I’m feeling a little undone here so bear with me while I spout a little bit of craziness at y’all. Ready?
I started getting really serious about strength training about four years ago. At the time, my life was a mess – I was at a really low point professionally, I wasn’t sure if my physical health was going to hold up over the long term, and my mental health was, well, hanging by a thread on a good day. More about that another time. To make a long story short, I started powerlifting as kind of a stopgap project because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – I thought, might as well learn something new while I work on getting better. Instead, I totally fell in love with it and never looked back. A year or so later I thought I’d give olympic weightlifting a shot and the same thing happened.
So, I owe what my life looks like now (which is pretty awesome and a stark contrast to where it was four years ago) to barbell sports…which is weird because I grew up in an environment where women were not encouraged to strength train. We’ve all heard that stuff, right? Don’t lift heavy weights or you’ll look like a man, you’ll get all hugified and gross looking, blah blah blah. Women should lift light weights maybe and do lots of cardio and focus on losing weight, getting smaller, sexier, prettier, more delicate…anyway, fuck all that noise because today?
Today is a pretty amazing day to be a woman in strength sports. This weekend, at the Kern US Open Powerlifting Competition, not one, not two, but THREE women broke the all-time world record Wilks score (Wilks, if you’re not familiar with it, is the scoring coefficient used in powerlifting that is based on your total squat, bench press, and deadlift in relation to your body weight) for ALL HUMANS. Not just women, but for men too. Isn’t that freaking amazing? I think it’s amazing. I’m just going to carry that around with me today because it’s insanely inspiring. The world is eventually going to have to take notice of the fact that women have the potential to be just as strong as men. We have the same muscles in the same places, and if we train those muscles in the same way (ie with big, compound lifts) we’ll get stronger. And it will definitively not turn us into giant beefy muscle-bound monsters.
On a selfish level I wish that as a society we had figured that out sooner, so that I could have had a shot at starting earlier. Instead I’ll be content to do what I can to help blaze the trail – to coach, train, educate, and lead by example so that the young people in my daughters’ generation grow up without ever being told that they can’t do something because they’re girls. The tides are turning and it feels pretty freaking good. Happy Mother’s Day to all the strong women everywhere!!
You know what feels freaking amazing right after a hard workout?
I’ll tell you what feels amazing: putting on fresh socks. I know what you were all thinking, you sick little monkeys. Focus! Focus on my socks!
So a month or so ago, after I finished a good hard workout, I was changing my clothes and I realized that I had forgotten to bring clean socks with me. I was faced with a problem: do I spend the rest of the day in clammy socks, or do I take 5 minutes to scoot across the way to Sport Chek and buy some new ones? Needless to say it didn’t take much deliberation to make that decision, but also time was short so away I went. I didn’t spend a lot of time making my selection; I went straight to the sale rack, grabbed a package of three pairs of Nike socks, paid for them, and went back to the gym where I work. I changed my socks (hell yaaaasss) and went about the rest of my day.
Amazing story, right? Stay with me here; I promise there’s a point coming.
Later, when I got home, I noticed that there was a small letter ‘L’ printed on the sock, right above my right big toe. That’s weird, I thought. The sizing is knit right into the sock. In a visible place, even – maybe that’s why they were on sale. Because, you know, why does anyone need the sizing of any garment on the outside where people can see it? I know I have big feet. Don’t judge me, I’m a big person. I looked at my left foot to see if the sizing was on that one too. There over my left big toe, was a small letter ‘R’. What? I pulled the other two pairs from the package out of my gym bag. All four remaining socks were labeled with an ‘L’ or an ‘R’.
I looked back at my feet. Nothing felt weird. Somehow I had managed to finish my day with the left sock on the right foot and the right sock on the left and nothing bad had happened. Just to see, I took my socks off and switched them so that they were on the right feet as labeled. No perceptible difference.
I felt a twinge of irritation. Way to try and micromanage me, Nike, I thought as I switched my socks back to the wrong feet. Take that.
Because, you know, we’re adults, right? I get pissed off when somebody sanctimoniously insinuates that I need help dressing myself; I’ve been doing that on my own since I was thirty. I feel like most people have a similar reaction when they’re told what to do or how to live when they haven’t actually asked for help. For example, we’re bombarded from all sides by messages from various camps in the health and fitness industries about the diets and workouts and fitness fads du jour:
Lots of the messages are in direct conflict with each other and lots of them are downright ridiculous. So how’s anyone supposed to weigh the good information against the bad? Most people either end up with a bad case of analysis paralysis and continue the way they were going, or they vascillate between this extreme diet or that extreme exercise program, don’t execute them well (because they’re unsustainable), don’t see results, and end up bitter and resentful of the whole process. They stick their socks back on the wrong feet and think ‘fuck you’ and continue with what worked until the next quick fix comes along.
We don’t like being told what to do.
Problem is, the more moderate, kinda common-sense healthy lifestyle ads, the Canada Food Guide, initiatives like Participaction (remember them? Hal Johnson and Joanne MacLeod?), and Weight Watchers are delivered in such a syrupy Barney-the-purple-dinosaur tone that it’s hard to swallow at best, and patronizing and insulting at worst. But that knee-jerk fuck you reaction becomes especially dangerous when some guru or other sticks his stupid nose out from under the rock where he lives and says “hey! Fuck the establishment! Who’s with me?” because then, somehow, that guy manages to gather a more rabid following than Hal Johnson and Joanne MacLeod ever did. And obviously, as people are eager to point out, the Canada Food Guide is paid for by Big Dairy and Big Wheat so screw moderation – cut out dairy and grains and go Paleo! You’re gonna tell us too much bacon is bad for us? Screw you, we’re going keto so that we can live on cheese and bacon and peanut butter, motherfuckers! AND we’re gonna get all hot and jacked and sexy while we do it…until our hearts explode all over our chest cavities.
The health and fitness industries need to be better at getting information across. It’s not even the delivery of information that’s the issue; we KNOW damn well that we should eat more green things and we KNOW that too many refined carbs are probably going to end up causing weight gain and we KNOW that we should move our bodies every day…the problem is not that people don’t know what to do. The problem is not information, the problem is execution. HOW to change for the better. Like, how much extra work/money/time/effort will it take to make better choices and how long will it take to pay off? What will I have to give up to get the body I want or feel the way I want to feel? How do I make myself feel better if I don’t have hyperpalatable food to distract me or make the bad feelings go away? And if I define myself by my body type/pain/nerdiness then who will I be if I change how I live? Those are big questions.
Now, how to make real change happen? And I’m not talking here about any bullshit skinny tea cleanses or elite athlete Xtreme workout programs; I’m talking about real, sustainable change for the better. Change that doesn’t happen quickly but change that sticks. Here’s what I think: I think everybody needs some help. EVERYONE. Whether it’s from a family doctor, counsellor, dietician, coach, or (you saw this one coming, didn’t you?) personal trainer that you can trust – everyone needs a nudge in the right direction sometimes. Some people need more nudging than others. But we have to help each other and INSPIRE each other to be our best…or we can fold our arms and keep putting our left socks on our right feet.