Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Deadlift

At the beginning of this year, I began dead lifting.  If you are unfamiliar with this move, I will explain. It’s deceptively simple: you grab a heavy weight on the ground and stand up.  When done correctly, it works nearly every major muscle in your body.  It lets you function with bad knees, a bad lower back.  It can prevent a bad back. When done incorrectly, it can destroy you.

At the time, almost no one in my gym dead lifted. I got my instructions from books and YouTube, and strained to see past others to check my form in the mirror.  I went to forums to ask questions and get assistance.  I started with bare barbell (45#) feeling the difference between “right” and “this is going to hurt my back if I continue.”

The idea of the dead lift as an important part of weight lifting finally started to filter into the gym, and more and more people would perform them. I would applaud when I saw a young man performing that move with perfect form.  A well-performed dead lift is a thing a beauty.  Today, rarely a day goes by when I do not witness someone trying this exercise.  This includes women.  Women come back and pick up the 20# or 30# bar and go through the movements for their 3 sets of 15 reps.

Did I mention?  Last time I lifted, I set a personal record of 135#. Yes, it’s taken me the better part of 9 months.    While I’m happy to see women embracing an important exercise – I truly wish that they would push themselves to actually work harder when they do it. It’s not uncommon to hear men -and women who strength train- joke about women using “pink Barbie weights”.  A women doing deadlifts with 20# is as sad.

I think FOR WOMEN deadlifting is perhaps the most important weight lifting exercise that they can do.  Why?

  1. As I said earlier, it is a full-body workout that hits every major muscle group.
  2. Think about how you spend your day: picking up and carrying children, pets, groceries, clothes, etc.  Imagine one exercise that when you do it regularly prepares you for your every day life -and makes the repetition of those movements easier.
  3. As a full-body exercise, this also stresses the major bones in our body-causing them to lay down more calcium and grow stronger.  This would include the lower back, hips, shoulders, thighs.  Exactly the bones that weaken in osteoporosis.

Do you Dead?  Will you consider it in the future?

Oh my aching Glutes!

Because I’ve been ill lately- a bacterial sinus/lung infection that left me plagued with fatigue and a general sense that I couldn’t breathe well – I have not been going to the gym.  I know I’m really sick when the idea of hitting the gym feels like a major mistake.

Fortunately, the meds have kicked in, and I’m back.

One thing that I notice happens when I don’t work out regularly is a lower back ache that becomes worse the longer I’m away from the gym.  When I get back in there, the only thing that makes it feel better is hitting the leg press machine for one-legged presses.  Three sets.  Ten reps on the strong side, 15 on the weak side.  And prepare for pain.

Did a full leg workout on Monday -my first truly healthy day.  Lightish deadlift, back lunges, leg press, step ups to balance, front lunges. Get all those muscles reminded that they have a purpose in life- to keep me upright and balanced and MOVING. I fell on my ass while doing one of sets of lunges- a sure sign that my balance and coordination took a hit while I down.

The big part of the day was the leg press.  135# with each leg letting the weight down as close to my body as I could.  Three sets.  Easy, I thought, on my good leg; torture on my left.  The last set I had to use my good leg as an assist (if I had a trainer with me- the trainer would have helped to hold the weight of the bar) to complete the set.

And my glutes have been yacking at me ever since.  Which is a good thing. I’d rather my glutes complain than my lower back.  One complains because it was challenged and is now healing.  (any day now, glutes!)  The other complains because of weaknesses that strain it.

Tomorrow I’ll challenge the legs again.  The change in performance will be noticeable to me; I will probably do one or two more reps before needing help.  Hopefully no falling on my butt.  We’ll see.

Today’s workout: 30 minutes of cardio followed by a stability/balance workout: planks, bridges, one legged deadlifts, foot balances, etc.  Done in a circuit style that will have me flinging sweat all around.

Define a Strong Woman

(crossposted at BlogHer)
I’ll let you in a (not so little) secret: I Strength Train.

