Why the Fitness Industry Should be Talking About Body Image

This month, February, marks 10 years that I’ve been working in the fitness industry. Woooheee. That’s a long time to be pushing push-ups! From the beginning of my tenure at BCSF we never marketed our program to be about 6-packs or getting beach-ready bodies. We promoted ourselves to focus on the fun of working out, about getting the most effective workout with smart instructors that knew the human body inside and out. So that is to say, there’s never been a time where I helped to market fitness in a way that was shaming.

But if you would have asked me my thoughts on why we did this 8 years ago, I would have told you that it’s because we weren’t a cheesy, shallow program. That we were a serious program and serious programs just didn’t need to do that. I liked it, of course, but I didn’t think about it *too* much.

Back when I started with BCSF, I was on the periphery, doing administrative work. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I started teaching classes. And I suppose that is when I really started to consider how prevalent shame was in the fitness world. I remember distinctly the first time I told someone in my class that we don’t do “negative self-talk” in this space. It was kind of a liberating feeling to give people this strong boundary that evoked positivity.

But, overall, body image was a tough, elephant in the room kind of topic for me. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that as a trainer I could be body positive to everyone. To every shape and size. That isn’t to say I didn’t FEEL that way — I did. I just didn’t know how to admit it. Because it felt like a cognitive distortion to say I am a trainer, someone that makes a living helping people change their bodies and on the other hand say that body size didn’t matter to me. Like, I felt it was somehow my professional obligation to believe that healthy = skinny. And since being healthy was always my ultimate goal, I felt torn. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two facets of my world.

pullup image get unstuck

In short:  I knew I had these feelings about body image positivity, but I could never quite put my finger on how to truly promote this. In the freaking fitness industry.  When I started reading Erin Brown’s work about 3 years ago is when I started to feel less alone in my thoughts on body image.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours considering just how and why we should be talking about body image in the fitness industry. Because I am certain I am not the only trainer that has struggled with this. And to be frank, I’d say society at large probably would suggest it’s a joke that the fitness industry, which they likely see as generally the type of people in #fitspo images, would even consider talking about positive body image. But I’m here to tell you that, I’ve come to the assertion that the fitness industry is actually the perfect and most obvious choice as a venue for talking about body image positivity.

And here’s why:

We’re Already Talking About Bodies. A LOT. It’s literally what we do. We talk about how they move, where they move, limitations on movement, how to improve movement. It’s seriously BODY, BODY, BODY over here. Why in the hell would we not consider talking about these things in the fitness industry?!

We’ve Kind of Fucked up. We are part of the problem and I kind of feel like when you break something, you should help fix it. Just check out the #fitspo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not good stuff people. It’s full of jacked ladies and men espousing the no excuses mentality onto the world. They have forgotten that inspiration should be positive and empowering. The fitness industry at large thinks that making people feel shitty about their bodies is the best way to sell their products. And I suppose that the dollars follow this, but the crazy thing is, is that research consistently shows that lifelong change in people comes from positive, intrinsic motivators. It’s possible that the fitness industry would be even more financially successful if they helped people find those positive motivators, eh?

It’s Our Bread and Butter. We are our clients inspiration. We are modeling an “ideal”. Most of us feel it’s our duty to walk the walk when it comes to being fit – right? We feel the need to keep up our fitness routines because being a trainer that doesn’t exercise would feel inauthentic. Right? But I challenge you to consider how authentic it is to be a trainer that isn’t body positive. Bodies are how we make a living. So, if your attitude shows signs of being negative towards the bodies of some individuals is this authentic?

We Have the Power. Within the world of fitness, we have the power to teach people skills that help them appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like. Almost every woman I know that lifts heavy, lifts for reasons beyond looking good. It becomes about lifting more weight, about getting better at technique and becoming fascinated by the process of lifting rather than the chiseling of our triceps and delts.

 

The ultimate irony is, in my opinion, that when you’re approaching fitness from this perspective some interesting things start to happen. One, we often get more fit. Why? Because we’re training because WE LIKE IT. When we like things we do them more often and more consistently. And because we are training more often, we often get those muscles and definition we were originally seeking. It’s kind of a funky, cool, little feedback loop.

flexingsillycat

So, truly, in my opinion there is ABSOLUTELY no downside to being a trainer that espouses a body positive attitude. You might fret that you are less legit as a trainer, but trust me, you’re not. It’s not wrong to think of your clients as awesome human beings that are capable of so much and that are valuable far beyond how jacked they are.

