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Butt Out Already

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The year is 1992. I’m 15 years old and just starting high school. (Yeah, I’m old – wanna fight me?) Gracing the very top of the pop music charts is Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, followed closely by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, a misogynistic but kinda refreshing ode to women with junk in their trunk. At the time it was a welcome change to the messages that were crammed down our throats about how skinny we women were supposed to be, about how we were supposed to be delicate flowers who did our strength training with Campbell’s soup cans (if at all) and spend most of our time dedicated to fitness doing step aerobics and dancercise with Paula Abdul. And my friends and I thought it was great – we shook our healthy butts along with Sir Mix-A-Lot at school dances jubilantly.

Then along came Jennifer Lopez in that green Versace dress that she wore to the 2000 Grammy awards which sent the world into a tailspin (see what I did there?). Wait, a gorgeous, healthy, fit woman flaunting a curvaceous behind? Inconceivable. Except that people – male AND female – loved that statement because it was rebellious and shocking but at the same time kinda relatable. Here was an a-list celebrity rocking a revealing dress at a healthy weight. She showed us all that you didn’t have to be bone-rack skinny to look awesome and sexy…

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Aaaand then the big-ass-torch was picked up by Kim Kardashian. Which was okay at first because here was a woman who wasn’t afraid to train hard, who did deadlifts and smashed battle ropes around and swung kettlebells. Not a soup can in sight in her fitness magazine features – that was my first exposure to Kim Kardashian, anyway, but I live under a rock sometimes. The Kardashians aren’t really good role models for health and happiness. But I digress.

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And now here we are: you can’t open up a search page or a social media platform or look for anything fitness related anywhere without getting bum-barded by images of celebs with giant cabooses, butt implants, butt workouts, and my personal favorite, hordes of (usually young) male trainers urging women to work their booty. I am pretty fed up with young dudes telling me what my butt should look like. Dear women of the world, standards have changed (again). In order to be attractive and desirable and to be a worthwhile human being, you must possess a giant round ass, complete with its own weather system and gravity field. You know what? Fuck the way fitness is marketed to women.

Can we all get over ourselves and think for a second about what those butts are actually for? The glute muscles specifically, I mean – I don’t think we need to get into a discussion about what happens between those cheeks unless we need to have a chat about your fibre intake. I’m always down for poop talk and if it’s an issue I can probably help…but that’s for another post.

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Alright, there’s your butt. The gluteal muscles are the biggest and most powerful group of muscles in your body, and any time you move your hips, your glutes are working. Walking, running, cycling and basically any form of locomotion where you aren’t sitting still uses your glutes, but you can dig in a little deeper and work those muscles by doing squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts, bridges, etc. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here the awesome work done by Bret Contreras and his team at the Glute Lab – they’ve produced lots of good quality literature on the subject of glute and posterior chain training for all human beings. See? I’m not against glute training on principle.

But let’s go back to talking about vapid patronizing crap.  As far as I’m concerned, ain’t no dudes gonna tell this old woman, or any woman around me, what they should be doing to make their butts look better. I don’t ever actually SEE my butt so why on earth should I give a fornicating ferret whether or not my backside gives the people behind me a hard on? Is that a reason to work out? Give me a break. Here’s what I care about: I care about what my butt can DO. I have endless (and hella boring, if you ask my husband) videos of weightlifting and powerlifting on my Instagram feed because I care about being STRONG. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for a moment suggesting that glute training is a bad thing; a strong posterior chain is awesome and fun and absolutely necessary if you want to, you know, live life and do fun things.

So WHY does the current crop of booty boosting bullshit piss me off so goddamn much?

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  1. Because it’s “functional fitness” – it’s packaged up to look like endless glute bridges and hip thrusts and frog pumps are actually in our best interests, when really it’s just wanking fodder for the dudes that are marketing it.
  1. Because it seems as though the world has largely forgotten that it’s good to have strong muscles over the rest of our bodies too – but you can’t have that. No effin’ way: if a woman dares to have muscles anywhere else on her body – think, you know, a wide lat spread or big pumpkin-y deltoids or chesticles that could crush stuff, the self-righteous cries of “gross!,” “she looks like a dude,” “Steroids,” etc, etc go echoing through social media like the howls of the damned.
  1. Because you can’t “boost” your booty; those glute bulges are mostly muscle and they don’t actually travel. News flash: butts are not tits. You can’t tack them up or shove them into molded cups and change their shape. You can’t LIFT them or BOOST them or make them sit any higher without surgery and even then, why would you want to? You’d leave yourself weak and vulnerable and – face it – freakin’ weird looking. If your butt looks droopy because there’s a lot of fat there (and that is a fact of life for lots of us; our hips are one of the places that fat gets stored and really, you’re better off with excess fat there than just about anywhere else) you need to lose some fat. That happens globally with consistent calorie control; you can’t choose where it comes and goes from. Which leads me to number four…

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  1. Because you can’t have a big round butt and be skinny everywhere else. I can’t even tell you how many conversations I’ve had with women who want to lose weight everywhere, but keep their butts as big (or get them bigger). We’re talking like high-school-age skinny, where ribs are showing where pecs and lats should be, but with a big round ass. Ladies, I PROMISE you that that kind of physique is nigh on impossible and also wouldn’t really be conducive to living life.
  1. Because booty development is marketed exclusively to women. I’m not kidding; do a quick google search for glute training right now and see what comes up: Female Fitness, Shape, Womens Health, Round Butt Rockin’ Body, butts butts butts. If ass training is that amazing, shouldn’t the guys be doing it too? The answer of course, is HELL YES they should – and the guys who are serious about strength training do include glute training in their programming. Here’s a secret: men and women have the same muscles in the same places.  All I’m saying is that maybe, just maybe glute-specific training isn’t all it’s cracked (sic) up to be.
  1. Because butt training for women is packaged up and spoon fed to females in such a pat, patronizing way that it makes me want to #buttbarf all over anyone who chirpily suggests that I fire up that booty.

