Bare Nekkid

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Mobility

One thing I have a habit of neglecting is mobility, which is not good, since the whole point of getting fit is to feel good. When I talk about mobility, I’m talking about dealing with muscle tightness, fascial adhesions, and the whole whack of problems that keep you from moving as freely and as comfortable as you can.

Here are some of my favorite tools:

People:

  • A good registered massage therapist. Not the person who rubs nice-smelling stuff all over you at the spa while you relax to soothing music, but a proper massage therapist who knows what trigger points and adhesions are. Even if you don’t go to him or her regularly, your massage therapist can teach you where you tend to tighten up, what it feels like when you work your bad spots (sometimes it burns like hell), and some ways to address the problems. I always ask mine what specific muscles he’s working on so I can look them up in my books.

Books:

  • The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. Overworked muscles often form tight little knots called trigger points that can refer pain all over your body. This book shows the patterns of pain and other symptoms, and describes how to treat them. Once you know what they feel like, though, you can just go searching for them with a tennis ball (see below).
  • Stretching Anatomy. Bob Anderson’s book Stretching is a classic, but Stretching Anatomy is more technical. If you really want to know how your body’s put together, and how to vary your stretches to get at just the right muscle or intensity, this is the book for you. The whole Anatomy series (Yoga Anatomy, Strength Training Anatomy, Running Anatomy) is great this way.

Websites:

  • MobilityWOD. Short for Mobility Workout of the Day, this site (and the videos!) point out a lot of ways to address nasty mobility issues. It’s slightly heavy on the testosterone, but if you can get past that, the information is good.

Actual tools:

  • Inflatable balls. Miracle Balls are cheap, fairly easy to find (I’ve seen them at Costco and Chapters) and come with an instruction booklet. The booklet’s ok, but once you get the hang of it, you figure out what to do. Just lie on them and relax.
  • Foam roller. Sportcheck carries these now. Many sites explain how or have videos on how to use them. Sensations vary from enjoyably to deeply painful, but if it hurts, it needs work.
  • Balls. Tennis balls, racquetballs, etc. Same thing. Vary the size and the hardness to get a comfortable amount of pressure. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook illustrates how to pin balls against a floor or wall to get at many different spots.  

Gendering of Fitness, Take Two

Not long after my original post on the gendering of fitness, Brain Pickings posted about the book Venus with Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women.

Apparently not much has changed:

When women first began to work out with weights, it was considered dangerous to have them lift anything heavy and so they were given only two- or four-pound wooden dumbbells. The fact that women lifted much heavier objects in the home seems to have escaped most of the men who designed the exercise.

And the ridiculousness at LiveStrong continues. Apparently this qualifies as heavy lifting:

Heavy_weights_2

On Twitter, I called LiveStrong out on the poorly chosen image from my previous post, but all they seem to have done is follow me back. Today I contacted them through their feedback form, and the automated message says they’ll get back to me in a day or two.

If that doesn’t work, I may start a Change.org petition. The site seems to work particularly well for getting companies to remove or change sexist messaging, and I’m sure my strong female friends at Fitocracy would be more than happy to sign.

The Gendering of Fitness

The topic of gender and fitness has been on my mind for a while, but today was the breaking point. I’d just gotten back from an upper body workout at the gym in our condo, and my muscles were shaking a little. I Googled to see what I might do about it, if anything.

That’s when I found this image in a LiveStrong article.

Livestrong2
I don’t know what those tiny metal things are in her hand. I’m guessing they’re supposed to be weights. I don’t know about the woman in the photo, but I doubt that’s all she can lift. Anyone who’s ever carried a bag of groceries, a briefcase, the trash to the curb, or a small child has lifted more than that.

The article is about muscles that shake after a strenuous workout, so this implies that she’s particularly weak. And that’s what I think the stock photo company was going for. It’s never ok to show women being powerful, unless you simultaneously do something to make us look ridiculously ineffectual.

Did you hear female boxers may be required to wear skirts now? 

I’ll stick to my Underarmour shorts, thanks.

