Straddled By A Stranger – A Tale Of Men At The Gym

We hear a lot about the struggles of being a young woman on the internet, I’ve covered it on here myself, and among friends and over social media we discuss this struggle across other arenas as well. “Manspreaders” on the Tube, “mansplainers” in the office, and men at the gym. I want to prefix this by saying that it’s not only men that are guilty of some of these things, we all see people who catch our eye and watch for a little too long for example, but it’s mainly men who are the culprits when it comes to the examples below.

Since sharing what happened to me tonight, that inspired this post, someone has said that this kind of behaviour is the sole reason they wouldn’t go to a gym. It’s sad that gyms are not an environment where people feel comfortable.

First and foremost I should explain the incident that provided the inspiration for the post. I workout at a lovely, well equipped gym with a huge variety of free weights and machines which is ideal for me because I love to lift weights. I’m there at least twice a week, usually more, and I know what I’m doing. On a Monday and Thursday my friend Megan comes with me and she spots me during heavier lifts in case I get into difficulty. Tonight we were enjoying a particularly brutal arm session. Having just completed a triceps super set we moved over to the bench and in order to continue using triceps we opted for a close grip on the bar. This is harder than a normal bench and a lift I’m not 100% comfortable with yet so I went light, lifting the 20kg bar without additional weights. It wasn’t a doddle but I was ok, Megan had checked in seconds earlier when a man came rushing across the gym, snatched the bar out of my hands and racked it. As if that wasn’t enough he then lectured Megan on where she needed to stand to spot me and demonstrated by straddling me. As we needed a lighter bar for one of the exercises we chose to just leave that area at that point but it really got me thinking.

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of men at my gym are stronger than me and it’s also fair to say that had I been in real difficulty it’s reassuring that people are paying attention and would help you out but the problem is when people who are stronger think that they automatically know best or that their workout is more important than yours. This is definitely not exclusively men but when was the last time you saw a woman hog the leg press machine at the gym for an hour – also to all the people who do that, what are you doing on there for all that time? Please explain.

The other biggest annoyance for me is unsolicited advice. I can concede that sometimes it can turn out to be helpful but sometimes people just don’t know when to stop. Suddenly because a guy has a few muscles he thinks he’s a personal trainer, physiotherapist and nutritionist. I know my body better than you thanks very much. Sometimes it’s nice to share ideas with people in the gym, shout out to the woman who gave me a safe alternative to leg curls, but knowing when to back off is key.

Have you had any bad experiences with people at the gym? Let me know in the comments.

V<3

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Things Not To Say To Someone With Hypermobility

Hypermobility suffers will probably be able to guess exactly where I’m going with this. It’s the same, every time I mention I have the condition. As soon as you utter the words “I suffer from hypermobility” you must brace yourself for the onslaught of stupid questions or misguided (and unsolicited advice).

Possibly the most common response I get is “so does that mean you can do the splits?”. No. Hypermobility in some people allows them to be more flexible in the traditional sense and that’s great, but for a lot of us all it does is cause joint pain, subluxation and dislocation. Sure my wrists and fingers do weird things and I can comfortably “W-sit” as an adult but chances are that if I’ve brought up my hypermobility it’s because I’m struggling with it and not because I want 20 questions about whether or not it gives me superpowers. Just don’t go there.

Another “favourite” is “at least you are going to the gym”. Wait, what? Thank you able-bodied white man [because this one is nearly always them] for that great insight. For people with normal, healthy joints, if they experience weakness/give in or around a joint, it’s possible that all they need to do is strengthen the muscle around the joint and it will fix the problem. Unfortunately hypermobility is not just going to disappear. Yes, strength can improve it or help to manage it but for me this is as good as it gets. I haven’t fallen for a while, *touch wood* and my shoulder that subluxes or “clunks” is sitting relatively in place most of the time but my legs have started overextending, my hip sometimes slips out of joint while I walk, I’m struggling to go heavier on bench press because although I have the strength in my arms, chest and shoulders the weight pushes my wrist back too much. Hypermobility may lead to a few interesting party tricks but it can also be debilitating. Have some respect and understand that someone with the condition knows their body better than you do.

