Let’s Talk About Bodyweight Exercises and Fat People

Squat IdylwildAs COVID-19 keeps gyms and fitness centers safely closed and people look for new options to work out at home, I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from people who are frustrated that they are seeing bodyweight workouts recommended, but the bodyweight workouts they are finding online are completely unattainable.  I got this e-mail a couple of days ago, shared with permission:

I am so frustrated I don’t know what to do. I had been doing a lifting program at the gym for a couple months before COVID, now I’m stuck at home. I tried to do some bodyweight workouts but I wasn’t even close to being able to do a lot of these things – I can do squats, but getting my knee to the floor for a lunge? no. It said to start off with as many pull ups as I can do and then increase over time. That number is zero. Is this just something that bigger people can’t do?

Before I get into the issues with body size I do want to point out that often these bodyweight programs are not inclusive of disabled people (of any size) which is a serious issue. There are all kinds of disabilities and health conditions (including joint issues and balance issues) that can affect the ability to do bodyweight exercises and/or to do them safely.

Then there is the tendency to blame any difficulties fat people have with these workouts on our body size. The truth is that there are people of all sizes who struggle with bodyweight exercises. I know a lot of thin people who can’t do a knee-to-the-floor lunge and whose max pull-up number is also zero. There are also fat people who can do all kinds of bodyweight exercises – including pull-ups and lunges.

There tends to be a belief that since it’s “just” using your body weight, it should be do-able for everyone, but that is demonstrably false (there’s a reason you start out bench pressing a 45 pound bar and not your full body weightl.) The fact that someone walks through the world does not mean they can do walking lunges holding soup cans, the fact that someone pushes themselves through the world in a wheelchair does not mean that they can pull their body weight up up in a pull up.

Like any other type of movement, doing bodyweight exercises is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control. There is no shame in not being able to do any of these exercises – there is no morality in whether or not one can do a pull-up, and it’s not a necessary skill for most of us (spies and American Ninja Warriors excepted.)  If you find someone claiming that “everybody” should be able to do an exercise (whatever that exercise is,) you’ve found someone who is wrong.

Beyond us getting to decide what we want to try to do, all bodies have things that they can and can’t do and there’s nothing wrong that. That said, if bodyweight training is something that you want to do, I suggest giving it a try, and looking at it  as an experiment rather than a way to prove that you are “good enough” or “fit enough.”

For the record, I’m an ACE-certified Health Coach and Functional Fitness Specialist, and I’m going to give some general suggestions, but this is just the tip of the iceberg and since I can’t possibly know your personal situation please make sure that you ask your healthcare/fitness professional.

Modify the Moves

Look for ways to make the moves more do-able and then decide if you want to stay where you are or increase intensity. Nobody says you have to get your knee to the ground in a lunge. Using push-ups as an example, you might start against the wall, then move to the kitchen counter, then to to a bench, then a chair, then a step, then the floor. Once on the floor you could start on your knees, then move your hands farther away from your knees creating a more challenging angle, then eventually, if you feel like it, move to full push-ups. If you google “modify [insert body weight movement] you can often find good options (though sadly you may have to wade through fatphobic nonsense)

If a move, a lunge for example, is a balance challenge you can use a chair, counter, wall etc. to help with balance. if you want to try to create more of a challenge you can put less pressure on the hand that is helping to balance you and eventually, if you want, you can try it without the balance check.

Also be aware that many of these movements do not take fat bodies into consideration – they are created (and typically modeled) by and for people without large stomachs, thighs, breasts etc. So you may need to modify movements to make room for all of your fabulous body, or choose a different move.

Get Some Support

I’m really excited about the Primal 7 System (full disclosure: I have no affiliation with them, they don’t even know I’m talking about them.)  It’s a system that provides support and options to help with all kinds of body weigth exercises, including yoga. Their ads have people of diverse sizes and abilities and I haven’t seen much weightloss or diet talk from them (which doesn’t mean there isn’t any, sadly) They support weights up to 400 pounds (I did send an e-mail encouraging them to go higher, haven’t heard back) and they don’t charge extra for the band that supports heavier people. You could also try a TRX or other suspension training system.

