Monday, March 17, 2014

Body Image as a Female Strength Athlete

Body image and all the ingrained societal sexism that drives it to be the THING that it is, is really complicated. To set the tone, I'd like to refer to the following article from The Good Man Project:

CrossFit's Problem with Women, and Ours

It starts to delve into the intricacies of gender dynamics that I don't have the words or thought coherency to even begin discussing. For instance, when CFHQ posted the Talayna picture and people pushed back, they then posted the one of shirtless men climbing the rope, trying to say "see, equal opportunity!" Only it's not. 

Their camera angle and his leg position are at least each about 45 degree off from it being about the same thing. Then there is the whole issue that women are in booty shorts of their own volition, but is it because they truly want to be or are they taught they want to be to further their desirability/ popularity as female athletes. 

What does it mean to be a female athlete? Particularly one who wants to market her abilities for sponsorships and speaking engagements and the like? It's enough to make my head explode. 

But it was the Sherry Stiles article that really prompted me to give my own 2 cent rant.

Sherri Stiles on Perceptions of Fit Women

She tears apart on a comment by a guys that states "women don't look good all muscled up." This commenter makes the assumption that (1) he is the purveyor of all that is aesthetically right and (2) women do what they do for the sexual attention of men, end of story.
From and you can find them on Instagram at "Iron and Emotion"

Can you say male privilege loud enough to match the audacity here? I doubt it.

What's discouraging is that this mentality is insidious. It's so assumed that it doesn't even have to be spoken most of the time. And when it is said, you have both men and women nodding along like, "oh yeah, of course."

What kills me is the visceral reaction of many men when presented with the image of a strong women. I'm not here to say that all men should find muscles and a 400 lb deadlift hot, but this reaction isn't the gut level, visceral push back that one gets when presented with a women who is devoted to marathoning, cycling, yoga, or dance. It's only when that devotion takes on characteristics of what society considers "masculine," like strength, competition, and aggression.

After reading a particularly heart wrenching article on Jezebel made me think more about the issue. One of the comments I left was:

"As a black belt, I started seeing more and more how women behave different as a protective mechanism, just to get through their days. I started seeing how people treated me different because I was a competitive martial artist. How their attitude changed. As though my femininity was based on my susceptibility to victimization." 

And herein lies the issue as I see it: those that have the deepest, most severe negative reaction to female strength athletes I tend to find are the same men that rely on external cues to assess their own masculinity. They are the guys that haven't yet found comfort and an innate sense of self, of who they are as a male human, and need comparisons to others in the outside world. And to be presented with an image that puts their external cue system it jeopardy is problematic. Their reaction turns aggressive, a "masculine" reaction in response to a perceived threat to their masculinity.

What is masculinity? Why do we still need to divide ourselves and our habits between masculine and feminine?

Here is an interesting documentary that is in the making:


What does this have to do with body image? Dare I say almost everything?

Starting at ground zero, with the expectation of human dichotomy between men and women and their often unrealized need to be masculine and feminine by comparisons to each other. And then you have people like me, and there are lots of us, who reject that notion that I care to be feminine in a traditional way that means I'm smaller and weaker than a man. (I'm the Newman, and I do what I want.)

The bafflement that ensues.

The aggravation that arrises when even in weight class sports I'm classified as almost too big because I'm over 165 lbs. The wonder by people that "why don't you just cut weight?" Because I don't fucking want to.

Having been told years ago that my choice of pursuits might be off putting to men.

How do we fight it? First, recognize it. Realize that you don't have to work in that dynamic. Just because it was set up before you got here doesn't mean you have to play by its rules. And this goes for anyone who wants to buck trends.

Happiness doesn't come wrapped with a pink or blue bow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Current Training: Staying Sane with Multiple Focuses

I was going to write an update on the weightlifting meet, but got bored editing video. So here is this blog entry instead:


Or is it focii? Or is that only in my now-defunct genetics training?

As mentioned, I train for weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, with aerial circus stuff thrown in for good measure. I've played with programming for myself mostly because I don't know any coaches that program for such multiple end goals.

Watch someone I know come out of the woodwork and say, "hey, jerk face, I do that!" Whatever, fool.

So far, since I began training again post shoulder surgery (almost a full year ago now!) I've been able to make progress in all fronts. I posted a two week rotation that I was doing last year, and have since changed it up again with the addition of strongman and the current focus on pure strength.

The challenge is to not over do it, I'm older and can only recover from so much in a week, and still hit the important pieces. As things start to taper and specific weaknesses show their limiting power, it will all have to change again:

Anywhere I have (A), (B), and (C) means that each week it's a little different, with either one or the other lettered options being done.
HS = heavy single
OH = Over head
Rest means I rest. Like, take as many naps as I can fit into the day between clients and classes. Seriously. Naps are good for growth hormone.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dare I Discuss It? Knees that go places...

The hub-bub hasn't ended. People are still talking, blogging, facebook-ing, and meme-ing about what should be done with the knees during squats.