“My [insert relation here] has that and they just ran the London Marathon.” Ummmm congratulations?! This is probably the one I struggle with the most. I don’t run, in part because of my joints, and in part because I have no desire to do so. I’ve always been told that with my knees being the way they are running is increased risk (I have had some very bad joint related falls while running in childhood and when I was struggling with an eating disorder) and if I can avoid it then that’s for the best. If I REALLY wanted to take up running, with a carefully managed programme and physio and taping etc I maybe could manage it but I would rather just protect my joints. So when you supply this snippet of information what are you trying to say? You don’t believe me? You think that regardless of what I know is best for me and my physical and mental health you or your relative knows better? You think I’m lazy? Or that I should be inspired by your relative? Thanks but no thanks. I’ll just be over here doing what works for ME.

It could be worse right? “At least you don’t have X”. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise ill health and disabilities were a competition. I understand looking on the bright side and the fact that approaching things with a positive outlook leads to improved health outcomes. Really, I do. But sometimes you just want to have a moan about something that you’re dealing with. Sometime I get frustrated with my joints, I want to do more than I can manage. And yes, I’m grateful that I don’t have more serious things going on but don’t take away from my real, lived experience with your glass half full platitudes.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve had any experiences like this with hypermobility or other health conditions.

V ❤

GF8WG – A Review

GF8WG or in other words Grace Fit’s 8 Week Guide is a weight lifting programme designed by Grace over at GraceFitUK. I started this programme as a friend of mine had picked it up, was really enjoying it and had found it to be more body positive, or at least less body shaming, than other things she’d tried in the past. Oh, how wrong we were. But first the positive aspects.

It’s an 8 week plan split in to two lots of 4 weeks, with 5 work outs a week. There is also a glossary with a description and images of each exercise which I found really useful as although I know my way around the weights section of a gym there are many different names for exercises and there were some things in the guide that were totally new to me. For the first week of each section the workouts seem to take forever, not in a bad way, but when you leave the gym you look at the time and realise you’ve been in there for 2 hours. Once you are used to the moves, know where you’re going and what equipment you need, they do speed up a little.

Like most weight training programmes the guide focuses on one area of the body per session for example, legs one day, back and shoulders another etc. From the offset it’s pretty hard going if you are pushing yourself and lifting heavy each time. I have never known DOMS like it but once I got my protein consumption well timed and did plenty of stretches they lessened. I did find that I quickly gained strength and was reaching for heavier weights however I did modify the programme. My physiotherapist advised me that the guide uses too many reps to be building true strength. That’s when the cracks started to really show.

When you purchase the guide you can join a Facebook group with other people doing it. What I wasn’t prepared for, although with hindsight I probably should have been, was the level of body shaming. People were criticising themselves for “flaws” that I didn’t even know existed. “Hip bumps”? I thought that was just your hips. I understand that good nutrition is important especially when you are taking part in such intense workouts but that’s not the kind of discussion that was always taking place in the group –  in reality it was diet chat verging on eating disordered behaviour, and NO ONE was calling it out. “An eating window”, “trying to be good”, “I was bad this weekend and now feel so guilty” were all phrases that cropped up a lot. On more than one occasion someone posted a fat shaming meme that everyone laughed along with and it was all just a thoroughly unpleasant environment. A strength training group for women had the potential to be so positive and empowering but it just wasn’t.

Over time I also came to realise that the guide itself wasn’t really about strength training, rather looking a certain way. It’s called “build a booty” or something similar which I had hoped was just a marketing gimmick but it would appear from advice I’ve received from my physio that is is a “vanity strength” programme. While not going about it in the same way as skinny teas or similar products it’s still peddling the message that one body type is better than another. It’s very much on trend with Kim K and the like selling the idea that you need to have a big bum and a small waist. The thing with bodies is they all naturally have their own shape and that doesn’t change along with the trends.

In the process of doing this guide myself and others felt ourselves becoming more critical of our bodies, focusing on the visual changes rather than becoming stronger and fitter. Hannah documented those changes on her blog, and she also spoke about them in her recent body positive post which is here..

I still use the document as part of my workouts, it was a great introduction to new lifts and exercises, but I pick out the exercises I enjoy and mix it in with other things like body weight training, but I’m no longer hung up on following the programme and I feel so much better for it.