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My point here is, homies, train your heinies to your heart’s content if you like that sort of thing. Train the rest of your bodies too, though, and enjoy all the cool things your body can do when you’re strong. Want a tight, perky butt? Stop sitting on it all the time and get up and do things. Live life – walk, run, jump, lift heavy stuff, throw things, climb, swim…Get too busy doing cool things to worry about whether or not your ass measures up.

Nationals: The Whole Story

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Sunday Night

I was getting my gear together in preparation to head out the door Monday morning, en route to Calgary for the Canadian Powerlifting Union National Championships. I had emptied out my gym bag and was carefully re-packing it so as not to forget anything: squat shoes, check. Deadlift shoes, check. Knee sleeves. Singlet. Deadlift socks. T-shirt. Check, check, check, check. Belt. Check. Elbow sleeves? Don’t need those. Training log – don’t need that anymore; training is done. Put it on the pile with the others.

Wait – training is done? I looked at my pile of training log books – a stack several inches high, and it hit me square in the feelings. I pulled out the stack and stared at it for a minute: months’ worth of workout programs from my trainer/coach and good friend Dean Somerset, hours and hours spent in the gym to get me to this point: the strongest ever version of myself. Not just physically, but mentally too: I wanted this. I wanted it badly enough that I put the work in and forced it to happen. I qualified for national-level competition and now here it was and I was ready. Cue the flood of tears.

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I woke up on meet day feeling fresh and ready to go. I’d made weight a couple weeks before (powerlifting is a weight-class sport; heavier people can generally lift more weight), but getting on the scale always stresses me out a little bit – something to do with spending most of my life with my self-worth inextricably tied to the number on the scale. I had double- and triple-checked my weight on the official scale the night before and I knew I had enough wiggle room for a cup of coffee before I left the condo that we had rented for the week. Breakfast could wait until after the weigh-in. I headed over to the event centre.

With the weigh-in and equipment check out of the way, I could relax a little bit, eat breakfast, and focus on lifting. In a big event like this each lifter is required to have a ‘handler’, someone there to manage warm ups, provide an objective opinion as far as attempt selections go, and generally look after the details so that the lifter can focus on lifting. Normally I fly solo for powerlifting meets, trusting that I have enough experience and know-how to regulate and time my warm-ups, plan my lifts, etc., but this time was different. I had enlisted the help of my friend and colleague (and my Olympic weightlifting coach) Nick Pawliuk for the day. It was important to me to have someone along who I knew well, trusted, and would give me the space to be a control freak about some things but who would step in and be the voice of reason if nerves or ego got the better of me. Nick is one of the few people who fit that bill and I was super happy to have him in my corner.

Warming up for squats, the first lift in a powerlifting meet, felt weird and foreign to me – like I hadn’t had a bar on my back in ages. In truth it had been about four days – probably the longest I’ve gone between squat sessions in six months! Still, I felt strong and well-rested and when I went out to the platform to do my opening attempt at 122.5kg (which was my previous personal best in competition), it moved easily and I felt confident in moving to 127.5kg for my second attempt. Opening lifts should be weights that you know with 100% certainty that you can make even if you’re hungover, so everything was going according to plan so far. I had only made 127.5kg once in the gym the previous week, but I was pretty sure it was there…except that when I went to execute it, I had a brain fart and I let an old habit sneak back in: the weight pitched too far forward. I felt it happening but it was stinking heavy and I couldn’t get back into line. So thank you, spotters – you saved my life on that one.

When you miss a lift in a powerlifting meet, it does weird things to your head. It takes some serious mental muscle to get focussed again and no matter how you frame it, there’s a trace of fear going into the next attempt. For that reason, it’s almost never a good idea to increase the weight on the bar if you’ve missed a lift. You can’t go down, but the best plan usually is to take the same weight again. So, I went out and repeated 127.5kg on my third attempt, managed to keep my head in the game, and made the lift.

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The break between squats and bench press always seems like purgatory: the adrenaline from the beginning of the meet has worn off and bone-deep fatigue sets in. People who have a good relationship with bench press based on trust and mutual respect may feel differently at this point, but as a card-carrying member of the poverty bench club, I always feel some fear and dread going into this second section of the meet: on a good day my bench press is mediocre and on a bad day it’s downright embarrassing. One day, though…one day I will get a competitive bench press and I will learn to stay fired up for it. Maybe even enjoy it.

I made my opening attempt at 60kg and it felt even easier than an opener should. Sweet! I thought, it’s gonna be a good day.

The biggest thing to remember in the bench press portion of a powerlifting meet is to WAIT for the commands. You have to get the bar in place over your chest with your elbows locked. When the referee says ‘start’ you can lower the bar to your chest, and when the bar is motionless against your chest, the ref will say ‘press’. Only then can you push the bar back to its starting position, and once it’s there, the ref will say ‘rack’ and you can place the bar back on the rack. Anticipate any of those commands and the lift is no good.

So, when the ‘press’ command came on my second attempt at 62.5kg, after what seemed like an eternity with the bar across my chest (I’m sure a rift opens up in the time/space continuum every time I bring that bar down and wait) I couldn’t even move it. My third attempt was a carbon copy of the second. I was just grateful that that first one had made it onto the board so that I could finish the meet, but…

I was deflated. Discouraged. PISSED. I didn’t finish with the squat that I wanted and then bench press was a total shit show. I had sucked in front of everyone. All I wanted to do was hide. And my deadlift – my strongest lift – had been painful and inconsistent in training lately. I didn’t think I could rely on it to make up the ground I had lost in the squat and the bench. That was it, then – the day was shot and I’d have to chalk it up as a disappointment. I had let down everyone who had believed in me.

Here’s the thing though: I talk to some lifters who only put the training in because they like the thrill of competition. It’s what keeps them going. I’m the opposite: I like competing, but I love the daily grind of training. Even on days when I hate training I love it. It keeps me sane and even if I wasn’t going to compete ever again, I would still show up in the gym every day.

