Shit people say the gym . . .

So some lady interrupts me in the middle of my bench press. (People . . . for safety reasons you should always let a lifter rack their weight before you try talking to them!)

Lady: “Oh! You are so strong!” She says to me while she flexes her arms in front of her. I was in the middle of a set so couldn’t respond right then. She then apologizes for interrupting me and moves off to collect some dumbbells.

After I racked the bar the lady came back.

Lady: “You are so strong. Are you a hockey player?” She is once again flexing her arms low in front of her body and shrugging her shoulders.

Me: “Uh . . . ? No. That would require that I be able to skate.” (I also seriously hate team sports . . . soccer, football, basketball, hockey, etc. If you are my arch nemesis and want to make me suffer horribly before I die make me watch sports for an entire minute.)

Lady: Looking surprised . . . “You can’t skate?!”

Me: “Nope.”

Lady: “Oh”. She looked a bit confused. I am not sure why. I know we are in Canada, but I can’t be the only Canadian who can’t skate.

She ended up asking me for some help with completing the workout plan she had. She had only been attending the gym for two weeks, and didn’t remember what all the short forms of exercise names the trainers use on the form stood for. I helped her out as much as possible while hiding my desire to go find the trainer who thought it was ok to write one cookie cutter workout plan to hand it to all new gym members and smack that trainer silly. (Seriously, my gym has one free plan they hand to all new members. A trainer walks the new member through each exercise once and then they are on their own.)

Walking home I kept wondering why this lady had decided to ask if I played hockey and made ape gestures at me. I don’t wear or carry any sports paraphernalia. I don’t watch the sports playing silently on the gym television. All I could think of is she maybe thought I had the body type of a hockey player? Again I hate sports and don’t watch them or play any myself. The people I know who do play recreational hockey are all of very different body types (tall, short, thin, fat, medium etc.). I personally don’t have an image in my mind of what a typical female hockey player looks like.

So when I got home I told my partner about this conversation. He said well a lot of hockey players are the stockier sort (he also did a kind of low flexing gesture with his arms) . . . and then he kinda trailed off like he realized that he may be digging himself a coffin shaped hole and jumping in head first. (I mostly just found this funny. I let him squirm a little in silence. Don’t worry. He still breaths. He did not commit suicide by spouse.)

So . . . average height, fat, and muscular equals hockey player? WTF?

I have put a lot of work into body positivity, ditching diet-culture, and bad gym-culture. I am ok with being of average height. I am ok with being fat. I will never have a thin body. What I do have is a very strong body that responds wonderfully to my training efforts by building muscle for me and letting me lift more and more weight over time. I love that I am able to build muscle and get stronger. I love muscle. I have more muscle then ever before and it has come from working out less and eating more. The only thing the “eat less and exercise more” shitty diet advice did for me was make me miserably underfed and over exercised.

I am bothered by this conversation mostly because it seems to suggest the idea that if a female is strong or is training for strength . . . she must be doing it for some (socially acceptable) reason, such as sports. She can’t just pursue strength for the sake of building strength.




Tried Abel’s Leg Thirties. . .

leg day french bulldog
So I tried Abel’s leg thrities the other day. I was doing a home workout so I did a modified version since I didn’t have a leg press or squat rack. I only did two rounds. Round one was hard. Round two was brutal. I can’t imagine doing three to four rounds. (Something to work towards!) I am looking forward (I think) to trying the original version with a leg press and squat rack at the gym. I have done high rep work before, but something about this combination of exercises at high reps back to back just floored me. It really kept my heart rate up and my legs were burning. I love workouts that keep it simple but intense. If you don’t know what Abel’s leg thrities are you can watch them on youtube here.

To Cardio or not to Cardio

HIIT is all the rage and for good reason in my opinion. It really makes conditioning and cardiovascular work interesting. It is intense and time efficient. I am able to push myself harder knowing my workout is going to be under 20min. It is easy to spot improvements in recovery, power, strength, and endurance when I am working with small consistent time intervals. (Oh my gosh! I did 19 jump squats in 20sec today instead of the usual 17!). Research shows there are plenty of cardiovascular benefits to be had from short intense bursts of exercise. But I have noticed that if I am trying to change my body, all the HIIT in the world doesn’t seem to make my body change like I want it too. My body is stubborn and bizarrely (and annoyingly) what it seems to need in order to change is some steady pace cardio. A respectable amount of steady pace cardio too. With heavy lifting, and a little HIIT on the side. I hate it. I am experimenting trying to find the minimal amount of cardio I can do while still moving forward because I don’t want to live on my spin bike. Ouch.