And frankly, ultimately all it takes is acting kind towards your clients. Pretty sure we can all do that right? Right. Good.

 

 

Own Your Shit

Yesterday one of my class members thanked me for the great workout that burned over 400 calories (she wears a heart rate monitor).

“Well, you did all the work, I just told you what to do.”

“But telling us what to do is more than half the battle!”

Yes, I think I’m a good coach, that I plan an excellent workout and, of course, I am very grateful to be thanked for my efforts. That certainly feels good. But their workout is not about me. It’s their time. I think it’s important to be aware that I am a facilitator for my clients.

Because I will not always be there for them. Life situations, jobs, schedules — these things all change.

get unstuck cat image

What doesn’t change is knowing that you are in charge of you, your life, your body. You are in charge of choosing how and if you will exercise.

And if I won’t always have my clients in my stead, I want to give them the tools for keeping up their exercise routine for life. Those tools aren’t simply how to swing a kettlebell, but knowing that they can.

That is all to say — intrinsic motivation is what will serve us in the end. Doing something “for” someone else is a fleeting kind of motivation:  getting in shape for events, “looking good naked” so that someone will find us sexy? These things won’t get us unto the gym for years to come — for now, maybe, yes. But not forever.

And the thing about giving someone else credit for your workout? That fuels a pipeline of not giving YOURSELF CREDIT. You need to give yourself credit for what you are doing. You need to acknowledge that you showed up. You hauled your ass up and down the stairs, you picked up the kettlebells and your coach simply told you how to do it and gave you a pat on the back.

You’re doing it. Step up to the plate and own it.

Three Tactics to Meet Your 2016 Goals

Ten years ago when I started answering the phone for my fitness company I remember being struck by how much people wanted to talk before registering for classes.

After several months of 20 to 30 minute long phone calls, it dawned at me what was going on with most of these folks:   they felt vulnerable about joining an intense fitness program. And when we feel this way it’s often helpful to talk it out.

Realizing that changed the way I viewed fitness as an industry, forever.

brene brown vulnerability quote

No longer was the way I viewed the business of fitness as a cheesy, soulless and vain quest to get people better abs, but, for me, it became a quest to take people by the hand, give them good information, quality workouts and respect their feelings.

See, here’s the thing. Fitness is in logical terms, simple. We all know that working out is good for us. We all know that potato chips aren’t so good for us.

But that doesn’t make our feelings about these things simple.

It doesn’t make getting out of bed to get a workout in before a long commute, simple.

So, while I know that this is the time of year when many of us feel the need to go on a strict diet and be really, really hard on ourselves in the pursuit of fitness and health, I urge you to re-consider how you’re approaching your fitness and health goals as we head into 2016 using these three principles to guide you:

  • Acknowledge Your Vulnerabilities. It’s okay if you’re intimidated by the gym. It’s okay if you’re not sure how to use a machine, do a push-up properly or the best way to get more veggies in your day. This is all just information. You can figure this out. You can hire a coach (ahem!). You can talk to a gym-going friend. But acknowledging your feelings will help you. Trying to pretend that you don’t have insecurities will likely only get in the way of success. Because when we are putting our ego at the forefront, we are less likely to ask for help. And it’s my opinion that you are less likely to make true change without some help — be it via information gathering, coaching or support from a family member for things like childcare.
  • Practice Self-Compassion. You are going to have set-backs. You’re going to sleep in and miss your workout one day, you’re going to have a slice of pizza for lunch when you intended to have a huge-ass salad. The question is, how do you handle these situations? What isn’t going to serve you? Beating yourself up for these slip-ups. What will serve you? Realizing that you are in a bigger-picture scenario — that is, what you do most of the time defines your physique, your fitness and health, not what happens on a day when you didn’t get enough sleep.
  • Be Realistic With Your Goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t decide that you are going to run a marathon in 4 months when you haven’t ran in 8 years. Sure, you might hear of people doing such things, but that is a rare case, not the norm. One of my goals is to be active and fit well into old-age. This guides me well because it means that I don’t do stupid things — I don’t train through injuries and I don’t try things that I know I’m not ready for.