Have you picked up an exercise programme you really love or do you know of any good body positive ones out there? Let me know in the comments.

V ❤

My 6 Step Summer Body Guide

With summer just around the corner it’s time for us all to get ourselves ready to bare some skin. Here’s how.

Step 1 – Have a body. (I know, that one has been done to death but I promise the rest is actual useful advice.)

Step 2 – Stock up on sun screen and insect repellent. It’s important to protect your exposed skin against the sun all year round but in summer, theoretically at least, it’ll be warmer and you will require more of it.

Step 3 – Buy summer clothes. What these consist of will depend on the climate you live in. In Scotland, for me, it tends to be t-shirts/crop tops, light cardigans, skirts and light dresses. The clothes I buy will fit the body I have right now, or maybe slightly bigger to allow for air circulation when it’s warm. Shopping should be a nice experience, treating yourself to things you feel comfortable in rather an opportunity to put pressure on yourself to try and be smaller.

Step 4 – If you want to remove body hair then you fire in but remember you are not obligated to. It’s natural and healthy to have hair on your body.

Step 5 – Sample ice cream flavours to choose your favourite for summer – Well you’ve got to be prepared to know what you’re going to want to stock up on.

Step 6 – Wait for the nice weather to arrive – I think summer was on a Wednesday in July when I had the flu last year. Hopefully I’ll get luckier this year.

V ❤

intro pic

A huge thank you to Britt Whyatt for letting me use her lovely photo as the header because stock photo websites don’t believe that plus size women ever look happy in swimwear.

You can find her in the following places:

Instagram – Twitter – Blog

 

#Blogmas 4 My Winter Fitness Goals

If you follow my blog you will know that I got injured in the summer and have been going to physio and trying to recover for a few months now. I’m doing much better now. Obviously my hypermobility is not going to vanish, it’s always going to restrict what I can do in terms of physical activity but over the winter months I really want to start getting fit again.

I’ve set myself a few little goals for December and in January I’ll probably do an update post.

  • Go to the gym 4 times a week – That may sound like a lot when you consider I haven’t been to the gym regularly in months and I’ve been injured but I’ll definitely be easing myself in gently.
  • Do physio/rehab 3 times a week – Over time I’ve actually found some of my physio to be really relaxing so this is as much about unwinding than it is about physical fitness.
  • Walk outside (other than my walk to and from work most days) – Weather permitting, obviously I’m not going to do this when it’s icy and risk injuring myself further, but particularly on bright days I’m going to try and get out for a walk in the middle of the day. Fresh air, day light and movement are a winning combination!

It goes without saying that while I’ve set some loose goals this is meant to be fun and if I’m not enjoying it then I will stop. I don’t want to get sucked in to negative patterns of thinking or forcing myself to exercise ever again.

Do you have any winter fitness goals? Leave them in the comments.

V ❤

The Struggle To Find The Right Gym

I’ve considered and reconsidered posting this for a long time. It was written in September and when I wrote it I was still livid. Reading back over it I realise that I still stand by what I said so I want to share it with you. Please do comment honestly with your thoughts. I know that many people disagree with me on some of the issues, but come on now, fat suits at Pride as a marketing tool, surely everyone can see how problematic that is. Anyway enough of the ranty pre-intro, here goes…

Maybe you’ve seen via Twitter that I’ve become very unhappy with a particular gym company. I have been a member of PureGym for a short time, maybe about 6 months, and I’ve never particularly liked it but this weekend took a turn. I was returning to the gym for the first time since I had a very bad fall related to my hypermobility at the start of summer. On arrival to the gym I was bombarded with what can only be described as weight loss propaganda advertising a weight loss class my gym is running. We’re not just talking a poster here or there. This was a poster in every possible place you could put one, including not being able to enter the changing rooms without passing a “before and after” picture with some kind of “inspirational” blurb, or being unable to use the toilet without seeing an advert for the class staring at you. When I finally reached the gym area there were two large whiteboards set up. One advertising the class and the other advertising “National Weight Loss Week” which is apparently a thing. To top it all off the public address system they use, which is always far too loud to listen to your own music over at a sensible volume, was blaring out an advert every few songs with the cracking tag line “why not fast track your fitness and join Pure Loser?” because we all know weight loss and fitness are the same thing right?!

