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Friday, June 23, 2017


After I published yesterday's post I received an email from a reader who expressed surprise that weightlifting was my preferred sport.  But it is, my dear Flophouse readers.  No lie.  I love the weights.

Now I agree that watching weightlifting (or American football) is about as interesting as watching paint dry.  But lifting itself is a sport that is not only extremely gratifying; it's an excellent way to counteract some of the worst side effects of my cancer treatment.

I first learned about lifting in France,  Yes, the land of wine drinkers and cheese lovers is also one that is very sportif.  For one of the best shows in town, I invite you to go stand somewhere near the Eiffel tower in the morning and watch the local fireman out for a run.  A not-to-be-missed sight for tourists and residents alike. Furthermore, my French spouse has been lifting for years, is an avid Crossfitter, and recently did the Spartan Race in Tokyo.  He had a very good score but I still winced when I saw all the bruises.

I started lifting about 7 years ago.  About the time I stopped drinking and before I was diagnosed with cancer.  I began with a Jane Fonda tape and what  you might call the "baby bells" - small dumbbells ranging from 1 - 6 kilos.  Consistency meant that I outgrew the small weights and went looking for something a little harder and I found Stumptuous, a site run by a Canadian woman lifter with advice, encouragement and challenging routines.  That was my entry into the world of Ladies who Lift which is still a tough one because sterotypes abound.  As Mistress Krista writes, "You see, dear milennial babies, there was a dark and silly time when old men in suits decreed that girlpeople could not lift heavy things at the Olympics, because lo, their uteruses would explode and all males present would spontaneously be emasculated."

That attitude is alive and well and it goes something like this: "don't lift heavy weights because you might get muscles and that's so unattractive in a woman.  The phenomenon appears to be cross-cultural; a Japanese Crossfit coach I know sometimes despairs of ever getting Japanese women into the gym because they would rather be skinny as opposed to having the beautiful muscles of a ballet dancer.  Something that is entirely within their reach, mind you, but they prefer to believe that dancers look the way they do because they eat nothing but lettuce morning, noon and night.  Right.

But forget the dancers and have a look at these lady lifters.  They are amazing.

I still enjoy Stumptous but I found my joy with The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess by Lou Schuler, Cassandra Forsythe, and Alwyn Cosgrove.  The one bit of advice I read there that has stayed with me?  Women almost always underestimate how much weight they can safely lift.  Always go a little bit heavier than you think you can manage because, chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised.  There is a lesson in there for women and life in general and I'll let you consider the connection for yourself.

So I moved from baby bells to bigger and bigger dumbbells and finally, with Crossfit, into the world of Olympic lifting:  squats, deadlifts and so on.  My front squat still sucks but I now have a bar and weights at home so I can work on it.

Why do I like it so much?  Well, I can lift just about anywhere - at home or in a box.  Crossfit, by the way, is often criticized but one thing they do very well in the boxes I've been to in Belgium, the US and Japan is welcome women without any condescending crap.  Asshattery is not permitted in a well-run box.

Another reason is that the results are very pleasing regardless of where you start. Age is certainly no impediment.  In Seattle there was a 75 year old man and women of all ages and fitness levels in the box and, damn, was I impressed.  They could lift far more than I and with better form.  I've been thin for most of my life but I can't say that I was fit or that I am at the peak of personal fitness now.

What I can say is that around 40 beating my body into submission with a starvation level diet and cigarettes just didn't work anymore.  I was writing checks my body could no longer cash.  I was starting to get things like flabby skin under the arms.  I like that I have muscle tone in my arms and legs.  I look good in a pair of jeans (all those squats and lunges).  At 52 I can wear shorts and show off my long legs and tattoos. :-)  I can lift heavy boxes off the floor and head home from the supermarket with big bags of groceries in hand.  I can run up stairs in the metro.  I can walk for miles without getting tired.  I just feel good when I lift.  It's a huge confidence-builder to know that you are strong and not just skinny.

Most importantly, I can EAT.  You don't build muscles with lettuce and water.  You need a balanced diet with lots of protein.  Your actual bodyweight is not terribly significant so to hell with the scale. As Schuler and Cosgrove say, "The scale doesn't know what you looke like, much less how strong you are or how good you feel.  It's just number detached from context." As for this notion that you have to be fanatical about food, you learn when practicing any sport that food is primarily fuel and the effects of poor eating habits have immediate consequences;  I feel weaker when I lift after a few days of fast food or baked goods.  And the cherry on the cake I will regret eating?  I have osteoporosis and lifting and running/walking are perfect ways to combat it. Lifting is, in my case, oncologist approved.

