California May Stop School Physical Fitness Tests – That’s Great News

PHYSIC~1Included in Governor Newsom’s budget for next year is a 3-year suspension of physical fitness testing in schools. The only bad news here, is that it’s only a 3 year suspension. I first heard about this from Jenna T – a reader (and unofficial copy editor!) of my danceswithfat blog. and I am excited!

California’s current requirements require students in fifth, seventh, and ninth grade to take a physical fitness test that includes a one-mile run, push-ups, curl-ups, and a “body mass index” calculation.

Let’s talk about why ending this is such a wonderful idea:

Per Deb Burgard, PhD, FAED:

The BMI algorithm for kids and youth is not just height and weight. It is also speed of growth. So two kids with the exact same height and weight numbers who are growing at different rates can have very different BMIs. If you are a fast grower compared to the reference population, which is mostly white kids growing up in the 1970s, you will have a higher BMI.  In 2007, the range of BMIs considered “overweight” was TRIPLED from the top 5% to the top 15%. The more different your body grows from white kids in the 70s, the more you will be exposed to the idea that your body is therefore wrong. This is racist, arbitrary, and not scientific.

BMI also requires that students identify as male or female, making things fraught for some trans kids and completely excluding non-binary kids. Not to mention that appearance-based bullying is rampant and this provides bullies with a justification, and the methods used to attempt to manipulate the BMI of these kids have been roundly criticized as dangerous in a number of ways. Research from the University of Minnesota found that: “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.”

I work with so many people whose relationships with movement and their bodies have been harmed for their entire lives by these tests. Tests whose standards are arbitrary at best and don’t take into account children of different levels of ability and development (among other things.)

In many, if not most cases, physical education classes do NOTHING to prepare students for these tests. Kids spend their time during gym class playing different games, then once a year it’s time to do sit-ups, push-ups, and a one-mile run for time in front of other students? That’s like spending every math class playing Sudoku, then you show up one day and you are tested on your ability to factor a quadratic equation on the board in front of everyone.

I looked but couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that humiliating children in a physical education class increases their health in any way. Physical Education should be about inviting kids to develop a lifelong healthy relationship with movement, and movement should be introduced as an incredibly diverse world of options to explore, not something that they can fail at.

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Training Update – Not To Jinx It, But…

2.17.19 Weekly Workout SelfiesI hate to jinx it by saying anything, but my training has been going really well. As I  suspected, freeing myself from the pressures of the official IM time limits has allowed me to celebrate my workouts and my progress which makes me look forward to succeeding at workouts instead of worrying about failing at them.

And knowing that as long as I can keep moving forward I’ll be able to finish means that I can focus on being able to keep moving forward and not worry so much about how fast that movement might be.  Plus, I had to take so much time off because of my neck injury that it felt kind of like starting over (again!) which is frustrating in many ways, but looking on the bright side it’s easier to see progress this way.

For example, my bike tonight was almost twice as long as my ride two weeks ago, and I did it two miles an hour faster. That’s great progress, but in the past I wouldn’t have been able to be happy about that because I would  have been asking myself  “can I keep up that pace for 112 miles? What if there are 20mph winds – that’s happened before? What if I can’t hit the time cut-offs?” Instead of all that, I just get to celebrate progress! It’s really made it much easier to have a good attitude!

The only problem now is the swim -I’m still having neck issues whenever I breathe (the combination of turning my head and pulling my arm through the water seems to be the issue.) The good news is that swimming was previously my best discipline so if there’s something I can’t train as much, it’s best that it be the swim. I’m just going to keep doing the rehab and believe that this last neck issue will go away and I’ll be able to train the swim.

I did another week with the bands as strength training. It is really convenient to be able to do my strength work immediately after my run – and nice not to have to drive to the gym, but it also limits how heavy I can go. I lift a couple times a week so I may experiment with one session of bands at home and one session lifting heavier at the gym.

I really do wish that I had asked for some fun workouts from the beginning of this, having a couple of dance-type workouts each week that I enjoy really makes a huge difference in my whole week!

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Training Update – Wednesday Is The Best Day!

My new training schedules embraces the fact that I don’t really enjoy running, biking, or swimming by giving me a chance to do some activities that I do enjoy. Wednesday’s workout is one of those. I would love to do a standard dance class but those tend to have a lot of stop-start which doesn’t work for what I need in a workout, so they will probably have to wait.

Zumba is a good compromise because the classes are designed to be dance-y and fun, but also to be constant movement.  I’ve started doing a comedy open mic on Wednesday nights that’s about 40 minutes from my house but, because it’s LA, it’s three+ hours in rush hour traffic. So I decided to go up early and check out a Zumba class at my gym.

It was an absolute joy. I was a little worried because I’ve had trouble finding good Zumba classes in the past because gyms and diet culture have sadly morphed a lot of classes from its originally intended fun, dance party atmosphere into old school aerobics classes (think tons of jumping jacks while holding hand weights) set to 15 of the fastest cumbias that the instructor could find, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but not what I’m looking for during my fun day workout.