Fuck it, I thought. My day doesn’t end here. I’m not letting one poor event tank the whole day. I didn’t come here to give up. I slammed down some C4, got angry, and couldn’t sit still anymore. I started banging out deadlift warm-ups waaaaay too soon. Fortunately Nick was there to put the brakes on that baloney, and for about the thousandth time that day I was grateful for his steady presence. He timed out the warm-up sequence and we got back on track. Deadlifts actually felt pretty good for a change – maybe it was the caffeine boost from the C4, maybe it was the week of de-loading and rest before the competition, or maybe I was so mad about my bench performance that I was unwilling to accept anything less. Probably a combination of all of the above…but it worked.Ren's_Anger

Dean and I had planned on a pretty conservative opening deadlift (based on how shitty and inconsistent my deadlifts had been recently) at 135kg. Since my warm ups had gone so well I felt a wild compulsion to move it up but again Nick talked sense into me and we decided to take the bigger jump between the first and second attempts if I was still feeling good after the opener. So, the opener at 135 moved easily. The deadlift portion of any powerlifting meet goes by pretty quickly because there’s less equipment to change between each lifter – only the weight on the bar. I was up again for my second attempt within a few minutes. 145kg also moved easily, so we were faced with a decision: move to 150kg? Maybe 155kg even?

nia(My original deadlift inspiration)

I remember the first time I saw Nia Shanks pick up 150kg. It was well before I started, or had even contemplated powerlifting, but I had been working as a trainer for several years at that point and liked deadlifts – they figured prominently in most of my workout programs – and when I saw Nia do it I thought, “I’m going to get strong enough to do that one day.” I also remember the first time that I actually did it – hell, the ONLY time I actually deadlifted 150kg. It was at the Grit Power Open last year. I was in the 84+kg weight class; one weight class above where I am now, and the stars aligned just right that day or someone bumped the gravity dial at exactly the right moment but it sailed up pretty easily…and I haven’t been able to lift that weight since. Not even close.

After each lift in a powerlifting meet, you have exactly 60 seconds to submit your next attempt, so there was no time to discuss it with the committee. Nick suggested that we go to 152.5kg which sounded good to me – after the day I’d had I could really use to walk away with one new personal record – and it wasn’t such a stretch that I was likely to overthink things and jinx myself.

And then here it was, the last lift of the day. All I could think was “don’t fucking stop no matter what.” I grabbed the bar, took a deep breath, and pulled. The bar bent a little bit. My back bent a little bit. Ever so slowly, the weight came off the floor. It crept up, little by little…for a terrifying moment I thought I wasn’t going to be able to lock it out. From about a hundred miles away I could hear everyone yelling and cheering and Nick’s voice behind me yelling “LOCK IT OUT LOCK IT OUT LOCK IT OUT!!!” and I wanted to yell back “I’m fucking trying to!” but instead, I got my hips under my shoulders and locked it out. I got the ‘down’ command from the ref..I turned around and saw three white lights on the monitor…and it was over. I made it through, got a total (a PR total at that, 12.5kg better than my last meet five months ago), and made that deadlift PR. It was celebration time.

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After cupcakes and wine and chilling with my daughters for a while, we all hit the sack early. I was exhausted.

2am found me wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and wondering. “What now? What if I’d had a better day – the day I’d PLANNED on having? Made that second squat? Turned in the bench performance I know I’m capable of? Where did I place in my age/weight class? What do I train for next? What if I don’t feel like training for anything? What will happen to me?bugs

And then I did something you should never do while you’re awake at 2am and wondering if you’re good enough: I looked at the meet results online. I had finished in last place.

My eyes smarted and my throat constricted. I knew that finishing last was a possibility going in; it was my first time at nationals and the competition was stiff. Dean and I had talked about it at length: the game plan was to not worry about what numbers everyone else put up and just focus on improving my own performance. I had done that. Even qualifying to get into that meet was a big deal: I was one of only seven women in the country (in my age/weight class) who had done it….and besides the top three, the results were CLOSE. But...last??

I laid there in bed for a few minutes, my husband sawing logs beside me, considering whether it was worth getting down about how my results stacked up against everyone else’s. I mean, once upon a time that would have destroyed me.

Nope.

Not worth it. Could I have done better? Absolutely. But I couldn’t be entirely unhappy with how the day went. I decided not to think about it for the moment and distracted myself by reading a book until I felt sleepy again.

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Three days later: I’m back home and still trying to not over-analyze or get caught comparing myself to others. I had my best meet to date so I’m happy-ish with that. I learned lots, made some new friends, and had tons of fun. People keep asking me what’s next, and honestly I don’t know – I feel a little lost without a goal to focus on. But that’s okay for now because those feelings won’t last forever. I’m already itching to get back in the gym and get back to work.

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“Ready”

There’s a countdown app on my phone that says there are 50 days until the CPU (Canadian Powerlifting Union) Nationals.

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I’m registered. The trip is paid for. I worked my ass off to qualify, and I got it done.

But right now? Right now all I want to do is withdraw, because I am not ready.

My squat isn’t where I imagined it would be. My bench press is all kinds of awful – it’s inconsistent, it’s the weak point relative to the other two lifts, and it’s not progressing. My deadlift, the strongest of the three lifts, looks horrific and I’ve developed the bad habit of setting up the lift and then gently “booping” the bar away from my body with my shins when I go to grab it.

Not. Ready.

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I need better technique. I need practice. I need to get stronger. I need more time to recover from the car accident that happened in fucking JUNE. I need to lose weight.

I am not good enough. Yet.

