Interesting Reads from January

Here are some things I enjoyed reading this month!

Over at LBEB, a post on Controlled Aggression:

My message is this: be brave when you lift. Be brave when you’re going for a PR. Tap into your inner aggression and do MORE than the minimum required effort to move that weight. When you are performing an event for strongman, or going for a PR in powerlifting or crossfit, lift like your life depends on that movement! Sprint like your soul is on the line. Move weight like someone is yelling in your ear, even if no one is. Be your own training partner when one isn’t there. Demand more of yourself.

Fit and Feminist talking about Women and Pull-Ups:

If we want to know what women are truly capable of, we have got to stop with this bullshit that says physical strength and its signifiers will somehow diminish a woman’s beauty and femininity.  (Ideally it would be nice if we could stop acting as though beauty and femininity are the only things women have to offer the world, but baby steps, yo. Baby steps.) This idea that upper body strength is reserved only for men, and that women shouldn’t dare investigate it for fear of blurring the supposedly rock-solid gender binary (seriously, for something that is supposedly so deeply ingrained in nature, it sure does require a lot of hard work and effort to keep it in place), is ridiculous.

While Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty talks about Women-Only Gyms:

I know too that there are some women-only gyms. I have no objection to them and I don’t think they’re sexist. But I would be interested to know whether they are as well-equipped as inclusive gyms, or if they emphasize a certain kind of equipment that caters more “to the ladies.”  I find that assumptions that women ought to work out in certain less intensive ways do women a disservice.  But if that’s the only way to get some women out there hitting the iron, then it’s a good place to start.

The Believer had the most terrific article ever, called Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and The Spectacles of Female Power and Pain:

DISCUSSED: Weapons Not Used Against Nancy Kerrigan, Factors Likely to Sway an Olympic Judge’s “Artistic Expression” Score, The Triple Axel, Sponsorships in the ’90s, White Trash and Working Class, The Non-Sexualized Female Athlete, Tonya Harding’s Brief Acting Career, Fast-Food Restaurants near the Former Skating Rink in Clackamas County [Ed. Note: if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.]

And Jezebel took us through the Evolution of Sexy as displayed on Sports Illustrated covers:

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Finally, Sociological Images talks about Athletics and the Political Ambitions of Young Adults:

The authors suggest that the mediating factor is “an opportunity to develop… a competitive spirit.”  Sports, they argue, may build or reinforce the tendency to find pleasure in competition, which may make politics more appealing.

While sports increased both men’s and women’s interest in politics, it had a greater effect for women, shrinking the gender gap in political ambition by half.

What are your thoughts on women-only gyms and/or Tonya Harding and/or the tan lines that would result from that second swim suit?

Interview with Rachel, the extremely good badminton player

Rachel and I met when I was an undergrad and she was a PhD student within the same philosophy department. We played on a department intramural team called Nagel’s Bats, GET IT? Not only is she very athletic, but she also has some cool thoughts on women in sports. Lucky for us, she took some time to be interviewed for this blog!

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Rachel, on left, wearing purple.

Me: You’re one of the most diversely skilled athletes I know. As a kid, were you encouraged to try lots of different sports or to specialize in one or a few things?

Rachel: Thanks! I can’t say whether I was actively encouraged to play sports as a child, but I was essentially golfing from age 3, and I was a generally sporty kid. Our neighbourhood had lots of other kids and we’d generally spend all our free time playing street hockey, baseball, tennis, riding bikes, football, or some other activity, structured or not. I played little league baseball, tennis, and golf from a very early age. I transitioned into badminton around age 10 and started winning tournaments almost immediately. Although I’ve picked up and even competed in many other sports, golf and badminton were my main focus.

I’ve heard you mention that a bad accident crushed your hopes of becoming a professional golfer. My first ACL tear took me out of sports for about a year, and I really struggled with my identity as an athlete (are you an athlete if you can’t go for a jog?), and I know a lot of people with chronic injuries who say their injury makes them struggle with their relationship to their body. How were you able to come back strong after your accident?