You can definitely do this! Don’t let your vulnerabilities stop you. Don’t let your setbacks set you back 😉 And be honest about what is realistic for you, right now. You are worth this journey.

Here’s to healthy, happy and magical 2016!

P.S. If you need help with information gathering, don’t forget that I send out weekly workouts to my email list each Sunday. Sign up for my list here.

I Gave Myself a Break From Exercise: Here’s What Happened

Since June, if I had days where I didn’t *feel* like working out, I would generally skip it…about 90% of the time.

I’d take a nap. Or take a shower. Maybe watch TV. Or, read a magazine. Go to the dog park.

Why?

Because I like my workouts. I like to enjoy them. I don’t want my exercise space to be something I dread.

Because you don’t have to train hard all the time. I trained a lot the first half of this year and last while getting ready for my SFG cert. I’m not training for anything now — I’d be training hard just to do that. Which is fine, but it hasn’t been the headspace I’ve been in.

Because maintenance is a training mode, too. Meaning, sometimes exercise isn’t about beating records and lifting more, it’s about staying healthy. My workouts these past 6 months have been to maintain my skills, my strength and to stay healthy. I’m not breaking records, I’m not really trying anything new.

Because I’ve had nagging foot pain.

kettlebell swing coach cat

And, sure, I know this sounds crazy coming from a fitness instructor, but I 100% believe it’s okay to give yourself breaks. I see a lot of trainers talking about the importance of squeezing in training here and there and while yes, sometimes that is good. Sometimes that is necessary. But if you’re already relatively healthy and not trying to break records, what is the actual point of going balls to the walls?

For me, this is what taking a break looked like:

Most weeks I exercised about 3 or 4 times.  Remember, I still *like* exercise. It’s still one of my hobbies.

When I did exercise, I just did what I wanted to do. I played. I can’t tell you how much I love playing with exercise. Doing what my body feels like doing, instead of what I *should* be doing, or what I am *supposed* to be doing. It just feels good, man, to do what I want.

And what were my results of this?

I weigh the same. My muscle definition is basically the same.

A few of my lifts have weakened — meaning, I can’t lift as much as I was doing in May, particularly my overhead press.

My feet feel better. My quad and hamstring that were giving me grief this summer, feel better.

And most importantly, mentally I feel…better. I am starting to get the urge to train hard again and I like that feeling. To me, these breaks give me context. It makes training hard a special time for me. It’s often said that to feel goodness and happiness, you need to know pain and what bad times feel like to truly appreciate the good. While nothing “bad” happened while I took a break, it does give me context which I find useful for myself and in my practice of coaching others.

An important thing to note here is that this kind of break requires quite a bit of self-trust. Earlier in my fitness journey, I likely would have been scared to do this. I would have worried about how much fitness I’d lose, how much weight I’d gain, how much definition I’d lose and that I’d lose my inertia. This is operating from a fear mentality.

I don’t have these kind of thoughts anymore because I trust myself. Exercise is a part of my life, no matter what. I know I will workout a few times a week regardless of what is going on, because I like to do it and it’s a self-care act above all else.  I also trust the science of fitness. That is, I know I won’t lose a lot by turning down the volume on my exercise and that I can get back any strength setbacks in a relatively short period of time. I know that I won’t gain weight if I pay attention to what I eat and eat less when I’m training less.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we all have times when we take breaks like this. Mine was somewhat a choice, somewhat my body screaming at me to chill out. But many times, these breaks are forced upon us by situations in our life we can’t control — a loved one passes, a divorce happens, babies are born and need us or maybe you’re laid off. And one of the things that breaks my heart the most as a trainer is seeing just how hard people are on themselves when life throws them a curveball.

pigeon pose coach cat

It’s okay and necessary to ratchet down the volume on your training every now and then. Our bodies have limits and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t make us less than, it doesn’t make us lazy. It gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves to take on new challenges. And isn’t that truly why we train anyway? To prepare for those future challenges? Food for thought, kiddos, food for thought.

 

I Wish I Could Do That!

“I’m not the kind of person that works out.”

This is a thought I had in college and my early 20s.

“I wish I could do that!”