Super sets . . ouch

Last night I actually tried to do super sets for real. I am now very sore. I have written out programs with super sets often in the past, but I never really did them properly. I would arrive at the gym with good intentions to do it, but those plans would always fall through. I would just do regular sets. I did it mostly because I started to to feel selfish at the idea of hogging two pieces of equipment at a the same time. I didn’t want to be that person at the gym that manages to use every good bar, bench, and dumbbell in the gym and spreads their belongings from the free weights to the pec dec to mark equipment in use like they were saving spots for their imaginary friends.

Last night I decided I would go gym and really do super sets. I went a little later so the people there would be at the end of their workouts. And I know from the past that the gym typically empties out between 8:00 and 8:30pm. I figured I would be able to hog two pieces of equipment at a time without getting in anyone’s way or anyone else getting in my way. Well it worked. I am already feeling the soreness set in. The super sets also made for a fast workout with a bit of a cardio effect because they reduced the amount of time I spent resting. I am looking forward to trying super sets on leg day tomorrow.

I also found out who keeps storing the lat pull-down bar on top of the cable pull weight stack thereby setting up the next user of the cable pull for an accident. I watched as a lady unhooked the bar from the lat pull down and very carefully laid the bar across the weight stack of the cable pull next to her ignoring the equipment rack full of empty hooks she could have hung the bar on instead. So many people leave their brains at the door when they get to the gym.

SQUEEE! My gym now has a squat rack!

You may be wondering what kind of gym does not have a squat rack? A small gym. My gym is small. I am impressed that they found room for a squat rack. I hope they didn’t scrap other equipment to make room. (Well, on second thought they could totally get rid of the Ab Bendy Bench 1000 thing in the corner. I would not miss that. Those things are stupid.) I just saw the online gym update today and will be running to the gym tonight to try the new squat rack. Because . . . well . . . I am sorry Mr. Smith Machine but you just don’t cut it when it comes to squats. It will be nice to be able to try some rack pulls and other squat rack necessary goodies.

Stuff to do with a squat rack:
-heavy squats of all variations: front, back, sissy, zercher, sumo, negatives, box etc.
-rack pulls
-bench press (so much better than the smith machine!)
-bent over row
-parallel pullups/pullups/chinups
-shoulder presses/clean & press
-upright rows

Most things can be done without a squat rack, but having a squat rack really opens up the possibilities in terms of weight maximums. It makes the world of difference when you can pickup and put down weight just by walking under a bar rather then deadlifting everything from the floor and over your head.

A non-runner’s 5k training . . . kinda sorta

So I have discovered that running seems to wake up old injuries and associated unhappy muscles in a way nothing else I do exercise wise does. Walking, spinning, kickboxing, skipping, and strength training all feel good. I even feel fine while doing my running. I can do my prescribed walk/run intervals no problem. I don’t even get much in the way of DOMS the next day. But certain muscles are really tightening up and not letting go after running. It takes a lot foam rolling and stretching to get them to let go. My QL’s have no idea what I am doing and are telling me to get lost. My IT bands are not far behind. This is probably related to my old sprains. I know that I just take it slow my body will eventually be able to handle this type of exercise without being unhappy after. I am not going to give up on my goal of being able to run a good 5K. It is still something I want to do. I think I just need to spend more time then I originally planned at the lower end of my training plan to let my pesky muscles time to figure this new activity out.

The political correctness of working out . . oops I mean training.

Have you ever asked someone how their workout was only to be told “I don’t workout. I train.”? I have.