Try an Alternative

If you’re looking for an alternative to strength training the gym, there are lots of options besides bodyweight workouts. They include resistance bands that come in different materials and configurations, weight sets or an adjustable dumbell, home gyms, yoga classes etc.

Finally,  remember that it is completely reasonable for a global pandemic to change your fitness regimen so be kind to yourself.

If you have an at-home strength workout and/or move modifcation that you really love, please tell us about it in the comments.

ONLINE WORKSHOP: Talking Back To Fatphobia

I’m giving an online workshop where we’ll discuss options for dealing with the fatphobia that we face as we navigate the world – from responses that encourage a dialog, to responses that encourage people to leave us alone, with lots of time for Q&A and a pay-what-you-can option.
Details and Registration: https://danceswithfat.org/workshop-talking-back-to-fatphobia/ 

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Fat People Working Out Is Not A Joke

I get so sick and tired of fatphobia meaning that when fat people do the exact same thing as thin people it’s suddenly a big joke. In today’s little bit of comedy I talk about lazy fat jokes, in especially those that involve fitness.

If you like it, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel to get more of my comedy!

Like this blog? You can also:

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Check out my blog at DancesWithFat (which focuses on Size Acceptance and Fat Rights)

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Ahmaud Arbery

When I go running, a lot of privilege comes with me. Despite the fact that I run late at night and have fairly frequent encounters with law enforcement I’m never afraid for my life. I never worry that I will be the victim of a lynching. Ahmaud Arbery did not run with that same privilege, and violent racism ended his life at 25. As I’m writing this, it is his birthday and a call has gone out to say his name and tell his story. I’m also asking my fellow white people to take this time to re-commit to making racism our responsibility to dismantle.

What happened

On February  23rd, Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, went jogging. Two white men – a former police officer and his adult son – grabbed a gun, jumped in their truck, chased him down, and shot him dead. Despite the fact that the older man literally had blood on his hands, the police let both men go. They called Arbery’s mother and lied to her (telling her that her son had been involved in a burglary and was killed by the homeowner.)

Until a graphic video of the events surfaced (possibly taken by an accomplice of the two white men) and led to a public outcry, the kilers faced no consequences (with police claiming at one point that it was legal as a “citizen’s arrest” because they believe that Arbery was tied to burglaries (a crime which, I’ll point out, does not carry the death penalty.) Finally, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael have been arrested on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

As white people we have to understand that one of the ways that privilege works is to keep us unaware of the experiences that we don’t have, which means that when it comes to racism we often don’t know what we don’t know, and we need to take responsibility for doing the research and work to end our own ignorance. I am sharing some of the work that Black people have done around Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Please read, listen, and look for opportunities to support these folks and pay them for their work.

Latoya Shauntay Snell and Martinus Evans podcast 300 Pounds and Running – I Run With Maud 

Ahmaud Arbery and Whiteness in the Running World by Alison Mariella Désir

We Cannot Be Silent About Race Politics and Safety in Sports by Latoya Shauntay Snell

Ahmaud Arbery and the dangers of running while black an Interview with Rashawn Ray

After a Killing, ‘Running While Black’ Stirs Even More Anxiety

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Review of Joyn Workouts

Review of JoynSince I’m doing all my workouts at home, I thought I would review some of the workouts that I’ve been doing. Today it’s Joyn.

Full disclosure, while I know some of the people who created it (and think they are amazing!) I’m not affiliated with the app in any way, they don’t even know I’m writing this!

My fiancee, Julianne, had actually started to use Joyn a while ago. As I was dealing with my neck injury and stuck at home, I joyned her (see what I did there…) trying some of their classes.