This was said to me when I was doing a workout last year on Thanksgiving morning.

It *really* struck me. The person that said this to me was in reality no different than myself. She had time, access to fitness equipment, and no children. A lot like myself.

For a moment I felt a slight sense of shame — was it bad that I was choosing to spend some time working out on the morning of a holiday instead of leaving early to spend more time with family? was it selfish? was it vain?

Given I’ve been working on my mindset practice for quite some time, I knew how to turn my shame triggering thoughts around. Because I exercise for so many reasons, I knew that I would not only physically feel better going into a huge Thanksgiving meal, but that I would calm any anxiety I had (family, traffic, cooking, etc.).

Here’s the thing: you get to decide what kind of person you are.

You get to decide to exercise. “I wish I could do that.” Is language that takes the power away from you. Linguistically, you are saying that you have no choice in the matter.

But the beauty of being an adult living in the free world? We choose our path.

There is not one kind of person that works out. There are people that run, people that lift, people that swing kettlebells, people that go to spin classes, people that go to yoga, people that do pilates, people that run 100 miles in the desert, there are people that ride bikes, people that hike mountains

Exercise is simply movement. The human body is, in fact, designed to move. For realsies. There is no one kind of person is allowed the privilege of being the “KIND OF PERSON THAT EXERCISES”.

You ARE that kind of person.

You ARE the kind of person that chooses to do something you love.

You ARE the kind of person that can decide to be joyful in your movement.

You CHOOSE to be that kind of person.

You choose to be this kind of person by the everyday small choices that you make. You choose to be this kind of person by developing habits. The difference between myself and the person who made the comments to me?

  • I wake up early and have a structured sleep schedule that I prioritize.
  • I don’t negotiate with myself about exercise, I simply do it.
  • I have found movement that invigorates my soul.

In life, we can be “victims” of circumstance or revel in the joy that is the wide open path of choice.

What do you choose for today? Remember, it’s the small choices that add up to something amazing.

Where is My Mind?

When I moved to California in August 2004 one of the first weekends I was here, I was lucky enough to see The Pixies at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. (Thank you Heidi!). And like most Pixies fans, I was pretty stoked to see “Where is my Mind?” live.

And this song is the first thing I thought of when I set out to right this post about mindset. I mean, with that title, it’s obvious, right? But also, it’s kind of 100% my point — where is my mind? Where is your mind at? What are you thinking about, what are you focusing on, what do you want, how do you talk to yourself?

I think, most importantly, that you are indeed the expert on your own life. Not me. I cannot tell you what is important to you, I cannot tell you the right choices to make.

But, let’s talk about what “mindset” even means. In general terms it is basically:  “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. Simple. It’s your attitude.

It’s how you think about the world around you. It’s how you interact with people. It’s how you perceive yourself. It defines the relationship you have with yourself.

And at the end of the day, these are the things that matter most. You can lose your job and be broke, but your attitude in these kinds of situations will absolutely make or break you. You can either see a way out, or you see the world crushing you as you are too crippled with fear to act. Yes?

Ultimately, mindset is everything. And part of my path to get here might be something you can find useful in your own life:

Fitness is indeed transformative. Knowing that you have the ability to push past that little voice of doubt in your mind and tackle a tough workout is important. And being able to meet a goal that you didn’t ever think was possible — like swinging a 55# kettlebell with ease, is powerful.

I believe that this is partially to do with modern life. We spend much of our day disconnected from our bodies, clicking, typing, and tweeting that I think once we realize we can do something like a full push-up for the first time ever that the power of that movement does indeed translate to feeling more powerful and confident in other areas of our life. Because ultimately our bodies are ours and ours alone and the power of knowing that with hard work YOU can make things happen is a huge boon to our mindset.

But, this doesn’t always just happen. To achieve fitness goals, we need to have some sort of consistency, right? We need to exercise on a regular basis to achieve these kinds of results that are powerful. And the same remains true of mindset shifts. It’s a practice that we have to nurture. It’s a practice that needs to be consistent.