Five to six days a week I throw a large gym bag into my car and drive 4 miles to my local gym. After a 10 minutes warm-up on the cardio machines, where I am surrounded by other women, I head to the very back of the room. Here the dumb bell rack running under a half-wall of mirrors holds pieces of iron from 10 to 110 pounds. Flat benches, incline benches, racks, and platforms stand ready for use. There are smaller barbells ranging from 20# to 110#. Barbells, capable of holding weight plates marked 5# to 45#, sit on racks or the floor ready to challenge someone to go toward a personal best.

There are the usual assortment of men here- wearing their white t-shirts and black nylon pants. So I- in my pink work out skirt and lime green and white top- kind of stick out. However, that’s only visual. Once I claim a spot, grab my weights and start working, I’m no different than the others back there: the sweat comes early and stays the whole hour- dripping off my nose, hair, chin onto the black rubber flooring below me. I mutter my reps, and tell myself “just one more” when my triceps are begging for me to stop. When I finish a set, I sit exhausted and panting watching the clock for the minute before I go again. Because of this, the guys see me as fitting in.

What has prompted me to confess this all to you? Did you notice that in the description above I did not mention the other women working along side me?  While occasionally there might be another woman there, by and large, women in the free-weight section are rare.  While both sexes are equally represented in the cardio section and working the weight machine circuit, few make their way back all the way to free weights.

There were a couple blog posts published last week discussing the ideas of women and strength. They spoke to me because, when surround by sweating grunting testosteroney males working as hard as me, I always miss the women who I wish would be beside me too.  I see them, sitting on a leg curl machine or the “inner/outer thigh” machine watching me in the squat rack putting 100# on my back.  Many smile shyly and stare -I hope they are proud that their sex is representing. Still, I wish they would do more than simply smile.

I wonder about you, reader…

I wonder if you have bought into the false line that when women work out with heavier weights -moving beyond the pink 5# dumb bells marketed to the gentler sex-you will get huge and muscley. A line that is usually false- we women rarely produce enough testosterone to get “huge”.

The Gubernatix, in her piece Strong Is Beautiful, told this secret:

I’ve never had so many compliments on my physique or attitude as when I’m training. Seriously, if you care about such things, squatting heavy is a guy magnet.

….Yeah, the world isn’t perfect but there’s plenty of spare respect to go around. Women can choose to dance around in their panties on youtube and pander to male chauvinist images of what they should look like, or women can respect themselves and pursue what they think is right for them (and if that is dancing around in your panties, why not consider competitive pole dancing?).

Pretty girls are everywhere, strong women are rare! I’ll never stand out as being pretty (I have a brilliant mind of course but that doesn’t show up in a club) but put me in a squat cage with a pair of black leggings on and I’ll show you who’s your daddy.

In case you are wondering, the Gubernatrix, in the photo above is squatting approximately 200#!  Yeah, I smile when I see that picture too. But there isn’t a huge, masculine looking muscle on her body.  If she were standing in front of you at the grocery store would you think anything more than “that woman is in good shape.  How does she do it?”

I wonder if you believe that pushing heavy weights is somehow unfeminine. If so, I would remind you that every day you are expected to pick up children, groceries, pet food, laundry baskets, heaven-knows how many things that are heavier than a 5# pink dumb bell.  Wouldn’t it be better to train in a way that prepares your body for it’s everyday life?  Krista Scott-Dixon, the beloved creator of, addressed this in Don’t Fear the Free Weights!:

Real life isn’t tidy, or organized, or perfect. Real life movements don’t usually happen while you’re safely strapped into a contraption that immobilizes most of your body, unless you’re biceps curling a 48 oz Super Big Gulp to your lips while seatbelted into a car — and c’mon, why are you doing that anyway? Real life movements are off-balance, asymmetrical, one-handed or one-legged, moving in curves and squiggles, done in funny ways, done unexpectedly, and done all day long. Real life movements involve lifting awkwardly shaped things like babies and couches and sloshy cases of beer and Rottweilers that don’t want to take a bath. Machines aren’t going to help you when it’s time to haul the groceries out of the car with a screaming toddler stuck to your hip, or when you need to move that load of topsoil for your petunia bed and can’t find your wheelbarrow.