But let’s back up for a second, to fifteen years ago, where I never, ever in a million years thought I would be competing in anything athletic. Like, NEVER. Like I would go WAY out of my way to not get involved in any kind of physical activity. Or to ten years ago, when I had lost 100lbs and I was just getting started as a personal trainer – I thought it didn’t matter whether or not I accomplished anything great as long as I was out there participating, dragging my middle-of-the-pack butt over the finish lines of fun runs, community triathlons, and later on, obstacle races. Or even to five years ago, when my weight had ballooned again and I was on the brink of giving up on everything.

I never imagined that one day, at age 40, I’d be competing in anything at the national level. That’s bananas shit.

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So here I am, in spite of everything…and all I want to do is run away because I’m not ready.

Here’s the problem with “not ready” though: I will never be ready. I will never be where I want to be before I get on that platform – if I wait until I’m ready, it will never happen. There will always be a couple more kilos there, technique to tweak, strength to gain, injuries to overcome. There will never be a moment where I say, “that’s it, the work is all done” and waltz onto that platform without a hint of consternation. “Ready” is an illusion. “Ready” is fake news.

So here’s what’s going to happen instead. I’m going to follow my program, get my workouts in for the next seven weeks, and when Feb 20 rolls around I am going to get on that platform the way I am. I won’t be ready and that’s ok because on Feb 21 (or, let’s face it, Feb 24 or 25) it’ll be time to get back to work to qualify for CPU Nationals 2019. I will have learned some lessons and have new numbers to chase.

We’re going into a week where typically I sit down with a lot of people and have a lot of discussions about New Year’s resolutions, and their dreams about what the next year could look like if they could just get rolling on making them happen. Most of those people will tell me that they’re motivated, that it’s time to get down and get to work…and they’ll get some instruction once they’re in shape and ready to take it to the next level. But you know what usually happens to them – “ready” never happens because, well, life. And because change is hard.

Here’s the bad news: time is going to keep marching on whether or not you go after what you want. It doesn’t make a shred of difference to anyone except you.

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Want the good news now? The good news is, there is virtually no downside to grabbing the bull by the balls and going for it. If you don’t succeed, so what? You’ll know a little bit more about yourself, you’ll know one path that doesn’t work, and you can dust yourself off and keep trying, or go after something else.nr5

But if you wait until you’re ready – ready to get in shape, ready to level up, ready to compete (in whatever; this theory applies to pretty much anything) you will not move forward. “Ready” will never happen because there will ALWAYS be more to do. Might as well jump in with both feet, commit to the process, and enjoy the journey.

Change to Spare

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So, mah dudes, 2017 is almost over. How are we feeling about this? Last year, at the end of 2016, the general concensus was that people could not wait to see the door hit 2016 in the ass on its way out. Not so much this year, although I feel a general sense of optimism about 2018. Seems as though culturally and socio-economically there’s a sense of relief that the sky didn’t actually fall in 2017 and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.sc2

I have mixed feelings about 2017. I started it with some pretty wild expectations (I was born in 1977 so it was a milestone birthday year) and maybe that’s where I went a little bit wrong…because there were some wild successes but also some colossal failures, and life threw me a couple of curve balls that left me reeling for months – I’m STILL working on some course correction. Here’s the thing, though: we PLAN for the good stuff; we work our butts off for it over the long term, and we earn it. Usually – I mean, there’s some element of being in the right place at the right time and luck and all that – but when awesome stuff happens, it’s highly likely that some work went into it. The bad things that happen, on the other hand: more often than not, they’re a surprise.  And because of them, I learned some tough lessons, grew in directions I wasn’t expecting, and was inspired to put some processes in place to guard against that shit happening ever again. All told, it was a pretty epic year.sc3

I was at the mall with my twelve-year-old daughter recently. We were standing in line at Starbucks when I glanced down at my baby and saw someone I was not expecting: a young woman. Tall, strong, smart, beautiful, kind, independent… It was like an anvil dropped out of the ceiling of the mall and fell right on my head. I was not prepared for it at all – I mean, this is my youngest kid, who dresses like a unicorn had explosive diarrhea all over her, who loves playing with Lego and who, given the choice, would just be a kid for her entire life…and she is growing up. The bittersweetness of it made me choke up for a minute.

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Do you ever feel kinda overwhelmed by changes? Like you push and push and push for things to move forward and suddenly everything comes loose and you can either dig in and resist and get crushed, or jump up and ride the wave and see where it takes you? That seems to be what’s going on in my corner these days.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – change is good. I can be okay with my daughters growing up, they are turning into amazing women who will make the world better. I can grow and change as a professional; I have stuff to say and embracing some discomfort is necessary in order to get my voice heard. Change is inevitable and it’s almost always a good thing. Sometimes, though, change is a harsh bitch who forces you to take a really close look at what and who you’ve grown attached to and why that attachment formed…and if we’re honest with ourselves it can be eye-opening. Still, nasty and shocking or exciting and stimulating, change always carries with it opportunities to grow. I mean, you could just squeeze your eyes shut and stick your head in the sand but how interesting would that be?

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If you ask me, the hardest part of embracing change is not dealing with the new, but letting go of the old. Even if the old SUCKS – it’s familiar and it’s comfortable, like an old pair of sneakers that are so worn out they have holes in the bottoms. You know that pair. You throw them out and then haul them out of the trash an hour later because nothing is quite as comfortable as they are…until you wear them outside again and realize that your feet are cold and wet because those fucking shoes have holes in the soles. Chuck them out and get some new ones!  Because if you look around, things are shifting and moving and changing everywhere at an alarming rate – the social climate, industry, culture. All you have to do is open up whatever social media platform to see that under a microscope (which can be kind of horrific). In order to not get sucked out to sea in the riptide of change, some introspection is necessary – what ideas about myself am I hanging onto that I’d be better off letting go of? How do I redefine myself so that I am on the leading edge, shaping and steering the change rather than trying to keep up? How do I stay relevant?

sc6These are the questions I’m pondering as I shape my goals and aspirations for 2018. I’m seeking out opportunities to change and grow because I know things aren’t going to progress in a linear way and I want to be ready.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

What do you want to do in 2018? Hit me with it – I’m always listening.