A fitness practice without a mindset practice is ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

I know this, because this was me. I exercised in my 20s. I exercised quite a lot. But in general, I was direction-less. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career and mostly I was having fun living the dream in San Francisco. I have no regrets. But I exercised with only the purpose of checking it off my to-do list. To be thinner. To be prettier and more accepted.

livingdreaminsf

{The city I love and that distracted me for many years!}

And then I mostly stopped. I was working for BCSF and yet I had about a year where I gained 15 pounds, was depressed and the times I did exercise it felt like torture.

But when I re-committed to exercise, things had changed. I was devoted to working on the whole me.  And, knock on wood, I’m turning 34 next month and I haven’t fallen off the wagon again, yet. Save a little time off for injury rehab, that’s 6 years of successful consistent exercise and mindset practice. So it’s safe to say, I’ve learned a bit along the way.

Initially my mindset practice was simple and just involved changing some of my thought patterns and habits. The three mindset shifts that I did initially made were:

1. I wanted to be proud of my decisions. On days I struggled, I thought about how I would feel tomorrow and the next week, etc. I wanted to choose feeling proud, rather than shame.

2. I moved in ways that made me happy. I didn’t go back to the gym and ride the elliptical for 30 minutes. I did get a road bike and start cycling like a maniac which made me ridiculously happy. I did start running around San Francisco again with my pup — this never fails to put a smile on my face. I did start working on my strength training.

stellastoppingduringarun

{Stella always teaches me the important lessons, like stopping to roll in the grass mid-run.}

3. I didn’t want to give myself the easy way out. I had always been someone that was successful in the things I wanted to be successful at. Throughout college and my first job out, things had always fallen into place. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco and I had struggled a bit that I was shaken in this capacity. At the end of the day, I knew I was better than how I was acting. I knew that I was capable of so much more than I was doing at the time. In short:  I wanted to live up to my potential.

If you are struggling with motivation, I hope you’ll consider starting a mindset practice. And if you’re not sure where to start, consider starting where I did with changing your thought patterns. Sometimes all it takes is literally just shifting the words you choose to say to yourself.

Just like with exercise, mindset practice is very simple when you look at it up close. But as with exercise that doesn’t make it easy, especially when the going gets tough.

Trust me, though. You got this. Because if I can do it, there is no way you can’t do it either!

We Are What We Speak.

In the winter of 2001 I had a lot of firsts:  my first love, my first experience with snow in Seattle, and my first time being truly enveloped in an academic pursuit. I was a sophomore at UW, taking second-year German, an expository English writing course and a literature class. My life revolved around words:  love, Leben and English.

Expository writing needs a topic, a theme. That particular quarter, my instructor chose medical language — the way we talk about illness, the way we write about it, the general zeitgeist of our speech choices. Initially I was bummed — this topic was most definitely not in my wheelhouse of expertise at the time. As the quarter passed, we looked back at how tuberculosis was romanticized in westerns, then we started to look at contemporary pieces about the “fight” against cancer and the military-esque metaphors we all regularly use to describe disease. And I was sort of, well, hooked.

When put plainly in front of you, it was pretty shocking. Why do we do this? These are our bodies that we are discussing, yet when it comes to disease we suddenly use words that imply we are raging against them. Our bodies that we know and love are suddenly part of the enemy. It’s not this simple though: the answers of why we speak like this are impossible to lay out simply and plainly in front of you.

And this was my biggest first of all that winter:  it was my entry into truly understanding and feeling how and why the words we choose, matters. From the very first email I sent for BCSF, I have always had this in the back of my mind and have been applying it to the language we use around fitness. Because, words mean things.

And yet, so often the words that are chosen to represent fitness are aggressive and negative. About our own bodies. About our own minds. On the one hand we say we are working out for our health, to live longer lives, to run around with our kids and grandkids — all positive and noble reasons to exercise. Yet, a quick search on Pinterest for the top fitness pins give us “9 Moves to Shrink your Muffin Top”, a “Saddlebag Sizzler”, “5 Arm Workouts to Teach you How To Look Good in a Tank Top”. We buy books that tell us how to get “Killer Abs with a Killer Body”.  We want workouts that “torch” calories, we want to burn, burn, burn. Calories are an enemy in the fitness game. I would file most of these words as negative. When you look at them, most inspire judgment, shame, self-loathing and condescension.

