Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rant: Women's Misconceptions About Fitness

Yesterday's WOD:

21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of:
SDHP 48#
Push Press 48#

Time: 14:22 (I think). I could have done the prescribed weight (55#) but wanted to go just a little under because of all the lifting I've been doing this week. It was hard but I felt really good after.

Today's WOD:

For time:
15 Power cleans 63#
21 pull-ups (1-band)
Run 400 meters
9 power cleans
15 pull-ups (1-band)
Run 400 meters
6 power cleans
9 pull-ups (1-band)
Run 400 meters

Time: 20:43. I tried to do 73# and should have been able to do it but only got about 6 of those and ended up taking off 10#. Just had a complete mental breakdown and could not get the form, I don't know why. Anyway, that was my 7th workout in 4 days, and I'm just worn out, so I'm taking a rest day tomorrow. The most exercise I'll do is maybe take a nice walk on the creek path. I hate taking days off, it's really hard. I never thought I'd get to that point where I have to make myself take a day off, but I think it's a good indicator, shows I'm really enjoying what I'm doing. Does anyone else feel like that?

Now Tim had a very sarcastic ranty rant today. It was awesome. So I'm feeling like I need to rant too. You know, to keep up. There hasn't really been enough ranting on here lately, just lots of links and silly pictures of bears and turkeys and muppets and self-indulgent here you go. Get comfortable, it's a long one.

After class today we were talking about women's motivations for working out and some weird misconceptions women have that the fitness/weight loss industry perpetuates. In the spirit of ladies' night tomorrow, I'll write about them and a couple of others. If you're a guy reading this, much of it applies to both men and women, I think. But maybe share this with your wife or your sister or your mom and see what she thinks.

1. The goal of working out is to look better. This is the root of maladjusted thinking by women about fitness, in my opinion. Why are women so focused on losing ten pounds or getting skinny? When you stop obsessing about that fold of fat on your tummy or your big thighs or your flabby arms or whatever, and you think about improving your athletic performance, good stuff will happen to your body! Plus you don't have to waste time denigrating yourself in front of the mirror or on the scale. If I could change one thing about women's perception of fitness, it would be to get them to focus on performance and not looks. Of course I can't change it. The prioritization of weight loss and superficial changes over real fitness is everywhere, on the 6:00 news, at the water cooler, in every damn magazine I see. I wish women had the freedom to let go of how people see us and focus on what we can accomplish.

2. You can get any body you want, i.e., the body sculpting myth. We all come with our own set of genes, and the general shape of our bodies and muscles is determined by those genes. The fitness industry claims that you can sculpt your body into the shape you want. This is just not true, nor is it desirable to completely change your shape. The goal should be to make your body the best it can be, on its own terms. I see women at my gym in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are all beautiful, not only because they look good, but also because they are strong and capable of complex athletic movements.

3. You have to be careful not to get too big. This one is just silly, but I think unfortunately it's a prevalent fear. A lot of women are afraid to train with heavy weights because they think they'll end up looking like body builders. It is a lot harder to get big than you think, requiring a very special diet and tons of specific training. Even then, if you don't take steriods, you still don't get that big! Women just do not have the biochemistry to get big. It worries me when people who say they are serious about fitness avoid weight/strength training. Weight training is good for your health at all ages, but particularly important as you get older, since our bodies naturally lose muscle as we age. Hours on the treadmill or in the pool will NOT fix this.

4. Working out shouldn't be too hard or intense. Intense workouts are difficult, mentally and physically. When you're starting from scratch, it seems much more manageable to go slow and steady on the elliptical trainer for an hour than to spend 15 minutes sprinting and jumping, doing pull-ups and lifting heavy weights, until you feel nauseous and exhausted and fall to the floor sucking air. But intensity and pushing your body to its limits are key to improving your fitness, and it's an incredibly efficient path to weight loss and stamina building. Of course it's hard at first, but you get used to the intensity and eventually start to crave it. The mainstream media and the fitness industry want to sell people the easy way out, and they are particularly blatant about this when they sell to women. Ever see the serene smiles on the models using one of those ab devices or elliptical machines on an infomercial? It's as if they're saying, I'm so comfortable doing this, working out doesn't have to hurt! (They may actually say that in infomercials!) Why do women fall prey to this kind of thinking? It's okay for men to go hard, work hard and sweat, GRRR manly! But women are supposed to take it easy, go in moderation, as if we're too delicate. What is this, Victorian times? We've come so much farther than that, we should be empowered and sweat it out with the men! Our bodies are just as tough and strong.