This app seems to be built on a foundation of diversity, and out of bricks of joy. There are diverse course offerings (yoga, multiple forms of dance, low impact workouts including walking, pilates and more.) The instructors and participants are a diverse group. There are options for seated, standing and lying down – often all in the same class. The focus is joyful movement that is Queer, Trans, and Fat positive and all from a Health at Every Size perspective.

There are often options provided to add intensity (raise the arms, lift up the knees more etc.) Depending on where you are currently at with your fitness, if you are looking for a really high-intensity workout you may have to apply your own modifications, but it can definitely be done.

The workouts are also 20 minutes or less so if you’re looking for a longer workout you can simply string them together – they have also put together some “flows” that can help with that.

It’s available on television, laptop, tablet, and phone.

If you’re looking for fat-positive workouts that are Health at Every Size based and/or beginner-friendly and/or Fat/Queer/Trans positive and/or have lots of options for accessibility I definitely recommend checking out Joyn!

You can find them out here!

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My New Quarantine Endurance Sport

From ballroom to marathons to triathlons to…the livingroom. What happens when you were training to go miles and miles, and now you’re stuck inside four walls? You create a new endurance sport!

I had been dabbling a little bit in stand-up comedy before quarantine (with the idea that I would go all in once my iron-distance tri was done #lolsob) So I’ve brought my comedy online with short bits of comedy,  basically, a one-woman open mic – today’s topic is my “endurance training” during quarantine

Epilogue: My neck is doing quite a bit better and while I am excited to leave the house again, I’m enjoying my dance workouts while I’m stuck here!

You can check out all of my little bits of comedy here! 

Like this blog? You can also:

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Check out my blog at DancesWithFat (which focuses on Size Acceptance and Fat Rights)

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Making Fitness More Inclusive – In Quarantine and Beyond, with Jessica Richman

Copy of IRONMAN or BustAs more and more fitness companies work on online offerings for quarantine, it’s an excellent opportunity for them to also make their programs and advertising more inclusive (and less harmful!) I spoke with Jessica Richman, CEO of The Visible Collective,  which advises companies on how to better serve fat customers. We talked about how fitness companies can be more inclusive of people of all sizes, and why that’s not just good for fat people (though that would be a good enough reason!) but also good for the bottom line!

You can check out the interview here!

Ragen Chastain and Jessica Richman

Like this blog? You can also:

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Holy Crap, I’m On The Olympic Channel

A fat, fair-skinned woman in a pink hat, pink shirt, and bike shorts crosses a finish line marked "Spring Sprint Triathlon & Duathlon" with her hands raised

Picture courtesy of Vice Media

When they first contacted me, I googled their names to make sure they were for real! The Olympic Channel, they told me, was partnering with Vice Media for a series of short films called Body+ and they wanted me to be a part of it.

It worked out for them to follow me at the Spring Sprint Triathlon and at a talk that I gave at the University of California San Diego that same weekend.

They captured a pretty typical triathlon for me – which is to say that it was a shitshow.  (Unlike dancing, where even if lessons/practice sessions weren’t going well I almost always competed well, with triathlon my workouts go ok, but then the races are a total disaster.) If you want the full race report in all its glory,  you can read it here!

The piece is out and I’m so honored to be part of this amazing group of athletes and so happy with the finished piece! I also highly recommend watching all of them, this is a seriously kick ass group of athletes.

You can see it here!

Massive thanks to the team from Vice/The Olympic Channel and Rachel Fox and the crew from UCSD, everyone who came out to the talk – all the race organizers and volunteers, and of course Julianne who is always so completely supportive and amazing!

Like this blog? You can also:

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Triathlon Training in the time of COVID-19

IRONMAN or BustI hope everyone reading this is doing as well as possible given the circumstances. We have been quarantining since before the order in California – Julianne is in a higher risk group because of her asthma and both of us worry that if we got sick fatphobia would compromise our healthcare, so we’ve been in full-on quarantine for almost a month. I know that we have a lot of privilege in being able to do that and my heart goes out to those who aren’t as lucky. 

