How in the hell did it get to be November so quickly? It’s cliché tastic I know, but life is going like the clappers these days. In Scotland, our first day of November has been unseasonably warm, but apart from that it means that it’s dark until after seven am, then daylight starts fading about four in the afternoon. Indigenous Scots become pale, grey skinned creatures, starved of sunshine for months on end. Apart from the tanorexics of course, who are mysteriously orange all year round.
Getting out of bed is always a challenge in the long dark months of winter, but getting out of bed before 6am, to go to a freezing cold gym is a test of your mettle. Especially when you don’t have a specific thing to train for AND you know it will, in all likelihood, be horrible and painful when you get there. But, despite this, I am feeling pretty determined to keep at it and to aim for ninja fitness over the winter.
From a mental health perspective, it’s even more important in winter. Darkness and cold weather make us feel gloomier. We will inevitably drink more over the festive season, and add some winter blubber eating stodgy comfort food. While that extra layer of fat may keep us warmer, it will make some of us feel unhappy and self-critical, fuelled by the depressant properties of alcohol. In other words, a recipe for disaster and one I am keen to avoid.
Aside from this, I have been thinking about some fitness goals. While it’s been something I’ve grown to love over the last couple of years, I have of late been most interested in lifting weights. I’ve posted about this before and there is a tonne of evidence out there as to why all humans (not just women) should strength train at least a couple of times a week. Better muscle strength improves mobility, flexibility and increases life expectancy. So what’s not to like?
And it seems we women are getting more involved, although there are still huge numbers of us spending more time, less effectively at the likes of Body Pump. Of course, if that’s what they love doing, who cares? If they’re happy and having fun, what difference does it make? Probably none. Except that if I had a pound for every person who said that they struggled to find time for exercise AND for the ones who wanted to look and feel better than they do right now, I would be a tax exile in the Cayman Islands.
Weights and kettlebells, as long as you are using them correctly, will give you more bang for your exercise buck in a shorter period of time. That’s a fact. And it’s still aerobic – multiple repetitions of lifts with fast dynamic movements will get you sweating and out of breath, which is just what you need. If you do need any more convincing, they have brilliant names, like snatches and thrusters.
A male chum has told me that many of the younger females of Tinder have profiles of gym selfies, with clear reference to their lifting prowess, telling men not to bother swiping right unless they can lift too. While I applaud their bolshiness and I’m glad that women feel proud to be strong, all that stuff can be a bit grim coming from any gender. Strength and power is best enjoyed as a force of quiet, internal strength, like Bruce Lee. A noisy ninja will be a lot less successful.
Having said that, I am taking a minute to talk about it here, purely for educational purposes. Firstly, because I think we talk about this in a very gendered way that pisses me off. For example, most of us who do like fitness and follow various pages on social media will get posts from time to time about why it’s good for women to lift. In fairness, they will always mention that it makes you feel good and strong and empowered, but they will invariably tell you about how it makes you great in bed, your arse look amazing, or your tits look like puppies on parade. NB shallow as it may be, there is a truth in that. Strengthening your pectoral muscles is a good way to slow down the inevitable boob droop.
The story for men is different. It’s about strength and power too, but it’s also about battling, about overcoming adversity. In no way can I say I’ve read extensively on this subject, but there is an article I love, written by Henry Rollins, the punk poet metaller and lover of iron, which is famous and oft quoted in internet memes. He probably wrote it with men in mind and it does contain the kind of advice that is usually only given to men, although it is not exclusive to men e.g.
Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind. The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.
Can you imagine the doctor giving you this as a prescription instead of citalopram? How much better would that be? It’s interesting that we don’t use this story for women so much, when in fact we are often the ones doing the most battling: large numbers suffering from depression, juggling all of the priorities of daily life, alongside an extra helping of sexism.
The thing is, even though I am not a man, I get this perspective on the barbell. When I went to the gym today, the workout looked deceptively simple: 100 thrusters at 25kg with three 90 degree leg lifts every minute, on the minute. The break up on the minute messes with your head, so it’s harder to self-organize the workout against the clock and it was torture. Or at least for me it was. By the time I got to about 70-something, I was all for stopping, starting with a right good blub, followed by a lie down. It was as though that barbell hated me today. But as Henry might say, the barbell has no side, no bullshit. Wanting to give up today was not about it. It was about me. And I did not give up.
A bit OTT? Or would we all get a bit more out of our workouts if we felt we were battling against our demons from time to time? I think so. Exercising several times a week is mundane, or can be. Pushing yourself, even if you’re not convinced, is a bit more interesting.
Thursday was different. It was total day: highest one rep maximum for push press, back squat and deadlift. I went into the gym thinking I was having a rubbish day and wasn’t going to get any personal bests. Instead I got all three: 45kg press, 92.5kg back squat and 120kg deadlift. I tell you those figures not to show off (ah feck it, maybe just a wee bit) but more because there’s a genuine feeling of ‘if I can do this, so can you…’
If you don’t believe me, think on this: I am a five foot five, 43 year old mum. I have a job that is mainly desk, or meeting based. I have been overweight most of my adult life and have never really been into doing sport or exercise until the last five years or so. I love food and drink and used to smoke. In short, I am the Hurricane Higgins of gym life, without a latent sporting talent. And yet, I am probably one of the strongest, if not THE strongest women at my gym. Not the fittest, not by a long shot, but one of the strongest. And that, quite frankly, feels fucking awesome. Discovering you can actually be good at something sporty after a lifetime of craptitude makes you feel good. Because the mind and body are forever intertwined whether we like it or not.
That could be you my friends. All of us, who have ever felt a bit chubby, or not so fast as the others. Your power is your strength. You think you’ve got back problems that stop you? No, you’ve got back problems because you’ve never tried to do these things before, or you have tried under poor supervision from a bad coach. You think you can’t? You can.
I won’t keep on about it. If you think I’m talking crap, try it and see. I suspect you might surprise yourself. If it’s not for you, there is always Zumba. And if you have two left feet, that may be the challenge that YOU need.
Until next time,
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