Trainers Are The Worst

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I was in the locker room the other day and overheard two women talking in the next alcove over.

“You coming to spin class today?” asked one.

“No, I need to get my strength program done,” the other replied.

“I don’t know how you work out around the trainers,” the first one said. “I only do group fitness because I can’t stand being around them. They’re always watching everyone out of the corners of their eyes, judging and critiquing in their heads. Trainers are the worst.”eyeroll

There was another woman in the alcove with me and up until that moment we had been quietly changing. She knew who I was though, and at that moment she leaned over and whispered, “for the record, I don’t feel that way.” I thanked her and she headed out to do her workout. I loitered in the alcove for a few more minutes so as not to pop out and embarrass anyone and make them hate trainers more…

But, okay, I guess this is a thing that needs addressing because it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say something like that. I’m probably preaching to the choir here but hopefully this clears up some misconceptions.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions, but they are based on working with a lot of other trainers over the last dozen years or so and I think my generalizations will apply to 90% of the trainers out there. (There are exceptions and that sucks, but that’s the reality in any field.)

  1. Yes, we are watching you. Being a trainer in a big gym, especially at peak times, is a little like being a lifeguard at a swimming pool. When you exercise, you are subjecting your body to a physiological stress that lots of people in the gym are not accustomed to, and the unexpected can happen in a hurry. I’ve been in situations many times where I had to react quickly to someone (not the client I was working with) fainting, greying out, or throwing up. It happens. We are also on the lookout for impending injuries – recently I was working out with my trainer and the guy on the next bench over accidentally loaded two plates onto one side of his barbell and only one on the other one. Had that guy tried to bench press that kind of lopsided weight it might have ruined his day. I didn’t notice myself because I was focused on what I was doing, but my trainer was paying attention to what was going on around him. So, while we are mostly focused on our clients, we usually maintain some degree of peripheral awareness to make sure everyone stays safe.Big-Brother-is-Watching-Your-Squat
  2. We are not judging you. Let me say that again: WE ARE NOT JUDGING YOU. Everyone has to start somewhere and we see some bizarre things go down in the gym…but unless you are about to hurt yourself or someone else we usually keep a lid on it. If you’re in the gym and exploring and having fun and moving, all the power to you. If you have a question, we’re here to help and support and educate…you know, if you want us to. Which leads me to #3:
  3. Some people get upset that that guy over there has a crappy squat set up or she’s arching her back bench pressing or whatever, and we’re not stopping them and fixing them. But you know what? Unsolicited advice doesn’t usually go over very well because seriously who wants to get interrupted in the middle of their workout? I was working out incognito at a different gym a few months ago and a young trainer sidled up to me and gave me a 10-minute mansplain on how I could improve my deadlift…and it took some serious effort on my part to stay polite and thank him for his advice in hopes that it would make him go away. So again, unless someone is going to hurt themselves or someone else, usually we will let them be. That said, most of us establish some degree of rapport with the regulars where we work, and being on a first-name basis with you makes it way easier to offer assistance with cleaning up your technique if and when it’s needed…squat2
  4. …but the other thing to remember is that most of the time that we’re out there on the gym floor, that person (or people) we’re working with is paying for our time and attention, so if we’re focused on them and not so much on everyone else, don’t be offended – that’s really what we’re there for. If you have a quick question or need help finding something feel free to approach us but if you want your form critiqued or measurements done or something that will take more than a minute or two, please book an appointment. We’re happy to spend the time getting to know you whether or not you are looking to train over the long term.
  5. Finally, almost all trainers do what they do out of a genuine desire to help people. Methods differ (wildly, sometimes) but those of us who end up in this field for years on end do it because we get great satisfaction out of helping our clients find a better quality of life. We’re not judging or laughing or critiquing or thinking any less of you for anything you’re doing. If you want help, we’re happy to assist in any way we can but if you want to be left alone to do your thing, that’s cool too.thumbsup6

Making Space

toughlove_LI (2)Anyone need a little bit of tough love today? You know, since it’s the beginning of a new week and we all have a nice clean slate to write on? Yeah, I thought maybe it was time.

I was in the gym locker room right at lunch hour the other day when two ladies walked in, mid-conversation.

“I’m soooo tired,” said one. “It’s a good thing I have you to drag me here or I’d never have come.”

Her friend shrugged and said, “I’m tired too, but I’ve figured out that I’m better – more awake and more productive and happier for the rest of the day if I get here at noon and get my workout in. If I have to I’ll stay later at work if I’m behind on stuff, but noon is my workout time.”

So…let’s say you want to start doing something new. Just for arguments’ sake, let’s say it’s something that will make you feel better and significantly improve the quality of your life over the long term, like…oh, I don’t know…exercise. Exercise can be HARD to fit in. I mean, sure, it looks like there’s time available in your schedule; all you have to do is show up and do it. That’s what all those buff internet trainers say, right? But if that was all there was to it, wouldn’t it be easier?

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And here’s why: time is a limited resource. We know that. So why do we keep trying to add shit to our schedules? It’s a lovely idea; to be all productive and stuff, but here’s the reality: we all have 24 hours in a day and they are all full. If you decide to make a lifestyle change and take up exercise (a class or a sport or just going for a walk every day; doesn’t matter what you do) you can’t just MAKE more time in the day, you have to STEAL that time from something else. The question then becomes, what are you willing to give up in order to make space for activity? Because if you are going to add something, it means that something else has to go; that’s just physics. Beware, though: DO NOT TRY AND STEAL TIME FROM YOUR SLEEP. Lots of people go there first, but it’s a recipe for disaster (I wrote about that here.) – you can’t just decide to sleep an hour less over the long term.notime

Assume for example, that you spend an hour each evening surfing the internet, looking at tumblr or kittens or playing Farmville (is that still a thing?). That’s fair – you’re tired at night and getting up the energy to go to the gym seems unrealistic…but that’s the only available time. What if you went to bed instead of playing candy crush or scrolling through IG until it feels like someone peed in your eyes? Then you could actually consider getting up a little earlier and getting exercise in. But you will have to give up time you spend on SOMETHING to make room for something else, otherwise life will get overwhelming in a hurry – you can’t do everything. You know what happens to people who try to do it all? They get paralyzed and do nothing. It’s not a character flaw when that happens, it’s just part of being a person. So decide what needs to go: maybe your house is just going to have to be a little messier. Maybe you’ll have to outsource some stuff, like laundry or using a premade meal service.

