The health benefits we do get, the greater functionality we get, the joy that glows through us when we find our own accomplishments.  And the shear joy in spending time with the exercises we do enjoy. Whether it’s the mutual fun of a fast-paced class or the quiet solitary peace of a private Yoga session or the grunting forcefulness of a powerlifting session or a multitude of other options.  If we find joy in the exercise itself, we can realize that we don’t need to listen to false promises and we can simply realize the relationship is the thing itself.

Surviving the Holidays

18 Dec

The following post is from an earlier blog, which I have replaced with this one…this post has been backdated to the date of the original post:

During this time of year you’ll get a lot of advice on how to maintain your fitness goals through the holidays. Much of it is actually guilt inducing and unhealthy thinking, about how to deprive yourself of the goodies out there. I don’t play that game. You know what is healthy and what isn’t and if you decide to go for indulgence I don’t think you should feel guilty about it. The holidays are stressful enough without adding to the stress on yourself, remember you are allowed to have fun. Here’s my “rules” regarding holiday eating:

Feeling guilty over food is not healthy, eating is necessary, feasting with loved ones is a spiritual act.
Feasting does not sabotage your fitness level.
Exercise bulimia does not help in any way and is neither healthy for your body or your soul. It certainly is not healthy for your relationship to exercise.
Exercise should never be punishment, it should be a joy.
So, keep on track with your exercise, but do not force yourself to do extra because of a socially created “sin.”
Remember this through the coming holiday season. Keep moving, but keep enjoying it and do not fear the food or let anyone, yourself or others, bully you into feeling guilt or punishing yourself.

This also means don’t judge others for what they are eating. You are not the food police for anyone else, it’s not your business.  Be kind.
Getting exercise in at this time of year can be difficult for those who celebrate the bigger seasonal holidays. Shopping takes up time, family matters take up time and can cause extreme stress. Exercise can fall to the wayside as one becomes overwhelmed.
Again, guilt doesn’t help and isn’t healthy, if stress is the issue you certainly do not need to add to it by beating yourself up at this time. Consider that this might be a good time to change your routine for awhile. Don’t have time for the gym, perhaps you can find a video routine  you can do at home. Feeling really stressed, perhaps it’s time to try out a soothing Yoga class OR perhaps it’s time to pump it up and sweat it out with a Zumba class instead, which ever works for you. Family time taking up your workout periods, why not make it a family affair. Perhaps you could get everyone out for some snowshoeing if there’s snow where you live or a hike if not, or ice skating or a rousing snowball fight (or touch football if there’s no snow). Keep it fun!
This is also a time, especially as people get together, for colds and flues. A lot of us try to tough it through every virus, but do remember that, especially if you have a fever, sometimes rest is the best thing and will help your fitness goals better in the long run than forcing an ailing body through it’s routine. Sometimes if a bug isn’t serious, it can make you feel stronger, but if you feel beat up before you go into it, you’re not going to feel better after. Taking care of yourself sometimes just IS about taking care of yourself.
Happy Holidays!

“A Change is as Good as a Rest”

16 Jul

The following post and comment are from an earlier blog, which I have replaced with this one…this post has been backdated to the date of the original post and the comment was copied and pasted unchanged:

Even personal trainers, even total fitness nuts, like myself, lose motivation sometimes. This happened recently to me, when some additional stress hit my life. Running was fine, I craved that release. But lifting, which I usually love, seemed a chore. I ran through what had to be done in my head and realized I just couldn’t go through that process.
What this meant was that, other catalysts aside, I was burned out on the routine. It was past time to mix things up and that’s just what I needed at the time anyway. I totally threw out what I had been doing and went for something completely different and didn’t stick with that either. One day it was kettlebell, then a couple days later I just played around with the slide-gym-thing we got primarily for mixing things up (it’s a cheaper version of a popular celebrity-infomercial item you’ve seen).
It’s common to get into a “program,” a routine, when training for both long time gym rats and for newbies. In fact, those who really love to exercise often find it too easy, we love the routine too much. Progressive load principle works for strength training, at the beginning. You increase the weights and sets you’re working with, your muscles keep building. And then you hit a plateau. Keep doing the same thing you not only stop progressing, you increase your chance of injury and you may end up deconditioning your muscles. The body is lazy, it wants to compensate for what you’ve been doing during this time.
For those who easily get tired of the routine, who don’t see themselves as fitness buffs and dislike exercise in general, the routine is often difficult to stick to for long at all. They seldom get to the point where they’re bodies plateau, but might give up when it feels too tedious. Often as beginners to exercise, they are led to believe that they must stick to the “program,” often having been sold, literally, a particular one and so give up exercise all together, fed up and discouraged. Often made to feel, by those who might have “sold” the plan in the first place, that by not sticking to that particular thing they’ve failed.
Change is the answer to both the physical and mental burn out. Bodybuilders have a precise Periodization that they use that works with their schedule of competitions.  Determining what they need when is a major part of the sport. Other athletes also alter their training in connection with their competitive seasons, often taking a break from their sports-specific training right when their season ends and doing something else before starting training again. For those sports doing the sport is vital to being good at the sport, that is, you must run to be good at running, but the body still needs a break; and there’s no reason conditioning should suffer.
For the rest of us, those of us “training for life” to be healthy and active, we can, really, change anytime we need/want to.  If that run seems too daunting today, go biking! Bored with weight training?  See how you can change it up or take a Pilates class for awhile.  The key is, to keep moving. You can’t fail a program if your only program is to keep moving.


July 16, 2011 – 6:03 pm
Three months seems to be my mental/physical plateau… Every three months I have to change up my routine and try something new, whether it be a new emphasis in martial arts training, a new lifting sequence or routine, or switching to something else. I hate being bored, and listening to music as you lift can only help out so much.
Luckily I just started a new program, so hopefully should keep me set for a couple of months. And then, who knows?