But, aren’t our bodies are precious? Isn’t it awesome that we have the power to do so much with them? Isn’t it awesome that we have bodies that allow us to deadlift, run, do push-ups, do pull-ups? Isn’t it awesome that even when we can’t do something that we really, really want to do, we can almost always do something rather than nothing?

Aren’t calories the means that allow us to do all the above? Because last I checked, calories are what give us the energy to chase after our kids, to walk with your significant other on the beach, to chase your dog, to run up that hill.

Why did we decide that these things our enemies?

Why do we allow people to cut us down with shameful sounding workouts right out of the gate?

We can do better this.

We can fix this.

encourage mint

And it all starts with how we speak about our workouts. It starts with owning your badassery out of the gate. It starts with being proud of what you did, not what you didn’t quite get right during your workout. Recognizing mistakes is not the same as tearing yourself down for making mistakes. It’s not about feeling guilty about having “excuses”. It’s about being realistic and remembering your “why”. Your “end game”.

My why:  life-long health and pursuing something I love with passion and all I’ve got.

My “end-game”:  to exercise until I’m 85 (or longer, hell, who knows what’ll happen) and to do so safely.

This starts with honoring the process. By having goals but not determining my self-worth by said goals. I.e. I have a goal of training for StrongFirst right now, but that doesn’t supercede my priority of training safely, to mitigate injury and to be able to do this all for years to come. The SFG cert is like a cherry on top of a cake that I have working on for years, building layer by layer.

So, try it. Try only using positive words to talk about your workouts and fitness goals. Try avoiding plans that use shame right out of the gate. And let’s just see what happens.

I’m Not Skinny: And That Is Okay

“You’re SO skinny these days!!”

“Of COURSE, YOU’RE not going to eat that…” followed by a sigh.

“What have you been doing?!” while looking me up and down.

“Of course you can wear those shorts, YOU don’t have any cellulite.”

“Oh, you can eat whatever you want because you workout all the time.”

These are things I’ve heard from people that I love. People that I respect. And, while I know they love me and intend to compliment me, well, they are odd things for me to hear. I’m 5’11. My weight usually hovers right around 165 pounds, lately it’s been closer to 169.

There is, honestly, no metric by which I would be considered a small person. Because, let’s be real:   I dwarf most women and many men. And I do have cellulite. And plenty of body fat, too. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m overweight, ugly or that I just don’t deserve to hear people say nice things to me.

Usually when people say these things, I’ve found that there are a few things going on:

  1. Often the person saying this is either providing a very direct comparison to themselves or an implied one. It’s pretty much always a negative one. And, to be honest it doesn’t make me feel good about myself when you cast yourself in a negative light. That does not prop me up. When you say these things, mostly I just want to tell you that you’re amazing just as you are.
  2. We are elevating the idea of skinny as being the ultimate goal. It’s not. It’s not my goal. And I don’t think it should be yours. While I might have training goals from time to time for events and certifications (I’m looking at you SFG), in general my goals are simple:  to be healthy, to be strong, to be fit enough to enjoy the process and do what I love. In that order. Fitness and training happen to be one of the things I love, so I am simply lucky in that regard. But I would honestly rather be 10 pounds overweight and healthy than starve myself to simply be skinny. I don’t think that trainers that have a mentality that elevates “skinny” as the end-goal are doing a service to their clients and they are most definitely doing a disservice to their own health and moreso, mindset.
  3. And let me be frank:  I’m not skinny. There, I said it. I have muscles. I have pretty big muscles, in fact. My frame is not slight in any way shape or form. Women my height that are models weigh 30 pounds LESS than I do. Think about that for a minute:  30 freaking pounds! I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be strong. Muscles make me strong. Let me say it again, I don’t want to be skinny.

kbracklookaway

But, I get it. People mean this as a compliment and skinny has just become a cultural norm in the way we speak. It’s shorthand for “Hey, you look good!”, or “I notice you’ve been working out!”. It’s similar to how we use, “like”:  we just say it without thinking. It is basically, semantics.

Skinny Defined

 

But take a gander at how Merriam Websters defines “skinny” above ^. I don’t know about you, but none of those are qualities I want to be or exhibit.

Because I want to have sufficient flesh and I don’t want to have a lack of desirable bulk. I want to be significant.

And I want those things for you too.