This class had a great mix of music and movement, it was a good workout (I wore my garmin and heart rate monitor just to be sure!) and the people were really friendly. It didn’t hurt that a stranger told me “you are so good at this” which may be a first since I switched from dance to endurance sports (which also meant switching from “you’re really good at this” to “ma’am, are you okay ?”)

But the real MVP of the day was the small hand towel that the gym sells. In packing everything I needed for the gym and the open mic I forgot my towel (I am aware that this is the firstiest of first world problems, but when 24 hour fitness got rid of towel service it totally effed up my life.) Sadly not the first time, so I assumed I was about to become the proud owner of another 24 hour fitness towel. Except that they were out of the full-size towel. They had one small one, so I took Tim Gunn’s advice and made it work.

As my running, biking, and swimming workouts get longer and more intense, it will be nice to have Wednesdays to look forward to!

Speaking of dancing, I was cleaning out computer files (a little late on my end of the year computer clean up…) and found this video from back when I was dancing competitively!

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Training Update: Here We Go, Again… Again

IMG_9267My neck is still a little twingey but we’ve agreed that if I keep traction-ing, icing, and PT-ing, I can get back to training.

My goal is to get my IronFat event done by the end of May for several reasons:

1. I want to do it before it gets too hot. Heat is my enemy. I would have preferred to do it in March but there’s no way I’ll be ready in time so I’ll hope for a cool day in May.

2. I may have a little speaking tour coming up in Portland in June and I’d like to have this behind me when I go so I don’t have to worry about training and such.

3. OMG am I so very ready to be done with this.

That said, based on all the unknowns,  I’m going to see how it goes before I set a final date.

We’re going to ease back into it a bit and then build the mileage that I need. I’ve been allowed to do things slow walking and light weight lifting and such, but nothing that might strain or irritate my neck – every time I tried it set my rehab back. So I haven’t been really training since September.

Today was a short walk (Short as in, it may have taken my GPS watch – nickname: Old Unreliable –  longer to find the satellites than it took me to complete this walk.) Good news – my neck feels fine. Bad news – to say that I am out of shape would be vastly understating it. Getting from where I am today to where I  need to be to complete the event in May is going to be a challenge.

I may have told you this before, but my iPod is…kind of psychic. It almost always knows the right thing to play at the right time. So I pulled up my Massive Workout Playlist (basically every song I’ve had on every playlist since I was training for my first  marathon.)

The first song that came on was Queen’s Under Pressure. Thanks for the reminder, iPod.

The song that it played for the last bit of the workout was Pink’s Just Like Fire. I realized that it’s the perfect song to make the theme for this last stage of my journey:

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Finding the Funny in Triathlon

After a stilted attempt in 2010, I’ve been wanting to try comedy for a while now. And the amazing woman of Fatch – The Fat Sketch Comedy Group let me be a guest on their (sold out!) show New Year, Same You at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater. I decided to use the opportunity to find the funny in being a fat athlete and a triathlete in general.

Here is my Comedy Coming Out, I hope you enjoy it! The first part is about the trials of being a fathlete, and then I talk about triathlon specifically.

If you want to be on the mailing list for my comedy stuff (of which, hopefully, there will be lots more) you can click here! If you want all the background to this performance, you can find it here!

Thank you so much to Nikki Bailey for a tremendous amount of help and advice about comedy, Kathy Deitch for plucking me from a little panel discussion to be on her show and all the support since, to the women of Fatch, Rodney their director, his husband James, and Cara and DJ who were all really kind and supportive, to Julianne who did a ton of work to coordinate our friends (and listened to my set, like, a lot of times,) and to everyone who came and laughed! This was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

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4 Things You Should Never Say To A Fat Person At The Gym

Shhhhhhh!It’s New Years, which means tons of people joining (or going back) to the gym. Of course, fitness, by any definition, is never an obligation or barometer of worthiness (running a marathon and watching a Netflix marathon are morally equivalent activitiest!) But there’s nothing wrong with people choosing to go to the gym. Unfortunately for fat people, it can also mean people sharing their thoughts (and I use the term loosely) about us and our workouts.

 

In addition to the fact that people of all sizes just want to be left TF alone when we’re at the gym, there’s the issue that people choose to visit their stereotypes on fat people who are just trying to work out. Below is a list of some of the things you should never, ever say to a fat person at the gym:

“Good for you for starting a workout program!”

You don’t know anything about this person’s workout history. If you’re assuming they are starting a workout program because they are fat, you’re operating from weight bias. If you are assuming they are starting a workout program because you’ve never seen them before, you’re operating out of idiocy. You don’t know if that person has been working out at another gym before this or, for that matter, if they are starting a workout “program” or just here for a one-off workout, if they are a beginner because they’re switching activities as part of a lifetime of fitness activities. You don’t know, so don’t guess, and certainly resist the urge to turn your guesses into speech.