What will help you? Dead lifts, farmer’s walks, squats and lunges, shoulder press, kettlebell swings.  Lifting weights will prepare you for your everyday life in ways that nothing else can.  Believe me, after spending time dead lifting a barbell with 135# of weight on it, picking up my arthritic 60# dog to place her in the car is a piece of cake.

Or is it really that there are not enough strong female role models to inspire you? Looking around, who would be the inspiration for a strong woman?  Yes, Jillian Michaels has the muscles and body, yet we think of her more for her ability to push others to achieve beyond their perceived strengths.  Michelle Obama had everybody talking about her stunning arms, but is she a model for strength?  Or a model for the “you can have it all” woman?  Dana Torres, the Olympic swimmer, is strong, yet we wonder more about her ability to do get into Olympic shape at her age.  So is she a model for strength or for ability at any age?

Chip at BodyTribe Fitness started this whole discussion on strong women when he posted on Gender Strength.

Define a strong woman. Unfortunately the blurry image we come up with, because all archetypes are actually blurry and only step into the light and cease vibrating when we clearly define them, will often not feature physical power.

…Physical strength is held as a male trait. Wait… drop it. Do not throw anything at me yet. If this isn’t true then why is the common stereotype of a strong woman riddled with words like ‘butch’, ‘bulky,’ ‘steroids’, or any number of terms that have very male connotations? And why are women’s ‘fitness’ magazines so bent on perpetuating a soft, helpless version of a woman who should only do petite Pilates moves or move little colored weights around that weigh less then a kitten? And why does the cover always feature a waif-ish model who looks like a 12-year old boy with make-up on as some sort of icon to what a ‘fit’ woman is?

For myself, a strong woman is both physically and mentally able to set goals for herself and work to achieve them.  She has not let her body betray her with age, nor her mind defeat her with doubt.  Krista, again, explained what to me is a perfect description of a strong woman in her rant: Who Are You?

Every little mini-obstacle that you overcome in training makes you stronger inside. Strength is an expression of the body but more importantly it is also an expression of the will and the spirit. To struggle and surpass; or even to struggle when there is no means of surpassing – that is strength.

And so I ask you to do the same.  Define a Strong Woman.

Painfree Crafting

When I’m not playing “gym rat” I’m writing and doing crafts.  The other activities in our lives all add to the possibility of increasing the tension, stress and pain in our bodies.  This post -crossposted from BlogHer- is all about eleviating that when crafting -but it works equally as well if you spend hours on a computer.

In the next few months many of us will decide we have to “buckle down” and create all the presents and decorations that are on our imaginary -or sometimes not-so-imaginary- To Do List.  We have deadlines- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Day.  And we cannot disappoint others by failing to create all the wonderful things that are swirling around our heads.

We settle down for several hours of work after a day of work.  Soon, our hands are aching, our necks are creaking, and our lower backs are aching.  But still we soldier on.  In the name of all the magical goodness that is the holiday season, we will continue if it kills us.

Sometimes we end up in such pain that we wish it would.

To counteract all the physical demands we put on our bodies while we’re crafting, we must warm up and stretch before we begin, and continue to stop, rest, and stretch while we are crafting.  To give you some guidance about doing this, I made a simple video: Stretches for Crafters.

The stretches are simple stretches for the neck, shoulders, chest, wrists and hands.  These, done before you begin and at regular intervals while you are crafting should help to keep some of the pain at bay.  If repetitive stress injuries arise anyway?  Alternate applications of heat and ice, NSAIDs, and rest will move you along your way to quicker healing.

Others in craft are also thinking about your health while crafting.

Becky Striepe at Crafting a Green World wrote Yoga for Crafters: The Knit and Crochet Edition.

From what you guys had to say on Twitter, it sounds like all that yarn work hits ravelers hardest in the wrists, fingers, neck and chest. Never fear! Here are some poses to help you recoop a little bit.

I’m anxious to try several of these poses to open up my chest and wrists and feel some healing coming my way.  But looking at the Bow Pose- I may need yoga to recover from doing some yoga!  I wonder how I can regress that to something actually do-able?