Some of the “compliments” I’ve been hearing from people probably have to do with the sheer fact that, yes, my body has changed and they have noticed. That is fair:  when I graduated from college, about 10,  um, 12 years ago I weighed just shy of 200 pounds. I lost most of that weight after moving to San Francisco. I then hovered in the 170s and perhaps 180s at times for most of my 20s. I was working out for most of this time, yet I rarely counted a calorie and I was inconsistent with my workouts…for large swaths of time I only ran and barely did any strength training. I was generally okay with where I was, but I didn’t have defined muscles and had higher body fat than I do now.

But, in 2010 I started taking weight lifting a little more seriously. And at some point I  started to lift heavy and get really into kettlebell work. And I decided that I did want to lose some body fat. So I did. For a brief period of time, I counted calories and weighed my food on a scale for the first time in my life. Which, for the record, I’m not sure I will ever do again, but am grateful for the learning experience.

And I actually enjoy healthy foods like kale salads and chicken breasts that encourage leanness and muscle building.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my body a lot, but to me the aesthetic effects of my hard work are just that:  merely a very pleasant side effect. It is not my end-game. Because the lure of a six-pack truly does NOT motivate me to workout on days when I just don’t wanna. What gets me to do it is both the habit and reminding myself about my goals:  to stay healthy both mentally and physically, to have strength and to honor the commitment I’ve made to this path. The fact I know I’ll have fun once I start my workout, is the cherry on top.

And, yes, it’s nice to have your hard work acknowledged by the people you love. Of course it is. But I am sorry to break it to you, but I am not skinny. And that’s okay. Because, I’m healthy as a horse (knock on wood), I’m as strong as I’ve ever been and I’m enjoying the hell out of the process.

Moving Forward: Using Your Past as a Tool

Yesterday I was looking through some files and came across a swathe of my old workout plans. These were plans for classes I taught about 4 years ago. Looking through them it was fun to see how I’ve evolved as a trainer. I laughed because I have exercises that were used over and over again and I don’t even know what the exercise IS! A froggie? What is a froggie? What is an Anna sit-up? And other questions, like why haven’t I used an Indian run in my class for what feels like 2 years?!

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Is Exercise a Punishment?

This summer I went on a date with a very normal San Francisco guy. He worked in tech and really was hoping to make the leap to his own start-up — so yes, he really was that typical of SF. As we talked he bottom-lined me and asked: “So, tell me, could you actually date someone that doesn’t workout?”. I truthfully answered that I don’t need a partner to be as enthusiastic as I am about kettlebells and perfect squat form. If anything, it’s nice to have someone at home that wants to talk about something other than workouts since it’s pretty much what I think about 40+ hours a week. And I’ve dated men that were competitive with me when it came to fitness knowledge and application – to say that was frustrating would be a vast understatement.

 

The tech guy went on to tell me that he had a personal trainer a few years back and was in the best shape of his life due to the grueling workouts he went through. But he was no longer interested in working out, pretty much ever again. Not sure if he was joking or simply trying to get a rise out of me and always willing to give someone a chance, we texted throughout the following week to set up another date. At one point he sent me a message complaining about walking up Potrero Hill to his apartment at the top. I tried to make a joke to really suss out how serious he was about this and to nudge him with the idea that going uphill is something I enjoy a lot. But his heels were dug in: this was something he clearly felt was worthy of a complaint. At this point, I was certain that we wouldn’t be a good match.  To have the health and ability to be able to do this sort of thing is a true gift that not everyone has.

view potrero hill

Because to me, exercise is actually self-care. Movement is something we need to do to take care of our bodies to live healthfully and happy for the entirety of our lives. It is a gift we are endowed with to do things like hike up Potrero Hill or Macchu Pichu, but, it is also something akin to brushing our teeth, flossing, doing our laundry, going to the doctor for regular check-ups and so on and so forth. That is to say, it’s necessary, not optional. As with any commitment, sometimes we may enjoy it, sometimes we may not. But it is never something that should be a punishment. And if you don’t enjoy the way you are exercising, change it. If your needs change due to illness, injury or disability – change it, don’t give up, just know that sometimes in life you will have to adjust the way you workout. Women have babies, people get hurt, we get older. It happens and we simply need to adapt.
Continue reading “Is Exercise a Punishment?”