Mood Management

A couple Fridays ago, we had an impromptu visit from a friend. Between the stress of grad school apps, a full courseload, and a class in the morning that had gone sideways, I was cranky and couldn’t shake it. I excused myself to grab a quick run at the gym. By the time I had my workout clothes, heart rate monitor, and Vibram Five Fingers on, I was considerably cheerier, and after my mile, I was downright happy.

Mood management is, hands down, one of the best reasons to exercise, because the effects can be felt almost instantaneously. It might take weeks or months to see any measurable progress in terms of physique or cardio fitness. It takes a couple days at least to see gains in strength or speed. But you can achieve noticeable changes in mood within minutes.

That’s why anytime I feel particularly anxious, irritated, unfocused, stuck, or drowsy, or simply need to get away from homework, I try to get to the gym. Professional public speaker Scott Berkun, in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker, also suggests exercising before you give a presentation:

Since I respect my body’s unstoppable fear responses, I have to go out of my way to calm down before I give a presentation. I want to make my body as relaxed as possible and exhaust as much physical energy early in the day. As a rule, I go to the gym the morning before a talk, with the goal of releasing any extra nervous energy before I get on stage. It’s the only way I’ve found to naturally turn down those fear responses and lower the odds they’ll fire.

I’ve gone for a proactive run twice in the past couple weeks, once for a meeting with a potential grad school supervisor and once before helping a friend give a workshop. It works. Give it a shot. 

Strength Training Resources

I’ve been all over the Internet and the bookstores looking for strength training advice, but here are two basic resources I keep going back to:

Strength Training Anatomy, by Frédéric Delavier (book)

This book offers detailed anatomical illustrations that show many of the most common strength training exercises, using machines, free weights, and body weight, and the muscles these exercises target. It also has a few pages of caveats to help you avoid injury on specific exercises. I like it because it’s geeky. There’s a ton of depth to plumb as you build your own routines.

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Wiki (videos and articles)

I’ve linked directly to the instructional videos because they are pure gold, recommended to me by a fellow Fitocracy user. If you want to get into training with barbells and plates (and at some point you should), Rippetoe is a real biomechanics geek (with a charming Southern accent). Watch the videos before you start lifting to make sure you’re doing it right and avoiding injury.

Hip Flexor Stretch

As a student and avid gamer, I spend a lot of time sitting, so my hips tend to be pretty tight. Although tight hip flexors contribute to lower back pain, this area often goes unaddressed because that’s not where the pain is. The hips also tend not to get worked on in massage because the hip flexors are close to some pretty intimate areas.The classic stretch for the hip flexors is often called the Sir Lancelot because it resembles a knight kneeling in fealty to his lord, but Lauren’s Fitness offers a nice variation (scroll down) that gets the arms involved to deepen the stretch. She also offers videos of the classic and the elevated versions.

About Me

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” -Michelangelo

Change often begins with the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we’ve accepted wholesale from other people, without examination. For almost my entire childhood and adolescence, I was one of those stereotypical kids-who-got-picked-last in Phys Ed. I loved watching dancers, and wished I could be one, but I knew that door was closed to me. I’d long learned that physical activity was associated with inadequacy, drudgery, and negligible reward. It didn’t help that I lived in a culture (and in America we all do) that promotes the notion of “No pain, no gain,” and markets, particularly to women, magazines covered with headlines like “Get a beach-ready body in 12 weeks!”

It was at a garage sale that I picked up a different kind of story, a copy of George Leonard’s book The Ultimate Athlete. He begins with the story of a gym coach and the shame of a “classic fat boy” named Babcock who knows he can’t do a pull-up and doesn’t even try, and poetically makes his way to the martial art of aikido, in which there is no competition and no humiliation, just cooperation and beauty. It is a book about exhiliaration and play. I fell in love. I found these things, as promised, in aikido and to some extent in the other martial arts I trained in, but it would take years of fumbled attempts to discover for myself that they existed in every form of physical activity.

These days I’m slowly chipping away at the old stories and discovering new ones to replace them, and in the process, uncovering what’s been there all along. I can now count myself as a beginning runner and lifter. I’m working on my diet, which is not easy for this born-and-raised New Orleanian. I invite you to join me as I post the resources that inform what I do and the insights (my own and others’) that inspire and motivate me.