Here’s the thing though: you made the promise to yourself that you’d kick that pain in the face/get comfortable in your skin/look good naked. You’re going to go hit the gym every day at lunch/after work/whenever.  Now that you’ve decided when that will happen, move it up a couple of notches on the priority list. Make that date with yourself and DON’T BREAK IT. It’s one hour (give or take) that you have decided to invest in yourself so that you can be better – what’s more important than that? Stuck in a meeting at work? Sorry guys, I have an appointment, gotta go. Contractor coming sometime between 8am and 8pm? Nope, that won’t work for me. Some days you will have to play some commitment Tetris and move things around so that they fit – that’s ok as long as you leave working out among the things that need to get done. Because if that workout doesn’t happen, what then? Are you (YOU) going to be better off? Or are you going to feel ashamed/sluggish/resentful/disappointed/tired/etc for the rest of the day? Are you in danger of thinking ‘meh, it’s Wednesday and I’ve fallen off the wagon – I’ll just drown my sorrows and bad feelings in gravy and start again Monday’? SAY NO to whatever else is going on – you are no good to anyone else if you don’t look after yourself. There’s a good reason that the flight attendants always advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you think about helping other people.selfcare

Now, of course there will be days that are legitimately NOT work out days: illness and emergencies happen and when they do you officially have a pass from me to cut yourself some slack and deal with what’s in front of you, as long as that doesn’t become a habit. Sniffles or a deadline at work don’t qualify – if you’re tired or a little under the weather or stressed, show up anyway and give it what you have. Follow the 10-minute rule. If you’re working with a trainer you trust, he or she will modify as needed to make the workout fit whatever you’re going through, and he or she will make sure that you do not die within the hour they are responsible for your well-being. And ladies? Your period is not a reason to bail on workouts (of course there are extreme cases where working out really isn’t a good idea, but those are rare). I know sometimes it feels like your uterus is trying to kill you. It won’t. Chances are, if you’re having kind of an off day, your workout will leave you feeling a whole lot better.

The take-home message here is that 100% of the time, you will not get the results you want if you don’t show up. So schedule it in – figure out what can be eliminated so that you can add doing something positive for yourself to your timetable, don’t give yourself room to think too much about it, and get it done. Because you know what will happen if you don’t? Nothing.

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Weight Bait

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It was 1 degree Celcius outside, and there I was in a sports bra and booty shorts, striking a pose in front of a metal container in a deserted shipping yard. “I don’t want you to lean against it; it’s too cold,” the photographer told me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I have plenty of insulation!”

“Actually, you don’t,” she replied. “I know you still feel like it’s there, but it’s not. It takes longer to get rid of the weight in your head than it does to shed it from your body.”

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She was right. And you know, I know the weight is gone. I do. I mean, that’s why I was there – I booked that photo shoot for a bunch of reasons, but one is that I reached my goal weight. The weight I was at when I finished high school. The weight where I promised myself I’d stop the weight loss mindfuckery and just learn to maintain.

Except…except that since that photo shoot I’ve dropped five pounds. I didn’t do it on purpose; in fact since CPU Westerns (the first week of September) I have put zero effort into losing weight. I stopped tracking, I stopped weighing myself regularly, I stopped being careful about what I was putting into my mouth…I just, you know, kept on eating the same way I was used to eating, and training the way I was used to training. And the other day I was driving home from the gym and pondering life, and a strange thought hit me:

I could try and drop to the next (powerlifting) weight class down. It’s not that far away.

NOPE, I told myself. I’m not playing that game anymore.

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See, I’ve been either dieting or letting my weight spiral out of control since I was 13 years old. The last four months of paying zero attention and maintaining have been a major anomaly, although if I’m honest I have to confess that the last year or so of tracking macros and training hard has been a labour of love. I actually enjoyed the process – it wasn’t about control and self-loathing anymore. It wasn’t punishment for letting myself go; I was driven purely by my big-ass crush on strength sports.

But there’s always the next goal. The next opportunity for improvement. The next mountain peak….actually fuck mountain climbing. The next set of plates on the bar! That’s how I roll, yo.

So the real question is, how do you learn to trust yourself after 25+ years of bungee-cord dieting?

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We are the sum of our habits – how we live dictates who we are. And if the outside of us doesn’t match what’s inside, you’ve got a great recipe for shame and unhappiness brewing.

Because weight loss is never just about carrying around less fat. The number on the scale, while it can seem all-encompassing when it doesn’t jive with how we see ourselves, doesn’t matter – not really. The real battleground is inside our braincase – whether you think have 5lbs to lose or 50lbs to lose, the feelings are the same when you look in the mirror and think, “ugh.”

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Every weight loss program out there teaches you (in whatever roundabout way) to eat less calories, but a big piece of the puzzle that most of them miss is that you have to learn to stop defining yourself as an overweight person and start thinking like the person you want to become. Otherwise, no matter how much success you have on whatever plan you’re using, that phantom flesh hangs on and keeps messing with you – and if you ask me, THAT is the reason why most people fail at weight loss. That’s certainly why I failed, over and over and over again – it took a massive shift in how I saw myself to lose the weight and keep it off…and I clearly still have work to do in that department.

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I might still have work to do in the weight loss department, too. Because do I stop here? I could. For the first time in my life I feel at home in my body; like my meat suit reflects what I value, and the past few months have taught me that that I actually can trust myself to maintain; at least over the short term. Or I could keep pushing for a few more months and see what happens. Either way we’re in uncharted territory.