The car accident was pretty devastating. I was barely 16, and it was September. It happened to be the day I was going to get back to training badminton after my month off from the previous season (where I was the BC provincial U16 singles champion). But as a passenger, we hit a telephone pole around 80kph and I badly injured my wrist, back, knee, and neck. I quit golf as a result and I was away from badminton for roughly two years. Unfortunately, those are the years where one’s skill really develops and matures, and I missed out on those. So when I went back to training at 18, I was sorely behind: people I was beating easily were now beating me. I went from being top ranked, to barely making semi-finals (and only winning one tournament, as a fill-in doubles partner for one of the other top players).

Honestly, the accident and injuries changed my relationship to sports in a lot of ways. I was a high-performance athlete before the crash, but not really after. I had to shift away from thoughts of professional golf (which was my career path) and towards academics.

I still consider myself an athlete, but I no longer consider myself high-performance. Just the other week I was at a World Cup speed skating event, and I found myself feeling a little upset that I lost the chance to compete on the world stage. I miss being absorbed by being a high-performance athlete: it really is an identity. I used to build my life around training and competing: now I build training and competing around my life (as a professor).

So I wouldn’t say that I “came back strong after [my] accident” per se. Sure, I got back into heavy training, but nothing like I was doing before, mostly because my priorities had shifted. I used to train 2-4 hours/day; now I play more than I explicitly “train.” But sports, and competitive sports, will likely always be a part of my life: it’s just part of who I am. My back and neck haven’t fully healed from the soft tissue damage. However, they’ve healed well enough for the levels of sport that I compete at, although I can only golf recreationally now.

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P&G Olympics Commercials

Here’s the thing. Do these “Moms of Olympians” commercials make cry tears upon tears every time I watch them? Oh heck yes.

I mean, have I spent several hours watching these commercials? Yes, yes I have!

But how hard would it have been for them to be “proud sponsors of parents” rather than “proud sponsors of moms”? It bothers me for two reasons:

1. Most P&G brands are household care and cleaning products (Tide, Bounty, Charmin, Dawn, Swiffer, Mr. Clean, etc.). To target ads for these products only to women is distasteful and regressive. “Oh, laundry detergent? That’s for women!” Come on.

2. What about all the devoted, encouraging, nurturing, wonderful dads out there? When does the media ever show us that love? Dads teach their kids how to ski, dads make sure their kids stay warm, dads wake up at 5am to get their kids to the rink, dads teach their kids life lessons about overcoming failure, and dads cry with pride when their kids succeed!

I still love watching these videos. But for Rio 2016, let’s get some dads in there, P&G!

What does weightlifting competition prep look like?

My friends have lately become accustomed to hearing, “I’m busy that day, I have lifting.” This is because I am ramping up for the Hokkaido Cup, a weightlifting meet on Feb 1, so I can’t miss a single training session!

Usually as we prepare for a meet, we would cut out conditioning (i.e., Crossfit) about a month out because we want to use all our time and energy either for lifting or for resting and recovering our poor little big muscles. But because we also have some Crossfit competitions coming up shortly after, we are keeping up with our conditioning until two weeks out. So, here’s what my training looks like:

Week 1: 5 lifting sessions, 2 Crossfit classes
Week 2: 4 lifting sessions, 2 Crossfit classes
Week 3: 4 lifting sessions
Week 4: 3 lifting sessions (the last of which is very easy), and the competition!

As the weeks go on, we do fewer but heavier repetitions. Some days we do snatches and front squats. Other days we do clean & jerks and back squats. Sometimes we do both. Sometimes we use blocks or practise tall or dip drills. Some days have overhead squats, drop snatches, or jerks from the rack.

Photos from today's overhead squat training. From the shoulders, up above the head, squat all the way down to full depth, stand it back up.

Photos from today’s overhead squat training. From the shoulders, up above the head, squat all the way down to full depth, stand it back up.