Here’s how I’m doing – spoiler alert, there some bad, but it also a lot of good! Let’s get the bad out of the way first:

In terms of my iron-distance tri, this really took a pin to my balloon.  I don’t know how things are where you are but people here are not trustworthy when it comes to keeping appropriate social distance so running, biking, and swimming are out right now. Mentally I’m really struggling because I had psyched myself up for a final push and getting this done by the end of May, so the idea that whenever I get out of here I’m going to still be doing this long past the end of May just totally sucks.

Then, I did something (I have no idea what,) that really re-messed up my neck, which had been much better. We’re talking full-on pins and needles across my back, pain shooting down my arms, the whole bit. And I can’t go to physical therapy. Luckily I can connect with my doctor online, and he called in the big girl anti-inflammatories, and I have all of the equipment to ice my neck, do traction and do all my PT exercises at home.

I took a couple days completely off and then for a few days my training consisted of doing walking in place videos on the Joyn app without the arm movements. And I thought walking outside was boring… (TheJoyn app is fabulous by the way – really diverse instructors with options for seated and standing for most workouts, and and lots of different classes of lots of different lengths. Full disclosure – I’m not affiliated with them in any way.)

At that point I had the option to do walk at home videos and ride on the trainer to try to keep up. But  since I don’t know how long I’ll be in here and those things are no fun for me and this is already not fun, I decided to go a different way.

I’ve started taking dance classes. I do a barre class (the Dutch National Ballet created classes for their students and made them public on YouTube so I’ve been doing those) and I found really fun dance combination classes through Joseph Corella’s 567Broadway The combinations are fun, he gives options and encourages listening to your body, and so far no diet/weightloss/anti-fat talk at all (Full disclosure – I’m not affiliated with him in any way.)

That’s made me have to come to terms with what I’ve lost on this triathlon journey both physically (strength, flexibility, fast-twitch stamina, turnout, extension and toe-point – I once had to get corrective bootie things from the doctor because I pointed my feet so hard in my sleep that my calves were cramping up,) as well as mentally (workouts that I love – that make me want to do the work to be stronger and more flexible so that I can do more.)

Plus dance just seems like a better workout for me – intense effort, working through all planes of movement, using muscles in constantly changing dynamic ways, having to really apply my mind to quickly memorize and execute choreography with good technique (which I am having to get back) instead of just repeating the exact same motion for hours on end at a moderate heart rate and trying to keep from slowly losing my mind. All power in the world to people who thrive on that kind of workout, but that is just not me.

This has been a journey out of my comfort zone and I undertook that willingly. I’ve learned a lot about myself (and I’m sure I’ll learn even more when I get to leave the house again and I can finally take this the last bit of the way!) But I’m really ready to be done with this so I can try new things and get back to doing things that I love – especially dance.

Once I get out of here I’ll do what needs to be done to complete my goal of an iron-distance triathlon. But while I’m in here I’m going to be happy doing things that I love.

Also, unrelated, but I had just been dabbling a bit in adding stand-up comedy to my speaking when the quarantine started (with the idea that I could really throw myself into it once the triathlon was done.) So, I decided to take my comedy online – kind of a one-woman open mic. You can check it out here if you’d like!

Like this blog? You can also:

Follow me on Instagram
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Check out my blog at DancesWithFat (which focuses on Size Acceptance and Fat Rights)

Check out the Fit Fatties Facebook Group (for people of all sizes who want to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective)

Visit my professional speaking and writing site

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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.

Like this blog? You can also:

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Check out my blog at DancesWithFat (which focuses on Size Acceptance and Fat Rights)

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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!

Like this blog? You can also:

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Check out my blog at DancesWithFat (which focuses on Size Acceptance and Fat Rights)

Check out the Fit Fatties Facebook Group (for people of all sizes who want to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective)

Visit my professional speaking and writing page

What’s next…

 

 

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