One Weird Trick – Seriously

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You work out, you eat right – mostly – and you just. Arent. Seeing. Results.

Probably you also have a job that takes up some time. And maybe family that needs a lot of your attention. Hobbies. Email. A home that needs looking after. Candy Crush.

Yvonne* has been training with a colleague of mine for a few weeks now, and despite her best efforts she is just not seeing the results she’s working so hard for in the gym. She’s training three times a week with her trainer, she’s doing an hour of cardio on the off days and tracking what she’s eating. Her trainer asked me to sit down with her to discuss her nutrition because she’s starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with her…

But after talking to her for a few minutes I realized that the missing link had nothing to do with her workout program, or her nutrition. Sure, there’s room for improvement – there ALWAYS is – but neither factor was the deal breaker.

See, Yvonne works full time. She has two busy teenage kids. She and her husband just sold their house and are moving in two weeks. They have dogs that need walking morning and night.

Most nights she’s up until midnight, catching up on work email so that she can put her mind at rest before she goes to sleep…and then she’s up at 5:30am to do it all again.

Any guesses what the missing puzzle piece here is?

Yup, y’all were right: the missing link that is holding her back is…(drumroll please) SLEEP.

Because nobody can do it all on five and a half hours’ sleep at night.

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Yvonne’s story is not unusual – we all tend to put sleep last on our list of priorities, especially when life gets stressful. Here’s the problem though: life IS stressful, and that pattern of putting sleep last on the priority list can become a habit. Often we don’t even notice it at first. When that happens and we slowly but surely start to burn out, we start eating absentmindedly, we develop digestive issues (heartburn, anyone?), we crave sugar, the number on the scale starts creeping up, we work out harder and try harder to control calories…and the cycle continues until we burn out.

Does this pattern sound familiar? Forgive me if I need to get on my soapbox here and lecture through my bullhorn: if you are not getting adequate sleep, you will not see the results you are looking for. Think of your overall health and wellness as a triangle: on one side there’s exercise, on the other side there’s nutrition, and on the bottom – the base of the whole operation – there’s sleep. Your body needs adequate rest and recovery for your muscles to grow, for your brain to process information, for all your systems to recover and find some balance again. When that doesn’t happen, the wheels start to fall off.

But don’t just take my word for it: the National Institute of Health recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night. Everybody’s a little different but for most people 7 hours is the bare minimum before serious health problems start to manifest. “She’s full of it,” you might be thinking right now, “I get by just fine on six hours a night. Besides, I don’t have time for more sleep; I have too much to do – so much that I can’t even remember what’s next on my to-do list.” If that’s you, do yourself a favour: take off your martyr hat and go take a nap – you’ll have an easier time remembering stuff when you wake up.

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Sleep loss is linked to all sorts of health nastiness that I could go on about for days – memory problems, brain fog, speech problems (ever feel tongue-tied on Friday afternoons? I know I do) but that might get long and boring and put people to sleep…so we’ll focus on most people’s primary goals in the gym: muscle gain and fat loss.

So you’ve been busting your ass in the gym in order to get bigger muscles – a noble pursuit! But it’s not the hours in the gym that are going to give you sick guns or delts that look like the great pumpkin; it’s the hours you spend sleeping. Why? Because when you work out you are actually causing damage to your muscles.  When you’re sleeping, your body produces growth hormone, prompting your body to repair that damage and lay down more muscle tissue. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t grow.

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Ever get really tired? Stupid question, I know – but think back to the last time you were freaking exhausted but you were at work or doing something where just going to sleep wasn’t an option. How did you feel? Hungry, right? That’s because sleep loss increases ghrelin production – the hormone that stimulates hunger and prompts us to reduce our energy expenditure. Basically what happens is that when we get tired and don’t have the energy to keep going, our bodies crave sugar – gotta get energy from somewhere! Being short on sleep also decreases leptin production, the hormone that tells us to stop eating when we’re full, making it easy to overeat.

But the biggest factor – the one that shoots most people in the foot – is that sleepiness makes it really hard to give a fuck about fitness goals. When was the last time you had a “fuck it” moment at 9am and ate a bunch of stuff you know you shouldn’t? Probably hard to remember, because at that time of day we’re focused. We’re rested, on our best behaviour, and ready to kick some ass! At 9pm, though – that’s a different story. Put the cheezies down and go to bed!

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Getting Started

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I was cleaning some stuff up this morning (hey, it happens sometimes) when I came across a pile of dumbells and little interchangeable plates. I pulled them all out from their hiding place in the dark recesses under my desk and looked at them, sitting there in the sunlight. My husband turned from what he was doing and saw them sitting on the floor. “Wow,” he said. “Remember when you bought those? I bet the you from back then wouldn’t even recognize you today.”

He’s right.

Because what I found under my desk was my very first set of weights. I bought them from Canadian Tire in 1998, along with a workout video on strength training. I bought them because even though I detested exercise, part of me knew that I needed to get stronger if I was going to be able to live with myself – see, at that point I was 21 years old, dangerously obese, and slowly but surely losing my mind because of back pain. At that point I was also investigating the possibility of breast reduction surgery because clearly that was the only permanent solution to the consistent ache between my shoulder blades.

So I did the first 15-minute section of that workout video a couple of times. I was doing 1-arm dumbbell rows with a 6lb dumbbell (for context I use ten times that today) and it was hard work. It temporarily relieved the pain in my back, but it made me feel weak and angry and my muscles hurt for days afterward…so I stopped. Fuck that shit; it wasn’t fun. I was just not an exercise girl.