 

After all this I took to Twitter calling PureGym out on this and questioning whether everybody really is welcome like they claim in their marketing. I am yet to receive a response.

 

Through my tweet and others picking it up and sharing it I discovered that PureGym recently used people dressed in fat suits in an attempt to recruit new members at Manchester Pride of all places. As a friend of mine said when we were discussing this, the Pride movement is one of acceptance and love and one of the least appropriate places for body shaming. Not to mention the fact that LGBT* people are often at increased risk of self esteem and body image issues. Yet again, on this occasion, as far as anyone can tell PureGym have not publicly responded to any of these complaints.

 

Clearly this is not a company I want to be giving my money to. The only problem with that is that in Aberdeen City centre it is the only reasonably priced gym. That’s the only reason I joined there. Since I moved to the other side of town, my old gym, which I loved is just too far away. So I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want to work on my fitness and work out for enjoyment, stress relief and to get me motivated for the day ahead but is doing so in a toxic environment really worth it?  Due to my joint issues I really need gym equipment to have a proper workout and as you will have seen in an earlier post I’m really keen, now that I’m able to, to work out more.

 

I’ve paid for this month anyway so at the moment I’m making the most of my membership, going regularly, taking luxurious long showers, blow drying my hair etc and making sure that the company doesn’t make a profit off me while I decide what I’m going to do.

 

Have you had any uncomfortable experiences with a gym company like this? I’d like to believe gyms could play a part in recovery, and have had conversations via Twitter with Health At Every Size trainers and those who use them, who see huge psychological and physical benefits to their workouts and training. Unfortunately as far as I can tell from scouring the internet, while these trainers do exist in the UK, they haven’t reached Aberdeen yet. Maybe in the future when I move to a bigger city I will be able to find what I’m looking for. If you have had any experience with the Health At Any Size movement I’d love it if you got in touch.

 

V ❤

Physio, Mental Health & Life Update

You will have probably noticed I’ve not been around as much lately and my blog posts have been a little bit sporadic/non existent. Needless to say I was having a bit of a rough time with my mental health. I don’t really know what was going on, I just didn’t have any energy or motivation to do anything. And then latterly I was having issues with body image, food and self esteem and I felt like such a fraud, harping on about body positivity and then having all these doubts myself. I’ve since realised that having the thoughts isn’t a problem as long as you deal with it in the right way. Rather than rushing off to punish myself with a diet and crippling exercise regime I’ve acknowledged these intrusive thoughts for what they are and reminded myself that it’s my brain that’s the issue, not my body. Thankfully I’m feeling much better now and I’m definitely trying to get back on track with the blog.

 

I ran a poll on Twitter a few weeks back asking whether or not you wanted to see a physio update and the results were pretty much 50/50. If you’re not interested skip the next 2 paragraphs.

 

At the time when I ran the poll I was a bit of a Negative Nancy when it came to my physio. I felt like my joints were worse than ever, I was in pain and my mood was low. I went into the appointment with this mindset, armed with a list of all the issues. I think I’ve mentioned this before but my physiotherapist is very understanding and we talked through all the issues and we tried a few different things. Coming away from the appointment, while still in pain, I felt much more positive and ready to make some changes. Between that appointment and the one I had this week I’ve done very little in terms of my “physio exercises” but my lower joints feel so much better (waiting until my period is over before I start them up again to test if hormones or my physio was causing the problem before) and my shoulder is noticeably better through consciously making an effort with my posture and sleeping positive. My physio said she could even see a difference in the way I was holding myself so I must be doing something right. Going forward I’m going to be working on some balance and confidence exercises with my physio in the gym area within the health centre I go to. When I first started going a few months ago I couldn’t have imagined being comfortable doing that but the fact that I feel completely at ease with it is a testament to how brilliant my physiotherapist is at actually listening, understanding and working with me and my existing issues rather than forcing something on me that will overwhelm and alienate.