Some people cut weight during the lead-up to a competition. This doesn’t interest me, but for the last two competitions I did, I fasted until after weigh-in on competition day, and stopped drinking water at 5pm the night before. This cuts alone cuts about 2-3kg of mass for me, but also makes me feel grumpy and dizzy rather than pumped and ready for the day. I also really don’t need to cut to meet my weight class, as I want to compete in the 63kg weight class, and when I weight myself (during lifting, so at night and with clothes on) I’m about 63.5kg. Also, from my last competition I learned never to weight less than I need to, so I think without fasting I can still be 62.99kg or lower.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of contest prep is sticking to the programming. On days when the loading is light, say, only up to 80% of our maxes, I just want to go heavier! And later, as our volume decreases to only about 30 or 40 reps in a session, I just want to lift more reps! But I need to remind myself that leading up to the day of the meet, I’m supposed to feel as if I have more in me than my program asked for. There’s no point banging out a PR on Tuesday during Week 3… save it for the big day.

Another challenge for me is not to escalate the consequences of missed reps. The other day I failed at 90% of my clean, and freaked out about how I wanted to OPEN at 90%! If I’m not even able to hit 90%, then how the heck am I supposed to hit my 100% or PR at the meet! All is lost! I’ll never be ready! It’s easier said than done, but I am working on trusting the programming to do what it is designed to do, and have me ready to hit that 100% at the meet. You can’t peak every day!

One of the best parts of contest prep is all the time you have during the tapering of weeks 3 and 4. Running errands? On a week night? Don’t mind if I do!

I’m really looking forward to Hokkaido. Our lifting team has been growing lately, and we will have two lifters who will be competing for the first time. I also think it’s a realistic goal for me to total 110kg  which would be enough to move me out of the Novice category and into a Canadian classification! Ah, but let’s not get carried away. We’re still in week 1 and there’s much work to be done!

Snatch records as of Jan 10
Best at a meet: 41kg
Best in practice: 43kg
Goal: 45kg

Clean & Jerk records as of Jan 10
Best at a meet: 57kg
Best in practice: 63kg
Goal: 65kg

A Crossfit Year in Review

Registration for the Crossfit Open starts soon, and I’m reminded of where I was at this point last year. I started Crossfit in January 2013, and, barely out of Fundamentals, I nervously considered registering for the Open. I knew I’d probably be the weakest competitor at my gym, and I was worried there would be movements I couldn’t do (at that point, I still couldn’t do a pull up). I was talking to one of my favourite coaches, Bailey, bemoaning the fact that I  could barely lift anything and there were so many movements I can’t do. Seeing some nearbly athletes practising  flawless double unders, I pointed out that I couldn’t even string them together! Everybody is so much better than me!

Bailey said, “Yeah, but they didn’t start that good. Good people used to be bad, and then they just practised a lot.” Completely inspired (she’s a great coach), I registered for the Open that night and decided to start doing 10 minutes of double unders on all my non-Crossfit days. At first, I could only get about 40 or 50 within 10 minutes. Eventually I could get 100 in ten minutes, and I decided to try to get my 100 DU time down. I asked around the gym for what a “good” 100 DU time would be, and got the answer of about 2:00. I set my goal at 1:30.

In the past year I have had a lot of exciting firsts, such as my first chest-to-bar pull-up in March during the Open!  And later, I got my first handstand pushup in August, my first bodyweight clean in October, and my induction to the 100lb snatch club in November. The incredible feeling of doing something you’ve never done before (and perhaps previously thought impossible!) happens with EVERY first and EVERY new lifting record. Crossfit is fun because I’ve had measurable success and growth in every way. 

All the while I’ve been working on my 100 DU time. I kept a sheet on my fridge where I wrote every new record. Progress came not without an body full of whip marks (that cable rope really does a number!), and yet, eventually, after almost a year:

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Oftentimes when I evangelize Crossfit, I hear that attitude that Crossfit is only for people who are already monsters. People think they’ll be the worst, or that it will be too hard for them. One person said she’s going to join a regular gym first, lose some weight, and then join Crossfit. No! You guys! You don’t have to be good, you just have to get out there and try!

Whether you can’t figure out how to skip or your first time doing DUs you can string them together, whether your first back squat is the empty bar or 200lbs, whether a slow jog makes you lose your breath or you win your local 5ks… once you start, you’ll improve!

My next goal is to get a sub-8:00 2000m row time on the erg. My current record is 8:44. Let’s see how long it takes!