Here’s the thing though: exercise is a skill. Getting better at it takes patience and practice and time. It’s uncomfortable and it sucks sometimes…but a big part of why it sucks is that we have this idea that we *should* be able to just do it (because who’s heard that slogan before?). But consider this: nobody ever air-dropped into the Kalahari and was suddenly fluent in Khoisan. Nobody ever picked up a trumpet and was able to play it well the first time. When you learn a new skill, you have to start at the beginning. You have to suck for a little while; that’s what makes getting better worth the effort – if you started out awesome then you’d never see progress and how fun would that be?

Start where you are. Adjust your expectations. Learn. Play. And most importantly, don’t quit.

40 Gray (sic) Hairs

I turned forty last month. FORTY. I have very mixed feelings about the idea but I won’t go on about them; I think I am mostly ok with this whole aging thing. Except for the odd moment when I look in the bathroom mirror and see more grey hair than I remember seeing the last time…and then full-out panic hits.

But oh well. I have mixed feelings about the grey hair, too: on one hand I kind of like it; it shows that I’ve been around the block a few times and I would like to think I have gained some wisdom from the experience. On the other hand, JESUS FUCK GREY HAIR! COLOUR THAT SHIT QUICK! Which is clearly just a byproduct of growing up in a youth-worshipping society. The smarter part of me is refusing to play that game…for now.

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Anyway. In honor of reaching forty, I have compiled a list of forty things that I am pretty sure I know, that I kinda wish I had maybe figured out sooner. What’s funny about this list is that I set about making it, thinking that it would be pretty easy – I mean, for sure life has taught me forty lessons that are worth passing on. Right?

Not so much. I got to, like, number eleven before I had to stop and mull things over for a few days. Turns out that mining the deepest recesses of my brain for forty pieces of wisdom that I am relatively sure about was really difficult – so you’re welcome! Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Meal planning and prepping for five days at a time is bullshit. By the third day those meals will smell weird and you won’t want to even look at them. Plan and prep for 2, maybe three days at a time.
  2. It’s okay if you’re scared. Everybody is. Some people hide it better than others and sources of fear differ, but everyone lives with it. No exceptions.
  3. Meaningful connections between people are worth nurturing. It takes a little extra time and effort but the payoff is gold.
  4. There is no such thing as unconditional love – love is ALWAYS conditional. That may seem cynical of me, but I don’t really mean for it to be. Love is amazing BECAUSE it’s conditional: without conditions it’s just attachment.
  5. Sleep is necessary. You can run from it all you want but it WILL catch up with you – might as well just embrace it. Better yet, make it a priority. If you don’t, it will make itself a priority at the most inopportune time.elephant
  6. Having stuff is overrated. It ends up owning you. Think about the last time you gave something away – the relief is tangible, right? Hang onto and take care of the things you need and get rid of everything else.
  7. Institutionalized education is mostly bullshit and academic credentials are borderline meaningless.
  8. Learning, on the other hand, is awesome. Never stop finding stuff to learn about – keep your mind open and stay curious.
  9. Eating more vegetables is always a good idea.
  10. People will always judge. ALWAYS. We can’t help judging and comparing and competing. Embrace it; it’s what makes us better.
  11. Take care of the people around you and be kind. Kindness is never wasted.
  12. We are all more dorky and ridiculous than we’d care to admit. Might as well laugh at it.urkel
  13. Caffeine will only get you so far.
  14. Taking care of yourself first is the best thing you can do for other people. You can try and be a martyr and put everyone else’s needs before your own, but like caffeine, its benefits are finite. You can’t be at your best unless you look after yourself.
  15. Chocolate, ice cream, and wine are just about the best things in the world…and they are ALWAYS available. They are more awesome when they’re special treats you can look forward to.
  16. Letting the hurt show a little bit is a great way to draw the people around you a little closer.
  17. There will always be people who are better than you. At everything.
  18. If you want to get better, find those people and hang out with them.
  19. Never believe what you read the first time. Question everything, play the devil’s advocate, and find more sources before forming an opinion on something.
  20. Never trust people who are 100% sure.
  21. We all need each other. Even the world’s most introverted trolls still need other people.
  22. Learning to take good care of your body is a skill that is worth practicing. It takes some mental muscle at first but it will pay off once you have some momentum.
  23. Everybody needs an outlet where they can take their mind off the day-to-day grind. It could be meditating or knitting or playing a sport. For me it’s lifting: you can’t be thinking about all the other stuff you need to do today, or making a shopping list, or wondering if you’re good enough, when there’s a loaded bar waiting to crush you if you lose focus on it.
  24. Nobody can do it for you.
  25. Making sure that the people around you feel loved and appreciated and understood  is worth a little bit of extra effort.
  26. Getting angry is almost never worth the energy.
  27. Make room for what’s important. If you can’t, for whatever reason, it’s not that important – and that is totally ok. Other people’s priorities don’t have to be yours.
  28. People are just people. The ones who stick out (virtuosi, celebrities, etc.) have quirks, fears, and bad body smells just like the rest of us. Nobody needs to be up on a pedestal.
  29. Showing enthusiasm is almost always a good thing.
  30. If your gut tells you you’ve taken a wrong turn, listen.
  31. Find something to do every day that you’re enthusiastic about. If it’s not your job, join a community of like-minded peeps that you can visit on a daily basis.
  32. Be willing to put yourself out there. It’s easy to find support when you take the first step on your own.
  33. Mornings are the very best time of day. Seriously.notamorningperson
  34. Being physically strong feels awesome and it is worth putting time and effort into.
  35. What you do to make yourself physically strong will give you mental strength too.
  36. The space inside your head is yours. Anything you want can happen in there. No one can take that away from you.
  37. Healing sometimes just takes time. Not effort, not treatment, not anything else. Time.
  38. Bad days happen. When they do, it can be hard to roll with the punches…but taking it personally makes things worse. Minimize the damage by accepting it and knowing that tomorrow will be better.
  39. There’s going to be physical pain – most of the time we have a choice between the pain of degeneration…or the pain of development. I’d rather push through some pain of development.
  40. Time will keep marching on whether you make what you want happen or not. Might as well get it done.