Last week, I pointed you to the Knit-A-Square charity project.  The organizers were care so much about their volunteers that they wrote a How-To on Knitting for Charity Pain Free. Their points include a plan for a basic knitting/crochet training schedule to build your body’s endurance for this work!  The training schedule:

You are attempting to be a marathon knitter and crocheter. And as such, like any elite athlete, you need to train to be able to knit and crochet with endurance. Too many of you, especially those of you learning how to knit or crochet, or picking up your knitting needles or crochet hook again after years away from the craft, just launch straight hours of work.Start slowly and build up. As a rule of thumb, you could start by working for 20 to 30 minutes a day, slowly on a sliding scale according to half your age. So for example:

  • 20 minutes for 10 days
  • 30 minutes for 15 days
  • 50 minutes for 25 days
  • 70 minutes for 35 days.

This will give your wrists and arms the opportunity to build strength and endurance just as a marathon runner must train over months even years to first run the distance and secondly run fast.

Now that we are armed with stretches, yoga and a training schedule, there is (hopefully) no need to pray that you receive a week of massage/chiropractic after the holidays end this year.  Not that such a gift would be a bad thing if it were to come.

How do you prepare to get your craft on and keep yourself pain free?

Friday’s Circuit Workout

Because I believe in functional workouts and making sure that I develop real world function strength, I normally alternate my strength workouts with what I call stability/function circuit workouts.  I have a big list of moves that I pull from for these – individual actions and combinations that challenge me and keep me fresh.

Because I’m still not feeling 100%, I chose to do one of these workouts today.  I aimed for 2 circuits; but after one, I was a sweaty, breathless puddle of goo- and unable to continue.

Friday’s Circuit Workout:

1. Stability Warm-up:

  • Knee pull-ins on SB to push upx15
  • Reverse crunch on SB x15
  • Side Planks 1 minute each side
  • YTAs on SB

2. Burpees/10# DBs. X15

3. Statue of Liberty paired with ATG bodyweight squats to bicep curls. 10# DBs

4. One leg balance to transvere backward lunge paired with One legged bentover rows – with 20# BB

5. One legged deadlifts 10# weight plate.

6. (KB) swings with 10# weight plate.

7. One legged bicep curls with 20# BB

Working Out When Sick

With the cooler months in North America approaching, more of us will be spending time indoors in the presence of others.  This dramatically increases the chances of getting a virus or infection.  And the big question every winter is: when is it OK to workout if you’re sick.

I think it’s almost easier to say when it’s NOT ok to work out:

  1. when you have a fever
  2. when you might be contagious
  3. when you feel tired
  4. when you’re leaking bodily fluids -snot, vomit, whatever.

When you are actively sick it’s important to limit to your exposure to others to keep from spreading the germs around.  It’s also of primary importance to rest so you can heal.  So under these circumstances, please do yourself and those around you a favor and rest.

After this point, I’m going split the idea of working out into those times when you might be exercising at home -or outdoors- and those when you’re working out in a gym or class.  Because if you’re feeling OK, I think that occasionally it’s OK to exercise if there isn’t a chance of you sharing any possible germs.

So if you’re going for a run, or doing a workout video at home I think as long you have a cold but have the energy, it’s OK to exercise.  The “common wisdom” I’ve always heard is that if you’re sick “above your shoulders” – with a head cold, for example- that it’s OK to exercise.

Often, in these cases, doing something makes you feel better and may help you rest when you’re home.  However, especially this year -with increased concerns about influenza- I think it’s advisable to spend a couple days longer before heading back into the gym.

First because you might still be contagious -and the gym is a great place to spread germs.  But also because your own immune system is weakened, which sets you up for catching another infection.


This week, I’ve been sleeping 9.5 hours a night, and waking up still feeling tired. Having trouble concentrating, too.

My lungs still feel “wet” from my virus last week, and I’m just not able to do a hard cardio workout because of the trouble sucking in enough wind.

So I’m admitting I’m still a bit a sick. (ya think?) and giving myself permission to take it easy.

Comin up, though- an actual blog post when to work out when sick, and when not to. Do you know when it’s OK?