 

My physio programme has since moved on to going into the medical practise to do some activities while working on some of the ongoing exercises at my leisure. My physiotherapist, who I’ve raved about from day 1 is unfortunately leaving as she is on a rotation but the person I will be going to instead comes highly recommended. I will most likely post an update on how that goes.

 

Going forward I’m trying to get everything back to normal including the blog, work and also trying to get my fitness back after not being able to/not wanting to do anything for so long. Also, big news, I’ve started dating again. I think it’s time… I may well write about it but I’m no Vix Meldrew.  Feel free to drop me a message if I’m slacking and not updating the blog. I need a kick up the butt sometimes.

 

V ❤

 

How To Exercise For Enjoyment

So many people exercise because they feel that they have to in order to look a certain way and they end up sucked into boring routines, endless cardio, forcing themselves to exercise even though they are tired or not in the mood. This post is about rejecting all of that and exercising purely for enjoyment..

One of the key things, at least for me, was to stop equating exercise to calories. If you work out in the gym and the machines you use measure calories burned there is sometimes a way to turn that feature off which is the easiest way to do it. Otherwise trying to ignore it is the other option. I recently changed gyms and the only cardio machine where you can completely turn the calories display off is the rowing machine so it is taking a bit of getting used to.

Finding activities that you genuinely like is the other crucial thing. I know a lot of people who love to run and are never happier than when out frolicking through parks or whatever it is they get up to out there. For others they couldn’t imagine anything worse than the tedium of running for miles. It’s all just personal preference. The best thing is exercise is literally any activity where you are moving your body and getting your heart pumping or stretching your muscles. It doesn’t have to be a structured, daunting task.

We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to our work outs for example thinking “I’m going to the gym and will run for x number of miles and deadlift x amount of weight”. I still struggle with setting these kind of tasks for myself when really I should go and enjoy what I’m doing and listen to my body. If you set these targets too high then it can lead to low self esteem and mood after your workout as well as detracting from your enjoyment while you’re there as you are constantly stressing about reaching this target. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t set goals for yourself but like with everything in life they should be realistic and gradual. This post is focussed on purely enjoying what you’re doing, not training for a specific event.

Fuelling our bodies properly before exercise is crucial for enjoyment of the work out as well. When I used to go to the gym after work this was something I often struggled with, if I left it too late to eat before going I’d be bloated and lethargic but if I didn’t eat before going I’d be too hungry to do anything having not eaten anything substantial since lunchtime. It’s a difficult balancing act but feeling satisfied and hydrated will definitely help you have the most fun during exercise.

If you do feel that you’re pushing yourself really hard in a gym session that was meant to be for relaxation or fun it’s worth asking yourself why. Certainly with me when I go into a gym environment it’s very easy for my mindset to shift back to where it was a couple of years ago and I start to think about pushing myself and “results” and burning off x number of calories etc. Stopping and taking a minute to snap out of that mindset can be very worthwhile to stop things spiralling.

Everyone is different and everyone’s experience of exercise will be different but for me these are some of the key things to consider when I exercise purely for fun and I hope that this may help others. If you have any other tips leave them in the comments.

V ❤

Life (& Physio) Update

This post follows the thread of a few of my recent ones. It’s not filled with rainbows, sunshine and smiles so sorry if that’s what you’re looking for today. In all honesty I’m feeling a little bit crap.

You will all have gathered that recently I was ill, plus I had a bad fall a few weeks ago as a result of my hypermobility and I really hurt myself. Having pretty much recovered  (or so I thought) I did my first gym session in a while on Saturday morning (a week ago at time of this post going up) and it’s really upset my joints. I rowed 5000m for the first time in a long time, if ever, thinking it would be fine because it’s low impact. Unfortunately I was wrong. The full range of motion really hurt my already injured right knee and the repetitive motion aggravated my left shoulder (which constantly subluxes). As I write this my shoulder and arm are aching while simultaneously feeling numb. My prescribed physio exercises are making my shoulder feel worse so needless to say I’m getting pretty down about the whole thing.

I honestly believe that had I been doing this rowing before I started at physio, my shoulder wouldn’t have been this painful. One of the goals of my physio (decided on by the therapist) is for me to become more aware of how certain parts of my body work, namely little muscles that control joints and bigger muscles. I feel that my lack of awareness of these parts has almost been a coping mechanism for me and now that I pay more attention to what my joints are doing it’s hard to switch off from little niggles that then become bigger niggles. Fingers crossed it’s a getting worse before it gets better scenario.