I have noticed that these terms can be used to refer to two different activities and the differentiation between the activities seems to be in the purpose behind the workout/training. “Training” is for people training for a specific purpose/goal, such as a competition or sports related performance, and “working out” refers to exercising for general fitness and everyday life. While I get what people are trying to say by separating the terms, I have to wonder how critical it really is for that line to be drawn. Any individual’s reasons/motivations for being active (or not being active) will vary depending on their unique circumstances and their unique personalty. Personally I have always used the terms “working out” and “training” interchangeably. (I find this need for some people to distinguish their training from working out an interesting idea to think about because it can be indicative of a person’s mindset during exercise and prioritization of the exercise.)

Other elements of fitness, like what you call an exercise sometimes seems to get ridiculous. There is no real standardization for names of exercises beyond the basics like squat, bench, row, etc. Yet I have heard people argue over what the correct name of an exercise is as though the name was more important than the correct execution of that exercise. My “superman” is someone elses “swimmer” or “flutterkick”. A burpee in one magazine is a “squat thrust deadlift” in another. (Yes, I really found that in a magazine.) When going to workshops offered by different facilities I have heard huge differences in the terminology used to describe exercises. Generally only the people that trained in that specific facility would know for sure what the presenter was referring to until the presenter demonstrated the move. New people who attended my class after attending classes taught at another facility were usually a bit confused until they attended a few of my classes and learned how I used terms.

Something that also tends to change and evolve is cuing for proper technique and muscle activation. There are shifts in terminology that seem to coincide with the coming and going of fads. As an example I will use the verbal cuing by fitness instructors for core activation. This is of course based on how I was trained and where I worked. I am sure other instructors have been taught a bit differently.

Once upon a time “tightening your abs” was a fine thing to say, then someone realized there was more to the torso then just the six pack and expanded to the idea of “the core” that includes everything from the pelvic girdle to the shoulder girdle. Which is fair since this does make for a more balanced and functional approach to training the body. All the crunches and sit-ups in the world (assuming you go for crunches and sit-ups) probably won’t fix lower back pain. But then how do you teach people to really activate their core? Consciously finding your transverse abdominal for the first time is quite fun and can be very difficult if you have never done it. It is like being asked to wear a corset made of sore muscle for a day or two afterwards. (Trying to help someone find their serratus anterior can also be interesting.)

In my training courses we were taught to cue core activation to participants with phrases like “suck/pull your belly button to your spine” and “ribs to hips” or “cough and hold” because this was the only way to properly activate the core and all abdominals (especially that pesky transverse abdominus). This was the correct way to cue core activation for about the first two years of my working in fitness until my third fitness conference. Every conference had a workshop or two on activating the core because lets face it the whole separate dedicated “core work” thing is its own fad. I am not saying core training doesn’t have its place in a balanced routine, just that people were a bit overly cooky for it for awhile. In reality all exercises are core exercises. If you don’t believe me, lie on the floor (on your back) and try to lift your straight arm and point at the ceiling without first tightening your core.Your mid section is not going to fall apart just because you don’t do a whack load of sit ups or whatever each week. A well rounded strength routine focusing on compound lifts with barbells and dumbbells will work your core plenty. Core or abdominal centric exercises are complementary accessory exercises.

At my third fitness conference the presenter asked us how we cued core/abdominal activation to our participants. I put my hand up and reiterated what this same lady had taught us two years previously: “cough” and “pull your bellybutton to your spine” and “ribs to hips”. The lady looked at me and tutted and gasped like I had just announced to the world that I ate babies in my spare time and liked it. She shook her head as though to say “you poor uneducated little thing” and told me that this was not correct. Those cues are bad and just make people hunch over and round their shoulders- a recipe for instant poor posture and loss of neutral alignment. It was magical. I mean the presenter’s selective memory was magical. She said it like she had never been one of “those” instructors who gave such poor cues to participants or taught other instructors to give those cues. She then proceeded to tell us the new correct way to cue core activation. We were to tell people to “imagine pulling your hip bones together” then “imagine lifting your rib cage away from your hip bones” and “imagine throwing your water bottle at the presenter’s head”. That last one is my addition. Can you tell? 😉 The points about posture and loss of neutral alignment are true. When participants get tired or are concentrating too hard on just working hard their posture can go to shit pretty quickly and telling them to pull their “ribs to hips” just makes it worse.