I hesitated to even write this because someone some where won't like it. Then I thought, but I'm basically a nobody. Therefore, let the rant begin!

I pretty much only hear this discussion come from my foot in the weightlifting world. And let me just say this. As a whole, weightlifters are pretty whiny. Really. We are. Whiny and self righteous. We're like a bunch of orthodox Christian something-or-anothers, and our way is right and we're going to shout you down because science, credentials, and whatnot.

In fact, I'm whining here because I'm a weightlifter. It comes with the territory, like menses and uteruses.

Guess what cue I heard last Sunday during my strongman training session? Grab the handles and push your knees out really hard before you pick it up. Oh, interesting.

Guess what cue I heard a lot of when I was focusing on powerlifting training? Push your knees out, spread the floor and get your hips through. That's funny.

On a recent episode of "Offline", a CrossFit HQ discussion panel series, the issue of "knees out" was the main topic. It was basically Kelly Starrett arguing his point against Jacob Tsypkin and Quinn Henoch. You can find the episode HERE.

I don't feel like reiterating everything about the debate here. Other than to say you might want to watch if only to look at Ariel Stephen's quads. They are a thing of beauty. (Creepy enough?)

Also on the panel was Lon Kilgore. He seemed to basically throw in his two censt with Kelly and then sit back and watch the debate unfold. That's because he's a powerlifter, not a weightlifter. See above note about weightlifters.

Moving on.

In my experience, I've had to tell every single one of my new athletes coming into CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting to either (1) push their knees out, (2) spread the floor with their feet, (3) screw their feet and hips in. All of these cues elicit the same effect: stabilize tracking of the knee, raise the arch of the foot, and greater activation of the glute meds.

In my experience, I've told maybe 5 athletes to not be a fucking ballerina and push their knees back in. These were athletes that took the "knees out" cue too far and had increased their range of motion enough they could be a high class stripper. It's really not what we're looking for either, but generally if you're going to see this it's going to be a more intermediate athlete who has the motor control and range of motion to do such.

I still want these athlete to screw their feet in and/or spread the floor. Don't get slack and let your knees gimbal everywhere. But "knees out" may no longer be the right cue for them.

This is where self directed athletes and less experienced coaches can run into problems. The "Becoming a Supple Leopard" book is meant to address the needs of the majority, and the majority can use the knee out cue to get the right squatting motion down.

I don't doubt that PT's like Quinn have seen people hurt themselves by overdoing the knee out movement. I've seen athletes that have pushed it so far as to atrophy their VMO and end up with knee pain. Atrophied muscles are never a good thing. Time for sissy squats and hack squats to build that back up. But again, this is rare. Between San Francisco CrossFit and United Barbell, I'm working with hundreds of people a week, and I've seen this only a handful of times (<10).
I just really want more people to squat heavy.
Where do I tell people to track their knees when they squat? I generally ask they have their knees push over their pinky toe. Most beginners can't do that, but trying to will keep the pressure on the glute meds. And those that can won't try to turn their squat into a pliĆ©.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger

What I really want to say right out is that everyone should read this book.

There are three main parts of this book:
1) How the current nutritional guidelines came to be, with all the crazy politics that push science around
2) How to interpret science and how the science battle played out to against culture to create winners and losers
3) Using the past, a different kind of logic, to deduce what we know to be good, what we know to be bad, and what can be attributed to individual variance.

I find the politicking around nutritional guidelines fascinating. You see the interplay between people who REALLY want to do right by the country, who value the scientific process, get steamrolled by lobbyists and politicians with their greatest interest in re-election. There is a level of intrigue that makes the story, for what might seem like such a dull subject, pretty riveting.

Then comes the second part, which really is the meat of the book. It starts with a primer about the most common terminology you find in the scientific literature with highlights on where the media and people with agendas tend to misinterpret them.

It then follows the research of a handful of nutrition scientists. Minger does a good job taking a measured approach the the characters that history has labeled "good" and "bad". After all, they all really wanted to fix the growing problem of heart disease, and just didn't have a wide enough scope to see what they needed to.

The last part is where this book really cemented itself in my heart. Again, following her trend of being, gasp, reasonable, Minger takes a look at three diets that are commonly touted as The Cure, and have a loyal following: Paleo/ Primal, Mediterranean, and Plant Based (covering vegetarian and vegan). Rather than take sides, she analyzes what each of these simultaneously includes, then in a flip of logic, discusses the similarities in what they all reject.

Here Minger also touches upon know genetic variations that can change how one person responds great to, say, a high fat diet and another responds great to a high starch diet. This helps to explain why each popular diet has thrivers and failures.

All three main diets also have a "look at our ancestry" element to their arguments, so Minger takes us back to Weston Price and his study of native cultures, looking at how they ate, how little disease they experienced, and more importantly, how the switch to modern living changed that disease profile.

All in all, this should be a book that anyone with even a passing interest in health, and anyone with a deep interest in health, should read.