So there you have it.  I really recommend it as a sport.  Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove just published a new lifting book for women called Strong.  I'm at Phase 1, Stage 2 in the routine and I love it. There are planks, Romanian deadlifts, goblet squats and lots of push-ups and inverted rows. It's a huge kick to watch your progress from week to week as you add plates to the bar.

As you can tell I'm pretty happy and motivated to be a lifter.  If you have liked what you have read so far but you are still on the fence about exercise in general and lifting in particular, just listen to Mistress Krista:

"Lifting weights is not rocket science. Find a heavy thing and pick it up. Put it down. Pick it up again. Rest a while. Pick it up and put it down again. Next week, try a heavier thing. Occasionally, pick up your right foot and put it in front of your left foot. Repeat with other side. Perform this alternating motion for 20 minutes a few times weekly."

"Look, honey, you only get one container. And you get what mom and dad gave you. You can make it the best possible container it can be, and love it for what it is, or you can waste your life pissing and moaning about something that isn’t possible. Control what you can control, change what you can change, and forget about all the other stuff. Celebrate health and living free of pain. Stop obsessing about BEING and LOOKING, and start DOING."


Maria said...

I start thinking about lifting weights and I get the willies. Or, rather, I get the willies when I realize I have to bring all the grocery shopping I gathered into the trunk of the car over a couple of hours into the house. Or carry the heavy, full butane gas bottle out of the basement to the coupling so I can have hot water and cook a meal. Still, I am capable of doing so. I once used to go to a gym and do some light (very light) lifts. That was okay. Since then (ten years?), I haven't revisited a gym. I have gone walking, though. A couple of years ago I had some free hours in the morning and I would go walking at least three times a week. I lost some weight and felt good. But that free time has disappeared.

I know I'll never be thin or muscular. My inheritance tends towards a fat tummy, like my mother's and her sisters'. I don't eat much, I try to eat well, and the blood analyses I do just about every year have all the markers well within normal limits. I will take the stairs rather than the elevator, but time is of the essence as I grow older, so I can't park at the entrance to the town where I'm going on an errand or shopping. I can't allow myself the pleasure of walking from and to my car a kilometer away. I have given up struggling with my weight. I can't fight karma.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Maria, You reminded me (and thank you for that) that what we call "exercise" is actually a rather odd and very modern activity. My great-grandparents did not exercise on their farm - their lives were all about manual labor and I think Grandpa Pete would have found the idea of jogging or lifting weights to be ludicrous. Rest was a luxury and even social events like quilting circles were a chance to get off one's feet, socialize and WORK. Today my sister-in-law and my brother have 6 children to look after and their days are packed.

I am a middle-aged woman with grown-up children who lives part of the year on the 14th floor of a tower in the middle of an urban area. There is an elevator though I've walked up and down the stairs a time or two. The other part of the year I live in a little house with almost no stairs but I have my garden. In both cases I do have to walk home with the groceries and I walk everywhere or tqke the public transit because I don't have a valid driver's license in either country. But because I spend so much time reading, researching and writing it would be so easy to just settle into a sedentary life. Today the high in Osaka is 26 degrees but the humidity is nearly 90% and it's raining. If I don't make myself move, I won't because there are so many books on my to read list and it's much comfier inside in my blue chair under the air-co. I will be so happy to be home where I can work in the garden and do those DIY projects around the house.

I agree with you (and Mistress Krista) that an awful lot of how we look and age has to do with our genetic inheritance. I will never look like some of the young Japanese women I see on the street: I'm too tall, I have hips, and my posterior is becoming more like some of the Brazilian women I've seen - something I personally like very much but it's not exactly the standard for the ideal body type here in Japan. I too am acquiring the fat around the middle and I'm OK with that. The goal is health, not to try to become something that is not achievable. I'm paying a price for having tried - my osteroperosis is due to two factors, said my oncologist, my cancer meds and being underweight for so long. Today I'd rather have more body fat than brittle bones. :-)