5. You can eat whatever you want if you work out. I actually hear this one all the time, from friends, family, coworkers. "You work out so hard, you don't have to watch what you eat." Good nutrition is crucial for everyone, definitely for people who work out. Lots of people put effort into exercise and then undo their hard work with bad food choices. The stereotypical example is the 20-year-old guy athlete who scarfs down whole pizzas, but I think the problem is more insidious in women. Women often treat food as an emotional reward rather than as fuel for their bodies - I deserve this chocolate because I had a bad day or a tough workout. I catch myself saying that! It's not to say that you can't treat yourself occasionally, but to reward exercise with unhealthy foods is a huge mistake. Exercise can be its own reward, and if you think about it that way, healthy eating gives you better energy for better workouts, which are more rewarding!

6. Working out comes after the important things. This plagues both men and women, I'm sure, but I think women are especially likely to put themselves and their health last. Kids/family, work, other people, obligations, housework - all of these are used as excuses to skip the gym. But really, honestly, when it boils down to it, what is more important than your health? Without your health, you have nothing - your quality of life (and the quality of life of everyone who relies on you) goes downhill until you die. Taking care of yourself and being strong and healthy will make everything else better and more manageable. Our society doesn't have its priorities right - people who actually put health first have to answer all the time to people who don't. When I was in graduate school, people always asked me how I found the time to work out every day, implying that I wasn't working hard enough at school. But my workouts kept me from missing days from being sick (I was sick exactly 2 times in my 5.5 years of grad school) and kept me sharp and focused. I had energy and drive and wasted way less time than most of my peers. People at work ask me how I fit it in, they say oh, I have kids, I wish I had the luxury of working out, my schedule doesn't allow it. I was guilty of this misprioritization too. A couple of years ago, when taking care of a seriously ill loved one over a period of several months, I stopped going to the gym. I thought to myself, this is just so hard to get through, I'll cut out the nonessentials until it's over. It was my first hiatus from working out in about six years, and it was a huge mistake. Along with the stress of the illness, I got depressed from not working out. There were physical consequences as well. Without the activity my body had gotten used to, my previously injured knee acted up, eventually requiring surgery. My normally strong immune system also took a hit. I learned from this and no matter what is going on, I will always find a way to prioritize exercise, because by prioritizing exercise, you prioritize health.

That's the end of my rant. I welcome any comments, opinions, feedback, or discussion on this topic! I think it's an awfully important one.


Bluescaptain Joe said...

Did I tell you that you can eat whatever you want when you're working out a lot?

I don't remember saying that, but it's possible I did.

I am a pig, but this website makes even me a bit ill:

Amy said...

My brother is off the hook, he didn't say I should eat whatever I want. He said hey, lardass, lay off the Doritos! (No, he didn't say that either!)

That website is scary! The meatloaf cake did me in. Eeww.

Philip said...

Your "rant" was well thought out and well written Amy, but I take issue with your comment to Joe. I went to that website and I saw the meatloaf cake. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and ketchup. Sounds great. Now the "meta-pizza" (a pizza topped with little pizzas) that was spokey.

rosanne said...


That was great, Doc. Interesting points, I'm forwarding it to my sisters.

Jane said...

Since the rest of the fam has either written or commented on this topic, I thought I better chime in. If I'm the one who told you that you could eat whatever you wanted to, I stand corrected. Your rant was good and explained a lot. I do see myself in several of the areas you discussed - ouch. As for that awful food - Ick! I was almost tempted by the Elvis donuts (minus the bacon) though. Finally, it's too bad your father can't spell "spooky." We are a strange and wonderful family, don't you think?

claudia said...

Your points are very well taken. However, there are lots of reasons for training hard and I would not judge one more worthy than another.

There is an old retired guy at my Y who shows up 6 days a week to lift heavy and hard. I asked him the other day why he showed up so often and he answered "its something to do" which I took to mean, he gets out of the house, has fun and sees people.

I admit to alot of vanity. Although its nice that my performance on the bike has increased due to weight training, I honestly do it for the looks. A reflection of societal expectations? Maybe. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it, and I'm happy about being stronger, but without results I can see in the mirror, I don't know if I would keep it up.