“Keep going and you’re going to lose that weight!”

I mean…just…ugh. Don’t do this. You have no way of knowing if weight loss is even a goal of the person you’re talking to (and, regardless, they can’t be expected to lose weight long-term regardless since almost everyone who attempts weight loss loses weight short term but gains it all back longterm.) Basically, you’re saying “Hi stranger, I want you to know that I think your body is wrong, but believe that with continued attendance at the gym you’ll become more of what I think you should be.” Just don’t.

I’ve seen you here a lot, you’re doing great

Ok Creepy McCreeperson, take two steps back. Maybe instead of monitoring other people’s gym attendance (and then making sure they know you are doing it,) you just focus on your own workout, ok pumpkin?

You won’t lose weight doing that!

I have heard this while doing cardio, strength building, and flexibility work. So good news, people understand that weight loss is highly unlikely. Bad news, I was never trying to lose weight, nor was I soliciting the opinions of randos at the gym. So annoying.

Don’t say these things, don’t say anything that is these-things-adjacent.

Before I wrap this up, I want to address the inevitable objections:

But some people might be helped by my seriously questionable behavior!

Maybe, but the potential for harm overrides any potential for helping. Also, you’re not the fat person whisperer, and there’s no “encouraged a fatty” merit badge to be earned, so pipe down and return to your own workout.

But surely there are exceptions to this rule!

There absolutely are. If someone says “please make assumptions about my workout history, assume that I’m trying to lose weight, monitor my presence at the gym, and give me unsolicited workout advice” then knock yourself out. Otherwise, it’s a no.

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“Be Glad You Didn’t Race” and Other Reflections at the Beginning of Another Year of Triathlon Training

Monday Recap

My coach texted me on his way back from IRONMAN Arizona (where he had a bunch of athletes racing) to joke with me – “Be glad you didn’t race” because the water was freezing and there was rain in the days preceding the race and, charmingly, the rain causes the cacti to eject their needles. Onto the road. Where the bikes go.

Apparently, there were so many flat tires that the Support and Gear folks were actually running low on tubes (again, triathlon is a sport that puts you in the elements in very real ways.) Of course I’m not really glad that I didn’t race (though that sounds like a big bag of no fun at all) though I’ve made peace with my decision to move forward with my own Iron-distance event with the hope that the sixth year of what was originally a two-year plan will be the final year! 

My neck rehab is becoming increasingly more frustrating because the problem is now quite intermittent. It feels fine and I start to think that everything is ok, and then I lean on a table wrong and half my arm gets tingly, or I cough and pain shoots down my arm. My doctor and PT both say that this is normal (and it could be much worse) and I just need to be a little bit more patient, but I’m ready to be all the way better!

As I’m doing what I’m allowed to do – easy walking, weight lifting, etc. I’m struggling mentally. I know that I’m losing my fitness and that when I can get started with training again it’s going to be like starting over, all over again. That’s something that has happened several times over this process as injuries and family stuff have created big breaks in my training, and each time I find it more difficult to get psyched up to do it again. I also struggle to do the limited workouts that I can do because there’s a feeling of “what’s the point.” I know better, of course, but that doesn’t make it easier. 

That said, the fact that (once I’m training again) I get to schedule and plan for my event (instead of slogging out another entire year) makes me feel excited. One of the things that I’m promising myself in the new year is to have more fun with my activism and fitness. Whether that’s revamping songs to be body positive anthems, or finding ways to enjoy my triathlon journey (even if it means enjoying all the stuff around it like making playlists, designing my tattoo, planning the event etc. and just getting through the actual training.)

I’m also excited about this blog because I’ve made the decision to broaden the scope. I’ve gone through a bunch of iterations and ideas around what to do with this blog, I have trouble just writing about my training day in and day out because, even when I’m not on exercise restriction, it’s generally pretty boring. 

I also have a lot of things that I want to write about fitness, but I tend not to post about it on my original blog because, while it started to talk about my experiences as a fat dancer, it pretty quickly evolved to be more about fat social justice and weight stigma in general, and a lot of my regular readers now are, completely validly, not into fitness stuff – not to mention that, because of the fatphobia in the fitness world and the number of my readers who come from eating disorder community, some can be very triggered by it.

So I’m going to turn this into a blog that talks about my personal fitness journey and training, but also talks about the intersections between fitness, fatness, weight stigma, health etc. Right now I write about these things for publications like espnW and with my series for US News & World Report, and I’m grateful for the work (and the audience!) but I also kind of long for the additional flexibility that a blog provides. 

If there is something you’d like me to blog about, please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot or and I’ll see what I can do!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the poem that my dog Bu and I came up with to celebrate the New Year:

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