Meanwhile I’ve been trying to slowly build up my walking again. After my fall I was trying to rest as possible but I’m slowly getting back to using my fitbit and aiming for an easier 10k step goal as opposed to my usual 15k where I’d always really be aiming to get to the high teens or low twenties. After walking I’m still getting a fair bit of pain in my right knee especially when it’s bent in a sitting position or at night in bed so I’m trying not to do too much no matter that it’s tempting when I’m moving around pain free.  Deep down I know the fact that I’m taking things really slow and not pushing myself is such a positive thing. It shows how far I’ve come that I’m accepting my body’s limitations and not pushing it to do more than it can do in order to look a certain way or to present a particular lifestyle to the world. However that doesn’t stop me feeling like a blob.

  • I know there is nothing wrong with my body and whether or not I’ve put on weight while I’ve been injured is not an issue. Unfortunately at the moment my brain seems to hear less of the rational thoughts and more of the “blob” thoughts. The good news, however, is that as I’m writing I’m munching on some of childhood favourite sweets, strawberry vampire fangs” and wearing one of my favourite crop tops that I wore outside today!! I’m definitely not letting the negative body image thoughts take over.

Bumps In The Road

Personal, mental health related, post coming up. People are always asking me how I became body positive and how long it took. As this post will show it’s a journey that’s ongoing. You don’t just wake up one morning having rejected all of society’s health and beauty standards feeling fantastic about yourself. (If that did happen to you email me because I need to know your secret.)

Some of you are probably already aware that I suffer from hypermobility. The worst joints for me are my knees and I recently suffered a very bad fall that resulted in me being referred for, very necessary, physiotherapy. Physio has always been triggering for me – the irrational side of my brain that associates “exercise” with weight loss, punishing myself etc takes over especially in a scenario where the exercise is prescribed and I feel forced into it.

Following my initial appointment with my new physio, which was traumatic in itself and I cried during most it, I really really struggled. Some of you may have noticed through my social media accounts that I was in a bad place. My self esteem and body image just took an absolute nosedive and I was having urges to engage in self destructive behaviour. A huge part of my recovery process has been focusing on only exercising when I really want to. If there is ever any doubt about why I’m doing it or whether or not I’m really in the mood for it, I don’t do it. Pushing myself to work out when I’m not feeling like it leads to the horrible feelings I was experiencing post-physio appointment.

Understandably the first few days were really tough. On a physical level the exercises are very easy and gentle but simply taking the time to do them was insanely triggering and upsetting.  I was forcing myself to do at least some of the routine every day and my moods were getting worse. I reached out to a few of my friends and talked things over but I still felt caught between a rock and a hard place, physical health vs mental health. It wasn’t until someone who I really trust told me that this was simply far too triggering and I should stop that I realised this was on my terms and I was in control of this process.

That was such a huge step forward on my body positivity journey. Up until now my focus has been on feeling good about myself no matter what size/weight I am or what I eat etc and all of that is super important but the journey doesn’t stop there. The next stage for me is, with all of that in mind, being able to look after my physical and mental health simultaneously. I know it’s going to be very difficult but physio is a really good place to start. Like everything in life, with body positivity or recovery from an eating disorder/mental health problem, once you’ve reached a point where you’re relatively comfortable and can function relatively normally, it’s easy to become complacent and accept that this is as good as things will get. For some people in some scenarios that is the case, and everyone’s journey and recovery is different, but for me I know I’ve been coasting for a while and can definitely still work on a few areas.

A few days after the initial breakthrough I started finding one of the exercises getting a little easier, and I was more aware of my body (part of my issue is that I have no clue how to control the smaller muscles that we all take for granted) and that gave me a little boost. Unfortunately for the past few days I’ve had the flu (by the time you read this I will hopefully be much better) so I’ve not been doing the physio but a huge part of this process is listening to my body and I know that my body needs to rest at the moment.

Have any of you had a breakthrough on your body positivity/recovery journey recently? Leave a comment below.

V ❤